2018 Books, Pt. 1 / Turkey Meatballs

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This week’s recipe: Turkey Meatballs in Arrabiata Sauce

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

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

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

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

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

Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perotta

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

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

One of Us by Asne Seierstad

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

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

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

Fitness Junkie by Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turkey Meatballs in Arrabiata Sauce

 

From Let’s Stay In

INGREDIENTS

1 pound/ 450 g ground dark turkey meat

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

1/3 cup/ 20 g panko bread crumbs

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon dried oregano

Pinch chili flake

2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

2 tablespoons finely chopped basil

3 garlic cloves, minced

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

1 egg

2 tablespoons olive oil

Arrabiata

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 anchovies, minced

4 garlic cloves, sliced

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

28 ounce/800 g can crushed tomatoes

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

INSTRUCTIONS

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

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

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

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

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

Serve over creamy polenta or pasta.

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Pittsburgh / Stuffed Acorn Squash

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This week’s recipe: Stuffed Acorn Squash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stuffed Acorn Squash

From Half Baked Harvest

 

Ingredients

For Squash:

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

For Wild Rice:

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

For Brown Butter Bread Crumbs:

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

Instructions

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

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

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

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

Brett Kavanaugh / Tomato Sauce

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This week’s recipe: Tomato Sauce

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tomato Sauce

From Jonathan Bardzik

Ingredients:

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

Directions:

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

Sweating for the Wedding / Arugula Salad with Grilled Peaches

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This week’s recipe: Arugula Salad with Grilled Peaches

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

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

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

1)Image result for spreading butter

2)Image result for thread needle

3)

Image result for petting a dog

4)

Image result for shredder

5)Image result for anne boleyn beheading

6)

Image result for finding dory

7)Image result for vinaigrette

8)Image result for poker players

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

1) Spreading for the wedding

2) Threading for the wedding

3) Petting for the wedding

4) Shredding for the wedding

5) Beheading for the wedding

6) Forgetting for the wedding

7) Vinaigrette-ing for the wedding

8) Betting for the wedding

9) Bloodletting for the wedding

10) Bobsledding for the wedding

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

Arugula Salad with Grilled Peaches

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

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

Atlas Shrugged / Creamy Tomato Basil Soup

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This week’s recipe: Creamy Tomato Basil Soup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And these are the heroes!

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

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

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

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

Creamy Tomato Basil Soup

From Vitamin Sunshine

Ingredients

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

Instructions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Passover Traditions / Miso Braised Short Ribs with Pear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miso Braised Short Ribs with Pear

From My Lavender Blues

Ingredients 

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

 

Food Bloggers / Roasted Tomato and Anchovy Bucatini

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This week’s recipe: Roasted Tomato and Anchovy Bucatini

  • I was born in America but moved to Europe and immediately started incorporating British spelling and usage into my writing. I live in a sprawling mansion, but like, the old, tasteful kind. I have a large brood of remarkably well-behaved children who never reject my cooking or refuse to pose for my beautifully composed photographs. But I am the real star of these photos, with my slender figure and cute sundresses and perfectly-done makeup, selecting a ripe peach from a pile at the farmers’ market. I enjoy gathering my friends, many of whom own castles, around my rustic-looking wooden table and sharing meals where we eat freshly prepared seasonal food and drink moderate amounts of wine and laugh about how fat and cultureless Americans are.
  • Everything is AMAZING! Every recipe I make is the BEST RECIPE EVER and will CHANGE your LIFE! I have lived in the Midwest all my life, and I root for all the local sports teams. I have a husband, who is the best husband in the world, and a puppy, who is the cutest puppy in the world, and a baby, who is so silly and sweet and adorable and just makes my life complete. The About Me photo on my blog is of me jumping in the air in front of the ocean as the sun rises on the horizon. My recipes are heavy on melted cheese and desserts, except when I get on temporary health kicks and am suddenly all about green smoothies and kale salads, which by the way are DELICIOUS! Many of my posts are sponsored by Birdseye. Also, I LOVE the Instant Pot.
  • I’m a downhome country gal who loooooooves butter, golly gee! My husband and sons are just simple, rugged men who like meat and potatoes, and who like having a wife/mom who will make sure that dinner’s on the table for them when they come home from ropin’ steers! My recipes are all generically familiar to anyone with the remotest amount of cooking experience, yet their intense obviousness is rivaled only by their enormous popularity. Things might be hard but I know that Jesus and my many best-selling cookbooks and endorsement deals will see me through. And if not, there’s the fact that our giant ranch comprises 8 percent of the economy of the rural state in which I live. I am truly #blessed.
  • I’m all about clean, natural living. I used to eat things like white potatoes and non-pasture raised eggs but I was always feeling bloated and sluggish. So I tried cutting out gluten, dairy, soy, sugar, corn, legumes, grains, animal products, nightshades, FODMAPs, and anything processed or non-organic. I felt so much better and though I’ve reintroduced a few of those food groups as time has gone on, I’ve learned that I can’t digest any food that might cause me to gain weight. I live in a large, light-filled apartment in a major American city with my businessman husband, but we also have a farm property where I am photographed wearing flannel amid my free-range chickens. I make my own yogurt because the store-bought stuff is packed with harmful GMOs and artificial sweeteners. Here’s twenty photo of tonight’s dinner, artfully arranged mustard greens topped with purified oxygen.

