This week’s recipe: Tomato Goat Cheese Cobbler
I went to go see Network on Broadway last weekend. It’s a stage adaptation of the 1976 film, starring Bryan Cranston as the disillusioned news anchor Howard Beale. Beale has recently been fired for bad ratings, and he uses his final broadcasts to rail against the “bullshit” he sees in the world and to threaten to kill himself on the air. Viewers are drawn to his righteous anger and straight-shooting style, and ratings shoot up. Beale encourages his audience to get angry, inspiring them to stick their heads out their windows and yell, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take this anymore!”
Even if you’ve never seen Network, you’ve probably heard this iconic line. But I was more interested in the larger speech in which it appears. Beale, who is in the throes of a nervous breakdown at this point, rails against the world’s ills, and how anesthetized the population has become to violence, economic depression, environmental despoliation, and so on. He says, “I don’t want you to protest. I don’t want you to riot — I don’t want you to write to your congressman, because I wouldn’t know what to tell you to write. I don’t know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you’ve got to get mad. You’ve got to say: ‘I’m a human being, god-dammit! My life has value!’ So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell: I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE! I want you to get up right now. Sit up. Go to your windows. Open them and stick your head out and yell – ‘I’m as mad as hell and I’m not gonna take this anymore!’ Things have got to change. But first, you’ve gotta get mad! You’ve got to say, I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE! Then we’ll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis. But first, get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it: I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!”
Network is about so many things that are relevant today—news as spectacle, the corporatization of media, the way capitalism chews people up and spits them out. Heck, there’s even a shout-out to the pernicious influence of Saudi money. But what I found most thought-provoking was what it has to say about the nature of anger. Anger is at the core of both Beale’s being and his appeal. It’s what makes him authentic and refreshing, and gives him a reputation as a truth-telling “mad prophet.” But while seeing a newsman get angry and express strong opinions may have been an exciting novelty in the 1970s, we have dozens of cable channels and online media outlets devoted to just that in 2018. Has it made the world a better, purer, more truthful place?
Let’s go back to that rant for a moment. What’s interesting is how Beale openly admits that he doesn’t have solutions to offer. He seems to think that the cleansing power of honest anger will somehow lead to a nationwide moment of clarity that will allow them to “figure out what to do.” This makes sense, because if there’s one thing that anger has historically been good for, it’s helping people think more clearly and rationally. Just kidding. It’s dumb. It’s like saying, “I don’t like either of the major party candidates so I’m voting Green.” You know it won’t make things better and may in fact make things worse, but all that really matters is that you’re emotionally satisfied. It’s like Trump saying, “Nobody knew healthcare could be so complicated.” No, dummy, anyone who spent even ten seconds thinking about or studying the problem knew it was complicated. You only ever thought that it was simple because rightwing media figures and politicians have been saying since at least the 1990s that there’s an obvious solution; it’s just that no one has been able to propose or implement it, because…reasons. The world is a complex place with complex problems. Addressing them takes hard work and organization; getting angry, in contrast, is something that any two year old can do. No one likes endemic crime and chaos, and it’s ridiculous to think that everyone was just living in a slumbering fog until some guy on TV told them that all the bad things going on in the world are, get this, bad.
Another interesting factor for those who would take “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take this anymore!” as a rallying cry: Howard Beale is crazy. He sees visions and hears voices. That is the nature of prophets, but unlike most prophets, Beale experiences honor in his own time—a massive and respected platform with which to disseminate his message. Plus, as a middle-aged white man, he is a default authority figure, so his influence only grows despite some manifest mental issues. This leads to the vital question of whose anger is considered valid, and the situation hasn’t changed much since the 1970s on that score. When a woman expresses anger, she’s “emotional.” When a black man expresses anger, he’s “threatening.” When a black woman expresses anger, she’s a stereotype. The reaction to Colin Kaepernick and the NFL protests has proven that, in the eyes of many, there is no right way for some people to express anger. But for other people, anger is always justified. It’s why you get so many sympathetic profiles of “economically anxious” Trump voters, or why the media believed for so long that the Tea Party was a grassroots expression of deficit-related fury rather than a movement funded by plutocrats and fueled by racism.
