TRICK MIRROR

Reads, Recipes

Despite the title of this post and the fact that the writing is mostly concerned with Jia Tolentino’s brilliant book of the same name, the pie pictured is a chocolate-stout and gingersnap tribute to Tamsyn Muir’s GIDEON THE NINTH, the best book about lesbian necromancers in space I’ve ever read.

Reading

“The internet reminds us on a daily basis that it is not at all rewarding to become aware of problems that you have no reasonable hope of solving. And, more important, the internet already is what it is. It has already become the central organ of contemporary life. It has already rewired the brains of its users, returning us to as tate of primitive hyperawareness and distraction while overloading us with much more sensory input than was ever possible in primitive times. It has already built an ecosystem that runs on exploiting attention and monetizing the self. Even if you avoid the internet completely… you still live in the world that this internet has created, a world in which selfhood has become capitalism’s last natural resource, a world whose terms are set by centralized platforms that have deliberately established themselves as near-impossible to regulate or control.

The internet is also in large part inextricable from life’s pleasures: our friends, our families, our communities, our pursuits of happiness, and – sometimes, if we’re lucky – our work. In part out of a desire to preserve what’s worthwhile from the decay that surrounds it, I’ve been thinking about five intersecting problems: first, how the internet is built to distend our sense of identity; second, how it encourages us to overvalue our opinions; third, how it maximizes our sense of opposition; fourth, how it cheapens our understanding of solidarity; and, finally, how it destroys our sense of scale.”

-Jia Tolentino, “The I in the Internet”
from TRICK MIRROR

The top four are research, the bottom one pleasure.

“Fyre Fest sailed down Scam Mountain with all the accumulated force and velocity of a cultural shift that had, over the previous decade, subtly but permanently changed the character of the nation, making scamming – the abuse of trust for profit – seem simply like the way things were going to be. It came after the election of Donald Trump, an incontrovertible, humiliating vindication of scamming as the quintessential American ethos. It came after a big smiling wave of feminist initiatives and female entrepreneurs had convincingly framed wealth acquisition as progressive politics. It came after the rise of companies like Uber and Amazon, which broke apart the economy and then sold it a cheap ride to the duct tape store, all while promising to make the world a better and more convenient place. it came after the advent of reality TV and Facebook, which drew on the renewable natural resource of our narcissism to create a world where our selves, our relationships, and our personalities were not just monetizable but actively in need of monetization. It came after college tuition skyrocketed only to send graduates into low-wage contract work and world-historical economic inequality. it came, finally, after the 2008 financial crisis, the event that arguably kick-started the millennial-era understanding that the quickest way to win is to scam.”

-Jia Tolentino
“The Story of a Generation in Seven Scams”
From TRICK MIRROR

If you haven’t read war reporter Luke Mogelson’s New Yorker piece “Among the Insurrectionists” about embedding himself among the Trump supporters responsible for the January 6th siege of the United States Capitol building, you are doing yourself a disservice as a member of an increasingly nominal democratic society: the look it provides into the unity shown by divisive and disagreeing factions of conservative die-hards and conspiracy theorists is both chilling and necessarily sobering.

Eating

Soup Saeson
-Howard squash, parsnip, and fennel soup with parm and parsley
-Some “Bad” Borscht (I tried to cut corners on Veselka’s recipe and now understand what they’re all there for: it was still good, but it was not Veselka good)

Easy Savory Oatmeal

Oatmeal is like salad: unless the base has been significantly zhuzhed up with various add-ins, the texture and flavor give me the heebidy-jeebidies. Usually I’ll do a sweet, pie-adjacent flavor: blueberries or peaches tossed with cinnamon and maple syrup. But, now that most fruit is out of season and I’m sick of apple-only oatmeal, I thought I’d give it a savory twist. (I prefer savory breakfast anyways!)

For this recipe, I prepared about 1 cup worth of 1-minute instant oats according to the package. Then, I made the “granola like clusters” of cheesy breadcrumb bits from Alison Roman’s creamy cauliflower pasta recipe (halved) by toasting 6 tbs panko in about 1.5 tbs olive oil until brown, about 4-6 min and mixing in 1/4 cup of parmesan. I mix these into the oatmeal, a few more on top, and added 1-2 tbs of sesame seeds to supplement that crunchy texture!

