Meghan Markle / Blueberry Buttermilk Scones

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This week’s recipe: Blueberry Buttermilk Scones

So, there was a wedding this morning. I was blissfully asleep for most of it but it was mostly exciting for me because the bride, Meghan Markle, has appeared in two original Hallmark Channel movies! Don’t think that Hallmark is missing this opportunity, because they are not. Not only are they showing a full day of royal wedding-related programming, which is totally my jam because I will watch any movie that involves an American falling in love with a secret (or even a not-secret) prince, but they are actually showing one of MM’s original movies, called The Dater’s Handbook. (Not even Hallmark was shameless enough to show her other, Fourth-of-July-themed movie.) I watched it for you and wrote a review. Behold:

The Dater’s Handbook

Meghan Markle, aka Cassandra, aka Cass, looks out over the Rocky Mountains with her dog, proud that they have just completed a 5K run. She goes home and watches the news, which is featuring a relationship advice lady called Dr. Susie. “Ladies, the problem is not the men in your life. It’s you!” says Dr. Susie. Cass is largely unimpressed with this advice but her assistant is getting married and it just reinforces how un-married she is. She hangs out with her sister, who weirdly enough is white, brother-in-law, and a lug named Peter who she is dating, though clearly won’t be for long. Peter works at a sports bar and hates weddings, refusing to even accompany her to her assistant’s wedding. (As someone who is planning a wedding right now, I want to know whether or not Cass RSVP’d for one or two guests. You have to plan these things in advance, guys!)

At the wedding, they seat poor single Cass at the kids’ table, which is kind of a dick move, but never fear, there’s another adult man there, Robert, who quickly ingratiates himself with the children by getting them a round of Shirley Temples, and it’s not at all creepy. I think I am predisposed not to like him because he looks like Donald Trump Jr. at his wedding. And guys, it’s a Jewish wedding! You can tell because they dance the hora, the guys in the background are wearing kippot, and the chuppah is in the reception hall, which is totally normal. Much fun is made of the fact that the groom’s last name is Shmointz so I should have guessed.

The groundwork is laid for Robert and Cass to have a romance, but Cass’ sister and mom (who is also white) manage to convince her that she is picking the wrong sort of man to date–they too have been watching Dr. Susie! (By the way, I only note that Markle is clearly being coded as white because Mark and I have a running bet as to which will appear as the leads in a Hallmark movie first, a gay couple or a biracial couple.) It’s crazy that Cass hasn’t realized that Peter is a dud before now, considering that his idea of a romantic date night is him hittin’ balls at the batting cages while she looks on from the other side of the fence, and wouldn’t you know it–Dr. Susie is giving a lecture on The Dater’s Handbook this very night! Cass decides, with a significant nudge from her sister, that she will start following the Dater’s Handbook for all her future romantic decisions.

One morning while out on her run, listening to The Dater’s Handbook audiobook, she runs into Robert, who has bought a dog and asks her out on a date. They go miniature golfing and there is much flirting but no conflict Then they play pool and there is more flirting and equally little conflict. Seriously, you could fast forward through this whole section, from him asking her out to them kissing on her doorstep, and miss not a single plot development. But her sister is all IS HE RELIABLE, which how on earth are you supposed to know that after two dates?

One of Cass’ most important clients, George, asks her out on a date, which is totally normal and appropriate, and he takes her to a schmancy restaurant and orders in French, so you know he’s classy. “I just learned in an Indian restaurant last week that ‘naan’ does not mean ‘no!’ They kept bringing me bread,” says Cass, who is apparently very very stupid. George is clearly the reliable option favored by the sister, and it’s weird because the plot is obviously setting up a contrast between George and Robert where Cass will have to choose between following the Dater’s Handbook and following her heart, but it doesn’t seem like Robert is this wild free spirit who would clearly be an unsuitable longterm partner? He’s nice to Cass, he has a steady job, and if he got a haircut, he’d look a lot less like Donald Trump Jr. circa 2006.

For their third date, Cass and Robert go to the gym and run on the treadmill while sharing a clickwheel iPod. I’m not joking. They split headphones and listen to “I Wanna Keep on Loving You,” which is hilarious because Mark and I have definitely seen another Hallmark movie involving a prince and a commoner where the love theme was that very same song. Does Hallmark have some sort of deal with REO Speedwagon? He falls off the treadmill, accidentally breaking her iPod, and they bond and she reveals that her dad died…ON CHRISTMAS???

George continues to woo Cass by doing the tried-and-true classy date of taking her to an art gallery, but turns out Cass appreciates art about as much as she appreciates Indian cuisine. Meanwhile, Robert invites Cass’ mom along to an “invitation only” REO Speedwagon concert, cause that’s a thing. Now it’s Cass’ birthday and she’s conveniently listening to the section of the Dater’s Handbook audiobook on gift-giving. George brings her a bouquet of lilies but Robert arrives at the same time, awkward! He buys her an iPod, which is actually pretty sweet. But the sister shits all over Robert’s gift and insists that Cass has to choose between the two of them in the next week, using Dr. Susie’s checklist. George takes her to a string quartet concert with champagne n’ shit; Robert takes her to a diner with beer. The mom is all in favor of Robert, the sister is all in favor of George, especially once she learns that Cass ate some chicken wings off of Robert’s plate and had an allergic reaction to the honey. This is pretty unfair of the sister since, in the third scene of the whole movie, Cass rejected Peter’s chicken wings because they contained honey, and Cass really should have known to ask about the ingredients before she ate off of Robert’s plate. But worse, George hugged her goodnight, whereas Robert steamily fucked her tried to be all smooth and was all like, “You had to go to the hospital, let me stay over!” Her sister is being a real Handbook Nazi, and her mom is like, stop paying attention to this dumb handbook, and then the sister is like, I HAVEN’T HAD SEX IN 18 MONTHS. Well, that’s the subtext, anyway.

Cass calls one of her suitors to break up–it’s a mystery which one it is, because putting that right before a commercial break is a tried-and-true cliffhanger–and then her brother-in-law is out grilling in the snow, as one does, and it’s revealed that she’s still with George. Bummer. Will she ever get with the man she’s clearly meant to be with? But George’s deep boringness soon begins to wear on Cass, and when she runs into Robert at the auto mechanic’s, she’s all, “It’s not you, it’s me. You have long-ish hair and a dog and you work for the Parks Department, you’re exactly the sort of bad boy I always go for but I need to try something new.” Then they go bowling and make out.

George proves his ultimate boringness by describing his job, calling Facebook an uninteresting timekiller, and limiting everyone to a single slice of cake. The mom is like, “Cass, your boyfriend is boring,” and Cass makes a horrified face. Cass takes George to the miniature golf place where she and Robert went on their first date, and George, unsurprisingly, is not into it, because he is BORING. Then Cass is all YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW ME and that’s the end of that.

Dr. Susie is back on the air because she’s getting divorced and writing a book about it. “Ladies, it’s not you, it’s the man,” she says. Cass realizes that Dr. Susie is a fraud and rushes to the lantern festival, which definitely features the largest number of Asian people ever assembled for a Hallmark movie. Wouldn’t you know it, Robert is there, and as vaguely Chinese-sounding music plays, she rushes into his arms and apologizes for being way too into the Dater’s Handbook. Then “I Wanna Keep on Loving You” plays and they kiss. The last lines are “Cheesy?” “So cheesy”, which is a fairly accurate summary of the film.

So anyway, here are some scones. I made them in honor of Britishness, and also in honor of the fact that I had some buttermilk in my fridge I had to use up. Enjoy them with clotted cream n’ shit!

Blueberry Buttermilk Scones

From Huckleberry

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 1/4 C of flour
  • 1/2 C sugar
  • 1/4 C brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 C cold butter, cut into cubes
  • 3/4 plus 2 tbsp cold buttermilk
  • Zest from 1 lemon
  • 1 1/2 C blueberries frozen
  • For egg wash: 1 egg yolk, 1 tbs milk or cream, pinch of salt, whisked together

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugars, baking powder and soda and salt. Add butter and work in with your fingers until pieces are pea size. Add lemon zest and buttermilk, mix lightly to distribute.
  2. Dump everything onto a large surface. Flatten out the dough using the palm of your hand. Gather dough back together and flatten out once more. Repeat this step 2 or 3 times. Do not overwork dough, there should still be pieces of butter within.
  3. Pat down dough to about a 9X12 inch slab and spread frozen blueberries on top.
  4. Roll the long side of dough into a long, 12 inch roll and lightly flatten top.
  5. Cut out 9 to 10 triangles.
  6. Transfer onto baking sheet, tightly wrap,and freeze for at least 2 hours, maximun 1 month.
  7. Preheat oven to 350.
  8. Remove scones from freezer, lay on ungreased baking sheet with plenty of room between. Top with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar.
  9. Bake for 25 minutes or until the scones are nicely browned and cooked through
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Complicity / Lemon Bundt Cake

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This week’s recipe: Lemon Bundt Cake with Almond Glaze

A recent This American Life episode tells the story of a campus controversy in Nebraska. A sophomore named Katie Mullen had gotten involved with Turning Point USA, a rightwing organization that trains college students to become conservative activists on campus. Katie sets up a table to try to get fellow students involved in Turning Point and attracts the attention of a PhD student/English instructor named Courtney Lawton, who starts protesting Katie’s table and calling her a neo-fascist Becky, by which she means a white woman who weaponizes her white womanhood to oppress others. (Can we take a moment, by the way, to feel for girls who are named Becky? Between the social justice left and the incels, they are getting a lot of crap that they never asked for.) Katie was filming the whole thing, which enraged Courtney further. She started flipping Katie off and cursing at her, which caused Katie to cry. With an assist from Turning Point, the video went viral. There was tremendous backlash against the university, and Courtney was no longer allowed to teach.

What Courtney did was immature, impulsive, and strategically unwise, and I’m inclined to think that, like many college students getting involved in politics for the first time, Katie was more ignorant than malicious. But she publicly allied herself with a malicious organization whose ideology posed a genuine threat to the people around her, and then when she was called out on it, she cried. Now, you’ll never meet a bigger crier than me. Friends, boyfriends, teachers, bosses, kindly friends of my parents’ who have taken me out for coffee and an informational interview—I’ve cried in front of them all. But as someone intimately familiar with the act, I know that being made to cry doesn’t turn a person into an automatic victim. In this case, I think that Courtney’s definition of “Becky” is instructive. Whether or not Katie knew it, tears were her weapon. The politicians and activists and angry radio callers saw her crying and had to leap to her defense, because how could you not? What’s more innocent than a white teenage girl from the Midwest? And what’s a more wholesome, sympathetic face for a group funded by some of the most regressive political elements in America, a group that has been accused of racism, unethical practices, and campaign finance violations, than a young woman bullied to tears by a hateful SJW? I swear, this story taught me more about the destructive power of white female tears than a thousand lefty essays ever could.

