WASPs / Brioche Donuts

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This week’s recipe: Brioche Donuts with Bourbon Vanilla Creme

If you’re a fan of either hatereading or nostalgia for racism and imperialism, you’ve probably seen Ross Douthat’s column on the death of George H.W. Bush, “Why We Miss the WASPs.” The obvious rejoinder is, in the immortal words of Tonto, “What do you mean ‘we,’ white man?” Well, by “we” he means “Americans,” and I suppose he’s right that some Americans do miss the old ruling class, but I don’t think it’s out of any particular affection for WASPs; like all nostalgia, it’s based less on concrete facts than a hazy feeling that things used to be better. I am nostalgic for the Clinton years because, from my perspective as an elementary schooler, the world seemed safe and prosperous during the 90s, but that doesn’t mean I think members of his administration should be in charge today and for all time. More importantly, I definitely don’t think Douthat is right to say that society is in decline because the WASPs have lost power and been replaced by something worse.

To start, Douthat does a terrible job of defining his terms. Donald Trump is technically a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant but no one would place him in the same category as the Bushes. By WASPs he is obviously referring to a very specific set: British-descended, mostly Episcopalian, wealthy, Northeastern, Republican, Ivy League educated, you get the picture. He sees WASPiness as a matter of character, and it’s Bush’s character rather than his policies that Douthat focuses on. First of all, I can’t with all these conservative writers wailing about how George H.W. Bush was the last honorable, dignified, gracious president, as if Barack Obama never existed. Second, Bush was able to maintain that pristinely patrician image because he farmed out his dirty work to Lee Atwater. This insulation from accountability has been a hallmark of powerful WASPs, politicians and otherwise, from time immemorial. That said, here are some of the reasons why Douthat thinks “we” miss the WASPs:

They displayed noblesse oblige: Douthat contends that the old-line WASPs were raised with a unique sense of duty and service, as exemplified by Bush’s war record. Considering that three of our last four presidents dodged the Vietnam draft (including Bush the younger so I guess the Bush the elder must not have done a good job of imparting the service ethic), it does indeed seem remarkable that someone so privileged fought on the front lines. But it’s a far leap from that to “WASPs are better than us because some of them are war heroes.” There were plenty of war heroes of all ethnic backgrounds to come out of the early 20th century, but the WASP establishment made sure that only those with the right background could leverage their heroism into higher office. You had to have the money, charisma, and unscrupulousness of the Kennedys to break down that barrier. Incidentally, you know who else was a World War II war hero? Mel Brooks. But there’s something about him that made him unlikely ever to become president even if he wanted to, can’t put my finger on it at the moment.

 WASP elites were more “cosmopolitan” than today’s “shallow multiculturalists”: You already know this one’s going to be a shitshow when it turns out Douthat’s evidence is vague gestures to “Arabists and China hands and Hispanophiles.” I don’t even want to start on that nonsense BUT I WILL. How good of the old guard to enjoy cultures that had been fully subjugated to a colonial order that was set up for the comfort and convenience of people like them. I’m sure their appreciation for the countries whose resources were pillaged and whose patrimony was stolen and whose people were reduced to servitude was very genuine. It’s hard to even contemplate a line of thought that considers this to be an authentic form of engagement with others who are not like you—engagement and even sincere interest, maybe, but never equality and respect. It’s the logic of the slave owner who felt wounded after emancipation because he considered his slaves “like family,” or of the memsahib who marveled to her Indian servants at how wonderfully exotic everything was in their native land. Now, I don’t want to lay the blame for the entire history of European racial attitudes and colonialism at the feet of the American WASP elite. But it is instructive that those same elites—including George H.W. Bush—clearly did not trust the various dusky peoples of the earth to govern themselves, to the point where they would engineer the overthrow of democratically elected governments when they made up the foreign policy establishment. Very cosmopolitan, very accepting.

WASPs weren’t perfect but the “meritocracy” is worse: All in all, this is just a weak argument. Elites, like the poor, will always be with us, but is it better to have an aristocracy of birth or of merit? That depends on your definition of merit. I actually think Douthat makes some valid points here; it’s too bad he undermines them with fatal disingenuousness. For instance, it’s a fair criticism that schools like Harvard are putting quotas on Asian students the same way they used to put quotas on Jewish students, but calling it “literally the same” when Asian-Americans represent 6 percent of the population and 23 percent of Harvard freshmen is pretty mendacious. More saliently, you know who is trying to enact policies that would prevent an elite class from entrenching and self-replicating? The same progressives that Douthat feels the need to gratuitously disparage at least once per column. They’re doing a far from perfect job (not helped along by his ideological comrades’ insistence that what this country needs is more inequality), but at least they’re not throwing up their hands and saying, “Well, we’ll always have a ruling class, so might as well have one that has no qualifications other than the fact that their ancestors came over on the Mayflower!” That worked really well with our nation’s true affirmative action president, George W. Bush, whose WASP credentials were as impeccable as his presidency was disastrous. But hey, remember back when America was awesome? Well, not awesome for women, racial minorities, religious minorities, gay people, and so on, but they should have just learned to accept the natural order. After all, things were good for people like Ross Douthat, so they should never change. Striving? Ambition? Trying to correct the injustices you see in the world? That’s just so…ethnic.

When I read columns like this, I’m reminded that William F. Buckley wouldn’t allow David Brooks to become editor of the National Review because Brooks was Jewish. How do you encounter such raw bigotry and unfairness and continue to carry water for the cause for the rest of your life? Douthat is Catholic, but he’s also relatively young, and perhaps he feels both sufficiently established and sufficiently removed from the actual realties of total WASP power that he’s comfortable waxing nostalgic for a ruling class that would have happily kept him out of public life for his faith. I guess that’s what being a conservative is all about, and why so few Jews are conservatives; we know that they’re always coming for us, that our position is never secure. Better to fight for a fairer world, even though it will be imperfect, than to accept a second-class status lying down.

So anyway, here are some donuts, just in time for Hanukkah! These have been on my to-make list forever, and I figured our family Hanukkah party was the perfect time to bust them out. I was really pleased with how they came out—they looked beautiful and tasted amazing. You really can’t beat fresh donuts, and several of my relatives said these were the best donuts they had ever tasted! Wowee!

Brioche Donuts with Bourbon Vanilla Creme

From StickySpatula.com

Ingredients

for the brioche doughnuts:

120 mL whole milk, warm

1 tablespoon instant dry yeast

420 grams unbleached all-purpose flour

50g cane sugar

1 teaspoon kosher salt

3 eggs, room temperature

100g unsalted butter, room temperature

5 cups of canola oil, for frying

2 cups of sugar, for dusting

for the crème patissiere:

1 cup whole milk

1 tablespoon bourbon

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 tablespoon of butter

3 large egg yolks

1 tablespoon cake flour

1 tablespoon corn starch

3 tablespoons cane sugar

pinch of sea salt

1/2 cup heavy cream, whipped

Instructions:

for the brioche:

  1. In a bowl, add the dry yeast. In a saucepan, heat the milk over medium-low heat until it’s quite warm(but not hot enough to burn your finger). Pour the warm milk into the yeast and give it a stir. Let it proof for five minutes.
  2. Whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer with a dough hook attached. Add the milk/yeast mixture and mix on medium speed for about 60 seconds. The dough will be rough and crumbly. Add the eggs, one at a time until they’re well incorporated. With the mixer on medium, knead the dough for about 5 minutes until a smooth but firm ball of dough forms. With the mixer still going, begin to add the butter, one tablespoon at a time, until it’s all incorporated. Increase the speed to medium-high and knead for another 5 minutes until a velvety-smooth and elastic dough forms. Lightly butter a large bowl and place the dough inside. Cover the bowl with a lightweight cloth and place the dough in a warm, dry place to rise for an hour or until doubled in size. I prefer to heat my oven until it’s just warm inside, turn it off, and then place the dough inside to rise. Once the dough has doubled in size, deflate it by punching it down with your fist. Tightly wrap the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight(you can choose to skip this part, but I recommend letting the dough rise overnight before commencing to the next step).
  3. Cover a large baking sheet with a light cloth towel and sprinkle with a bit of flour. Set aside.
  4. Lightly flour a flat, dry surface and begin to roll out the dough. It should be rolled out to about a 1/2-inch thickness. Using a 3-inch round cookie cutter, cut out as many circles as you can and place them on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat the process until all the dough has been used. If using a 3-inch cutter, you should have about 15 circles in total; expect less if using a larger cutter. Cover the dough with a light cloth and set it in a warm dry place to let the doughnuts proof for about 30 minutes. They should be quite puffy. When the timer reaches the 20-minute mark, begin to heat the oil for frying in a large pot or wok. It should stay between 350°F and 375°F. Adjust the stove top heat as needed(if you’re not using a fryer). Have a plate of sugar set aside for rolling the doughnuts in.
  5. When the doughnuts are done proofing, begin to fry them in batches of three. 60 seconds of each side. Bring the oil temperature down or up before adding more doughnuts. Cool the doughnuts for 20 seconds, then roll them around in the sugar until coated fully(they can’t be completely cooled or the sugar won’t stick). Repeat this process until all the doughnuts have been fried. Set them on cooling racks to cool completely before filling. Begin to make the filling.

for the crème patissiere

  1. Create a water bath by filling a large bowl with ice and water and set aside.
  2. In a medium saucepan, combine 3/4 cups of the milk(reserve a 1/4 cup), bourbon, vanilla, and butter. Heat over low heat until it begins to simmer, then remove from heat.
  3. In another bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, sugar, salt, egg yolks, and reserved 1/4 cup of milk until combined. While whisking, gently stream half of the hot milk into the egg mixture, then strain the egg mixture back into the remaining hot milk in the saucepan and continue to whisk while you heat the saucepan over medium-low heat again. Make sure to whisk all over so the custard doesn’t burn. When it begins to thicken, pick up the whisking speed. Once the mixture begins to bubble, whisk for 60 seconds, then remove from heat. It should be thick and smooth. Place the bottom of the pot in the ice bath and continue to whisk the custard until it’s warm and no longer hot. Pour the custard into a cake pan/rimmed dish and evenly spread around. Place plastic wrap directly onto the custard, then another layer over the top of the dish. This prevents a ‘skin’ from forming on the custard while it cools. Place the custard in the freezer until it’s completely cool and cold to the touch(but not frozen). This will only take about 10-15 minutes. Whip the heavy cream until stiff peaks form, then gently fold it into the custard with a spatula until combined.
  4. With a knife, make a small incision in each doughnut then use your index finger to make a hole. Fill a pastry bag with the custard and begin to fill each doughnut until all the custard is used.
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2018 Books, Pt. 2 / Doughnut Bundt Cake

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This week’s recipe: Old-Fashioned Doughnut Bundt Cake

And now, more books!

Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple is a book I adored and have read several times. The title character is a cynical, neurotic woman who moved to Seattle from New York but hates it. Her husband is a kind, even-keeled, highly successful man but her marriage is in trouble. Despite her own earlier success in a creative field, she no longer works and now focuses her attention on raising her sensitive, eccentric child, who attends a progressive private school called Galer Street. She resents everyone and everything around her and is clearly dissatisfied with her life.

Today Will Be Different’s protagonist is Eleanor, a cynical, neurotic woman who moved to Seattle from New York but hates it. Her husband is a kind, even-keeled, highly successful man but her marriage is in trouble. Despite her own earlier success in a creative field, she no longer works and now focuses her attention on raising her sensitive, eccentric child, who attends a progressive private school called Galer Street. She resents everyone and everything around her and is clearly dissatisfied with her life. I’m starting to think that Maria Semple can only write one type of main character. (The books even have near-identical scenes where a central character becomes emotionally overwhelmed while listening to a choir sing a religious hymn.) Like Bernadette, Eleanor is unhappy with herself and the world, but while Where’d You Go, Bernadette featured multiple character perspectives, we never almost leave Eleanor’s head, which is an exhaustingly negative place to be.

The whole book takes place over the course of one day, apart from brief flashbacks to Eleanor’s relationship with her sister and husband. Though it’s in many ways an unremarkable day, she runs into seemingly everyone she knows, uncovers deeply buried family trauma, and makes peace with her life. It’s a lot to pack into a slim book, and as a result the non-Eleanor characters feel underdeveloped, more a collection of quirks than actual people. Semple is definitely a funny writer, and as the book progresses and Eleanor gains new insights,

Becoming by Michelle Obama

I admit that I am biased because Michelle Obama is a hero of mine. I love her intelligence, warmth, and style. I think that the job of First Lady is probably immensely difficult for an educated, ambitious woman, but she handled it with remarkable grace despite being relentlessly attacked. That said, I have to say that Becoming is a really, really good political memoir, and Michelle Obama is a really, really good writer. Maybe she had a ghostwriter or a staffer punch it up, but her book is actually enjoyable to read even aside from the content. She’s very self-reflective and makes the non-White House portions of the book just as compelling as the parts after she meets Barack. You can feel the genuine respect and affection she and her husband have for each other coming off the page, and it’s a privilege to get to see inside Barack’s personality since he could be so reserved and inscrutable as president. The only thing I didn’t like about it was that it made me think about how far we’ve fallen. How could our country trade in this wonderful, smart, loving family for the Trumps?

The Wonder by Emma Donaghue

The Wonder is based on the true accounts of various “fasting girls” throughout the centuries, young women who claimed to be able to survive on no food at all. In this case, the fasting girl is Anna, an 11-year-old from a backwater Irish village who supposedly hasn’t eaten in four months. Her miraculous feats are attracting attention and offerings from the superstitious Catholics in the vicinity, and so a local committee has paid an English nurse, Lib, to come to town and watch over Anna full time to either verify or disprove the miracle. It’s an inherently interesting and mysterious plot; how is this little girl possibly surviving? 

Unfortunately, the book is significantly less interesting than its premise. The beginning is particularly deadly to get through, with the same themes hammered home over and over again. As an educated English Protestant, Lib looks down on the superstitious Irish Catholic rabble, and is sure that Anna’s family is trying to trick her. For the first several chapters, literally every thought that pops into Lib’s head is some variation on either, “I was disgusted by the stupidity of their beliefs and their way of life,” or “That little minx and her conniving family had to be lying, but I couldn’t yet find proof.” Yes, Lib, we get it.

As she gets to know Anna better, she grows fond of the girl, and begins to worry about her. Lib lives in a world of science, not miracles, and she fears that now that Anna is being closely watched, she’ll no longer be able to sneak the food that was no doubt keeping her alive. She tries to convince Anna to eat and, in the process, discovers why she took up the fast in the first place. The book gets much better in this section, only to get worse at the very end (no spoilers but some of our heroes literally ride away on horseback). The third act twist that explains Anna’s fast is undeniably lurid, but it rang true to me as it will, I suspect, to anyone who grew up with shame- and guilt-based monotheism.

The Wonder has interesting things to say about faith versus science, the sexual pathologies of the Catholic Church, and how Lib’s own narrow-mindedness and prejudice prevent her from solving the mystery earlier. Its main flaw is its characters, who never surprise, never change. As soon as you meet Lib’s future love interest, you know exactly who he is and what role he’ll play in the story; ditto for the various stock characters that populate the poor Irish village. Only Anna and Lib show any depth, but unfortunately neither is much fun to spend time with. It’s too bad because this book had a lot of potential.

KL by Nikolaus Wachsmann

This is probably the most comprehensive history of the Nazi concentration camp system (KL) ever written, and it’s an amazing work of scholarship. I’ve written on this blog before about how, like many Jewish people, I’ve been steeped in Holocaust education my whole life, but I learned a lot (most of it disturbing and horrifying) from this book. I didn’t know the extent of the system, but Wachsmann gives equal time to the smaller satellite camps as to the more infamous ones. (One underground labor camp, Dora, sounds like it was literal hell on earth, but until I read this book I had never heard of it.) He is able to write in a manner that’s clear-eyed and unemotional despite the horror of the subject, and unearths voices from both victims and perpetrators that allow deeper insight on how and why this happened.

KL moves chronologically, from the opening of Dachau for political prisoners in 1933 all the way through liberation. It runs the whole grisly gamut: violence, torture, starvation, gassing, forced labor, eugenics, medical experimentation. Any person with a heart looks at the concentration camps and thinks, “How did this happen?”, but Wachsmann shows how it happened, in granular detail: everyday life for different categories of prisoners, systems of control, and basic camp management. There were many sadists drawn to the KL, but also various time-servers and careerists who thought it was a good move professionally. Even ordinary citizens not directly involved with camp administration knew what was going on; many camps were located near population centers, and their existence was mentioned widely in media and propaganda. Considering the debates going on today about inhumane immigrant detention policies and the tear gassing of people at the border, it’s chilling to read how easy it was for people to accept the evil in their midst.

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

Hello Sunshine by Laura Dave – an entertaining enough beach read and I enjoyed the peek into the world of food personalities but all in all, not that memorable.

Dietland by Sarai Walker – I thought this one was going to be a beach read too. Wow was I wrong. This was one of the weirdest books I’ve ever read, and I don’t mean that as a compliment. 

Big Girl by Kelsey Miller – Miller has a funny, engaging voice that makes you want to hang out with her. It’s not the deepest book ever written on the very fraught topic of female body image, but I rooted for her wholeheartedly as she overcame the pressure to diet and found happiness and self-acceptance. 

Unbelievable by Katy Tur – I couldn’t finish this one, reading about the abuse this woman suffered on the campaign trail made me too angry, for her and for our country.

Who Thought This Was A Good Idea? by Alyssa Mastromonaco – You’d imagine that someone who was in Mastromonaco’s position (Deputy White House Chief of Staff for Operations) probably has a lot of interesting stories. Too bad she decided to include so few of them in this book, which I found to be generally gossipy and shallow.

A Very Expensive Poison by Luke Harding – Scary and infuriating, despite a dramatic style that sometimes verged on the portentous. Not like the world needed more evidence that Putin and his government are a gang of criminal thugs but this is a worthwhile addition to the pile. 

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngoze Adichie  – As with the Neapolitan Novels, I feel like I was the last person in the world to read this book, and now that I’ve read it, I don’t know what the fuss was about. I kept waiting for something to happen, for some sort of story arc, and it never came. It’s more about themes than plot, but perhaps because I’m neither black nor an immigrant, I didn’t much relate to the themes, and I found the protagonist to be chilly and unlikable. Oh well.

The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir – Considering my interests (I wrote my college thesis on the dissolution of the monasteries) I can’t believe it took me until 2018 to read this book. Really well-written and well-researched.

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks – Some interesting and heartbreaking stories in here but my brain tends to glaze over whenever anyone gets deep into the weeds about science, and this was no exception. Perhaps Oliver Saks should have studied my brain to see why that is!

Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff – Thoroughly enjoyable, thoroughly disposable trash that nonetheless managed to spark some important conversations about the President’s mental health. It’s a weird time to be alive.

Red Famine by Anne Applebaum – Wow, the 20th century was grim. It’s hard to fathom the intentional starvation of millions in the service of an ideological cause. It also helps me better understand why many people who grew up in Soviet Russia became very rightwing; it’s hard to divorce the utopian ideals of Communism from the actual horror it wreaked. 

Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe – I wrote a whole post about this one!

So anyway, here’s a cake. (I always like writing that!) I made this for a brunch with friends. We only ate about half of it so two days later, I brought it the rest to a family gathering. Despite almost being forced to throw it out by some fascistic security guards at the Big Apple Circus, it made it to my parents’ house safely, and everyone said it was delicious even though it was two days old. Three people even asked me for the recipe! How did it taste? Do you like the taste of baked donuts? If so, you will like this cake. Plus, it looks really nice and apparently can feed quite a crowd. And it has “donut” in the name so you can technically serve in on Hanukkah!

Old-Fashioned Doughnut Bundt Cake

 

From the New York Times

INGREDIENTS

  •  Nonstick cooking spray
  • 1 cup/225 grams unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus 1/2 cup/115 grams, melted, for finishing
  • 1 ½ cups/300 grams plus 2/3 cup/135 grams granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 ½ cups/445 grams all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 cup/240 milliliters buttermilk
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously grease a 10- or 12-cup Bundt pan, taking care to get into all the grooves of the pan.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream 1 cup/225 grams room-temperature butter and 1 1/2 cups/300 grams sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time and mix until well incorporated, scraping the mixing bowl after each addition. Add the vanilla and mix to combine.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, nutmeg, baking powder, baking soda and salt to combine. Add half of the flour mixture to the mixer and mix on low speed until incorporated. With the mixer running, add the buttermilk in a slow, steady stream and mix until combined. Add the remaining flour and mix until fully incorporated. Scrape the bowl well to be sure the batter is well combined.
  4. Pour the batter into the prepared Bundt pan and spread evenly. Tap the pan heavily on the counter a few times to help even out the batter and remove air pockets. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean, 45 to 55 minutes.
  5. Let the cake cool in the pan for 15 to 20 minutes, then flip the pan onto a cooling rack set inside a baking sheet. Tap the pan heavily onto the rack. The cake should easily release. If it doesn’t, use a small offset spatula to gently run around the edges of the pan to help release, then tap it again onto the rack.
  6. In a small bowl, mix the remaining 2/3 cup/135 grams sugar with the cinnamon to combine. Brush the warm cake all over with melted butter, then spoon cinnamon sugar over the cake. Brush any bare areas with the melted butter and reuse any cinnamon sugar that falls onto the baking sheet below the rack, using your hands to gently press it into the surface of the cake to help it stick. The idea is to get the cake fully coated all over with cinnamon sugar. Let the cake cool completely before serving.

