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!)
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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

Complicity / Lemon Bundt Cake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lemon Bundt Cake with Almond Glaze

From Baked Occasions 

INGREDIENTS

For the Lemon Bundt Cake

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

For the Lemon Syrup

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

For the Almond Glaze

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

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

Atlas Shrugged / Creamy Tomato Basil Soup

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This week’s recipe: Creamy Tomato Basil Soup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And these are the heroes!

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

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

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

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

Creamy Tomato Basil Soup

From Vitamin Sunshine

Ingredients

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

Instructions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Passover Traditions / Miso Braised Short Ribs with Pear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miso Braised Short Ribs with Pear

From My Lavender Blues

Ingredients 

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

 

Parkland / White Chocolate Chunk Brownies

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brownies with Flaky Salt and White Chocolate Chunks

From Downtime by Nadine Levy Redzepi

Ingredients

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

Instructions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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