Thursday, June 30, 2011

Michelle Bachman

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

At the Farm Market

Today at the farm market I was at the fanciest of the farm stands trying desperately not to blow my whole farm market budget on tiny eggplants and exotic greens when a woman with two kids, maybe they were eight and seven or thereabouts, dropped buckets of stuff on the counter. Looking at her pile of verdure I wondered what her kitchen looked like and if I walked into it would I instantly forget that I'm incredibly privileged because even with the many blessings I do have, I don't have a wide expanse of counter space punctuated by high-end appliances.

But the real psychic injury wasn't inflicted by what she was buying. No. The real injury came from what her kids were doing while she was shopping. One, a girl, was eating a zucchini and the other, a boy, a cucumber. Just like that. Raw. Like they were lollipops. Then, the boy grabbed one of those darling little peppers that you can get in tapas restaurants char-grilled and salted and started chomping on it. "Mom!" he exclaimed, "This is really good!"

"Good," the mom answered, hardly paying attention for fear of dropping her seventy-five dollars worth of braising greens, "good."

"Yeah," he went on, "It's really spicy, but I'm eating it with the cucumber and it's really good!"

For the record, last weekend I made zucchini and corn fritters on the off chance that Elliot would take one bite of a vegetable if it also offered a deep fried experience. He did take one bite, of the oil-soaked edge. "I like the crunchy part," Elliot told me. He left the rest on the plate. Maybe the next time I should just lay a shiny raw pepper next to the fritter. Maybe the salty-spicy combo will be just the ticket. And that pepper? It won't take up any counter space at all.

Monday, June 27, 2011

What I Learned Today: Or, When Baking from Your Freezer

If you have a hunk of dough that's been in your freezer for a while, and if you decide that you'd better defrost it before it's too late and it goes all freezer-burned, and if, once defrosted, you decide that that dough will roll into the perfect crust for a nice quiche you could tuck into for at least two dinners and possibly a lunch, do just one thing before you bake off that dough: Taste it. Because if you taste it before you bake it, you might realize, before it's too late, that that dough isn't meant for a pie or quiche. No. That dough that's been tossing around the back of the freezer for going on three months? That dough there is butter-cookie dough that might have been made for chocolate hamentaschen. And while it's great filled with chocolate, topping it with eggs, cream and cheese is slightly less successful. I leave it to you to decide just how slight that success might have been.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Taxes, the Debt and Republicans

Andrew Sullivan on what's so wrong with the Congressional Republicans' position on raising taxes (and stripping tax breaks from large corporations) and the debt.

Bridesmaids & Beauty & Funny

Last night, with my husband out of town and my babysitter available, I went on a date with a fabulous friend and (finally) saw Bridesmaids. I may be the last lady on earth to see it, but that doesn't matter, I enjoyed it and I'm going to give a few reasons why.

First, of course, it's very, very funny. Second, it's funny. Third, Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph, they look like women I know. Sure, Kristin Wiig is tall and skinny, but she's tall and skinny in that noodle-icious way that says, to me, at least, that she was born that way and will die that way and sure she probably works out, but she's no Jennifer Aniston-I-lost-20-pounds-when-I-was-on-Friends-so-I-could-be-in-movies. But I don't want to talk about her tallness or skinniness, I want to talk about her skin. It has wrinkles! When she smiles or frowns, you can see them, all around her mouth, by her eyes, they're All Over Her Face! That means her face looks like the faces of women I actually know. Like me! It was such a relief. As for Maya Rudolph, she's no Jennifer Aniston-I-lost-20-pounds-so-I-could-be-in-movies either. No. She, too, looks like women I know. Her breasts are full and so is her body and there was not even one muscle in her arms. Not one! Mine either!

Then there's a scene at the very beginning of the movie when Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph have breakfast and watching it for me was so familiar. Granted, I'm not as funny as Wiig or Rudolph, but over a short stack and eggs, the two woman showed us that precious safe harbor women can make for each other; the fear of its loss upon marriage is real and, in my experience, not without foundation. It's not that the connection goes away (although sometimes it does, quite brutally), it's that in married life, there's so little time to hang around that harbor of old friendship. Meals end, kids must be picked up, events must be attended, things have to happen.

Back in May, I read an essay about Bridesmaids by Michelle Dean in The Awl. In it she argues that Bridesmaids is really, really not a feminist movie for all kinds of reasons. Part of me wants to rebut her point by point, but a bigger part of me wants to say, "Meh, and?" There are a few other scenes between Wiig and Rudolph besides the breakfast scene which felt very true to me, and scenes -- did I say this already? -- that are very funny, in both broad and specific ways. So the movie isn't a big feminist breakthrough -- it's a big Hollywood movie that follows the act structure a Hollywood movie demands. But it also shows at least pieces of a deep relationship between two women that doesn't end with one or both of them dead. (Thelma and Louise, Entre Nous, Still Life with Angels - does it matter that two out of three of those movies are French?) Sure, it's not exactly a full-on feminist breakthrough, but it's not Pretty Woman, either.

Lemon Tart

Generally speaking, lemon tart is not my thing. I made one once, homemade curd and all, for a friend's birthday (because lemon tart really, really is her thing), and I liked it fine, but I didn't get all woozy. That said, I'm definitely going to make this lemon tart. I have to work on my crusts and it sounds -- what's the word? -- dreamy.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

What's the Matter with Lunch?

What is it about lunch? When I ask a parent -- check that, when I ask a mother of school-aged children who are out of school how things are going, she almost always says, "What a relief it is not to make lunch!" And when I talked to a friend whose child is a toddler going to his first drop-off camp, which requires a packed lunch, she said, "I think about lunch all the time." As for me, my kids are now in a camp where they're given lunch. Not only are their food horizons expanding ("Today I had meatballs for lunch! And apple and peas and carrots!"), each morning I pace the kitchen in a state of easy contentment murmuring, "I don't have to make lunch...I don't have to make lunch...."

What's going on with lunch?

Like every other meal, lunch has to happen, each and every day. Unlike those other meals, you can't wing it with your kids. You can't run out and pick up a salad for them, or a turkey wrap (which, after reading The Ask, I can no longer eat anyway). No, none of that applies to lunch for your kids. Instead, it goes to school with them, and many days, it comes right back home. Its return, in full or partial format, is hard evidence of culinary failure. Sometimes I think I'm in some kind of pitched battle with my kids: Would it kill my son to eat a yogurt squeezer? Why won't my daughter try sunflower butter? Why won't my son eat bread? But, if the sandwich containers come home empty, I repeat the successful sandwich, over and over, until I run out of bread, throw away the bag, and can't remember which type of bread got eaten. Once, my daughter, who typically ate three bites of her grilled cheese, told me I wasn't sending enough food in her lunch box. "I want five things," she told me, "and a break from grilled cheese."

So for me, at least, not only does lunch mean the constant assembly and cleaning of plastic containers (which we use instead of snack bags and tin foil), it means exposure of my worst food habits, my ruts, my lack of creativity, ingenuity, verve. I'm beaten down my lunch, except, it turns out, during the summer, when, made by someone else five days each week, it's the perfect meal.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Red Cooked Pork, or, What I'm Not Writing

I had a variety of topics in mind for posting today. For instance, I was thinking of posting something about my changing relationship to writing and, by extension, to blogging. I also considered writing about body image and girls and how I wish we'd called "The Skinny" "If You Want the Cookie Have the Cookie." I thought about writing about seeing a very old friend (30 years we've been friends!) and what that felt like and I thought about writing about how I feel conflicted about writing about my kids, the post on body image notwithstanding (although maybe exactly standing). In any case, instead of any of that, I'm writing about this post from my friend and former boss Kian Lam Kho over at his blog Red Cook. Kian is a wonderful person and an astonishing cook and just once in my life I've eaten his Red Cooked Pork and it was transcendent. Here he talks about how to make it. I doubt I will ever make it, but what difference does that make? A girl can dream......