Thinking about this reminded me of the reaction to the now-infamous Michelle Wolf routine at the White House Correspondents Dinner. For those of you who were blessed enough to be unaware of this controversy, it involved Wolf making jokes that compared Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to Aunt Lydia from The Handmaid’s Tale and complimenting her on her perfect smoky eye, which was applied from the burnt ashes of the truth. Sanders is, of course, a charter member of the can-dish-it-out-but-can’t-take-it insult comedy club known as the Trump Administration, and anyone who was paying attention knows that the joke was about her lying, not her looks, but that didn’t stop certain political reporters from leaping to her defense. How dare anyone publicly censure her as a liar, just because she’s a public figure who gets up every day and lies to the American people? Don’t you know she’s a wife and mother? Yes, that was seriously Mika Brzezinski’s take. All wives and mothers are now above criticism so I guess we’ll never hear a bad word about Hillary Clinton ever again.

It was a pathetic spectacle. It didn’t matter to the journalists who defended Sanders that she disdains and disrespects them; that she insults their intelligence and that of the American people; that she willingly signed on to be the public face of the lying-est administration in history six months in, when everyone knew exactly who they were. She’s a wife and mother, and God forbid anyone make a joke that might offend her delicate white lady feelings, even though the comedian’s speech at the WHCD is and always has been a goddamned roast!

At what point do we expect people to take responsibility for being complicit, even at the expense of hurting their feelings? Of course, what I call “complicity,” Katie Mullen or Sarah Huckabee Sanders might call “standing up for what you believe in” or “making America great again.” But whether you’re stopping fellow students on campus and asking them their thoughts on capitalism or you’re trying to convince the press corps that Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower, you have willingly placed yourself in the ring and you can’t get upset when people hit back.

Which brings me to…me. This past Saturday at kids’ services at my synagogue, I used the Torah reading to talk to the children about when and how it’s appropriate to “rebuke” somebody. We discussed why it’s better to rebuke in private than in public; better to rebuke gently than harshly; better to rebuke in a constructive rather than an ad hominem way; and better not to rebuke at all if there’s nothing the person on the receiving end can do to change things. We also agreed that there are certain situations where it’s necessary to break all of those rules, i.e. when a person’s actions are putting himself and/or others in imminent danger. A good lesson all around, but one made distinctly weird by the presence of a certain guest at the service. He is a nationally known neoconservative pundit, anti-Trump but pro-every war imaginable; he was an extremely visible cheerleader for the invasion of Iraq in particular. He lives in the DC area but was at my synagogue for his granddaughter’s baby naming, after which he and the rest of the family took the kids down to my service.

Now, I’m sure this person is a nice guy in his personal life and a loving grandpa and all that, but I think that he is indirectly responsible for the death of many, many people in the Middle East, and that given his druthers, we’d be involved in even more wars than we already are. It felt strange and wrong to be teaching that you shouldn’t let harmful actions go by without a word when he was sitting ten feet away from me. I wasn’t going to point to him and say, “That guy has the blood of Iraqis on his hands, everyone shun him!” But should I have at least gone up to him afterwards and told him privately that he should be ashamed of what he’s done? It would be overstating the case to say that I was in a position of moral authority over him, but at that moment, I was giving everyone in the room–including him and his grandchildren–moral instruction, filling a role analogous to a rabbi. If I had confronted him, I’m sure it would have been nothing he hadn’t heard before; his views have been attacked in the national press hundreds of times before, no way this guy gives a shit about what I think. And of course there is a time and place for things; one could easily argue that accosting a guest in your community when he’s there celebrating his granddaughter’s baby naming is, uh, inappropriate. But if the last two years have taught me anything, it’s that there need to be actual repercussions for people who hurt others, or who champion policies that hurt others. I don’t mean that they need to be thrown in jail (and they won’t be), but shouldn’t cheerleading for endless war earn you even the slight social penalty of being made to feel momentarily uncomfortable at synagogue? And by not speaking out for fear of…feeling momentarily uncomfortable, do I in turn become complicit?

So anyway, here’s a cake. I made an amazing, decadent chocolate caramel cake for Mother’s Day brunch, since my mom is a chocolate lover, but we have several chocolate haters in the family as well (I know! So shameful!) so I had to provide an option for them too. I flipped through my cookbooks and, lo and behold, here was this yummy-looking bundt cake in Baked Occasions. And what was the occasion at which they suggested it be served? Mother’s Day! Clearly, it was fate. Mother’s Day was gloomy and rainy but this delicious and beautiful cake was a ray of sunshine.

Lemon Bundt Cake with Almond Glaze

From Baked Occasions 

INGREDIENTS

For the Lemon Bundt Cake

  • 1½ cups (170 g) cake flour
  • 1½ cups (170 g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2¾ cups (550 g) granulated sugar
  • Zest of 10 lemons (approximately 10 tablespoons/60 g)
  • 8 ounces (2 sticks/225 g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • ½ cup (120 ml) canola oil
  • 3 tablespoons dark rum
  • 2 tablespoons pure lemon extract
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3 large yolks
  • ¾ cup (180 ml) heavy cream

For the Lemon Syrup

  • 1⁄3 cup (65 g) granulated sugar
  • 1⁄3 cup (75 ml) fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons dark rum, or more to taste

For the Almond Glaze

  • 2 to 4 tablespoons (30 to 60 ml) fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons pure almond extract
  • 2½ to 3 cups (250 to 300 g) sifted confectioners’ sugar
  • ¼ cup (25 g) slivered almonds, toasted (see page 19)

INSTRUCTIONS
Make the Lemon Bundt Cake
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).
  2. Generously spray the inside of a 10-cup (2.4-L) Bundt pan with nonstick cooking spray, dust with flour, and knock out the excess flour.
  3. Alternatively, you can butter and flour the pan.
  4. Either way, make sure the pan’s nooks and crannies are all thoroughly coated.
  5. Sift both flours, the baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl.
  6. Set aside.
  7. Place the sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.
  8. Sprinkle the lemon zest over the sugar and use the tips of your fingers to rub the zest in until the mixture is uniformly pale yellow.
  9. Pour the melted butter and canola oil into the bowl of lemon sugar and beat on medium speed until well combined.
  10. Add the rum, lemon extract, eggs, and egg yolks and beat again on medium speed until just combined.
  11. Add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the cream, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.
  12. Scrape down the bowl, then mix on low speed for a few more seconds.
  13. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan.
  14. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
  15. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and cool for 30 minutes.
  16. Place the wire rack over a half sheet pan lined with parchment paper.
Make the Lemon Syrup
  1. In a small saucepan over very low heat, whisk together the sugar, lemon juice, and rum until the sugar starts to melt.
  2. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil.
  3. Then reduce the heat to a simmer for a minute or two, until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from the heat.
  4. Gently loosen the sides of the somewhat cooled cake from the pan and turn it out onto the rack.
  5. Poke the cake with several holes (on the crown and sides) in preparation for the syrup.
  6. Use a pastry brush to gently brush the top and sides of the cake with the syrup.
  7. Allow the syrup to soak into the cake.
  8. Brush at least two more times. (You might have some syrup left over.)
  9. Continue to let the cake cool completely.
Make the Almond Glaze
  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice and the almond extract.
  2. Add 2½ cups (250 g) of the confectioners’ sugar and continue whisking until the mixture is pourable.
  3. A fairly sturdy, thick glaze will give you the best visual result.
  4. If the mixture is too thick, add more lemon juice, a tablespoon at a time, until the desired consistency is reached.
  5. If the mixture is too thin, keep adding confectioners’ sugar, ¼ cup (25 g) at a time, until the desired consistency is reached; this will make the glaze sweeter, of course.
  6. Pour the glaze in large thick ribbons over the crown of the Bundt, allowing the glaze to spread
  7. and drip down the sides of the cake.
  8. Sprinkle the almonds over the glaze and allow the glaze to set (for about 20 minutes) before serving.

Atlas Shrugged / Creamy Tomato Basil Soup

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This week’s recipe: Creamy Tomato Basil Soup

My favorite piece of news, and yours, this week has been the retirement of Paul Ryan. Yes, the zombie-eyed granny starver (© Charlie Pierce) is slinking back to Janesville to spend more time with his owners family. Don’t worry, he’s young; after a few years at a lobbying or think tank gig, he’ll come back to the Washington he so hates to ever-so-reluctantly take up the mantle of leadership. After all, once the enormous debt bomb he planted last year goes off, we’ll need someone to do the hard but necessary work of destroying the social safety net.

I hate Paul Ryan. I think I hate him even more than I hate Mitch McConnell. At least everyone, McConnell included, knows that he’s a cynical bastard who cares about nothing but power. But Ryan managed to fool a lot of people for a long time. He was a policy wonk who didn’t care about the details of policy. He was a deficit hawk who gave the nation’s least needy citizens an enormous unfunded tax cut. He was a devout Catholic who ignored everything Jesus ever said about the poor. He was a Washington outsider who’d been working in Washington since he was 22. He was a family man who was fine being a “weekend dad” when his kids were young and needed him most, but feels compelled to spend more time with them now that his political future looks dim. But to me, his worst crime will always be that bizarre devotion to Ayn Rand that all but our most sociopathic citizens outgrow by their early 20s.

Yes, dear readers, I have read Atlas Shrugged. All of it! Do you know how long the audiobook of Atlas Shrugged is?  63 HOURS! Do you know how long John Galt’s famous speech is when it’s read aloud? THREE HOURS AND 38 MINUTES! This would be offensive enough, but it’s even more distressing to know that there are so many people high up in our government whose life philosophy was heavily influenced by this crap.