2018 Books, Pt. 1 / Turkey Meatballs

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This week’s recipe: Turkey Meatballs in Arrabiata Sauce

Here it is, what you’ve all been waiting for: the (second) annual roundup of the books I’ve read this year. Enjoy!

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

To be fair, this was actually a reread, but it was so long ago (I was in high school) that I didn’t remember anything about it beyond the barest plot outlines. I saw it was on sale on Audible and remembered liking it so I bought it, and I’m so glad I did. This book deserves all the accolades it got, and more. It’s a big, meaty, decade- and continent-spanning novel that is also compulsively readable, brilliantly written but never ostentatious. It’s the rare ambitious literary novel that’s actually fun to read, just good old-fashioned, cleverly plotted storytelling.

Josef (later anglicized to Joe) Kavalier is a teenager and aspiring escape artist living in Nazi-occupied Prague. With the help of his teacher, he smuggles himself out of Europe in a coffin. He goes to live with his cousin Sammy Klayman (later anglicized to Clay) in Brooklyn, and the two of them create a superhero called The Escapist who specializes in fighting fascists; Joe draws and Sammy writes the stories. They find money, success, and love—Joe with another young artist named Rosa, Sammy with an actor who plays The Escapist on the radio—but Joe can’t extract his family from Europe, and eventually The Escapist beating up Nazis is no longer enough for him. Meanwhile, Sammy is forced to sublimate his own desires, sacrificing romantic love and creative fulfillment for 1950s-style conformity.

The book is a fascinating meditation on what it means to create art, and can be read as a cry to recognize comics as a worthwhile artistic endeavor. In the year 2018, superhero properties are a dominant cultural force, and so it seems that Chabon got his wish. I’m not much of a fan of comic books or superheroes, but especially with Stan Lee’s recent death, it’s worth retelling the story of Jewish men who channeled their lack of physical or political power into creating eternal champions for the oppressed and downtrodden.

Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perotta

I went into this novel with a fundamental misunderstanding of what it was about. I knew the plot centered on a middle-aged mother who undergoes a sexual awakening when she discovered MILF-related porn (all true), but I thought she became a porn star herself (false). The titular Mrs. Fletcher is Eve, a divorced empty nester who longs to connect with her fratty son, Brendan. After an anonymous text introduces her to the world of porn, she becomes more adventurous and imaginative, signing up for a community college class on Gender and Society and seeing the erotic potential in everyone she meets, including her new classmates and professor. Meanwhile, Brendan, who had expected college to be a breeze of parties, substance use, and co-eds, flames out both socially and academically. Tom Perotta excels at writing meathead teenage boys with a secret sensitive side, and you feel for Brendan as he tries and fails to fit into a social milieu that rewards wokeness instead of bro-dom. (It helps that, although the novel rotates between the perspective of several characters, Brendan is the only one who speaks in first person.) But while Brendan flails, his mother blossoms, and it’s refreshing to read a book (by a male novelist, no less!) that takes the lives and potential of middle-aged women seriously.

Mrs. Fletcher explores the effect that the proliferation of porn has had on our most intimate relationships, but not in the typical preachy or alarmist way. Brendan has been steeped in porn for so long that it destroys his ability to relate to women authentically, but for Eve, it’s a portal to imagining a new life after years of stagnation. There’s less a plot than a thematically connected series of events, and if you’ve ever read a Tom Perotta novel before, you’ll know that his prose style can best be described as “serviceable.” But the characters are compelling, the themes are relevant, and despite some very dirty stuff, there’s something sweet and gentle about it that made it an incredibly likable novel.

One of Us by Asne Seierstad

This was probably the hardest book I’ve ever read, and I’ve read a LOT of depressing books. I would often have to stop the audiobook because I’d find myself crying as I walked around New York City. Seierstad gives a forensic recounting of the 2011 Utoya massacre and its aftereffects. She vividly conveys the confusion, fear, and horror of the day, and does not spare details of exactly how the victims died or were injured; the way that bullets ripped through their abdomens, the way that touching their own brain matter felt, the way that perpetrator Anders Behring Breivik stood on the rocks, laughing and shooting at them, as they tried to swim to safety.

Anders Behring Breivik was an odd duck with an absent father and unstable mother. He hopped from clique to clique in the hopes of finding a sense of belonging. He finally found a home in online far-right communities, where he spent many hours imbibing a hatred of feminism, multiculturalism, and Islam. He decided to assassinate the Norwegian prime minister and murder as many people as he could so that the world would be exposed to his message of hatred at his trial (for this reason, he wanted to get caught in the act and taken alive, to the extent that he actually called the police to surrender several times during his killing spree). Interwoven with Breivik’s story is the story of some of the teenage victims—most prominently Simon, a rising star in the youth wing of the Labor Party, and Bano, a Kurdish refugee who found a home in Norway. These threads converge on that fateful July day, when Breivik’s careful planning and a disgracefully inadequate response by the Norwegian police left 77 dead.

I’m glad that I read this book, but I’ll never read it again. Despite Seierstad’s incredible journalism, you don’t come away with an understanding of how Breivik made the transition from petty delinquent to mass murderer. That’s as it should be—the crime is too horrible for any pat explanations. Instead, all you are left with is an overwhelming sense of despair at all of these young lives ended or ruined because of a phantom threat.

Fitness Junkie by Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza

This was my favorite beach read of the year, although I read it in February—I particularly enjoyed listening to the audiobook while at the gym. Our heroine is Janey Sweet, the CEO of a wedding dress firm. The dress designer is her longtime best friend, a stereotypical bitchy gay guy named Beau, who informs her at the beginning of the novel that she needs to lose 30 pounds or else be fired for hurting their brand. Because Beau owns the majority of the company, Janey has no choice but to embark on a number of ridiculous diet and exercise regimens to try to get her life back.

This book was definitely fluffy and entertaining, but it also had interesting things to say about diet culture—how we associate certain body types with virtue and self-worth; how “wellness” can often have nothing to do with actual health; who profits from all this, and who suffers. I didn’t remotely care about the romance subplot (Janey has to choose between two kind, attractive, sexually compatible men, boohoo), but I think the authors deemphasized romance intentionally. For instance, Janey is recently divorced, but it doesn’t seem to affect her emotional life nearly as much as Beau’s betrayal. The book makes Janey and Beau’s friendship seem real and lived-in, which makes the pain he causes her all the more acute. Their relationship, rather than any romance, is the heart of the novel, and is the catalyst for Janey’s growth and self-discovery—a rare and welcome development in the world of chick lit. But all that aside, it’s simply a very funny satire of the health and wellness industry.

My Brilliant Friend and The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante

I was the last person in the world to read the Neapolitan Novels (and I’m only partway through the third one, so this is only a review of the first two). Mark, who is not a big reader, absolutely devoured them, staying up until 1 am to finish them, and since we were going to be in the Naples region for our honeymoon, I decided I should give them a shot. I feel like, before reading my assessment, it’s instructive to know that I hated Pride and Prejudice. Why, I wondered, were we reading this chick lit about a girl looking for a rich husband in English class? I now understand that the plot of every other chick lit novel—spunky protagonist who don’t need no man meets a wealthy, appealing, but kind of douchey dude, they initially spar, then he wears down her defenses and they fall in love—was built on the prototype created by Pride and Prejudice. So while I can recognize that my criticism was unfair, I can’t help how I reacted to it. Same goes for the first two Neapolitan novels.

The books are the story of two best friends, the insecure, introspective Elena and the intense, volatile Lila, growing up in postwar Naples. Both are excellent students but Lila is forced to cut off her schooling early, and while Elena goes on to high school and university, Lila enters an unhappy marriage and, like everyone else in their village, lives a life shaped by poverty, violence, and corruption. Despite Elena’s educational advantages, she regards her more naturally gifted friend with a mixture of admiration and envy that borders on obsession—which was the source of most of my issues with the books.

Elena feels less like a fully realized character and more like a vessel to talk about Lila’s life. (For instance, Elena publishes a novel, but we never learn what it’s called or much of what it’s about; all that we are told is that Elena considers it a ripoff of a story Lila wrote when they were 10.) Through Elena’s fixation on Lila, it is clear that the latter is the character Ferrante finds most interesting, but I thought she was quite the Mary Sue, and it quickly began to grate on me. Lila is the best student, Lila has the quickest wit, Lila is the prettiest, Lila is the bravest, Lila is the best at designing shoes, Lila has never swum before but after five minutes she’s the fastest swimmer around. This boy is in love with Lila. This other boy is in love with Lila. That boy is in love with Lila, and so is his brother. This boy, who has never before expressed any kind of romantic feeling for Lila? Guess what—he’s in love with her. If you find Lila to be not endlessly fascinating but instead kind of an asshole, which I do, you start to get bored. And the plot is not exactly propulsive. I found My Brilliant Friend in particular to be claustrophobic and repetitive, which was maybe the point. Elena’s entire world consists of fewer than 20 people (somehow simultaneously too few and too many characters), and hearing about their drama is like listening to a friend tell you a boring story about people you don’t care about. There’s endless talk about who is going out with whom and who got what grade on the exam and who got beat up. I know that the characters are school-aged, but it’s all very high school.

It’s not all bad, of course. The books are well written (if over-reliant on certain verbal crutches—drink every time that Lila narrows her eyes) and give an immersive portrayal of postwar Naples in all its grit and airlessness. After so many Mafia stories where women are on the periphery, a close examination of the effects that the macho violent culture of southern Italy has on women’s lives is welcome. And I liked the second book better than the first, especially towards the end when Elena finally escapes the old neighborhood and Lila’s impulsiveness finally catches up with her, which is why I decided to keep reading (that, and I’m an inveterate completionist). But honestly, I don’t really understand what the big deal is.