Sometimes I use the whites of the green onion I chop up for garnish to flavor the butter before frying my egg. Finish with paprika!

Smitten Kitchen Roasted Yams with Crispy Chickpeas and Yogurt

The satisfaction of a hot meal with dynamic flavor profile, that zesty punch of yogurt sauce, and SO easy to make: this easily made its way into my rotation of frequent dinner ideas. Don’t forget to turn the yams around halfway through roasting (a rooky mistake on my part, burned another batch, not pictured).

Alison Roman’s Chicken and Dumplings

Per usual, Alison: delicious! Though, in my attempt, one purple carrot purples the batch! We also didn’t have a Dutch oven and made do with a wok, frying pan, and some trickery. The liquid did not immediately thicken, per step 5, since I added the stock all at once. Nevertheless it came together beautifully and the dumplings were like dreamy little clouds.

A Pie for GIDEON THE NINTH: chocolate stout pudding in a gingersnap & Nilla wafer crust with toffee “bone bits” (on top and at the bottom of the crust).

Having worked professionally as a commercial reader, it is rare to find a book that takes me out of my analytical headspace enough to actually enjoy it. As Charles Stross’s blurb says on the cover, in Gideon the Ninth “lesbian necromancers explore a haunted gothic palace in space,” so I had high hopes. From the pithy, irreverent voice to the sheer effortlessness with which author Tamsyn Muir weaves her moribund world and populates it with tense interpersonal mysteries, I was engaged the entire time and breathless for most of it.

*This recipe makes a 6″ pie, I have a host of “half-sized” tins (regular is 9″) that are great for, like, making and eating an entire pie by yourself in quarantine or whatever?

Using a food processor, grind up ginger snaps and Nilla wafers until you have a total of 3/4 c (I used 1/2 cup gingersnaps, 1/4 c wafers). Melt 3 tablespoons of butter and combine with crumbs and 2 tbs of sugar. Press into the bottom of the pan and blind bake at 350 F for 15 minutes.

Slow and steady makes a custard come together, don’t forget! In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine 4 large egg yolks with 2 tbs of cornstarch and mix until smooth. In a saucepan combine 1 1/4 c of heavy cream, 6 tbs granulated sugar, and 1 cup of stout (I used Brooklyn Brewery’s Black Chocolate Stout, which I cannot recommend highly enough for both drinking and cooking, my partner uses it in his amazing chili as well). Bring to just below a simmer on medium heat, until a foam of bubbles forms around the edge. Whisking constantly, slowly pour half of the stout mixture over the egg mixture until combined, then add to the remaining half of the stout mixture in the saucepot and return to heat to thicken for about 10 minutes. Once thick, mix in 5 oz. of quality dark chocolate and combine.

If I were at peak form I probably would have tried to make my own toffee in the shape of tiny femurs, but I’m working on bucking my perfectionism: also, no toffee lives up to the nutty, brittle crunch of a Heath bar for me (even if the chocolate is cheap). So I picked up some Heath bar bits from the same spot in the grocery you find chocolate chips. I sprinkled the bits liberally along the bottom of the cooling crust, then strained the pudding through a fine mesh sieve on top. I finished with a little more toffee and some flaky sea salt, next time I will certainly be adding some chopped hazelnuts as well.

(There was a little extra pudding, I halved this recipe from Shanna Wolf and Food52 for the filling, but accidentally added the full amount of stout; nevertheless, I stand by the surplus! In these times, who doesn’t need a little extra alcohol-infused pudding lying around

Writing

Finally, reading feels fun again, and I want to lose myself in it.

I often joke that I’m an analog girl in a digital world, but these days I’ve been increasingly unplugged. Still, it very much feels like a swing of opposition: reacting to the even-more-supremely-online lives many people are living during the Pandemic by spending more time offline. I’ve broken my Twitter habit (though I still have the account and that feels like a backslide waiting to happen), but I’m still wrestling with that unwilling addiction to Instagram; yet another protuberant growth of the Facebook monster. I’ve been addicted to enough social media platforms in my (relatively) short life that I can now recognize the emotional cycle of fascination, ubiquity, jocular frustration, and eventual disenchantment that sometimes even ends with me expunging a version of myself from public view… Or trusting that I have, anyway. (The thought of my teenage blogger self haunting my current internet presences chills and terrifies.)

