Sometimes I Bake Mistakes; Take 6: 3-D Biscuit Scene

I decided to bake my way through the Great British Baking Show (GBBS for short) and write about it. Don’t know much about GBBS? No worries. Check out my first blog in this series to learn more about the show and about why I decided to do this, for better or for worse (so far, mostly worse).

***

This week I’m making the 3-D biscuit scene that was the showstopper challenge in Season 1 Episode 2 of GBBS.

In this episode, some of the bakers excelled (Ahem…Richard and Luis.)

Some of the other bakers umm…didn’t do so well. As for me, I did a little worse than the people who did not do so well. Or, well, a lot worse if you wanna make me be honest about it.

But at least I learned from the experience. Namely, I learned that hindsight is sort of a jerk and also I learned that I know nothing about cars, which oddly, actually does come into play in this baking challenge.

On the show, most of the contestants used variations of gingerbread dough for this challenge, but I went with sugar cookie dough instead because I like sugar cookies, and, also, because I’m a rebel. Obviously.

I used the “My Favorite Christmas Cookie” recipe from Ree Drummond’s (aka the Pioneer Woman) A Year of Holidays cookbook.

She has a similar recipe online. This recipe has all the same ingredients. She just tweaked the amounts. Basically the one in the cookbook has more of almost everything, including shortening.

(Yeah, I know, shortening is kind of gross. I like to use the butter-flavored Crisco because it looks like butter and tastes more like butter, so I basically just pretend it is butter. Denial works for me.)

Anyway, first you do the usual. Cream the sugar and the shortening together (while pretending it’s sugar and butter). Then comes the fun part, you also add in some orange or lemon zest. (I have a pretty low bar for “fun” apparently.)

Then add in the eggs and vanilla and shift in the dry ingredients – flour, baking powder and salt and mix it all up. Add some milk. Mix it again and you should have something that looks like this:

Scene--Mix
Gah, why does raw cookie dough look so good? Why? Because it’s the Salmonella’s siren song, that’s why.

Then split the dough in half and put it in plastic bags or wrap it in waxed paper or plastic wrap and pop it in the fridge for an hour. (Or for 20 minutes in the freezer. Ree didn’t put this little freezer tip in the cookbook version, just in the online version. So I ended up putting it in the fridge for an hour like a regular ole’ schmuck. It’s cool how I’m not bitter about that though, right?)

Scene1
Dough ready to sit in the fridge for an hour to prove I’m a schmuck who should have just used the freezer.

Then after the dough has chilled for the necessary amount of time, take it out and roll each section out with a rolling pin. I put plastic wrap on top of the dough because I get really, irrationally angry when dough sticks to the rolling pin. I just don’t like it, guys. I really don’t like it.

Then I busted out those cookie cutters I kept bragging about in the savory biscuits blog a few weeks ago.

I just grabbed random cookie cutters and hoped I’d find some way to make it all make sense later. Hindsight: not the best plan.

Scene2
See? I told you there’d be cars.

Then I baked each batch of cookies for about 7 to 8 minutes and they came out looking like this:

Scene3.jpg
Are those things dump trucks? Are they fire trucks? I didn’t know. And later that will become very apparent.

Then I baked some more cars and some more trees (because I was committed to them apparently).

Then I baked some too much.

Scene4
I totally could have taken the ugly ones out of the pic but I didn’t because HONESTY, but to a greater extent, laziness.

Then I made some icing. I didn’t use Ree’s recipe, because I’m weird about putting raw eggs or milk in stuff you don’t then cook. So I just mixed together powdered sugar and water with a lil’ bit of vanilla instead.

I put in some food coloring and put the icing in a piping bag and went to town on some trees and some circles.

Scene5
Shh!! You can’t even tell some of these are too-done. The icing totally covers that. You can’t tell at all. Nope, you can’t tell.

Now here’s where hindsight comes in again to be a smart aleck jerkface.

When I watched the GBBS show of this challenge, I didn’t notice that all of the contestants only outlined their cookies with icing rather than icing the whole cookie.

Do you know why they do that? They do that because icing cookies takes a really stupidly long time apparently. Like I don’t even want to admit how much time this took for me to do. Let’s just say that it took the better part of a Sunday evening and more than a better part of a bag of powdered sugar. So much powdered sugar.

But once I started icing the whole cookie on some, I felt like I had to do it on all of them. Even when part of my cookie scene was a road. A road that was supposed to be gray. Gray! As soon as I started to put gray icing on the cookie, I realized:

regret_this_decision_anchorman

But it was too late. I’d already grayed it. And yeah, it looked like a road, but not a road I wanted to eat because it was gray.

Scene8
Gray was a bad choice.

And then umm, we’ve reached the cars. As soon as I started decorating them, I realized this:

gob.gif

I know nothing about cars, most notably I do not know how to ice cookies to look like cars. Like. At. All.

Scene9
It’s like I’ve never seen cars before. Also the black icing smeared everywhere. Boo you icing!

Take it away, Andy from The Office:

andy

And, yeah, I’ve realized I’ve stopped talking and am now just allowing GIFs to communicate for me. This is a pretty half-baked blog. (Get it? Half-baked? That was my required bad baking pun for this blog.)

But the thing is, I’m tired from too much icing. (Sidenote: I don’t even. like. icing.) And I’ve diagnosed myself with a case of Too-Much-Icing-Hand which I’m pretty sure is now a thing because I just said it was and typing is too much work right now so just go easy on me.

Then go easy on me when you see my finished project photo.

Scene7
“I should have just made a bunch of trees,” said Hindsight, unhelpfully.

Then go really easy on me when you realize I totally cheated and used toothpicks to hold up the cookies here. But at least I was honest about it right? That makes it okay, right?

Anyway, I’m just glad to have this project in a rear-view mirror. (I’ve switched to using car puns now apparently.)

Next week, I move on to GBBS’s Season 1 Episode 3 – “Bread” which is great, because, like Oprah, I.LOVE.BREAD.

P.S. Maybe next week I’ll stop speaking in GIFs.

Hopefully.

 

Sometimes I Bake Mistakes; Take 5: Florentines

I decided to bake my way through the Great British Baking Show (GBBS for short) and write about it. Don’t know much about GBBS? No worries. Check out my first blog in this series to learn more about the show and about why I decided to do this, for better or for worse (so far, mostly worse).

***

I’m not really a dessert person.

And yeah, I know that’s weird.

Look, even Jessica Day from New Girl thinks it’s weird.

not a desert person

I’d freak her out.

But it is what it is. I just, generally don’t go crazy for sweets. They’re not my go-to. And it’s not a health-conscious thing. I mean I will do work on some mozzarella sticks or nachos. Real work. Like work overtime on those things.

But I don’t feel the same way about desserts, which I understand is strange considering I’m baking my way through the Great British Baking Show.

I decided to do this anyway though because it’s fun to learn new things. (Also, I’m pretty sure no one is going to fault me for sharing the majority of what I make.)

But I’m also doing it because I think it’s possible that I just haven’t found the right desserts to make me into a dessert person yet, and this seems like a darn good way to find them.

My most recent baking challenge is definitely one positive step in that direction.

This week I made florentines. Don’t know what florentines are? I didn’t either. They’re a super thin and crispy cookie with a bunch of nuts and dried and/or candied fruit inside and a coating of dark chocolate on the outside.

I went all official and used my favorite GBBS judge Mary Berry‘s recipe. This is the same recipe the GBBS contestants used in the technical challenge in Season 1’s Episode 2. (Again, I’m using what’s available on Netflix in the U.S. so the episodes may not correspond correctly to what was aired in other countries.)

Since this was the technical challenge that episode, the contestants used a very scaled down version of the recipe that was missing a great deal of the steps and tips. Whereas I got a bit of extra help from the great Mary Berry herself.

(Okay, fine so Mary didn’t personally fly over to Nebraska to help me or anything, but she does give step-by-step instructions on how to make this recipe in one of GBBS’s Masterclass episodes where she and Paul run through the recipes used on the show. These episodes are predictably very helpful and predictably Mary is a bit more helpful than Paul.)

So yeah, armed with Mary’s sort-of, personal assistance, I went into this week’s baking challenge much more optimistic than I usually do – and amazingly, that seemed to work out for me.

It just helps to watch someone else make the recipe so you know you haven’t totally messed things up. And there were definitely points in this process where I needed that reassurance, because at various points in this process, the florentines looked weird, guys.

In fact, they looked weird right from the very beginning. For instance, check out this roundup of ingredients.

Florentines.Ingredients
The beer is not technically an ingredient but it is a necessary part of the baking process, because BEER.

That’s it. That’s all the ingredients to make 18 decent-sized cookies, which seems well, weird.

Sidenote on the ingredients, I couldn’t find the golden syrup called for in the recipe so I substituted corn syrup like any good corn-loving Nebraskan.

I also swapped out the demerara sugar for turbinado sugar, because I couldn’t find demerara anywhere and by anywhere I mean the one store where I looked for it.

The recipe also called for “candied peel” which apparently you can buy already made some places – but not here. I could have made my own. I found a few recipes for making candied orange and lemon peel online but, well for the sake of time, money and general laziness, I just left out the “candied peel” and put that much more dried cranberries in instead. That seemed to work out fine, but again, I really have no idea what I’m doing so who really knows if it did.

After I’d gathered up the ingredients (or my makeshift ingredients) – the rest of the recipe was pretty simple. I just had to mix the sugar, syrup and butter together in a pot over “gentle heat” until the butter was melted.

Floretines1.jpg
This is just sugar, corn syrup and butter but I sort of wanted to eat it right out of the pot which is gross. I know. So I didn’t do it. But…I wanted to. 

From there you just add in the flour, fruit and nuts and mix it up really well until it looks like this.

Floretines2.jpg
Boom! Florentine dough. 

Yeah, that’s all the dough it makes for 18 cookies. Nuts, huh? (Get it, nuts, because there are nuts in it?)

I would have been freaking out about how much dough there was (or more correctly, how much dough there wasn’t) but I’d watched Mary make these bad boys so I knew that this was nothing to worry about.

Then I popped 18 teaspoons of dough on three lined-baking trays just like Mary told me to, because I followed her instructions to a T(easpoon). (That was another lame baking pun. If you watched the show, you’d understand that I basically have to do this. Like, I have to.)

Florentines3
Lil cookies. 

At this point, came the hard part, which really isn’t that hard if you’re not impatient like me. I had to melt the chocolate. Mary always stresses that you don’t need much heat to melt chocolate. Over and over in the Masterclass episodes, to the point where it is almost one of her catchphrases, Mary will say “Now remember, chocolate will melt in a child’s pocket.”

This saying is number one adorable. (I mean, come on. Can you imagine more grandma-like baking advice? I can’t.) Number two, it’s really helpful for people like me who are impatient and end up jacking up the heat as high as possible to make the chocolate melt faster and then end up with ugly chocolate. Because ugly chocolate is a thing. I’ve learned the hard way.

According to Mary, you have to melt the chocolate nice and slow and gently so it comes out all shiny and pretty like this:

Florentines4
Forget gold, silver and diamonds. This is a shiny stuff I’m interested in. I’m sort of easy to please.

I was careful with this chocolate. I even repeatedly checked its temperature because Mary told me to wait for it to cool down a bit before I slathered it on the back of the cookies.

So I waited and waited for approximately forever. I was supposed to let it get down to 79 degrees and our kitchen itself was 78 degrees. Yesterday was hot, guys. So this took awhile. A long while.

 

Then once it (finally) cooled, I used a spatula to spread some of the  chocolate on to the back of the cookies and I used a fork to make these little ridge designs in the back like Mary told me to.

And then I had to wait for that chocolate to set before I could eat one. This recipe may as well have just been called “Wait Around on the Chocolate Cookies”.

Florentines5
Chocolate that is deliberately not setting, just to be a jerk. 

Much like how a watched pot never boils, I can assure you that stared-at chocolate does not set.

So I forced myself to walk away and magically the chocolate set. Or it wasn’t magic and just enough time had passed – whichever.

And tada: I had Florentines:

Florentines6
The middle row is upside down so you can see the chocolate underside. Swirltastic.

Anyway, after all was said and done and (set), the florentines were probably my favorite GBBS challenge yet. Crispy, and coated in a rich dark chocolate, they weren’t half bad. Even if I do say so myself. And I’m not even a dessert person (yet).

Next week, I will tackle probably my hardest task to date. I have to make a three-dimensional biscuit scene. Seeing as how I’ve never managed to pull off a structurally-sound gingerbread house in my life, I’m not very optimistic about this one…

P.S. I realize that I’ve been totally slacking on talking about the actual show. But so far only one contestant had been voted off and all my favorite bakers are still around – Richard, the builder who keeps a pencil tucked behind his ear; Kate, who I still want to be my British best friend, but you know only if she feels like it, no pressure; and Iain’s beard. (Yeah, I meant beard not bread. That was not a typo.)

P.S.S. I ironically always misspell typo as type-o. Every freaking time. That’s also weird.

Sometimes I Bake Mistakes; Take 4: Savory Biscuits

I decided to bake my way through the Great British Baking Show (GBBS for short) and write about it. Don’t know much about GBBS? No worries. Check out my first blog in this series to learn more about the show and about why I decided to do this, for better or for worse (so far, mostly worse).

***

There are a great many things English people do better than us. (For a handy list of them, check out this clip from Love Actually.)

One thing the British don’t do better  than us – is using the word “biscuits”.

I hate the word “biscuits”. They use it to mean “cookies”. They use it to mean “crackers”. They use it to mean, “biscuits” as we Yanks would typically define them.

It’s confusing. It’s annoyingly ambiguous. It has never bothered me until now. But now I’ve moved on to the second episode of The Great British Baking Show – the “Biscuits” episode, so it’s bugging me, far more than my actual baking project did.

The first task in this episode is to make “savory biscuits”. Some of the contestants made things we’d traditionally call “biscuits” and others made ones we’d call “crackers”.  It was chaos. Or, you know, it was just people baking stuff.

I went official with it and used a recipe from PBS’ Great British Baking Show website. The recipe is from Paul Hollywood (my second favorite GBBS judge) and it’s called Paul’s Savory Biscuits. (Not a very creative recipe name.)

And yeah, they may be called “savory biscuits” which makes them sound vaguely fancy, but they’re not really. Don’t let the British fool you. These are just crackers, guys.

I’ve never made crackers before, and I don’t know if I’d do it again. It seems like a whole heck of a lot of work for crackers, which you know, come in a box at the store and taste just fine. That being said, as far as GBBS baking goes, this was definitely my easiest task yet which was a nice change of pace after last week’s labor-intensive Classic English Cakes debacle.

Paul’s Savory Biscuits recipe called for me to make a simple dough – just flour, salt, water, egg and a whole heck of a lot of butter. Then you split that dough in half to make two different flavored crackers – sun-dried tomato and poppy seed.

Here’s a pic of the sun-dried tomato that also has Parmesan cheese in it:

SavBiscuits3
I was trying to make a perfect rectangle here. Shapes are hard.

Here’s a pic of the poppy seed dough which has a bizarre amount of poppy seeds. So many poppy seeds.

Sav.Biscuits1
Just a really stupidly ridiculous amount of poppy seeds.

Then after I rolled these bad boys out, I had to cool the dough in the fridge for 30 minutes. (A brief note about me – I don’t like to wait more than 30 minutes to eat crackers. Who does, really?)

After those 30 long (super long) minutes, I got to cut my dough out with cookie cutters. I love doing this because it makes it seem like my extensive cookie cutter collection was a smart purchase. Even if I only use the two round ones, like twice a year.

SavBiscuits2
Oh my gosh, thank goodness I have cookie cutters, right?

After I got good use out of my handy-dandy cookie cutters, I baked the crackers for awhile. Then I baked them a bit longer and a bit longer than that – because my oven hates me and is a liar.

When the baking was finally over, slash I got sick of waiting this long to eat crackers, I pulled the them out of the oven and they looked like this:

Sav.Biscuits4
I tried to hide the ugliest ones in the back. It didn’t work.

As you can see in the photographic evidence above, some of the crackers look quite pretty and others…not so much. But, when I arrange them on a plate like below, they all look like they’re pretty. See:

SavBiscuits5
This plate is a lie. 

See what I did there, I cleverly hid the ugliest crackers on the bottom and then not-so-cleverly told you that I did that.

Then after I spent an embarrassing amount of time moving crackers around on a plate, I ate one of them and then I ate another. The fact that I ate more than one is notable because it’s the only GBBS bake I’ve made so far that I’ve been able to eat more than one of at a time.

(I mean, I probably shouldn’t have eaten more than one. There is a heck of a lot of butter in these guys, but I recently realized butter may be my favorite food. In this way, I’m a lot like Andy Dwyer. So yeah, give Andy and I a break. Butter’s the best, guys.)

So yeah, the crackers were sufficiently buttery enough to be good, but even then, they were just crackers.

Next week, things get a bit trickier as I will attempt to make Mary Berry’s Florentines, which are cookies. They’re cookies. I, a suitably stubborn American, am going to call them cookies even if I’m supposed to call them biscuits.

P.S. A special thanks this week to everyone who told me about the Great British Baking Show’s Masterclass series in which GBBS’s judges Mary Berry and Paul of the Savory Biscuits, bake their ways through the show’s recipes with far more skill than I do and with far less complaining about word choice.

 

Sometimes I Bake Mistakes; Take 3: Mini English Classic Cakes

I decided to bake my way through the Great British Baking Show (GBBS for short) and write about it. Don’t know much about GBBS? No worries. Check out my first blog in this series to learn more about the show and about why I decided to do this, for better or for worse (so far, mostly worse).

***

Ordinarily when I want to procrastinate, I cook something — anything, just something so I can avoid doing what I’m supposed to be doing while tricking myself into believing that I’m still doing something productive.

Sure, I’m putting off writing an article for work, but I made roasted Parmesan potatoes so that’s something, right?

This tactic usually works for me, but this week I was avoiding baking.

I was really dreading making this week’s showstopper challenge – 36 miniature English classic cakes.

But I couldn’t put off this task my normal way, because putting off baking by cooking was a bit too ridiculous even for me.

So instead I wrote my article for work early (for possibly the first time ever). (Side note: If you don’t know, I write bar reviews for the Omaha World-Herald. You can check them out here.)

Then after I did that, I cleaned everything in the house. I vacuumed. I dusted. I mopped. I laundered. Then I considered doing a bunch of ironing that I had been putting off.

And that’s when I realized things had gotten a bit out of hand.

I didn’t want to iron. Sheesh.

My procrastination had to be stopped.

It was time to make these damn cakes.

I had decided to make miniature coffee and walnut cakes. Which are apparently a classic English cake. I had no idea what a “classic English cake” was going in, so I decided to go official and use a recipe from the show – specifically, the contestant Richard‘s recipe. The recipe is available on the GBBS website here.

But, recipe decided, I still didn’t want to make these damn cakes.

Because it looked like so much work. There were multiple cakes. There were three layers. There were too many words in the recipe.

It seemed like there were too many steps, too many opportunities for me to mess things up.

So to hedge my bets and because previous attempts have taught me that “winging it” is not a good idea (see here for an example), I got really anal retentive about it.

RichardCake
Photographic proof of anal retentiveness (and also of bad handwriting).

Then came the actual baking, which took approximately forever. I made the dough and then had to separate it into three pans which would be for the three cakes that would make up my three layers.

I could have baked all the cakes at once obviously, but I didn’t because, frankly, my oven and I have trust issues. We haven’t worked together long and we’re still feeling each other out. (Yes, I know my oven is not a person. I’m just saying, we’ve got to work out a few kinks in our relationship before I trust it. I’ve been burnt before. Get it? Burnt by the oven….okay, yeah, not my best pun.)

Anyway, so I baked the cakes one at a time, and they turned out crazy thin. Like Richard really should have warned me in the recipe about how thin these cakes would be. (And don’t worry, I actually think they’re supposed to be like this. I looked at the pictures of his cake.) But still, to reiterate. It was alarmingly thin for a cake. See, look:

RichardCake2
Alarmingly thin cake.

Then I had to wait for the cakes to cool and cut them into 54 circles. Fifty-four is a strange number for someone making 36 cakes, huh? I thought so too. That’s when I read the recipe fully for the first time. (Yeah, I realize I should have done this sooner.)

Turns out I was cutting them into 54 circles because I was only making 18 cakes. Eighteen cakes with three layers. Not 36 cakes with three layers.

I felt like the Great British Baking Show had lied to me. After all, I had used Richard’s recipe they had posted on their website for their “36 Mini English Classic Cakes” episode assuming (I now realize, incorrectly) that it would make 36 cakes.

It didn’t. It made 18. And thank God for that.

Thirty six cakes would have been way too many cakes for my family to eat. Eighteen is almost too many, because these cakes aren’t messing around.

These are little sugar and butter bombs that explode in your mouth and go straight to your brain (and, probably, though I really don’t want to think about it right now, your arteries).

If you can eat more than one, I’m just going to say it, there is something seriously wrong with you. You must have developed a superhuman butter and sugar tolerance or something. You’re weird.

I just ate one and I feel like a little kid who just drank an entire bottle of Surge (you guys, remember Surge?) and then drank a shot of melted butter.

And I know what you’re thinking here. “Ashley, that’s probably at least partially because of the caffeine, you dummy. These are coffee and walnut cakes after all.”

Nope. I used decaf.

I’m glad I did, because otherwise I think these things may have been way too much for me to handle. Now they’re just this side of way too much.

I realize that the Surge and melted butter shot comparison made them sound less than appetizing, but really, they’re quite good. (If I do say so myself.)  And really, they don’t look so bad either.

RichardCake7
Sugar and Butter Bombs aka Mini Coffee and Walnut Cakes

They were hard. But it’s the hard that makes it great.

(I did not think of that line myself. I stole it from a Superstore episode I watched yesterday that stole it from a League of Their Own. Both of these things are good. You should watch  them.)

But in this case at least, maybe it wasn’t the hard that made it great. Maybe it was just the coffee-flavored buttercream. (It was definitely the buttercream.)

P.S. A special thanks to my husband who was very nice to me even after I very slightly burned myself this week and then acted more than slightly like Michael Scott in the episode of The Office when he accidentally burns his foot on his George Foreman grill.

Forgot that episode? Here’s a recap. Yeah, I acted sort of like that. Yeah, I know, it’s a miracle my husband keeps me around.

P.P.S. Next week, I break into the second episode of the Great British Baking  show which focuses on biscuits or as we Yanks call them, cookies, or well, crackers. They kind of make both in this episode so I’ll be honest here – I’m not real clear on their definition of “biscuits.” But hey, there’s plenty of time for me to figure that out. Like, I have until next week.

Sometimes I Bake Mistakes; Take 2: Mary Berry’s Cherry Cake

I decided to bake my way through the Great British Baking Show (GBBS for short) and write about it. Don’t know much about GBBS? No worries. Check out my first blog in this series to learn more about the show and about why I decided to do this, for better or for worse (so far, mostly worse).

***

Cake number two on my baking journey through the Great British Baking Show (GBBS) was a cherry cake. But not just any cherry cake – Mary Berry’s Cherry Cake.

For you GBBS newbies who may not be in the know, Mary Berry is one of the two judges on the show (and the best one). She is basically Britain’s Queen of Cakes, which isn’t a bad title if you can get it.

Also, because it has to be said, every time I type her name I feel like it is something out of a bad, old nursery rhyme. “Mary Berry, quite contrary, baked a cake, made of cherry…” or you know, something like that. You get the idea.

Anyway, I’m getting off track. Back to the cherry cake.

For this attempt, I went really official with it. I got very British. Or, at least as British as a life-long Midwesterner who has never been to Europe can get.

And by this, I mean I used a recipe with metric measurements, guys. I got all gram-y with it.

To do that, I first had to buy a digital scale. Which, admittedly, I probably should have had already, but I didn’t.

I’m more of a cook than a baker. And I’m also more of the kind of cook who just throws random stuff together, sans measurements (metric or otherwise) and simply hopes for the best. Things usually turn out okay.

But baking is a harsher mistress. She requires precision.

So I got a scale. It was pretty cheap, so I figure it’s a small sacrifice to pay for some Mary Berry cake.

But then the shopping got a bit more complicated. It turns out that some of what I assume are standard baking ingredients in jolly ole England are a bit harder to find in Nebraska. Like, way harder.

First of all, the recipe called for 200 grams (look, at me using grams like it’s no big deal) of red glace cherries.

Don’t know what red glace cherries are? Good. I didn’t either. Turns out they’re also called candied cherries and they’re frequently used in stuff like fruit cakes. (Cakes that are not frequently made in Nebraska in April, apparently.)

So I looked for these cherries in tons of stores and by tons of stores, I mean three, and one of them was a home improvement store because I was already there for something else and I figured, eh, what the heck? But yeah, none of these stores had candied cherries.

No biggie. I figured I’d just straight-up substitute maraschino cherries. That’d work, right? They’re the same, right?

No. They’re not. They’re different. Don’t do this.

I didn’t do this. I used a recipe I found online to turn maraschino cherries into candied cherries.

It worked. I think. Again, I have no actual experience with glace cherries or candied cherries or whatever the heck you’re supposed to call them so really I don’t know if it worked.

I’m just going to assume it did because the cherries tasted candied or “glaced” to me. (Again, not that I know what those cherries are supposed to taste like.)

The recipe also called for caster sugar, which I also could not find anywhere (and by anywhere I mean just those three stores). So I used magic to turn granulated sugar into caster sugar and by magic I mean I used a blender. I pulsed it a few times. Supposedly this is all you need to do. But again, I have no real idea if it worked. I’m just gonna assume it did.

Then once the ingredients were corralled (or the make-shift ingredients, at least), came the hardest part — actually making the cake.

Just kidding. That part was actually way easier than the ingredients search.

For one thing the cake is a normal cake-shape. Unlike the cake I attempted last week, a Swiss Cake Roll, which seems to defy the very laws of nature. Seriously? Who decided we needed to roll cakes up? I’m fine with flat ones. I’ll just take the fillings in layers.

This cake though was just poured into a handy dandy bundt pan. There was nothing tricky a-bundt it. (Horrible pan pun.)

This time, I didn’t go off book, or off recipe like I did last time (mostly to bad results). This time, I followed the recipe exactly and I didn’t mess around with the recipe either, I used Mary Berry’s recipe from the official GBBS website.

And since I followed the recipe exactly, that means I did every little thing Mary Berry asked me to do which meant the recipe was time-consuming. Though this cake was technically easier than last week’s, it still took awhile. I’ve never in my life spent so much time drying cherries with paper towels, and I hope I will never spend that much time doing it again.

But apparently it’s important because that’s what helps ensure that the cherries are evenly distributed throughout the cake. At least that’s what one of the GBBS contestants said as she was baking her cake. Then she won that challenge.

I, however, would not have won.

My cake isn’t bad and it tastes really good, but Mary Berry (in her infinite generosity) would still have had to dock me some points.

For one, my cake cracked again, probably because I over-baked it a bit, again.

A little something about me — I’m an over-baker. Nine times out of ten, I will over-bake rather than under-bake things. Food safety, yo.

Unfortunately, that led to my cake being a bit dry. Fortunately, the icing helps.

The icing was just a mixture of lemon juice from one lemon and some powdered sugar. I don’t know what kind of wimpy lemons they have in Britain, but my lemon must have been too juicy because my icing was so runny it ran down the sides to form a little lemon icing sea in the middle of my cake. A gosh darn delicious lemon icing sea. (I really like lemon.)

Anyway, here’s a picture of my Mary Berry Cherry Cake where I just realized you totally cannot see the lemon sea. If I wouldn’t have told you about it, you never would have known. Oh well. My bad.

Cherry Cake

Anyway, there’s probably some sort of lesson here about how when life hands you lemons, you should make lemon icing with it, provided your lemons aren’t too juicy. But I’m too lazy to look for that lesson now. I’m tired from hand-drying seemingly a million cherries.

Next week, I’ll attempt to make classic British cakes. 36 of them. In miniature. (Yeah, I’m not sure how I’m going to do that either.)

P.S. A special thanks to Mattie who helped me on the ingredients search.

P.P.S. I just realized it’s my second post and I still haven’t talked about GBBS much. Here are my favorite contestants in the first episode of the first season: Richard (a builder who always keeps a pencil tucked behind his ear like any good carpenter), Kate (who I want to move to Nebraska so she can be my British best friend. You know, if she felt like it. No pressure.) and Iain’s beard. (Yeah, beard not bread. That was not a typo. I know what I said, what I typed, and what I meant.)

P.P.P.S. I won’t apologize for my possible overuse of post scripts. I love post scripts almost as much as I love lemon icing. So, yeah, a lot.

Sometimes I Bake Mistakes; Take 1: Swiss Cake Roll

If you’re one of my Facebook friends or one of the approximately 15 people I talk to in real life, you’ll know that at the moment I cannot (will not) stop talking about The Great British Baking Show.

As the name suggests, it’s a British baking show and it’s great.

Twelve amateur bakers compete in three baking challenges each week and then, at the end of each episode, the show’s judges, everyone’s fantasy British grandma, Mary Berry, and bread-making guru, Paul Hollywood, send one of the bakers packing.

(Sidenote: I just realized right now that Mary and Paul’s names sound totally made-up.)

Anyway, at the end of the ten-week competition, one person is crowned Britain’s best baker. For this, the winner is awarded an overly-large bouquet and a not-very-impressive plaque. This show leads me to believe that the British are easy to please trophy-wise.

And to gauge by GBBS (yeah, I’m going to acronym it from here on out), British people also appear to be much (much) nicer on reality television than Americans. Not only are they not mean to each other, the contestants actually go out of their way to be relentlessly, aggressively nice to each other.

It’s weird, but in a good way. It’s also exactly what I needed in my life right now.

I’m guessing I’m not alone when I say I’ve been kind of overwhelmed by negativity lately. That seems to be going around.

I needed some nice in my life and the GBBS is chockful of nice, so I fell in love with it and then became slightly obsessed with it.

So obsessed, that I’ve decided to try it myself.

I’m going to attempt to bake my way through the competition from the nonjudgmental, no-television-crew safety of my kitchen.

But then I’m going to blog about it, because to tell you the truth, I’m sick of talking about bad things so I’ve decided to talk about cakes instead (at least most of the time).

Baking’s nice because it’s one of the few things in the world where even failures can still turn out to be kind of delicious.

Which leads me into my first GBBS challenge I tried this week — the Swiss Cake Roll.

(Point of clarification here: I’m going to be using the GBBS episodes available on PBS and Netflix as my guidelines. So when I say I’m doing a recipe from season 1, I mean the first season on PBS or Netlfix. This will differ from what was season 1 in the U.K.. Just roll with me on this, please. And, yes, that was a pun with the word “roll” there. Puns happen a lot on this show and they will happen a lot in this blog, too.)

Anyway, the Swiss Cake Roll was the baker’s very first challenge. Some of the bakers made great ones, others made okay ones, but none of them made one quite as ugly as mine.

In my defense, I’ve never made a Swiss Cake Roll before so I had absolutely no idea what I was getting into.

Not in my defense, I went into this a bit cocky. Like all adults who were once type-A children, I was overly-confident in my ability to follow directions. Plus, since I’m just a wee bit Swiss, I assumed that I had some sort of innate ability to make baller Swiss Cake Rolls.

I did not.

My cake was crack-tastic, in that when I tried to roll it up, it got a whole heck of a lot of cracks in it. Cracks that I then tried to cover up with a bunch of powdered sugar and strawberries.

Swiss cake roll_1
And it sort of worked. 
Swiss cake roll -2
But, not really. 

Also, the cake wasn’t so much rolled, as it was badly folded.

And since I used a recipe that called for the traditional jelly as well as cream, the roll was a bit overstuffed and some of the cream smooshed out. (I’m pretty sure “smooshed” is the most technically-correct word in this scenario.)

Basically, it wasn’t pretty and it would definitely be considered a Pinterest fail.

But, all in all, it tasted pretty darn good even if it looked pretty darn bad. So I’m taking that as a small victory.

See how chill about that messed up cake I was just there? I was all “Keep calm and carry on” and stiff British upper-lip about it. But in real life, when my messed up roll-up was completed, I cursed, whined to my husband about it, dramatically hurled myself on the couch and then had a beer.

But then I actually tasted it, and yeah, like I said, it wasn’t half bad, provided I just covered it with more strawberries and pretended it was a pound cake.

I’m pretty sure there’s some sort of lesson in there about how a situation changes based on how you look at it, but honestly I’m too lazy to look for that lesson right now. I’m tired from baking cakes. But, I just thought I’d throw that out there, so you could tease that lesson out yourself if you were so inclined.

I’m pretty sure there’s also a lesson in there about how when you have a problem, you should just throw some sugar at it. But, it’s possible that lesson only works with cake.

Annnnyyyyway, in the future, these posts will include the recipe I used. But this week I’m not doing that because a) it was a test run, b) I actually mix-and-matched two recipes at once, which I now realize was a really bad idea, and c) because I want to protect the innocent recipe-writers who really should not be blamed for my cake-tastrophe. (That was another pun. Like I said, that’s going to happen a lot.)

P.P.S. Next week I’ll attempt Mary Berry’s Cherry Cake. Apologizes in advance to Mary Berry and to cherries.

It’s Galentine’s Day and I’m a Feminist So Let’s Talk About Feminism

Today is Galentine’s Day.

You’ve never heard of it?

I’ll let Leslie Knope, my favorite character from one of my favorite shows, Parks and Recreation explain.

After all, she created it.

It’s about “ladies celebrating ladies. It’s like Lilith Fair minus the angst, plus frittatas.”

So let’s start by celebrating Leslie, who is my hero even though she is a fictional character.

I love her because she’s smart, funny, ambitious, opinionated, tenacious and yes, just a little bit annoying in her idealism. But perhaps most importantly, I love her because she doesn’t apologize for being any of those things.

She’s a great role model for women and girls, and hell, everyone.

She’s also a proud feminist and so am I.

The fact that I identify as a “feminist” shouldn’t be a surprise. I’ve said it probably hundreds of times before and one of my blog’s categories is literally “All the Cool Kids are Feminists”. It has been a category for years.

So this isn’t a new thing for me, what is new is this feeling I’ve had lately (that I am by no means proud of) that I shouldn’t say I’m a feminist.

That I shouldn’t say it because it might offend someone, because they might not understand.

People are not liking the word “feminist” lately.

When I hear the “F word” I think of someone who advocates for the equality of all people. (With that in mind, here’s a link to a old, but good article that explains  intersectional feminism far better than I ever could.)

When other people hear the word “feminist” they seem to hear “man-haters” or “whiners” or “Trump haters” or for some reason I really don’t understand “ugly, women who don’t shave their armpits.”

I’ll talk a little about these definitions.

But first I want to be clear about where I’m coming from when I say I’m a feminist.

I think a big part of why, as a society, we seem to have a hard time relating to each other lately is that we’re not even working with the same definitions of words.

We assume we know what someone means whey they say they’re a feminist or a Republican or a Christian or a supporter of Black Lives Matter.

We see a label and ascribe a definition to it – based on what we think it means, not based on what the person we’re talking to thinks it means. We make assumptions. (And we all know what they say about assumptions.)

Basically, we’ve become big fans of oversimplification lately. (Or maybe we have always been big fans of it but I just didn’t notice until now.)

But oversimplification doesn’t work because if there is one thing people are not — it’s simple.

People are confusing. They’re complicated. They are sometimes contradictory and frequently frustrating.

And though, on the surface that may seem like a negative thing, if you look a little deeper you can see it’s actually a good thing. Because people are complicated – that means their views are complicated too. That means things aren’t always black and white. That means there is usually more agreement and overlap in ideas than we give ourselves credit for.

Lately, it seems like if you say you’re a supporter of one thing, people automatically assume you’re against something else.

For example, if I say I’m a feminist (aka pro-women in this example) that must mean I’m against men. If I say I’m a supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement, that must mean I hate cops. If I say I’m not a fan of Trump that must mean I’m a whiny Hillary supporter who is just complaining because my candidate lost.

Sorry, it’s just not that simple. Life’s not that simple. People are not that simple.

Because, the thing is, I can be a feminist and love men and women. I can support Black Lives Matter while still believing that our law enforcement professionals are an incredibly important part of our society and we should value their work more. I can be a critic of Trump and Hillary.

People are complicated so we have to try harder to understand where they’re coming from and we have to try harder to communicate where we’re coming from too.

So here’s what I’m trying to say when I say I’m a feminist:

I’m saying that I believe traditional gender roles are limiting for everyone and there’s still more work to be done in terms of achieving full equality. 

Emma Watson (aka Hermione) explained the problem with traditional gender roles much more eloquently than I ever could in her speech to the United Nations in 2014. (It’s an old video and a long video, but it has an important message which I also wrote about at the time.)

She starts the speech by talking about what I’m going to talk about now – that “feminism” is not “man-hating.”

I don’t understand this misconception. If anything, I think feminism does a better job of honoring men than sexism does.

I’ll explain.

In a sexist world – things are pretty simple, by design. Men and women fit into very rigid gender roles that tell us what it is acceptable for each gender to do and be. (Also, it goes without saying, this is a very hetero-normative worldview.)

We all know these rules. We’re taught them from an early age. Men are to be smart, strong, ambitious, career-minded, brave and aggressive. Women are to be gentle, friendly, sweet, selfless, moral and focused on caring for others.

These roles or rules give both genders a raw deal. Because we’re all capable of being all of these things and we should all be free to be these things without judgement.

As a feminist, I believe that men and women are equally capable of making good decisions and treating others with kindness. That is the opposite of man-hating.

If anything, sexism hates men, or if not hates them, definitely thinks they’re dumb or less capable of basic decency than women.

Sexism operates under the idea that men’s bad behavior is something that can be explained away wholly by their gender. That’s why sayings like “Boys will be boys” are so popular. That’s why when men talk about sexual assaulting women we hear people talk about it as “locker room talk” that every man does.

Sexism teaches us that this behavior is a normal and it should be expected and tolerated because that’s just the way men are. It teaches us that men aren’t capable of being decent human beings and it’s up to women to preserve the moral integrity of society. That’s why women have to have stricter dress codes because you know how men are, always thinking with their penises.

Ummm no. Men are smarter than that. They’re better than that.

Not all men view women as solely sexual objects. Not all men sexually harass women. Not all men talk about harassing women in locker rooms. Some men just change in locker rooms and talk about normal stuff like people do, because some men are nice.

The average man is good and decent and that’s the way feminism views him.

I don’t think I’m more capable of making good choices than my male counterparts simply because I’m a woman – I think we’re equal.

That’s sort of the point.

Okay, now we’ve reached another point where I’ve seen a lot of disagreement lately particularly among women.

Please let me explain where I’m coming from.

When I say I’m a feminist, I’m not saying that I don’t think men and women are equally capable. As I’ve explained, I do.

I am not saying men and women don’t have equal opportunities. In many ways, we do. We’ve come a long way.

Yes, we have the right to vote. Yes we have the right to pursue the careers of our choosing. Yes, we even have the right to be president.

But you don’t have to stop believing in something just because you’ve achieved some of your goals.

Life is more complicated than that. Equality is more complicated than that.

And we’re not equal yet.

Despite the fact that women make up more than half of the U.S. population, women are not equally represented in politics, business or entertainment.

These three groups shape our country’s laws and provide us with the products and media that are a large part of our daily lives.

And, just math-wise, it’s clear there’s not equality here.

  • It’s 2017, our country is roughly 240 years old and we’ve never had a female president. (This isn’t a pro-Hillary thing. I’m just saying it’d be nice of we had a lady in the White House at some point.)
  • There are only 20 women in the Senate out of 100 senators.
  • Since 1917, when representative Jeannette Rankin became the first woman to serve in Congress, 325 women have served as U.S. representatives, delegates or senators. (That may seem like a lot until you remember that Congress has 535 members and it’s been 100 years since 1917). 
  • Roughly 20 Fortune 500 companies have a female CEO. Yeah, just 20.
  • Women made up 7 percent of all directors working on the 250 highest-grossing domestic movies in 2016.

There’s still work to be done. 

And that touches on another complaint I’ve seen about feminism – that women who call themselves feminists want to be handed things. That they’re lazy. That they’re whiners.

Maybe that’s what some of them are saying, but I don’t think that’s what most of them are saying and that’s certainly not the brand of feminism I support.

And, it’s not the kind Leslie Knope would support either. I don’t know Leslie, because yeah, she’s not real, but I’d imagine she’d be behind the “let’s get to work” brand of feminism.

So what does that mean?

To me, it means supporting other women (particularly politicians, if I agree with their policies). It means supporting the work of female directors and other women who make good entertainment about smart, strong, female characters. It means working with young girls to let them now that they are capable of being anything they want to be.

And it means, not tearing other women down.

Which is one of the saddest things I’ve seen come out of the recent debate about feminism.

I’ve seen women who don’t identify with the feminist ideology saying that feminists have attacked them, saying feminists have called them a disgrace to women or something similar.

That’s not what feminism is about and if people calling themselves feminists did that to you or made you feel that way, I’m sincerely sorry. But please know these people don’t represent feminism as a whole and they don’t represent me.

 

But then I’ve seen people on the other side, people who don’t identify themselves as feminists, imply that feminists are lazy, or whiners or ugly girls who are just sad they can’t get a date.

This is equally sad and it needs to stop.

The name-calling needs to stop.

Because if Mean Girls taught us anything, it’s that this type of behavior is the freaking worst.

It’s “girl on girl crime” and it doesn’t help any of us. Here’s a video of Tina Fey, I mean, Ms. Norbury, talking about it. And yeah, the video’s long but it has a good point.

We’re all better off when we lift each other up instead of tearing each other down and Galentine’s Day is a perfect time to celebrate that.

P.S. You can also celebrate but giving to some neat organizations for woman and girls.

P.P.S. I know it’s annoying that I keep plugging charities, but I don’t care because sometimes a little annoying is good for us. Leslie taught me that.

 

 

 

 

Don’t Overanalyze It, Sometimes Mean People Are Just Stupid

Disclaimer: I originally wrote this post way back in 2014, but after a weird encounter with a fellow human the other day, I started thinking about it. Plus, it seems relevant since, myself (and far too many other people) have recently been tying themselves up in knots trying to find the logic in the rantings of Internet trolls. 

***

Like most older siblings (or like most egotistical older siblings) I like to think I am wiser than my younger brother.

I like to think that during the roughly four years I was alive before my brother was born I gleaned so much valuable knowledge that it is virtually impossible for him to ever catch up. You know, because of all the cool stuff I learned before age four…

Admittedly, the theory doesn’t hold much water. It’s further disproved when my brother has the audacity to frequently be much, much smarter than I am. This is very annoying and frankly, kind of rude of him.

Younger siblings are not supposed to be handing up sage advice to older siblings. It throws the whole darn system out of whack. But since the advice my brother gave me the other day was so darn good, I’ll let him get away with it. Just this once.

Essentially what my brother told me was pretty simple. But it was something I needed to hear anyway.

The little knowledge bomb my little bro dropped on me was this: “Some people are just stupid.”

Okay, broken down to its essence it doesn’t sound like much. But he followed it up by saying, “You know, like that theory? That theory that you should never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity?”

No, no I didn’t know that theory. I’d gone 27 whole years without knowing that theory. I Googled it just to make sure he wasn’t screwing with me. He wasn’t. It’s real. It’s called Hanlon’s Razor (named after Robert J. Hanlon who must have been surrounded by stupid people) and it basically explains everything.

It’s also the main reason I haven’t completely lost faith in the human race. It’s way easier to forgive people when they mistreat you if you can just think of them as hapless, hopeless dumb-dumbs who unintentionally hurt you because, you know, they didn’t know better.

When you think people know better and they acted deliberately, it’s a heck of a lot harder to forgive. And I’m already bad at forgiveness. This is not a trait I’m proud of — but it’s a trait I know I have. I suck at forgiveness.

I’m a nit-picker, an over-analyzer, a dead-horse-beater (like the saying. I do not hit real horses. That’d be pretty shitty of me.) It’s not easy for me to forgive people when they are jerks to me because I’m a sucker for the “why.”

I have to know the reason. If someone flips me off while I’m driving when I’m actually driving well it will bug me for hours, if not days. I will not let it drop. I do not let things drop. I will map out the situation with visual aids. I will solicit feedback from multiple, completely-biased-in-my-favor sources. I will make wild, unfounded speculations like “Maybe it wasn’t me. Maybe that lady just has a personal, completely unrelated vendetta against beat-up Toyota Camrys.”

If someone randomly yells an insult at me (like a bunch of teenage boys who are just yelling offensive stuff at everyone because of their pent-up puberty rage, for example) I will spend infinitely more time than I should thinking about it. As in some time. I will actually think about it.

I’ll wonder if it was my fault. I will wonder if I unintentionally did something to offend them, which makes no sense because the only interaction I’ve had with them is them being dicks to me for no reason.

I don’t respond well to people being dicks to me for no reason. For the most part, I just stand there stupidly, blankly like a deer caught in the headlights who is just like “Huuuuuuh?”

 

Life’s hard enough without people deliberating mistreating each other. It’s just easier (and frankly, kind of lazier) to just try to be nice. That’s why I spend way too much time over-thinking it whenever people happen to jerks to me.

I just don’t get their endgame and I will not stop soliciting opinions on the matter. (Which when I think about it is probably really annoying for the people who have to listen to me—sorry, guys.)

That’s probably why my brother helped me shut up about it. It’s probably why he put the matter of jerkdom-motivation to rest.

It’s probably why he told me it’s all pretty simple: some people are just stupid.

My brother, however, is not one of them.

I Get It, We’re Scared. But That Doesn’t Make It Right.

Disclaimer: I originally wrote this post in June, but I think it’s fitting now. 

I’m an angry-crier. I can’t help it.

If you’ve ever seen me really angry, you’ve also seen me cry. The tears just flow out of my eyeballs like white-hot, angry feelings lava. I can’t help it. I can’t stop myself from caring all over the place.

I also curse a lot when I’m angry – a lot.

I really wish I was someone who could calmly and coolly argue my point when I’m angry. I wish I was someone who could give impassioned, articulate, cry- and curse-free speeches full of grace and panache.

Ideally,  I’d be someone like Dorothy Zbornak, the Golden Girl who was known, in part, for dispatching  indignant speeches with her signature seriousness and sass. (Here’s a video demonstrating Dot’s badassery.)

But unfortunately, I’m no Dorothy, so when I’m really mad about something, I’m forced to write my argument down.

And that’s why I’m writing today — I just can’t take it any more. Trump’s not okay, guys. The things he’s saying, the ideas he’s spreading, the fear and hatred and bigotry he is promoting (overtly and implicitly) is not okay.

It’s WRONG. (As a former reporter, I hate unnecessary capitalization and bold font but I’m keeping it here anyway because I mean it that much.)

I understand we’re living in frightening times. The latest tragedy – Orlando, is horrifying and sad beyond words, beyond reason.

And I don’t know how to change it. I don’t know how to stop it.  I don’t have a solution.

But one thing I do know is that we can’t let our fear make us turn on each other.

I know at times like this, it can be reassuring to hear political leadership throw out ideas, any ideas, to protect our safety. I understand why some people may find a sense of security and direction in some of the things Trump says.

In a way, I see how his comments on banning immigration from primarily-Muslim countries could bring comfort. He’s saying something, anything, and at this point people are grasping for a plan, any plan, to combat this terror. I get that.

But I don’t think this is the right plan. We, as a country, shouldn’t blame the sins of a radical minority on the entire Muslim population. It just doesn’t make sense – numbers-wise, it’s illogical.

As Aniz Ansari recently pointed out in his New York Times Opinion piece “Why Trump Makes Me Scared for My Family“:

“There are approximately 3.3 million Muslim Americans. After the attack in Orlando, The Times reported that the F.B.I. is investigating 1,000 potential “homegrown violent extremists,” a majority of whom are most likely connected in some way to the Islamic State. If everyone on that list is Muslim American, that is 0.03 percent of the Muslim American population.”

Admittedly, I’m not great with math, but even I can see that 0.03 percent of a population is an extremely small proportion of that group.

That means that the extremely vast majority of Muslim Americans who Trump regularly demonizes, have absolutely nothing to do with Islamic extremism.

Islam is just a religion and for the most part, its practitioners in America and elsewhere are just everyday people frightened, confused and saddened by the recent violence.

Muslim Americans are just regular people. (Here’s a video to remind us of that.) They’re not “just like us”. They are us. They’re Americans who deserve the right to practice their religion without being seen as “outsiders”, as “others” or as Trump so often paints them “as potential threats.”

At various points in his presidential campaign, Trump has advocated for the following things: doing surveillance on mosques, indefinitely banning Muslims from entering the country and seriously, I’m not making this up: compiling a national database of Muslims living in the U.S.

All of these suggestions terrify me.

They don’t scare me because, as Trump might allege, I’m a “bleeding heart liberal” or “obsessed with being politically correct.” (Though I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, I’m convinced that being politically correct just means you know how to act like a diplomatic adult. Being diplomatic is a quality, I, for one, look for in my preferred presidential candidate, and basically all adults I don’t think are jerks.)

These ideas scare me for almost the exact opposite reasons Trump might suggest .

Politically, and as a person, I like to see myself as a mixture of Leslie Knope and Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation though obviously, I’m not nearly as cool as either.

I’m someone who will cry when given a thoughtful gift or small compliment (Leslie) but I’m also someone who will become furious when someone (particularly someone who knows absolutely nothing about me) tells me what is acceptable for me to feel, think or believe (Ron).

And in this instance, it’s not the Leslie Knope part of me that’s more outraged, it’s the Ron Swanson part.

Because the government doesn’t get to tell you what religion is acceptable. Donald Trump doesn’t get to decide who I can worship.

In a country that prides itself, and was founded on, the ideas of freedom – freedom of speech, freedom of religion – an entire group of Americans shouldn’t be signaled out and vilified simply because of what or how they worship.

Sure, Trump’s suggestions may not scare you now because at the moment they may not affect you. The government may not want to monitor your churches, keep a list of your fellow parishioners, or tell people like you not to enter the country.

Trump’s ideas may not affect you now, but that doesn’t make them any less scary. It doesn’t make them any less wrong.

Is this really a precedent we want to set? Do we really want to start singling out our citizens based on their religion? (Because in the course of human history, people have done that many times before – almost always with horrifying results).

Do we want to chip away at the freedom of religion, one of the very freedoms that makes this country great, just because we’re scared?

Is that really something we want to do?

I hope not. I think we’re better than that. I think we’re braver than that.

I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t know the secret trick to make us feel safe. But I do know that turning on ourselves, on our own citizens, on the very freedoms that make our country great -is not the answer.

It’s just wrong.

Update, 1-29-2017: If you’re upset about the recent immigration ban, or even if you’re not, donating to organizations like Lutheran Family Services and Lincoln Literacy is a good way to spread a little love right now. Because, unless we turn our words into action, unless we put in the work, we’re not doing enough. 

Your Joke Wasn’t Funny But Here’s Some Stuff That Is

Sometimes, when you tell an offensive joke and people don’t laugh, the offensive bit wasn’t the only problem.

Sometimes the joke needs some work too.

Sometimes it just wasn’t funny.

Recently, a Nebraska politician came under fire for re-tweeting a joke about the Women’s March.

I’m not going to get into the whole thing here because frankly, the joke wasn’t funny the first time, nor was it funny when the state senator re-tweeted it. But if you’re interested, here’s a link to an article on it from the Lincoln Journal Star.

(The article also details the senator’s other controversies – including using his state-owned laptop for cybersex with a stranger. So, yeah this wasn’t just about the tweet. There was more to it than that. But for now, we’re going to talk about the tweet.)

When he received some inevitable push-back on the tweet, the senator inevitably took it down. But not before he spent spent hours arguing back and forth with people about it. Because, as we all know, any good joke requires hours of explanation to make sure people “get it”).

And, even when did resign, (after he was asked to do so from senators from both parties) he wouldn’t admit to doing anything wrong.

I’m sick of this behavior. I’m sick of people making offensive jokes and then complaining when people get offended. That’s how these types of jokes work.

When you decide to tell an offensive joke, you are voluntarily taking a risk. You’re making a bet that what you are about to say is slightly more funny than it is mean. You’re guessing that your joke will make people laugh at least slightly more than it will make them angry.

Sometimes, you’re right. Sometimes you’re wrong.

Sometimes you miscalculate and there isn’t enough humor to balance out the mean.

This can make you look like a jerk. That’s on you. That’s a consequence of your behavior and adults own that. They don’t get to turn on their audience and claim they’re the problem. That they’re all just humorless.

People are not required to laugh at jokes they don’t think are funny. They don’t have to pretend they like them.

This is not a Liberal  versus Conservative thing or a Democrats versus Republicans thing or even a political correctness thing.

It’s just how jokes work.

And, before you think I’m being biased, let me point out, this applies to everyone, regardless of political party.

The politician I mentioned earlier does happen to be a Republican, but I also don’t think Katie Rich’s joke about Barron Trump was funny. He’s 10. Leave him alone. It’s not clever to pick on people who have no way to fight back. It’s lazy. Do better. It’s your job.

And as much as I’ve heard people say things like “people can’t take jokes any more” or “it’s like no one has a sense of humor these days”, that’s just not true.

Many people whose job it is to be funny, are actually being funny.

We’re living in a new golden age of television. This is the time of Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and a revitalized HBO, if you can’t find something funny to watch on one of them, you’re not looking hard enough.

There is a treasure trove of funny out there, and some of it’s even nice.

Here’s a random sampling of some of my favorite, funny (but also nice) shows and movies:

  1. Moone Boy – It’s a sweet, silly show about a lovable Irish boy and his imaginary friend, played by Chris O’Dowd. It’s adorable. The entire, three-season series is streaming on Hulu.
  2. Zootopia – Yeah, I know, it’s a kids’ movie but it’s surprisingly funny and it has a nice message about diversity that is poignant without being too preachy. It was just nominated for an Oscar. But, more importantly, there are sloths.
  3. Golden Girls – Betty White! All of the episodes are coming to Hulu in time for Galentine’s Day.
  4. Bob’s Burgers – This show, and the family it features, are weird and wonderful. Also, when I grow up, I want to be like Louise Belcher – a fictional, nine-year old girl. This probably sounds nuts, but if you watch the show, you’ll get it.
  5. Parks and Recreation – I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Leslie Knope and Ron Swanson are the comedy duo we so desperately need right now. They’re political opposites but they’re buds who agree on  all of the important stuff, as Leslie would say: “Friends, waffles,work. Or waffles, friends, work. But work comes third.”

 

P.S. If you have any more suggestions for funny (but also, sort of nice) entertainment, please send it my way. I think we could all use a bit more of it right now.