Hello, dames of the world! While Dames Sophie and Margaret are on a well-earned vacation (we imagine many fancy drinks with tiny umbrellas—or full-size umbrellas, as the case may be for Dame Sophie over in the UK—and the absolutely perfect pair of glamorous sunglasses always within reach), we are just completely over-the-moon to be here with you as your stand-in hostesses and internet pals this week.
Actual footage of Dames Sophie and Margaret, we assume.
I’m Rachel: amateur cat lady, erstwhile academic, and current professional cookbook fanatic. I blog semi-regularly, lately mostly about menstruation, with which I am a little obsessed, maybe? But also sometimes about dystopias set in my neighborhood!
Yes, this is a gif of my actual cats.
And I'm Naomi, a lapsed classicist, academic administrator, and full-time nerd. I occasionally write fanfic, and I yell a lot about queer representation and female characters' treatment in fandom on my tumblr (as well as just posting adorable pictures of puppies and things that make me laugh).
not NOT footage of Naomi.
We are both Boston-area dames who met through mutual internet friends, including one Dame Margaret herself. The basis for this guest edition of TBD is two of our shared passions: Cooking and Singing (and, frequently, Singing whilst Cooking).
But First, Let's Take a Stand Against Fascists!
...and the actual definition of free speech and basic human decency, &c. &c.
Before we jump in with snacks and songs content, however, we’d like to take a moment to talk about Charlottesville. As two culturally Jewish dames, we have pretty visceral reactions to Nazis and their ilk. Moreover, as two white ladies, we definitely feel it is incumbent upon us to speak up in situations like this, to challenge the white people around us, and to fully acknowledge our own privilege. There’s a solidarity march in Boston this weekend that you’ll be able to find at least one of us at, and if you feel able to do so, we encourage you to seek out similar gatherings in your area. Sara Benincasa also put together an excellent list of places to donate, if that’s an option available to you. We found that a few of our favorite podcasts did an especially great job addressing the tragedy:
On Still Processing, Jenna Wortham and Wesley Morris's intensely personal responses to the tragedy affected us deeply.
NPR's Code Switch team did predictably great work with on-the-ground reporting putting the events in context, but it's Gene's closing challenging-but-not-combative discussion with a Republican strategist that made this Wednesday's episode particularly strong.
And finally, Sam Sanders's did great work with a call-in show for It's Been a Minute, where he spoke only with white people, putting the onus on them for picking up the conversation on race and learning how to start it in their own communities.
Beyond these resources, though, we just want to say take care of yourselves and of each other; if that means taking a break from social media because it’s full of hateful rhetoric and swastikas, do it. If that means making a giant sign that says BLACK LIVES MATTER on one side and FUCK OFF, NAZIS on the other and screaming your lungs out at a protest, do that. If it means reaching out to the people in your life who might be having a hard week to tell them that you’re thinking about them, please do that; that is always good. We’re going to spend the rest of this newsletter talking about some other forms of self-care that are very close to our hearts and which can also function as community-building, and we hope they can help at least a little.
And now back to our regularly scheduled programming....
Imagine hanging in the kitchen and singing and cooking with Bey. YEAH.
The two of us view both singing and cooking as forms of self-care; things that nourish us and give us life. The topic of self-care has been almost inescapably ubiquitous lately. And that’s not a bad thing; we are entirely in favor of people taking care of themselves. However, the commodification of self-care can be a bit of a downer sometimes. Self-care is often pitched as "buying things to make yourself feel better," and while retail therapy can be fun, there's more to it than that, and elements that simply can't be met by consumption. Meanwhile, August can be a tough time for mental health; there’s a kind of melancholy that comes with the ending of summer but also a relentlessness to the sun and heat and humidity. Light and warmth don’t always directly translate to carefree happiness; we’re here to tell you that it’s important to take care of yourself even in the “happy” season, and food and music are two great ways to do that.
Do You Hear the Dames Sing?
Don't you want to start clapping along?