Reading essay collections the likes of Jia Tolentino’s TRICK MIRROR and Natasha Stagg’s SLEEVELESS has given me a new appreciation for not only the cultural prism of social media, but specifically how being raised alongside the internet has shaped the Millennial experience. Both women are far “cooler” than I am: tapped into the zeitgeist and mentality millennial culture with an air of self-aware nonchalance that it feels reflexively easy to envy. Unafraid to put themselves out there, nor to unpack their experiences doing so. (In well-circulated print, no less.) Tolentino, particularly, has the blow-by-blow comentative fervor of a well-curated social, feed balanced with a canny sense of scope that frames our current moment against the backdrop of a clear-eyed historical context. She shines particularly in tracing the machinations of corporate capitalism from the nebulous tree-tops of our imagination, trickling down through the limbs and substance of our everyday lives, all the way to its insidious roots in our behavior and biases.

“Always Be Optimizing” paints a portrait of a corporate New York I recognize: chopped salad bars and trendy exercise studios requiring sexualized performativity I can never manage replacing the East Village mom and pops I haunted in college. The lifestyle that supports and is supported by these chains perpetuates a Sisyphean cycle of “I work to maintain my lifestyle, my lifestyle is well-optimized work.” This work ethos is hinged on the nebulous promise of eventually passing that boulder off to a struggling assistant of your own, so you, too, can finally enjoy a fully-optimized life of ease. “The Story of a Generation in Seven Scams,” frames and defines the Millennial experience – most particularly, it’s aspirations, beliefs, and faith – by a kind of grift vs gullibility dichotomy that fascinates me (a fairly easy dupe). Tolentino, like Stagg, seems a bit hostage to her own image and, particularly, internet presence: “The I in Internet” and “Reality TV Me” shows very particular cultural touchpoints that mark her as a one of those millennials who shared an adolescence with the internet.

I’ve been taking a lot of solace in the writing of these and other Millenial women (Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth – per my pie above – was similarly impactful on me this year, though for much different reasons); the reassurance that we are wiser beyond our years (or, at least, beyond the youthful naivete older generations still project onto us) and the strangeness of our times shouldn’t be underestimated. Our instincts are good, essentially, and things are exactly as fucked up as they seem.

And still, even with her nigh-intuitive reading of internet culture, the version of it Tolentino portrays feels like a relic from the distinctly pre-pandemic internet. And (even since my first draft of this post), a pre-coup America.

The New Yorker piece by Luke Mogelson I linked to above the recipes paints a portrait of Proud Boys and Neo-Nazis just as validated and emboldened in their beliefs by the internet as the leftists reinforcing my preferred echochamber in my own timeline. Tolentino talks about the internet’s inherent centering of the individual – their thoughts, their fears, their page – and the validations of that individualism by cultivating and reinforcing particular narratives about ourselves and the world based on our individual perceptions.

And it is a trick, this image we paint of ourselves based on our search histories and follows.

In “The I in the Internet” Tolentino touches on the hollowness of internet activism in a canny, almost prophetic way: “The assumption that speech has an impact, that it’s something like action’ the assumption that it’s fine or helpful or even ideal to be constantly writing down what you think…it can also feel like a shunt diverting our energy away from action, leaving the real-world sphere to the people who already control it, keeping us busy figuring out the precisely correct way of explaining our lives.” Tolentino reinforces that the internet perpetuates the kind of misrepresentation that allows the facsimile or appearance of an attitude and its practice to be used interchangeably. (I was introduced to the term “virtue signalling” this past year: by my measure, if one is worried about seeming preachy or alienating “friends,” one might be prioritizing optics over impact, which has a strong whiff of white supremacy.) “This is why,” Tolentino says, “it’s so easy to stop trying to be decent, or reasonable, or politically engaged – and start trying merely to seem so.”

It is easy to maintain the status quo, that’s what makes racism and fascism so insidious: they make standing in opposition seem unpleasant for those of us who might be swayed to neutrality by even the slightest discomfort. Rather than embody virtues, it is easier to simply display or signal them; all the easier to lose ourselves in the “reflections” of the black, magic mirror.

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