So anyway, here’s some pasta and meatballs. Ashley Rodriguez’s Date Night In is one of my favorite cookbooks, so when I saw that she was coming out with a new book, I immediately preordered it. I’ve already made this meatball recipe twice, once with turkey and once with chicken, and it’s been a big hit both times.

Turkey Meatballs in Arrabiata Sauce

 

From Let’s Stay In

INGREDIENTS

1 pound/ 450 g ground dark turkey meat

1/2 cup / 50 grams finely grated Parmesan (ed note: I used nutritional yeast to keep it kosher)

1/3 cup/ 20 g panko bread crumbs

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon dried oregano

Pinch chili flake

2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

2 tablespoons finely chopped basil

3 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 small onion, finely diced, about 1/4 cup/60 g

1 egg

2 tablespoons olive oil

Arrabiata

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 anchovies, minced

4 garlic cloves, sliced

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon chili flake (or more if desired)

28 ounce/800 g can crushed tomatoes

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

INSTRUCTIONS

For the meatballs: In a large bowl combine the turkey, Parmesan, bread crumbs, salt, oregano, chili flake, parsley, basil, garlic, onion, and egg. Stir just until everything is well mixed but take care not to over mix as you don’t want to toughen the meat. Sear a small amount of the mixture then taste and adjust seasoning to your liking.

Add the olive oil to a large skillet or dutch oven. Sear the meatballs over high heat until a deep, dark crust forms. Remove the meatballs from the pan and set aside while you prepare the sauce.

For the sauce: Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to the pan and sauté the anchovy, garlic, and chili flake over medium high heat.

Once the garlic has turned golden carefully add the tomatoes. Stir in the oregano, sea salt, and pepper.

Return the meatballs to the pan then gently simmer until they are cooked through, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Serve over creamy polenta or pasta.

Pittsburgh / Stuffed Acorn Squash

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This week’s recipe: Stuffed Acorn Squash

Every year, my synagogue does “Teen Shabbat,” where the teenagers lead Saturday morning prayers and give speeches. The speeches are typically a lot of White Messiah nonsense (“I went on a service trip to the Dominican Republic and saw poor people and ate under a tarp in the rain, but then I realized that even though they have less stuff, the people there are actually more fortunate than we are because they’re happy, and I realized that I was enslaved to my iPhone,” that kind of thing), but two or three years ago, one of the teens made a speech that really resonated with me. The synagogue’s service learning trip that year had been to the civil rights trail in Alabama, but the speech was not about MLK and Rosa Parks but rather about stopping to eat at Waffle House. The speaker told some surprisingly entertaining anecdotes about the eating contests he and his friends participated in and their subsequent gastrointestinal distress, but the heart of the story was about after the meal, when the teens broke into Brich Rachamana (a shorter version of the grace after meals). They sang the Aramaic words of the prayer loudly and joyfully, and some confused but amused Waffle House patrons took out their phones and started to film them. When they were done singing, the other diners broke out into applause. The teen talked about how meaningful it was to be able to express his religious faith in such a public way, especially after having spent the previous week learning about the history of bigotry and prejudice in the region. He knew that it would not always have been safe for a group of Jewish teenagers to pray in an Alabama Waffle House, and he was grateful that things had changed.

Two days ago was the worst antisemitic attack in American history. It was shocking but not surprising; as soon as our rabbi announced the news at synagogue, before anything was known about the perpetrator, I had a pretty good idea of who the gunman was and what his ideology would be. My idea turned out to be exactly right, but I don’t want to use this space to write about the political ramifications of the attack (not because they’re not important, but because other people can and will do a better job of it). Instead, I want to talk about the intense pain of knowing that we’re no longer safe even in our houses of worship.

It’s painful because I’ve always thought of synagogue as a safe space, physically, spiritually, and emotionally. Maybe that was wishful thinking, since synagogues, JCCs, and other places where Jews gather together have always been targets for violence. Jews are the most common targets of hate crimes in America, to the extent that stories about antisemitic hate crimes typically don’t make a blip outside the Jewish press. And the Tree of Life Synagogue is only the latest religious center to be attacked, joining a list of churches, mosques, Sikh temples, and more. Despite all that, the sense of community that I feel at synagogue has made it feel safe to me. We’re about to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of our synagogue’s sanctuary, and I was interviewed for a video to be shown at the celebratory gala.  The interviewer asked me what being part of the synagogue community meant to me, and I said that it was the feeling that there were people who may have had no connection to me, who weren’t family or friends or colleagues, but who cared about me nevertheless. It meant saying hi as we passed each other on the streets of the Upper West Side. It meant getting advice from older people on job searches and careers, and giving younger people advice on college. It meant people I barely know wishing me a warm mazel tov on my wedding or the birth of my sister’s baby.  It meant that synagogue was a place where little kids could run around freely in the staircases and hallways, secure in the knowledge that the adults would make sure nothing bad happened to them.

Similarly, I’ve always thought of America as a safe space, the one country in the world (including Israel) where Jews weren’t killed for being Jews. I know that Jews fleeing their home countries have long seen America as a haven. I know that my grandmother and her family felt that way when they came here from Nazi Germany. It took a long time for us to be accepted as full citizens, and even after we fully assimilated, reaching the heights of power and influence, there have always been whispers about our loyalties and intentions. Still, we felt that after two thousand years of persecution, we had finally found a nation that welcomed us and would allow us to live in peace and reach our full potential.

Now that feeling of safety is shattered, and the worst part is that anyone who was paying attention saw it coming. Our synagogue used to dance in the streets on the holiday of Simchat Torah; 9/11 put an end to that. They tightened security again during the 2016 election season, and once more after Trump took office. The world is a scary and dangerous place, but I wish I didn’t need to be reminded of that every time I went to pray. Yesterday I attended a vigil with all the Upper West Side Jewish congregations. The line to get into the sanctuary stretched down the block and around the corner, in part because of the amazing turnout, but in part because of the intense security: bag checks, metal detector wands, pat-downs. Is this the new normal for entering a synagogue?

Maybe it will be; maybe it will fade away after a time. Maybe in a week from tomorrow, we’ll elect a new Congress, and the forces of hatred will crawl back under the rocks from whence they came, though I’m not hopeful that that will be the case. All I know is this: in a sick way, our enemies are right to compare us to rats or cockroaches, because no matter how hard you try to get rid of us, you never will. We’ve outlasted the Romans, the Crusaders, the Inquisition, the pogroms, the Nazis, and we’ll outlast you assholes too. We sing “Am Yisrael Chai” – the people of Israel live – because it’s a statement of defiance to say that we’re still alive, that we will stay strong and not relinquish our values in the face of hate. When I was being interviewed for the sanctuary gala video, I was asked what it meant to me to celebrate 100 years of the sanctuary. I said that it meant that our community was in it for the long haul, that we had survived many upheavals and would survive many more. Our community–both my synagogue and the broader Jewish community–is one of love. I’m horrified that we were attacked this way, but if we had to be attacked, I’m proud that it was because we were living the Torah values of welcoming refugees and strangers. I pray for the day when we’ll once again feel safe to pray for peace for the Jewish people and all the world in our synagogues.

So anyway, here’s some squash. This is a delicious fall meal that will make you say, “DAMN! It’s fall.” On our honeymoon, Mark and I took a cooking a class where we learned to make a delightful spherical zucchini stuffed with mashed potatoes, and I was inspired to finally make this dish after many months of looking at it and thinking, Squash? Really? Do I really want to make squash? Turns out, I do, and so do you!

Stuffed Acorn Squash

From Half Baked Harvest

 

Ingredients

For Squash:

  • 2 medium acorn squash, halved through the stem and seeded
  • 2 tablespoons salted butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

For Wild Rice:

  • 1 cup uncooked wild rice
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 6 cups fresh spinach
  • 1 canned chipotle in adobo, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
  • 1 cup roasted pistachios, chopped
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

For Brown Butter Bread Crumbs:

  • 2 tablespoons salted butter
  • 1 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons roasted pistachios, finely chopped
  • 1 cup shredded Havarti cheese
  • Chopped fresh parsley or cilantro, for topping

Instructions

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Brush the cut sides of the squash with the melted butter and sprinkle with the brown sugar and cinnamon. Season with salt and pepper. Place in a baking dish and bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until the flesh is fork-tender. Remove from the oven (leave the oven on) and brush the liquid from the baking dish around the flesh of the squash, coating the squash well and trying to use all the liquid.

Meanwhile, make the rice. Bring 2 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepot over high heat. Add the rice, cover, and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 35 to 45 minutes, or until all the water has been absorbed and the rice is tender. Add the olive oil and spinach and toss to combine. Cover the pot again and allow the spinach to wilt, about 10 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the chipotle in adobo, dill, pistachios and cranberries. Season with salt and pepper.

While the squash and rice cook, make the bread crumbs. In a medium skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Cook until it is browned and smells nutty, about 5 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat and whisk the butter for about 30 seconds more. Stir in the bread crumbs and pistachios.

Stuff the roasted squash halves with wild rice and top with Havarti. Return to the oven and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the cheese has melted and the squash is crisp. Remove from the oven and top with bread crumbs and fresh parsley before serving.

Brett Kavanaugh / Tomato Sauce

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This week’s recipe: Tomato Sauce

When I was 14, I was groped by a classmate in full view of my science class and teacher, none of whom said or did anything. (And if we’re looking at yearbooks to prove these things, you can see where I drew horns on his 8th grade photo and wrote “THE DEVIL!” next to him.) When I was 21 and studying abroad in Cambridge, two extremely drunk guys followed me home, catcalling at me the whole way, and then tried to follow me into my house. They were sufficiently drunk and I was sufficiently hopped up on adrenaline that I was able to kick one of them down the steep front steps and then run inside and lock the door. And I consider myself really, really lucky that these were my worst experiences with actual or attempted sexual assault—or as Bret Stephens might call it, “antics.”

In today’s column in the New York Times, Stephens warns that the way Brett Kavanaugh has been treated will have long-term effects that his antagonists might come to regret. He makes some good points about journalists’ responsibility not to publish unsubstantiated gossip (though I would point out that all accusations are gossip until you can find evidence to corroborate them, which the Republicans on the judiciary committee are singularly uninterested in doing), but then the column goes off the rails when he predicts that no one will be interested in doing public service if their past gets examined. He writes, “Will every future Supreme Court or cabinet nominee, Republican or Democratic, be expected to account, in minute and excruciating detail, for his behavior and reputation as a teenager?”

This is sophistry in so many ways. For starters, and I know that I am the millionth person to say this, but: good God, not everyone commits sexual assault during their teenage years!!! If that is the bar you are setting, there are many millions of people who can clear it without much difficulty. There are people whose sleaziness is an open secret (including Kavanaugh’s mentor, Alex Kozinski), and there are people to whom the whiff of sexual scandal is never attached (for all his myriad other faults, Neil Gorsuch). Pick the latter type and you won’t have to deal with any of this, as Gorsuch’s relatively painless confirmation proves.

But let’s say that Stephens isn’t just talking about sexual assault. We can acknowledge that lots of people do dumb and even harmful crap as teenagers, and I think that many would have sympathized if Kavanaugh had just said, “I did things then that I regret now, but I’ve spent the intervening years reexamining my actions and my character. I apologize to the women I may have hurt and hope they know that I’ve changed since high school and now do my utmost to treat all women with respect.” I wouldn’t have bought it, necessarily, considering the causes with which he aligns and the rulings he’s handed down, but it would have been so much better than that bullshit choirboy act about how he was a spotless virgin who spent all of his time studying, going to church, and doing community service activities. All that did was confirm a growing suspicion that this guy is a hack and a liar, and that’s a useful thing to know.

Moreover, isn’t examining someone’s behavior and reputation the point of hearings—to vet nominees and make sure that they’re qualified to do the job for which they’re being put forward? A Supreme Court justice is arguably the most influential and least accountable position in our system of government, so character really matters. And what we’ve seen of his character is not encouraging. When Christine Blasey Ford first came forward, Mark said, “Well, it’s just one person,” and I replied, “With stuff like this, it’s almost never just one person.”It would be one thing if he got too drunk one night, got overly handsy with a woman, and then, realizing in horror what he had done, apologized sincerely and started volunteering with RAINN. But that would be highly atypical. You don’t generally sexually assault someone by mistake; you do it out of a deep-rooted sense of entitlement that, barring some sort of extraordinary external event, stays with you for life. But considering that Kavanaugh refuses even to own up to the fact that he was a douchey drunken frat boy type all through high school and college (not in and of itself a crime), it seems unlikely that he’ll ever show any remorse for potentially criminal acts he did to women.

His judicial record, awful as it is, was always out in the open for everyone to see, but now we get to talk about his apparent alcoholism, aggression, disrespect for women, and maybe even one day that mysterious debt of his that got equally mysteriously paid off. Without women insisting on excavating “his behavior and reputation as a teenager,” none of these conversations would have taken place. He probably already would have been confirmed, and we’d have a Supreme Court justice with more than his fair share of character flaws sitting in judgment of others and making decisions that will affect every person in the country—particularly women—for the next 30 years.

I am assuming, of course, that he’s guilty of at least some of what he’s been accused. Why? Well, he has already demonstrably perjured himself before Congress, so his credibility isn’t great in that department. It seems like Mitch McConnell, for one, knew that something like this was coming when he advised Trump not to nominate Kavanaugh. It seems like Chuck Grassley had some sort of forewarning as well, considering the not-at-all-suspicious speed with which he was able to rustle up 65 women who were friends with Brett Kavanaugh during his tenure at an all-boys high school. There’s the fact that someone who was sure of his innocence would want a full investigation to clear his name, but he, his lawyers, and his Republican handlers have been strenuously avoiding such an investigation. There’s the usual reason for believing purported sexual assault victims, which is that women who come forward have so much to lose and very little to gain by a false accusation. But most of all, it’s the amazing ease and familiarity he seems to have with hypocrisy and lying—not surprising, considering who nominated him.

None of these are dispositive proofs of guilt, of course. 36 years after the alleged assault, we are unlikely to get such proof one way or the other, but congressional Republicans don’t even want to try. I remember a time when these same Republicans didn’t want important decisions rammed down the throats of the American public. I remember a time when they were just fine with leaving a Supreme Court seat vacant for eight months. But now they are in an infernal hurry, with the hearings at “the eleventh hour” according to a clock that, as Charlie Pierce has repeatedly pointed out, only exists in Mitch McConnell’s head. And if we get a fatally flawed Supreme Court justice as a result? Oh well, guess that’s the price of criminalizing abortion and guaranteeing presidential immunity no matter what. And speaking of abortion, I know of one judge who thinks that the decisions that people make as teenagers should indeed follow them for the rest of their lives.

No one is asking for Kavanaugh’s head on a pike, or even for prison time. We’re asking for a credible investigation that, in the worst case scenario for poor Brett Kavanaugh, ends with him returning to his position as a mere judge on the second-highest court in the land. No one is asking for nominees to be perfect; we’re just asking for them to be honest. If this is what the revolution eating its own looks like, then that’s a price I’m fine with paying.

So anyway, here’s some tomato sauce. I know that summer is over but I hope you are able get some of the last juicy farmers’ market tomatoes of the season to create this reminder of summer in a jar. I first came across this recipe while visiting a friend in DC six years ago. We went to Eastern Market and tried all the samples we could, but there was something about this tomato sauce that really caught my attention. The chef, Jonathan Bardzik, was giving out postcards along with the samples, and I went to his website and found the recipe. Ever since, this has been my go-to summer tomato sauce. It’s undeniably fussier than my winter tomato sauce (the famous Marcella Hazan recipe) but I enjoy squishing the tomatoes with my hands and watching the seeds splatter everywhere. Lately I’ve been using Enzo basil-infused olive oil instead of infusing it myself, both because the oil is really good quality and because I don’t like buying basil when I’m only going to use a few leaves and I know that the rest will just rot in the fridge, but if you have a basil plant at home, infusing your own is easy and smells good. Just be careful when you’re removing the liquid during the cooking because if you remove too much, the tomatoes will burn (which can actually impart a nice smoky flavor as long as you don’t go overboard). Happy fall to one and all!

Tomato Sauce

From Jonathan Bardzik

Ingredients:

  • 12 fresh beefsteak type tomatoes
  • 1 head garlic, top chopped to expose cloves
  • 1 cup packed basil leaves
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 1/4 cups olive oil – the good stuff!

Directions:

  1. To peel tomatoes, cut an “X” in the skin at the base and blanch them in boiling water until the skin wrinkles and cracks – 30 seconds to 1 minute. Shock the tomatoes in ice water. The skins will slide off easily. Return the water to a boil between batches.
  2. To seed tomatoes, cut in half and squeeze them over the sink, watch for seed explosions that will cover the walls of your kitchen. Laugh richly and keep going.
  3. Chop tomatoes roughly and place in a large, shallow stock pot over medium heat. Sprinkle with 1 tsp salt.
  4. Cook tomatoes until soft and bright red, about 45 minutes.
  5. Remove liquid while cooking. A total of about 2-3 cups. You want the sauce to remain wet and liquid, but not soupy. Save some of the tomato water in case you take too much out early on.
  6. While tomatoes cook, place garlic, basil, pepper flakes and olive oil in small saucepan over medium heat. Simmer until basil begins to crackle and pop. Remove from heat and let the flavors infuse the oil for twenty-ish minutes.
  7. Strain oil into tomatoes. Cook for ten minutes, stirring occasionally.
  8. Blend with masher or immersion blender.
  9. Will freeze through the winter. (If you don’t eat it all immediately!)

Kindness / Honey Ice Cream

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This week’s recipe: Honey Ice Cream

Jews don’t have saints, but our matriarchs and patriarchs—Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob, Rachel, and Leah—are the closest thing we’ve got. We invoke them in our daily liturgy. We learn lessons from them on how to live a worthy life. We are told that everything good in our lives emanates from their merit. This is odd because they are not very good people. Not even on the surface level! Sarah is cruel; Rebecca and Jacob are deceptive schemers; Leah and Rachel are petty backbiters; Isaac is such a passive cipher that some commentators wondered whether he was mentally retarded. They all play favorites with their children, to terrible effect. You wouldn’t want them as role models for your kindergartner, let alone for a whole nation.

Abraham is a particularly interesting case. He is due reverence as the father of the Jewish people, but he’s also the father of a certain kind of leftwing Jewish tendency that has become a general leftwing tendency in recent years: feeling for the whole world while being callous and indifferent to those closest to you. I was thinking about it because on the High Holidays, we read about some examples of Abraham exhibiting this tendency. One is when his wife Sarah demands that he kick their slave Hagar and her son Ishmael out of the house. This would be cruel enough, but Abraham is Ishmael’s father, having impregnated Hagar when it appeared that Sarah would never have children. To his credit, Abraham is initially reluctant, but God tells him to obey his wife, and Abraham sends Hagar and Ishmael out into the wilderness.

Another is the famous story of the binding of Isaac, when God demands that Abraham sacrifice the longed-for son he had with Sarah. It’s framed as a test of faith—would Abraham actually kill his beloved son to show his devotion to God? At the last minute, an angel comes down and stops Abraham’s hand before he can kill Isaac, indicating that he passed the test.

There is also the conclusion of the story of Abraham and Avimelech. Abraham goes down to the land of Gerar, but he fears that his very attractive wife (who is about 90 years old, by the way!) will be so tempting to the king of the region, Avimelech, that the king will kill him so he can marry Sarah. To save himself, he tells Avimelech that they are sister and brother instead of husband and wife. (This isn’t the first time that Abraham pulled this trick, having done the same thing with Pharaoh a few chapters earlier.) One again, only some timely divine intervention prevents disaster; in this case, Sarah from becoming a concubine in the court of a foreign king.

Now, all of these stories have happy endings. Ishmael survives and becomes the father of a great nation; Isaac is spared and continues the line of the Jewish people; and Avimelech lavishes Abraham with gifts once he realizes his mistake. It helps to have God on your side, no doubt. But contrast these with another famous story, the tale of Sodom and Gomorrah. In that story, God tells Abraham that He plans to destroy the irreparably wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham, who doesn’t know a soul in those cities other than the family of his nephew Lot, immediately begins bargaining with God, eventually getting God to agree that if there are but ten righteous people in the cities, He will not destroy them. Meanwhile, we see just how bad the cities are; two angels got to visit Lot, and the people of Sodom demand that Lot give them over to be raped (hence the term “sodomite” for someone who has anal sex). But Lot, showing the same lack of solicitude for his loved ones’ wellbeing as his uncle, sends out his virgin daughters to be raped in the strangers’ stead.

So yeah, there were not even ten good people in all of Sodom and Gomorrah, yet Abraham had tender feelings for them. What sort of thinking is this? God wants me to send one son off to die in the desert and wants me to straight up kill my other son? Okay! My wife’s extreme hotness puts me in danger with the king? Okay, I will pimp her out to him! But the people of Sodom? Yes, they are a city of notorious serial rapists, but I think that in their heart of hearts, they may be good, it would be a shame if anything happened to them!

I don’t know if it springs from self-loathing, a desire for purity, ostentatious wokeness, or what, but I know many people like Abraham: people whose hearts easily bleed for every abstract disadvantaged person they’ve never met, but who lose all empathy for anyone whom they deem less worthy. (Not so coincidentally, the less-worthy are often people whom they resemble in every demographic category.) Okay, I don’t know many such people, but they seem to disproportionately congregate in the left-leaning Internet. This makes some sense; it’s the apparent obverse of the conservative inclination to believe that the people in your tribe deserve trust, sympathy, and support, while Those People are inherently suspect (see, for an obvious example, the conservative policy responses to opioids versus crack). But to me, that inclination is much more understandable; if you see someone as a reflection of yourself, it’s natural to want to believe the best of them. So what is it about the left that makes them want to pounce on anyone who isn’t 100 percent perfect, even if that means eating their own?

This propensity can manifest in ways that are silly but harmless, if sadly lacking in self-awareness. Take the multitude of thinkpieces written about Orange in the New Black that decry Piper as THE WORST because she’s a privileged, educated, Brooklyn-dwelling white woman…many of them written by privileged, educated, Brooklyn-dwelling white women. There was a similar response to Girls, to which all I can say is: why do you keep watching Girls if you find every character to be insular, oblivious, and infuriating? No one is making you do it! I myself have never seen a single episode of Girls and I am still able to talk to people at parties. Anyway, it reminds me of something that I wrote about last year when I reviewed Primates of Park Avenue: the certainty that no matter how advantaged you are, you’re actually normal because there’s someone out there who’s really privileged and out touch . There seems to be a real discomfort among these critics, who recognize aspects of their own character in Piper or Hannah and need to distinguish themselves in whatever small way they can (after, of course, the obligatory Checking of the Privilege). Yes, I too am a white woman who lives in Bushwick, has tattoos, and majored in English at an expensive liberal arts school that my parents paid for, but at least I don’t do yuppie bullshit like manufacturing artisanal soaps! I’m a real man of the people!

Like I said, dumb but harmless when you’re dealing with fictional characters. But more insidiously, it leads to patterns of thinking and behavior that lead people to treat actual fellow-humans in ways that are simply shitty, and that tends to make anyone not steeped in identity politics recoil in horror. Many articles have been written on the excesses of callout culture, how it can devolve into bullying and harassment in the frantic desire to prove that I am purer than thou art. If you’re not a member in good standing of the Church of the Woke—if you dare to exist and write and produce without constant genuflections to the latest in privilege theory and intersectionality—you are scum, you are trash, you are cancelled, and you are definitely not deserving of any human kindness.

This was really brought home to me last year, when Sheryl Sandberg published her memoir about her husband’s death and Ariel Levy published her memoir about her late-term miscarriage. While both books were generally well received, there was a certain corner of the Internet that was downright vitriolic about them. The consensus in these corners was that what happened to Sandberg and Levy wasn’t really sad—or at least wasn’t sad enough to merit a book—because of their identities as wealthy, privileged white ladies. Are there thousands of greater tragedies happening in the world every day than a wealthy, privileged white lady losing her husband or having a miscarriage? Yes, but that’s because death and miscarriages are common natural occurrences—it has nothing to do with the fact of her wealth, privilege, or whiteness, and it’s gross to say that a personal tragedy isn’t really sad because the person experiencing it has been fortunate in other ways.

I particularly didn’t understand the ire directed at Levy; I get why it can be hard to muster sympathy for someone with Sandberg’s net worth (not to mention that she had previously committed the unpardonable sin of pushing corporate feminism), but Levy is just a writer, same as many of the people who were writing nasty reviews. Now you’re not allowed to be sad about your miscarriage because you have a successful career at the New Yorker? Where does this hostility spring from? Why is it so common in people who otherwise claim to value compassion? Maybe it’s jealousy; maybe it’s virtue signaling; maybe it’s genuine contempt. But I don’t think I’ll ever comprehend the desire of a certain set of educated white lefties to castigate and punish people for the crime of…being like them.

Now I know what you are thinking: you are a (relatively) wealthy, privileged white lady, so of course you think this is the biggest problem facing American society. Let me make it clear: I don’t. I don’t have any truck with people who say, “Well, the left can sometimes be rhetorically excessive, and so 63 million people voting for a racist conman was inevitable.” Having someone you likely don’t even know say something mean about you on the Internet is no excuse for embracing harmful, reactionary politics. Privileged people have been cut all the slack in the world for millennia; some randos on the Internet are trying to balance the scales, and if they go too far sometimes, their hearts are probably in the right place. I’d still cast my lot with the lefty identarians than with, say, Breitbart readers (who are of course nothing but righty identarians) 95 percent of the time, and no amount of hurt feelings and white fragility is likely to change that. But I think that we could all stand to be kinder and gentler to one another. I don’t think that you need to be suffering more than anyone else in the world to have you experience and perspective considered valid and worthwhile. I don’t think that assuming the worst of someone because of an identity they can’t control—whatever that identity may be—makes society more just. I don’t think anyone gets convinced of anything by being yelled at and told that they’re terrible, again, not because of anything they did, but because of who they are. And considering where we are right now, we need everyone on our team who we can get.

So anyway, here’s some ice cream. Apples and honey are the traditional foods for this time of year in the Jewish calendar, and Mark and I are double-honey users since you are also supposed to eat honey in your first year of marriage. We made this honey ice cream together, which was so much fun! My favorite part was watching the honeycomb rise in the pot (and almost, but not quite, boil over). As with all Ample Hills recipes, I halved the recipe for the mix-in and still had way too much. Enjoy this delicious mix of creamy ice cream and crunchy honeycomb at your break fast, or whenever, really! Shana tovah and chatimah tovah to one and all!

Honey Ice ream

From the Ample Hills Cookbook

Ingredients

For the honeycomb (again, I halved this recipe and still had a lot left over):

  • Butter for the baking sheet
  • 2 cups organic cane sugar
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 7 tablespoons golden syrup
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking soda

For the “Walt’s Dream” ice cream:

  • 3/4 cup organic cane sugar
  • 1/2 cup skim milk powder
  • 1 2/3 cups whole milk
  • 1 2/3 cups heavy cream
  • 3 egg yolks

Directions

  1. Make the honeycomb candy: Butter a 12-by-18-inch rimmed baking sheet and line it with parchment paper.
  2. In a large saucepan, combine the sugar, honey, syrup, and 2/3 cup water. Whisk to combine. Clip a candy thermometer to the saucepan and set the pan over medium-high heat. Cook until the syrup reaches 305ºF. (The syrup will bubble and spit, so please be careful.)
  3. Remove the pan from the heat and, wearing an oven mitt for protection, whisk in the baking soda. Whisk vigorously for a few moments to make sure you’ve incorporated all the little bits of baking soda, then stand back and watch the honeycomb grow.
  4. When the honeycomb stops growing up the sides of the pot, gently pour it onto the prepared baking sheet. Let it cool. Refrigerate the candy for 30 minutes, then chop it into bite-size pieces.

Prepare Walt’s Dream: Prepare an ice bath in your sink or in a large heatproof bowl.

  1. In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, skim milk powder, and milk. Stir with a hand mixer or whisk until smooth. Make sure the skim milk powder is wholly dissolved into the mixture and that no lumps remain (any remaining sugar granules will dissolve over the heat). Stir in the cream.
  2. Clip a candy thermometer to the saucepan and set the pan over medium heat. Cook, stirring often with a rubber spatula and scraping the bottom of the pan to prevent sticking and burning, until the mixture reaches 110ºF, 5 to 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat.
  3. Place the egg yolks in a medium bowl. While whisking, slowly pour in 1/2 cup of the hot milk mixture to temper the egg yolks. Continue to whisk slowly until the mixture is an even color and consistency, then whisk the egg-yolk mixture back into the remaining milk mixture.
  4. Return the pan to the stovetop over medium heat and continue cooking the mixture, stirring often, until it reaches 165ºF, 5 to 10 minutes more.
  5. Transfer the pan to the prepared ice bath and let cool for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour the ice cream base through a wire-mesh strainer into a storage container and place in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 hours, or until completely cool.
  6. Now you’re ready to make ice cream! Transfer the cooled base to an ice cream maker and churn it according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Or, if you want, you can keep it in the refrigerator for up to 3 days before churning.
  7. Transfer the ice cream to a storage container, folding in the pieces of honeycomb candy as you do. Use as much of the candy as you want; you won’t necessarily need the whole batch. Serve immediately or harden in your freezer for 8 to 12 hours for a more scoopable ice cream.

Sweating for the Wedding / Arugula Salad with Grilled Peaches

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This week’s recipe: Arugula Salad with Grilled Peaches

If you’re on Instagram (I’m not), you may have seen pictures of young women in sweaty workout clothes, grinning at the camera with the hashtag #sweatingforthewedding or #sheddingforthewedding somewhere in the caption. The idea that you need to lose weight and otherwise transform your body for your wedding predates social media, of course, and in my opinion, it reached its apotheosis with this bonkersness.

Because I am a sentient American woman, I’m not immune to these pressures. I did lose some weight, and I wish I could tell you it was through diet and exercise, though I have been exercising much more consistently this summer. The truth is, I was hit with a really nasty stomach flu towards the end of July, and for five days straight all I ate was a single bagel and some ginger ale (which I suppose is a diet in its own way), most of which I threw up anyway. So that was a very effective weight loss strategy, though not one that I recommend for most brides-to-be.

But it sucks that so many women feel like being themselves–the same self that their fiance presumably fell in love with and proposed to–is not good enough on their wedding day. I could write a whole treatise on why that is but, y’know, I’m getting married in a week so I don’t really have the time. Instead, I offer up a game of alternative #_____ingforthewedding hashtags, inspired by the hashtag I use every time I eat half of a baguette, #breadingforthewedding. See if you can figure out all ten! (Answers below.)

