Key West

So remember I did this thing for San Francisco where I detailed our trip for posterity? I’m doing it again, for my trip with my mom and my sister to Key West. Don’t care? Don’t read.

Saturday

Jason and Zoe drove me to the airport Saturday morning. Although Zoe had been asking if I could put her in my suitcase Friday night, and saying that she ought to come because she likes me and loves G.C. (and I suspect my husband didn’t tell her Aunt Kate was also coming, or I can only imagine her request would be more vociferous), by Saturday morning she was pretty sanguine. She blew me a kiss and smiled at me and I was alone in an airport.

Alone in an airport. Is there a greater pleasure? The only real problem is that you have to bring your bags with you everywhere you go; normally when I am with Jason and Zoe, Jason forms a station at the gate where bags can be left, and I can come and go as I please – but of course, since the advent of Zoe, “as I please” has meant “when Zoe needs a diaper change/help on the potty”. So I will take a little alone time, especially since the O’Hare United/Continental terminal has bathroom stalls large enough to fit a rolling carry-on, a large purse, and a Ricki.

The flight was uneventful. I mostly slept and did the crossword puzzle in the in-flight magazine. Kate and Mom met me at the gate and we proceeded to the rental car counter, which had about fourteen computers and two or three people to work the computers. My mother was annoyed, but this is like the waiting room thing. When you don’t have small children, being expected to wait in a waiting room or on a long line is frustrating. When you have small children, and they’re not with you, the waiting room is paradise and a long line is no big deal. So I was not annoyed.

We got a red Chrysler Sebring which was cool but it was a minor challenge to fit all of our stuff in it. I drove and Kate shouted directions from the back seat. We hit major traffic once we got on Rte 1 before we were on the islands proper, but then it cleared. Again, Mom and Kate were annoyed by the traffic. I was sanguine. It had been hours since anyone had called out, “Mommy!” and I had had to respond. (And I don’t just mean Zoe.)

Kate and Mom had a specific fish restaurant in mind for a late lunch (and getting later every moment we sat in traffic) but knew neither the island it was on or its name. And yet, we found it! The Fish House, near the bottom of Key Largo, if you’re curious.

We had put the top of the car up to go into the restaurant, then had a hell of a time getting it back down again, although I suspect I was being more finicky than necessary.

Then disaster. I stopped for a crab crossing on Islamorada – hey, other cars were stopping, too! – and as I tried to determine whether or not the crab had reached safety, another car whomped me from behind. He was going so fast his air bags deployed.

The passenger in the other car was herself an insurance agent, so she was pretty calm about the whole thing, even friendly and chatty. We exchanged information quickly and then waited.

The sheriff – or possibly deputy sheriff – came right away but he couldn’t do the traffic report; we were supposed to wait for the Highway Patrol.  The Rescue guys came. Only my sister needed to be checked by them – her head had hit the seat in front of her – and they determined she was fine.

Then we waited. And waited. And waited. We called Hertz. They said we could leave. The insurance agent lady said we could leave. Although, to be fair, she also didn’t want her man getting a ticket. But the Hertz guy said it, too. The Hertz guy who was in India and had clearly never heard of the Florida Keys, never mind Florida automotive laws, but he knew Hertz company policy, so that’s enough, really.

Anyway, after much waiting, we were back on the road, and finally arrived at our hotel at around 8:30 or so. (The crab, by the way, scuttled back and forth across the road several times before disappearing on the other side. It did not seem grateful at all that sparing its life had caused us so much trouble.) Our hotel, the Santa Maria, was swanky. There was a little reception area, manned that night and frequently that weekend by the ever-friendly Wolfgang. The reception area was sort of its own building, though it connected to the bar/restaurant that we did not frequent, and then you went out to the lovely pool/courtyard, and then we went up to our suite, which was gorgeous. A full kitchen so nice I felt bad for not cooking, a small living room, several balconies, and then two bedrooms upstairs.

It was very late but we were jonesing for something Key lime-y, and also needed some drug store items, so we went out to Duval St. and found some Key lime pie gelato, which was excellent. I love it when ice cream (or other frozen dessert products) have pieces of pie crust in them. My sister and I contemplated hitting a drag show, but we were too tired. After a little more meandering we went home and went to bed.

Sunday

Sunday morning we tried to walk down to Dog Beach, which was allegedly by our hotel, but we did not see much beach that was not the private property of some hotel, and we did not see dogs. I mean, we didn’t see dogs then. Throughout the weekend, we met quite a number of very nice dogs, including a beautiful Great Dane that wanted nothing to do with us and a golden retriever who retrieved dollar bills for her man. Then we sunned ourselves by the pool for a while. The pool was saline, which is what I want if we put in a pool. There were also free smoothies and ice water with pieces of fruit in it. We read, we tanned, we swam. We went to Camille’s for brunch and had delicious crab cakes and omelets. We pooled some more. Then we got dressed and headed out. We swung by Southernmost point, where we saw my favorite site of the trip, the Southernmost Iguana.

