Thursday, November 06, 2014

A winner, a loser, Lena Dunham

The squash with chile yogurt and cilantro sauce is the best dish I've made from Plenty More so far, by far. Toss sliced squash with olive oil and cinnamon, roast, top with Sriracha-spiked yogurt and a paste of cilantro, garlic, and oil. Sprinkle with some toasted pumpkin seeds for crunch.  Recipe here. The only thing I would change, and I can’t say this loudly enough: PEEL THE SQUASH. Other than that, perfection.

Not even close to perfect: the taleggio and spinach roulade, which is like a too-sharp, too-salty, loaf-shaped pizza full of leathery sun-dried tomatoes. Avoid. 

I’m going to persist with Plenty More, but it will be hard when I get my hands on a copy of Gabrielle Hamilton’s Prune, reviewed yesterday in the New York Times. I first fell for Hamilton's writing when she explained everything that was wrong and right about Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty in a notorious I Piglet essay. She nailed the problems (too tart, “not quite careful”) that I’ve been finding with Ottolenghi's recipes, but also captured why his books are so seductive. Prune is 576 pages long and while I'm not sure I'm going to love the recipes (broiled grapefruit) I can't wait to curl up on the sofa and read it.

Finally -- and this relates to cooking only thanks to the puerile food diary in which she records the calories in single bites of tofu and lemon tart* --  I read Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl over the weekend. FTR, I didn’t pick up on any sexual abuse of her sister. None. I had other problems with the book, however. I’ll just name one: I wanted to hear more about Dunham's ambition and accomplishments, less about her degrading hookups. All the youthful bad sex with unappealing man-boys started to depress me, mostly because I couldn't figure out why she was doing it. I detected no sexual desire, not a glimmer of real longing, in this book crammed to bursting with sex. Zero. It sometimes read like she was throwing herself into situations for research purposes, gathering up mortifying erotic experiences for her art. Or maybe she thought sexual adventures were expected of groovy 21st century girls? 

I was perplexed. If you’re in your twenties or thirties and shaking your head because you loved and related to Not That Kind of Girl and think I’m dead wrong, please remember that while it would have been a (barely) teen pregnancy, I’m old enough to be Lena Dunham’s mother. Isabel thinks the book is great and hilarious. I can not fathom why she and I have not yet discussed it at length.

Which reminds me: I love how tenderly Dunham writes about her parents.

**Isabel appears to have taken the book to school, so I can’t fact check whether tofu or lemon tart appear in the food diary. I think they did, but the diary was so boring I skimmed and can't remember.


  1. I am old enough to be Lena Dunham's grandmother, I think, so I am more removed from her generation than you are. However, I was a child of the 60's, and I am a feminist, so I am not shocked by sexual anecdotes. I tried to watch Girls, but I thought it was boring, very boring, as I do Ms. Dunham. While she may be trying to push some feminist agenda, I cannot for the life of me figure out what it is! Your description of her book is much like my impression of everything she does. It appears to me that all she wants to do is shock people, and shocking people without a worthwhile message is a bit pathological, it seems to me. I beg the pardon of everyone who loves her and her show.

    1. I'm not bothered by the sexual anecdotes either, except in the apparent absence of enjoyment. Maybe she just left that out?

  2. I will forever love Lena Dunham because of what she's done for women who lack show business bodies, but I understand completely the indifference she provokes. There is something to be said for her frankness about other things, too, but it does all seem to be a lot of navel-gazing much of the time. As for her show, I have (mostly negative) mixed feelings there, too. Watching it was usually tedious but I could never fully walk away. It might have had something to do with the actor who plays her boyfriend. Adam something?

    I re-read the Gabrielle Hamilton review that you link to, and I love it now as much as I loved it then. I am the same person who posted about how much I love Ottolenghi (a few posts back), but I understand the frustration with his books, and I tend to cook from them using my own sensibilities heavily, even as I experiment with the typically unorthodox combinations he likes. He remains one of my favorite food professionals for a bunch of other reasons and the photography in his books is absolutely out of this world.

    I received my copy of the Prune book in the mail. (yes, I know: Amazon. Sometimes I can't help myself) and it's a fascinating book. As someone who worked in restaurants for ten years, I appreciate the restaurant-kitchen feel she brings to it. There is a lot to be excited about in it. I look forward to hearing how it plays out with you and your family!

    1. Maybe you can be the one who can argue me out of my initial dislike of Prune. I know my views will soften with time and thought about holding back, but sometimes I hold back forever. I just made a really nice vegetable stew with dried limes from Ottolenghi. He tells you to put the stew in a roasting pan after cooking it and then baking it for 20 minutes, but I looked at it and thought, this looks really good right now and I'm going to trust my own judgment. It was delicious. I think Hamilton's advice is critical to getting the most out of Ottolenghi's recipes.

    2. P.S. I agree about Lena Dunham and what she's done on behalf of normal bodies. When I get down on her I think about the episode of Girls where she bicycled down the street in a green bikini and all is forgiven. That was one of the greatest moments ever in TV.

    3. I'm annoyed that Hamilton mentions the food photographer for Slater's books and doesn't name him then goes on to rave about the food photographer for Plenty. It is the same photographer, Jonathan Lovekin! Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy.

  3. BROILED GRAPEFRUIT!!!! In our house in the old Brooklyn we coated the surface of a half grapefruit with sugar and placed it under the broiler till warm and slightly bubbly. Then we ate it as an appetizer with our special serrated grapefruit spoons. It was so scary good. I am on tenterhooks waiting to hear how the lovely Gabrielle Hamilton prepares it.
    Lena Dunham is funny and smart and has probably had too much glory much too soon. I am too old to be part of the "sharing" zeitgeist and find her brutally honest self deprecation troubling rather than amusing. I do love her tho and laugh along while wincing then get really uncomfortable at how close to my own youthful debauchery it comes.

    1. It took me a minute to find the broiled grapefruit recipe in my copy of Prune because THERE IS NO INDEX. Hamilton has you top grapefruit with a "streusel" of crushed Wheat Chex, butter, and sugar, then broil.

  4. I totally agree with you about the Dunham book. Not only do we have to read about all those dispiriting, non-sexy sexual encounters, but we have to read about them all three times, in different places, without being entirely clear if this is something new or another mention of something we've already read. Needed a good editor.

    1. I'm glad you mentioned that. It was weird, the circularity and repetitions. I wondered if there was some artistic purpose to it that I was missing, but I was not motivated to figure it out.

  5. That book sounds a lot like Shelly Handler books...I have it on hold as an ebook from my library.
    Not on the subject but did you read in NY Times that Jeremiah Tower is the new head chef at Tavern on the Green!! He is 71. Can't wait to see how that plays out. Don't know if you ever went to Stars in SF. It was my absolute fav.

    1. I went to Stars a few times and those were memorable occasions. I did see that he was coming to Tavern on the Green. It will interesting to watch.

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