An entirely Objective summary for those of you who have never read it: Atlas Shrugged takes place in an alternative version of America, which is now a socialist hellhole that also has free elections and open trials, one where rich assholes are allowed to make lengthy speeches comparing themselves to victims of human sacrifice and the worst that happens is that their enemies sputter at them impotently. It’s a world where the government simultaneously oppresses supercapitalists to the point where they feel the need to withdraw from society, and where that same government is incapable of preventing those same supercapitalists from building transcontinental railroads. In this world, there are only a few dozen people on earth who are capable of running entire industries; without those people, precious natural resources like copper, oil, and coal simply stay in the ground. Weirdly, it is a world where none of these genius industrialists who are great at everything have managed to invent commercial air travel, so everyone gets everywhere by train. The vast majority of people appear to have stopped breeding shortly after our heroine Dagny Taggart was born (children being the ultimate moochers); not that it matters, because children in this world are just miniature adults. Any time there’s a flashback to one of the heroes’ childhood, we find that he or she speaks, thinks, and acts like an adult, and probably works in a copper mine as well. (Yes, in this world, all of these millionaire heirs are so eager to continue the family tradition of productive achievement that they can’t wait to start at the very bottom when they’re in their early teens and work their way up through grit and hard work alone. Just like in real life!)

The novel’s heroes–railroad tycoon Dagny and the various male industrial tycoons who want to fuck her–can go several nights in a row without sleeping, regard the human need to eat as an inconvenience, and never exercise other than deliberately striding across their offices, throwing their shoulders back, and/or energetically raping each other, yet they are the healthiest, most attractive people in America. The government wants them to share their toys so they follow John Galt, a junior-level engineer at a now-bankrupt auto company and a nondescript track worker at a railroad and a 38-year-old virgin, and withdraw from society. Only they don’t really withdraw; they go away for one month out of the year and spend the rest of the time actively sabotaging the nation’s industry. It’s the difference between going on strike and burning down your place of work. But whatever. They all go live in a valley where powerful businessmen, skilled artisans, brilliant composers, eminent professors, renowned surgeons and the like happily do menial labor all day, and without their brilliant efforts, society collapses and millions die. You know, a happy ending.

Sounds like an enjoyable enough potboiler, if you’re a sociopath or an asshole. So what makes it crap? Let me count the ways. For starters, there’s the physiognomy-is-destiny characterizations that prevail in both fairy tales and Atlas Shrugged. Just as beautiful princesses are kind and virtuous and ugly crones are wicked witches or jealous stepmothers, you can immediately tell the ideological orientation of a Rand character from his or her first description. If someone is tall and angular, with a shapely body, ice-like eyes, and a smile of pure contempt curling on their lip, they are one of the good guys. If someone is shapeless and doughy with thinning hair and piggy little eyes, they are a moocher. Thank goodness for that, we wouldn’t want to have to deal in complexity!

Speaking of which, another way in which it resembles a fairy tale is the absolute delineation between good and evil. There are two characters—count ‘em—who are neither ubermentsch industrialists nor wicked looters (not coincidentally, they are the only two characters who are described as neither entirely angular nor entirely doughy). Otherwise, they are strictly divided into heroes, who are incapable of doing anything wrong, and villains, who are incapable of doing anything right. The heroes are the best at everything they do, up to and including flipping burgers, even if they’ve never done it before. Rand will have a good character and a bad character do literally the exact same thing but with wildly different outcomes. Without consulting anyone, Dagny unilaterally decides to build the Rio Norte line using a new metal alloy that has never been used to make anything more important than a bracelet, and it’s a brilliant business decision. Without consulting anyone, her brother James unilaterally decides to invest in some copper mines, and it’s a huge debacle. Dagny is late for a business meeting and demands that the train she’s on run through a red signal even though the engineer tells her it’s too dangerous, and she gets to the meeting on time. Politician Kip Chalmers is late for a rally and demands the train he’s on run through a tunnel even though the engineer tells him it’s too dangerous, and 300 people get asphyxiated. Et cetera, et cetera. In the world of Atlas Shrugged, you either got it or you ain’t, “it” being the author’s thumb pressed heavily on the scales in your favor. We’re supposed to admire the heroes’ bold, decisive natures, but who wouldn’t be bold and decisive if their risks paid off 100% of the time?

Then there’s the fact that no one is likable. This is obvious with the villains, all of whom say things that no one would ever say and who are motivated by things that no one would ever be motivated by. Plus, of course, they’re ugly. But the heroes are not any better. Each of the male heroes of the book did one of the following:

a) Cheated on his wife and then, when his wife confronted the mistress, demanded that she apologize to said mistress
b) Smacked his girlfriend so hard that she bled because she made a joke he didn’t like
c) Sank ships full of food aid for starving people
d) Intentionally causes civilizational collapse and the death of millions, all because he felt underappreciated at work

And these are the heroes!

There’s so much dumb, poorly thought out, clearly hypocritical nonsense in these books, nonsense that could understandably appeal to teenage boys with no life experience and an inflated sense of their own worth and abilities, but no one else. If Ayn Rand likes smoking cigarettes, then smoking cigarettes must be objectively good (a particularly striking example because, in reality, cigarettes are as close to an objectively bad consumer good as exists). As capitalists and free marketeers, Rand’s heroes believe that the best way to conduct business is to refuse to serve anyone who doesn’t fit into extremely narrow ideological parameters, reject government contracts, and generally vandalize your own property in order to make a point. They claim to abhor the use of physical force to get their way–except when one throws a man down the stairs for offering him a government loan, or when Galt’s speech inspires a man to fracture a woman’s jaw when he overhears her telling her kid to share his toys (both actions presented approvingly to the reader). Most ironically of all, any character who publishes a book to push a political agenda is met with the most sneering authorial disdain, because using the freedom of the press for ideological means is for me, not for thee.

But the worst part of the book is the overall malice and lack of charity that Rand shows any character she deems unworthy. I understand she grew up in the Soviet Union and that much of Objectivism is formed by intellectual and emotional backlash to Communism, but as manifested in Atlas Shrugged, it reproduces some of the latter’s worst tendencies. This is most evident in the famous scene in which an entire train full of passengers gets gassed in a tunnel, right after Rand lists what every person on the train had done to (it is heavily implied) deserve their fate. This includes a businessman who got a government loan; a playwright who wrote negative things about businessmen; a housewife who exercises her democratic right to vote (I’m not exaggerating); and even some sleeping kids who no doubt carried out heinous thought crimes of their own. This mode of thought—that anyone who is ideologically impure or even ideologically impure-adjacent deserves to die—sure sounds like it was cribbed from the USSR of Rand’s youth. Rand constantly uses “contempt” or “contemptuous” as positive descriptors–constantly, try to turn it into a drinking game if you want to get messed up–and venomous contempt for those she views as lesser beings drips off every page. It’s extremely ugly, and made worse by Rand’s certainty that she has a monopoly on the meaning of existence and love of life. But hers is a worldview that has no room in it for children, the elderly, the infirm, discrimination, rent-seeking, subsidies, America’s history of slavery and dispossession, physical force, human error, not entirely informed decision making, etc etc etc. In other words, it has some pretty big holes, and it is simply maddening to try to talk to anyone who thinks that it’s a guide for living life in the real world.

Finally I will say that Rand badly needed an editor, and so even though I could probably rant about how much I hate Atlas Shrugged for several more pages, I will do what she never could, and restrain myself.

So anyway, here’s some soup. This soup is so creamy, you won’t believe it’s vegan! Mark and I FINALLY got a Vitamix, courtesy of a neighbor who was moving to the UK and selling hers for half off, and this was the first thing I made in it. It made short work of a whole head of cauliflower, I was quite impressed. I know I am behind the times but the idea that blended cauliflower and cashews can taste so similar to cream is a revelation to me, one that will hopefully result in many delicious and healthy soups in the future.

Creamy Tomato Basil Soup

From Vitamin Sunshine

Ingredients

  • 3 cups cauliflower roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup cashews soaked overnight and drained
  • 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 cup onion chopped
  • 1 tablespoon garlic fresh, chopped
  • 1 large celery stalk, chopped
  • 1 carrot peeled, chopped
  • 2 15-ounce diced tomatoes cans
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable boullion
  • 1/2 cup basil leaves chopped
  • sea salt & black pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Soak cashews in water overnight. Drain when ready to use. If there isn’t time for this step, soak cashews in boiling water for 1 hour and drain to use.

  2. Add cauliflower to a steamer, and steam over medium high heat for 15 minutes.

  3. In a blender, add steamed cauliflower, soaked cashews, and 3/4 cup water. Process until a very smooth cream is formed. Set aside.

  4. In a saucepot, add olive oil and onion and garlic, and saute for 5 minutes until lightly browned.

  5. Add chopped carrots and celery, and saute another few minutes, then add diced tomatoes, water, and vegetable bouillon . Bring back to a boil, and then simmer on medium heat for 20 minutes.

  6. Reserve 1/2 cup of the “cream, then add tomato soup to the blender, and process until very smooth.

  7. Return soup to pot, mix in fresh basil, and season with sea salt and black pepper to taste.

  8. Garnish soup with “cream”, and then add extra fresh basil and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese if desired.

 

Passover Traditions / Miso Braised Short Ribs with Pear

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This week’s recipe: Miso Braised Short Ribs with Pear

It’s the leeeeeeast wonderful time of the yeeeeear: Passover! Non-Jews always be like, “I love matzah, OMG!” And I be like, shut up, no one likes that shit. Still, it’s a meaningful holiday full of family and traditions…some of which are quite weird. For instance:

-Selling Passover candy: It’s actually a fairly American typical custom for schools or religious organizations to send children off to sell things to strangers in order to raise money, which is weird enough on its own, but at least those things are usually chocolate bars or wrapping paper or magazine subscriptions, which a broad audience of people might conceivably use. In our case, we went door-to-door in our apartment building to ask our neighbors if they wanted to pay $15 a piece for a box of kosher-for-Passover chocolate lollipops or Almond Kisses or, God forbid, fruit slice jellies. A surprising amount of them did, and it was actually a fun way to get know various people in the building, like the super-sweet old lady in the G line with the Jack Russell terrier who was always good for at least 50 dollars’ worth of candy. It also taught you who was to be avoided; for instance, it may not surprise you to hear that John McEnroe and Patty Smyth did not even allow me past their intercom system, those dickheads. Since my building was full of Hebrew school-aged children, though, you had to try to get to the residents before anyone else did, because everyone was selling candy even people who were charmed enough by cute kids to buy some wouldn’t necessarily be interested in buying, say, four or five times. One of these competitors was inevitably my sister, who was the best salesperson in the Hebrew school for several years running, thus winning the grand prize. The grand prize was typically something like a stereo that retailed for approximately 60 dollars at Radioshack, even though she had sold many hundreds of dollars worth of candy. It was a scam, is what I’m saying. When I have kids, I will tell them that I will buy them the stereo equivalent if it means I don’t have to buy a dozen boxes of chocolate covered mints every year.