There’s nothing wrong with getting mad when you’ve been wronged. It’s a healthy and natural emotion. The problem is when anger gets channeled to destructive ends, which is much more likely to occur when people are being positively encouraged to hold onto and nurture their anger—even when they haven’t been wronged! The modern conservative movement is afflicted with a massive persecution complex, telling its members that they should be deeply affronted if someone says “Happy holidays” to them or if they don’t like the design of a Starbucks cup. And while I hate false equivalence, I have to say that the left isn’t much better; the entire concept of microaggressions trains people to be offended by things that they wouldn’t otherwise find offensive. But the far left’s power is comparatively minuscule, and it’s rightwing rage that is more likely to manifest in violence. They’re angry, and someone out there – whether it’s a talking head on cable news or posters on a Reddit forum for incels – is telling them that their anger is righteous and valid, so they go bomb a government building or drive a car into a crowd of people or shoot up a school. Or, in a less extreme but far more common reaction, support Donald Trump.
As with so many pieces of art in 2018, Trump is the unspoken subtext of the story. The Broadway production ends with a video montage of all of the presidents from Ford onward taking the oath of office at their inaugurations, and when it ends on Donald Trump, the message is clear: the media’s obsession with shiny objects, bullshit distractions, and, above all, ratings, did this to us. But what if they did it to us not through the corporate-engineered complacency that Beale excoriated, but through fanning anger…the very emotion that Beale sees as the heart of truth and righteousness?
So anyway, here’s a cobbler. But not a cobbler as you traditionally know it, with fruit n’ shit. This cobbler is savory! It’s a go-to brunch recipe for me, since it’s tasty, can feed a crowd, looks beautiful and impressive, and, most importantly, isn’t a cliche. Plus it makes you feel like you are eating vegetables, which then gives you permission to gorge on cinnamon buns or whatever other sweet treat is also laid out at the brunch. Win win!
Tomato Goat Cheese Cobbler
- 3 tbsp. whole-wheat flour
- ¾ cup (100 g.) all-purpose flour
- 3½ tbsp. cornmeal
- 2¼ tsp. baking powder
- 1½ tbsp. sugar
- ½ tsp. kosher salt
- ½ cup + 1 tbsp. (130 g.) cold unsalted butter, cubed
- 3½ tbsp. cold buttermilk
- 5 cups (900 g.) cherry tomatoes
- 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 tsp. kosher salt
- 1 batch Egg Wash (recipe follows)
- 4 to 6 tbsp. (55 to 85 g.) goat cheese
- To make the biscuit topping: Combine the whole-wheat flour, all-purpose flour, cornmeal, baking powder, sugar, and salt in a very large bowl. Stir to blend. Toss the butter with the flour mixture. Work the butter between your fingertips until the pieces are pea-and lima bean-size. Add the buttermilk and lightly toss to distribute.
- Dump the dough onto a clean work surface. Begin by firmly pressing the entire surface of the dough with the heel of your palm. Toss and squeeze the dough to redistribute the wet and dry patches. Repeat, pressing thoroughly again with the heel of your palm, and continue pressing, tossing, and squeezing until it begins to hold together. But be sure not to overwork the dough! It should stay together but you should still see pea-size bits of butter running through it.
- Press the dough into a disc ¾ in. (2 cm.) thick. Cut the dough into nine biscuits. Transfer to an ungreased sheet pan and freeze for 1 to 2 hours. Preheat your oven to 350°F.
- To make the filling: Combine the cherry tomatoes, olive oil, 2 sprigs of the thyme, and the salt in an ovenproof sauté pan. Cover and cook over high heat until the tomatoes begin to soften, 2 to 3 minutes. Uncover and continue cooking until all the tomatoes burst slightly.
- Brush the frozen biscuits with egg wash and arrange them, 1 in. (2.5 cm.) apart, on top of the tomato mixture in the skillet. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove briefly and quickly dollop the goat cheese between the biscuits over any exposed tomato. Return to the oven, increasing the temperature to 475°F, and continue baking until the top is nicely browned, about 10 minutes longer. Serve warm or at room temperature, topped with the remaining thyme.