See, for those of you who’ve never been to Key West, there are Southernmost everything. The Southernmost house in the US (which the owner deliberately built to be 18″ longer than the house across the street, so that they could call themselves the Southernmost). The Southernmost Hotel. The Southernmost Hotel on the Beach. The Southernmost tattoo parlor. I am not making that up. I think at the Southernmost tattoo parlor, one ought to get a tattoo of the Southernmost Point . . . on the bottom of one’s feet. Your own southernmost point, as it were.

(The other thing they have is places Ernest Hemingway drank. They have Sloppy Joe’s, the bar where he drank, and then the other bar, which is now on the location of the original Sloppy Joe’s, so it’s the physical location where Ernest Hemingway drank.)

Then it was on to Duval, where we shopped and shopped and shopped and shopped and shopped. Oh my Lord. I do not know any shoppers with more stamina than my mom and my sister. For serious.

Kate and I tried on tiaras at a schmancy gallery. Don’t we look great in tiaras? We are clearly descended from royalty. We even both have the longer second toes to prove it!

I had made reservations at Cafe Marquesa for my mom’s birthday. It’s a swanky restaurant connected to a swanky hotel off of Duval. We were a bit early and they were a bit short-staffed, so they had to quickly decorate the table once we were already seated, but the food was amazing. We had crab cakes and arugula salad with tomatoes and cheese and truffle oil, and then each of us had a different fish, and of course we shared our dishes. We skipped dessert because the shop lady at one of the stores – where we purchased an adorable dog purse for Zoe and possibly some other things; I don’t remember – had told us about a place called Better than Sex, a dessert restaurant, and said we had to try it. I had actually read about it while searching for a place to take Mom for her birthday, but was concerned that, even with her extensive experience reading romance novels, Mom might be mortified and disapproving of a place with dishes named “Peanut Butter Perversion” and “Tongue Bath Truffle.” (No, I’m not making these up.) So after our fish, we shopped some more, then headed for Better Than Sex. We almost didn’t get in because it was all booked, but there was a table that the people who’d reserved it were late for, and we ended up getting that one. We had the Tongue Bath Truffle (flourless chocolate cake with raspberry sorbet), the “Between My Red Velvet Sheets” Cheesecake (umm . . . yeah, this one doesn’t really need translation, does it?), and the chocolate grilled cheese (dark chocolate and brie) with strawberry-prosecco soup, which I do not recall having an adorable name but I suppose it must have.

So did it live up to its name? It was pretty good. But better? Well . . . I guess it depends on the sex.

It was, however, fully embarrassing. The perky blonde waitress had to explain that the daily specials are called “One Night Stands” and that the wine drinks have chocolate around the rim, which they call a “rim job.” Oy. And Kate and I ordered a Carly’s Button wine drink, and the dark chocolate rim did in fact have a little white chocolate button. Good thing it’s so dark in there no one can see you blush.

Also my mom kept commenting that she’d never encountered such an expensive ice cream parlor and we had to keep pointing out that it was in no way, shape, or form an ice cream parlor.

After that we were fully exhausted so we went home and went to bed.

Monday

The next day we woke up and did some more pooling. Then we went to lunch at this other place the shop lady had recommended, Santiago’s Bodega. Boy was that off the beaten path. We went through quite a few blocks with seemingly abandoned houses, and across the street from an abandoned lot populated by a rooster, two hens, and their preteen-ish chicks. We saw chickens crossing the road! Hahaha!

The restaurant was very nice, small plates, some of which were Spanish and some of which were not. My mom and sister had never had bacon (well, prosciutto)-wrapped dates before, so they were impressed. Our waitress was very pregnant but moving around like it ain’t no thing.

Then we went to Hemingway’s house, which was cool. (Looking up that link, I discovered that Hemingway was born in Oak Park, IL! I’ve been down that way a few times to go poke around Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and studio. Cool!) We saw the six-toed cats. Actually, even my very moderate cat allergies were tripped by just being outside Hemingway’s house. But it was cool to see. They have some of his own books, and his checks, which are still for more money than I might ever see from writing. It’s a really nice house; I didn’t realize Hemingway had made so much money in his own lifetime. It seems wrong somehow. It also seems wrong that I’ve read so little Hemingway. I should get on that.

More shopping. So much shopping. When we got hot and crabby we stopped at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville, the touristiest of all tourist traps on Duval. But we needed tall drinks and air conditioning, so what were we to do? Then more shopping. Then the sunset celebration at Mallory Square. We saw a rooster up a tree, which was pretty cool.

My favorite thing were the little kids dancing to the calypso band by the entrance. They later came to sit next to us to watch the sunset. The little girl wanted to know what the sun was going to do and was not impressed by the answer. The little boy announced to my sister, “Boat!” and then, “Poop!” And the sunset looked really cool. It was behind a cloud but it made these awesome gray-blue streaks in the sky.

We promised we would not stop and shop on the way back to the hotel because we had 9:30 reservations but we may have ducked into a few stores. Then back to the hotel for a quick change and then to Louie’s Backyard, which was luckily right around the corner. We were seated on the back porch, and I was concerned we’d be too hot, but really with the sun down and the breeze coming off the water, it was fine. Some more swanky fish and finally, finally, a slice of Key lime pie.

