Bonfire of the Vanities / Miso Rosemary Beans on Toast


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


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


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.


Hitler / Pan Fried Gnocchi


This week’s recipe: Pan Fried Gnocchi

I’m reading Volker Ullrich’s Hitler: Ascent, which covers Hitler’s life from his birth until the start of World War II. It was the subject of that famous Michiko Kakutani review before the election that none-too-subtly drew parallels between Hitler and Trump, though without ever using the latter’s name. it’s extremely good so far, and because it’s 2017 and God forbid Trump not occupy our minds for more than 90 seconds at a time, I am constantly thinking about the similarities and differences between the early years of the Third Reich and America today.

Fortunately, there are many more differences than similarities. For one thing, we are seven months into the Trump administration and he has yet to impose a totalitarian dictatorship or set the Capitol building on fire as a pretext for jailing his political enemies. It’s truly amazing how fast Hitler was able to consolidate absolute power—five months. Everyone in his way got bamboozled, co-opted, or forced out. As with Trump, there were plenty of politicians and power brokers who showed great distaste for Hitler, but who thought they could ride the wave and ultimately exploit this useful idiot for their own ends. As with Trump, they learned their lesson, though getting sent to Dachau is significantly worse than being humiliated on Twitter.

Another difference is the level at which street violence was considered an accepted part of life. I was pleasantly surprised at how Charlottesville dominated the headlines for days, considering that our news media typically has the attention span of me in third grade math class. But in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s, that sort of violence was considered just another Tuesday. These things are definitely becoming more frequent in America but it’s good to know that we still find them shocking. (An obligatory note about Antifa: I’m no expert on it, but I can certainly see the danger of a bunch of masked vigilantes whom no one elected and who are accountable to no one, deciding—often on sight—who qualifies as a fascist and therefore deserves a violent beat down. A totalitarian worldview that disdains democracy and the democratic compact; using force to impose your version of acceptable speech and politics; declaring that people who don’t conform to your vision don’t have the right to, say, non-violently protest in a public space—all sounds pretty fascist to me.)

But the biggest difference is simply that Trump lacks Hitler’s canniness, discipline, and will to power. I know it’s been said a million times before, but it’s our nation’s one great fortune in these dark times that he is stupid and lazy, because if he had even one-tenth of Hitler’s ruthless vision and drive, we’d all be in even deeper doodoo than we are. The closest thing that his administration had to a Hitler-level strategic thinker/ideologue was Bannon, and I can’t overstate my relief that he’s gone. That doesn’t mean that Jeff Sessions, Stephen Miller, Kris Kobach, and other ideologues in high places can’t do some serious damage—indeed, they already have—but reading this biography has been oddly reassuring. For now, we have government institutions, a free press, and a population all willing to push back, none of which existed in Nazi Germany. Whatever catastrophes the Trump presidency brings on us, at least they’ll be met with a fight.

So anyway, here’s some gnocchi. This was seriously one of the fastest, easiest dinners I’ve ever made, and so delicious too! I can’t believe I didn’t know about the wonder of pan-frying gnocchi until this recipe. The original recipe calls for mushrooms, which I of course left out—NEVER will you see a recipe calling for mushrooms on this blog—but if you feel like eating fungus, knock yourself out and add it back in. This is a great dinner to make for a crowd, because you can make multiple batches very quickly. I doubled the recipe, which was lucky because it was so yummy that everyone had two servings!

One Pan Gnocchi with White Beans, Sundried Tomato, and Spinach

Adapted from Sweet Peas and Saffron 

  • 500g/18 oz packaged gnocchi
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • ¼-1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
  • ⅓ cup sundried tomatoes, diced
  • 4 cups loosely packed spinach
  • 540mL/19 oz white beans, drained and rinsed
  • Parmesan cheese
  1. Heat oil in a medium pan over medium heat.
  2. Add the gnocchi and separate them. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and red pepper flakes, and cook, stirring occasionally for 8-10 minutes, or until golden and slightly crispy.
  3. Add the sundried tomatoes, spinach and white beans. Stir until spinach is wilted and everything is heated through.
  4. Add additional salt, pepper and red pepper flakes to taste.
  5. Serve with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.