Mary Gaitskill’s Bad Behavior and the Bad Nutrition that Followed

After recovering from a near brain implosion at my residency—-so. many. good. things. happening!!—-I return to A Lit.eral Interpretation inspired and hungry. Good news for your belly, and bad news for your pant size.

Mary Gaitskill is a name that’s been circling in conversations involving awesomeness and literature, and for damn good reason.  Her collection of short stories, Bad Behavior, doesn’t hold any punches.  Where some books flirt with human folly and the resulting repercussions, she serves it to you raw. Without a chaser.  The characters are contradictory and rich, and as Alice Munro said of it, it has “fine moments that flatten you out when you don’t expect it.”

The term bad behavior is somewhat relative, but it seems to boil down to acting on one’s most base desires—-a disregard of self-control and morality.  When those terms are applied to food, they are a flip-of-the-bird to counting calories.  A moonwalk across the nutrition label. In the spirit of being truly self-indulgent, I’m offering up two recipes instead of one.  Here comes the naughty fix:

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Maple Caramel Bacon Crack 

*find the original recipe here

Note—- I know that the whole bacon craze has been done to death, but ask yourself this: do you ever really get sick of it?

Ingredients
  • 1 lb. bacon
  • 1 pkg Pillsbury crescent rolls
  • ½ cup maple syrup
  • ¾ cup brown sugar
Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Line a rimmed baking sheet (like a 15×10) with foil and liberally (Seriously. It will seem like too much) grease the foil with cooking spray. Unroll the crescent rolls into one single plane of dough and pinch any perforations together to seal. Stretch the dough out to fit the size of the pan with your hands so it’s even. Prick the dough with a fork all over. Set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, cook your bacon. Cook it until it’s technically safe enough to eat and just about done, but still lighter in color and not quite crispy. You don’t want it fully cooked and crispy as it will continue to cook in the oven. I pulled mine out of the pan right when they were a medium-pink color. Drain the bacon on a paper towel-lined plate.
  3. Drizzle ¼ cup of the maple syrup over the crescent roll dough. Sprinkle with about ¼ cup of the brown sugar. Top with torn pieces of the cooked bacon (I used kitchen shears to cut mine into pieces). Drizzle the remaining maple syrup on top of the bacon pieces, and top with the remaining brown sugar.
  4. Bake for approx. 25 minutes or until bubbling and caramelized. Remove from the oven and allow the pan to come to room temperature or warm to the touch before cutting or breaking into pieces. You can serve this at room temperature or slightly warmed. It tastes best the day of, but can be eaten the next day if stored airtight.

If that didn’t rev your inner glutton, here comes round two.

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Hot n’ Easy Cocktail

*Find the original recipe here.  I changed the name of the drink to better suit the story collection.  It will be listed under “Crazy Horse’s Neck.”

Ingredients

  • 1 part Fireball Whisky
  • 3 parts ginger beer
  • Long spiral peel of lemon
  • Orange bitters

*If you’re like me, you’ll try to cut out ingredients you deem unnecessary.  It might be tempting to ax the lemon peel and bitters, but DON’T!  They’re the difference between a good drink and a mind-blowing beverage.

Directions

Place a long spiral of lemon peel into a Collins glass. Secure one end of the peel over the lip of the glass. (The peel should run from the bottom of the glass to over the top) Add ice cubes. Pour in Fireball and ginger beer. Add a dash of bitters. Stir well.

Now sit back, relax with your crack n’ booze, and enjoy this tidbit from the story “A Romantic Weekend.”

“The store was clean and white, except for a few smudges on the linoleum floor.  Homosexuals with low voices stood behind the counter.  Arranged stalks bearing absurd blossoms protruded from sedate round vases and bristled in the aisles.  She had a paroxysm of fantasy.  He held her, helpless and swooning, in his arms.  They were supported by a soft ball of puffy blue stuff.  Thornless roses surrounded their heads.  His gaze penetrated her so thoroughly, it was as though he had thrust his hand into her chest and begun feeling her ribs one by one.  This was all right with her…None of this felt stupid or corny, but she knew that it was.  Miserably, she tried to gain a sense of proportion.  She stared at the flowers.  They were an agony of bright, organized beauty.  She couldn’t help it.  She wanted to give him flowers.  She wanted to be with him in a room full of flowers.  She visualized herself standing in front of him, bearing a handful of blameless flowers trapped in the ugly pastel paper the florist would staple around them.  The vision was brutally embarrassing, too much so to stay in her mind for more than seconds.”  