So anyway, here’s some pasta. As soon as I saw the photo of this recipe in Dining In, I was like, damn, I need to make that. So I did, because I always follow through on my goals, as long as they involve eating pasta. (Side note: Dining In is a great cookbook that you should buy if you haven’t already. I was put off by the hipster Instagram-y photography at first, but I’ve never bookmarked so many recipes that I want to make in a single cookbook. So far I’ve made about a dozen recipes and they’ve all been excellent.) This was seriously so good, especially when paired with red wine and a viewing of Blazing Saddles. Plus, it’s just darn fun to say the word “Bucatini!” in an exaggerated Italian accent. I highly recommend it.

Roasted Tomato and Anchovy Bucatini

From Dining In

Ingredients
Kosher salt
¼ cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling
½ small red onion, very thinly sliced
Crushed red pepper flakes
4 anchovy fillets
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, crushed
12 ounces bucatini or spaghetti
Lots of grated Parmesan cheese

Instructions

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

2. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large skillet or heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat. Add the onion and season with salt and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is totally cooked through but not browned, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the anchovies and stir until they’ve melted into the pan, about 30 seconds. Add the tomato paste and cook until it turns a brick-red color and sticks a bit to the bottom of the pan, about 90 seconds.

3. Add the tomatoes, scraping up any bits on the bottom of the skillet. Season with salt and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook, swirling the skillet occasionally, until the sauce thickens and it tastes so good you can hardly stand it. Add more salt and red pepper flakes if you want. Keep warm and set aside.

4. Meanwhile, cook the pasta in the boiling water. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the pasta cooking water.

5. Add the pasta along with ½ cup of the pasta cooking water to the skillet and toss to coat. Cook, tossing occasionally, until the pasta is really well coated, the sauce sticking to each individual noodle in a way that can only be described as perfect.

Remove the skillet from the heat and transfer the pasta to a large bowl, or divide it among four smaller bowls. Top with lots of Parmesan cheese.

Hallmark Movies, Pt. II / Tomato Soup

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This week’s recipe: Tomato Soup

Now that Christmas Eve approaches, it’s time to wrap up our first annual review of the Hallmark Channel’s 2017 Christmas movie offerings. Enjoy!

The Sweetest Christmas

Our heroine is the reigning Hallmark Channel Christmas Princess Lacey Chabert (Candace Cameron Bure being Queen), a down-on-her-luck baker who lives with her sister while she is semi-unemployed. She attended culinary school (presumably at Le Cordon Bleu, the only cooking school the Hallmark Channel has ever heard of) and has registered the domain name KyliesKakes.Kom (KKK) in an attempt to get a business off the ground. Luckily, her boyfriend Alex hired her as a temp receptionist at his company. Her sister literally calls Alex “Mr. Business,” and he indeed looks like a businessman, in that he appears to be at least in his mid-50s and makes appropriately dad-like puns such as sleigh/slay. One night, when Kylie expects him to propose, he takes her to a restaurant that turns out to be owned by Nick, Kylie’s prom date. Kylie looks like she went to prom five years ago; Alex looks like he went to prom in 1952. Seriously, dude is old. “You have filled gaps that I didn’t even know existed,” Alex says to Kylie. “I wanna give you a role I didn’t think anyone would ever be able to fill.” PSYCH despite all that filthy innuendo, that role is office manager. Sex tonight will be awkward. Kylie breaks it off with Alex, who apparently didn’t realize that a romantic dinner with champagne and rose petals on the table would not appear to be a set up for a work promotion.  Things are looking down for poor Kylie until a piece of mail informs her that she is a semi-finalist for the American Gingerbread Competition! Wow! Only wait, her sister’s dumb kids have destroyed the oven! Shoot!

Even though winning the competition means EVERYTHING to her and would CHANGE her LIFE and allow her CAKE BUSINESS to TAKE OFF, she is unwilling to ask her neighbors for the use of their ovens. Turns out the only person she can ask is Nick, who is happy to sacrifice one of his restaurant’s ovens to Kylie for a week. They get along swimmingly and it appears that there will be literally no conflict. But then she and Nick’s black friend go shopping at some sort of members-only restaurant supply store and the black friend warns her that he won’t allow her to break Nick’s heart again. Apparently they dated in college, but then Nick’s mom died…ON CHRISTMAS??? and Kylie broke up with him because that’s the supportive thing to do.

