The Parent Trap / Homemade Thin Mints

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This week’s recipe: Homemade Thin Mints

Last weekend, Mark and I looked after my two-year-old niece because everyone else in the family was out of town. We stayed at my parents’ apartment, since they have a crib for her. My parents have a big, boxy TV from the late 90s and a VHS collection to match, with only basic cable and definitely no streaming services, so once we put my niece to bed, we decided to raid the VHS cabinet. I had a lot of thoughts about our choice, the 1998 remake of The Parent Trap. For those of you who don’t know the plot—and shame on you—the movie stars a prelapsarian Lindsay Lohan as both Hallie and Annie, twin girls who meet for the first time when their divorced parents, Liz (Natasha Richardson) and Nick (Dennis Quaid), coincidentally send them to the same summer camp. Annie, who has lived with her mother in London all her life, and Hallie, who has lived with her father in California, decide to switch places, on the theory that their parents will have to meet up in order to switch them back and will, duh, fall in love as soon as they lay eyes on each other. Does it work? Of course it does! I must have watched this movie so many times in my childhood that I wore out the tape (or maybe that’s just the crappy late-90s VHS quality), but I haven’t watched it in ages, and there were a few things that, uh, stuck out to me this time around. I hereby present:

Thoughts on Watching The Parent Trap, 19 Years Later

-I know that Liz and Nick don’t have much of a relationship but if I were Liz and were sending my kid to camp in the States, I would probably give Nick a heads up in case of the admittedly extremely rare coincidence that he would ALSO choose to send his kid to a random camp thousands of miles from home.

-Why does everyone have such a hard time distinguishing between Hallie and Annie at camp? Annie has long hair and a British accent, it’s not that difficult to tell them apart.

-I don’t know if it’s because I always preferred girly girls to tomboys (I was an Ashley, not a Mary Kate), but I always like Annie a lot better than Hallie, and that still holds up. First of all, Hallie starts the whole feud by pulling Annie into the trough and then dissing her in front of everyone after Annie makes an innocent mistake and then tries to help Hallie. Annie is forced to cut off all her hair but Hallie refuses to make an equivalent sacrifice by letting her ear holes close up. And during the whole switcheroo, Annie is forced to be clever and resourceful under trying circumstances while Hallie gallivants around at photo shoots and drinks merlot and refuses to help her sister out until things really spiral out of control. Team Annie forever.

-What is an “Isolation Cabin,” and why is it so much nicer than any bunk from the summer camp I used to go to? Is it really isolation if there’s another girl in there with you? Do the parents know that they’re sending their children to a camp that employs (semi-)solitary confinement as punishment? I mean, there appears to be no adult supervision at this camp other than the camp director and her daughter so I guess the standards are pretty lax.

-“Yes, we are completely identical, we have the same birthday, but what it really takes for us to realize that we’re twins is that we both have half of a ripped-up photo! Isn’t it lucky that, of all the pictures that possibly exist of our parents, both of them chose to give us half of this ripped-up photo?”

-Hallie and Annie’s whole plan is predicated on the idea that their parents will be forced to see each other again in order to switch them back. The assumption that their Liz and Nick would switch them back in person seems like quite a stretch for two exes who hate each other enough to have purposefully avoided contact for 11 years; who have seemingly unlimited financial resources at their disposal; and who were willing to put their kids on planes unaccompanied to fly to and from camp. Especially Liz – it’s Martin who brings Annie to camp, not her, and she doesn’t even bother to pick her daughter up from the airport when she comes home. That’s pretty cold, Liz.

-“Last call, Annie James!” says the assistant camp director, as if Annie’s limo is going to leave for the airport without her.

-I know he’s European so it’s hard to tell, but there is no way that Martin is straight. But of course he ends up with Chessie because they’re both servants! It’s as inevitable as two black sidekick characters ending up together in a Hallmark Channel movie.

-I didn’t know this was a Nancy Meyers film when it first came out, because I didn’t know who Nancy Meyers was when I was ten years old, but now it’s blindingly obvious to me. This movie is nothing but rich people wearing gorgeous clothes and living inside of an Architectural Digest spread.

-Why is everyone acting like Hallie is a goddamned genius for choosing a white hat (instead of a black hat) to go with a white wedding gown? That seems like the most obvious call in history. I also have a hard time believing that the photographer would be cool with an 11-year-old invading his photo shoot, even an 11-year-old as cute as 1998-era Lindsay Lohan.

-Meredith (Nick’s girlfriend) is 26! I feel old.

-Annie (as Hallie) tells Chessie that she was talking on the phone to her friend who was on vacation in Bora Bora. When the movie came out, everyone in my class assumed that Bora Bora was a made-up place. I eventually figured out that it was real, but was fuzzy on the details, so when bin Laden escaped Tora Bora a few years later, I was deeply confused as to why anyone would choose to vacation there.

-So Hallie goes off to camp, and during the eight weeks she’s there, Nick meets Meredith, starts dating her, and decides to marry her, all with no input from the so-called most important person in his life, his daughter. What is it supposed to say about Nick’s character that he was so easily taken in by this obvious gold-digger? Unless he’s been living like a monk since his divorce, he’s presumably familiar with the type and should be able to see right through her. Or maybe he has been living like a monk and he’s just so desperate to get some that he’ll do whatever it takes.

-I don’t care how cultured you are, I don’t know why you would start ranting in your non-native language when you’re exceptionally stressed.

-Ugh that scene where Meredith runs her fingers through Nick’s chest hair is so awkward and tonally inappropriate for a kids’ movie.

-The scene on the boat has brought home that this movie is based on an extremely shallow understanding of adult relationships. People get divorced for lots of reasons. There’s probably a reason—many reasons, actually—why Nick and Liz aren’t together. Reason 1: After the opening montage showing Nick and Liz’s wedding, it says “11 years and nine months later.” That, of course, makes no sense, since Hallie and Annie are about 11 years and nine months old at the start of the movie, and Liz was not heavily pregnant the night she got married, but whatever. Let’s assume that Liz got pregnant essentially the night she and Nick met. Hallie and Annie both refer to their parents breaking up shortly after they were born, which means that Nick and Liz’s marriage lasted less than a year. Even most celebrity marriages last longer than that! There have to be underlying reasons. One of which is Reason 2: Professional fulfillment. Nick and Liz are both very successful in their careers…on opposite sides of the planet. I suppose that Liz could move her wedding dress design business to Napa, which as everyone knows is the fashion capital of the world, or maybe Nick could try cultivating some of those famous London vineyards. But that wouldn’t solve the real problem, Reason 3: Liz is an abusive spouse. She screamed at Nick and threw a hairdryer at his head! They laugh about it later like it’s no big deal, but if a man did that to a woman, you would tell her to get the eff out of that relationship. Which Nick did! And he should probably not return. Though to cut Liz some slack, it would seem that she was pregnant for at least three-quarters of the time they were married, so maybe she was just hormonal.

