Anger / Tomato Goat Cheese Cobbler

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This week’s recipe: Tomato Goat Cheese Cobbler

I went to go see Network on Broadway last weekend. It’s a stage adaptation of the 1976 film, starring Bryan Cranston as the disillusioned news anchor Howard Beale. Beale has recently been fired for bad ratings, and he uses his final broadcasts to rail against the “bullshit” he sees in the world and to threaten to kill himself on the air. Viewers are drawn to his righteous anger and straight-shooting style, and ratings shoot up. Beale encourages his audience to get angry, inspiring them to stick their heads out their windows and yell, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take this anymore!”

Even if you’ve never seen Network, you’ve probably heard this iconic line. But I was more interested in the larger speech in which it appears. Beale, who is in the throes of a nervous breakdown at this point, rails against the world’s ills, and how anesthetized the population has become to violence, economic depression, environmental despoliation, and so on. He says, “I don’t want you to protest. I don’t want you to riot — I don’t want you to write to your congressman, because I wouldn’t know what to tell you to write. I don’t know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you’ve got to get mad. You’ve got to say: ‘I’m a human being, god-dammit! My life has value!’ So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell: I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE! I want you to get up right now. Sit up. Go to your windows. Open them and stick your head out and yell – ‘I’m as mad as hell and I’m not gonna take this anymore!’ Things have got to change. But first, you’ve gotta get mad! You’ve got to say, I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE! Then we’ll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis. But first, get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it: I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!”

Network is about so many things that are relevant today—news as spectacle, the corporatization of media, the way capitalism chews people up and spits them out. Heck, there’s even a shout-out to the pernicious influence of Saudi money. But what I found most thought-provoking was what it has to say about the nature of anger. Anger is at the core of both Beale’s being and his appeal. It’s what makes him authentic and refreshing, and gives him a reputation as a truth-telling “mad prophet.” But while seeing a newsman get angry and express strong opinions may have been an exciting novelty in the 1970s, we have dozens of cable channels and online media outlets devoted to just that in 2018. Has it made the world a better, purer, more truthful place?

Let’s go back to that rant for a moment. What’s interesting is how Beale openly admits that he doesn’t have solutions to offer. He seems to think that the cleansing power of honest anger will somehow lead to a nationwide moment of clarity that will allow them to “figure out what to do.” This makes sense, because if there’s one thing that anger has historically been good for, it’s helping people think more clearly and rationally. Just kidding. It’s dumb. It’s like saying, “I don’t like either of the major party candidates so I’m voting Green.” You know it won’t make things better and may in fact make things worse, but all that really matters is that you’re emotionally satisfied. It’s like Trump saying, “Nobody knew healthcare could be so complicated.” No, dummy, anyone who spent even ten seconds thinking about or studying the problem knew it was complicated. You only ever thought that it was simple because rightwing media figures and politicians have been saying since at least the 1990s that there’s an obvious solution; it’s just that no one has been able to propose or implement it, because…reasons. The world is a complex place with complex problems. Addressing them takes hard work and organization; getting angry, in contrast, is something that any two year old can do. No one likes endemic crime and chaos, and it’s ridiculous to think that everyone was just living in a slumbering fog until some guy on TV told them that all the bad things going on in the world are, get this, bad.

Another interesting factor for those who would take “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take this anymore!” as a rallying cry: Howard Beale is crazy. He sees visions and hears voices. That is the nature of prophets, but unlike most prophets, Beale experiences honor in his own time—a massive and respected platform with which to disseminate his message. Plus, as a middle-aged white man, he is a default authority figure, so his influence only grows despite some manifest mental issues. This leads to the vital question of whose anger is considered valid, and the situation hasn’t changed much since the 1970s on that score. When a woman expresses anger, she’s “emotional.” When a black man expresses anger, he’s “threatening.” When a black woman expresses anger, she’s a stereotype. The reaction to Colin Kaepernick and the NFL protests has proven that, in the eyes of many, there is no right way for some people to express anger. But for other people, anger is always justified. It’s why you get so many sympathetic profiles of “economically anxious” Trump voters, or why the media believed for so long that the Tea Party was a grassroots expression of deficit-related fury rather than a movement funded by plutocrats and fueled by racism.