Alex stalks Kylie to a Christmas tree stand where he offers to sponsor her entry into the gingerbread competition, “since all of the other semi-finalists will have big corporate sponsors.” Sure. Anyway, Kylie declines, and at Kylie’s big company Christmas party, Alex becomes jealous when Nick saves the day by providing the food when the caterers flake out. “Why is she so into this guy?” he complains. “Is it because they both like cooking? Is it because neither of them remembers the Kennedy assassination?” But Nick and Kylie continue to grow closer, especially when she very romantically burns herself on a cookie sheet, which leads them to go outside (the medically accepted treatment for a burn) and have a classic Hallmark Spontaneous Snowball Fight. There’s trouble in paradise when they discover that a celebrity chef known as the Godmother of Gingerbread, Ina Bruckner, has entered the gingerbread competition (headline in the newspaper, page 1, above the fold: “LOCAL GINGERBREAD CONTEST ATTRACTS CELEBRITY CHEF.” I thought that this was the American Gingerbread Competition but apparently by “local” they mean “in America.”) Fortunately, Kylie makes it to the semi-finals, but it turns out that Ina is being sponsored by Alex’s company! Dick move, Alex.

Nick and Kylie fight because Nick says that Kylie is just imitating Ina’s style, and she needs to, like, be herself, man. There’s a lot of unnecessary tzuris that made Mark think that maybe Kylie was on her time of the month, and things look doomed. Fortunately, Black Friend swoops in to save the day and explain to Nick that, ACTUALLY, he loves Kylie and should go after her. Such a wise Black Friend! But Kylie comes across Alex and Ina prepping their competition entry, and it turns out that Alex hired Ina so that she could make this insanely elaborate gingerbread house-related proposal for Kylie. It’s actually really romantic and made me wonder if actually Kylie should have been with him the whole time. But then Nick shows up (I have no idea where they are, by the way) and sees Alex down on one knee proposing to Kylie, so he storms off in a classic Hallmark Misunderstanding Moment. When she tries to explain to him that she doesn’t want to be with Alex, he refuses to take yes for an answer, because you gotta have conflict. Again, Black Friend swoops in to save the day and is just like, “Dude, Kylie, just communicate for once.” Kylie interprets this as “I need to communicate with him…through gingerbread.” She decides to totally redo her entry in 12 hours, and secures some primo cocaine to get herself through the night. You can tell how hard she’s been working because she has an artfully placed smudge of icing (or is it cocaine?) on her otherwise perfectly made-up face. She WOWS the judges with a gingerbread carousel and wins the competition! Who could have seen it coming? And the icing smudge even magically disappears between shots. All is forgiven between Kylie and Nick, but no one knows what happened to Ina Bruckner, who was humiliated in the competition against an amateur baker and whose client didn’t even get his girl. I assume she threw herself in the river.

BTW here is a review of this movie from IMDB:

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I think that says it all.

Finding Santa

This film was QUALITY. It stars Jodie Sweetin, the least famous Tanner sister from Full House; the most important Full House cast member in the Hallmark Channel stable after Candace Cameron Bure and Lori Loughlin; and the Full House actress who was most addicted to meth. She plays Grace, who runs a year-round Christmas store–a sound business model if there ever was one. But it makes sense because the town of Green River’s entire economy revolves around the annual Christmas parade, which is going to be featured on THE NEWS!

A man named Tom plays Santa in the Christmas parade, and also runs a successful school to train other Santas (just go with it). But then Tom takes a nasty fall, which means he can’t be in the parade, because apparently having a cast on your arm renders you incapable of sitting on a float for an hour. Grace tries to find a substitute, but apparently Tom’s Santa School doesn’t do a very good job at training Santas, because all of the applicants are comically awful. One of them is the town mayor’s idiot son, who looks like a pervert and assumes that the job is his for the taking. Seriously, I don’t understand why being Santa is considered such a difficult job: just find a slightly overweight guy, stick him in a red suit and fake beard, and have him say, “Ho ho ho, merry Christmas.” It’s not exactly rocket science. But Grace is despairing of ever finding a substitute when Tom tells her that he has a son, Ben, who could save the day. Unfortunately, Ben lives in Boston and has no desire to be Santa, so naturally, Grace decides to drive to Boston to stalk and harass him until he gives in. Because again, there is only one man between Connecticut and Boston who is possibly capable of putting on a red suit etc., and that man is young and fit, just like Santa Claus. The lady from THE NEWS is putting pressure on Grace to find a new Santa, so she lies and says that Ben agreed even though he emphatically did not. See, Ben is working on a novel, and doesn’t have the time to drive to Green River and sit on a parade float. It seems like a pretty thin excuse for not helping out your dad and your hometown in their hour of need. Still, we know that Ben is a good guy because he gives his coffee to a homeless man. Character development!

When not working on his Very Important Novel, Ben is an Uber driver, and so Grace very cleverly requests an Uber ride to the train station (even though she took her car to Boston) and gets paired with him. But then she changes the destination to Green River, and his resistance cannot stand in the face of this genius gambit. Ben reunites with his dad, but is all like, “I DON’T WANT TO BE YOU, DAD. I DON’T WANT TO BE SANTA. IT’S TOO MUCH PRESSURE.” Sheesh, this is how he reacts to being asked to play Santa in a parade for a couple of hours? I hope this guy never gets sent to war. He decides to go back to Boston in the morning, and Grace goes with him, since she needs to pick up her car.