This is your brain on drugs.  Literary crack, that is.

 

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Holden Caulfield and the Too-Good-to-Throw Snowball Cookies

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The nostalgic journey through my bookshelves continues, and I can’t overlook this character: Holden Caulfield, The Catcher in the Rye‘s misguided rebel with a golden core—-well, maybe it was golden before he smoked all those cigarettes.

People tend to love or hate Holden, his critics labeling him a whiny kid who won’t act on anything.  In his defense, so is Hamlet, but we still keep him around.  I happen to be one of his fans—-how can you not love a teenager that tries to wipe away the “Fuck You” graffiti  to protect the innocence of children? A teen who mock-tap dances in the bathroom of his prep school to get a rise out of his roommate,  prancing around the washbowl saying, “I’m the goddamn Governor’s son. He doesn’t want me to be a tap dancer. He wants me to go to Oxford. But it’s in my goddamn blood, tap-dancing. It’s the opening night of the Ziegfeld Follies. The leading man can’t go on. He’s drunk as a bastard. So who do they get to take his place? Me, that’s who. The little ole goddamn Governor’s son.” I’ve read the book more than I care to admit, and that scene gets me every time.

Besides loving it for my own selfish enjoyment, this book is also extremely teachable.  It’s an exemplary bildungsroman (if you’re a writer and your coming-of-age text gets compared to Catcher, consider it high praise), and it has symbolism coming out the wazoo—-the baseball glove, the hunting hat, the snowball, the carousel, the record, the ducks, the museum, the graffiti, the actual song “Comin’ Thro’ the Rye”…you can’t throw a punch at an elevator pimp without hitting something symbolic in this text.

The story doesn’t exactly spin warm fireside fuzzies, but it does take place in New York at Christmastime, so it captures a certain holiday feel.  The recipe for snowball cookies was inspired by the scene below:

“I didn’t throw [the snowball] at anything, though. I started to throw it. At a car that was parked across the street. But I changed my mind. The car looked so nice and white. Then I started to throw it at a hydrant, but that looked too nice and white, too. Finally I didn’t throw it at anything. All I did was close the window and walk around the room with the snowball, packing it harder.”

I mean, come on.  How could you not slip into a frenzy of literary analysis on that one?! Not wanting to muss up something so white and pure? Not finding an emotional release, so instead packing those feelings in tighter? (You’ll have to excuse my nerd-isode.) Don’t worry, the only thing you’ll be packing these snowballs into is your belly.  Maybe your handbag.

I used Food Network’s version, because it’s the Food Network.  However, there are other versions that use pecans instead of almonds, and depending on your locale, they might also be called Mexican wedding cookies.  Click here for a link to the OG recipe.

Almond Snowball Cookies

Ingredients

3/4 cup sliced almonds
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup unsalted butter, sliced and softened (1 1/2 sticks)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1 cup confectioners’ sugar

Directions

Pulse the almonds and sugar in a food processor until very finely ground. Add the butter and process until smooth, about 1 minute. Scrape the dough off the inside of the bowl, if needed. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and pulse to combine. Add the flour and salt and pulse to make a soft dough. Turn the dough out onto a large piece of waxed paper and roll into a log about 15 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide. Wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Cut the chilled dough into 1/2-inch pieces and roll by hand into balls. Space the cookies evenly on the prepared baking sheets and bake until slightly golden, rotating the sheets once, 15 to 20 minutes. Put the confectioners’ sugar in a pie plate. Briefly cool the cookies on a rack, then gently toss in the confectioners’ sugar until evenly coated. Return to rack, cool to room temperature, and then toss again in the confectioners’ sugar.

