Kindness / Honey Ice Cream

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This week’s recipe: Honey Ice Cream

Jews don’t have saints, but our matriarchs and patriarchs—Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob, Rachel, and Leah—are the closest thing we’ve got. We invoke them in our daily liturgy. We learn lessons from them on how to live a worthy life. We are told that everything good in our lives emanates from their merit. This is odd because they are not very good people. Not even on the surface level! Sarah is cruel; Rebecca and Jacob are deceptive schemers; Leah and Rachel are petty backbiters; Isaac is such a passive cipher that some commentators wondered whether he was mentally retarded. They all play favorites with their children, to terrible effect. You wouldn’t want them as role models for your kindergartner, let alone for a whole nation.

Abraham is a particularly interesting case. He is due reverence as the father of the Jewish people, but he’s also the father of a certain kind of leftwing Jewish tendency that has become a general leftwing tendency in recent years: feeling for the whole world while being callous and indifferent to those closest to you. I was thinking about it because on the High Holidays, we read about some examples of Abraham exhibiting this tendency. One is when his wife Sarah demands that he kick their slave Hagar and her son Ishmael out of the house. This would be cruel enough, but Abraham is Ishmael’s father, having impregnated Hagar when it appeared that Sarah would never have children. To his credit, Abraham is initially reluctant, but God tells him to obey his wife, and Abraham sends Hagar and Ishmael out into the wilderness.

Another is the famous story of the binding of Isaac, when God demands that Abraham sacrifice the longed-for son he had with Sarah. It’s framed as a test of faith—would Abraham actually kill his beloved son to show his devotion to God? At the last minute, an angel comes down and stops Abraham’s hand before he can kill Isaac, indicating that he passed the test.

There is also the conclusion of the story of Abraham and Avimelech. Abraham goes down to the land of Gerar, but he fears that his very attractive wife (who is about 90 years old, by the way!) will be so tempting to the king of the region, Avimelech, that the king will kill him so he can marry Sarah. To save himself, he tells Avimelech that they are sister and brother instead of husband and wife. (This isn’t the first time that Abraham pulled this trick, having done the same thing with Pharaoh a few chapters earlier.) One again, only some timely divine intervention prevents disaster; in this case, Sarah from becoming a concubine in the court of a foreign king.

Now, all of these stories have happy endings. Ishmael survives and becomes the father of a great nation; Isaac is spared and continues the line of the Jewish people; and Avimelech lavishes Abraham with gifts once he realizes his mistake. It helps to have God on your side, no doubt. But contrast these with another famous story, the tale of Sodom and Gomorrah. In that story, God tells Abraham that He plans to destroy the irreparably wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham, who doesn’t know a soul in those cities other than the family of his nephew Lot, immediately begins bargaining with God, eventually getting God to agree that if there are but ten righteous people in the cities, He will not destroy them. Meanwhile, we see just how bad the cities are; two angels got to visit Lot, and the people of Sodom demand that Lot give them over to be raped (hence the term “sodomite” for someone who has anal sex). But Lot, showing the same lack of solicitude for his loved ones’ wellbeing as his uncle, sends out his virgin daughters to be raped in the strangers’ stead.

So yeah, there were not even ten good people in all of Sodom and Gomorrah, yet Abraham had tender feelings for them. What sort of thinking is this? God wants me to send one son off to die in the desert and wants me to straight up kill my other son? Okay! My wife’s extreme hotness puts me in danger with the king? Okay, I will pimp her out to him! But the people of Sodom? Yes, they are a city of notorious serial rapists, but I think that in their heart of hearts, they may be good, it would be a shame if anything happened to them!