1)Image result for spreading butter

2)Image result for thread needle

3)

Image result for petting a dog

4)

Image result for shredder

5)Image result for anne boleyn beheading

6)

Image result for finding dory

7)Image result for vinaigrette

8)Image result for poker players

9)Image result for leeches10)Image result for cool runnings

1) Spreading for the wedding

2) Threading for the wedding

3) Petting for the wedding

4) Shredding for the wedding

5) Beheading for the wedding

6) Forgetting for the wedding

7) Vinaigrette-ing for the wedding

8) Betting for the wedding

9) Bloodletting for the wedding

10) Bobsledding for the wedding

So anyway, here’s a salad. I know what you’re thinking: a salad? After you just made fun of people trying to lose weight for their wedding? I know, I know, salads objectively suck, but this one has PEACHES! I love peaches very much, and this is absolutely the time of year to eat them, so run out to the farmer’s market and stock up, and in no time you will have a salad that sucks way less than average.

Arugula Salad with Grilled Peaches

Ingredients
2 peaches
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
Olive oil
1/2 cup chopped pecans
2 ounces of goat cheese (I used Chevre with Honey from Trader Joe’s, highly recommend)
A few handfuls of arugula

Instructions
1) Toast the pecans in a skillet until slightly brown and nutty-smelling
2) Sautee the onions in a bit of olive oil until they’re lightly caramelized
3) Cut the peaches in half and brush with olive oil. Grill each side on a grill pan until marks appear.
4) Throw the peaches, onions, pecans, and arugula together and sprinkle cheese on top. Enjoy with the dressing of your choice!

Mamma Mia! / Peach Ginger Lime Pie

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This week’s recipe: Double-Crust Peach Pie with Honey, Ginger, and Lime

It’s July, which means the countdown has officially begun. The countdown to my wedding? No, dummies, something much more important: the release of Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again! The original Mamma Mia! is one of my favorite movies, the sort of movie that can put me in a good mood no matter what is going on in the world, and heaven knows we all need some cheering up these days. It’s so unabashedly terrible, in the most fun way possible. It seems like everyone involved in the making of the movie was incredibly wasted and just having a grand old time, so in that spirit, I recommend watching with a glass or five of your favorite alcohol. 

The movie stars Meryl Streep as Donna, who owns an inn on a scenic Greek island, and Amanda Seyfried as her daughter Sophie, who is about to get married to a fella named Skye who is not all that into the whole big wedding concept. Sophie doesn’t know who her father is and, having discovered that Mom was screwing around with three guys around the time of her conception, invites all three of them to her wedding.

Once we’ve finished the montage that establishes that Sophie’s three possible dads are a Swedish adventurer, a British businessman, and another British businessman (but this one lives in America), it’s time for some girlish screaming to set the tone for the rest of the movie. Sophie. In the grand tradition of movie heroines everywhere, only has two friends (or at least only two friends who the producers wanted to pay to speak). Now, Sophie grew up in Greece and has an American accent, and her friends have English and Scottish accents and it’s never explained how they know each other. They giggle about Donna’s diary about her raging slut days and say “Oh my God” a lot. Amanda Seyfried has a perfectly pleasant voice for singing pop music but I’m glad that Hollywood discovered Anna Kendrick. Also, I don’t know where they filmed this but it’s an incredible ad for…wherever it is. I want to have a halo of blond hair and run a decrepit inn there, for sure.

Anyway, turns out all three potential dads readily made an international trip to a remote Greek island to attend the wedding of the daughter of someone they each fucked for a couple of weeks two decades ago. Donna’s best (and, via movie logic, only) friends, Christine Baranski and Molly Weasley, are also on their way. Molly Weasley is a chef, which we learn because one of the guys on their boat over to the island asks her through sign language to sign his cookbook. Yes, he just happens to be toting around a cookbook in a language he doesn’t understand as he makes his commute. Christine Baranski is a plastic surgery devotee and by far the best thing about this movie. They reunite with Donna, and at this point, it becomes clear for the first time just how incredibly drunk everyone was during filming. It’s delightful.

Donna almost murders some Greek peasants with a loose shutter but then they provide backup as she sings about how she wants to find a sugar daddy, so I guess all is forgiven. Meryl Streep also has a perfectly pleasant voice but an old pro like Christine Baranski really puts her to shame. The weirdest part about the hotel subplot is that they all act like the Internet is some huge innovation that could only possibly be understood by teenagers, even though this movie is ostensibly set in the present of 2008.

The dads arrive and, believe it or not, Sophie does NOT immediately know which one is her actual father! None of them have enormous blue bug eyes like Amanda Seyfried, which would definitely be the giveaway. Sophie brings them to the hotel, and after they made this huge trip, SURPRISE they’re staying in the old goathouse! What kind of hospitality establishment is this anyway? Sophie makes them promise that they won’t tell Donna why they’re there, which seems to rely heavily on Donna being a credulous moron. While Donna sings the title song and tries to not-very-subtly spy on her exes in the old goathouse, one of the Greek peasants opens a trapdoor into their room – maybe as revenge for Donna almost killing him with the shutter? – and she falls through. It’s okay, because Donna is most definitely drunk. It’s evident from the beginning that Donna is supposed to end up with Pierce Brosnan’s Sam, because his excuse for why he’s on a random Greek island is “I just wanted to say hello,” which, what? I guess we’re supposed to find that romantic but in reality, it’s nuts.

Even though Donna seemed happily drunk when she dropped in from the roof of the old goathouse, she now has to be upset so that her friends can sing “Chiquitita.” Fortunately, that’s over soon enough, and then we’re on to “Dancing Queen”! It is, to quote 30 Rock, it’s “a madcap musical romp…fun…good!” But seriously, this number is the height of the delightful, drunk, grrrrrl power spirit of Mamma Mia. It’s got multiple-Oscar winner Meryl Streep jumping on a bed, sliding down a banister, shimmying with a boa, and cannon-balling off a dock into the blue waters of the Aegean. Even the judgmental Greek peasants get into it.

Meanwhile, Sophie’s dads are about to leave, but then Sophie yells “Wait!” and takes off her shirt. Sadly for all you pervs out there, she’s wearing a chaste one-piece, and she swims up to her dads’ boat so Colin Firth can sing “Our Last Summer” in a voice that is, once again, pleasant enough. As is so often the case with jukebox musicals, there are a few inconsistencies between the plot and the lyrics. For instance, the whole song is about how they spent their “last summer” with Donna in Paris, when they were supposed to have spent it here on this Greek island, and also Bill says he and Donna were dating during “the time of flower power,” which would make Sophie close to 40. Sadly, this is the first time we get exposed to Pierce Brosnan’s singing voice, which is significantly less than pleasant. Anyway, after this boat ride, she has snookered her dads enough to convince them to stay, hooray! Then there’s a useless number between Skye and Sophie which is only significant because Sophie reveals some deep-seated abandonment issues just before they break into song, saying to Skye, “You’ll never leave me, will you?” Still, I can’t say I mind Dominic Cooper in a swimsuit, and it’s fun to watch all of his friends dance on the dock in their flippers. Cut to Sophie’s bachelorette party—she suddenly has more than two friends, though none of them will ever do anything other than scream deliriously while Donna, CB, and MW perform “Super Trooper” and eagerly molest Sophie’s dads. Meanwhile, the menfolk literally swing in to perform a choreographed dance with the womenfolk as Sophie freaks out because her dads have all suddenly realized that they’re her dad. How do they all discover this all at the same time? Well, “OH MY GOD, I’M YOUR FATHER” is literally the extent of Harry’s thought process. Oh, also, Harry is gay. LOL.

Sophie’s being a real angsty bitch about not knowing who her father is, and it’s rubbing off on Donna. “I see you kept my bagpipes,” says Sam. “They’re supposed to ward off unwanted visitors,” retorts Donna. Finally, someone who understands my hatred of bagpipes. “Why didn’t you tell me it was Sophie getting married?” says Sam, as if he had any idea who Sophie was before yesterday. He complains to Donna that Sophie shouldn’t be getting married so young, and that she should be going out and having adventures, to which I say again YOU JUST MET HER YESTERDAY. This is, of course, all a lead-in to “S.O.S.”, about which the less said the better. Pierce Brosnan, you are NOT a good singer. And do you think the Greek peasants ever get tired of being backup singers in Donna’s life?

Okay, now it is time for the greatest number of all, Christine Baranski and Hot Young Shirtless Guy singing “Does Your Mother Know.” This song can be considered pretty creepy when it’s a man singing it to a (presumably very young) woman, but CB makes it charming and sexy. Seriously, if you have never seen this, do yourself a favor and look it up, it’s great fun, and CB is so so good at what she does. 

Time for Sophie to tell her fiancé about the dad situation. He’s all like, “This is why you wanted to have this sodding white wedding! I put everything on bloody hold for you! I’m British!” Needless to say, this fight has no long-term impact whatsoever.

Now it’s “Slipping Through My Fingers,” and I have nothing to say about this song except that it makes me cry every time I watch it, no matter what state of drunkenness or sobriety I’m in. I play this song and cry right before every friend’s wedding, because I am a big sap. The most touching part is when Sophie realizes that she doesn’t need her dad to give her away, and instead asks her mom, which is clearly what she should have done all along, but of course, it still makes me cry.

Then Sam comes by and is all, “WHAT ABOUT HER FATHER? HER FATHER SHOULD GIVE HER AWAY, NEVER MIND THAT NO ONE KNOWS WHO HE IS AND THAT YOU’VE SPENT HER WHOLE LIFE RAISING HER, WHAT REALLY MATTERS IS THAT I PROVIDED THE SPERM.” I know we are supposed to root for Sam and Donna but this aspect of the movie has not aged well at all. Donna sings “The Winner Takes It All” for reasons that are entirely unclear, but Meryl puts in a deeply felt performance, as she always does, with her red shawl is an important supporting player. We can only assume the backup singers are some Greek peasants hiding behind the cliffs.

