This week’s recipe: Thai Soba Noodle Bowl
I don’t go to the movies often. This is partly because my boyfriend Mark and I have Netflix, Hulu Plus, and HBO, plus a binder full of bitchin’ DVDs, but it’s mostly because the last movie that I saw ran me $43 for two tickets. Mind you, this was at the AMC theater at 84th and Broadway, which is widely considered to be the best theater in the city because of its big, comfy red recliner seats, and which therefore charges a few dollars more per ticket than average (plus the service fee from Fandango). But 84th Street theater or no 84th Street theater, the fact remains that there are many places in New York City where live performances cost less than a movie ticket. Still, Mark and I really wanted to see Moana in theaters, so I dutifully ponied up the $43.
And I’m glad I did! I had expected an excellent movie, considering the quality of Disney’s output lately and the involvement of Lin Manuel Miranda, who can do no wrong. It was funny and touching and beautifully animated and the music is catchy as hell (Mark and I have been bursting out “Consider the COCONUT!” at random intervals since we saw it), but my favorite part of it was Moana herself. She is a teenage Polynesian “not-princess”—although her father is the village chief, she defiantly insists that she isn’t a princess—who has always felt a connection with the ocean, despite her father’s insistence that she stay on their island. When an ecological disaster brought on by an ancient curse threatens her home, she takes to the sea to break the curse. Tt’s more complicated than that but whatever, go read the Wikipedia summary if you want more information about the plot. But now it’s time for
A LENGTHY DIGRESSION:
Now it’s common knowledge that early Disney princesses were not much in the way of feminist role models, and due in large part to their lack of personality and agency, the movies that they anchored don’t really hold up on viewing today. Cinderella? More like Snorerella! Sleeping Beauty? More like Snoring Beauty! Snow White? More like Snore White! (But for real, Snow White is the worst. I understand that it’s a classic of the animation genre, but not only does its title character have an incredibly annoying voice, it’s barely even her movie—the whole film would be about ten minutes long if the seven dwarves weren’t in it.) Of course, this is 2017, when as everyone knows, misogyny no longer exists, and we expect more of our Disney princesses. Here are my thoughts on the current lineup as per the official Disney Princesses media franchise:
-Snow White/Cinderella/Sleeping Beauty: I believe my feelings have been made abundantly clear
-Ariel: This one is controversial. I believe that she has an admirably strong sense of self and should get credit for saving the Prince’s life instead of the other way around, as is usual. I have heard a theory that makes a lot of sense to me, which is that the whole thing is a metaphor for being trans; i.e. that Ariel has always felt that she was born to be someone else, and even though it will require a lot of painful sacrifices to become that person, up to and including the loss of her home and family, those sacrifices are worth it to her. But I definitely get why giving up your voice to be with a guy is, to use one of my least favorite words, problematic.
-Belle: Like all bookish brunettes, I love Belle. Her story is also controversial because of the Stockholm Syndrome aspect, but I see it less as “Stockholm Syndrome” and more as “making the best of a bad situation.” The common line is that the story encourages girls to think that they can change the personalities of abusive men through love, but Belle doesn’t start to fall in love with the Beast until he begins to change his personality of his own accord (with some helpful encouragement from his sentient household objects). In fact, she kind of hates him at first, but if she’s going to be his prisoner, why hold onto that hate forever instead of giving him a second chance? She recognizes that the Beast has suffered his own significant trauma, and so can cut him a little slack that he got angry when she locked herself in her room instead of coming to dinner, or when she went to the one place in his castle that he told her was off-limits. Can’t we? And can you tell that I’ve spent a lot of time defending this movie to skeptics and haters?
-Jasmine: for whatever reason, I’ve never liked her, even though she’s voiced by Lea Salonga. She just seemed kind of bratty and self-centered. Also, her hair is wider than her waist. What’s up with that.
-Pocahontas: She’s okay, I give her about a B. She’s fierce and independent, which is cool, and she’s a total babe, but then you realize that in real life she was 11 when she met John Smith, and that he and the rest of the settlers were the start of a brutal, genocidal program of colonization , and that she died of syphilis at 21 (events not portrayed in Pocahontas 2: Journey to a New World), and then it’s like…wow, bummer. At least she has a funny raccoon friend!
-Mulan: The absolute best. She is not technically a princess but she has a hotter love interest than any of those lame-os. Also voiced by Lea Salonga!
-Tiana: I have to admit that I’ve only seen The Princess and the Frog once, on a plane, so I don’t feel very qualified to make a definitive judgment on Tiana. I liked that she was a smart, savvy, ambitious small businesswoman. That is a quality you don’t often get to see in Disney princesses! That movie also has a great villain, which is immaterial to Princess Tiana but I felt should be noted.
-Rapunzel: This is a lady who knows her way around a frying pan. A Disney princess who wants much more than this provincial life/to be part of that world/to see what’s around the river bend isn’t that original but Rapunzel’s spunk and adventurous spirit are charming nonetheless. This is another movie with a great villain, who gets a level of complexity and depth rarely seen in wicked stepmothers. However, Tangled gets some points off for its not-so-subtle implication that blond hair is special and magical and brown hair is…not.
-Merida: Honestly, I barely remember this movie. Great hair.