There’s nothing wrong with getting mad when you’ve been wronged. It’s a healthy and natural emotion. The problem is when anger gets channeled to destructive ends, which is much more likely to occur when people are being positively encouraged to hold onto and nurture their anger—even when they haven’t been wronged! The modern conservative movement is afflicted with a massive persecution complex, telling its members that they should be deeply affronted if someone says “Happy holidays” to them or if they don’t like the design of a Starbucks cup. And while I hate false equivalence, I have to say that the left isn’t much better; the entire concept of microaggressions trains people to be offended by things that they wouldn’t otherwise find offensive. But the far left’s power is comparatively minuscule, and it’s rightwing rage that is more likely to manifest in violence. They’re angry, and someone out there – whether it’s a talking head on cable news or posters on a Reddit forum for incels – is telling them that their anger is righteous and valid, so they go bomb a government building or drive a car into a crowd of people or shoot up a school. Or, in a less extreme but far more common reaction, support Donald Trump.

As with so many pieces of art in 2018, Trump is the unspoken subtext of the story. The Broadway production ends with a video montage of all of the presidents from Ford onward taking the oath of office at their inaugurations, and when it ends on Donald Trump, the message is clear: the media’s obsession with shiny objects, bullshit distractions, and, above all, ratings, did this to us. But what if they did it to us not through the corporate-engineered complacency that Beale excoriated, but through fanning anger…the very emotion that Beale sees as the heart of truth and righteousness?

So anyway, here’s a cobbler. But not a cobbler as you traditionally know it, with fruit n’ shit. This cobbler is savory! It’s a go-to brunch recipe for me, since it’s tasty, can feed a crowd, looks beautiful and impressive, and, most importantly, isn’t a cliche. Plus it makes you feel like you are eating vegetables, which then gives you permission to gorge on cinnamon buns or whatever other sweet treat is also laid out at the brunch. Win win!

Tomato Goat Cheese Cobbler

From Huckleberry

 

Ingredients

BISCUIT TOPPING

  • 3 tbsp. whole-wheat flour
  • ¾ cup (100 g.) all-purpose flour
  • 3½ tbsp. cornmeal
  • 2¼ tsp. baking powder
  • 1½ tbsp. sugar
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt
  • ½ cup + 1 tbsp. (130 g.) cold unsalted butter, cubed
  • 3½ tbsp. cold buttermilk

FILLING

  • 5 cups (900 g.) cherry tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 batch Egg Wash (recipe follows)
  • 4 to 6 tbsp. (55 to 85 g.) goat cheese

Instructions

  1. To make the biscuit topping: Combine the whole-wheat flour, all-purpose flour, cornmeal, baking powder, sugar, and salt in a very large bowl. Stir to blend. Toss the butter with the flour mixture. Work the butter between your fingertips until the pieces are pea-and lima bean-size. Add the buttermilk and lightly toss to distribute.
  2. Dump the dough onto a clean work surface. Begin by firmly pressing the entire surface of the dough with the heel of your palm. Toss and squeeze the dough to redistribute the wet and dry patches. Repeat, pressing thoroughly again with the heel of your palm, and continue pressing, tossing, and squeezing until it begins to hold together. But be sure not to overwork the dough! It should stay together but you should still see pea-size bits of butter running through it.
  3. Press the dough into a disc ¾ in. (2 cm.) thick. Cut the dough into nine biscuits. Transfer to an ungreased sheet pan and freeze for 1 to 2 hours. Preheat your oven to 350°F.
  4. To make the filling: Combine the cherry tomatoes, olive oil, 2 sprigs of the thyme, and the salt in an ovenproof sauté pan. Cover and cook over high heat until the tomatoes begin to soften, 2 to 3 minutes. Uncover and continue cooking until all the tomatoes burst slightly.
  5. Brush the frozen biscuits with egg wash and arrange them, 1 in. (2.5 cm.) apart, on top of the tomato mixture in the skillet. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove briefly and quickly dollop the goat cheese between the biscuits over any exposed tomato. Return to the oven, increasing the temperature to 475°F, and continue baking until the top is nicely browned, about 10 minutes longer. Serve warm or at room temperature, topped with the remaining thyme.
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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.

 

Bonfire of the Vanities / Miso Rosemary Beans on Toast

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This week’s recipe: Miso Rosemary Beans on Toast

I recently finished reading The Bonfire of the Vanities, which was published a little over 30 years ago. I had read some of Tom Wolfe’s non-fiction and was familiar with his unique style, but I was still blown away by this novel. I think part of it was that I listened to it in audio–serious props to narrator Joe Barrett, who did an amazing job–which both brought the characters to life and allowed me to ignore some of Wolfe’s more annoying stylistic tics.