-Bedikat Chametz: Passover is a great holiday for anyone with obsessive-compulsive tendencies. (Well, not great; I actually read today that Passover cleaning can exacerbate symptoms of OCD. As if we needed another reason to hate this holiday.) You are supposed to clean every inch of your house to make sure that there’s no chametz (bread) residue anywhere. But let’s face it, there can always be tiny crumbs hiding where you’d least expect them. So we symbolically rid ourselves of chametz through a ceremony called Bedikat Chametz, where we hide bread all over the house, then turn off the lights and go look for it. (This works a lot better when you have small children who can actually enjoy hunting for the bread, instead of pretending that you can’t find bread that you yourself hid ten minutes ago.) You do this with the aid of a candle that lights the way as you search; a feather that you use to sweep the chametz; and a spoon to catch it and put in a brown paper bag. Why you don’t just sweep it into the bag is a mystery, but this is the closest we Jews get to voodoo (Jewdoo?) and it’s pretty fun.

-The Hillel Sandwich: We are told that in the time of the Temple in Jerusalem, when people would bring a lamb as a Passover sacrifice, Rabbi Hillel would eat the lamb with matzah and maror (bitter herbs). This basically meant eating lamb shawarma and horseradish on a laffa, which sounds delicious! But today, because we sadly lack the Temple and its attendant animal sacrifice, we just eat the matzah (which has morphed into a gross, constipation-inducing cracker over the centuries) and the maror plain. You can put charoset (a yummy fruit-and-nut mixture) on it to cut the taste of the maror but my dad will call you a wimp. I do it anyway.

There’s so much else that’s weird about Passover. It’s a holiday that’s ostensibly about freedom, but the preparations for it feel more like slavery. It’s been noted before how paradoxical it is that Jews who are otherwise very lax in their observance tend to get maniacal about Yom Kippur and Passover, arguably the two hardest holidays to observe. People who were eating a bacon and cheese sandwich yesterday will now eat bacon and cheese…on matzah, because bread is of course forbidden. My point is, Passover is weird because Jews are weird. Chag sameach to all who are celebrating!

So anyway, here are some ribs. They’re not kosher for Passover (kitniyot, grrrr!) but they are tender and tasty! The pear is such an unexpected delight and the miso adds a delicious note of umami. Am I doing this right? I dunno, I’m just trying to get in all my yummies before this dumb holiday starts.

Miso Braised Short Ribs with Pear

From My Lavender Blues

Ingredients 

  • 2 tbsp ghee (Note: to keep it kosher I used coconut oil)
  • 2 tbsp Kosher Salt
  • 2 tbsp Coarse black pepper
  • 3 lb bone in short ribs
  • 2 heads of garlic (about 10-12 garlic cloves, whole)
  • 6 shallots, quartered
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 24 oz beef stock (lower sodium)
  • 3 tbsp miso paste
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • ¼ tsp white pepper
  • ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground ginger
  • 4 fresh Marjoram Sprigs
  • 2 pears, sliced into ¼” slices
Instructions
  1. Remove short ribs from fridge and generously sprinkle kosher salt & black pepper over every side, pat with hand and then allow to rest for about 15 minutes.
  2. In a large oven proof dutch or heavy bottom pot add your ghee and bring heat up to medium high over stove top.
  3. Next once ghee is melted and has begun to heat up (give it about 2 minutes) add your short ribs and brown on every side, about 45 seconds/side.
  4. Remove short ribs and set aside.
  5. Next add your shallots and garlic, saute for about 2 minutes.
  6. Next add your wine and after about 20 seconds, using a wooden spoon, scrape bottom of pan (this will help remove any browning that was left from short ribs and help bring more flavor into broth).
  7. Add your stock and bring to a low boil
  8. Add miso paste, garlic powder, white pepper, cinnamon and ground ginger. Stir.
  9. Add your short ribs and fresh marjoram sprigs.
  10. Turn off heat and place covered into oven for about 2.5 hours, turning ribs halfway through.
  11. When ribs are basically done, add your pear slices 20 minutes before you are ready to serve.
  12. Continue to cook for about 20 minutes, remove from oven and serve over arugula, potatoes, polenta, with a pasta, however you desire.
Notes
Short ribs are ready when you can slide the meat up and down the bone using a fork.

 

Parkland / White Chocolate Chunk Brownies

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This week’s recipe: Brownies with Flaky Salt and White Chocolate Chunks

Each year on Passover, we read in the Haggadah that God only began to set the Israelites’ redemption in motion when they “cried out.” At this point, the Israelites had already been enslaved for nearly 200 years. There was a change in circumstances—a new pharaoh who presumably made their bitter slavery even worse—but considering that the old pharaoh decreed that all of their sons had to be thrown in the Nile, life had doubtless been no picnic. Why didn’t they cry out earlier? One suggestion is that the Israelites were not only physically but also psychologically enslaved. They were permanently defeated, in thrall to a mentality that nothing would ever change. It took a major event, the ascension of the new pharaoh, to inspire them to finally cry out and therefore take the first step in their redemption.

It’s been a week now. Parkland has joined Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs, Mother Emanuel, Orlando, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Fort Hood, Aurora, San Bernadino, and Columbine in a terrible litany. And those are just the ones I remember off the top of my head. It’s been hard to hold onto hope. Five years ago felt like a tipping point, yet all that the deaths of 20 first graders led to was looser gun laws and more massacres. But it’s been a week now, and this story is still on the front page. And it’s all down to a bunch of high schoolers. Last night, one of those high schoolers got his US senator to admit, live on TV, that he is more interested in his donor’s priorities than his constituent’s lives. And they’re not alone. An entire generation is being raised with the knowledge that a gunman could come into their school at any time and take their lives and the lives of their friends. When the 9/11 attacks happened, enlistment in the military surged. These kids are being attacked in their own schools, by their own country; you don’t think they want to fight back?

You can tell from the way that the right is going after these kids that they’re a real threat. The usual deflections aren’t working this time. People are realizing that it will always be “too soon” to talk about school shootings, which have become a twice-weekly affair in our country—before an “appropriate” interval has elapsed, there will have been another shooting. It’s hard to accuse victims of exploiting themselves, though Wayne LaPierre will surely try. The purity and morality of their cause has revealed how absolutely hollow, nihilistic, and ghoulish the arguments against them are. There was that awful David Brooks column that claimed that the real problem here is that liberals keep hurting gun nuts’ feelings by looking down on their “culture.” Uh, yeah, I am going to keep looking down on any culture that has led to more American deaths in the last 50 years than all of our wars, sorry not sorry. There was a typically dickish piece from Ben Shapiro saying that we shouldn’t listen to teenagers because they act out of emotion instead of rationality. As if it’s irrational, after seeing your friends and your teachers gunned down, to want to take steps to prevent it from happening again! (I mean, God knows the NRA never makes appeals to emotion. It is perfectly logical to argue that you need multiple military-grade semi-automatic weapons to protect your home from intruders; that your arsenal of guns will successfully defeat the US military’s drones, tanks, and nukes; and that gun control is ineffective even though literally every other country that’s tried it has seen a decline in gun deaths. But I digress.) There’s the usual bullshit about how the real solution is more guns, more armed guards, more metal detectors, more and more profits flowing the gun industry’s way and who cares if the entire country turns into goddamned 1980s Beirut. And worst of all are all those accusing the students of being puppets of George Soros or crisis actors or whatever. Those people really make me feel that we are lost as a country. But the continued determination of the kids, in the face of setbacks, of lies, of character assassination, even of death threats, makes me feel hope again.

The Israelites who were redeemed from Egypt all died before they reached the Promised Land. They couldn’t believe that things would get better, and they wouldn’t work for it. Conquering the Promised Land required a new generation, one that had never known what it was to be enslaved. I hope that this is a sign that this new generation will do what we all thought was impossible. They’ve already learned the terrible lesson that nothing ever changes until you cry out.

So anyway, here are some brownies. My sister got married two weeks ago and I made these for her Shabbat Kallah, which is when your friends get together the Shabbat before the wedding and talk about how awesome you are. Obviously, such a girly event requires chocolate, and boy howdy do these brownies fit the bill. They are intensely rich and fudgy, sprinkled with sea salt to cut the sweetness and add an elegant touch.

Brownies with Flaky Salt and White Chocolate Chunks

From Downtime by Nadine Levy Redzepi

Ingredients

  • 7 oz/200g dark chocolate (minimum 60 per cent cacao, see above)
  • 1/2 cup/110g salted butter
  • 1 cup/200g sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 vanilla pod (I used vanilla extract, sue me)
  • 1/2 cup/75g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp fine sea salt
  • 3.5 oz/100g white chocolate
  • ¼ – ½ tsp flaky sea salt

Instructions

1 Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut a 9 × 16 inch strip of baking paper and use it to line the bottom and two sides of a 9 inch square tin, letting the excess paper hang over the ends. (Tip: don’t trim the paper to fit the bottom of the tin. You will need the overhang to lift the brownies out of the tin once they cool).

2 Bring about 1 inch depth of water to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Turn the heat to low so the water is barely simmering. Place a glass or metal bowl over the pan. (Note: the bottom of the bowl shouldn’t touch the simmering water. If the chocolate gets too hot, it can become grainy.

3 Coarsely chop the chocolate and put it in the bowl. As it starts to melt, cut the butter into chunks and add them to the bowl. Let them melt together, stirring occasionally. Remove the bowl from the saucepan and let the chocolate mixture cool for about 5 minutes. (Note: if the chocolate mixture is too hot, it will scramble the beaten eggs in the next step).

4 Combine the sugar and eggs in a medium bowl and beat with an electric mixer on high speed until pale and light in texture, about 2 minutes. Use the tip of a small knife to split the vanilla pod lengthwise and scrape the seeds into the egg mixture, saving the pod for another use.

5 Add the chocolate mixture and mix on low speed until thoroughly incorporated. Sift the flour, baking powder and sea salt onto the chocolate mixture and mix by hand just until combined. Coarsely chop the white chocolate into small bits and fold them into the batter. (Tip: you don’t want to overmix the batter after adding the dry ingredients or the brownies will be tough; mix just until it is a uniform dark brown).

6 Spread the batter in the prepared tin. Sprinkle with flaky salt to taste. Bake the brownies until a wooden toothpick inserted in the centre comes out with just a few moist crumbs, 25 to 30 minutes. Don’t overbake! Place the tin on a wire rack to cool completely.

7 Run a knife around the inside of the tin and lift up on the paper flaps to remove the brownie from the tin in one piece. Let the brownies cool completely before cutting into bars, and store in the refrigerator. Serve cold or at room temperature.

Food Bloggers / Roasted Tomato and Anchovy Bucatini

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This week’s recipe: Roasted Tomato and Anchovy Bucatini

  • I was born in America but moved to Europe and immediately started incorporating British spelling and usage into my writing. I live in a sprawling mansion, but like, the old, tasteful kind. I have a large brood of remarkably well-behaved children who never reject my cooking or refuse to pose for my beautifully composed photographs. But I am the real star of these photos, with my slender figure and cute sundresses and perfectly-done makeup, selecting a ripe peach from a pile at the farmers’ market. I enjoy gathering my friends, many of whom own castles, around my rustic-looking wooden table and sharing meals where we eat freshly prepared seasonal food and drink moderate amounts of wine and laugh about how fat and cultureless Americans are.
  • Everything is AMAZING! Every recipe I make is the BEST RECIPE EVER and will CHANGE your LIFE! I have lived in the Midwest all my life, and I root for all the local sports teams. I have a husband, who is the best husband in the world, and a puppy, who is the cutest puppy in the world, and a baby, who is so silly and sweet and adorable and just makes my life complete. The About Me photo on my blog is of me jumping in the air in front of the ocean as the sun rises on the horizon. My recipes are heavy on melted cheese and desserts, except when I get on temporary health kicks and am suddenly all about green smoothies and kale salads, which by the way are DELICIOUS! Many of my posts are sponsored by Birdseye. Also, I LOVE the Instant Pot.
  • I’m a downhome country gal who loooooooves butter, golly gee! My husband and sons are just simple, rugged men who like meat and potatoes, and who like having a wife/mom who will make sure that dinner’s on the table for them when they come home from ropin’ steers! My recipes are all generically familiar to anyone with the remotest amount of cooking experience, yet their intense obviousness is rivaled only by their enormous popularity. Things might be hard but I know that Jesus and my many best-selling cookbooks and endorsement deals will see me through. And if not, there’s the fact that our giant ranch comprises 8 percent of the economy of the rural state in which I live. I am truly #blessed.
  • I’m all about clean, natural living. I used to eat things like white potatoes and non-pasture raised eggs but I was always feeling bloated and sluggish. So I tried cutting out gluten, dairy, soy, sugar, corn, legumes, grains, animal products, nightshades, FODMAPs, and anything processed or non-organic. I felt so much better and though I’ve reintroduced a few of those food groups as time has gone on, I’ve learned that I can’t digest any food that might cause me to gain weight. I live in a large, light-filled apartment in a major American city with my businessman husband, but we also have a farm property where I am photographed wearing flannel amid my free-range chickens. I make my own yogurt because the store-bought stuff is packed with harmful GMOs and artificial sweeteners. Here’s twenty photo of tonight’s dinner, artfully arranged mustard greens topped with purified oxygen.

So anyway, here’s some pasta. As soon as I saw the photo of this recipe in Dining In, I was like, damn, I need to make that. So I did, because I always follow through on my goals, as long as they involve eating pasta. (Side note: Dining In is a great cookbook that you should buy if you haven’t already. I was put off by the hipster Instagram-y photography at first, but I’ve never bookmarked so many recipes that I want to make in a single cookbook. So far I’ve made about a dozen recipes and they’ve all been excellent.) This was seriously so good, especially when paired with red wine and a viewing of Blazing Saddles. Plus, it’s just darn fun to say the word “Bucatini!” in an exaggerated Italian accent. I highly recommend it.

Roasted Tomato and Anchovy Bucatini

From Dining In

Ingredients
Kosher salt
¼ cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling
½ small red onion, very thinly sliced
Crushed red pepper flakes
4 anchovy fillets
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, crushed
12 ounces bucatini or spaghetti
Lots of grated Parmesan cheese

Instructions

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

2. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large skillet or heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat. Add the onion and season with salt and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is totally cooked through but not browned, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the anchovies and stir until they’ve melted into the pan, about 30 seconds. Add the tomato paste and cook until it turns a brick-red color and sticks a bit to the bottom of the pan, about 90 seconds.

3. Add the tomatoes, scraping up any bits on the bottom of the skillet. Season with salt and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook, swirling the skillet occasionally, until the sauce thickens and it tastes so good you can hardly stand it. Add more salt and red pepper flakes if you want. Keep warm and set aside.

4. Meanwhile, cook the pasta in the boiling water. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the pasta cooking water.

5. Add the pasta along with ½ cup of the pasta cooking water to the skillet and toss to coat. Cook, tossing occasionally, until the pasta is really well coated, the sauce sticking to each individual noodle in a way that can only be described as perfect.

Remove the skillet from the heat and transfer the pasta to a large bowl, or divide it among four smaller bowls. Top with lots of Parmesan cheese.

Bonfire of the Vanities / Miso Rosemary Beans on Toast

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This week’s recipe: Miso Rosemary Beans on Toast

I recently finished reading The Bonfire of the Vanities, which was published a little over 30 years ago. I had read some of Tom Wolfe’s non-fiction and was familiar with his unique style, but I was still blown away by this novel. I think part of it was that I listened to it in audio–serious props to narrator Joe Barrett, who did an amazing job–which both brought the characters to life and allowed me to ignore some of Wolfe’s more annoying stylistic tics.

The plot is relatively simple. Our (anti)hero is Sherman McCoy, a bond trader and self-styled “Master of the Universe.” He has a palatial apartment on Park Avenue, a wife and daughter, and a mistress named Maria. One day, he picks Maria up from the airport and accidentally makes a wrong turn, ending up in the South Bronx. They’re stopped on a ramp by two black teenagers and, assuming that they’re about to be mugged, they skirmish with them and then drive away, hitting one of the boys in the process. The boy, Henry Lamb, falls into a coma, and his case becomes a cause célèbre in the black community–an innocent boy at death’s door because of a hit-and-run from a white couple in an expensive Mercedes. Other characters include Larry Kramer, the vain and bitter assistant district attorney assigned to prosecute the case; Peter Fallow, the alcoholic English tabloid journalist who reports on it; Reverend Bacon, the Al Sharpton-esque race hustler who capitalizes on it; Myron Kovitsky, the fierce, short-tempered judge who decides it; and the various other lawyers, criminals, activists, bleeding hearts, Wall Street traders, and denizens of high society that made up 1980s New York City.

Black, white, Jewish, WASPy, Irish, Italian–nobody escapes Wolfe’s satirical eye, no one is sacred. (Oh, the think pieces and hot takes and righteous Twitter rage this book would generate if it were published today.) No one comes out of this book looking good, except maybe Judge Kovitsky (I suppose Sherman’s six-year-old daughter is fine too). In a different book, Kramer might have been the heroic prosecutor who seeks justice for the disenfranchised. Fallow might have been a dogged pursuer of the truth in the mold of Woodward and Bernstein, trying to get to the bottom of a story that the broader society thinks is unimportant. Even the unlikable Sherman might have been more of a tragic figure, a victim of fate and circumstance whose punishment outweighed his crime. All of these characterizations are, in a way, accurate, but we don’t see them this way because they don’t even see themselves that way. As the book goes on, Sherman comes to realize how his life of privilege and entitlement leads him to make spectacularly self-destructive decisions out in the real world. Kramer finds his job depressing and only puts effort into it when he’s trying to impress a pretty juror. Fallow keeps lucking into scoops despite his laziness and manifest disdain for the story. Wolfe is unsparing in unearthing each character’s foibles and hypocrisies, and much as I loved the book, it does leave a sour taste in your mouth. But that’s a small price to pay for such an honest, well-written, and gosh-darned entertaining book.

In some ways, the story resonates very strongly in an age of extreme wealth inequality and Black Lives Matter. (A character literally says that the Lamb case is going to revolve around whether or not a black life matters to society.) But it’s also an interesting historical portrait of New York at a very different time. I understand in an academic sense that New York in the 70s and 80s was a cauldron of drugs, crime, and racial anxiety. My parents moved here in the mid-70s and everyone thought they were insane. My mom talks about how, when my sister was born in 1981, she was the only baby on the Upper West Side, and all the prostitutes and junkies would coo over her stroller as my parents wheeled her down Amsterdam Avenue. But of course, from the vantage point of today, they had incredible foresight. Today, you can’t walk down a street on the Upper West Side without getting bumped off the sidewalk by strollers. People pay top dollar to live in neighborhoods that their parents and grandparents worked hard to escape, and many more are being squeezed out of neighborhoods where their families lived for generations. The great dark hordes didn’t rise up and overrun Park Avenue; instead, Whole Foods has colonized Harlem. I don’t know if the great novel of post-Giuliani/post-Bloomberg New York is being written right now, but I hope that it’s half as astute, insightful, and sharp as Bonfire of the Vanities.

So anyway, here’s some beans on toast. This is such a pretty dish, one that makes me feel like I’m some slender French lady entertaining guests in my sun-dappled Provence kitchen. Why it makes me feel like that, I don’t know, but I’m going to chase the feeling. It’s also super-easy to throw together and makes for delicious leftovers.

Miso Rosemary Beans on Toast

From Tending the Table

INGREDIENTS

2 tablespoons olive oil
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
4 cloves roasted garlic
2 tablespoons miso
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons honey
2 teaspoons mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups cooked navy beans
2 slices sourdough toast
Red pepper flakes

INSTRUCTIONS 

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Add the rosemary and fry for a minute or so, until bright green and crispy. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Meanwhile, combine the roasted garlic, miso, apple cider vinegar, honey, mustard and salt in a blender and puree on high until completely smooth. Pour the mixture into the pan with the rosemary infused oil and simmer, whisking constantly, until thickened and reduced slightly.  Add the beans and toss to coat.

To serve, top each slice of toast with a generous serving of beans, some crispy rosemary and red pepper flakes.

Aziz Ansari / Dad’s Magic Soup

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This week’s recipe: Dad’s Magic Soup

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a young woman in possession of a blog must have a hot take on the Aziz Ansari story. In this case, it’s not such a hot take, since the story broke on Saturday, a veritable eternity in Internet time. Really, all of the takes have been took. I come down firmly on the side that says that this was nothing worse than classic bad sex; that Ansari was undoubtedly sleazy and aggressive but didn’t do anything that warranted having embarrassing details of his personal life put out there for all to see; and that we need to encourage women to be more vocal about what they want (or don’t want) and teach men to be more aware of their partners’ body language.