But here’s the truth about Disney princesses. It may be too early to call this, but I would say that by far the most culturally and commercially successful Disney princess of the last fifty years has been Elsa from Frozen. (That is why she is not included in the official “Disney Princesses” lineup—her merchandising potential is strong enough on its own.) If Disney’s customers wanted their princesses to exhibit positive qualities like kindness, intelligence, perseverance, and selflessness, they would have been drawn to Anna, who on top of all that is also the sister with the romantic storyline, while Elsa is practically the villain. So my conclusion is: really, what the viewers want is blond hair, pretty dresses, and power ballads. ‘Twas ever thus.
END OF DIGRESSION
So right, Moana. She wants much more than this provincial life/to be part of that world/to see what’s around the river bend (or in her case, to know how far she’ll go), but she also feels real responsibility and affection towards her family, her people, and her traditions. She knows what she wants but she isn’t perversely willful or sullen; her motivations are understandable and grounded in the reality of her situation. She’s endlessly resourceful, and I think it shows how low the bar has been set that I was like, “Wow, how refreshing! A movie about a teenager that didn’t end in her wedding!” But most of all, she is authentically strong.
What does it mean to be strong? Too often a “strong” female character has to be infallible, or whatever the male writers’ version of infallible is. Hotness is, of course, at the top of the list, combined with the ability to do violence to others with complete sangfroid. One of my least-favorite tropes in action movies is a very slender woman, often dressed in a binding outfit and stiletto boots, who can beat up much larger, more muscular men without making a rip in her skintight leather pants. There are areas where women typically have the advantage—agility, flexibility, pain thresholds, not to mention things like emotional intelligence—but in these movies, to be strong means to be like a “man.” It means to be able to physically dominate, to be tough and stoical, to not care about “girly” stuff (until, inevitably, the strong female character falls in love with the male protagonist and appears in makeup and a slinky dress and it turns out SHE WAS SECRETLY FEMININE AND BEAUTIFUL THE WHOLE TIME).
I’m hardly the first to make these observations but that’s what made it so heartening to me that Moana really was a strong female character. She is both physically strong—it helps that unlike certain Elsas, she has the physique of a normal teenage girl—and emotionally strong—although she is sometimes tempted to give up, she draws on her resilience and self-knowledge to get through trials and challenges. She reminds me of Chihiro, the main character from Spirited Away, who like Moana is courageous even when she’s afraid, adaptable to new situations, kind and respectful to everyone she comes across, and able to look past exteriors to see what’s really important. There are so many young girls in my life that I love: all of the girls from synagogue I’ve had in my kids’ service or babysat, some of whom are three years old and some of whom are applying to college; my sweet and smart former bat mitzvah tutoring students; my Little Sister, who is unfailingly polite and curious and who, at twelve years old, still calls sex “the S-E-X word”; my old mentee from college who has blossomed into the most incredible young woman I’ve ever met; and most of all my two-year-old niece, who I had hoped would grow up with only memories of a female president, but who instead will become aware of the world for the first time in Donald Trump’s America. Moana and Chihiro are the role models I want for all of those girls.
So anyway, here’s a Thai soba noodle bowl. I made it on a freezing cold night and it was wonderfully hot in all senses of the word—I only used a tiny bit of jalapeno but they’re powerful little bastards. I also left out the mushrooms because I hate mushrooms but I’m sure they’d add a nice flavor if you’re into that sort of thing. It was a little hard to eat with a spoon but once I got forks involved, the situation improved markedly (although I had to thoroughly wipe down the table from all of the noodle-splatter). With the peanut butter, lime, coconut, and lemongrass, it will bring a little taste of Thailand right to your noodle-splattered table!
Thai Soba Noodle Bowl
Adapted from Sprouted Kitchen
THAI SOBA NOODLE BOWL // Serves 4
Adapted from Food and Wine via Harold Dieterle of Kin Shop, New York
1 14 oz. pkg. Extra Firm Tofu
2 Tbsp. Tamari or Low Sodium Soy Sauce
2 tsp. Sesame or Olive Oil
2 Thai Chiles or half of one VERY Small Habanero, seeded and chopped
3 Stalks Fresh Lemongrass, inner bulbs, finely chopped
4 Cloves Garlic
1 Large Shallot
1/4 Cup Peeled and Chopped Fresh Ginger
1 Tbsp. Coconut Oil
2 1/2 Cups Coconut Milk (about a can and a half)
1 heaping Tbsp. Muscavado or Brown Sugar
1 Tbsp. Tamari or Low Sodium Soy Sauce
3 Tbsp. Natural Smooth Peanut Butter
Zest of Two Limes
Juice of One Lime
Salt and Pepper
2 Cups Roughly Chopped Mushrooms (I didn’t use these cause I hate mushrooms)
Around 9oz. Soba Noodles
Wrap the tofu in a few paper towels and set it on a plate to drain with another plate on top. Leave it for an hour or up to six. Preheat the oven to 400′. Cut the tofu into 2” cubes, spread them on a baking sheet, drizzle with the tamari and oil and bake for about 25 minutes until the edges are browned.
In a blender or food processor, combine the chiles, lemongrass*, garlic, ginger, shallot and 1/4 cup water and puree until smooth.
In a large saucepan, heat the coconut oil. Add the lemongrass puree and cook over medium high heat, stirring, until fragrant. About two minutes. Whisk in the coconut milk, muscavado, tamari, peanut butter, lime zest and a cup of water. Simmer over low heat for about 15 minutes.
While the broth simmers, cook your soba noodles.
To the broth, ddd the sliced mushrooms (ewww no don’t), stir in the lime juice, taste for salt and pepper and let it sit another 5 minutes. Divide the noodles and tofu between your bowls and ladle the broth on top.