Saturday, March 21, 2015

Paper Towns: Another Disappointing Cinematic Adaptation?

So I have a giant nerd crush on John Green.

He's amazing.

He writes teen books that I actually enjoy AND are popular with the general public (can't say the same for Twilight, Beautiful Creatures, Divergent, etc).  His male protagonists are so. . .normal.  They aren't the prancing, sparkling Edwards and Jacobs, but weird, awkward, flawed, delightful adolescent humans.  And let's not forget his wonderful online presence with Mental Floss and Crash Course, which I have used more times than is probably acceptable in my classroom.  But, fortunately, most of my female students also have giant nerd crushes on John Green, so it works out in my favor.

As far as his books go, it's been hit or miss.  I really didn't care for Looking for Alaska or An Abundance of Katherines.  The Fault in Our Stars was good, but I did feel a bit like a cheap violin.  No, my favorite was, by far, Paper Towns.  I love Q and his goofy obsession with his enigmatic neighbor, how he chases and chases and ultimately comes to the self-realization that he is Don Quixote and he stops tilting at windmills.  It is a coming-of-age novel that I can genuinely relate to, and one that I think is well done.  It's interesting enough to be engaging, not so far-fetched that it's not something that could have happened to some of my acquaintances in high school (certainly weirder things did happen to them).  I loved it.

And now they're making a movie of it.  My first question: why not make Looking for Alaska into the next John Green adaptation?  It's certainly more dramatic and packs more of that emotional punch.  So, here is the trailer:

Paper Towns Official Trailer

And here's a very telling promotional photo.  (Also, where's Radar's gf?  And why isn't it easy to see that he's black?  And that she's black?  But that's another question for another post.)

I think this picture very accurately sums up what is wrong with this movie.  Instead of it being about Quentin's self-discovery through the vehicle of Margo, it's about Margo herself.  She's the one who gets the biggest space in the picture; she's the one who Q talks about throughout the whole trailer; she's the reason for his existence, the key to his puzzle.

And that's just the antithesis of the book, so I'm really wondering how John Green can, in fact, approve of this movie.  I have heard JG quoted as saying something along the lines of, "no no, wait until you see the whole movie before you judge," but this get me wondering on several levels.

Firstly, I don't believe you.  That ain't gonna happen, for the basic reason that it would wound the egos of about a million teenaged, ticket-paying girls who really, really want to be Margo Roth Speigelman.  Because really, who doesn't want to be mooned over?  None of us wants to be stalked or worse, but most girls secretly want someone to be in love with them from afar, mooning over them in the delicious and antique ritual of unrequited love so paramount to the teenage romance novel.  Most girls also want to be: rebellious, dangerous, mysterious, and drop-dead gorgeous.  Margo fills the same purpose that Katniss and Bella and Tris and every other heroine does: we would rather be more like them than the girl with cellulite, frizzy hair, and trigonometry homework.  She is our vessel and we would gladly pay (perhaps multiple times and over the course of several tumblrs) to pretend to be for an hour or two.  So they won't pull away from her in this movie because it would alienate the young lady audience.

Secondly, is this how we have to get people to see this movie?  By painting it as this exotic and mysterious and exciting love story where this girl is (YET AGAIN) romanticized, the main character fantasizing about her and superimposing what he thinks she is onto what she really is, never really seeing her for the person she is?  And thus, we are also saying her (and his) behavior is permissible.  It's okay to lose all interest in school and friends and normal people activities to wander around town looking for CLUES that someone probably didn't leave you anyway about their underage AWOL activities, when really you should stop making shit up and also give more information to the police.  Because what if she hadn't been leaving a trail of clever breadcrumbs to her hiding place, what if she had been brutally taken as a hostage by a pimp or a gang leader, like so many young girls who get sold into sex slavery?  

But more than that, here was a story that was about all the right things: self-realization, growing up, letting go of fantasies and seeing people for who they really are, and all that is gone in this trailer.  Instead, what is left is almost as bad a Twilight or Divergent, in the mixed-up messages about how girls and boys, men and women, should treat each other.  Instead of treating Margo Roth Speigelman like a person, she gets relegated once more to the role of simple fantasy.  And she's not there to speak up for the person she really is, so no problem, right?  Let's just let Quentin off the hook - it's just harmless fantasizing, right?  No.  And not just in the book (a super-long road trip of eighteen year olds holds many dangers).  In society.  It's okay to fantasize about people and not recognize their personhood.  It's okay to make them who you want them to be.  It's okay to silence or ignore their voice on their own state of humanness.  It's okay.  And it's only a short hop from there to: it's okay that he's following her.  It's okay that he's forcing himself on her.  It's okay that he won't take no for an answer.