Even though I think it was wrong to publish this piece, I appreciate the conversations that it’s generated and the way it’s made me challenge my own thinking. I was talking about it with a friend, and we both agreed that the author laid on the naiveté a little thick. I said that any woman in her 20s with some dating/sexual experience who pursued a celebrity, went on a date with him, went back to his house for drinks, got naked with him, and gave and received oral sex (twice!) should have seen what was coming next.

But isn’t that blaming the victim? We’ve all heard, and abhorred, victim blaming. She wore a short skirt, what did she think would happen? She had a drink, what did she think would happen? She was out alone late at night, what did she think would happen? It’s the oldest trope in the book, literally. Commentators on the biblical story of Dinah blame her for getting raped because, the text says, she “went out among the women of the land.” She left the house, the commentators say, what did she think would happen?

Now, I don’t think that Grace was a victim of anything worse than a bad date. Ansari is famous, of course, but he’s not her boss and has no authority over her career. Dude also weighs about 90 pounds so I don’t think physical intimidation was a likely issue. There was nothing keeping her there except the social pressure that women feel to please men (this clip sure hasn’t aged well). When she finally verbalized her unhappiness, Ansari called her a cab and later apologized to her without any hint of defensiveness. It really does seem like a miscommunication.

My empathy is limited here because I’ve been in scenarios where I’ve hooked up with a guy and very clearly and firmly told him that I’m not interested in having sex that night. None of them reacted at all badly, and I just can’t see why Grace couldn’t do the same. But I’m not her and I don’t want to judge someone whose situation I only know from a badly written article. So I wonder if the only way out of the “what did she expect?” trap is to change the expectation. As somewhat of a prude, I’ve often commented to more adventurous friends how crazy it is that, in modern heterosexual dating, first you exchange bodily fluids in an incredibly intimate act that could possibly result in a child that would bond you two together for the rest of your lives…and then you get to know each other! What if the expectation was that a modern city gal like Grace wouldn’t have sex on the first date? I don’t want to go back to the days where a woman’s virtue was considered lost if she had sex before marriage, but I wonder if it’s a good idea to pump the brakes on first- or second-date sex until we have, as a society, a better handle on what constitutes consent. Maybe that’s controversial or sex-negative, but I don’t think it’s controversial or sex-negative to say that sex with someone that you care about or love or at least respect is better than the alternative, and can help you avoid unfortunate incidents like the one between Grace and Ansari. I don’t know how you’d finesse it so that people who genuinely wanted to have sex on the first date wouldn’t be considered loose but I’m not the empress of the universe so I have no way to implement this idea anyway. It’s just a thought!

So anyway, here’s some soup. This is my absolute favorite soup in the world. I call this Dad’s magic soup because a) my dad makes it all the time and b) it is magic. What is magic about it? A) the taste, which is rich and creamy and amazing, and b) the fact that you can put pretty much any combination of veggies in it and it still turns out tasting the same, i.e. delicious. It’s the perfect soup to make when you have a bunch of veggies in your crisper that are about to turn, and while I never make the croutons because I am lazy, I can tell you that they taste utterly heavenly.

Dad’s Magic Soup, aka Vegetable Cream Soup

Adapted (slightly) from The Classic Cuisine of the Italian Jews

Ingredients

The vegetables that go into the soup vary according to season and taste, but two
ingredients, in addition to the onion and herbs, remain constant. These are potatoes
and cooked dried beans, which give the soup body and that wonderful, creamy texture.
¼ cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 medium onion
2 pounds of a variety of vegetables such as green beans, zucchini, yellow squash, carrots, celery, turnip, potatoes, leek, spinach, green peas, all trimmed and coarsely chopped
2 large sprigs Italian parsley
2 tablespoons shredded fresh or 1½ teaspoons dried basil leaves
1 tablespoon salt
1/8 teaspoon crushed red
pepper
2 cups cooked dried beans (see below)
5 cups cold water
2 cups fried or toasted croutons
(see below)
Instructions

In a large pot, heat oil and lightly brown garlic in it. Discard garlic and add onion. Lightly brown onion; add all the remaining vegetables and herbs but not the cooked dried beans. Add salt and red pepper and cook, stirring, 5 or 6 minutes, to allow all of the seasonings to blend with the vegetables. Add cooked dried beans and 5 cups of cold water and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer, covered, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Strain through a sieve, or blend in a blender or processor or with an immersion blender. Serve hot or cold according to the season, with fried or toasted croutons.

Cooked dried beans: To make 2 cups of cooked dried beans, start with 1 cup of dried Great Northern beans (about ½ pound). Spread on a plate and pick out any stones and very small or cracked beans. Rinse twice in warm water. Place in a large pot and add 1 quart of hot water and 1 teaspoon of salt. Bring to a rapid boil. Reduce heat to lowest point and simmer, covered, for ½ hour. Add 1 fresh sage leaf (or ¼ teaspoon of dried sage leaves – not powder) and ½ clove garlic, husk on, and simmer for ½ to 1 hour longer. When cooked, drain. The beans can be made a day in advance and refrigerated.
Croutons: Dice four slices of hearty white bread into cubes (Dad uses Healthy Delites Organic French Country bread from Fairway). For fried croutons, heat ¼ cup vegetable oil in a large skillet until quite hot but not smoky. Drop diced bread into it and fry quickly, stirring, until golden brown. Transfer to paper towel to drain. For toasted croutons, placed diced bread with no oil on a baking sheet. Toast under the broiler for approximately 2 minutes, shaking the baking sheet frequently. Remove from heat and let cool thoroughly, stirring from time to time.

Hallmark Movies, Pt. II / Tomato Soup

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This week’s recipe: Tomato Soup

Now that Christmas Eve approaches, it’s time to wrap up our first annual review of the Hallmark Channel’s 2017 Christmas movie offerings. Enjoy!

The Sweetest Christmas

Our heroine is the reigning Hallmark Channel Christmas Princess Lacey Chabert (Candace Cameron Bure being Queen), a down-on-her-luck baker who lives with her sister while she is semi-unemployed. She attended culinary school (presumably at Le Cordon Bleu, the only cooking school the Hallmark Channel has ever heard of) and has registered the domain name KyliesKakes.Kom (KKK) in an attempt to get a business off the ground. Luckily, her boyfriend Alex hired her as a temp receptionist at his company. Her sister literally calls Alex “Mr. Business,” and he indeed looks like a businessman, in that he appears to be at least in his mid-50s and makes appropriately dad-like puns such as sleigh/slay. One night, when Kylie expects him to propose, he takes her to a restaurant that turns out to be owned by Nick, Kylie’s prom date. Kylie looks like she went to prom five years ago; Alex looks like he went to prom in 1952. Seriously, dude is old. “You have filled gaps that I didn’t even know existed,” Alex says to Kylie. “I wanna give you a role I didn’t think anyone would ever be able to fill.” PSYCH despite all that filthy innuendo, that role is office manager. Sex tonight will be awkward. Kylie breaks it off with Alex, who apparently didn’t realize that a romantic dinner with champagne and rose petals on the table would not appear to be a set up for a work promotion.  Things are looking down for poor Kylie until a piece of mail informs her that she is a semi-finalist for the American Gingerbread Competition! Wow! Only wait, her sister’s dumb kids have destroyed the oven! Shoot!

Even though winning the competition means EVERYTHING to her and would CHANGE her LIFE and allow her CAKE BUSINESS to TAKE OFF, she is unwilling to ask her neighbors for the use of their ovens. Turns out the only person she can ask is Nick, who is happy to sacrifice one of his restaurant’s ovens to Kylie for a week. They get along swimmingly and it appears that there will be literally no conflict. But then she and Nick’s black friend go shopping at some sort of members-only restaurant supply store and the black friend warns her that he won’t allow her to break Nick’s heart again. Apparently they dated in college, but then Nick’s mom died…ON CHRISTMAS??? and Kylie broke up with him because that’s the supportive thing to do.

Alex stalks Kylie to a Christmas tree stand where he offers to sponsor her entry into the gingerbread competition, “since all of the other semi-finalists will have big corporate sponsors.” Sure. Anyway, Kylie declines, and at Kylie’s big company Christmas party, Alex becomes jealous when Nick saves the day by providing the food when the caterers flake out. “Why is she so into this guy?” he complains. “Is it because they both like cooking? Is it because neither of them remembers the Kennedy assassination?” But Nick and Kylie continue to grow closer, especially when she very romantically burns herself on a cookie sheet, which leads them to go outside (the medically accepted treatment for a burn) and have a classic Hallmark Spontaneous Snowball Fight. There’s trouble in paradise when they discover that a celebrity chef known as the Godmother of Gingerbread, Ina Bruckner, has entered the gingerbread competition (headline in the newspaper, page 1, above the fold: “LOCAL GINGERBREAD CONTEST ATTRACTS CELEBRITY CHEF.” I thought that this was the American Gingerbread Competition but apparently by “local” they mean “in America.”) Fortunately, Kylie makes it to the semi-finals, but it turns out that Ina is being sponsored by Alex’s company! Dick move, Alex.

Nick and Kylie fight because Nick says that Kylie is just imitating Ina’s style, and she needs to, like, be herself, man. There’s a lot of unnecessary tzuris that made Mark think that maybe Kylie was on her time of the month, and things look doomed. Fortunately, Black Friend swoops in to save the day and explain to Nick that, ACTUALLY, he loves Kylie and should go after her. Such a wise Black Friend! But Kylie comes across Alex and Ina prepping their competition entry, and it turns out that Alex hired Ina so that she could make this insanely elaborate gingerbread house-related proposal for Kylie. It’s actually really romantic and made me wonder if actually Kylie should have been with him the whole time. But then Nick shows up (I have no idea where they are, by the way) and sees Alex down on one knee proposing to Kylie, so he storms off in a classic Hallmark Misunderstanding Moment. When she tries to explain to him that she doesn’t want to be with Alex, he refuses to take yes for an answer, because you gotta have conflict. Again, Black Friend swoops in to save the day and is just like, “Dude, Kylie, just communicate for once.” Kylie interprets this as “I need to communicate with him…through gingerbread.” She decides to totally redo her entry in 12 hours, and secures some primo cocaine to get herself through the night. You can tell how hard she’s been working because she has an artfully placed smudge of icing (or is it cocaine?) on her otherwise perfectly made-up face. She WOWS the judges with a gingerbread carousel and wins the competition! Who could have seen it coming? And the icing smudge even magically disappears between shots. All is forgiven between Kylie and Nick, but no one knows what happened to Ina Bruckner, who was humiliated in the competition against an amateur baker and whose client didn’t even get his girl. I assume she threw herself in the river.