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Wishing you all a Merry Everything from A Lit.eral Interpretation.  Enjoy the family, the goodies, the awkward silences when relatives ask insinuating questions.  And as Holden would say, “Sleep tight, ya morons!”

 

The Wonderful Blizzard of Oz

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Ah, there’s no place like home for the holidays.  This time of year gives me a case of nostalgia something mean—-a residue of all that Christmas Eve is-Santa-coming hoopla I can’t seem to scrub off after all these years.

Since I have a little break n’ breather before my next MFA term starts, I thought I’d feature books that remind me of the good ol’ days, when staying off the naughty list was a simple matter of eating your veggies and not getting caught terrorizing your sibling. And when I wrote letters to Santa, ya know, just in case (never got that puppy, by the way).

First in line is The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which actually is a 14-book series by L. Frank Baum.  And in the grand tradition of Hollywood sugar-coating (I’m looking at you, Disney), the Judy Garland movie version is much more saccharine than the novel.  Do you know the backstory on the Tin Man, for example?  Oh, he wasn’t always tin. There was a love story gone awry  with a little bit of “I-don’t-want-my-daughter-to-marry-a-lumberjack”-mom-meddling that resulted in a Wicked Witch chopping off all his limbs (the tin smith did help him out, but the new tin biceps were tricky to get the hang of, and he then cut himself in half with his own axe).

But enough about that, let’s have a cocktail!  A very wise relative of mine birthday-gifted me the most perfect book for my particular brand of nerdiness: Tequila Mockingbird: Cocktails with a Literary Twist.  It is from this bible of bookish booze that I took the following recipe for “The Wonderful Blizzard of Oz.”

Ingredients:

5 oz. pineapple juice

2 oz. coconut cream (it’s probably in the seltzer/mixer section of your grocery)

1 banana

6-10 ice cubes, depending on desired slushiness

*Now, most of the drinks in this book contain alcohol.  This one did not.  Crazy, I know. When I bust out a blender for a beverage, there better be some liquor in it!  And that’s how two shots of Malibu coconut rum snuck into the mix.

Directions:

Put all ingredients in a blender and pulse until ice is desired consistency.  Garnish with a pineapple ring, if you’re feeling ambitious.

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Warning: the consumption of this beverage has not been approved for munchkins or flying monkeys.  Blood-alcohol levels may vary.

 

 

 

Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita: Sweet Tooth

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Remember the kind of treats you’d pick out as a kid? Blue raspberry, grape, banana—-none tasting like any sort of fruit found in nature, most tinting your teeth a sort of swamp-monster green (which you probably found AWESOME at the time).  Bubblegum ice cream? I mean, do you chew it, do you swallow it?  It was one of my eternal childhood dilemmas.

Lolita is mentioned to have a sweet tooth throughout the text—-probably a combination of her adolescent disregard of things as trivial as nutrition (from my observations high schoolers consider hot Cheetos and Gatorade breakfast) and an amplification of Humbert’s disdain for her uncultured, juvenile palette (I hear adults are more cultured, H-dawg).

I picked a recipe that has a childish whimsy about it—-a faint reference to the Easy Bake Ovens of yore—-but that adults would like also (NOT bubblegum ice cream).  It calls for actual vanilla beans: you might get ID’d trying to lock those bad boys down.

The recipe used is one of Joy the Baker’s—-if you’ve never visited her blog, I highly recommend.  A sassy female with serious cooking chops (love those sassy females).  Here’s the link to Vanilla Bean Confetti Cookies.  Sprinkles!