We went back to the hotel and Kate generously agreed to accompany me downstairs so I could have a night swim. Night swimming is possibly my favorite thing to do in the world and I like to take advantage of it whenever there is no one to tell me not to. I floated on my back a lot. I saw Saturn. (I checked it with my Night Sky app so I know it was, in fact, Saturn.)

Tuesday

Tuesday morning we had to hustle. Mom credited me with getting us out the door by 10, saying I used my skills as a toddler-wrangler. Kate was offended that she wasn’t given credit, and I pointed out that they were a lot more cooperative than the people I am used to getting out the door. We went to Theater of the Sea on Islamorada, which is a place where they rescue and take care of various animals and also display them, so we saw a three-legged turtle and a turtle that appeared to be paralyzed in the back legs, and some sea lions and a whole lot of parrots, and we watched the parrots perform their tricks. Parrots are hella smart, y’all.

Then I approved lunch at The Fish House, which I emphatically should not have done, because it meant putting pedal to the metal, arriving at the airport and leaving my mom and sister to deal with Hertz, and begging the security guy to let me on the priority line through security because my plane was boarding, like, now, and the line was miles long. I hate being that person. But I made my flight.

And now I’m home again.

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A Reminder

The first episode of Season Whatever This Is of So You Think You Can Dance premiered last night! I haven’t watched yet, but I just want to remind y’all that when the auditions are over and the season proper begins, Kate and I will be blogging it! The new format, Cat Deeley’s outfits, Mary Murphy’s screeching, Nigel’s pretense at not being homophobic (but at least now it’s more incumbent on public figures to pretend not to be homophobic than to pretend not to be gay, right?), and, of course, the dancing! Are you psyched or what?!

An Anecdote, and Fifty Shades of Grey – Redux

Note: So here’s what happened. I wrote this post. Then I went to a romance writer’s conference. It became clear to me that saying bad things about other romance novels, etc., in a public forum was a no-no for an aspiring writer. So I took this post down. Then several people recently asked me what I thought of Fifty Shades of Grey, and I couldn’t just point them to my post. So I decided to put this back up. Partially because, honestly, it’s not really that scathing. I mean, I didn’t much like the book, but that’s not the point of the post; it’s more about a certain trope when it comes to make a female character likable. Also, in addition to the bazillions its made in sales, Fifty Shades got a $7 million dollar movie deal. So it can take a little thoughtful criticism, I should think.

Plus I need it to explain why I’m writing a series on female agency and pop culture.

Also I like the anecdote. So here it is in its original glory:

An Anecdote, and Fifty Shades of Grey

When I was a teenager, my dad and I very much enjoyed playing You Don’t Know Jack together. For those you who don’t know, this was a trivia computer game with a whole lot of snark and pop culture references. In the last iteration of it that we played, when you started the game, an either-or question would pop up, not a trivia question but an opinion question, and you’d get a theme for your puzzle based on the answer to the question. But the theme did not obviously or logically relate to the question. So one time my dad and I answered the starting question and we got the theme of . . . Fetishes and Fetishistic Sex.

So now we were stuck in a quandary. We could admit to each other, via playing the game, that we knew anything about the topic at all – and witness the other having knowledge of this topic – OR one of us could say to the other, “I forfeit.”

Any of you who know my father and me know that there was no real choice there. Of course we played. We couldn’t make eye contact pretty much the entire time. We didn’t crow over it every time we got a question right, like we usually did. But we certainly didn’t forfeit.

Why am I telling this story now? Oh, it’s just to say this: Dad, don’t read this post.

Also, anyone who just read that anecdote and went, “Yeah, Ricki, I don’t really want to confront the idea that you have ever heard of sex at all, never mind BDSM,” don’t read this post.

Okay? Okay.

Now about this new reading phenomenon, Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James. I wasn’t going to read it. I had read some reviews and none of them made it sound compelling to me. I’m not opposed the sub-genre; just ask my Kindle. But it sounded boring. And expensive. Then I read that it started life as Twilight fanfic and lost whatever interest I might have had.

But it’s getting all this press. And it’s selling like crazy. And I am trying to break into the romance novel market. So I figured I’d download it. For research. And not for “research,” like 90% of the other stuff on my Kindle. (Which IS for research. Also.)

I’m not going to bother reviewing it. I didn’t much like it, but I’m not going to say anything about that that’s more interesting that what others have had to say.

What I want to talk about is the way the book creates a female protagonist who is going to be both a) engaging in some pretty dirty sexual acts, and b) not at all a dirty whore AT ALL! And the necessity of doing so.

If I really wanted to do a good job of this, I should probably have read Twilight, and also Tess of the d’Ubervilles, which the female protagonist references all the time, to get a handle on this book. But what is this, a dissertation? No, it’s my blog post. So I’ll just stick with what I’ve got. (Although I will take the time to ponder how I could have two degrees in English Literature and not have read Tess of the d’Ubervilles.)

A brief synopsis for those of you who don’t know: The virginal college senior Anastasia Steele has a brief, and accidental, meeting with ultra-rich, ultra-hot Christian Grey. He becomes obsessed with her, stalks her a bit, tells her repeatedly to stay away from him (I actually thought that was funny because I have known plenty of girls who go out with guys who have told them, straight up, “Do not go out with me. I am bad news.” Those guys? They are never lying when they say that.), and then finally makes her an indecent proposal – that she be his “sub” for three months, under the conditions stated in the contract he presents to her. (If you don’t understand what I mean by “sub,” go put “submissive” into Google. Unless you’re at work. Then don’t.) She hems and haws. They have some sex. Some of it has some kink. Mostly they talk, endlessly, about their feelings, which is interesting (read: not at all interesting) since they are both described as having a hard time opening up. And it ends on a cliffhanger, because it’s the first in a trilogy. (And yeah, I don’t think I’m going to download the other two. I mean, I thought about it, because of this post, but it’s $20. I’ve already spent $10, and I’m not used to spending $10 on smut, so I’m really unwilling to spend $30 on smut I don’t like.)

So what does a girl have to be to find herself a) a sexy and exciting romantic/sexual prospect for a Perfect Specimen of Masculinity* like Christian Grey, and b) the heroine with whom apparently thousands of “average” women across American can identify?

*Perfect Specimen of Masculinity – Extremely hot. Extremely rich. Extremely obsessed with the heroine. Does some major philanthropic something-or-other. Has a little bit of sad in his backstory. Commandeering, but amenable to a sassy, spine-having heroine. Has taste and education. Can always make her come.

1. Not interested in his money. It goes without saying that he has to have it. But it also goes without saying that she has to not want it. And not because she already has it by the bucketful; Ana Steele does not. She just has to not be into it, the same way he has to not be into stacked, skinny blondes with lots of make-up.

This is an old trope. It’s probably in Tess of the d’Ubervilles. I know it’s a major feature of Jane Austen novels. Eliza Bennett would not be nearly as charming – would, in fact, be her irritating mother – if she liked that Darcy had bank. Similarly, Darcy would simply not get to be the hero if he didn’t.

2. Not hot. This is also not an uncommon trope in romance novels. While 1970s-’80s romance novels tended to feature stunning Spectacles of Femininity, more often than not, they feature women who do not believe themselves to be beautiful, even if they actually are. It’s unclear if Ana actually “is” since we only ever hear her point of view, but Christian Grey certainly thinks she is. And two other guys have been panting after her for four years. Plus she fits into her hot roommate’s clothes.

But we know that it’s not just in Romancelandia that women are not allowed to believe themselves to be hot, no matter the evidence. Mean Girls actually summed up this notion perfectly in its iconic exchange between Queen Bee Regina and Newbie Cady:

Queen Bee: You’re really pretty.

Cady: Thank you.

Queen Bee: So you agree? You think you’re pretty?

Cady: . . .

3. Inexperienced. I mean, Ana isn’t just inexperienced, she’s a virgin. She’s not just a virgin, she’s apparently never heard of sex. Okay, I’m exaggerating, and since I’m talking about other romance novels here, I should be clear about that, since I’ve definitely read historicals in which the heroine had actually never heard of sex. But Ana seems extremely surprised by a lot of the stuff surrounding sex. And sure, in a novel with BDSM elements, that’s not unexpected. I guess there are still wide swaths of the college-age population for whom “safe word” is not common parlance. But she seems surprised by a lot of the “vanilla” stuff, too. Like, the fact that she has sexual responses. That seems sort of shocking to her.

Then again, she takes to blow jobs like a proverbial duck.

4. Not a “true” submissive. A lot is made of this throughout the book. She has never heard of BDSM. She’s shocked by all of it, and sort of put off by it. She does not like the idea of spankings, and, most of the time, does not actually like being spanked. (Well, one out of three times she likes it. Two out of three she does not.) She is very explicit, more than once, about wanting a real relationship with Christian Grey, being extremely turned on and eventually in love with Christian Grey, but only willing to put up with this tying-up-and-spanking thing because it’s the only way to be close to him and not because she likes it. Also she’s defiant and disobedient to him.

There’s this constant tension between what we are told about her and what we see happening. We are told that she’s “not hot,” but we see three guys behaving obsessively about her. We are told that both she and Christian are kind of closed when it comes to their emotions, but they talk about them all the damn time. We are told that she’s not really all that sexual, but damn does she get into things with alacrity and swiftness (and then moans about her emotions some more). We are told that she’s not a “true sub” but, even out of the sexual realm, she seems to do basically what other, pushier people tell her to do. And then in the sexual realm she really gets off on his commanding nature, his tying her up, and even, occasionally, his hitting her. And it’s not even like, “I’m not a sub, I’m not a sub, I’m not a – Oh. I liked that. Maybe I am.” It’s more, “I’m not a sub, I’m not a sub, I’m not! Even if that thing you did just drove me crazy, I’m still not a sub! Sir!” I don’t know if that will change by the end of the trilogy, and again, I’m not reading the damn thing just to find out, but I don’t get the feeling that it will. I in fact get the distinct impression that the happy ending for this trilogy will involve making Christian less Dom, not Ana more sub.

So what’s going on here? Why is this novel getting so much press for being BDSM erotic romance while spending so much time explaining how much she’s not into that? Why does a heroine have to be unconvinced of her hotness, not into a guy’s money, and not really into sex in and of itself? And why is a book with those features being downloaded faster than videos of cuddly puppies revealing foreign atrocities?

I think the answer here is blamelessness. We want women to be blameless, and we want to be, as women, blameless. We’re in a very weird time in terms of social attitudes towards women’s sexuality. We’ve thrown away the madonna-or-whore complex and replaced it with a madonna-AND-whore complex and it’s really hard to walk the line, to not be too much of either. And this is one of the ways it’s done, through blamelessness.

Look, what happens in this book? Ana does not pursue any contact with Christian Grey; she’s pushed into his presence by her roommate, who was doggedly pursuing an interview with him. She does not, afterwards, in any way try to contact or attract him. Instead, he comes after her, over and over again, despite both of their objections. She doesn’t take the step to start calling him her boyfriend; her roommate does that. As the story goes on, all of her actions are either directed by him, or directed by the overwhelming emotions she has for him. She’s never an agent.

And as long as she’s never an agent, and certainly not an agent of her sexuality but only of her love for him, it’s okay that she totally gets off on all the spanking and bossing and Red Room of Pain stuff. Right? Because it’s not her fault. She’s not a “true submissive”; she’s not even really that into sex outside of Christian Grey. So the fact that he ties her to a wall and uses a riding crop on her and she comes like crazy? Not her fault.

Even more importantly, it’s not the reader’s fault. The reader doesn’t know from this BDSM stuff; that’s why they have to spend pages explaining it. So it’s okay if she gets off on reading about a girl tied to a wall getting off on a riding crop. Totally cool.

And partly, this is kind of what a submissive kink is about. A person who is, actually, submissive, might find it appealing to be blameless, to be without agency, to have their sexuality and their sexual choices be totally not their fault.

But Ana is not a “true submissive”! And chances are, the readers don’t feel like they are, either! Furthermore, this is really common in an form of romance – novel, movie, erotic, whatever – this compulsion to write female characters without agency and sexual awareness, in order to make them likable and relatable and all that. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you this; just watch virtually any movie or read any book. How do we know who the heroine is? She’s the one who has all these things happen to her by accident. How do we know who the villainess is? She’s the one who decides what she wants and goes for it. Why are we so terrified of women knowing how their bodies work and acting to get what they want? Why are women so readily buying into this?

I’m not trying to exempt myself here. I didn’t like this novel, but I didn’t like it for a lot of reasons. I’ve definitely read novels I’ve enjoyed, or watched movies or TV shows I’ve liked, in which things happen to the heroine without her being proactive about them, or in which she’s sort of unfamiliar with her sexuality until The Hero walks in, or what have you. But I’m just pointing it out, and pointing out the ways it intersects with this particular phenomenon. Because I do believe this book could not have been a success if Ana knew which end was up.

Another, semi-related anecdote. Quite a number of years ago, someone published an erotic BDSM romance based on Phantom of the Opera, with Christine (talk about a woman with no agency) and the Phantom as the protagonists. And there was apparently a huge backlash, from women who were enormous fans of PotO and even more enormous ‘shippers for Christine and the Phantom – and felt that the BDSM elements sullied their relationship. Excuse me? The Phantom and Christine already have a Dom/sub relationship. He takes her to his dungeon and trains her in how to please him. With her mouth!

I kid, but, you know, on the square. Because seriously, any model by which the relationship between Christine and the Phantom is a good example of romantic/sexual love is already a BDSM model. This is not to say that any BDSM model of good romantic/sexual relationships must include Christine and the Phantom. He is, after all, a murderous sociopath. But still. I think that, if you genuinely feel that the relationship between Christine and the Phantom is romantic and sexually compelling, you have a little kink in you, and you’re depriving yourself of something by not exploring it.

An Anecdote, with a Point – I Swear!

Before I get things started, I just want to say, I know y’all are thrilled to DEATH about SYTYCD starting up again, because it means Kate and I will be co-blogging about it! Keep in mind we don’t start until the actual competition, not the auditions, starts, so, you know, patience, please. But we are super-excited and I know you are, too!

Now on to the blog proper.

When I was in fifth grade, my girlfriends and I had this little thing we did at recess. See, our elementary school was across the street from a large park, with a playground on one end and a huge field. The boys used the huge field to play football. Because there were a lot of boys, and at least five of them would bring a football every day, there were always extra footballs lined up on one edge of the field. So what we’d do is, we’d wait until the quarterback threw a pass, and then we’d take one of the extra balls and throw it in at the same time, creating confusion for the boys as to which ball they were supposed to be catching. Clever, no?

It gets more clever. Because naturally after we did this three or four times in one game, the boys would get angry and go to the lunch ladies to tell on us and get us in trouble. But! We would already have two girls stationed near the lunch ladies. When the boys started walking over, the girls would turn to the lunch ladies and complain about how they weren’t letting us use the field. So now, by the time the boys got there, they were in trouble and could not get a fair hearing. Haha!

I know, we were such little shits.

So what’s my point?

My point is, with that precocious skill set, how didn’t my fifth grade girlfriends and I all become lobbyists?

Ricki Cooks the Book – My Father’s Daughter

Yeah, this is Gwynnie’s cookbook.

I know, I know, I had mixed feelings, too. She was on the cover of Bon Appetit the same month the new editor took over and my first thought was, if this is where Bon Appetit is going, I’m canceling my subscription.

Then I made her corn vichyssoise. You know what? It was really good. (And you know what else? The new Bon Appetit under Adam Rapoport is pretty sweet, too.)

Then I saw her cookbook on sale at the boardwalk for 25% off! How can you not?!

And then it sat on my shelf.

I wanted to do a post on it for a while, but I couldn’t decide what to make. Things were either too simple for a blog post, or they were things I already knew how to make, like puttanesca or panzanella, or they were fish, which Jason doesn’t eat, or they involved products like duck bacon. Duck bacon. I ask you.

But then I decided to do a whole meal of her recipes so that I could cover the meal instead of highlighting one individual, too-simple recipe. So here’s what I made:

Ten-Hour Chicken

Ingredients

1 organic whole chicken, (3-4 lb), washed and dried according to Gwynnie’s Salt Scrubs for poultry, in which you rinse the chicken in cold water, then scrub it with coarse salt, such as kosher, and then rinse it again and dry it thoroughly. Yes, I did this. Yes, I felt like a dipshit. Is there a reason I should continue doing this or was I right to feel like a dipshit?

1 lemon, halved

coarse salt

freshly ground black pepper

1/2 bunch fresh thyme (Unfortunately, I made this recipe a while ago, and I don’t remember if I used thyme or if I chose something else. I don’t really like thyme, so when a recipe calls for it, unless I really, really think thyme is the right thing, I usually pick marjoram or something.)

half a head of garlic, peeled (Do I need to tell you at this point, I probably used a whole head?)

1. Preheat oven to 200F.

2. Place chicken in rectangular roasting dish breast side down. Sqeeze lemon halves over chicken. Generously sprinkle with salt and pepper. Tuck thyme, lemon halves, and garlic in the cavity; place any extra garlic cloves around the pan. Wrap tightly with aluminum foil and put in the oven for, no joke, 9 1/2 hours.

3. Take chicken out and boost heat to 400F, on convection if possible. Unwrap, flip the bird over, and sprinkle with more salt and pepper. Roast for 15-20 minutes, until it’s nicely browned. Let chicken rest, then carve and serve.

Here is the thing about this one. You must cover the chicken in foil. I? I did not.

It actually wasn’t bad, just really very dry.

Oh, and I bought the super special chicken at Whole Foods, the kind that’s been given its own 2 acres to peck at and a lullaby sung to it each night. The kind that doesn’t grow to be 3-4 lb. So I bought two. And then I fucked them up.

Crispy Potato and Garlic Cake

Ingredients:

2 large baking potatoes, peeled (Do I need to tell you? I didn’t peel them. I don’t think.)

1/4 cup plus 1 tbsp duck fat (I just used butter. But then I discovered my Fresh Market does, in fact, sell duck fat. So, you know, next time.)

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 cloves peeled garlic, 2 crushed, 1 very finely minced

Coarse salt

1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley (I left this out)

1. Preheat the broiler

2. Boil the potatoes. Then let them cool. Then slice them in 1/8″ thick slices.

3. Heat a spoonful of duck fat/butter and a spoonful of oil in a large, non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Add one crushed garlic clove and as many slices as can fit in one layer. Cook until lightly browned. Remove to paper towel=lined plate and repeat, switching out garlic when it gets too brown.

4. Coat a small (6 – 8″) cast-iron pan with the tablespoon of duck fat/butter. Line bottom with single layer of potato slices. Sprinkle with salt. Add another layer. Repeat this process, pressing down each layer with the back of a spoon as you go. Don’t be gentle with the pressing. Stick cake under broiler until really browned and crispy, 5 minutes. Invert onto plate and scatter with minced garlic, parsley, and more salt as needed. Cut into wedges and serve.

Okay, so here’s the thing. I didn’t have duck fat. The smallest cast-iron pan Jason could find when I sent him to the store was 10″. So it didn’t cake like it was supposed to. And I think I threw some garlic in between the layers of potato cake. And it was an enormous pain in the ass from start to finish, oh, my God.

But it was still delicious.

Roasted Cauliflower

Ingredients

1 head cauliflower, core discarded, in smallish florets

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil (Seriously, put your measuring spoon away and just drizzle)

pinch coarse salt

pinch fresh pepper

1. Preheat oven to 450F.

2. In baking dish large enough to hold cauliflower in one layer, toss all ingredients together. Roast 35 minutes, or until it looks delicious.

This recipe is sort of what this cookbook is mostly about. It’s simple to the point of “Duh” but it’s delicious. Seriously, when vegetables are this good, why am I fat?

Oh, right, because potatoes are good, too.

Bitter Greens Salad with Anchovy Vinaigrette

Dressing Ingredients:

6 olive oil-packed Spanish anchovies

2 tsp Dijon mustard

2 tbsp red wine vinegar

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

freshly ground black pepper

Whiz all ingredients except oil and pepper n blender. Then with motor running, pour in oil. Then use pepper to taste.

Salad Ingredients:

1 large head escarole or puntarelle (what?) or 2 heads radicchio, washed really well and torn into small pieces (In fact, I think I mixed radicchio with some arugula and maybe one other green.)

Uh, serve.

Seriously, put lettuces and dressing together. Then eat it. I don’t know how to do instructions for salad.

Okay, this was super-unbelievably delicious. The dressing was to die. I haven’t made it since, but thinking about it now, my head is going, “Nom, nom, nom, give me MOOOOORE.”

Figures the best things Gwynnie could teach me how to make are vegetables.

“Glee” Favorite Moments

It is time to get back on this horse. Sorry (to all two of you). I’ve been very busy with my other writing. And then I’ve had that trigger-shy feeling of, “But I haven’t blogged in a week/two weeks/a month! What should I even say? It has to be awesome! Except it doesn’t matter if it’s awesome or not because no one reads my blog. Sad mopeyness. Well, of course no one reads your blog – you haven’t written in weeks! Get back on the horse, you whiney baby! Other aggressive words of encouragement such as you might hear from a curmudgeonly but ultimately lovable high school football coach in a movie! But you really should be doing the writing that you hope is going to make you money/laundry/minding the child. Especially since no one reads your blog. More sad mopeyness.” Then my Facebook status updates went from “Zoe did a thing!” to “I must rant for several paragraphs about something vaguely political and/or woman-related!” and I realized that seriously, I need to get back to blogging.

So what am I starting with? “Glee”! Sorry. It was in the hopper.

So I’d been doing this thing where I’d been posting “Lessons to Unlearn from Glee” every week. It was my little bit of hateful loving on the show, back when I still used to have some love for the show, but felt the need to poke gentle fun at their preachy total wrongness. You know, the times when they were all, “Never deny your art!” and I as a thirty-year-old person was like, “Uh, but your art might never support you financially, so, you know, be guided accordingly.” Or the times when they were all, “Finn’s random self-righteousness about x is totally warranted!” and I was all, “Finn’s a douchebag!” Fun times.

But then this happened and I could not take it any more. I ignored the show. It was easy because they were on break for, like, a month and a half, but then I continued to ignore it. Then I caught up, half-attentively, putting the show on while doing dishes or folding laundry or what have you. And you know what? I was completely right to drop it. With the possible exception of the moderately amusing punk rock version of “The Rain in Spain” from My Fair Lady, nothing worthwhile musically or story-wise has happened since February. (I haven’t watched the season finale yet. It’s two hours long. That’s a lot of time to invest in a show I no longer care about.) And they’ve been up to their usual preachiness shenanigans. Really, show? You needed to have a domestic violence-themed episode?

(And on that front, and I really can’t help myself here, I’m sorry, I have to point out that they tried to make this point, this “Every girl thinks it’ll never be her boyfriend point,” but no one ever explains that really well so it always comes across like “Your boyfriend could Hulk out on you at any moment! All boys have a secret Mr. Hyde hiding in them! You are never safe!” That’s not really the point. The point is, don’t be dismissive of women going through this by saying things like, “I would never put up with that from any man.” I made this point in my “Real Housewives” post, but I’ll repeat it here – when you say that, you’re not thinking of your actual partner. You’re not thinking of the person you love, the person who melted your heart by playing so sweetly with your puppy or made you that really meaningful mix CD or maybe even helped you out of a serious jam without judging or complaining. You’re not thinking of the person with whom you share a child, a pet, a home. You’re not thinking of that person who gives you toe-tingling kisses. You’re thinking of that Mythic Guy Who Hits and Does Nothing Else. That guy is easy to leave. Your actual partner is usually not that guy. Even when s/he hits you. Okay, PSA over.)

So this is the last thing I’m going to write about “Glee,” and it’s going to be nice. I did watch it for a few years; I must have liked things. Like:

1. The Pilot – The pilot was so promising. It was sarcastic, it was funny, and it let you know the show was not to be taken seriously. And Lea Michele sang “On My Own,” and Amber Riley belted out “Respect,” and while those are both extremely obvious choices of songs – the misunderstood, unpopular girl sings a song about the one she loves not noticing her, and the sassy black girl sings the sassy black girl anthem – but as we know, these two are so phenomenal who cares that they’re stereotypes? There was stuff like Miss Pillsbury’s ridiculously inappropriate pamphlets, which were just skimmed over on camera instead of given a whole episode and reason for existence. Oh, and Jane Lynch existed.

2. Zoe shaking her butt to “Gold Digger” – Y’all know the only reason I even watch the show is because Zoe and I dance to the musical numbers together and she is so freakin’ cute, right? “Gold Digger” was in the second episode. Zoe was just a little over a year. She heard the song and started bopping her butt up and down. The memory of it is enough to make all the head-bangingly stupid plot points worth it. Oh, and the way she memorized “Bad Romance” and used to sing it all the time. You have not lived until you’ve heard a child who is not yet two singing, “I want your ugly, I want your disease.”