-I think we are supposed to see it as some sort of romantic resolution when Nick says that he didn’t go after Liz when she left because he wasn’t sure that he wanted her to. But surely they must have communicated in order to work out the (world’s dumbest) custody arrangement? Unless Liz packed Baby Annie in her suitcase, left Baby Hallie with Nick, and that just became the status quo?

-I do have a hard time believing that someone who is as fit-looking as Meredith would have such a hard time doing a not-very-arduous hike.

-Meredith threw a rock at Nick’s head. Well, more of a pebble. Guess he has a thing for abusive women.

-If only California had known that the solution to the drought was to have the twins part from each other. It always rains when people are sad.

-Martin proposes to Chessie at Nick and Liz’s wedding. Dick move, Martin.

-The movie ends with the song “This Will Be (An Everlasting Love),” which is funny because their marriage will probably only last a year again, maybe less!

So anyway, here are some cookies. Anyone who has ever had the exquisite pleasure of tasting a Thin Mint—particularly one fresh out of the freezer—knows why their allure eclipses that of all other Girl Scout offerings. Samoas, Tagalongs, and Do-Si-Dos all kneel before their acknowledged ruler. So the Internet teems with attempts to recreate them in all their crispy, minty, chocolate-y goodness. Below is just one attempt, which did not taste all that much like a Thin Mint but was still delicious. I found that I needed more chocolate for the coating than the recipe called for, but be sure to keep the cookies cold until you eat it, because that melty chocolate coating will get all over your fingers and stain your white dining room chairs, dammit.

Homemade Thin Mints

From Baked by an Introvert

Ingredients

For the cookie

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup dark cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter softened
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg white
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract

For the coating

  • 12 ounces dark or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract

Instructions

Make the cookies

  1. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder, and salt. Stir with a whisk; set aside.
  2. Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or with a hand-held mixer, beat the butter and sugar together on medium speed until smooth and creamy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the egg white followed by the vanilla and peppermint extract. The dough may appear curdled, this is normal. Gradually add the flour in 3 additions, beating just until incorporated after each one. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
  3. Divide the dough in half. Working with one half at a time. Place the dough between two pieces of parchment paper and roll it to a 1/4 inch thickness. Leaving the dough in between the parchment paper, transfer it to a baking sheet. It’s okay to stack the slabs of rolled dough. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours or freeze it for 1 hours.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
  5. Working with one disk at a time. Remove the top layer of parchment paper and cut circles with a 2-inch cookie cutter. Place the cookies on the prepared baking sheets about 1 and 1/2 inches apart. Gather the scraps of dough, re-roll and chill to continue cutting and baking.
  6. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, until the cookies feel firm to the touch. Cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.

Make the coating

  1. Combine the chocolate, oil, and extract in a medium heatproof bowl set over a pot of barely simmering water. Stir continuously until melted and smooth.
  2. Using a fork, dip each cookie into the melted chocolate, turning to coat and tapping off any excess. Place cookies onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Refrigerate the cookies until set, about 10 minutes. Cookies are best when served cold.

Make ahead tip

  1. The dough can be rolled out and kept in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months. Cut and bake as directed, even straight from the freezer.
  2. Baked (uncoated or coated) cookies will keep for up to 7 days in an airtight container stored in the refrigerator or up to 2 months in the freezer.
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Crime and Punishment, Trump Administration Edition / Mint Chocolate Chip Cake

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This week’s recipe: Mint Chocolate Chip Cake

In the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta The Mikado, the title character sings a famous song about “let[ting] the punishment fit the crime” when it comes time to sentence criminals. Since we almost all agree (ahem Jeff Sessions) that this country incarcerates too many people, and since at least some members of the Trump administration seem destined for criminal charges, I have taken it upon myself to come up with some punishments that I believe will fit their crimes while leaving almost all of them (ahem Jeff Sessions) out of prison. Here is my very humane endeavor to turn these evil livers into running rivers of harmless merriment. In a few years’ time, we can all hope that the following members of the Trump administration and adjacent will be doing the following:

Donald Trump – middle school janitor making $30,000 a year
Mike Pence– case worker for foster kids in a state where abortion is illegal
Steve Bannon – head of public affairs for the Anti-Defamation League
Reince Priebus – Chief of Staff in the Trump administration, has name changed to “Reince Priebus”
Kellyanne Conway – can keep doing what she’s doing, but only allowed to speak to the deaf
Ivanka Trump – sent to work in a Chinese sweatshop
Jared Kushner – forced to reapply to Harvard every year until he gets accepted on his own merits
Don Jr. and Eric Trump – Tiffany’s personal assistants
Stephen Miller – nothing, looking the way he does at age 31 is punishment enough
Jeff Sessions – sentenced to life in a for-profit prison, assigned to an all-black cell block
Michael Flynn – official Polonium Tester for Vladimir Putin
Tom Price – party clown who performs at children’s cancer hospitals
Sean Spicer – mans a Dippin’ Dots stand
Sarah Huckabee Sanders – spends the rest of her life fruitlessly submitting God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy for various literary and journalism prizes
Scott Pruitt – cleans up Superfund sites
Mick Mulvaney – sent to take remedial math classes at an underfunded public school
Betsy DeVos – sent to teach remedial math classes at an underfunded public school
Mitch McConnell – bottom of Yertle the Turtle’s stack
Paul Ryan – forced to have sex with an Ayn Rand lookalike
Chris Christie – parking attendant at the beach, but he’s never allowed to go in

P.S. While researching this blog post, I read Kushner’s Wikipedia article, and I have to say that it has some EXCELLENT shade in it. Some choice excerpts:

“According to a Kushner Companies spokeswoman, he was an honors student and a member of the debate, hockey, and basketball teams. Former school officials described him as a less than stellar student.”

“In 1998, Charles pledged $2.5 million to Harvard University and smaller amounts to Princeton and Cornell…Kushner matriculated at Harvard in 1999.”

“Trump put Kushner in charge of brokering peace in Israeli–Palestinian conflict as well as making deals with foreign countries, although in what way he is in charge is unclear.”

So anyway, here’s a cake. This tasty guy comes courtesy of A Cozy Kitchen, where it looked so beautiful that I just knew I had to make it. As is usually the case when I make mint things, I added more extract than the recipe called for, but I was definitely glad I used cacao nibs, they tasted awesome! I am glad to be posting this recipe on the day that my nephew comes back from his first summer away at sleepaway camp, since mint chocolate chip is his favorite flavor. I’m sorry he missed this delicious cake but maybe his return is an excuse to make it again!