Vanilla Bean Confetti Cookies

*makes about 18 cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup sprinkles (I prefer jimmies over nonpareils)

Instructions

  1. In a medium bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 to 4 minutes. Split the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds into the bowl. Add the egg and vanilla extract, and beat until thoroughly combined.
  3. Reduce the mixer speed to low, and slowly add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. The dough will be thick (you may have to finish incorporating the mixture with a spatula). Fold in 1/4 cup of the sprinkles.
  4. Place the remaining 1/4 cup sprinkles in a bowl. Scoop up 2 tablespoons of dough and roll into a ball. Dip the ball in the bowl of sprinkles to cover lightly. Put the balls on a plate. Repeat with the remaining sprinkles and dough. Chill the dough for at least 2 hours.
  5. Place racks in the center and upper third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
  6. Transfer the chilled dough balls to the prepared baking sheets, leaving about 2 inches of space in between each ball.
  7. Bake until the cookies have spread and are just beginning to brown around the edges, but are mostly pale and soft, 8 to 10 minutes. Let cool on the cookie sheets for 5 minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely. The cookies will keep in an airtight container for up to 4 days.

 

Aaaannnd Sprinkles!

Toni Morrison’s Beloved: The Pie to End All Pies

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First things first.  It drives me completely BANANAS that the blog title formatting does not allow for underlining or italics. Sure, I could put book titles in quotations to differentiate, but that would be wrong, and would make this self-proclaimed book nerd look like an ignorant book nerd, and I just couldn’t stand for it.  So for the record, yes, I know it should be italicized, but there’s nothing I can do about it.  (Welcome to my head —-a real go-with-the-flow type place.)

Whew.  Felt good to get that off my chest.  Now, Beloved.  This made the reading list cut for a few reasons: I wanted to see how to write ghosts and keep it literary, I’ve been looking for texts that tread the line between realistic and surreal fiction ( this text throws in a little gothic bonus, too), and because it’s Toni Morrison—- ‘nuf said.

Deciding what to make for this novel was easy: of course it had to be a blackberry pie!  It was the pie heard ’round the neighborhood, the pie to end all pies (my idioms hurt, that’s all I’ve got).  When something—- maybe it was Sethe’s successful escape from slavery, her small newborn wrapped in a boy’s old coat —-possessed Stamp Paid to battle the thorns and thistles of the blackberry thicket near the river, it set in motion an unlikely chain of events.  Baby Suggs outdid herself, making enough food for the entire neighborhood—- including several pies from Stamp’s blackberry offering.  She had no idea that her gesture of impressive hospitality and kindness would instead be taken as prideful, reeking of excess.  She shared everything she had, the neighborhood ate, then decided it was boastful of her to make so much food.

“It made them furious. They swallowed baking soda, the morning after, to calm the stomach violence caused by the bounty, the reckless generosity on display at 124. Whispered to each other in the yards about fat rats, doom and uncalled-for pride.The scent of their disapproval lay heavy in the air.”

Who knew that pie ever caused anything but unicorn-frolicking-through-marshmallow-forests kind of stomach-y delight?!

Rest assured, you can make this blackberry pie without insulting anyone.  The recipe is from Epicurious, because they’ve got kitchen ethos like nobody’s business.  Check out the original here.  (I make recipes, but I don’t make recipes, if you know what I mean.)

Ingredients

    • Pastry dough (I used this recipe)
    • 6 cups blackberries (1 3/4 lb)
    • 1 to 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
    • 1/4 cup cornstarch
    • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
    • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
    • 2 tablespoons water
    • 1 tablespoon quick-cooking tapioca
    • 1 egg white, lightly beaten
    • 1 tablespoon sanding (coarse) or granulated sugar

*Note*

I opted out of the quick-cooking tapioca and used about a tablespoon more cornstarch.  Fewer ingredients make for a happy blogger.

Directions

    1. Make pastry dough.
    1. Place a baking sheet in lower third of oven and preheat to 400°F.
    2. Toss together berries, granulated sugar to taste, cornstarch, butter, lemon juice, water, and tapioca. Let stand, tossing occasionally, 20 minutes.
    3. Roll out 1 piece of dough into a 14-inch round and fit into a 9-inch pie plate (4-cup capacity). Trim edge, leaving a 1/2-inch overhang. Chill shell while rolling out top.
    4. Roll out remaining piece of dough into a roughly 16- by 11-inch rectangle. Cut crosswise into 11 (1 1/4-inch-wide) strips with a fluted pastry wheel or a knife.
    5. Stir berry mixture, then spoon evenly into shell. Arrange strips in a tight lattice pattern on top of filling and trim strips close to edge of pan. Roll up and crimp edge. Brush top and edge with egg white and sprinkle all over with sugar.
    6. Bake on hot baking sheet until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbling, 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes. (Check pie after 45 minutes: If edge of crust is browning too quickly, cover edge with foil or a pie crust shield and continue baking.) Cool completely on a rack before serving.