I don’t know if it springs from self-loathing, a desire for purity, ostentatious wokeness, or what, but I know many people like Abraham: people whose hearts easily bleed for every abstract disadvantaged person they’ve never met, but who lose all empathy for anyone whom they deem less worthy. (Not so coincidentally, the less-worthy are often people whom they resemble in every demographic category.) Okay, I don’t know many such people, but they seem to disproportionately congregate in the left-leaning Internet. This makes some sense; it’s the apparent obverse of the conservative inclination to believe that the people in your tribe deserve trust, sympathy, and support, while Those People are inherently suspect (see, for an obvious example, the conservative policy responses to opioids versus crack). But to me, that inclination is much more understandable; if you see someone as a reflection of yourself, it’s natural to want to believe the best of them. So what is it about the left that makes them want to pounce on anyone who isn’t 100 percent perfect, even if that means eating their own?

This propensity can manifest in ways that are silly but harmless, if sadly lacking in self-awareness. Take the multitude of thinkpieces written about Orange in the New Black that decry Piper as THE WORST because she’s a privileged, educated, Brooklyn-dwelling white woman…many of them written by privileged, educated, Brooklyn-dwelling white women. There was a similar response to Girls, to which all I can say is: why do you keep watching Girls if you find every character to be insular, oblivious, and infuriating? No one is making you do it! I myself have never seen a single episode of Girls and I am still able to talk to people at parties. Anyway, it reminds me of something that I wrote about last year when I reviewed Primates of Park Avenue: the certainty that no matter how advantaged you are, you’re actually normal because there’s someone out there who’s really privileged and out touch . There seems to be a real discomfort among these critics, who recognize aspects of their own character in Piper or Hannah and need to distinguish themselves in whatever small way they can (after, of course, the obligatory Checking of the Privilege). Yes, I too am a white woman who lives in Bushwick, has tattoos, and majored in English at an expensive liberal arts school that my parents paid for, but at least I don’t do yuppie bullshit like manufacturing artisanal soaps! I’m a real man of the people!

Like I said, dumb but harmless when you’re dealing with fictional characters. But more insidiously, it leads to patterns of thinking and behavior that lead people to treat actual fellow-humans in ways that are simply shitty, and that tends to make anyone not steeped in identity politics recoil in horror. Many articles have been written on the excesses of callout culture, how it can devolve into bullying and harassment in the frantic desire to prove that I am purer than thou art. If you’re not a member in good standing of the Church of the Woke—if you dare to exist and write and produce without constant genuflections to the latest in privilege theory and intersectionality—you are scum, you are trash, you are cancelled, and you are definitely not deserving of any human kindness.

This was really brought home to me last year, when Sheryl Sandberg published her memoir about her husband’s death and Ariel Levy published her memoir about her late-term miscarriage. While both books were generally well received, there was a certain corner of the Internet that was downright vitriolic about them. The consensus in these corners was that what happened to Sandberg and Levy wasn’t really sad—or at least wasn’t sad enough to merit a book—because of their identities as wealthy, privileged white ladies. Are there thousands of greater tragedies happening in the world every day than a wealthy, privileged white lady losing her husband or having a miscarriage? Yes, but that’s because death and miscarriages are common natural occurrences—it has nothing to do with the fact of her wealth, privilege, or whiteness, and it’s gross to say that a personal tragedy isn’t really sad because the person experiencing it has been fortunate in other ways.

I particularly didn’t understand the ire directed at Levy; I get why it can be hard to muster sympathy for someone with Sandberg’s net worth (not to mention that she had previously committed the unpardonable sin of pushing corporate feminism), but Levy is just a writer, same as many of the people who were writing nasty reviews. Now you’re not allowed to be sad about your miscarriage because you have a successful career at the New Yorker? Where does this hostility spring from? Why is it so common in people who otherwise claim to value compassion? Maybe it’s jealousy; maybe it’s virtue signaling; maybe it’s genuine contempt. But I don’t think I’ll ever comprehend the desire of a certain set of educated white lefties to castigate and punish people for the crime of…being like them.