They get stuck in a snowstorm on the way back to Boston and have to crash at Grace’s friend’s house, where Ben unexpectedly gets into the Christmas spirit. “Who’s the lumberjack?” he asks Grace upon Googling (I mean searchenGine-ing her) and seeing a photo of her and a man in a suit with a short beard. Turns out it’s her ex, and then they start talking about their dreams. Grace was an art student until her parents died…ON CHRISTMAS??? When the kids are disappointed about not being able to go to the mall to see Santa, Ben dresses up as Santa and promises them that their parents will, uh, produce for them a new baby brother. They drive to Green River, where Tom is trying to train the mayor’s idiot son how to say “Ho ho ho.” Literally. The dude is incapable of saying “Ho ho ho.” Grace and Ben going to an ugly sweater party, where Ben once AGAIN is infected with the Christmas spirit! Is there an antidote? Anyway, Ben decides that it would be a travesty to “let [the mayor’s idiot son] on a sleigh” and finally agrees to be Santa in the parade. But then Ben overhears Grace tell someone that she’d do anything to protect her legacy (i.e. the parade) and thinks it means she is faking feelings for him. It is truly one of the dumbest Hallmark Misunderstanding Moments of all time. Ben accuses Grace of messing with him because she’s unhappy with her own life and never followed her dreams.

“I WANT YOU TO BE PROUD OF ME, DAD, EVEN IF I’M NOT SANTA CLAUS,” Ben weeps. But Tom admits that he should just let Ben do whatever allows him to “find his jolly” (the motto of Tom’s Santa school) and they hug and cry like a bunch of dumb homos. Meanwhile, Grace’s friend with the weird hair agrees with Ben that Grace doesn’t actually want to devote her life to a year-round Christmas store and should instead follow her dreamz. Moving on…will Ben show up at the parade, or will the mayor’s idiot son have to be Santa and RUIN the whole parade/the town’s whole economy? Again again, it’s so weird that the only choices in the whole town are Ben, scion of Santa, or the mayor’s idiot son, an idiot. Luckily, Ben sees one of Grace’s paintings (actually just some photograph she painted over) and is inspired to take over, saving the town’s bacon in a montage set to a truly terrible Christmas pop song. At first it seems like he’s ignoring Grace, but it turns out that he just can’t break character when he’s in the Santa suit. Duh! Ben’s presence in the parade has convinced him that he should somehow find a way to be Santa AND a writer. Can he possibly pull off being Santa one day a year and a writer the other 364? Luckily, he has found an illustrator in Grace, who is going to be a Christmas shop manager AND an artist. Truly, you can have it all if you just try!

So anyway, here’s some soup. This is the perfect dish for a cold winter’s night that is so deep. You can make the whole thing in about 20 minutes and serve it, as I did, with grilled cheese, and blam, complete meal. I found that I didn’t need to put in the baking soda but your mileage may vary.

Tomato Soup

From Killing Thyme

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 rib of celery, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 3 14 oz cans of diced to crushed tomatoes, including juice
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • 2/3 cups heavy cream
  • 2-3 tsp sugar, to taste
  • 1/4 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt, more to taste if needed
  • Cracked black pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda, to cut acidity

Instructions

  1. In a stock pot or Dutch oven, melt the butter. Add the onion, celery, and smashed garlic. Simmer over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent—about 5 minutes.

  2. Add the tomatoes as well as their juices, vegetable broth, heavy cream, sugar, oregano, salt, and pepper. Bring the soup to a rolling boil over high heat and break up the tomatoes with a spoon or spatula. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes.

  3. Carefully transfer the soup mixture to a powerful blender or food processor (you’ll have to do this in batches), and blend until velvety smooth. Once all the soup is smooth, return it to its original stock pot. Taste and adjust seasoning. If you find the soup on the acidic side, bring it to a simmer, add the baking soda, and wait for it to foam and fizzle. Stir it, and let it simmer for about five minutes. Taste. You should have a smoother and much less acidic flavor now.

Hallmark Movies, Pt. I / Fried Chicken

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This week’s recipe: Fried Chicken

It’s the Hallmark Channel’s Countdown to Christmas–the most wonderful time of the yeeeeear! Since it starts in late October, the most wonderful ten weeks of the yeeeeear! Mark and I are connoisseurs of the Hallmark Channel, and I use that word without irony or exaggeration. We LOVE this shit, and the Christmas movies are the best of all. We created a whole website that generates plots to Hallmark Christmas movies. But every year, Hallmark churns out a new crop of wholesome, heartwarming, formulaic movies, generally starring the same five or ten people, and Mark and I watch EVERY ONE of them. You might think I’m exaggerating but I’m not. When we go through the channel listings to pick which movies to DVR, we say, “Seen that one, seen that one, seen that one.” It’s frankly a little pathetic, so thank God for Hallmark’s original content. Here are some of this year’s fine offerings:

Enchanted Christmas

This movie stars Alexa PenaVega, previously best known for starring in Spy Kids. It also stars someone named Carlos PenaVega, whom I immediately assumed was Alexa PenaVega’s brother and was VERY concerned that they were love interests. They are, in fact, love interests, but Carlos is Alexa’s husband and they have some sort of Christian lifestyle blogger racket going on, so all’s well that ends well. Anyway, Alexa PV plays Laura, a former dancer and single mom whose husband died…ON CHRISTMAS??? Alexa PV is 29 and the girl who plays her daughter is rapidly coming up on 11 so I guess Laura was a teen mom, but it’s okay because her daughter, Nikki, retains a childlike belief in Santa that makes her seem much younger mentally than she is physically. Laura is dating a coworker, Scott, who you know is a douche because he wears a suit and doesn’t know that Laura can dance. Also, he keeps bringing up her dead husband, which is a pretty douchey move, to be fair. Laura and Nikki are headed to Utah to save the old Enchanted Lodge hotel for in time for the big Christmas Eve show. Nikki spends the whole drive to Utah, and much of the movie, bitching about how it’s not snowing, even though she hails from LA. (NB: I went to the Hallmark Web site to check on a few things, because this blog is nothing if not rigorously fact-checked, and they claim that the movie is supposed to take place in New Mexico, not Utah, which would make the fixation with snow even more confusing. But IMDB and business.utah.gov claim that it takes place in Utah, as does my memory. Take that as you will.) 

At the hotel, Laura runs into Ricardo (Carlos PV), her ex-boyfriend and former dance partner. You know that they still have feelings for each other because they both have the same framed photo of the two of them in their houses. Ricardo is a dance teacher but, when Nikki expresses interest in dancing in the Christmas show, Laura intimates that something very dark happened to her when she started dancing. What could it be? Did she take to the pole? Despite Laura’s pastor-from-Footlose-esque objections, Nikki begins dancing at Ricardo’s studio, leading to the classic line, “Let’s do it with antlers!” (when the young dancers put on their reindeer headbands). You will be very surprised to hear that Laura also get mixed up in the devil’s dancing when Ricardo’s partner leaves to audition for some world tour and Laura has to take over. Luckily, even though she hasn’t danced in years, she has brought many dancer’s outfits with her to Utah. This move has basically the same plot as Dirty Dancing, only with 100 percent less social consciousness, Jews, and abortion. Spoiler: they even try and fail to recreate the magic of the famous Dirty Dancing lift. Carlos PV, you’re no Patrick Swayze.

Trouble arrives with douchey Scott; when he texts her, his face shows up beside his message because no way do you remember who he is. Turns out Laura is in trouble at work, probably 
because she literally never does her job, which is to remodel the Enchanted Lodge in time for Christmas. She is too busy dancing and going on a badly green screened ski lift. When Scott stabs her in the back, she realizes the relationship is over, but there’s more conflict yet! Turns out that Ricardo’s partner got the “lead role in a two-year world tour,” but they will only take her if Ricardo dances with her, even though he didn’t audition and they’ve never seen him dance. The conflict gets resolved in some way that I can’t remember, and Laura gets hired as the new general manager of the Enchanted Lodge, because of her extensive experience in…dancing? Construction? The last shot of the movie is amazing–Laura and Ricardo kiss in the snow and then freeze, but the snow keeps falling. Their love defies the laws of physics!

Coming Home for Christmas

This movie stars a Hallmark channel stalwart, Danica McKellar of The Wonder Years. She seems to specialize in playing some variety of household servant to a rich/royal family who eventually gets with whatever single heir is available, and Coming Home for Christmas fits the mold. Even for a Hallmark movie, this has a crapton of exposition crammed into the first 90 seconds under the guise of “Wow, what a year it’s been!” We learn that McKellar’s character Lizzie works in insurance; that her company went under; that she rejected a proposal from her boyfriend; that she studied art history; that she fears that she’s overly complacent; and that her dad died…ON CHRISTMAS??? Lizzie’s sister Meghan has been hired by the Marley family to sell their historic estate. Meghan insists that because Lizzie worked in insurance, she is fully qualified to become the house manager of a historic estate. There is a theme in Hallmark movies of people getting jobs for which they have no experience and are totally unqualified. If I were the family that hired Meghan, I’d fire and then sue her for nepotism.

Lizzie shows up at the Marley estate, and you can tell that the butler is NOT amused to be answering to this woman. She has been hired without a job interview; instead, she has a cursory meeting with Robert, the scion of the Marley family in charge of selling the estate. He says that he trusts Meghan’s word on any transaction (he shouldn’t), and Lizzie asks, “So I’m a transaction?” If this were a different kind of channel, this would be the prelude to a Fifty Shades of Grey-type relationship, but instead, it becomes a boring investigation into why Robert (Bob) Marley and his family don’t like Christmas. One possibility: Robert’s parents died in a car accident…ON CHRISTMAS??? But the true answer lies with family matriarch Miss Pippa. Black friend and Folgers product placement vehicle Anna warns Lizzie to stay away from Pippa, who is not played by Shirley Maclaine, but Lizzie’s can-do spirit and lack of professional boundaries lead her to pester the old woman with her ideas about the annual Christmas gala, which Lizzie is also in charge of planning due to her extensive experience in insurance. Maybe it’s just because I work in Development, but I find the idea of just starting to work on a Christmas gala in December to be horrifying. Anyway, Pippa is a major bitch, asking Lizzie, “Why aren’t you married? You’re in your thirties, no?”, officially making this a hostile work environment.