Mint Chocolate Chip Cake

From A Cozy Kitchen

Ingredients

To make the chocolate cake:
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons white granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup baking cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
To make the mint chocolate chip frosting:
  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 1 drop of blue food coloring
  • 1 drop of yellow food coloring
  • 1 tablespoon of cacao nibs

Directions

To make the cake:
    1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour three 6-inch cake pans or two 8-inch cake pans. Butter and flour your cake pans. If you’re like me and are a little paranoid of a cake sticking, line it with parchment, too. Set the pans aside.
    2. In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand-up mixer (with the paddle attachment), add the all-purpose flour, sugar, cocoa powder, espresso powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Mix until combined. Next, crack in the egg and egg yolk, pour in the buttermilk, warm water, olive oil and vanilla. Mix until thoroughly combined and the batter is smooth, about 1 minute. The batter will be thinner than cake batter that you’re probably used to—that’s ok!
    3. Divide the cake batter amongst the cake pans and transfer to the oven to bake for 27 to 30 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Clean out the bowl you used to make the cake and dry it thoroughly. While the cakes are cooling, make the frosting.
To make the mint chocolate chip frosting:
    1. In the bowl of a stand-up mixer with the paddle attachment, add the butter and heavy cream. Beat until smooth and fluffy, about 1 minute. Take the paddle attachment off and place a sieve on top of the bowl, sift in the powdered sugar. Turn the mixer to low until the powdered sugar is almost incorporated. Add the peppermint extract and beat until smooth, about 1 minute. Add one drop of blue food coloring gel and then 1 drop of yellow food gel coloring. Lastly, add the cacao nibs and mix one last time, until they’re evenly dispersed throughout the frosting.
To assemble the cake:
  1. Place one layer on a cake board or cake stand or plate. Add about 1/4 cup (you can eyeball this measurement) to the top of the first cake layer; smooth it out so it’s a nice even layer of frosting. Place the second layer on top and repeat the process, then frost the outside.

Save the Dates / Oven Baked Fries

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This week’s recipe: Oven Baked Fries

Our wedding is a long way away, but because it’s on a holiday weekend and therefore a popular date to get married, we are already in the thick of planning. Our need to get everything locked down over a year in advance was brought home to us this week when we found a photographer whose pictures we loved, and when we contacted him about our wedding that’s in over 13 months…he was already booked.

Because of the aforementioned holiday weekend, we are also sending out save the dates earlier than usual so that NO ONE ELSE CAN STEAL OUR DATE YOU DEVIOUS BITCHES. We have found some designs that we like, but it seems like, unlike for invitations, most save the dates (or STDs as they are colloquially known in the event planning world) feature photos of the couple. And not just any photos. They must be professionally taken, and follow certain strict parameters, with slight allowances made for hipsters versus yuppies:

She: has long, luxuriously wavy hair. Is wearing either an off-the-shoulder top/ long flowy gown/floppy hat/wreath/other Coachella-appropriate wear (hipster edition) or the latest from the J. Crew collection (yuppie edition)

He: has about a week’s worth of beard growth and is wearing either a long-sleeved plaid button-down shirt or a tight t-shirt that shows off his biceps (hipster edition) or is clean-cut and looks like he’s doing this shoot during his lunch break from Goldman Sachs (yuppie edition)

They are softly lit, shot from behind, embracing on a beach boardwalk/mountaintop/field of wildflowers. Or they are nuzzling each other’s noses in what used to be known as an Eskimo kiss but is probably considered racist in 2017.

And apparently you can only get married if you have a gender-ambiguous name that could also be a last name. Let’s play a game and see which of the couple names below are taken from the mint.com Save the Date collection, and which I made up for comedic effect:

  1. Bailey and Jamie
  2. Emery and Hayden
  3. Reese and Avery
  4. Addison and Cameron
  5. Morgan and Loren
  6. Devon and Tanner
  7. Aubrey and Harper
  8. Leighton and Reed
  9. Kennedy and Marley
  10. Francis and Grayson
  11. Moore and Ashton (was this one inspired by a certain May-December celebrity romance of the mid-2000s?)
  12. Dallas and Logan
  13. Harley and Gray
  14. Kendall and Presley
  15. Kennedy and Campbell
  16. Emerson and Mackenzie
  17. Taylor and Nolan
  18. Sydney and Theron
  19. Asher and Skyler
  20. Kelley and Holland
  21. Hadley and Dylan
  22. Rowan and Sawyer
  23. Parker and Payton
  24. Carson and Finley

Answers: 1-24 were all taken from mint.com. No joke.

The point is, until white people learn how to give their kids “normal” names (i.e. names from the Bible, kings and queens of England), they can’t be trusted.

So anyway, here are some fries. Getting oven fries to be crispy is always a trick but the whole soaking-for-as-long-as-possible method seems to have been quite effective–these were much crispier than normal oven fries after only 90 minutes of soaking. And they were tasty to boot! (I mean, what’s not to love about potatoes, oil, salt, garlic, and rosemary?) Enjoy these French beauties over your Bastille Day Weekend!

Oven Baked Fries

From Vegan Family Recipes

INGREDIENTS
  • 1.3 lbs potatoes, peeled and cut into ¼ inch strips
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons fresh, chopped rosemary (can use dried rosemary as well)
  • ¼ of a teaspoon salt
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced (can always use more if you’d like)
  • ¼ of a teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
INSTRUCTIONS
  1. Soaking: Soak your peeled and cut potato strips in a bowl of water for as long as possible. If you can soak them overnight, that’s awesome! If you can only soak them for an hour or two, that’s great! Even just soaking them for just 15 minutes is better than not soaking them at all!
  2. Preheat your oven to 410F (210C) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  3. Remove your soaked potatoes from the water and pat them dry using paper towels. If you forget to pat them dry, you’ll end up with steamed potatoes and not deliciously, crispy ones.
  4. Place the dried off potato strips in a large bowl and toss with olive oil, rosemary, salt, garlic, and pepper until coated well.
  5. Bake the fries for 30 to 45 minutes, flipping them twice while baking, until fries reach desired crispiness.
  6. Remove fries from the oven, season with more salt and pepper to taste before serving them with your favorite ketchup or sauce.