Now I know what you are thinking: you are a (relatively) wealthy, privileged white lady, so of course you think this is the biggest problem facing American society. Let me make it clear: I don’t. I don’t have any truck with people who say, “Well, the left can sometimes be rhetorically excessive, and so 63 million people voting for a racist conman was inevitable.” Having someone you likely don’t even know say something mean about you on the Internet is no excuse for embracing harmful, reactionary politics. Privileged people have been cut all the slack in the world for millennia; some randos on the Internet are trying to balance the scales, and if they go too far sometimes, their hearts are probably in the right place. I’d still cast my lot with the lefty identarians than with, say, Breitbart readers (who are of course nothing but righty identarians) 95 percent of the time, and no amount of hurt feelings and white fragility is likely to change that. But I think that we could all stand to be kinder and gentler to one another. I don’t think that you need to be suffering more than anyone else in the world to have you experience and perspective considered valid and worthwhile. I don’t think that assuming the worst of someone because of an identity they can’t control—whatever that identity may be—makes society more just. I don’t think anyone gets convinced of anything by being yelled at and told that they’re terrible, again, not because of anything they did, but because of who they are. And considering where we are right now, we need everyone on our team who we can get.

So anyway, here’s some ice cream. Apples and honey are the traditional foods for this time of year in the Jewish calendar, and Mark and I are double-honey users since you are also supposed to eat honey in your first year of marriage. We made this honey ice cream together, which was so much fun! My favorite part was watching the honeycomb rise in the pot (and almost, but not quite, boil over). As with all Ample Hills recipes, I halved the recipe for the mix-in and still had way too much. Enjoy this delicious mix of creamy ice cream and crunchy honeycomb at your break fast, or whenever, really! Shana tovah and chatimah tovah to one and all!

Honey Ice ream

From the Ample Hills Cookbook

Ingredients

For the honeycomb (again, I halved this recipe and still had a lot left over):

  • Butter for the baking sheet
  • 2 cups organic cane sugar
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 7 tablespoons golden syrup
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking soda

For the “Walt’s Dream” ice cream:

  • 3/4 cup organic cane sugar
  • 1/2 cup skim milk powder
  • 1 2/3 cups whole milk
  • 1 2/3 cups heavy cream
  • 3 egg yolks

Directions

  1. Make the honeycomb candy: Butter a 12-by-18-inch rimmed baking sheet and line it with parchment paper.
  2. In a large saucepan, combine the sugar, honey, syrup, and 2/3 cup water. Whisk to combine. Clip a candy thermometer to the saucepan and set the pan over medium-high heat. Cook until the syrup reaches 305ºF. (The syrup will bubble and spit, so please be careful.)
  3. Remove the pan from the heat and, wearing an oven mitt for protection, whisk in the baking soda. Whisk vigorously for a few moments to make sure you’ve incorporated all the little bits of baking soda, then stand back and watch the honeycomb grow.
  4. When the honeycomb stops growing up the sides of the pot, gently pour it onto the prepared baking sheet. Let it cool. Refrigerate the candy for 30 minutes, then chop it into bite-size pieces.

Prepare Walt’s Dream: Prepare an ice bath in your sink or in a large heatproof bowl.

  1. In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, skim milk powder, and milk. Stir with a hand mixer or whisk until smooth. Make sure the skim milk powder is wholly dissolved into the mixture and that no lumps remain (any remaining sugar granules will dissolve over the heat). Stir in the cream.
  2. Clip a candy thermometer to the saucepan and set the pan over medium heat. Cook, stirring often with a rubber spatula and scraping the bottom of the pan to prevent sticking and burning, until the mixture reaches 110ºF, 5 to 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat.
  3. Place the egg yolks in a medium bowl. While whisking, slowly pour in 1/2 cup of the hot milk mixture to temper the egg yolks. Continue to whisk slowly until the mixture is an even color and consistency, then whisk the egg-yolk mixture back into the remaining milk mixture.
  4. Return the pan to the stovetop over medium heat and continue cooking the mixture, stirring often, until it reaches 165ºF, 5 to 10 minutes more.
  5. Transfer the pan to the prepared ice bath and let cool for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour the ice cream base through a wire-mesh strainer into a storage container and place in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 hours, or until completely cool.
  6. Now you’re ready to make ice cream! Transfer the cooled base to an ice cream maker and churn it according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Or, if you want, you can keep it in the refrigerator for up to 3 days before churning.
  7. Transfer the ice cream to a storage container, folding in the pieces of honeycomb candy as you do. Use as much of the candy as you want; you won’t necessarily need the whole batch. Serve immediately or harden in your freezer for 8 to 12 hours for a more scoopable ice cream.

Female Friendship / Cheesecake Ice Cream

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This week’s recipe: Cheesecake Ice Cream

Oh look, it’s the last day of June and I’ve forgotten to blog all month. Oh well.

Three things happened this month that have made me think a lot about the nature of female friendship. First, my friends threw me an absolutely perfect bachelorette party that left me feeling so warm and fuzzy. The following week, I watched the cast of Mean Girls perform at the Tonys. And the week after that, I finally got my hands on the Hey Ladies book, which I finished in two days.

Let’s work backwards. Hey Ladies started as a series by Michelle Markowitz and Caroline Moss on the late lamented feminist website The Toast. It revolves around eight girlfriends, all of them different flavors of basic bitch, as they plan various parties and hangouts via emails that inevitably begin with “Hey ladies!” There’s Ali, the calculating Machiavelli whose signature move is to unilaterally book an expensive activity for the group and then demand that everyone Venmo her their share of the cost; the perpetually broke Nicole, who is constantly launching half-baked entrepreneurial schemes; Katie, who takes both her inconsequential media job and her lopsided romantic relationships way too seriously; Jen, whose very being revolves around her fiancé/husband; and Gracie, the sane one who acts as a straight woman (mostly—I won’t spoil the end of the book but it was genuinely chilling). The other three ladies, Ashley, Morgan, and Caitlin, were neglected in the series but are given personalities for the book (well, sort of personalities; respectively, lives in Connecticut, lives in Brooklyn, aspiring lifestyle guru). So if you are looking for nuanced characters and deeply felt writing, this is probably not the book for you—although I didn’t know how much I needed the cold war between Ali and Jen’s passive-aggressive WASP mother until this book.  But despite the broadness of their characterization, you’ve probably known one or more of these girls if you’re a 20-something in New York. And if you’re a 20-something woman almost anywhere in America, you’ve been part of “Hey ladies!” e-mail chain.

Markowitz and Moss have insisted, in the book’s foreword and in press interviews, that their goal here is not to make fun of women, and that the book’s message is actually about the power of female friendship. I don’t buy it. Other than a few intragroup relationships here and there, I don’t even buy that these girls like each other. Which makes sense—there’s not much to like in either self-absorbed urban millennials or the wedding industry, which are this book’s two main targets—but I was curious as to why the authors felt the need to defend the Hey Ladies ladies, when most people enjoy them as a hate-read. Does feminism mean having to stick up for any expression of femininity, no matter how toxic? It doesn’t, and it shouldn’t, but I think that Markowitz and Moss’ impulse comes from a genuine desire to avoid denigrating women. After all, everything about femininity is policed: the way women talk, the way we dress, whether or not we wear makeup, whether or not we “lean in” at work, how we raise children, the books we read and the movies and TV we watch. Making fun of the way we plan parties—and by extension, how we conduct our friendships—is just the latest pile-on, and could easily be seen as a cheap shot, since there are so few positive portrayals of female friendships in popular media as it is.

See: Mean Girls. Fourteen years after the movie came out it’s as culturally prominent as ever, its deathless jokes and references now strewn throughout a hit musical on Broadway. I was interested in seeing the show until I saw the Tonys performance, which was…underwhelming, but from what I’ve heard, it’s very similar to the movie but modernized for the age of social media. If you’ve never seen it (and if so, what’s wrong with you???), it follows a formerly homeschooled wide-eyed innocent named Cady as she goes to high school for the first time and becomes part of a popular clique known as the Plastics. It was based on a book, Queen Bees and Wannabes, which tells parents about how to help their daughters navigate “Girl World” throughout adolescence.

