Not smash and grab, but rather find and keep;
Go panther-pawed where all the mined truths sleep
To detonate the hidden seeds with stealth
So in your wake a weltering of wealth
Springs up unseen, ignored and left behind
As you sneak on, pretending to be blind.
-Ray Bradbury, “Go Panther Pawed Where All the Mined Truths Sleep”
I’m currently switching between the following books
“Edna Pontellier could not have told why, wishing to go to the beach with Robert, she should in the first place have declined, and in the second place have followed in obedience to one of the two contradictory impulses which impelled her.
A certain light was beginning to dawn dimly within her,—the light which, showing the way, forbids it.
At that early period it served but to bewilder her. It moved her to dreams, to thoughtfulness, to the shadowy anguish which had overcome her the midnight when she had abandoned herself to tears.
In short, Mrs. Pontellier was beginning to realize her position in the universe as a human being, and to recognize her relations as an individual to the world within and about her. This may seem like a ponderous weight of wisdom to descend upon the soul of a young woman of twenty-eight—perhaps more wisdom than the Holy Ghost is usually pleased to vouchsafe to any woman.
But the beginning of things, of a world especially, is necessarily vague, tangled, chaotic, and exceedingly disturbing. How few of us ever emerge from such beginning! How many souls perish in its tumult!”
-Kate Chopin, THE AWAKENING
Gulf Beach Pie
“The Awakening Pie” – My take on Bill Smith’s infamous Atlantic Beach pie includes grapefruit curd, salty meringue, and candied ginger. It’s a lot, but so is Edna Pontellier.
I made this baby bite in a 4″ diameter pie pan I bought specifically for the task, using 1/3 of the Smith’s salty, buttery summer saltine crust (1/2 sleeve of crushed saltines, 1 tbs sugar, ~22/3 tbs melted butter). Combine, press, and “blind bake” (toast, really) until golden. Curd, generally, is a lot easier than people think: just be patient & vigilant. (This recipe yields just the right amount for the center of this mini pie, this one has some fancy tips on massaging grapefruit juice into your sugar) Basically: whisk 1/2 c sugar and a single egg together in a saucepan over low heat until smooth. Add 1/4 c melted butter and the juice + zest of half a grapefruit. Heat and thicken attentively until it coats the back of a spatula. Set to cool.
The white of one egg – whipped to combine with 1/2 c sugar over the heat of a double boiler and seasoned with ~1 tbs of sea salt – will make more salty meringue than you need for this pie. I dolloped the extra onto wax paper, hand-torched them along with the top of the pie, and chilled for a salty-sweet snack.
The candied ginger I bought at the corner store.
Mexican Pierogi (Wrapper: Veselka, St. Martin’s 2009)
July 10th, I saw a heart-stopping tweet from writer Myriam Gurba*: “has anyone ever tried to make ‘fusion’ pierogi? Like Mexican pierogi w chorizo en vez de kielbasa?” The challenge reminded me why I love messing around in the kitchen, making shit up as I go: sometimes it results in crisp, perfect pierogi wrappers, here concealing a startling, spicy cache of meat and potatoes (which I lazily cubed). They are also the perfect vehicle for sour cream. I use Veselka’s famous pierogi wrapper recipe. Tough but tender, if you can work with it into its necessary form, it will easily fulfill your wildest boiling and frying dreams. It also reminded me why I usually get down with a box of Mrs. T’s: wrapper dough is way more tough and stubborn than I am. My arms were sore for days.
Combine 1 large egg yolk (save the white), 1 c whole milk, 1 tbs of veggie oil, & whisk with a fork, 5 min. Fold into 31/4 c flour and knead until combined. Turn out onto the counter and knead until smooth. Wrap in plastic & refrigerate 20 min.
For the filling: chop 2 red onions, reserve 1/3 and reduce the rest in a frying pan with a lil butter. When soft, add 1/2 lb Mexican chorizo and seal. Add 1/2 c of mashed potatoes, combine and then remove from heat. Transfer to a bowl: add 1 diced jalepeño and 2 oz crumbled queso blanco. Cool to room temperature before stuffing. SnP to taste.
Divide the dough into three, roll out using flour as needed (I did not, I actually needed a little extra milk to bring it together). I rolled out to about 1/8″ thickness, cut with a 2.5″ diameter biscuit cutter, then further rolled the individual wrappers out to the recommended 1/16″. (I got about 45)
Using a scant 1 tbs of filling, seal the wrappers with egg white and pinch closed. Boil until they float and develop that shiny pierogi skin, about 5-6 min. Drain. Add the remaining red onion and 3 chopped slices of uncured bacon to your frying pan. Fry dumplings on med-high heat, 5 min each side
Avo-Lime sauce: juice 2 limes + 1 avocado + 1/2 cup cilantro in the food processor until creamy.
*I’m also realizing it’s also lowkey ironic that this wrapper is from St. Martin’s, the publisher Gurba has been very righteously ripping a new asshole over their fucked up publishing of the “novel” AMERICAN DIRT, which is actual dirt.
Crispy Crust Pizza, Summer Edition
The only thing easier – in my cookbook – than pie crust, is this unleavened, cracker-crisp flatbread crust. It’s my go-to weeknight vehicle for veggies, cheese, and the occasional sprinkle of meat toppings.
Massage 2 tbs of olive oil into 11/3 c of flour, combine with 1/2 c cool water until it goes from sticky to semi-dry & handleable. Roll it out to about 1/4″ thick, brush with more olive oil, set aside. (I’ve never seasoned this crust, but I bet you could easily bake in rosemary or sage for an herb crust)
Here we’ve used yellow squash cut into rounds, chopped green bell pepper, & the last of a bag of frozen corn; tossed in olive oil & SnP here together (Samin Nosrat says you should season separately, but we were feeling lazy). Spread the rounds of squash in a thin layer first (this gives the crust a lush veggie twist on the the chewy-to-crisp bite you expect from risen pizza dough). Dress with peppers, corn, and a bloomy-rind soft cheese… or with your veg of choice.
Baked @ 400F for 30 min.
Brussels Sprout Slaw (Short Stack Cookbook, Abrams 2016)
I’m in love with shaved brussels sprouts as salad greens (we’re very happy together) and something in my Eastern European heritage just loves a slaw. This one has a satisfying crunch and a surprisingly sweet, wide-mouthed tang, but with other textural goodies like toasted sesame seeds and chopped peanuts a small bowl feels like a whole meal.
Soak 2 large shallots in rings & 2 red (I used jalepeño) chiles in 2 tbs lime juice + 2 tbs unseasoned rice wine vinegar + 1 tbs fish sauce for about 5-15 min. Toss 3/4 lb shaved sprouts in 2 tbs veggie oil & douse in vinegar sauce. Just before serving, toss with 1 c each coarsely chopped cilantro & parsley, 1/2 c mint. Finish with 1/2 c chopped salted, roasted peanuts & 2 tbs toasted sesame seeds (dry, over low heat on the stovetop).
Kimcheese (Short Stack Cookbook, Abrams 2016)
I know it sounds gross. I know, but I’m not sorry: I love this zippy, addictive snack that fluffs up 8 oz of sharp cheddar (roughly grated) with 1 cup chopped & drained kimchi, slathers in 1/4 cup of mayo, & gives it a kick with 1 tsp sugar & hot sauce to taste. I sub’d in avo-mayo because mayo is… *hurk* generally, not for me, but I admit it adds a certain richness here. Probably why it makes an insane grilled cheese and why we definitely snacked on too much.
“The Canon,” White Feminism, and The Awakening
I started The Piebrary in 2014, around the time I entered the publishing industry, drawing up a list of “canonical classics” and planning an ambitious one-pie-every-two-weeks schedule. I was, admittedly, insecure about my reading abilities among my newfound publishing colleagues, largely because I am a compensating (the technical term) dyslexic. The first mistake of this blog was building it on a foundation of insecurity: my “canon” was just as unconscionably white, male, narrow, and (frankly) boring as so many I had found daunting in academia.
I was a reluctant reader as a kid. As a teen I needed extra time on tests, but read tons of highly commercial YA. Most of my classics requirements as an undergraduate were completed via audiobook while obsessively playing Tetris. In a writing masterclass, when I tried to pass myself off as strong a reader as any other selected, I straight up failed. After eviscerating three or four papers in a row, the professor wrote in the margin, “What’s going on here? Are you dyslexic or something?” (They had a dyslexic sibling, were very sympathetic, and the advice imparted about editing is integral to my skill set as a writer and professional reader to this day.) Privilege and The Piebrary’s sheen of literary quality helped me carve out a niche for myself in the children’s and young adult market of publishing. And still, the first time I casually (finally, after several years!) mentioned my dyslexia to colleagues, I got stares like I’d just admitted to regularly shitting myself.
To this day I cannot satisfyingly inhale whole, five-hundred page tomes in a few hours the way so many of my friends can. I put in the time, instead. I used to pride myself on putting in the time. Which is why my professional mastery of the skimmy speed-read began to nag at me. Amongst a field of other red flags, the emotional detachment with which I read was like that giant fucking number in Les Miz. I was burned out: it was time to pick my nose up from the grindstone, re-evaluate my priorities.
If a basketball player pulls her shoulder or a football player tears his knee, there are inherent professional consequences. So, too, for renting out emotional bandwidth as a professional reader. The stress devoured The Piebrary and began to eat away at my fundamentals; empathy, curiosity, focus. Values I’d been using to compensate, the stuff that makes literature worthwhile and enjoyable for me (even if ~*feelings*~ aren’t academically acceptable) were fed into that burnout. The cavalier way scouts* switch between, spoil, or simply drop books has made me picky and snobbish where there used to be enchantment. I’m impatient and bored, too distractible to be submerged for more than a sprint at a time. A story has to to practically hook me by the nose holes and drag me under. I still treasure books as artifacts, casually make digital holds at the Brooklyn Public Library to skim, and enjoy soaking in friendly prose like a healing hot bath. But I’m reminded (by a vindictive little voice, usually while playing video games) that my first grade teacher basically said I was going to be illiterate and worry (irrationally?) that – maybe – I broke something precious I only had on loan to begin with. When my mom was diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer, I resigned.
I considered rebooting this blog. I would use the books-as-pie format to exclusively evaluate texts by women, turning the pastry into a third-wave commentary on the intersection of feminism and femininity in the domestic sphere. (They would also be single-serving pies: a big “fuck the patriarchy” mood, no?) And why not start with the first book earmarked as “feminist” in my formal education? I decided to revisit a book I found totally tedious as a teenager: Kate Chopin’s THE AWAKENING.
In this late 19th century, southern novel, patriarchy dictates the white female’s function as reproductive and ornamental, hollowing Edna of practical purpose. Ultimately, Edna’s emotional affair opens her eyes to the oppressive system she’s traded into like a baby-making bauble, but it is in mourning her own gross lack of agency that Edna surrenders her life. And – unfortunately, though it’s been over a hundred years since this book was published – White Feminism still operates on the same ultimative thinking.
I know: ascribing a modern lens to historical literature is frowned upon in academic circles… but so is “feeling” one’s way through a book, and that’s my principle tact in sussing my way through a text. So… sorry, not sorry.
I just feel it would be morally remiss to ignore the ways in which the mythology of this story feeds into some outdated delusions white feminism still maintains. Like Edna, exclusionary white feminism is deathly afraid of waking up from its 2nd wave dream of equality to find it was all just a bigger cage: shackled in compromises and gilded in exclusivity. Perceiving itself to be too precariously perched to make room for anyone else: there are only so many compromises the patriarchy can make, and Karen was the first in line! To some degree, we – white feminists – are conditioned by the canonization of white feminist writing to fear and cooperate with patriarchy all the more.
Robert’s boundary-bucking presence reminds me, personally, of the blowhard “romantic” types one meets in literary circles. (This Hazlitt essay – “Mine For Life,” by Rudrapriya Rathore – on literary mentorship and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie says it in a way I, still, cannot.) It invites Edna to savor her brief stint as an individual, but she is never able to forget that her freedom comes on time and resources borrowed from the patriarchs in her life. This sensual vacation from the prohibitive realities of patriarchy is possible because Edna is a woman of privilege with other women – specifically Black women enduring the injustices of the Jim Crow South – taking care of her domestic work. They cook, clean, and care for her children, and although the book never grapples with this pervasive historical dysfunction of its setting, it is undoubtedly on their shoulders that Edna gets her glimpse of independence.
Although she had seemed so alien as a mother and “adult” when I was seventeen, when I stepped into Edna Pontellier’s world this time it was with an easy familiarity that left me breathless. She is a young woman of twenty-eight – like me, at the time – feeling adrift in cultural contrast between the inland cities where she was raised and the coastal city that expanded her sense of scope and forced her to re-contextualize herself in society and her own head. And as The Awakening and Edna are a product of privilege in their time, so am I.
Dyslexics are not given the tools to compensate, even at fancy private high schools. I should know. I am the product of extensive tutoring in addition to all my expensive education. My parents fought for and prioritized my literacy, now my greatest weapon. But publishing absolved me of the fucks I might have given about meritocracy being based in anything real: it is not an environment designed for long-term success to begin with, let alone if you’re somewhere at the edges of a bell curve.
I feel embarrassed to have been so thoroughly swept up in the hype of a very obviously broken system.One that so clearly valued my privilege more than the good for which I might wield it. (“Misogynist” and “ageist” I can vouch for; so, “racist” I’ll readily believe.) Still, I’m compelled to count my blessings these days. I feel blessed that I live in a time where (at least for now) society recognizes my agency as a woman in a way it didn’t historically. I’m Capital-P-Privileged to have been stubbornly bullied through the caliber formal education I received. I’ll even count my time in publishing: the best business education a writer can ask for, in spite of everything. (And with the current industry shake up, I have hope it might even be worth reapplying someday.)
But I feel especially blessed to have had my dyslexic ass punted around by the disapproving: it’s a character-builder, a roll-slower. I spent many years being handed books by white men (the authors and the handers) that I was promised would make me a better writer. Regardless of that, I’m well-schooled in the gaslight-y dysfunctions of canonical thinking, which makes continuously decolonizing one’s reading lens easier in some ways. It took suffering through most of those recs to make me a strong enough reader to appreciate a more diverse, and specifically Black list of classics. Now I’ve got the time to read more Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, and Zora Neale Hurston. I’m stoked on the stack of queer, black, feminist writing sitting at my elbow. I have a tower of black sci-fi / fantasy that I’m ready to devour. I am deeply ashamed to admit I’ve never read Octavia Butler, but so excited to listen and learn from her with an open heart.
The Piebrary as she was is gone, for sure. But in trying to rediscover my reading process, I can’t help but be drawn back to this space. For now I’m just… gunna post what I’m reading and eating maybe… once a month? Patience is a virtue in these days of quarantine and there are worse ways to cultivate it than working my way with fresh, radicalized eyes through classic, radical books.
It just feels like a good idea.
*Yes, I did just do that, it was totally pretentious. I’m sorry, I just can’t explain this job anymore.