1776 / Rhubarb Sour

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This week’s recipe: Rhubarb Sour

1776 is the second-greatest musical ever written about the American Revolution. Yes, we all know what the first-greatest is, but Thomas Jefferson is the only character in 1776 to overlap with Hamilton. (Mostly: George Washington appears frequently by missive in 1776, and John Adams appears in the lyric, “Sit down John, you fat mother******” in Hamilton—a lyric that is in fact an homage to 1776.) But 1776 has much to recommend it. It has Mr. Feeny from Boy Meets World as John Adams, unsung hero of the Continental Congress. It has dirty jokes. It has, to my knowledge, the longest-ever break between songs in an American musical. It has a truly chilling villain song about the hypocrisies inherent in the Triangle Trade. It has Gwyneth Paltrow’s mom in an incredible dress that I want for my wedding. It has what is maybe the best summation of our politics today in the line, “Don’t forget that most men with nothing would rather protect the possibility of becoming rich than face the reality of being poor.”

But most importantly, it deglazes the mythology from the Founding Fathers. The movie ends with the Congressional delegates posed similarly to the famous John Trumbull painting, as the Liberty Bell rings. But by that point, you know that the men posed like heroic statues at this solemn historical moment are just humans, with all the human weaknesses and pettiness. They’re snobs and insult comics; brawlers and cowards; horndogs, fatties, and alcoholics. (Even the brilliant Jefferson can’t get it together to write the Declaration of Independence until Adams arranges a conjugal visit for him.) And that’s just the protagonists. The movie’s main villains are more sinister, evincing a deeply cynical attachment to the privileges afforded to them by the status quo. To work with them, the heroes have to sacrifice and compromise, and the stuff of those sacrifices and compromises— racism, state’s rights, regionalism, who qualifies as an American—are the seeds of so much of what is wrong in today’s politics.

Still, I come back to a memorable exchange where Adams tells Benjamin Franklin that if they strike a reference to slavery from the Declaration, posterity will never forgive them. Franklin replies, “What will posterity think we were, demigods? We’re men, no more, no less, trying to get a nation started against greater odds than a more generous God would have allowed. First things first, John. Independence, America. If we don’t secure that, what difference will the rest make?” 241 years later, what difference has it made, if we’re still fighting over the same shit? It feels like our country is very sick. We have self-styled “patriots” calling the Declaration of Independence trash because the references to King George remind them too strongly of their Dear Leader. We have TV personalities filming commercials that call for true lovers of liberty to gun down their opponents in the streets. Things feel less safe and less stable than they have in my lifetime. It’s nice to think that the Founders went through the same struggles and arguments that we’re going through today – hopefully we can come out of it as well as they did. Happy July 4th 5th.

So anyway, here’s a cocktail. Every year, a friend and I watch 1776 on or around Independence Day, and since she doesn’t like wine, I take it as an excuse to try a cool new cocktail. There was some nice rhubarb at the farmer’s market last week so I decided to make the rhubarb sour recipe from one of my favorite cookbooks, Date Night In. It was the perfect mix of sweet and sour, and the nutmeg adds an unexpected twist. I liked it so much that I told my sister about it, and we tried to make it at our aunt’s house on July 4th, except our ingredients were limited and we had to substitute vodka for the gin and Newman’s Own pink lemonade for the lemon juice. It made rather a different sort of cocktail, but still yummy!

Rhubarb Sour

From Date Night In

Serves 2

Rhubarb Sour

  • 3 ounces of gin
  • 3 ounces of rhubarb syrup (recipe below)
  • 1.5 ounces freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Lemon peel (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg (optional)

Rhubarb Syrup

  • 1 pound chopped rhubarb
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 cups water
  • Additional flavorings: cinnamon stick, freshly grated nutmeg, vanilla bean, or citrus peel

For the syrup: Place the rhubarb, sugar, water, and your choice of flavorings into a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat slightly so the mixture continues to boil gently for 15 minutes, or until it is reduced by nearly half. The rhubarb will break down and the liquid will get syrupy. Remove the pan from the heat and let the syrup cool to room temperature. When cool, strain the syrup through a fine-mesh sieve. Transfer the syrup to a storage container with a lid. It will keep covered in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

For the cocktail: Combine the gin, rhubarb syrup, and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker filled with ice and shake vigorously. Strain into two glasses and garnish with lemon peel and nutmeg, if desired.

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!

Wedding Registries / Olive Oil Cupcakes

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This week’s recipe: Olive Oil Cupcakes

First, some exciting personal news: I am engaged! A man has declared me worthy and therefore validated my existence in society. It feels great! But no joke, Mark and I are supa-psyched. Our wedding isn’t going to be for a long time so we have plenty of time to celebrate and enjoy before the planning gets serious, but one of the things that I’m looking forward to most is registering. I remember getting to use the registry gun when I went shopping for college stuff at Bed Bath & Beyond. It was awesome, and I can’t wait to do it again. But the thing is, Mark and I already have pretty much every household implement one could possibly want, and we don’t have a ton of storage space in our Manhattan apartment kitchen, so we have to be judicious about what we register for. While this is my only chance to get a factory-new Vitamix and, let’s face it, I’ll probably succumb to the temptations a Le Creuset casserole or Dutch oven, I pray that once I have a registry gun in my hand, I am not suddenly convinced that I need a $1500 crystal vase just because somebody else is going to pay for it.

Let me explain. I went to private school with a lot of obscenely wealthy people. They are now getting married to other obscenely wealthy people (sometimes to each other!) and making wedding registries. Looking at, and mocking, their registries is one of my all-time favorite activities. I know it’s petty and pathetic but I don’t care. They’re going to have a lifetime of Baccarat and Waterford and Tiffany, can’t I just have this? Sometimes, I hope that some of these gifts are just elaborate troll jobs, that the couple is going to return them and use the money for, say, a down payment on an apartment. Because otherwise I can’t fathom the level of privilege and entitlement necessary to assume that 12 people will want to spend over $600 to buy you a single set of silverware. At least silverware might get some use. Below, with commentary by yours truly, are some of the most ridiculous gifts I’ve seen on people’s registries:

Baccarat Oenology Young Red Wine Decanter, $800

The one that started it all. When I saw this gift, I had so many questions. Do you need a separate $800 decanter for old red wines? And what about white wines? Do the white wines also need their own age-specific containers?

Baccarat Harmonie Ice Bucket, $770 AND Christofle Oh Isothermic Ice Pail, $400 AND Vertigo Ice Pail, $710 (all from the same registry)

Ice is free but that doesn’t mean that you should just take it from the freezer and put directly it in your drink like a peasant. No truly classy home is complete without at least $2000 worth of ice receptacles. And of course you must also use the Vertigo Ice Tongs, $215.