3. Kurt and Rachel doing “For Good” – I mean, when Lea Michele sang anything, it was awesome. And when Chris Colfer sang anything, it was awesome. And when the two of them sang Wicked songs together? Holy moly.

4. The Madonna episode – The episode packed in the musical numbers and skimmed over the plot, which was perfect. The dancing was spectacular. Remember the Cheerios on stilts? Holy hell. Remember Mercedes and Kurt rocking it with the Cheerios and the marching band on “4 Minutes to Save the World”? Kick ass. Remember the whole team on “Like a Prayer”? Niiiiice.

A personal anecdote: The summer that song came out, my sister (Lauren, not Kate) played it over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. And this was in the days before we had a CD player – she learned how long it took to rewind the tape over that particular song. And you know what? I never got sick of it. Say what you want about La Madge, but that’s a good song.

They followed this up with an all-Britney Spears episode the following year. Britney is no Madonna but the episode was still awesome, not in the least because it showcased Heather Morris’s dancing. Damn, that girl can move.

5. Rumours – The episode they dedicated to the Fleetwood Mac album was really pretty good, musically, and it was basically because the kids, and Kristen Chenoweth, who guest-starred, can really sing, and they basically just sang Fleetwood Mac’s songs straight. And here’s the stupid thing – I kind of didn’t know I liked Fleetwood Mac. I mean, obviously, having lived in the English-speaking world for thirty years, I knew their music. I’ve had more than one experience where I turn off my car as the radio is playing “Landslide,” then get back in my car to find “Landslide” starting up again. On regular FM radio. And, you know, I liked it fine. But I never really thought to myself, “Oh, I like Fleetwood Mac.” They were just there, in the background of my life. This episode made me think about it. And program a Pandora station. (Music fans should know, that’s pretty much my height for liking a band these days. I know other people actually, like, buy albums and go to concerts and shit. Not so much me.)

6. The alcohol episode – As a musical episode, this one was a lot of fun. “Blame it on the Alcohol” showcased some great staging and dancing, plus Artie and Mercedes are always awesome on hip-hop. “One Bourbon, One Scotch, and One Beer” was hella fun. And Heather Morris got to show off her dance moves on Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok”. I always like it when Heather Morris gets to show off her dance moves. And, as far as preachy episodes go, this one handled things pretty well. Kids, drinking is not the best idea in the world, but you’re probably going to do it, as do we all, so do it responsibly, and do not under any circumstances drink and dial, ’cause that shit’s embarrassing.

7. The Adele mash-up – So maybe this season wasn’t totally useless. It brought us Santana and Mercedes and the other girls doing a mash-up of Adele’s “Someone Like You” and “Rumour Has It.” They rocked it. First of all, those are two really good songs. Second of all, Amber Riley and Naya Rivera can sing. Mash-ups on this show are generally a mixed bag. Their first mash-up episode, featuring the girls doing “Halo” and “Walking on Sunshine” and the boys doing “It’s My Life” and “Confessions II” was good, as was their Journey mash-up. Their second year of gender-specific mash-ups was a hot mess, particularly the boys’ “Stop in the Name of Love” with “Free Your Mind.” But this Adele one was a keeper.

8. The (Junior?) Prom – I know “Friday, Friday” is the worst thing to ever happen in the world – but Puck, Artie, and Sam kind of killed it. I know “Dancing Queen” used to be the worst thing to ever happen in the world – but Mercedes, Santana and Quinn kind of killed it.  Lea Michele and Jonathan Groff doing Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” was pretty kick-ass, and Lea Michele doing “Jar of Hearts” was spectacular. The whole episode was super-fun and what else does a prom episode need to be?

9. Kurt and Blaine singing “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” – “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is already my favorite song about date rape. (“Say, what’s in this drink?”) Kurt and Blaine singing it together? Oh, my God, my heart melted. Although the sound of sqeeing when they kissed (!) was much higher. You know, Chris Colfer is gay but as far as I know Darren Criss isn’t. And he still kissed passionately and intensely and like it was no big thing. Hear that, Jack from “Dawson’s Creek” over a decade ago? It’s called acting. And being awesome.

10. Mike Chang – I have mentioned Heather Morris’s dancing but not Harry Shum, Jr.’s, and I should, because my God, he is amazing. The best number that showcased this was when he and Finn did “I Gotta Be Me,” with Mike acting like he was showing oafish Finn how to do his awesome dance moves. It was a number that had a logical place in the plot, responded to their established characters, and was performed beautifully. Too bad they couldn’t just keep doing that.

10 1/2. The Hotness – As long as I’m giving personal shout-outs, I’ve gotta mention Naya Rivera and Mark Salling. Hot, hot, hot. So much with the smoking. I heard rumors during the first season that these two were steaming up their dressing rooms with each other. I think that makes perfect sense, since if I looked like either of these people, I’d be getting with the other one.

I mean, they were talented, too, with the singing and the dancing and, at least in Naya’s case, the acting. But seriously? The hotness.

Okay, show. It’s been lovely. See you again in Seasons One and Two when Zoe and I do our dance parties.