Singing is incredibly democratic. Anyone can do it, and it’s free. You can do it in all sorts of different ways, at different levels, in different spaces and contexts. Both of us sing in organized secular choirs in the Boston area, but even our two experiences are pretty different; Rachel sings in a small group of about 28 people that specializes in mostly a cappella music, while Naomi sings with a community chorus that has over a hundred active members and performs large-scale choral masses and other masterworks. But in either context, we're still doing something that gets us out from behind our desks and away from screens. Singing demands that you be present in your body in a way that's different from exercise; you're producing something entirely new with your breath and your voice, and contributing to something that's shaped out of all the participants into a new, larger whole. Apparently choir singing can even help start a revolution, so think about adding it as part of your 2017 Resistance Portfolio!
We also love less formal organized singing. Rachel has some friends who host irregularly scheduled music nights which can range from all-out jam sessions with people playing instruments and taking requests to a group called the Boston Area Ladies’ Temperance and Song Society, which, despite its name, is more accurately a Bourbon and Song Society. While the usual fare at BALTASS is Rise Up Singingand similar traditional tunes, it’s also the first place Rachel ever heard the Robyn song “Call Your Girlfriend,” and let me tell you, you haven’t heard Swedish pop until you’ve heard it in 6-part improvised close harmony sung by 8-10 tipsy women. (It was kind of like this, only with no annoying cups stuff and also beautifully spontaneous and just way better.)
So how can you get involved with singing? Well, first off, just sing more. Like, anywhere and everywhere. At home, in the car, at your place of worship if you belong to one, at karaoke nights, and definitely in the shower. If you want to take it further, maybe invite some friends over for singing time. Or look into joining a choir in your area. This is the perfect time to join, at least for you USians out there; many choirs hold auditions or open to new members at the end of August/beginning of September for their fall concerts. Just do a search for your area + "chorus" or "choir" and see how many options pop up! If you happen to be in the Boston area, check out the Greater Boston Choral Consortium to find a group (or message us if you want to know more about our respective musical homes here). If you’re not sure you’re up for auditioning, that’s no problem. Plenty of choruses don’t require a formal audition to join, and you can sit in on a rehearsal or two before you make any decisions.
If you’re not ready to raise your own voice in song yet, you can get more choral goodness in your life by attending a concert, or simply by listening to some of our favorite choral and choral-ish pieces on this Spotify playlist. Or, dip in with some media that touches on the magic of making/appreciating music (this is a tiny sliver of the available things to read and watch on this topic; if you have other suggestions, please share! We are both pretty fond of the dancing-about-architecture genre):
Alexander Chee, The Queen of the Night (sweepingly gorgeous we lufff it soooo much)
Kate Racculia, Bellweather Rhapsody (oft recommended by Dame Margaret)
Virginia Euwer Wolff, The Mozart Season (iffy in some areas, but the music bits are stunning)
Arthur Phillips, The Song Is You (more about music appreciation than making music, but has some nice bits of writing)
Amadeus (THE ONLY, and a brilliant portrayal of both making and understanding music)
Young@Heart (a heart-string-tugging documentary about a choir from Naomi's home valley)
SINGING FOOD we're great at segues.
Dames Gotta Eat
More live gif footage from Rachel’s home.
Food and the cooking thereof is another topic that takes up a huge amount of time and consideration in our lives—and why not: everybody has to eat and we have to get that food into us somehow. But in summer that can be even harder than it usually is. It's often hot and humid, so just standing in the kitchen can make you break into a sweat, and while farmstands are groaning with produce and we're supposed to be cavorting at barbecues every weekend we're also told that we have to achieve a particular body type by any means necessary before we can bare our poor overheated arms and legs.
So how do we handle this, and the larger issue of feeding ourselves and the people around us and finding pleasure in food and cooking? It's a topic we both think about a lot. Rachel is a professional Food Person, editing cookbooks, staring at beautiful food photos, and taste-testing lots of very good recipes for a living; Naomi is a fat woman with a complicated history around eating and diets. Some of the recent food-related ideas we’ve been considering include the new trend of meal prep services that purport to make it easier to get dinner on the table, and the issues associated with those, as recently written about by Amanda Cohen in the New York Times and then subsequently discussed by Aminatou and Ann on the Call Your Girlfriend podcast (McSweeney’s has also weighed in). Then there’s the fact that opening up social media for ideas can lead one to think that everyone's eating cronuts and unicorn milkshakes (or “eating,” as the case may be), or the prevailing notion that eating anything that's not clean and delivered directly from a garden to a plate without touching human hands or a heat source will immediately give you cancerrhea. (If you haven't read the two articles on dieting and "clean eating" from last week's TBD, please remedy that!)