No means no, even when you're telling the person that you aren't who they want you to be.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Grapefruit Galore!

Recently, I got a haul of grapefruit.  Eight shopping bags, to be exact.  Off of my aunt's tree down in Phoenix.  The smallest one is as big as the biggest grocery store one, and so much sweeter and more delicious!

Fortunately or unfortunately (I'm gonna go with fortunately), my tummy doesn't do super well with plain, straight grapefruit.  I love its tart and zesty flavor but boy! does the acid really roil in my belly.  So what did I do instead? Make grapefruit-infused things.  However, I am looking for more recipes!  So far, I have made:

  • a grapefruit yogurt loaf
  • grapefruit slice-and-bake cookies
  • grapefruit poppyseed muffins

They have all turned out magnificently.  The grapefruit is a light, cirtus-y flavor that brightens up an otherwise heavy pastry.  Add some yogurt or some poppyseed and you have something light, bright, sweet, and scrumptious!

Give me more recipes!  I still have at least one bag and I'm hoping to get more this weekend!

Here are my recipes, from and adapted for grapefruit goodness:

Grapefruit Yogurt Loaf

1 1/2 cups (190 grams) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (230 grams) plain whole-milk yogurt
1 cup (200 grams) plus 1 tablespoon (13 grams) sugar
3 extra-large eggs
1 tablespoon grated grapefruit zest (approximately one large grapefruit)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup (120 ml) vegetable oil
1/3 cup (80 ml) freshly squeezed grapefruit juice

For the glaze:
1 cup (120 grams) confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons (30 ml) freshly squeezed grapefruit juice

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease an 8 1/2 by 4 1/4 by 2 1/2-inch loaf pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper. Grease and flour the pan.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt into 1 bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the yogurt, 1 cup sugar, the eggs, grapefruit zest, and vanilla. Slowly whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. With a rubber spatula, fold the vegetable oil into the batter, making sure it’s all incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 50 minutes, or until a cake tester placed in the center of the loaf comes out clean.

Meanwhile, cook the 1/3 cup grapefruit juice and remaining 1 tablespoon sugar in a small pan until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is clear. Set aside.

When the cake is done, allow it to cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Carefully place on a baking rack over a sheet pan. While the cake is still warm, pour the grapefruit-sugar mixture over the cake and allow it to soak in. Cool.

For the glaze, combine the confectioners’ sugar and grapefruit juice and pour over the cake.

Slice-and-Bake Grapefruit Cookies

Makes about 50 cookies (no, I'm not kidding)

2 sticks (8 ounces; 230 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoons vanilla or almond extract
2 cups (280 grams) all-purpose flour

    Mix in grated zest of 2 oranges and 1/2 cup dried cranberries (I finely chopped them)

  • Mix in grated zest of 2 lemons; coat with or mix in 1/4 cup poppy seeds (I mixed the poppy seeds in)
  • Mix in grated zest of 2 limes; coat with 1/4 cup cornmeal
  • Mix in 1/2 cup chopped dried apricots; coat with or mix in 1/2 cup finely chopped pistachios
  • Mix in 1/2 cup mini chocolate or peanut-butter chips
  • Mix in 1/4 cup finely chopped candied ginger; coat with or mix in 1/4 cup sesame seeds
  • Swap 1/4 cup of flour for unsweetened cocoa
  • Swap 1/2 to 1 cup of flour for ground almonds, pecans, hazelnuts or walnuts
  • Mix in grated zest of one big grapefruit; coat with sugar

  • 1. Put the butter in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat at medium speed until it is smooth. Add the sifted confectioners’ sugar and beat again until the mixture is smooth and silky. Beat in the egg yolks, followed by the salt and any dried fruits, zest, nuts or seeds. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour, beating just until it disappears. It is better to underbeat than overbeat at this point; if the flour isn’t fully incorporated, that’s okay just blend in whatever remaining flour needs blending with a rubber spatula. Turn the dough out onto a counter, gather it into a ball, and divide it in half. Wrap each piece of dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

    2. Working on a smooth surface, form each piece of dough into a log that is about 1 to 1 1/4 inches (2.5 to 3.2 cm) thick. (Get the thickness right, and the length you end up with will be fine.) Wrap the logs in plastic and chill for 2 hours. (The dough can be wrapped airtight and kept refrigerated for up to 3 days or stored in the freezer for up to 1 month.)