Elsa Peretti® Frame in Sterling Silver, $730

“The couple in the photo was perfect—barefoot, clad all in white, laughing on the beach. It was the sort of photo that came already in the frame when you bought it. No one would ever believe that such a beautiful, elegant couple, captured in such a beautiful, elegant photo, tucked inside such a beautiful, elegant picture frame could fall out of love six months into their marriage. And, Christine thought as she furiously polished the already-gleaming silver frame, nobody would ever find out.”

Tumi Alpha 2 Garment Cover, $295

For when you really want to spend $295 for what is essentially a trash bag on a hanger.

Oxo Mandoline Chef’s Sliver, $166.99

Sure, you don’t know how to boil water now, but everyone knows the day you get married, you are transformed into a domestic goddess who regularly makes her own potato chips. When that day comes, you will need this mandoline.

French Kitchen Marble Lazy Susan, $99.95

If I ever ask someone to spend $100 on a French marble Lazy Susan, please bash me over the head with said French marble Lazy Susan.

Clear Quartz Grande Votive, $840

This is literally a rock into which you place a candle. I really don’t have anything else to say about it. Words fail me.

So thanks, privileged couples with publicly view-able registries, for the hours of entertainment. I can’t wait until your kids start to crawl and break all your overpriced shit and spill young red wine on your white carpets.

So anyway, here are some cupcakes. For once, these are actually semi-related to today’s post, since I made them for our engagement party last night. They have a lovely mix of flavors – lemon, lavender, olive oil – and are perfect for spring. The only issue I found was that I had to add a lot more powdered sugar to the frosting to get it stiff enough to pipe (hence the wonky-looking frosting on the cupcakes in the header image), but my kitchen was also very hot so your mileage may vary. Between what I baked, what my dad baked, and what various friends bought, we had literally ten desserts, but I think it’s a testament to these cupcake’s deliciousness that almost every one got eaten!

Olive Oil Cupcakes

Adapted from The Almond Eater

INGREDIENTS
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1½ cups cane sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp baking powder
  • 3 eggs
  • ¾ cup plain yogurt
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp lavender
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • For the icing:
  • ¼ cup ricotta
  • ¼ cup mascarpone
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
INSTRUCTIONS
  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Combine flour, sugar, salt and baking powder together in a bowl and set aside.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk eggs, yogurt, olive oil, and vanilla together.
  4. Fold wet ingredients into dry ingredients. Last, stir in the lavender and lemon zest by hand.
  5. Prepare a cupcake pan and pour batter evenly into each cup.
  6. Bake cakes for 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
  7. For the icing: use an electric mixer to mix the ricotta and mascarpone together; add in the powdered sugar and vanilla and stir until everything is combined.
  8. Once cupcakes are cool, spread icing evenly among them.
  9. Enjoy!

Mother’s Day / Fettuccine with Arugula Pesto

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This week’s recipe: Fettuccine with Arugula Pesto

So it’s Mother’s Day, and I’m sure that every blogger out there is like, “My mom is the best!” But really, my mom IS the best. Here, I lay out the case:

-My mom is a pioneer for women. She was in the first-ever class of women to graduate from Yale, and she went to Harvard Business School at a time when it was only 10 percent women. When my sisters and I were born, she worked for Dow Jones, and she was the second woman ever in that company to take maternity leave. Although she was intensely smart and driven, she also sacrificed for her kids, turning down promotions so that she could be home to have dinner with us and tuck us in. For years, I thought she was the family’s primary breadwinner. While this was inaccurate, it did wonders when it came to building up my self-esteem and my conception of what women are capable of. Here’s a fun story: my parents met at Harvard, where my dad was in law school and my mom in business school. Nearing graduation, my dad got offers from law firms in Pittsburgh and New York. My mom went to interview for jobs (again, this was a time when women in business was a novel concept). Almost all of the jobs in Pittsburgh at the time were in heavy industry, and her interviewers asked her intrusive questions about her personal life, her plans to marry and have kids, that today would be illegal to ask in a job interview. She was feeling hopeless about her prospects when she accompanied my dad to a dinner with the Pittsburgh firm’s partners and their wives. She recounted her woes to one of the wives, who told her, “Oh, don’t worry. I married my husband and since then, I’ve never worked a day in my life!” This prompted my mom to go to the bathroom and burst into tears. My dad literally proposed to her to get her to stop crying. Such is my mom’s work ethic and commitment to a professional as well as personal life.

-My mom never* compared me to my sisters. As the youngest of three girls, all of whom went to the same school and the same camp, it was natural that I would spend a lot of time trying to live up to my sisters. They were smart and popular and, it seemed to me, successful in ways that I could never match. My mom never made me feel like I was worth any less than them. When I was in ninth grade, I almost failed math. My parents told me, years later, that after the parent-teacher conference where they found out about my terrible math grades, they had a conversation about how they had to adjust their expectations for where I would be able to get into college. But they never let me know that, and whenever I would put myself down and say that my sisters were smart and I was dumb, my mom would raise me up, would remind me of all the places where I excelled, and would encourage me to try harder where I was failing. I fully credit her unceasing supportive attitude with the fact that I did eventually raise my grades and get into a good college.

-My mom is in a loving relationship and is nevertheless independent from my dad. My parents have been married for over forty years, and they have a partnership that anyone would envy. Still, they each have their own lives, their own interests and hobbies, and partnership has never lapsed into co-dependency. This has been a model for me in my relationships, and I think it’s the healthiest way to be.

-My mom never* made me feel bad about my body. Considering all that she’s done for me, it sounds weird to say that this was her greatest gift, but I had so many friends whose mothers gave them complexes about their bodies that manifested in really dangerous, long-lasting ways. Even though I was very overweight for much of my adolescence, my mom always gave me the message that there are more important things than how much you weigh. Even during my most awkward years, she never made me feel bad about my appearance. She let me come to awareness of my body in my own time, whether that was losing weight, learning how to manage my hair, or developing my own style. For a young woman, that’s an invaluable gift.

-My mom is now passing along these amazing gifts to her grandchildren. She is completely devoted to them and they are so lucky to have her. When I have kids, I know that she will be the most positive influence in their lives, and I only hope that I can be half the mom that she is.

*And when I say “never”, I don’t mean “never”, because my mom is human and she’s not perfect. Watching her sometimes fumble or struggle but always come back stronger has taught me the meaning of resilience and spirit. She is really the best!

So anyway, here’s some pasta. It’s the perfect dish for spring – light and green and gorgeous. I served it to one of my pickiest friends and she ate every bite.

Fettuccine with Arugula Pesto

From Feast and Fable 

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 lb Fresh Fettuccine Pasta (I use this recipe)
  • 3 oz. Arugula
  • 1 lemon, plus additional lemon wedges for serving
  • 1/3 cup Parmesan Cheese, plus more for topping
  • 1/2 lb Sugar Snap Peas
  • 2 Tbsp. Butter
  • 3 Cloves Garlic
  • 1 Shallot
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Pistachios, toasted and chopped for topping
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt and Pepper

INSTRUCTIONS:

1.) Heat a medium pot of water to boiling. Meanwhile, prepare the fresh produce. Snap off the ends of each sugar snap pea and pull off any tough strings that run the seam of the pod. Thinly slice the shallot and mince the garlic. Juice and zest the lemon.

2.) To make the pesto, place the arugula, lemon zest and Parmesan cheese in a food processor. Begin pulsing, and drizzle in enough olive oil to create a rough paste. Next, add the juice from the lemon into the food processor and pulse to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste and set aside in a bowl.

3.) If you haven’t already, toast the pistachios in a pan over medium heat until brown and fragrant. Transfer to a cutting board and roughly chop.

4.) Using a large skillet, melt the 2 Tbsp. butter over medium-high heat. Then, add the minced garlic and sliced shallot and season with salt and pepper. Cook, until softened, about 2 to 4 minutes. Then, add the sugar snap peas and season again with salt and pepper. Cook until the peas are bright green, about 1 minute, and remove the skillet from the heat and set aside.

5.) Add the pasta to the pot of boiling water and cook 2 to 3 minutes or according to instructions. Once cooked, reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water and drain the pasta.

6.) To assemble, add the pasta, arugula pesto and half of the pasta water to the pan of cooked snap peas. Use tongs to combine and evenly distribute the pesto. Season with salt and pepper to taste. If the pasta seems dry, add in more of the remaining pasta cooking water. Next, plate the pasta and sprinkle with chopped pistachios, Parmesan cheese and an extra lemon wedge.

AHCA / Mint Chip Meringues

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This week’s recipe: Mint Chip Meringues

Congratulations, Paul Ryan. You’ve passed a bill that will kill more Americans than ISIS ever could. You’ve passed a bill that will take from the very neediest in order to give more to people who already have more money than they could spend in a hundred lifetimes. You claim to be Catholic so I assume you believe in Hell. Aren’t you at all concerned about how this is going to look to your Creator? I know the God you pray to cries when a woman aborts her rapist’s baby, but I don’t know His feelings on that same woman, after being forced to carry her baby to term, having her health insurance costs skyrocket from the double-whammy of having been sexually assaulted and having gone through a pregnancy. Maybe we’ll find out, but it’s okay regardless, because your actions this week no doubt pleased your real gods, Ayn Rand and your donors.

Divine retribution aside, there will be some earthly justice if this is what finally causes people to see the truth about what a phony you are and always have been. Sure, that should have been evident to anyone who read your Wikipedia page and realized that, while you’ve spent your whole 25-year career railing against the evils of Washington and the federal government, you have spent literally one year of that career not working in Washington, either for the federal government or immediately adjacent to it. But some people are kind of thick and needed a demonstration.

I’m thinking in particular of certain media types who crowned you the Wonk King of Washington. Now the world can see that you’re the sort of wonk who hastily slaps together the shittiest, most incoherent bill imaginable and rams it through before it has time to be properly read, let alone have its potential impact assessed, all in order to avoid a mean tweetstorm from the President. You know, a real policy wonk!

The same credulous morons who have bestowed upon you the title of “wonk” had such high hopes for you as the bright new face of Republican leadership. But you have an interesting way of leading. This bill is not going to become law. I don’t mean to say that there’s no way that it will pass in the Senate, but it won’t pass in anything like its current form; it’s completely radioactive and GOP senators are already distancing themselves from it. You’ve done nothing except expose the members of your caucus for the cynical, craven opportunists they are, and of course hand a “win” to a president who doesn’t give a shit about making good policy and who will stab you in the back the second it becomes convenient. The AHCA vote will be an albatross around the neck of any remotely vulnerable Republican incumbent running next year, and you won’t even have gotten anything out of it. That’s the sort of leadership we can get behind!

You and your fellow GOP congressmen did this to yourselves. You went around the country, whipping your constituents into a lather and convincing them that something that the Heritage Foundation proposed 20 years ago was actually the most dangerous threat to American liberty since the Red Menace. The truth is, Obamacare already is the free-market solution to healthcare. It’s not perfect, but there’s no better plan that would fit within your ideological parameters; if there were, maybe you would have been able to figure it out during the past seven years so it would be all ready to go once you got control of government. Instead, you rely on distortions and lies. You go around lecturing about how unjust it is that the young and healthy should have to subsidize the old and sick, which is literally the meaning of insurance. You say you don’t want a faceless government bureaucrat coming between you and your doctor*—no, that’s the job of a faceless insurance company executive. You maintain that your problem with Obamacare was that it led to higher premiums and worse coverage, but any bill that you support inevitably has the same problems (only worse), because you don’t think that the government should be involved in helping more people get health insurance. You seem to suspect that that’s not a politically defensible position in 2017, so instead of making an argument on the merits, you hide behind a cascade of obfuscation and bullshit.

I’m hopeful that this bill dies in the Senate, and all that happens is that when the time comes to run ads for the 2018 election, we have Republican congressmen on record voting to take healthcare away from 24 million Americans. (Those visuals of you guys partying it up in the Rose Garden after the vote should prove particularly effective, so thanks for that, I guess. I hope those beers give you all liver cancer and that Mo Brooks tells you that you don’t deserve treatment because you didn’t do enough to keep your body healthy.) But I’m still depressed to think that over 200 of our nation’s elected representatives could vote for something so obviously stupid and cruel. I hope you all get your comeuppance for it, and that nobody has to die because of your fathomless cynicism and inhumanity.

*Abortions excepted, of course.

So anyway, here are some meringues. As someone who makes a fair amount of ice cream and fresh pasta and whatnot, I always have a lot of egg whites in the freezer, so making meringues is a good way to use them up. Light, dairy-free meringues are the perfect Shabbat dessert following a big meat meal. Always be sure to use room-temperature egg whites. I took mine out of the fridge in the morning and made the meringues after work, and I’m still alive, so I guess it’s safe? These cookies got excellent reviews from my friend Hannah, who came over for Shabbat dinner, my friend Sarah who ate them the next day, and my nephew Simon, who is a big fan of the mint-chocolate flavor combo. And who isn’t, really? Can’t go wrong with a classic!

Mint Chip Meringues

From Joy the Baker

Ingredients
  1. 3 large egg whites, at room temperature
  2. pinch of salt
  3. 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  4. 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  5. 1/2 teaspoon pure peppermint extract
  6. 1/2 – 3/4 cup coarsely chopped dark chocolate
Instructions
  1. Place a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat oven to 250 degrees F.
  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
  3. Clean and dry the bowl of an electric stand mixer. Add egg whites and beat egg whites on medium speed until foamy. Add pinch of salt and cream of tartar. Increase speed to medium high and beat to soft peaks. The egg whites will be white and foamy, with large but tight bubbles.
  4. Gradually add the granulated sugar, increasing the mixer speed to high. Beat for about 3 minutes on high speed, until stiff, glossy peaks form.
  5. Stir in the peppermint extract and chocolate chunks.
  6. Egg whites will be spoonable, but keep their shape when dolloped onto a baking sheet.
  7. On prepared baking sheet, dollop out egg white mixture into two heaping tablespoonfuls. Space about 1-inch apart, although the meringues won’t spread as they bake. Place in the oven and allow to cook for 60 to 70 minutes. Meringues will brown sightly on the top and feel hollow to the touch. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely. Remove from the parchment and serve with coffee or mint tea.
  8. Meringues will last, in an airtight container at room temperature, for up to 3 days.

 

Running / Breakfast Smoothie

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This week’s recipe: Pre-Run Breakfast Smoothie

Yesterday I ran my second half marathon. Since I have now run two (I ran my first one in March 2016), it’s basically like I’ve run a marathon, right? That’s just how math works. Everyone says that after you run a half marathon, you will want to run a marathon. I say that hitting mile 12 in a race and not even being halfway done is too depressing to contemplate. Still, the fact that I am able to run any sort of far distance is kind of miraculous.

I don’t exactly come from an athletic family. My dad is in excellent shape, and he bikes and runs, but his involvement with team sports was limited to being in his high school marching band. My mom falls down a lot. My oldest sister was a pretty good tennis player in high school but not exactly Serena Williams. My middle sister evinced a genuine interest in sports, and an equally genuine lack of ability or talent. As for me, I was on the volleyball and softball teams in middle school, because if you were on a sports team, you didn’t have to go to regular gym class. Since I was so terrible at both volleyball and softball, the coaches almost never put me in the game. If they did, they would rotate me out again as quickly as possible, or stick me way out in the outfield where I had ample time to scheme about how I was going to convince my parents to let me see Rent. This arrangement suited me just fine, in large part because my gym teachers exhibited all of the sadism for which members of that profession are famous. A particularly memorable example was when they forced us to run across the length of the gym within a certain time (15 seconds or thereabouts). If the whole class didn’t make it to the opposite wall before the time was up, we had to do it over again, until everyone made it in time. Needless to say, if you weren’t capable of running that far in 15 seconds the first time, it didn’t become any easier after ten or 20 tries. Out of mercy or boredom, the gym teacher finally let us stop, but not before I was red-faced, panting, and humiliated to the verge of tears with the knowledge that my slow ass was messing this up for everyone.

Nothing got better. In seventh grade, we were bussed out to Astoria to run the mile. Out of about 50 girls in our grade, I came in second-to-last. I was also the only girl in our grade to suffer an exercise-induced asthma attack during the mile. So you’ll understand that I did all I could to avoid running. In high school, we got to pick our gym electives, and I signed up for strength training. I was the only girl in the class. It turned out that the athletic kids did sports; the unathletic girls did a class called Body Conditioning; and the unathletic boys (and I) did strength training. It was awesome. Everyone in the class, myself included, was an unpopular nerd, so we sat around on the exercise machines and talked to each other and, on the rare occasion that the gym teacher bothered to poke his head in, pretended to work out. It was the best.

On the other end of the spectrum was camp, where I had to join a team sport. If I had been less of a goody-goody, I would have gone the route of many of my bunkmates, who picked a sport coached by a counselor who they knew didn’t give a shit, and then never went to practice. Instead, as I had in middle school, I picked volleyball because I thought it would involve the least amount of running. Unlike in middle school, that turned out to be a tragic misperception. Our coaches were real bastards of the old school, and we did more running than any team other than soccer. And in the summer heat and humidity, no less. It was the worst.

The first time I ever remember running without someone forcing me to was right after the summer I spent in Israel on a teen trip. That summer, with its early morning hikes through the desert and hot Israelis in tiny swimsuits, had brought home to me how very overweight and out of shape I was. I was waking up very early in the mornings because of jet lag and one morning, I decided to go run around the Central Park reservoir as the sun came up. I was extremely slow and had to take a number of breaks, but I managed to do it, and I was amazed at my increeeeeeedible accomplishment of running 1.6 miles in, like, 25 minutes.

From then on, I ran very sporadically for the next eight years. The exact moment that I got into running with any seriousness was January 12, 2014—the day I bought my first smartphone. For reasons that are still unclear to me, the very first app I downloaded was Runkeeper, and I immediately set a goal to run 20 miles by the end of January. From there, I kept upping my mileage goals, and kept hitting them, until running became a habit. When my sisters suggested that we should do a 10K, it seemed natural. Just as it seemed naturally to drunkenly register for the New York City half marathon lottery, never thinking I’d get in.

Fast forward to a year and a month later, and I’ve just completed my second half marathon. This one was significantly harder, in part because of the course (twice through Central Park, with all of its hills), and in part because I didn’t train nearly as hard as I did for the first one. This was partly laziness, and party the fact that, psychologically, the knowledge that I had already run a half marathon once made me much less anxious about running one a second time. And although I spent the whole race wanting to die, running half marathons has really changed my relationship to my body. Women spend so much time hating their bodies–their arms, their butts, their stomachs, their thighs, and so on. When I run a half marathon, I look at myself and think, Wow, my body is capable of doing this amazing thing, how could I possibly hate it?

So anyway, here’s a smoothie. Specifically, this is the smoothie that I always have before a race. I know what you are thinking. Chocolate + peanut butter = yum! Chocolate + peanut butter + strawberries = eh? Chocolate + peanut butter + strawberries + spinach = stop, that’s disgusting. But it’s actually insanely good, and it gives you exactly the energy boost you need to run a race. It’s the breakfast of champions, and will get you through your run so that you can enjoy the dinner of champions: Scotch and cocktail weenies.

Pre-Run Breakfast Smoothie

From Peanut Butter Fingers

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cup almond milk
  • 1 cup frozen strawberries
  • 1 frozen banana
  • 1/2 pack frozen spinach
  • 1 tablespoon peanut butter
  • 1 scoop chocolate protein powder
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder

Instructions

  1. Blend and enjoy!

Holocaust Remembrance Day / Pesto

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This week’s recipe: Pesto

I spent the summer between 11th and 12th grade in Israel, on a teen tour that was half Americans and half Israelis. We did all of the country’s greatest hits, including an afternoon at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial and museum in Jerusalem. Yad Vashem is an obligatory stop for tourists, IDF soldiers, schoolchildren, and politicians, and as we wound our way through the exhibits, I was struck by the large numbers of Hasidic families pushing strollers and holding the hands of young children. When we left the museum, I asked a friend when she remembered first learning about the Holocaust, and she recalled a story her mother had told her. When the friend was four years old, she went with her parents to visit her grandmother’s retirement community. She splashed around in the pool in her swimsuit and floaties while her mother watched from a pool chair nearby. One of the residents of the retirement community leaned in towards the mother and, gesturing towards my friend in the pool, asked, “Have you told her about the Shoah yet?”

The truth is, I don’t remember when I learned about the Shoah (the Hebrew term for Holocaust), because I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know about the Shoah. My grandmother grew up in Nazi Germany, though she and her family were able to escape in 1937. She didn’t talk about it much, and certainly didn’t talk about it with her young grandchildren. Nevertheless, the consciousness of it was all around me. As a bookish kid, I read Number the Stars and The Devil’s Arithmetic, the latter of which scared me off of opening the door for Elijah for many years afterwards. I still remember the watercolor that came near the end of a picture-book version of the Diary of Anne Frank, of Anne and her sister Margot clutching each other and crying in Auschwitz, their heads shaved and their skinny bodies clad in striped concentration camp uniforms. When I was bored at synagogue, I’d flip to the back of the prayer book and read stories in the Holocaust remembrance section about the corpses of children being thrown on a pile to be burned; about a German soldier smashing a baby’s head against a wall; about a little boy who was publicly hanged but who was so small that his neck failed to snap, and so he struggled against the noose until he finally suffocated. Even totally unrelated books could become little Holocaust lessons. I remember flipping through a book of baby names (when I say I was a bookish kid, I mean that I would read anything I could get my hands on) and informing my mother that the name “Adolph” means “wolf.” “Adolf Hitler was a wolf!” she replied.

Then there was the formal education. As early as third grade, we started commemorating Holocaust Remembrance Day in Hebrew school. In sixth grade, literally the entire year’s curriculum was devoted to the Holocaust. I found this egregious, not because 12-year-olds are too young to learn about the Holocaust, but because it’s the year before they have their bar or bat mitzvahs. Right before you decide to become a full-fledged member of the Jewish community, do you want to get the message that being Jewish means suffering, oppression, and extermination? Of course, being Jewish often has meant suffering, oppression, and extermination—that’s what half of our holidays are about—but the Holocaust was less than a decade of a history that spans thousands of years. My Hebrew school wasn’t the only one to make this mistake. The Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York, which we visited on a field trip, is a three-story structure arranged thusly: first floor is pre-Holocaust, second floor is the Holocaust, third floor is post-Holocaust. Fine, so it’s a Holocaust museum, but again, I find it distressingly telling that they would single out a few years, no matter how horrific and consequential they were, to build all of “Jewish Heritage” around.

When I’ve discussed this topic with other Jewish friends, I find that their cultural and educational experiences were similarly saturated with the Holocaust. (My favorite such example is a friend who went to Jewish middle school, where her chorus sang a Yiddish song whose title translates to “A German Burned My Sister in Treblinka.” Oy vey.) It looms so large in the lives of Jewish people even now, as the last survivors are dying off. So I was shocked to learn that the rest of the world doesn’t feel the same way. I’m not talking about outright Holocaust denial or anything like that, but I thought that the Holocaust had reached such a cultural mass—in history, literature, movies, and so on—that no one in America could be ignorant of its enormity.

Two incidents stick with me. One was in tenth grade European history class. Our readings for that day’s class were recollections of concentration camp survivors. Like most such accounts, they were unspeakably horrible and left the reader with nothing to say, and so our teacher wisely didn’t ask us to analyze or discuss them. Instead, he had us go around and say what we knew about the Holocaust. I knew that non-Jews in the class wouldn’t have the same depth of knowledge that I did but I was still amazed at how little they knew, how little brain-space it seemed to occupy for them. If you are at all connected to your Judaism, I don’t think a single day goes by when the Holocaust doesn’t cross your mind. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like never to think about it unless someone or something external brought it up.

The second incident reinforced that, in a much more painful way. In my senior year of high school, my school chorus went to Prague, Vienna, and Budapest for a tour. One of the places we visited in Prague was the Pinkas Synagogue, which serves as a Jewish museum and Holocaust memorial. The synagogue’s walls are covered in names of the tens of thousands of Czech Jews who were killed in the holocaust, and there’s also an exhibition of children’s artwork from Theresienstadt. My sisters and I all have very common names for Ashkenazic Jews, and I easily found each of our names on the wall. But the part that I found most affecting was the artwork, and when I read that all of children who drew them were murdered in Auschwitz, I started to cry. Meanwhile, non-Jewish members of the chorus continued to laugh and chat and flirt with each other. I didn’t expect them to be as emotional as I was. I also didn’t expect them not to be emotional at all.

The Holocaust is the best-known instance of genocide in human history. Hitler’s name is a synonym for the worst kind of evil, even though Stalin and Mao caused more deaths. It’s a cliché that being involved with a movie about the Holocaust is the fastest way to get awards. But abstract knowledge doesn’t guarantee genuine emotional response. And if that’s true of the Holocaust, what about the many lesser-known, less documented genocides? (The death toll in the Congo during the early period of Belgian colonization has been estimated at 10 million, for instance, but almost no one I know has ever heard of it.) Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day, but how do we get non-Jews to remember the Holocaust in its totality, while freeing Jews from the burden of having their entire identity and way of relating to the world defined by that remembrance?

So anyway, here’s some pesto. (Most inappropriate segue in this blog’s short history, no doubt.) Cut basil goes bad very quickly, so whenever I need to buy some for a recipe, I always use up the rest by making pesto. There are about a million pesto recipes out there, and I’ve made delicious ones involving spinach, kale, arugula, walnuts, pistachios, and so on, but this is my simple go-to. I usually serve it on linguine along with some pan-seared salmon, but go nuts! And the nuts don’t even have to be pine nuts.

Pesto

Adapted from How to Eataly

Ingredients

  • 1 clove of garlic
  • Fine sea salt to taste
  • About 2 loosely packed cups of basil
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup grated pecorino Romano

Instructions

  1. Place the garlic and a generous pinch of salt in the food processor and grind into a paste.
  2. Add about a quarter of the basil leaves and grind until broken down. Continue to add basil a little at a time, breaking down all the leaves before adding more.
  3. Add the pine nuts and grind until crushed.
  4. While the food processor is running, slowly add the oil.
  5. Finally, add the cheese and run until thoroughly combined.