Donna arrives late for the wedding due to all her dramatic cliffside singing, and then she interrupts the ceremony to “welcome Sophie’s dad,” which as you might imagine causes some real awkwardness with the priest. Well, this is a wedding where the bride walks down the aisle to a winds version of “Knowing Me, Knowing You,” which was in the musical but got cut from the movie, so it’s not exactly traditional. Still, Sam reveals that he is divorced, which he probably should have said upfront. Meanwhile, Harry reveals that he’s gay, and Bill…keeps on bein’ Bill. Sophie decides to call off the wedding so she and Skye can travel and enjoy their youth, which is the only genuinely surprising and interesting part of the movie, but then Sam does the classic “Why waste a good wedding?” line, and he and Donna get married after Pierce Brosnan sings again, ugh. And then someone was like, we should really give Pierce Brosnan another song that wasn’t in the musical, and UGH, why. I know you were all drunk while making this movie, but you’d have to be REAL drunk to think this was a good idea. Then Molly Weasley starts hitting on Bill, which is beyond random because she’s spent the whole movie talking about how she don’t need no man and all of a sudden she’s hanging on his leg and begging him to “Take a Chance on Me.” It’s bizarre.

Then Sophie hugs her dads and the movie ends, other than the principals dressing in disco outfits and singing “Dancing Queen.” They are clearly incredibly wasted at this point as they giggle, “Do you want another one?” and launch into “Waterloo.”  No, no we do not want another one. And yet…we do? TUNE IN JULY 20 FOR MAMMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN.

So anyway, here’s a pie. I have been posting a lot of desserts here lately, because I am #breadingforthewedding, but this one is so delicious. Rather like Mamma Mia!, it’s pure summer, especially when hot out of the oven and paired with some vanilla ice cream! Mmmm I am getting hungry just thinking about it.

Double-Crust Peach Pie with Honey, Ginger, and Lime
From Dining In

Ingredients

For the piecrust:

2.5 cups flour
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2.5 sticks unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes and chilled
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar or distilled white vinegar
1/4 cup ice water

For the pie

1 large egg, beaten
4 pound ripe peaches, unpeeled, pitted, and sliced 1/2 inch thick
1/3 cup honey
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon lime zest
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped (optional)
Pinch of kosher salt
1/2 cup of Demerara sugar

Instructions

For the piecrust 

  1. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt. Add the butter and toss to coat in the flour mixture. Using your hands, smash the butter between your palms and fingertips, mixing it into the flour. Once most of the butter is incorporated and there are no large chunks remaining, dump the flour mixture onto a work surface.
  2. Combine the vinegar and ice water and drizzle it over the flour-butter mixture. Run your fingers through the mixture just to evenly distribute the water through the flour until the dough starts coming together.
  3. Knead the dough a few more times, just to gather up any dry bits from the bottom and place them on the top to be incorporated. Once you’ve got a shaggy mass of dough, knead it once or twice more and divide it in half. Pat each piece into a flat disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least two hours.

For the pie

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. One a lightly floured surface, roll out one disk of pie dough into a round about 14 inches in diameter. Transfer it to the parchment-lined baking sheet and repeat with the remaining disk of dough, separating the two rounds with a piece of parchment paper. Put the baking sheet in the refrigerator while you make the filling.
  3. Beat the egg with 1 teaspoon water to create egg wash and set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, toss the peaches, honey, granulated sugar, lime zest and juice, cornstarch, ginger, vanilla bean seeds (if using), and salt together.
  5. Transfer one round of pie dough to a 9-inch pie plate, using your fingers to set the crust against the side of the dish. Add the filling and brush the edges of the dough with the egg wash. Place the remaining round of dough over the peaches and crimp around the edges to seal. Wash the top with egg wash, cut three slits in the top, and sprinkle with Demarara sugar.
  6. Place in the oven for 90 minutes. If it’s insufficiently brown (it should look like it’s almost about to burn), add another 15 minutes.

Female Friendship / Cheesecake Ice Cream

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This week’s recipe: Cheesecake Ice Cream

Oh look, it’s the last day of June and I’ve forgotten to blog all month. Oh well.

Three things happened this month that have made me think a lot about the nature of female friendship. First, my friends threw me an absolutely perfect bachelorette party that left me feeling so warm and fuzzy. The following week, I watched the cast of Mean Girls perform at the Tonys. And the week after that, I finally got my hands on the Hey Ladies book, which I finished in two days.

Let’s work backwards. Hey Ladies started as a series by Michelle Markowitz and Caroline Moss on the late lamented feminist website The Toast. It revolves around eight girlfriends, all of them different flavors of basic bitch, as they plan various parties and hangouts via emails that inevitably begin with “Hey ladies!” There’s Ali, the calculating Machiavelli whose signature move is to unilaterally book an expensive activity for the group and then demand that everyone Venmo her their share of the cost; the perpetually broke Nicole, who is constantly launching half-baked entrepreneurial schemes; Katie, who takes both her inconsequential media job and her lopsided romantic relationships way too seriously; Jen, whose very being revolves around her fiancé/husband; and Gracie, the sane one who acts as a straight woman (mostly—I won’t spoil the end of the book but it was genuinely chilling). The other three ladies, Ashley, Morgan, and Caitlin, were neglected in the series but are given personalities for the book (well, sort of personalities; respectively, lives in Connecticut, lives in Brooklyn, aspiring lifestyle guru). So if you are looking for nuanced characters and deeply felt writing, this is probably not the book for you—although I didn’t know how much I needed the cold war between Ali and Jen’s passive-aggressive WASP mother until this book.  But despite the broadness of their characterization, you’ve probably known one or more of these girls if you’re a 20-something in New York. And if you’re a 20-something woman almost anywhere in America, you’ve been part of “Hey ladies!” e-mail chain.

Markowitz and Moss have insisted, in the book’s foreword and in press interviews, that their goal here is not to make fun of women, and that the book’s message is actually about the power of female friendship. I don’t buy it. Other than a few intragroup relationships here and there, I don’t even buy that these girls like each other. Which makes sense—there’s not much to like in either self-absorbed urban millennials or the wedding industry, which are this book’s two main targets—but I was curious as to why the authors felt the need to defend the Hey Ladies ladies, when most people enjoy them as a hate-read. Does feminism mean having to stick up for any expression of femininity, no matter how toxic? It doesn’t, and it shouldn’t, but I think that Markowitz and Moss’ impulse comes from a genuine desire to avoid denigrating women. After all, everything about femininity is policed: the way women talk, the way we dress, whether or not we wear makeup, whether or not we “lean in” at work, how we raise children, the books we read and the movies and TV we watch. Making fun of the way we plan parties—and by extension, how we conduct our friendships—is just the latest pile-on, and could easily be seen as a cheap shot, since there are so few positive portrayals of female friendships in popular media as it is.

See: Mean Girls. Fourteen years after the movie came out it’s as culturally prominent as ever, its deathless jokes and references now strewn throughout a hit musical on Broadway. I was interested in seeing the show until I saw the Tonys performance, which was…underwhelming, but from what I’ve heard, it’s very similar to the movie but modernized for the age of social media. If you’ve never seen it (and if so, what’s wrong with you???), it follows a formerly homeschooled wide-eyed innocent named Cady as she goes to high school for the first time and becomes part of a popular clique known as the Plastics. It was based on a book, Queen Bees and Wannabes, which tells parents about how to help their daughters navigate “Girl World” throughout adolescence.

What is Girl World? Cady, who spent her childhood in Africa, frequently contrasts it with the blunt brutality of the animal kingdom; while Girl World is just as vicious, its methods are much sneakier. Girls communicate through manipulation, undermining, and passive-aggression instead of speaking directly. The violence they do to each other is psychological, not physical. The closer someone is to you, the deeper they can wound you. I can’t think of a single example of a healthy female friendship in the entire movie—not between any of the Plastics, not between Cady and her “art freak” friend Janice, not between any of the other minor characters who constantly tear each other down.

This matters because Mean Girls is such a powerful and enduring representation of how girls socialize and are socialized. It wasn’t the first or last movie about how terrible girls can be to each other, but it’s the one that’s stayed most firmly in the cultural zeitgeist. Ali from Hey Ladies is definitely a spiritual descendent of Regina George. The Plastics launched four-way call phone call attacks; the Hey Ladies ladies send each other misleadingly cropped screen shots and say one thing on the group e-mail while privately texting each other their true feelings. Mean Girls has become the archetypical depiction of female “friendship,” and while it takes place in high school, its tropes—that women are catty, jealous, gossipy, underhandedly competitive, quick to fight over boys, etc.—have long characterized society’s views of female relationships generally, regardless of age.

There are exceptions, of course. My personal favorite is Leslie and Ann’s friendship in Parks and Recreation. They’re two very different women with different personalities and different priorities. Sometimes they fight and sometimes they disappoint each other and, yes, sometimes they even go after the same guy. But they’re always loving, loyal, and supportive. They bring out each other’s best qualities. They make each other’s lives better.

These are the kinds of female friendships that I want, and I’m so fortunate that these are the kind of female friendships that I have. You would be amazed at the amount of drama that can spring up around a bachelorette party—not for nothing was the very first Hey Ladies entry an attempt to plan such an event— and it warmed my cold cynical heart to have friends who were able to make me feel so special. And moreover, they did so in a way that was unique to me, not just the typical social media performance with matching tank tops and its #squadgoals. And now I’m policing the way women use social media, natch. It’s a hard urge to resist, and Mean Girls and Hey Ladies are a lot of fun, but let’s all try to give the real power of real female friendships the credit it deserves.

So anyway, here’s some ice cream. Last September, Mark and I went to Carmel, California. It’s a beautiful area with amazing food and wine, and the best dinner we had there was at a restaurant called The Bench, which overlooks the 18th hole of the Pebble Beach golf course. It was so memorably delicious that, in honor of Mark’s and my negative-three-month wedding anniversary, I decided to try to recreate it: the flatbread appetizers, the halibut and forbidden rice entree, the bottle of excellent white wine, and most of all, the dessert. Although it had been five months at that point since Mark and I had gotten engaged, we were riding that train hard, and when we told The Bench that we were “recently” engaged, they gave us a free dessert of strawberry cobbler and cheesecake ice cream. I never would have chosen that dessert to order but I’m so glad they gave chose it for us, because it was incredible, especially the cheesecake ice cream. Cheesecake ice cream is definitely a once-a-year type treat, but what a treat! You can’t go wrong with a David Lebovitz recipe, so that’s what I picked for our special dinner. Was it as good as the one we had at The Bench? Honestly, who cares, it’s cheesecake ice cream!

Cheesecake Ice Cream

From The Perfect Scoop

Ingredients
8 ounces cream cheese
1 lemon, preferably unsprayed
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup half-and-half
2/3 cup sugar
pinch of salt

Instructions
Cut the cream cheese into small pieces. Zest the lemon directly into a blender or food processor, then add the cream cheese, sour cream, half-and-half, sugar, and salt, and puree until smooth. Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, then freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

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