    3. Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

    4. While the oven is preheating, roll cookie logs in any coatings of your choice. Then, using a sharp slender knife, slice each log into cookies about 1/3 inch (10 mm) thick. (You can make the cookies thicker if you’d like; just bake them longer.) Place the cookies on the lined baking sheets, leaving about 1/2 inch (1.5 cm) space between them.

      5. Bake the cookies for 12 to 14 minutes, or until they are set but not browned.  In Flagstaff, this time is about half of that. Transfer the cookies to cooling racks to cool to room temperature.

      Grapefruit Poppyseed Muffins

      Makes 9 to 10 standard muffins
      5 tablespoons (2 1/2 ounces or 71 grams) unsalted butter , softened
      1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces or 100 grams) sugar
      1 large egg
      3/4 cup sour cream or plain yogurt
      1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
      1 1/2 cups (6 3/4 ounces or 191 grams) all-purpose flour
      1 1/2 teaspoon (7 grams or 1/4 ounce) baking powder
      1/4 teaspoon (1 gram) baking soda
      1/4 teaspoon (2 grams) salt
      2 tablespoons poppyseeds
      Zest from 1 grapefruit (two if they're babies)

      Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a muffin tin with 10 paper liners or spray each cup with a nonstick spray. Beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add egg and beat well, then yogurt and zest. Put flour, baking powder, baking soda, poppy seeds, and salt into a sifter and sift half of dry ingredients over batter. Mix until combined. Sift remaining dry ingredients into batter and mix just until the flour disappears. The dough will be quite thick (and even thicker, if you used a full-fat Greek-style yogurt), closer to a cookie dough, which is why an ice cream scoop is a great tool to fill your muffin cups. You’re looking for them to be about 3/4 full, nothing more, so you might only need 9 instead of 10 cups. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes (approx. 15 in Flagstaff) until tops are golden and a tester inserted into the center of muffins comes out clean. Let cool on rack, or you know, serve with a generous pat of butter.

      Tuesday, March 3, 2015

      In Defense of Food: A Review

      As I write, it is Snow Day 2 of this suddenly incomprehensibly long weekend in March.  Snow Day 1 was great and exactly what I needed; Snow Day 2 has me hoping it's the last one this week because too much down time and I get serious cabin fever.

      How am I allaying that cabin fever?  Reading.  I read a lot in December -- at least 10 books, which for me is pretty serious.  I like to read but I am not very quick.  I am a diligent yet thorough reader, rarely capable of speeding up my pace of reading.  Even when I try to speed read, I have to keep reminding myself to do so because I will inevitably slow down to the enjoyable pace I naturally fall at.  Anyways, I got busy in January and February and didn't really feel much like reading.  That happens.  When it does, I usually just let it happen because I know I'll be back to it before you know it.  Plus, they had just put out Friends on Netflix and I'd never seen a full episode, so clearly I had to binge-watch all ten seasons.  Clearly.  Also in February my good friend and I wrapped up our Drama Club's yearly musical, so February was mostly dedicated to rehearsals, frantic sewing, and herding small children into orphan costumes (we put on Annie!).

      Finally, finally, with the advent of these snow days, I am finally able to relax a bit and get back to reading.  I finished two books yesterday (Girl Named Disaster and The Good Lord Bird) and today I am tackling a third, hoping to finish it today, mostly because it's so engrossing.

      That book is:  In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto by Michael Pollan, author also of The Omnivore's Dilemma and The Botany of Desire.  I have been wanting to read his books for years, and when I recently went to Bookman's to sell back some books (paperback thrillers, yo), I decided to splurge and buy the first two.  And here I am, reading Defense, and even though I'm currently typing about it and it's sitting next to me, the only reason I'm doing that is because I'm so enthralled with it and its ideas that I'm having trouble sitting still.  So I'm going to start a list of all the things that are interesting me/bothering me/scaring me about this book, as well as things I'm learning.