What is Girl World? Cady, who spent her childhood in Africa, frequently contrasts it with the blunt brutality of the animal kingdom; while Girl World is just as vicious, its methods are much sneakier. Girls communicate through manipulation, undermining, and passive-aggression instead of speaking directly. The violence they do to each other is psychological, not physical. The closer someone is to you, the deeper they can wound you. I can’t think of a single example of a healthy female friendship in the entire movie—not between any of the Plastics, not between Cady and her “art freak” friend Janice, not between any of the other minor characters who constantly tear each other down.

This matters because Mean Girls is such a powerful and enduring representation of how girls socialize and are socialized. It wasn’t the first or last movie about how terrible girls can be to each other, but it’s the one that’s stayed most firmly in the cultural zeitgeist. Ali from Hey Ladies is definitely a spiritual descendent of Regina George. The Plastics launched four-way call phone call attacks; the Hey Ladies ladies send each other misleadingly cropped screen shots and say one thing on the group e-mail while privately texting each other their true feelings. Mean Girls has become the archetypical depiction of female “friendship,” and while it takes place in high school, its tropes—that women are catty, jealous, gossipy, underhandedly competitive, quick to fight over boys, etc.—have long characterized society’s views of female relationships generally, regardless of age.

There are exceptions, of course. My personal favorite is Leslie and Ann’s friendship in Parks and Recreation. They’re two very different women with different personalities and different priorities. Sometimes they fight and sometimes they disappoint each other and, yes, sometimes they even go after the same guy. But they’re always loving, loyal, and supportive. They bring out each other’s best qualities. They make each other’s lives better.

These are the kinds of female friendships that I want, and I’m so fortunate that these are the kind of female friendships that I have. You would be amazed at the amount of drama that can spring up around a bachelorette party—not for nothing was the very first Hey Ladies entry an attempt to plan such an event— and it warmed my cold cynical heart to have friends who were able to make me feel so special. And moreover, they did so in a way that was unique to me, not just the typical social media performance with matching tank tops and its #squadgoals. And now I’m policing the way women use social media, natch. It’s a hard urge to resist, and Mean Girls and Hey Ladies are a lot of fun, but let’s all try to give the real power of real female friendships the credit it deserves.

So anyway, here’s some ice cream. Last September, Mark and I went to Carmel, California. It’s a beautiful area with amazing food and wine, and the best dinner we had there was at a restaurant called The Bench, which overlooks the 18th hole of the Pebble Beach golf course. It was so memorably delicious that, in honor of Mark’s and my negative-three-month wedding anniversary, I decided to try to recreate it: the flatbread appetizers, the halibut and forbidden rice entree, the bottle of excellent white wine, and most of all, the dessert. Although it had been five months at that point since Mark and I had gotten engaged, we were riding that train hard, and when we told The Bench that we were “recently” engaged, they gave us a free dessert of strawberry cobbler and cheesecake ice cream. I never would have chosen that dessert to order but I’m so glad they gave chose it for us, because it was incredible, especially the cheesecake ice cream. Cheesecake ice cream is definitely a once-a-year type treat, but what a treat! You can’t go wrong with a David Lebovitz recipe, so that’s what I picked for our special dinner. Was it as good as the one we had at The Bench? Honestly, who cares, it’s cheesecake ice cream!

Cheesecake Ice Cream

From The Perfect Scoop

Ingredients
8 ounces cream cheese
1 lemon, preferably unsprayed
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup half-and-half
2/3 cup sugar
pinch of salt

Instructions
Cut the cream cheese into small pieces. Zest the lemon directly into a blender or food processor, then add the cream cheese, sour cream, half-and-half, sugar, and salt, and puree until smooth. Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, then freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.