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

My First Real Book Review

Months ago, a review I wrote for Moment Magazine of a book called Kosher Nation was published. I didn't even know! If you're curious, here's the link. It's my first book review not on this blog.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Judy Moody and the Total Bummer Summer Movie

The New York Times said Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer was great. Well, I saw the moving on Saturday with my kids, and the New York Times was wrong.

Here's one thing: Judy's annoying. Watching her face you could practically see her thinking, "Now I have to make my eyes really wide!" Another thing: Everyone in this movie wears a lot of lipstick (except Judy's brother Stink, who was pretty terrific, in fact, but doesn't have much in the way of lips). A third thing: Everyone, save Judy's teacher who drives an ice cream truck for a summer job (no comment on the socio-economics of that) is white, white, white. Maybe in the opening last-day-of-school classroom scene there are some kids who aren't white, but otherwise,there's not an Asian kid, a South Asian kid in sight, never mind a Latino child or African American. Finally, nothing happens. I mean nothing emotional happens. Judy's parents leave, enter wacky, artsy aunt, Judy pursues "thrill points," has a little tiff with the one friend she's left with after her other friends leave, then there's a big car chase. The fight with the friend is unresolved and there's no heart-to-heart with the aunt about choices and opportunities or friendship and what makes something fun meaningful, too. There's no moment when Judy, or anyone else in the movie reflects on anything. I know such a scene would've been totally predictable, but still, I missed it, kind of like I missed Bruce Willis when I watched Keaneu Reeves in Speed.

Sure the movie had cute animation and was colorful and it might just be that I was feeling super cranky when I saw it, might be that Judy Moody is a total bummer of a summer movie. But, I have high hopes for Winnie the Pooh.

Thursday, June 9, 2011


New York City is going to spend millions developing a test to be given to students to measure teacher performance.

"Other states, including Kentucky, tried similar tests, Dr. Koretz said, but abandoned them, partly because they could not compare results from year to year. Teachers were also having their students practice the particular skills they knew would be tested, meaning the exam was measuring test preparation, not necessarily broader learning, which became an issue in New York’s state standardized tests."

Montgomery County has developed a peer-review system for teachers to evaluate and mentor each other. Everyone agrees it's great; it doesn't have a standardized component, though, so it won't qualify for Race to the Top money. Reporting on the program in the New York Times, Michael Winerip writes:

"So here is where things stand: Montgomery’s PAR program (Peer Assistance and Review), which has worked beautifully for 11 years, is not acceptable. But the Maryland plan — which does not exist yet — meets federal standards."

That all makes so much sense, right?

Then again, there's climate change to worry about. Which is to say, testing sucks but I really wish the environmental lobby were as effective as that of the educational test makers.

Sunday, June 5, 2011


When this past week's New Yorker arrived with its profile of Mitt Romney and his campaign by Ryan Lizza, I thought to myself, "Interesting, Lizza just had another article recently." Then I thought, "Oh, I should really read this." And then it hit me: The election is now. I mean, sure, it's still early, but, really, in six months, it's going to be all election all the time. Sarah Palin and Donald Trump stepping out for pizza will be just lunch compared to the truly trenchant analysis of, say, Michelle Obama's dresses and how often she's going sleeveless to flex her muscles on the campaign trail.

But really what the upcoming election brings home is how quickly time has slipped by since the last election. The 2008 primary - that primary! When it was over, there came the terrible, jaw clenching anxiety that would wash over me at the very flicker of a thought that Obama might lose the general election. And even though there's a lot I could gripe about when it comes to the administration, I won't, because fundamentally, it's not so bad and the thought of Obama losing in 2012 is completely, thoroughly, and deeply awful. (Full disclosure: I had to stop myself from writing "it could be much worse" because I want to be Positive! Because if Ralph Nader taught us anything other than seat belts matter, it's that election results really, really matter.)

Which is to say, "Time, she flies." And elections, they must be won, by our team.