Robert’s playboy brother Kip arrives and immediately starts hitting on Lizzie. Robert feels possessive even though he has evinced no more than a professional interest in her, and he is upset when the two start planning the gala together. I don’t know why he is so upset when she and Kip go to a gala-related business meeting; personally, I always wear short, skintight dresses with cleavage ovals to business meetings. There is much friction between Kip and Robert; at one point, Kip says, “Robert, you may be the executor of the estate, but you’re not the executor of me.” I’m going to keep that line in my back pocket. The friction increases when their sister Sloane arrives with her kids. Sloane’s husband isn’t there because he’s unemployed and they’ve had to…gasp…dip into her trust fund. The problems of real Americans! The family starts to scheme on how to improve Sloane’s relationship. “Don’t look now, but you’re kind of acting like a typical family,” Lizzie tells the Marleys. “You’re fired,” says Pippa. Just kidding, they all laugh and act like that’s a totally normal thing for an employee to say.

There is chopping down of Christmas trees, snowball fights with blond moppets, and a gingerbread-building house activity becomes a dick-measuring competition for Robert and Kip. There is a pond on the estate that is the focus of much conversation but we never get to see it; guess it wasn’t in the budget. Pippa goes from basically ignoring Lizzie’s existence to lending her a diamond necklace and counting her as a family member in the space of a few days. She’s a tough nut to crack, indeed. Lizzie is going to attend the gala but feels torn between Kip and Robert. If she were open to threesomes it would solve a lot of her problems. At the gala, there’s a classic Hallmark Misunderstanding Moment: Robert overhears Lizzie telling Kip that she’d love to go to Athens with him…and walks away right before she says “but I can’t.” The conflict gets resolved in some way I can’t remember, Kip concedes Lizzie to Robert, and she presumably becomes a lady of leisure while dicking over her sister, who now doesn’t get the commission on the Marley estate.

With Love, Christmas

Our heroine Melanie works for an advertising agency, where she has been sacrificing her professional development because she has a crush on a coworker, Donavan, who stole the big Christmas-related account. The account is for a cellphone company that…also is a Christmas company? Whatever. Donavan doesn’t “get” them (I don’t either) and he seems to be in trouble at work.

Meanwhile, the office Secret Santa pool is going on, and Melanie gets assigned Donovan. She has to get him a gift under $50, which seems like a lot of money for an office Secret Santa gift, but whatever. She doesn’t know what to get him, so she sends him an email from an anonymous account asking him what his favorite things are. Maybe it’s just the times we’re living in but this seems like a surefire way to get sexually harassed, but instead, Donavan writes back that he’s too busy for this nonsense and she should just get him a tie. I don’t see what Melanie sees in this guy, who she has admitted she knows nothing about and who has thus far revealed himself to be quite a dick. Anyway, after Donovan bombed the big Christmas cellphone account, the boss, Mr. Farnsworth, teams him up with Melanie. They clash because she thinks Christmas ought to be about warmth and he is some sort of business robot. He is genuinely semi-autistic. Every time Melanie is like, “Christmas is all about love and family and wonder,” he is like, “No, it is about commerce.” But SURPRISE he has Melanie as his Secret Santa too! Who could have seen it coming? (Mark and I saw it coming.) And OTHER SURPRISE he didn’t have any good Christmas memories from childhood, which is why he hates Christmas. Melanie decides to teach Donovan about Christmas by feeding him cookies (he doesn’t eat sugar, because he is terrible) and forcing him to listen to carolers. Shockingly, neither of these convert him to Christmas-loving. Still, when we see Donavan at home, his bookshelf is festooned with paper snowflakes and little Santa hats. So who knows what that’s about.

Melanie convinces Donavan to come to her sister’s house for dinner, where they get to witness some truly terrible child acting from Melanie’s nephew, who presses his shitty snowman art on Donavan. The snowman art awakens a love of family and the Christmas spirit in Donavan, and he starts getting into the back-and-forth with his Secret Santa over email. “He has a sense of humor!” Melanie says of Donavan, on no evidence whatsoever. Although Donovan is notoriously distant and closed off, he opens up to his Secret Santa after 48 whole hours. Things seem to being going swimmingly until Mr. Farnsworth tells Melanie that she’ll be competing against Donovan for the Big Promotion, which will be announced at the Christmas party. Never mind discussing salary and benefits and responsibilities and anything else that might go along with a promotion; it will simply be announced like the winner of Miss America. Farnsworth tells Donovan that he ought to be more social at work in order to get the promotion, so he attends an after-hours work outing at a heavily greenscreened ice skating rink that is randomly studded with Christmas trees. (You never see his and Melanie’s faces while they skate; Mark is convinced that the actor who plays Donovan is afraid of skating and they were using a body double.)

Donavan reveals to his Secret Santa via email that his mom died…ON CHRISTMAS??? No, actually, she died on Christmas, and his dad was a violent alcoholic never much for holidays. Meanwhile, sparks begin to fly between him and Melanie when he offers her his scarf (everyone in Hallmark Channel movies wears their coats unbuttoned and their scarves untied under the coat’s lapels, even when it’s snowing out). Despite all this, Donovan’s pitches continue to lack “heart,” and when he gets a call from his dad, we learn that his dad is a grumpy New York workaholic who wants to work through Christmas and avoid the crowds by Rockefeller Center Macy’s Times Square Grand Central who has no time for his son, since Donavan is not arguing any cases before the Supreme Court this year.

Donovan asks his Secret Santa if there are any Christmas traditions she’d like to try, and she writes that she’s never taken a horse-drawn sleigh ride. “Even I’ve taken a sleigh ride,” Donovan types, as if it’s as impossible to have an American childhood without a horse-drawn sleigh ride as it is to escape middle school without reading The Catcher in the Rye. He wants to meet his Secret Santa but Melanie freaks out because…reasons. You can tell that Donavan’s changed at this point because now he’s wearing a sweater instead of a suit (even though it’s the day of the big pitch meeting and he looks totally unprofessional), and he agrees to do the pitch together with Melanie instead of steamrolling her and her ideas as he did five minutes earlier. The cellphone company loves their pitch, which involves a little boy calling Santa on a cellphone to get his dad a snowblower or something. There’s a classic Hallmark Misunderstanding Moment when Donovan asks out another coworker who he thinks is his Secret Santa, but it quickly gets resolved in some way I can’t remember; Donovan’s dad says he’s proud of him; Melanie gets the big promotion; Melanie buys Donovan basketball tickets because basketball was how he used to bond with his dad; Donovan buys(?) Melanie a horse-drawn sleigh ride; both of them spend over $50 on their Secret Santa gifts; the girl whom Donovan had asked out slow-dances with Farnsworth; and everyone discovers the true meaning of Christmas.

So anyway, here’s some chicken. Turns out that, despite my love of Hallmark Christmas movies, I am Jewish (regular readers of this blog will be shocked to discover this fact). It’s Hanukkah right now, and despite the larger culture’s attempts to convince you otherwise, Hanukkah is NOT a holiday remotely on par with Christmas, in terms of either religious significance or general awesomeness. Hanukkah is a bullshit holiday that celebrates a bunch of religious zealots fighting a civil war on their secular counterparts, and it has been turned into something important and worthwhile solely because of its proximity to Christmas. However, I do appreciate its emphasis on fried foods. I have more of a sweet tooth than a…fried tooth? but I enjoy some fried shit occasionally as much as the next person. So I decided to take advantage of this holiday season to finally make a fried chicken recipe that’s been on my To Make list for almost a year. I made thighs only, because white meat is terrible, and they came out beautifully–crispy on the outside, juicy and tender on the inside. Even though I used canola oil, which the (rather bossy) author of the recipe FORBIDS YOU TO DO, I’d still give this recipe high marks.

Fried Chicken

From Weed ‘Em and Reap

INGREDIENTS

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. In a medium size bowl, whisk together eggs, water, & hot sauce.
  2. In another bowl, combine the flour and spices.
  3. Dip the chicken in the egg, and then coat it in the flour/spice mixture.
  4. Heat the oil to 350 degrees F in a deep pot.
  5. Fry the chicken in the oil until brown and crisp.
  6. (Dark meat takes about 14 minutes, while white meat takes about 10 minutes)

The Transformed Wife / Duck Breasts with Apples and Maple Cider Sauce

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This week’s recipe: Duck Breasts with Apples and Maple Cider Sauce

Lori Alexander is an evangelical woman whose whole shtick is that wives ought to be submissive because the Bible tells us so. She posts neatly written, badly spelled notes on her Facebook page, castigating women who want to do controversial feminist things like go to college, work as doctors, work as real estate agents, work outside the home at all, watch This Is Us, divorce their emotionally abusive alcoholic husbands, remarry after divorce, choose who to vote for, cut their hair, follow their dreams, decide when they want to go out to dinner, or generally express any kind of opinion contrary to what her husband thinks. And that was only for the month of September! Instead of going to college, she recommends that young women can “babysit, nanny, teach music, voice, or ballet lessons, tudor [sic], photography, cooking school, dog grooming, become an NTP and teach people how to get healthier, housecleaning, helping the elderly, volunteer work, garden, serving at church, work at bakery, sell crafts, [and] take online herbal classes.” Too bad Alexander was never tudored on the importance of parallel construction, but you get the idea.

I could quote her lunatic blog and Facebook posts all day, but it’s shooting loaves and fishes in a barrel. Better to meet her on her own terms and debate her ideas there, I think. I have to admit that my knowledge of the New Testament is shamefully scanty, but at least judging from the Old Testament, I don’t know what the Gehenna she’s talking about. Here are some examples of submissive wives of the Bible:

-Abraham, the father of monotheism, had two sons: Isaac, by his wife Sarah, and Ishmael, by his slave Hagar. When Isaac and Ishmael began to fight, Sarah demanded that Hagar and Ishmael be sent away. Abraham understandably didn’t want to send his own son into the desert to die, but God explicitly told him, “Listen to whatever Sarah tells you.” (Incidentally, Alexander claimed that there was not a single verse in the Bible directly instructing a man to submit to his wife. Booyah, I suppose.)

-Isaac and his wife Rebecca also had two sons, Jacob and Esau. Esau was Isaac’s favorite and, as the oldest, the rightful recipient of his father’s blessing and inheritance. But Rebecca favored Jacob and helped him trick Isaac into delivering the blessing and inheritance to him. Because Rebecca had the foresight to go over her husband’s head, Jacob became the father of the Jewish people, to the extent that we are still known by his other name, Israel.

-In an (admittedly very confusing) incident, God comes to kill Moses, and his wife Zipporah saves his life by hastily circumcising their son. Moses had neglected to carry out this crucially important ritual, thereby incurring God’s anger, and disaster was averted only Zipporah’s through quick thinking to remedy her husband’s bad decision.

There are also women who defied their fathers—Rachel and Leah stealing Laban’s idols, Miriam denouncing Amram for refusing to sleep with his wife, Pharoah’s daughter disobeying his decree to save Moses’ life. And the litany of un-submissive women who are nevertheless held up as heroines doesn’t end there. There’s Tamar, a widow who dressed up as a prostitute, slept with her father-in-law, and was rewarded by giving birth to a son who was the ancestor of King David and the Messiah. Judith, Yael, and Rachav used their sexuality to accomplish what an army couldn’t. Deborah led the people in a war and ushered in 40 years of peace.

The Bible also teaches us that husbands are not necessarily righteous and wise and deserving of deference simply by virtue of being men. This seems like an obvious lesson, though apparently not to the likes of Lori Alexander. Sometimes there is no love in marriage, as in the case of Leah, whose husband loved her sister and continued to neglect her no matter how many sons she bore. Sometimes a husband is stupid and abusive, as in the case of Esther, whose husband’s actions were ruled by lust and greed. Sometimes a woman has no agency in her relationships, as in the case of Batsheva, whose second husband purposefully killed off her first one so he could have her. And whether in the realm of marriage or otherwise, even some of the great heroes of the Bible such as Jacob, Moses, and King David made bad decisions with tremendous negative consequences.

Men can be stupid, prideful, misguided, hypocritical. They can be driven by lust or anger, bigotry or self-aggrandizement, materialism or jealousy. So can women, of course, but it’s crazy to pretend that men are born with bigger brains, better hearts, and more discerning temperaments when both the Bible and history have shown that that’s not true. But apparently, the old Phyllis Schlafly game of “everyone should listen to this woman explain why women aren’t worth listening to” can be pursued endlessly, in new permutations, for fun and profit.

I would hope that most men want their spouse to be a true partner. I would hope that they want a relationship built on mutual respect instead of one person dominating and the other being a doormat. Guess I’ll never be a transformed wife!

So anyway, here’s some duck. Duck! Isn’t it amazing? It’s so tender and juicy, its fat makes everything taste better, and if you use it in the Name Game song (you know, the one with “bananafana”) as a child, it allows you to say the F word! It’s pretty hard to get your hands on kosher duck even in New York City but I snagged some from the amazing Grow and Behold. Mark loves duck so I made this for him because I am a submissive (future) wife who lives only to please her (future) husband. Hahahahaha jk. But yeah, it’s a really good recipe, give it a try.

Duck Breasts with Apples and Maple Cider Sauce

 

From The Community Table

Ingredients

  • 4 boned duck breasts, 6 to 8 ounces each
  • Kosher salt
  • 1/2 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for the pan
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 1/2 cups apple cider
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 3 tablespoons pure dark maple syrup (Grade B)
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 5 cloves
  • One 1/2-inch piece of cinnamon stick or 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons arrowroot, cornstarch, or potato starch
  • 3 tablespoons chicken stock
  • 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 large Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, cut into 1/2 inch slices, and tossed with 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Instructions

At least 30 minutes before cooking, remove the breasts from the refrigerator. Remove any excess fat and score the skin lightly with a very sharp knife. Season with salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

In a heavy saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute until it has begun to give off its aroma, about 3 minutes. Add the cider, wine, maple syrup, lemon juice, cloves, and cinnamon. Increase the heat to medium and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat immediately to low and simmer gently until slightly reduced, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the arrowroot and stock and whisk to blend. Whisk the mixture into the sauce and continue simmering until the sauce is clear and slightly thickened, 1 to 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer 6 tablespoons of the sauce to a small bowl and keep the remaining sauce warm until serving.

Add the mustard, thyme, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper to the sauce in bowl and combine. Brush this mixture on the breasts.

Lightly oil a grill pan or a large heavy skillet. Warm the pan over medium-low heat and add the apple slices in a single layer. Grill, turning once gently, until the slices are lightly browned. With a spatula, carefully transfer the slices to a plate and set aside.

Turn the heat under the pan to medium-high. Sear the duck breasts, skin side down, until the skin is crisp, 8 to 10 minutes, making sure not to cook all the way through. Turn the breasts and continue to cook to medium rare, 2 to 3 minutes (the breasts will be springy to the touch). Before you remove the duck from the grill, brown its edges, about 30 seconds each. Transfer the breasts on a rack to drain any fat and allow them to rest for five minutes before serving with the grilled apples.