BTW here is a review of this movie from IMDB:

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I think that says it all.

Finding Santa

This film was QUALITY. It stars Jodie Sweetin, the least famous Tanner sister from Full House; the most important Full House cast member in the Hallmark Channel stable after Candace Cameron Bure and Lori Loughlin; and the Full House actress who was most addicted to meth. She plays Grace, who runs a year-round Christmas store–a sound business model if there ever was one. But it makes sense because the town of Green River’s entire economy revolves around the annual Christmas parade, which is going to be featured on THE NEWS!

A man named Tom plays Santa in the Christmas parade, and also runs a successful school to train other Santas (just go with it). But then Tom takes a nasty fall, which means he can’t be in the parade, because apparently having a cast on your arm renders you incapable of sitting on a float for an hour. Grace tries to find a substitute, but apparently Tom’s Santa School doesn’t do a very good job at training Santas, because all of the applicants are comically awful. One of them is the town mayor’s idiot son, who looks like a pervert and assumes that the job is his for the taking. Seriously, I don’t understand why being Santa is considered such a difficult job: just find a slightly overweight guy, stick him in a red suit and fake beard, and have him say, “Ho ho ho, merry Christmas.” It’s not exactly rocket science. But Grace is despairing of ever finding a substitute when Tom tells her that he has a son, Ben, who could save the day. Unfortunately, Ben lives in Boston and has no desire to be Santa, so naturally, Grace decides to drive to Boston to stalk and harass him until he gives in. Because again, there is only one man between Connecticut and Boston who is possibly capable of putting on a red suit etc., and that man is young and fit, just like Santa Claus. The lady from THE NEWS is putting pressure on Grace to find a new Santa, so she lies and says that Ben agreed even though he emphatically did not. See, Ben is working on a novel, and doesn’t have the time to drive to Green River and sit on a parade float. It seems like a pretty thin excuse for not helping out your dad and your hometown in their hour of need. Still, we know that Ben is a good guy because he gives his coffee to a homeless man. Character development!

When not working on his Very Important Novel, Ben is an Uber driver, and so Grace very cleverly requests an Uber ride to the train station (even though she took her car to Boston) and gets paired with him. But then she changes the destination to Green River, and his resistance cannot stand in the face of this genius gambit. Ben reunites with his dad, but is all like, “I DON’T WANT TO BE YOU, DAD. I DON’T WANT TO BE SANTA. IT’S TOO MUCH PRESSURE.” Sheesh, this is how he reacts to being asked to play Santa in a parade for a couple of hours? I hope this guy never gets sent to war. He decides to go back to Boston in the morning, and Grace goes with him, since she needs to pick up her car.

They get stuck in a snowstorm on the way back to Boston and have to crash at Grace’s friend’s house, where Ben unexpectedly gets into the Christmas spirit. “Who’s the lumberjack?” he asks Grace upon Googling (I mean searchenGine-ing her) and seeing a photo of her and a man in a suit with a short beard. Turns out it’s her ex, and then they start talking about their dreams. Grace was an art student until her parents died…ON CHRISTMAS??? When the kids are disappointed about not being able to go to the mall to see Santa, Ben dresses up as Santa and promises them that their parents will, uh, produce for them a new baby brother. They drive to Green River, where Tom is trying to train the mayor’s idiot son how to say “Ho ho ho.” Literally. The dude is incapable of saying “Ho ho ho.” Grace and Ben going to an ugly sweater party, where Ben once AGAIN is infected with the Christmas spirit! Is there an antidote? Anyway, Ben decides that it would be a travesty to “let [the mayor’s idiot son] on a sleigh” and finally agrees to be Santa in the parade. But then Ben overhears Grace tell someone that she’d do anything to protect her legacy (i.e. the parade) and thinks it means she is faking feelings for him. It is truly one of the dumbest Hallmark Misunderstanding Moments of all time. Ben accuses Grace of messing with him because she’s unhappy with her own life and never followed her dreams.

“I WANT YOU TO BE PROUD OF ME, DAD, EVEN IF I’M NOT SANTA CLAUS,” Ben weeps. But Tom admits that he should just let Ben do whatever allows him to “find his jolly” (the motto of Tom’s Santa school) and they hug and cry like a bunch of dumb homos. Meanwhile, Grace’s friend with the weird hair agrees with Ben that Grace doesn’t actually want to devote her life to a year-round Christmas store and should instead follow her dreamz. Moving on…will Ben show up at the parade, or will the mayor’s idiot son have to be Santa and RUIN the whole parade/the town’s whole economy? Again again, it’s so weird that the only choices in the whole town are Ben, scion of Santa, or the mayor’s idiot son, an idiot. Luckily, Ben sees one of Grace’s paintings (actually just some photograph she painted over) and is inspired to take over, saving the town’s bacon in a montage set to a truly terrible Christmas pop song. At first it seems like he’s ignoring Grace, but it turns out that he just can’t break character when he’s in the Santa suit. Duh! Ben’s presence in the parade has convinced him that he should somehow find a way to be Santa AND a writer. Can he possibly pull off being Santa one day a year and a writer the other 364? Luckily, he has found an illustrator in Grace, who is going to be a Christmas shop manager AND an artist. Truly, you can have it all if you just try!

So anyway, here’s some soup. This is the perfect dish for a cold winter’s night that is so deep. You can make the whole thing in about 20 minutes and serve it, as I did, with grilled cheese, and blam, complete meal. I found that I didn’t need to put in the baking soda but your mileage may vary.

Tomato Soup

From Killing Thyme

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 rib of celery, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 3 14 oz cans of diced to crushed tomatoes, including juice
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • 2/3 cups heavy cream
  • 2-3 tsp sugar, to taste
  • 1/4 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt, more to taste if needed
  • Cracked black pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda, to cut acidity

Instructions

  1. In a stock pot or Dutch oven, melt the butter. Add the onion, celery, and smashed garlic. Simmer over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent—about 5 minutes.

  2. Add the tomatoes as well as their juices, vegetable broth, heavy cream, sugar, oregano, salt, and pepper. Bring the soup to a rolling boil over high heat and break up the tomatoes with a spoon or spatula. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes.

  3. Carefully transfer the soup mixture to a powerful blender or food processor (you’ll have to do this in batches), and blend until velvety smooth. Once all the soup is smooth, return it to its original stock pot. Taste and adjust seasoning. If you find the soup on the acidic side, bring it to a simmer, add the baking soda, and wait for it to foam and fizzle. Stir it, and let it simmer for about five minutes. Taste. You should have a smoother and much less acidic flavor now.

Hallmark Movies, Pt. I / Fried Chicken

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This week’s recipe: Fried Chicken

It’s the Hallmark Channel’s Countdown to Christmas–the most wonderful time of the yeeeeear! Since it starts in late October, the most wonderful ten weeks of the yeeeeear! Mark and I are connoisseurs of the Hallmark Channel, and I use that word without irony or exaggeration. We LOVE this shit, and the Christmas movies are the best of all. We created a whole website that generates plots to Hallmark Christmas movies. But every year, Hallmark churns out a new crop of wholesome, heartwarming, formulaic movies, generally starring the same five or ten people, and Mark and I watch EVERY ONE of them. You might think I’m exaggerating but I’m not. When we go through the channel listings to pick which movies to DVR, we say, “Seen that one, seen that one, seen that one.” It’s frankly a little pathetic, so thank God for Hallmark’s original content. Here are some of this year’s fine offerings:

Enchanted Christmas

This movie stars Alexa PenaVega, previously best known for starring in Spy Kids. It also stars someone named Carlos PenaVega, whom I immediately assumed was Alexa PenaVega’s brother and was VERY concerned that they were love interests. They are, in fact, love interests, but Carlos is Alexa’s husband and they have some sort of Christian lifestyle blogger racket going on, so all’s well that ends well. Anyway, Alexa PV plays Laura, a former dancer and single mom whose husband died…ON CHRISTMAS??? Alexa PV is 29 and the girl who plays her daughter is rapidly coming up on 11 so I guess Laura was a teen mom, but it’s okay because her daughter, Nikki, retains a childlike belief in Santa that makes her seem much younger mentally than she is physically. Laura is dating a coworker, Scott, who you know is a douche because he wears a suit and doesn’t know that Laura can dance. Also, he keeps bringing up her dead husband, which is a pretty douchey move, to be fair. Laura and Nikki are headed to Utah to save the old Enchanted Lodge hotel for in time for the big Christmas Eve show. Nikki spends the whole drive to Utah, and much of the movie, bitching about how it’s not snowing, even though she hails from LA. (NB: I went to the Hallmark Web site to check on a few things, because this blog is nothing if not rigorously fact-checked, and they claim that the movie is supposed to take place in New Mexico, not Utah, which would make the fixation with snow even more confusing. But IMDB and business.utah.gov claim that it takes place in Utah, as does my memory. Take that as you will.) 

At the hotel, Laura runs into Ricardo (Carlos PV), her ex-boyfriend and former dance partner. You know that they still have feelings for each other because they both have the same framed photo of the two of them in their houses. Ricardo is a dance teacher but, when Nikki expresses interest in dancing in the Christmas show, Laura intimates that something very dark happened to her when she started dancing. What could it be? Did she take to the pole? Despite Laura’s pastor-from-Footlose-esque objections, Nikki begins dancing at Ricardo’s studio, leading to the classic line, “Let’s do it with antlers!” (when the young dancers put on their reindeer headbands). You will be very surprised to hear that Laura also get mixed up in the devil’s dancing when Ricardo’s partner leaves to audition for some world tour and Laura has to take over. Luckily, even though she hasn’t danced in years, she has brought many dancer’s outfits with her to Utah. This move has basically the same plot as Dirty Dancing, only with 100 percent less social consciousness, Jews, and abortion. Spoiler: they even try and fail to recreate the magic of the famous Dirty Dancing lift. Carlos PV, you’re no Patrick Swayze.

Trouble arrives with douchey Scott; when he texts her, his face shows up beside his message because no way do you remember who he is. Turns out Laura is in trouble at work, probably 
because she literally never does her job, which is to remodel the Enchanted Lodge in time for Christmas. She is too busy dancing and going on a badly green screened ski lift. When Scott stabs her in the back, she realizes the relationship is over, but there’s more conflict yet! Turns out that Ricardo’s partner got the “lead role in a two-year world tour,” but they will only take her if Ricardo dances with her, even though he didn’t audition and they’ve never seen him dance. The conflict gets resolved in some way that I can’t remember, and Laura gets hired as the new general manager of the Enchanted Lodge, because of her extensive experience in…dancing? Construction? The last shot of the movie is amazing–Laura and Ricardo kiss in the snow and then freeze, but the snow keeps falling. Their love defies the laws of physics!

Coming Home for Christmas

This movie stars a Hallmark channel stalwart, Danica McKellar of The Wonder Years. She seems to specialize in playing some variety of household servant to a rich/royal family who eventually gets with whatever single heir is available, and Coming Home for Christmas fits the mold. Even for a Hallmark movie, this has a crapton of exposition crammed into the first 90 seconds under the guise of “Wow, what a year it’s been!” We learn that McKellar’s character Lizzie works in insurance; that her company went under; that she rejected a proposal from her boyfriend; that she studied art history; that she fears that she’s overly complacent; and that her dad died…ON CHRISTMAS??? Lizzie’s sister Meghan has been hired by the Marley family to sell their historic estate. Meghan insists that because Lizzie worked in insurance, she is fully qualified to become the house manager of a historic estate. There is a theme in Hallmark movies of people getting jobs for which they have no experience and are totally unqualified. If I were the family that hired Meghan, I’d fire and then sue her for nepotism.

Lizzie shows up at the Marley estate, and you can tell that the butler is NOT amused to be answering to this woman. She has been hired without a job interview; instead, she has a cursory meeting with Robert, the scion of the Marley family in charge of selling the estate. He says that he trusts Meghan’s word on any transaction (he shouldn’t), and Lizzie asks, “So I’m a transaction?” If this were a different kind of channel, this would be the prelude to a Fifty Shades of Grey-type relationship, but instead, it becomes a boring investigation into why Robert (Bob) Marley and his family don’t like Christmas. One possibility: Robert’s parents died in a car accident…ON CHRISTMAS??? But the true answer lies with family matriarch Miss Pippa. Black friend and Folgers product placement vehicle Anna warns Lizzie to stay away from Pippa, who is not played by Shirley Maclaine, but Lizzie’s can-do spirit and lack of professional boundaries lead her to pester the old woman with her ideas about the annual Christmas gala, which Lizzie is also in charge of planning due to her extensive experience in insurance. Maybe it’s just because I work in Development, but I find the idea of just starting to work on a Christmas gala in December to be horrifying. Anyway, Pippa is a major bitch, asking Lizzie, “Why aren’t you married? You’re in your thirties, no?”, officially making this a hostile work environment.

Robert’s playboy brother Kip arrives and immediately starts hitting on Lizzie. Robert feels possessive even though he has evinced no more than a professional interest in her, and he is upset when the two start planning the gala together. I don’t know why he is so upset when she and Kip go to a gala-related business meeting; personally, I always wear short, skintight dresses with cleavage ovals to business meetings. There is much friction between Kip and Robert; at one point, Kip says, “Robert, you may be the executor of the estate, but you’re not the executor of me.” I’m going to keep that line in my back pocket. The friction increases when their sister Sloane arrives with her kids. Sloane’s husband isn’t there because he’s unemployed and they’ve had to…gasp…dip into her trust fund. The problems of real Americans! The family starts to scheme on how to improve Sloane’s relationship. “Don’t look now, but you’re kind of acting like a typical family,” Lizzie tells the Marleys. “You’re fired,” says Pippa. Just kidding, they all laugh and act like that’s a totally normal thing for an employee to say.

There is chopping down of Christmas trees, snowball fights with blond moppets, and a gingerbread-building house activity becomes a dick-measuring competition for Robert and Kip. There is a pond on the estate that is the focus of much conversation but we never get to see it; guess it wasn’t in the budget. Pippa goes from basically ignoring Lizzie’s existence to lending her a diamond necklace and counting her as a family member in the space of a few days. She’s a tough nut to crack, indeed. Lizzie is going to attend the gala but feels torn between Kip and Robert. If she were open to threesomes it would solve a lot of her problems. At the gala, there’s a classic Hallmark Misunderstanding Moment: Robert overhears Lizzie telling Kip that she’d love to go to Athens with him…and walks away right before she says “but I can’t.” The conflict gets resolved in some way I can’t remember, Kip concedes Lizzie to Robert, and she presumably becomes a lady of leisure while dicking over her sister, who now doesn’t get the commission on the Marley estate.

With Love, Christmas

Our heroine Melanie works for an advertising agency, where she has been sacrificing her professional development because she has a crush on a coworker, Donavan, who stole the big Christmas-related account. The account is for a cellphone company that…also is a Christmas company? Whatever. Donavan doesn’t “get” them (I don’t either) and he seems to be in trouble at work.

Meanwhile, the office Secret Santa pool is going on, and Melanie gets assigned Donovan. She has to get him a gift under $50, which seems like a lot of money for an office Secret Santa gift, but whatever. She doesn’t know what to get him, so she sends him an email from an anonymous account asking him what his favorite things are. Maybe it’s just the times we’re living in but this seems like a surefire way to get sexually harassed, but instead, Donavan writes back that he’s too busy for this nonsense and she should just get him a tie. I don’t see what Melanie sees in this guy, who she has admitted she knows nothing about and who has thus far revealed himself to be quite a dick. Anyway, after Donovan bombed the big Christmas cellphone account, the boss, Mr. Farnsworth, teams him up with Melanie. They clash because she thinks Christmas ought to be about warmth and he is some sort of business robot. He is genuinely semi-autistic. Every time Melanie is like, “Christmas is all about love and family and wonder,” he is like, “No, it is about commerce.” But SURPRISE he has Melanie as his Secret Santa too! Who could have seen it coming? (Mark and I saw it coming.) And OTHER SURPRISE he didn’t have any good Christmas memories from childhood, which is why he hates Christmas. Melanie decides to teach Donovan about Christmas by feeding him cookies (he doesn’t eat sugar, because he is terrible) and forcing him to listen to carolers. Shockingly, neither of these convert him to Christmas-loving. Still, when we see Donavan at home, his bookshelf is festooned with paper snowflakes and little Santa hats. So who knows what that’s about.

Melanie convinces Donavan to come to her sister’s house for dinner, where they get to witness some truly terrible child acting from Melanie’s nephew, who presses his shitty snowman art on Donavan. The snowman art awakens a love of family and the Christmas spirit in Donavan, and he starts getting into the back-and-forth with his Secret Santa over email. “He has a sense of humor!” Melanie says of Donavan, on no evidence whatsoever. Although Donovan is notoriously distant and closed off, he opens up to his Secret Santa after 48 whole hours. Things seem to being going swimmingly until Mr. Farnsworth tells Melanie that she’ll be competing against Donovan for the Big Promotion, which will be announced at the Christmas party. Never mind discussing salary and benefits and responsibilities and anything else that might go along with a promotion; it will simply be announced like the winner of Miss America. Farnsworth tells Donovan that he ought to be more social at work in order to get the promotion, so he attends an after-hours work outing at a heavily greenscreened ice skating rink that is randomly studded with Christmas trees. (You never see his and Melanie’s faces while they skate; Mark is convinced that the actor who plays Donovan is afraid of skating and they were using a body double.)

Donavan reveals to his Secret Santa via email that his mom died…ON CHRISTMAS??? No, actually, she died on Christmas, and his dad was a violent alcoholic never much for holidays. Meanwhile, sparks begin to fly between him and Melanie when he offers her his scarf (everyone in Hallmark Channel movies wears their coats unbuttoned and their scarves untied under the coat’s lapels, even when it’s snowing out). Despite all this, Donovan’s pitches continue to lack “heart,” and when he gets a call from his dad, we learn that his dad is a grumpy New York workaholic who wants to work through Christmas and avoid the crowds by Rockefeller Center Macy’s Times Square Grand Central who has no time for his son, since Donavan is not arguing any cases before the Supreme Court this year.

Donovan asks his Secret Santa if there are any Christmas traditions she’d like to try, and she writes that she’s never taken a horse-drawn sleigh ride. “Even I’ve taken a sleigh ride,” Donovan types, as if it’s as impossible to have an American childhood without a horse-drawn sleigh ride as it is to escape middle school without reading The Catcher in the Rye. He wants to meet his Secret Santa but Melanie freaks out because…reasons. You can tell that Donavan’s changed at this point because now he’s wearing a sweater instead of a suit (even though it’s the day of the big pitch meeting and he looks totally unprofessional), and he agrees to do the pitch together with Melanie instead of steamrolling her and her ideas as he did five minutes earlier. The cellphone company loves their pitch, which involves a little boy calling Santa on a cellphone to get his dad a snowblower or something. There’s a classic Hallmark Misunderstanding Moment when Donovan asks out another coworker who he thinks is his Secret Santa, but it quickly gets resolved in some way I can’t remember; Donovan’s dad says he’s proud of him; Melanie gets the big promotion; Melanie buys Donovan basketball tickets because basketball was how he used to bond with his dad; Donovan buys(?) Melanie a horse-drawn sleigh ride; both of them spend over $50 on their Secret Santa gifts; the girl whom Donovan had asked out slow-dances with Farnsworth; and everyone discovers the true meaning of Christmas.

So anyway, here’s some chicken. Turns out that, despite my love of Hallmark Christmas movies, I am Jewish (regular readers of this blog will be shocked to discover this fact). It’s Hanukkah right now, and despite the larger culture’s attempts to convince you otherwise, Hanukkah is NOT a holiday remotely on par with Christmas, in terms of either religious significance or general awesomeness. Hanukkah is a bullshit holiday that celebrates a bunch of religious zealots fighting a civil war on their secular counterparts, and it has been turned into something important and worthwhile solely because of its proximity to Christmas. However, I do appreciate its emphasis on fried foods. I have more of a sweet tooth than a…fried tooth? but I enjoy some fried shit occasionally as much as the next person. So I decided to take advantage of this holiday season to finally make a fried chicken recipe that’s been on my To Make list for almost a year. I made thighs only, because white meat is terrible, and they came out beautifully–crispy on the outside, juicy and tender on the inside. Even though I used canola oil, which the (rather bossy) author of the recipe FORBIDS YOU TO DO, I’d still give this recipe high marks.

Fried Chicken

From Weed ‘Em and Reap

INGREDIENTS

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. In a medium size bowl, whisk together eggs, water, & hot sauce.
  2. In another bowl, combine the flour and spices.
  3. Dip the chicken in the egg, and then coat it in the flour/spice mixture.
  4. Heat the oil to 350 degrees F in a deep pot.
  5. Fry the chicken in the oil until brown and crisp.
  6. (Dark meat takes about 14 minutes, while white meat takes about 10 minutes)