Fyre Festival / Peanut Butter Caramel Pretzel Chocolate Chip Cookies

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This week’s recipe: Peanut Butter Caramel Pretzel Chocolate Chip Cookies

True confession: I’m obsessed with the Fyre Festival. I will read, watch, or listen to anything about those rich dumdums paying thousands of dollars to essentially live in a refugee camp. And apparently I’m not the only one, since both Netflix and Hulu found the need to create documentaries about the Fyre Festival, both of which were released last week. I, of course, watched both Fyre Fraud (the Hulu version) and Fyre (the Netflix version) as soon as I could. They didn’t teach me much that I didn’t already know from the excellent and hilarious Swindled episode on the subject, but it was interesting to hear the perspective of the various parties involved.

If you’re not familiar with the Fyre Festival, I recommend the Swindled episode, but here’s a quick primer. The Fyre Festival took place in spring of 2017 on the Bahamian island of Great Exuma. It was supposed to be the music festival to end all music festivals, even though their headliner was Blink 182, which…whatever. The entire festival was a scheme to promote a talent-booking app called Fyre, founded by a 20-something entrepreneur/douchebag named Billy McFarland and Ja Rule (remember him?) McFarland used millions of dollars from investors to pay some of the world’s most famous models and influencers to appear in a promotional video shot on the island and post about the festival on their Instagram accounts. Soon, people began to pay up to $25,000 for ticket packages that promised private jets, luxury villas, meals prepared by celebrity chefs, and more. But despite the apparent success of the concept, it became clear that McFarland had no idea what he was doing. With his hubris and desire to be “a fucking legend,” he disregarded the advice of anyone with actual experience in festival planning, all of whom told him that planning an overseas event for thousands of people in five months was impossible and irresponsible. Sure enough, most of the artists pulled out, and when the festivalgoers showed up, they were faced with Port-A-Potties, soggy mattresses in FEMA disaster relief tents, cheese sandwiches in Styrofoam containers…and no way off the island. After a night of chaos and despairing social media posts that ricocheted around the world to a gleeful, schadenfreude-fueled public, the festival was cancelled. McFarland is now serving six years in prison for wire fraud, and the phrase “Fyre Festival” has become a shorthand for everything that’s terrible about a certain class of Instagram-obsessed millennials.

It’s easy to see why so many people have thoroughly enjoyed learning about this train wreck. Credulous trust fund brats getting scammed, and the overgrown frat bro responsible going to prison, is about as close to a victimless crime as you can get. But there were also hundreds of contractors and Bahamian workers—many of whom put in 18-hour days in order to try to turn Billy McFarland’s demented vision into a reality—who never got paid, and both documentaries do a good job of reminding viewers of that. (In my opinion, Fyre did a better job of hitting the emotional beats and showing just how much was at stake for the local people.)

So which one is worth watching? I think that they were both very good, but Fyre Fraud wins out. It’s a slick, gimmicky production, and it flogs the Millennials, amirite? angle a little too hard. It also makes me very glad that I’m not on Instagram, since its talking heads insist over and over that if you’re not constantly updating and curating your social media presence, you may as well not exist, and that sounds exhausting (as well as reductive and inaccurate). But it offers crucial context about influencer culture and McFarland’s past business ventures that Fyre, a much more straightforward story, lacks. Ultimately, however, the difference in quality is ultimately less about what Fyre Fraud brings to the table than what Fyre leaves out.

Both documentaries are ethically compromised in different ways. The Hulu version has interviews with McFarland, whom they paid an undisclosed amount to participate. (He reportedly requested six figures from Netflix to participate in their version, but they declined.) The Netflix version, meanwhile, was produced in part by Jerry Media, which ran the marketing campaign for the Fyre Festival. While the association with Jerry Media gives Netflix access to lots of interesting behind-the-scenes footage, I believe that the Hulu documentary does a much better job of justifying its pay-to-play. Hearing from McFarland is valuable, and not because he deserves to tell his side of the story, but because the filmmakers give him enough rope to hang himself with. You see up close his blithe overconfidence, his ego, his pathological lying, his impulse to overrun any objection or criticism with torrents of bullshit—all of the personality traits that made the Fyre Festival debacle possible. But the crazy part is, he’s not even particularly good at lying. At one point, he claims that the festival’s organizers did secure the luxury housing they had promised attendees, but they lost the box of keys to the villas. The off-camera interviewer asks him why he has never explained this to anyone before, and he sits and squirms in silence for 20 seconds before the camera cuts away. In short, it should have been easy to see through him, and according to the talking head interviews in Fyre Fraud, many people did. But clearly, enough of them were committed to his success that they were willing to keep the con going even after they knew it was hopeless.

This, much more than Fyre Fraud’s groundbreaking discovery that millennial influencer culture is shallow and dishonest, is the most important takeaway from the story. Unfortunately, Netflix’s decision to partner with Jerry Media means that it gets deemphasized in their documentary. Jerry Media is understandably invested in crafting a narrative where it’s All Billy’s Fault and everyone who worked for him was simply taken along for the ride. It’s funny, because in many ways, the story of the Fyre Festival is a brilliant advertisement for Jerry Media’s services. They ran an ingenious marketing campaign that turned a whole bunch of nothing into the hottest ticket around. Sure, using beautiful, scantily clad women to advertise your product is not exactly revolutionary, but I appreciated Fyre Fraud’s explanation of why the orange Instagram tiles were so effective. (This is what I meant when I wrote that the Hulu version gave better context.) But in Fyre, the story is told so that Jerry Media’s involvement is reduced to bystander status. It’s as if everyone involved was put under some sort of spell that rendered them unable to blow the whistle or even to meaningfully object.

I want to think that I would never be taken it by something like this, and I feel confident in saying that I wouldn’t, but only in this specific instance. My entire social media presence consists of a lightly used Facebook account (and a LinkedIn page, if you want to count that). Even if I were on Instagram, I don’t think I’d follow the sorts of people who promoted the Fyre Festival. They weren’t appealing to my fantasy—sure, the Bahamas are beautiful, but I have no desire to go to a Migos concert with Kendall Jenner. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be taken for a ride. Far from it; I’m actually a pretty trusting and gullible person. The Fyre Festival scam targeted the sort of people who fancy themselves hip and beautiful and exclusive. They were drawn by the opportunity to perform hipness and beauty and exclusivity in front of the world, and watch others seethe with FOMO-driven envy. The notorious supermodel ad, in particular, really spoke to this desire, and was more successful at tapping into it than I could have believed. You would think that a lifetime of exposure to modern advertising techniques would have tipped off ticket buyers that the presence of supermodels in a promotional video did not guarantee their attendance at the actual festival. (Unless they think that every Carl’s Jr. burger also comes with a sports car and an oiled-up chick in a bikini.) But could I be scammed by something that was designed to appeal to the sort of person I want to be? For instance, I like to consider myself a civically-minded person who cares about the less fortunate. I might not be susceptible to the Fyre Festival, but I would certainly be susceptible to something like the Three Cups of Tea school-building scandal from a few years back, because it preys on my self-image and self-conception. So as easy as it is to laugh at the people who got scammed by the Fyre Festival–and it’s so, so easy–maybe a little empathy is in order. But not too much.

So anyway, here are some cookies. I made these for a party for my choir, and whenever anyone asked me what kind of cookies they were, I said, “Heart attack.” Seriously, these have everything in them: chocolate, caramel, pretzels, peanut butter. That’s what makes them so good. If you are dieting this January…sorry.

Peanut Butter Caramel Pretzel Chocolate Chip Cookies

From Food52

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1 1/2 cups light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • teaspoons vanilla extract
  • large eggs
  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • ounces dark chocolate, chopped
  • cup caramel baking chips
  • 1/2 cup crushed pretzels, plus more for topping the cookies

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two pans with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. Melt the butter over medium heat on the stove. Stir regularly and remove the pan from heat immediately once all is melted. Pour into a large mixing bowl and whisk in the peanut butter. Add the brown sugar, sugar, and vanilla extract, stirring to combine. Add the eggs and whisk to incorporate. Add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt to the mix immediately and fold to combine. Don’t waste a lot of time as the mixture will be harder to work with as it sits and cools. Fold in the chocolate, caramel chips, and pretzels. Scoop 1-1/2 tablespoon-sized scoops (I use a large cookie scoop) of dough on the baking sheets about 2 inches apart. Roll the dough in your hands to smooth and stick random pretzel chunks on the top of the dough balls if you want visible pieces after baking. Bake in the preheated oven 10-11 minutes or until the edges are set. Allow to cool briefly before eating!

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WASPs / Brioche Donuts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brioche Donuts with Bourbon Vanilla Creme

From StickySpatula.com

Ingredients

for the brioche doughnuts:

120 mL whole milk, warm

1 tablespoon instant dry yeast

420 grams unbleached all-purpose flour

50g cane sugar

1 teaspoon kosher salt

3 eggs, room temperature

100g unsalted butter, room temperature

5 cups of canola oil, for frying

2 cups of sugar, for dusting

for the crème patissiere:

1 cup whole milk

1 tablespoon bourbon

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 tablespoon of butter

3 large egg yolks

1 tablespoon cake flour

1 tablespoon corn starch

3 tablespoons cane sugar

pinch of sea salt

1/2 cup heavy cream, whipped

Instructions:

for the brioche:

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

for the crème patissiere

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

2018 Books, Pt. 2 / Doughnut Bundt Cake

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

And now, more books!

Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple

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

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

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

Becoming by Michelle Obama

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

The Wonder by Emma Donaghue

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

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

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

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

KL by Nikolaus Wachsmann

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Old-Fashioned Doughnut Bundt Cake

 

From the New York Times

INGREDIENTS

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

INSTRUCTIONS

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

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.

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.

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.

Aziz Ansari / Dad’s Magic Soup

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This week’s recipe: Dad’s Magic Soup

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dad’s Magic Soup, aka Vegetable Cream Soup

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

Ingredients

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

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

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

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