      1. Margarine is solidified vegetable oil.  That's disgusting.
      2. The food industry is really trying to kill us.
      3. Fat isn't bad.  I knew this, but still.  It really depends on what kind of fat you eat.
      4. When asked to come up with a word in response to "chocolate cake," Americans say "guilt".  The French say "celebration".  Stupid Frogs.
      5. In the 1970s, they changed the language of the new United States nutritional goals from "eat less meat" to "eat meats that will significant reduce the intake of saturated fats".  And it turns out sat fats aren't the ones we should be concerned about -- trans fats are.  And they have been touting the reverse for at least two decades.  Lordy.
      6. Scientists like to isolate nutrients, but in actual fact it seems like nutrients work better as part of the whole than on their own.
      7. Likewise, don't eat anything that specifically touts health on the label.  This should be a duh moment (like if you have to tell me you're good at sex you probably really, really aren't), but at the same time:
      8. An astounding number of Americans think that it's better to eat a lot of a low-calorie food that's less nutritionally dense than a smaller amount of a high-calorie food that's more nutritionally dense.  Nooooooooo.
      9. Fructose is not bad for you when it's found in fruit because the fiber in the fruit allows it to be absorbed more slowly into your body and therefore keeps you satisfied longer.  The fructose that is found in refined sugar contains no such fiber and therefore is nutritionally useless and makes you hungrier sooner. *insert sound of mind being blown. . .fiber is amazing*
      10. White flour is flour that has literally had the nutrition "polished" out of it.  Yuck.
      11. All the modern diseases that plague Americans (heart disease, obesity, cancer, and diabetes) can be traced to the modern Western diet of overly processed foods and the lack of truly nutritional food (e.g. vegetables).
      12. And the order of those diseases goes obesity, diabetes, heart disease.  I.e., it's a waterfall effect.
      13. If you eat a bagel smeared with peanut butter, the peanut butter makes it so that the carbohydrates in the bagel get absorbed slower.  
      14. Organic foods might actually be better for you because industrially-grown foods typically come from soils that lack complexity, therefore creating less nutritionally-dense food.
      15. But then again, not all organic foods are created equal.  
      16. Rule of thumb: if possible, look the grower in the eye and shake their hand (i.e. go to a farmer's market or participate in a CSA).
      17. This really makes me want to really grow my own vegetables.  Go away snow.
      18. Humans have historically eaten up to 80,000 edible foods, 30,000 of which were in widespread consumption, but today the modern American gets 3/4s of his/her daily calories from four sources: corn, soy, rice, and wheat.
      19. The famed omega-3 has a sibling: omega-6, which is good for us but not in the proportions we're eating.  We used to eat omega-6 to omega-3 in the ratio of 3 to 1 and now it's 10 to 1.  Omega-6 is good for fat storage, rigidity of cell walls, clotting, and the inflammation response.  Too much, we are learning, can play a role in heart disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and Alzheimer's.
      20. Many Americans today are still facing nutritional deficiency diseases at the same time as being overweight or obese, because the food we consume is nutritionally empty.
      Wow.  This was an excellent book.  I learned lots of things, got pretty scared by some other things, thought deeply about my own relationship with food (okay and getting better), and it ended with some beautiful and inspirational words about the communal nature of food.  I would highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone.

      Food is about nutrition but it's also about the community.  It is one of the most fundamental aspects of human life, not only in a physiological sense but also in a cultural one.  Too long have food companies and the food industry plagued modern Americans with false advertising, fake foods, and unhealthy modifications, supporting dubious studies and dispersing questionable information.  Too long have we as people allowed them to do so in favor of cheapness, in favor of efficiency, in favor of avoiding things we don't like to do, such as clean up after ourselves or engage in meaningful conversation with one another.  Too long have we allowed this to happen.  Michael Pollan makes a convincing argument and then details a plan for how we, as consumers both in the biological sense as well as the commercial sense, can take our tables back, and in doing so take our health and our happiness back.  Read this -- take back your food.

      Also, if you really want to see the true pervasiveness and insidiousness of the modern food industry, take a look at this commercial: