Sweet Treats

I’m flying to Paris tonight and that’s pretty much all I can think about, so I was very tempted to scrap all of the recommendations I had come up with this week and instead recommend my favorite French things. But I’ll spare you two weeks of Francophilia, since I’m planning on sharing my favorite Paris things next week. Instead, here are just a bunch of things I enjoyed this past week that I think you’ll like too.

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Make these sweets that I made for my Valentine’s Day party.

I love making Martha Stewart’s Ideal Sugar Cookies with Royal Icing for Valentine’s Day and any other holiday for which I have appropriate cookie cutters. I usually bake and frost them the night before I’m serving them because they’re a bit softer, though still perfectly crisp, the next day. This year, we dipped heart-shaped cookies in pink and white royal icing.

I also made cupcakes using basic White and Devil’s Food Cupcake recipes from Bon Appetit. I filled all of the cupcakes so there were four different “flavors” at the party (white filled with raspberry jam and topped with vanilla buttercream, white filled with chocolate ganache and topped with vanilla buttercream and a maraschino cherry, devil’s food filled with marshmallow fluff, and devil’s food filled with Milky Way and topped with chocolate ganache). I’d never filled cupcakes before so it was all one big experiment, but my party guests seemed pretty pleased with the results.

I recommend all of these desserts because they’re good (and also good for pretty much any occasion).

Go to see John Wick: Chapter 2 with your best buds.

At least a few of you know that I’m a(n unlikely) fan of the 2014 action movie John Wick, starring Keanu Reeves. Well, John Wick: Chapter 2 came out last weekend and while it wasn’t necessarily as good as the first movie, it did satisfy my need to see Keanu Reeves kill like 100 bad guys within two hours. It did not satisfy my need to know why people are always calling John Wick “Jonathan”. The movie is not Jonathan Wick. It is not even Jon Wick. It’s John Wick and “John” is not short for anything.

(This guy feels me and even offers up some potential solutions to this mystery. I personally am now convinced that Jonathan “John” Wick is named after Jonathan “John” Ritter, after discovering that John Ritter’s real name is Jonathan while in a Wikipedia vortex yesterday.)

Anyway, if you haven’t seen it already, I recommend catching John Wick: Chapter 2 with your friends when you’re hungover (or not) this weekend.

Consume all things Queen Victoria.

I’m…very into Queen Victoria this week. I just finished watching Victoria on PBS. (It’s actually not finished airing yet, but all of the episodes are available on pbs.org!) And I am currently listening to Victoria: The Queen by Julia Baird on Audible. I recommend the show if you need a perfectly fine costume drama to look at and I recommend the book if you want to read an entertaining, well-researched account of the life of the second-longest-reigning British monarch. (Queen Elizabeth II now has her beat by a few years.)

Read The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin.

How many Chinese novels in translation have you read? I can’t say I’ve read very many (or perhaps any at all, other than one or two required in Chinese history courses in college), so reading The Three Body Problem, a sci-fi novel that people had been recommending to me for years, was a different experience. Basically the entire book is a run-up to what you know is going to happen if you read the jacket copy (I’m trying not to give away the story here because I know that if I start summarizing I won’t be able to stop), but that doesn’t mean it’s not totally engrossing. I recommend this book if you’re looking for a challenge, want to check out an international sci-fi bestseller, or if you, like me, have been hearing about this book for a long time and need one more reminder to pick it up.

Listening to the new season of You Must Remember This.

I’m pretty sure that You Must Remember This is already everybody’s favorite podcast, but if you don’t know about it then I will tell you that You Must Remember This is hosted by the film critic Karina Longworth and is dedicated to “exploring the secret and/or forgotten histories of Hollywood’s first century.” YMRT is back after a long-ish hiatus with a brand new season and the theme is “Dead Blondes.” Needless to say, it’s super up my alley. The first three episodes are out and I recommend starting with the very first in the series, about Peg Entwistle, the actress who committed suicide by jumping off the Hollywood Sign in 1932. I recommend this season (so far) and most of the other seasons to anyone with a vague interest in old Hollywood or, um, American cultural history in general, I guess!

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Emphatic Hands #9: Get Cozy

The contents of my latest newsletter, which you can still subscribe to here

For me, the last few days have been all about feeling cozy. This week in New York has seen both rain and a not insignificant amount of snow, so I’ve been all about wearing big wool sweaters and fuzzy socks and drinking lots of peppermint tea and hiding under blankets on the couch. I thought I’d share a few of the things I’ve enjoyed (indoors) during the last few days that have been comforting or cozy.

Here are my recommendations.

Listen to Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery on Audible.

I know I started off last week’s edition with an audiobook as well, but listening to Anne of Green Gables really was the nicest thing I’ve done for myself this week. I’m sure a lot of women are able to say this, but Anne Shirley was truly one of my best childhood friends. Listening to this book – narrated by Rachel McAdams! – has been a delightful reminder of how lucky I was to have found a role model in Anne Shirley. She made everything, from getting into scrapes to standing up for oneself to the intimacy of friendship, seem less scary. And she made me believe that my imagination was a valuable, powerful thing. I wish that, as an adult, I had half the audacity that the tweenage Anne displays in this book. I recommend this to anyone who feels like being inspired by the most fearless and romantic character I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.

Make Ina Garten’s Crusty Baked Shells and Cauliflower from Cooking for Jeffrey.

I made this recipe with my friend Vincent on Sunday evening, not only because I was craving comfort food but also because I hadn’t yet used this cookbook that I received for Christmas and it suddenly seemed like the coziest idea in the world. I, like most of you (probably), love Ina Garten very intensely. And I think I love her husband Jeffrey just as much. (He pops in occasionally on her Food Network show and is always the most adorable.) So, I was very happy to finally read through this book – which includes plenty of stories about their life together, from their first date until now – and cook something from the collection of recipes that Ina makes especially for Jeffrey. I recommend making this recipe when you’re having a casual evening with friends, especially when it’s cold enough that you’d rather not venture out.

Listen to Julie Byrne’s new album, Not Even Happiness.

This is the first album of 2017 that I’ve really liked. Not Even Happiness is a fairly quiet acoustic album and I’ve found myself listening to it over and over again, likely because of its familiarity – Byrne’s style is similar to that of several other artists I like – and suitability for this time of year, when I’m looking for music that soothes my winter blues. All of the songs are very much grounded in the experience of travel and the transience of life so, yeah, of course this appeals to me. I recommend this album for when you want to feel like someone is wrapping you up in a blanket and telling you a nice story (but you’re not quite sure what it’s about) or simply if you want to feel transported.

Catch up on Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown.

I always forget the name of this show because it’s the same show as No Reservations, except on CNN. So I guess I usually just think of it as “No Reservations, except on CNN”? Anyway, I’ve been randomly watching episodes of Parts Unknown while I do mindless work things or other such activities at home because, even though Bourdain can be a dickhead and has actually kind of basic taste in music and has insulted at least one person I know in print, I really love watching him eat things and drink beers and talk to people. Plus, I learn a lot from him. For example, this week I watched the Iran episode of Parts Unknown and it was…pretty eye-opening. I realized that most of what I know about Iranian history (these days at least, I’m sure I knew more in college) I learned from Persepolis and the only Bravo show I still care about, Shahs of Sunset. Seeing real people sitting down together to share a meal, even if it’s on TV, makes you realize that life just…goes on in many of the places that we see as oppressed or conflict-ridden.  In addition to bingeing on Parts Unknown, I also recommend reading the Anthony Bourdain profile in this week’s issue of The New Yorker and whatever this Clickhole thing is that serendipitously showed up in my Facebook feed a few days ago.

Consider getting a subscription to FilmStruck.

My roommates and I received a subscription to FilmStruck, the new film streaming service from Turner Classic Movies and The Criterion Collection, for Christmas. I’ve had a pretty nice time this week checking out all of the available films and adding them to our Watchlist. (Finally, I’ll be able to watch many of the films featured in The Story of Film, the eight-part miniseries – on Netflix – that I’ve started three different times and finished once.) On Monday evening, I ate leftovers (the baked shells and cauliflower) while I watched A Separation, Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s 2011 Academy Award Winner for Best Foreign Film. It’s a pretty serious drama, but it’s been on my list for a long time and I felt inspired by the Iran episode of Parts Unknown to watch it. I am not surprised it’s at or near the top of many critics’ lists of this century’s best films. (FYI, Farhadi is nominated for another Academy Award this year for his film The Salesman.) So, in closing, I recommend FilmStruck because it’s a better reason than most to curl up on the couch.

Emphatic Hands #8: Less Stressed

I’m gonna start cross-posting my TinyLetters because, hey, why not? Here’s the latest edition, sent out today.  You can subscribe here!

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to start regularly sending out this newsletter again. And a month into the new year, here I am, writing the first edition of Emphatic Hands in 2017. Seems about right.

I’m sure many of you have forgotten what this newsletter is about. (I think I did too.) So, here’s a refresher! In each edition, I recommend five things. Sometimes those things are related and sometimes they’re not. That’s it! Basically, this is just a space for me to share what I love with people who want to hear about that kind of thing.

This week, I’d like to share a few things that have been making me feel less stressed. I would write a whole “in these times” thing here, but we all know why everyone could feel less stressed now. So let’s just get straight to my recs!

What’s been making me feel less stressed?

Listening to A World On Fire: Britain’s Crucial Role in the American Civil War by Amanda Foreman on audiobook.

I just finished listening to this 33-hour (it’s about 1,000 pages IRL which I know because I own a physical copy) performance of Amanda Foreman’s much-lauded history of the Civil War. Was it the most exciting book I’ve read/listened to? Certainly not. But there are so many good nuggets in it that I knew every time I put it on, even if I zoned out for a little bit, something delightful – or, in some cases, horrifying, because this was about the Civil War – would pull me back in. I recommend this audiobook particularly for commutes and listening to before bedtime.

Playing a kind of massive Brian Eno playlist on repeat.

Of all of the music I’ve gotten into as an adult (like as an actual adult in my late twenties), I’ve been most consistently rewarded by listening to and interacting with the work of Brian Eno. There’s just…so much. And it’s all…so good. I could write a lot about the many things I love about Eno or my favorite albums and songs, but I’ll save that for another time or venue. Today, I want to recommend listening to Eno as a tool for combatting bad feelings. As the father of ambient music, he has made an actual fuckload of music to chill out to. (As well as some great rock music that is just as good to chill to.) Which is why I recommend Spotify’s “This Is: Brian Eno” playlist, particularly for listening to on big headphones when you’re just trying to get your g.d. work done and people won’t leave you alone or for when you want to go on a nice walk to clear your mind.

Watching Top Chef: Charleston.

The thing about Top Chef is, now that it’s in its fourteenth season, there aren’t really too many surprises. Those of us who have watched every season pretty much know what to expect. (Padma likes spicy food! Tom hates okra! Richard Blais still shows up occasionally! Restaurant Wars! Etc.) And this is why it’s a comfort to me. There are still some surprises, like cheftestants from past seasons coming back, people behaving badly or worse than you would expect, or favored chefs stumbling on challenges you assumed they would nail. But I know that I’m going to be surprised occasionally. A that’s what I love about this show. You can expect the unexpected (but definitely also a lot of the expected). I recommend watching Top Chef: Charleston after a long day, while eating very silly food like microwaveable macaroni and cheese, or on a Saturday morning while you’re wrapped up in a blanket and drinking your coffee.

Consuming just enough news.

I can’t remember a time when there’s been this much news like, everywhere, all the time. My Facebook feed is mostly news, the New York Times sends me like 15-20 breaking news alerts every day, and even my gym, which has never before played any news channel on the TVs mounted above the treadmills, is all CNN all the time. Based on how much people have been telling me that they feel like the end of the world is nigh and that they’re constantly stressed and sick, I would like to recommend consuming just enough news to satisfy your desire to feel informed, but not so much that it’s literally making you ill. I know that everyone has a different threshold, so I’m not saying you should limit yourself to these two things only, but I have been finding that simply reading The New York Times’ “Morning Briefing” while I’m eating my breakfast and watching VICE News provides me with a decent enough overview of what’s going on in the world. And from there, I choose what other news I’d like to explore for myself instead of clicking on every link that gets thrown at me on the internet all day. (Also, I recommend just…staying away from Twitter.)

Sleeping with flannel sheets.

A lot of people don’t like flannel sheets. (Or at least it seems that way to me?) I would like to tell those people, as well as the people who simply don’t have flannel sheets, that they are missing out. If it were up to me, I would have flannel sheets on my bed all year long. In fact, I did have flannel sheets on my bed (almost) all year long from childhood until I moved into a dorm room that was not air conditioned. Anyway, my point is, flannel sheets are so cozy and waking up in flannel sheets always makes me feel happy, which makes the start to my day better, which makes me less likely to feel stressed. And thus, I recommend that everyone go out and buy a set of flannel sheets.