The plot is relatively simple. Our (anti)hero is Sherman McCoy, a bond trader and self-styled “Master of the Universe.” He has a palatial apartment on Park Avenue, a wife and daughter, and a mistress named Maria. One day, he picks Maria up from the airport and accidentally makes a wrong turn, ending up in the South Bronx. They’re stopped on a ramp by two black teenagers and, assuming that they’re about to be mugged, they skirmish with them and then drive away, hitting one of the boys in the process. The boy, Henry Lamb, falls into a coma, and his case becomes a cause célèbre in the black community–an innocent boy at death’s door because of a hit-and-run from a white couple in an expensive Mercedes. Other characters include Larry Kramer, the vain and bitter assistant district attorney assigned to prosecute the case; Peter Fallow, the alcoholic English tabloid journalist who reports on it; Reverend Bacon, the Al Sharpton-esque race hustler who capitalizes on it; Myron Kovitsky, the fierce, short-tempered judge who decides it; and the various other lawyers, criminals, activists, bleeding hearts, Wall Street traders, and denizens of high society that made up 1980s New York City.

Black, white, Jewish, WASPy, Irish, Italian–nobody escapes Wolfe’s satirical eye, no one is sacred. (Oh, the think pieces and hot takes and righteous Twitter rage this book would generate if it were published today.) No one comes out of this book looking good, except maybe Judge Kovitsky (I suppose Sherman’s six-year-old daughter is fine too). In a different book, Kramer might have been the heroic prosecutor who seeks justice for the disenfranchised. Fallow might have been a dogged pursuer of the truth in the mold of Woodward and Bernstein, trying to get to the bottom of a story that the broader society thinks is unimportant. Even the unlikable Sherman might have been more of a tragic figure, a victim of fate and circumstance whose punishment outweighed his crime. All of these characterizations are, in a way, accurate, but we don’t see them this way because they don’t even see themselves that way. As the book goes on, Sherman comes to realize how his life of privilege and entitlement leads him to make spectacularly self-destructive decisions out in the real world. Kramer finds his job depressing and only puts effort into it when he’s trying to impress a pretty juror. Fallow keeps lucking into scoops despite his laziness and manifest disdain for the story. Wolfe is unsparing in unearthing each character’s foibles and hypocrisies, and much as I loved the book, it does leave a sour taste in your mouth. But that’s a small price to pay for such an honest, well-written, and gosh-darned entertaining book.

In some ways, the story resonates very strongly in an age of extreme wealth inequality and Black Lives Matter. (A character literally says that the Lamb case is going to revolve around whether or not a black life matters to society.) But it’s also an interesting historical portrait of New York at a very different time. I understand in an academic sense that New York in the 70s and 80s was a cauldron of drugs, crime, and racial anxiety. My parents moved here in the mid-70s and everyone thought they were insane. My mom talks about how, when my sister was born in 1981, she was the only baby on the Upper West Side, and all the prostitutes and junkies would coo over her stroller as my parents wheeled her down Amsterdam Avenue. But of course, from the vantage point of today, they had incredible foresight. Today, you can’t walk down a street on the Upper West Side without getting bumped off the sidewalk by strollers. People pay top dollar to live in neighborhoods that their parents and grandparents worked hard to escape, and many more are being squeezed out of neighborhoods where their families lived for generations. The great dark hordes didn’t rise up and overrun Park Avenue; instead, Whole Foods has colonized Harlem. I don’t know if the great novel of post-Giuliani/post-Bloomberg New York is being written right now, but I hope that it’s half as astute, insightful, and sharp as Bonfire of the Vanities.

So anyway, here’s some beans on toast. This is such a pretty dish, one that makes me feel like I’m some slender French lady entertaining guests in my sun-dappled Provence kitchen. Why it makes me feel like that, I don’t know, but I’m going to chase the feeling. It’s also super-easy to throw together and makes for delicious leftovers.

Miso Rosemary Beans on Toast

From Tending the Table

INGREDIENTS

2 tablespoons olive oil
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
4 cloves roasted garlic
2 tablespoons miso
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons honey
2 teaspoons mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups cooked navy beans
2 slices sourdough toast
Red pepper flakes

INSTRUCTIONS 

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Add the rosemary and fry for a minute or so, until bright green and crispy. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Meanwhile, combine the roasted garlic, miso, apple cider vinegar, honey, mustard and salt in a blender and puree on high until completely smooth. Pour the mixture into the pan with the rosemary infused oil and simmer, whisking constantly, until thickened and reduced slightly.  Add the beans and toss to coat.

To serve, top each slice of toast with a generous serving of beans, some crispy rosemary and red pepper flakes.

2017 Books, Pt. 2 / Butternut Squash, Apple, and Brie Galette

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This week’s recipe: Butternut Squash, Apple, and Brie Galette

A continuation of my wildly successful post, 2017 Books, Pt. I

The Run of His Life by Jeffrey Toobin

Like many people, I watched and loved FX’s OJ Simpson series last year. I was seven years old when the trial happened, and my understanding of it was limited to referring to orange juice as “OJ Simpson” (even back then, I had a rare facility with words). So it was especially illuminating to learn about the characters involved, the racial issues at play, and how the prosecutors’ arrogance and incompetence managed to allow an obviously guilty man to go free. I like Jeffrey Toobin’s writing and wanted to read the book behind the series, and I wasn’t disappointed. The case was so nuts that it would have made for a fascinating read even in the hands of a less gifted writer, and Toobin was given a high level of access to many of the principals early on, in addition to being the one to discover Mark Furhman’s near-cartoonish racism.

How the defense managed to make OJ, who had explicitly disassociated himself with blackness early and often and who had a cozy relationship with the starstruck LAPD, into a stand-in for every black man who had ever been mistreated by law enforcement is to my mind the most compelling (and crazy-making) part of the story. But there are many resonances with today: Marcia Clark and how she embodied the burdens faced by working mothers; Barry Scheck and the trial’s role in the rise of DNA evidence; the victim blaming of Nicole Brown Simpson that managed to turn a victim of murder and domestic violence into a trashy, promiscuous gold digger; and the never-ending press circus surrounding celebrity behavior that, in a curious postscript that no one could have imagined at the time, has reached its apotheosis in the children of OJ’s friend and lawyer Robert Kardashian. The facts of the case itself were obvious, and should have been a slam dunk. The Run of His Life is valuable not for shedding any new light on those facts, but for its forensic explanation of why the slam dunk wasn’t.

Stalin, Volume I by Stephen Kotkin

Another stab in my attempt to understand our new Russian overlords, but also an inherently interesting subject. Stalin was arguably the greatest monster in a century full of them. People keep writing and reading biographies of monsters because we want to know where that level of evil comes from. According to Kotkin, in this massive, heavily researched book..,well, you’ll just have to wait and find out. It covers Stalin’s early years, from his birth to the exile of Trotsky and the start of collectivization. The Stalin that Kotkin paints is a hard worker, talented administrator, and Soviet true believer with a definite ruthless streak and gift for consolidating power, but not necessarily the cruel dictator he would become. He had a typical childhood (Kotkin dismisses the theory that Stalin’s brutality arose from being beaten by his father; if that were the case, nearly every Georgian boy of the time would grow up to order the death of millions). Following a brief stint in seminary, he became an outlaw for the Communist cause and eventually rose to its highest office, dispatching rivals along the way and significantly helped along by luck and circumstance.

When looking back at evil leaders of highly ideological movements, it’s natural to wonder how much they actually bought into the ideology and how much they were just using it as a vehicle for their ambitions. According to Kotkin, Stalin was Lenin’s true heir, despite the fog placed around his succession by Lenin’s disputed testament; however, he also argues that Trotsky was far more essential to the revolution than Stalin was. Although Stalin is the title and subject of the book, Kotkin often pushes him aside for long (though necessary) contextualizations. And while the book is definitely meant for the general reader, I sometimes found it difficult to follow as someone who isn’t familiar with this period in Russian history (the fact that everyone has at least one name and one alias, sometimes more, doesn’t help). But it does help you get inside the mind of a man and a movement that sanctioned endless repression, torture, and murder in a quest to build a more just and equitable future.

The Sellout by Paul Beatty

This was one of the funniest books I’ve read in a long time. It’s also a book about one man’s quest to reinstate slavery in the United States. That man is the book’s unnamed black narrator, who hails from a Los Angeles neighborhood called Dickens which has been “disappeared” from the map. The plot is quite dense to describe here; suffice to say that it involves the narrator’s father’s deranged sociological experiments that he performed on his son; the last black member of the Little Rascals who willingly volunteers himself for servitude; a donut shop that serves as the home of (a wicked sendup of) black intellectuals; the re-segregation of public schools and buses; and more. But mostly, it’s about the narrator’s attempts to show what a farce post-racial America is by, to use a phrase Stalin would have appreciated, heightening the contradictions to a truly absurd extent.