Enjoy your gateway pie; you’re officially nearing holiday season.

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Rummy Roys: Drinking in The Boys of My Youth, by Jo Ann Beard

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The Boys of My Youth is a collection of autobiographical essays in the bildungsroman tradition; I’d say it’s in the top three reads of my MFA adventure thus far.  In other words, I read it it in 1.5 days while mainlining coffee and holed up in my PJs.  Classy, no?

There are men, dogs, and a variety of vehicles that pass through the essays, but the most steadfast of relationships are the female friendships that endure over time—one of which begins in utero.

The essay “Cousins,” shows a friendship that begins with the pregnant mothers, then spans the life of their baby girls as they grow older and closer together.  Eventually, they start getting into trouble, as in any coming-of-age tale worth its weight.

The following recipe combines a Roy Rogers—the classic cherry coke treat—and a rum and coke.  I felt it was the perfect middle point of innocence and sin, inspired by the scene when they tear down the dirt road in Wendell’s Firebird to go drink-and-dancing at a cowboy bar in the boondocks.

Rummy Roy

1 shot grenadine

1 shot rum (I used Sailor Jerry’s–you can go unspiced if you rather)

1 Mexican Coca Cola (If you haven’t found cola enlightenment, start here.)

Maraschino cherry for garnish

ice

Pour both shots in a highball glass over ice.  Fill the rest with cola and stir.  Garnish with cherry.

“The rum is a warm, dark curtain in my chest.”

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Please read responsibly.

Olive Kitteridge–Let’s have donuts.

Donuts got some serious page-time throughout the collection–they were even the subject of several questions in the mock-interview with Olive at the end of the book.  Rather than overanalyze their presence (a buoy, feeding appetites that aren’t otherwise met, etc., etc.), I’m going to let them speak for themselves.  Donuts.  Word.

The following recipe is for baked donuts, as I don’t have the proper equipment or kitchen elves to make the “real deal.”  That said, these babies are still delectable morsels of cinnamon-sugar deliciousness.  Like little intertube churros.  See the instructions below:

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Baked Donuts (this recipe is one of Ina Garten’s, though I lowered the bake time a bit for Colorado altitude–here’s the link:original recipe)

*You will need a donut baking pan if you want the OG donut shape.

Ingredients
Baking spray with flour
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 extra-large egg, lightly beaten
1 1/4 cups whole milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

For the topping:
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray 2 doughnut pans well.

Into a large bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg, milk, melted butter, and vanilla. Stir the wet mixture into the dry ingredients until just combined.

Spoon the batter into the baking pans, filling each one a little more than three-quarters full. Bake for 16 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool for 5 minutes, then tap the doughnuts out onto a sheet pan.

For the topping, melt the 8 tablespoons of butter in an 8-inch saute pan. Combine the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Dip each doughnut first in the butter and then in the cinnamon sugar, either on one side or both sides.

More thoughts on donuts (and doughnuts)…

If you want to branch out from the cinnamon-sugar topping, this is a great base for other donut flavors as well.  I came up with my own chai topping, shown below, but you could also use powdered sugar, citrus sugar, lavender sugar–I foresee someone doing something awesome with matcha or maple and bacon (we don’t judge here).  Tell me about your successes!

Chai sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp ginger

1/8 tsp cloves or allspice

1/8-1/4 tsp cardamom, depending on your spice preference

Blend all together and use after the butter, as you did with the cinnamon topping above.

Here’s to you, Olive.  Happy baking!