It’s no surprise that this hilarious satire was the first book ever by an American author to win the Man Booker Prize. Seriously, the book is worth it just for one character’s attempt to put out politically correct versions of classic books (sample titles: The Old Black Man and the Inflatable Winnie the Pooh Swimming Pool, The Pejorative-Free Adventures and Intellectual and Spiritual Journeys of African-American Jim and His Young Protégé, White Brother Huckleberry Finn, as They Go in Search of the Lost Black Family Unit). But it’s also about how we’re all still comfortable with black subordination, and the meaninglessness of the post-racial ideal. The Sellout was written during the Obama years, but in the Trump years, it resonates more than ever.

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

White Trash by Nancy Issenberg: timely study of poor white American identity, but not as groundbreaking as the author thinks

Wolf Boys by Dan Slater: thought-provoking exploration of why young people get into the drug trade, and what it means when teenagers become cartel murderers

The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer: delightful portrait of a demographic not often examined by historians

Blitzed by Norman Ohler: definitely entertaining; the portion about Hitler’s drug use was more convincing than the part about that of the general German public

Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman: a lot more boring than the show

Hitler: Ascent by Volker Ullrich: dude, I already wrote a whole post on this!

Al Franken, Giant of the Senate by Al Franken: oh Al, you’ve broken my heart

Devil’s Bargain by Joshua Green: I have to admit that I’m still only 2/3 of the way through this one but it’s equal parts illuminating, infuriating, and compulsively readable

So anyway, here’s a galette. This will definitely impress your guests when you bring it to the table, and impress their taste buds when they eat it. This is a visually beautiful dish that screams “fall.” Seriously, it will grab you by your lapels and scream, “FALL, MOTHERFUCKER!” Better eat it all up before it embarrasses you in public!

Butternut Squash, Brie, and Apple Galette

From Happy Yolks

For the pastry:

  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup ice water

In a bowl, mix the flour with the sugar and salt. Using a pastry blender or your fingers, cut in half of the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Cut in the remaining butter. Pour in water then begin to mix and knead the dough until a ball forms and the mixture is no longer shaggy looking. Flatten the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

For the filling:

  • 3-ish lb butternut squash
  • 2 apples (honeycrisp, pink lady, or fuji)
  • 2 cups brie cheese, rind removed
  • olive oil
  • fresh thyme
  • salt/pepper
  • 1 egg

Preheat oven to 400.’ Peel the squash. Cut 1/4 inch vertical wedges up to the rind. Halve discs. Place on a baking sheet and coat with olive oil, salt, and pepper. It’s okay if wedges overlap. Bake for 15-20 minutes until just softened and a little al dente in the thicker regions. Set aside and cool. With a mandolin or pairing knife, cut apples (with peel) into 1/4 inch slices. Set aside. Cut or tear brie into strips and chunks. Set aside.

On a floured work surface, roll the dough out into a 12-inch round. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Begin layering cooled squash, apples, cheese, and a bit of salt and pepper leaving a 1 1/2 inch border for folding it all up. Repeat until you run out of ingredients and can top with more cheese. Fold the border over your squash-apple-cheese tower pleating the edge to make it fit. Finish outside exposed dough with an egg wash. Bake for 30-40 minutes in the 400′ oven. Cut into wedges and serve warm.

Harry Potter / Lentil Salad with Fried Halloumi

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This week’s recipe: Lentil Salad with Fried Halloumi

Happy 20th birthday to the Harry Potter series! Like many of my friends, I grew up with Harry and Co. The first book was published in the US six months before I turned 10, and the last book was published a month after I graduated high school, so my own coming of age tracked neatly with the Hogwarts class of ’98. Over that decade, the stakes of the plot grew from “oh no, who’s going to win the House Cup?” to “oh no, the Death Eaters have taken over the Ministry, invaded Hogwarts, and are murdering people left and right.”

I’ll never experience a phenomenon like that again in my lifetime. Since the books were always released on Friday nights (i.e. Shabbat), I never lined up at a bookstore, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t chafing to get my hands on a copy whenever a new one came out. At camp, they didn’t deliver mail on Shabbat, so we would wait desperately for Saturday night when we could tear open our packages and hopefully read fast enough that nothing got spoiled. When the last book came out, my sisters and I all received our packages at the same time, and we all ran to the couch and started devouring our separate books.  It’s been so much fun watching my nephew dive into the series. We spend hours playing a Harry Potter-themed 20 Questions-type game, and he spent all of his savings at a visit to Harry Potter World last year.

I love Harry Potter for the plot, the characters, and the world-building, but most of all, I love it for the emotions it evoked in me. I’ll never forget the feeling of having the rug completely pulled out from under me when Harry, in his search for the Sorcerer’s Stone, passed all the obstacles, got to the last chamber, and found not Snape but Quirrell. I gasped at the reveal that Sirius was actually a good guy, and at the callous, arbitrary nature of Cedric’s death. I cried so hard when I thought that Harry had died at the end of the seventh book (though I quickly stopped when I realized that there were still about 75 pages left in the book and therefore he couldn’t possibly be dead). And of course, like nerdy, bookish, frizzy-haired girls the world over, I identified with Hermione more strongly than with any other character in children’s literature. Harry Potter is rip-roaring good storytelling, though it’s dismissed by some as just a children’s adventure story. But when the world is falling apart, it’s comforting to remember that love, friendship, and loyalty can triumph over greed, bigotry, and lust for power.

Still, the books are far from perfect, and I have some questions that, as far as I know, remain unanswered 20 years later:

-Does anyone else find the notion that Harry survived because his mother loved/sacrificed for him kind of offensive? Voldemort was leading an army of Death Eaters for over a decade, during which time they killed mercilessly and indiscriminately, and we are supposed to believe that Harry’s mom was the only one who loved and died for her child? Seems unlikely.

-What is up with Slytherin? Who thinks it is smart to put all of the evil kids in one house? How many times do Dark wizards have to come out of Slytherin before someone realizes the pattern and tries to do something about it?

-There are a lot of areas where Muggle technology is superior to Wizard technology. Why are they still using quills and parchment instead of computers, owls instead of email or telephones, and candles instead of electric lights?

-Where do young wizards and witches go to school before Hogwarts? How do they learn to read and write and all that?

-I’m concerned about Hogwarts’ financial solvency. I accept the theory that Harry’s Hogwarts class was so tiny because few witches and wizards wanted to have children during the First Wizarding War, but the teacher-to-student ratio at Hogwarts is out of control. How much is tuition, to support all those professors and staff, not to mention maintenance on the castle? Wizarding economics in general confuse me. For instance, how would a Muggle-born like Hermione pay tuition? Did her parents have to trade in a certain number of pounds for galleons and knuts, and if so, what is the exchange rate?

-Dumbledore surely knew that the Invisibility Cloak he gave to Harry in the first book was one of the Deathly Hallows. Did he seriously think it was wise to give 1/3 of the tools necessary to become Master of Death to an 11 year old?

-In the fourth book, why did Barty Crouch Jr. (disguised as Moody) go through the whole rigmarole of helping Harry win the Triwizard Tournament so that he could touch the Portkey and get transported to the graveyard? There were plenty of times when he was alone with Harry; couldn’t he have turned, say, a book into a Portkey and said, “Hey, Harry, grab that book for me,” thus avoiding much risk and effort? Also, in the movies, at least, taking Polyjuice Potion doesn’t alter your voice, so it’s pretty amazing that Barty Crouch Jr. was able to perfectly ape Moody’s voice for an entire year. There are a lot of plot holes in this one, is what I’m saying.

-Harry seems remarkably well-adjusted considering that his parents were murdered, he grew up with an emotionally abusive family that forced him to live in a broom closet, and he and his friends spent their teens as essentially child soldiers. Does the wizarding world have therapy?

-Why didn’t Voldemort just shoot Harry? You know what can’t be stopped by the power of love? A bullet.

-Did the Hogwarts professors ever sit around and talk about how calm and normal life at school used to be before this freaking Harry Potter kid showed up?

Don’t mean to rain on Harry Potter’s parade on this wonderful day. Thank you, JK Rowling, for the wonderful gift you’ve given us, which will continue to enchant children and adults for generations to come.

So anyway, here’s a lentil salad. For those of you who don’t know (i.e. me, a week ago), fried halloumi is magic. It is so freaking good. It’s all the glory of fried cheese, but without any of the greasy messiness. And the rest of this dish is so healthy that you won’t feel guilty about it either. This is a visually beautiful dish that screams “summer.” Seriously, it will grab you by your lapels and scream, “SUMMER, MOTHERFUCKER!” Better eat it all up before it embarrasses you in public!

Lentil Salad with Fried Halloumi

Adapted from The Almond Eater

INGREDIENTS
  • 1 cup uncooked lentils (I used  green)
  • 1½ cups water
  • 1 package halloumi (approx. 8 oz), sliced
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 12 oz. grape tomatoes
  • ¾ cup red onion, diced
  • ¼ tsp dried tarragon
  • 1 zucchini, sliced
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Optional: microgreens for garnish
INSTRUCTIONS
  1. Combine lentils and water in a saucepan and cook according to the instructions on the package.
  2. Meanwhile, heat oven to 350° and place tomatoes, along with 1 tbsp olive oil, on a baking sheet and into the oven. Roast tomatoes for approximately 10 minutes, or until tomatoes are softer.
  3. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a skillet and add sliced halloumi. Fry halloumi until both sides are golden brown; set aside.
  4. In the same skillet, add 1 tbsp olive oil, red onion, zucchini, and tarragon and cook until onions and zucchini are soft.
  5. Assemble the bowl: lentils first, and then add the halloumi, roasted tomatoes, zucchini and onion.
  6. Top with microgreens, salt and pepper and enjoy!

Bubbles / Pasta with Anchovies, Garlic, Chiles, and Kale

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This week’s recipe: Pasta with Anchovies, Garlic, Chiles, and Kale

Since the election, there’s been a lot of talk about bubbles. Political bubbles, cultural bubbles, social media bubbles, it’s a veritable bubble bath! Except instead of a nice comforting soak in warm water, we have President Donald Trump. In order to understand how this catastrophe came to pass, we’ve been told, we need to pierce our bubbles and see things from the perspective of Trump voters—people whose economic anxiety makes them do and say a remarkable number of racist things, as Charlie Pierce has frequently noted. If you can’t tell from the previous sentence, I don’t think very highly of this bubble-centric line of argument. I don’t remember members of the conservative media eight years ago flagellating themselves for being so blind as to the popular will and asking disappointed, sometimes hysterical, Republican voters to step out of their bubble and into the shoes of someone who voted for Barack Obama. Just as Democrats are always called on to be bipartisan while Republicans will literally ally with the Russian government if it means sticking it to the opposition, the empathy is only expected to flow one way. The categories that characterize the mythical (and I do mean mythical) Trump voter demographic—white, male, Christian, poorly educated, middle-aged, blue collar, rural—are  among the most pandered-to in American political discourse. Sarah Palin wasn’t the first to divide the country into godless liberals and real Americans, but she perfected the art, and over eight years later, voting for Trump means you are in touch with the soul of our nation while voting for the woman who won 3 million more votes means you are a hopeless, bubble-dwelling elitist.

How do I know this? Charles Murray told me so, of course. Murray is a conservative political scientist who is best known for co-authoring a 1994 book, The Bell Curve, which argued that race correlated with IQ. In 2012, he wrote another book called Coming Apart, about cultural sorting and the decline of the white working class. I haven’t read either The Bell Curve or Coming Apart, and unlike my brother-in-law who is an academic, it is my policy not to give critical comment on books that I haven’t read. But Coming Apart features a “How Thick Is Your Bubble?” quiz that can be found in its original iteration and an updated 2016 version online. Since I am consistently being urged by the media outlets that I frequent to break outta that bubble, I thought it would be useful to know just how hard that would be. So I went to the PBS Web site and moseyed on down to Bubble Town.

The quiz is made up of 25 questions designed to see how disconnected you are from the “average white American and American culture at large.” You can click on a “Why this question?” button at the bottom to see the rationale for each question. Though the questions themselves are not phrased in a judgmental way, the “right” and “wrong” answers are clear. I was aware of Charles Murray’s politics so I wasn’t too surprised by the sneering asides on some of the questions about how living in poverty during grad school or buying a pickup truck for your vacation home in Montana don’t count. That doesn’t mean it was all bad. Some of the questions—about education levels, for instance, or having one or more close friends with whom you disagree politically—I found eminently fair. I appreciated that the quiz stayed away from specific political beliefs, although the fact that being an evangelical Christian got you extra points sure felt like a proxy.

My issue with the quiz is that Murray’s designation of what makes an average American is arbitrary at best and biased at worst. “Average” is supposed to mean “typical,” but when 80 percent of Americans live in urban areas—a percentage that grows with every census—why is it considered “average” to live in a town of under 50,000 people? When manufacturing has been dying and automation has been rising for decades, why is it relevant to have walked on a factory floor, for work or otherwise? Why does being an evangelical Christian—a significant minority in American life, but a minority nonetheless—make you mainstream? Some questions, like whether or not you lettered in a sport at school, he concedes are based in stereotypes and not data. And then there’s the question about eating at popular fast-casual restaurants, where Murray admits that he left off Chipotle because even though it is in the top 10 restaurants by number of outlets, it “is to the casual-dining genre of restaurants what Whole Foods is to grocery stores.” To me, that smacks of a narrative. Chipotle is popular but like living in a city (80 percent of Americans), being Catholic (23.9 percent of Americans), or not smoking cigarettes (85 percent of Americans), it’s not popular with the right people for the purposes of this quiz, so off the list it goes.

I know that this sounds defensive, and I’m not trying to make the case that I don’t live in a bubble. I absolutely do. I’ve had educational, cultural, and economic advantages that most people can only dream of. I’ve traveled to four continents but I don’t have a driver’s license. Nevertheless, I don’t understand why someone who lives in the largest, most diverse city in the United States, who has received a college education, who traveled to foreign countries and interacts on a daily basis with people from all different races and religions and countries, lives in a bubble, while someone who lives all their life in the same 10,000-person town, never went to college, has the same job that their father and grandfather had, never travels farther than the next state, and rarely or never meets a person from a different background, doesn’t live in a bubble.

Mainstream American culture is more complicated (and in my opinion, richer) than Murray’s quiz suggests. Just the questions on this quiz demonstrate that we can be a nation of Nascar-loving, varsity-lettering, Budweiser-drinking evangelicals, and that six of our top ten most popular TV program are shows created by and starring black people, a show about physics nerds, and a show featuring gay and interracial couples. There are people who voted for Donald Trump last year who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 or 2012. While I believe that the Republican Party as an institution is way more destructive and extreme than the Democrats, I acknowledge that out there in the country, there are boneheads and jackasses on either side (speaking of which, you may have heard about Murray in the news this week after he was shouted down and physically attacked while trying to give a talk at Middlebury. Talk about boneheads and jackasses.) It makes me wonder how useful the concept of “average” could possibly be in a nation as large and diverse as this one. As for the concept of bubbles, I have no doubt as to its uselessness. Bubbles are clearly in the eye of the beholder.

So anyway, here’s some pasta. I made this last weekend when I overslept and needed to put together a quick lunch before my long training run. I used whole wheat penne but I imagine any kind of pasta would work. It was incredibly simple and yummy, thanks in large part to anchovies. Those salty little bastards are the best. They can sit in a tin in your cabinet forever, and they add so much flavor to any recipe (though I wouldn’t recommend putting them in, say, buttercream frosting). Combine that with garlic and red pepper for a little kick, and you’re all set to run nine miles—or, if it’s cold out and you’re lazy, four and a half miles.

Pasta with Anchovies, Garlic, Chiles, and Kale

From the New York Times Cooking Section 

Ingredients

  • Salt, as needed
  • ½ pound pasta
  • 3 tablespoons good olive oil, more for drizzling
  • ¼ to ½ teaspoon crushed red chile flakes, to taste
  • 4 fat garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
  • 2 tablespoons drained capers, patted dry with a paper towel to encourage browning
  • 4 anchovy filets
  • 1 small bunch kale, chopped (or use 3 large handfuls chopped kale)
  • Black pepper
  • Squeeze of lemon, optional
  • Grated pecorino or Parmesan cheese, for serving (optional)

Instructions

  1. Bring a heavily salted pot of water to a boil. Cook pasta until al dente. Drain.
  2. Meanwhile, heat oil in the largest skillet you have. Add chiles and a pinch of salt and toast until golden, 1 to 2 minutes.
  3. Add smashed garlic, capers and anchovies. Let cook until everything is golden, the capers look crisp around the edges and the anchovies have dissolved into the oil, about 3 to 4 minutes. (You can help anchovies dissolve by mashing them with a wooden spoon as they cook.) Add kale and 2 tablespoons water and sauté until kale wilts and cooks in the pan and is well coated with oil, about 5 minutes. You might have to add more water if the water evaporates before the kale finishes cooking.
  4. Add drained pasta and toss well. Add more salt if necessary and plenty of black pepper, and serve drizzled with more oil and a squeeze of lemon if the dish needs a lift. Cheese isn’t necessary but if you like pecorino and have some on hand, feel free to shower it on top.