An enormous amount of freedom and power can come from just accepting that this whole subject is messy, because food and human bodies are messy, and that perfection is impossible. If you're struggling a lot with eating, check out the Fat Nutritionist for a sensible and sensitive introduction to intuitive eating. If you want some more positive voices in your life who are thinking smartly and critically about these topics, we also love Ruby Tandoh (of Great British Bake Off fame!) in both her professional writing for The Guardian and her wonderful Twitter feed.
Things often go wrong and cooking can be messy, but the act of creating something from disparate ingredients still remains satisfying. Cooking reminds me that I am capable of taking care of myself and worthy of taking care of and nourishing myself. (Roxane Gay, Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, page 220) (See also all of ch 63-66 of that stunning, remarkable book.)
On a more practical note, If you happen to be in the Northern Hemisphere like us and have lost all will to cook in light of the climbing humidity, here are some of our go-to summer recipes for when it’s too hot to cook but foodies still gotta foodie:
This Carrot Salad with Tahini and Crisped Chickpeas from Saint Deb of the ever-perfect Smitten Kitchen (we're both pumped for her new cookbook out this fall! Rachel may actually already have a galley—hashtag jobperks—and it’s preeettty great.)
A burrito bowl, which you probably don’t really need a recipe for, but here’s a basic one, just in case.
These sesame noodles only need the stove turned on long enough to boil the noodles, are delicious cold, and keep for a week.
Toast with things—avocado not included.
how does Studio Ghibli food always look so perfect tho
Naomi Offers Some Simple Pleasures In An Out-Of-Control World
COME THROUGH AVA.
Like much of Dames Nation, I am super pumped for the upcoming adaptation of beloved children's novel A Wrinkle in Time, helmed by tireless champ Ava DuVernay and starring a stunning cast. I loved this book—so much so that I stole one of Mrs. Who's quotations for my yearbook quote in high school—and I took the trailer release as a sign that it was high time for a readthrough of the works of Madeleine L'Engle. And I don't know if you've read these books in a while, but they get WEIRD. Dancing with nanoscopic creatures inside mitochondria! Building arks! Telepathic dolphins! (That last one is an Austin novel, but I digress.) The wallop of nostalgia sent me looking for (fellow Guest Dame) Lizzie Skurnick's Fine Lines column on the book, which is just as hilarious as one could hope for. If you're looking for an afternoon deep dive, check out the rest of Fine Lines or Lizzie's book Shelf Discovery for a joyous remembrance and celebration of the middle grade and young adult books that shaped many of us Gen-X-ers and older millennials.
"Oral histories" are all the rage these days, offering even more nostalgia bombs to those of us who are surprised at just how much time has passed since the halcyon days of our youth. One of the greatest of these that I've seen recently is the story behind the iconic DuckTales theme song. At least half of you just went "A-woo-hoo!" and I do not apologize for the earworm you have now.
Finally, last week brought the terrible but not entirely unexpected news that Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 is closing [your Guest Dames did manage to see it (again) last weekend, though—we were both at the exact same show without planning it that way; Dames serendipity of the best kind]. This stunning, immersive electropop opera based on a slice of War and Peace is maybe best known for bringing Josh Groban to Broadway, but the show is so much more than a star vehicle (and was ROBBED at the Tonys). It also introduced me to the talents of Brittain Ashford, who plays Sonya, "Natasha's cousin and closest friend." Her second-act ballad "Sonya Alone"is achingly gorgeous, and Brittain's voice is so different from the typical Broadway belt that it demands your attention. If you feel like crying for the rest of the day, her #Ham4All cover of "It's Quiet Uptown" is three minutes of perfection with an autoharp. She also performs under the band name Prairie Empire, making beautiful folksy pop that feels nostalgic but also very modern (see, I brought it around). Their music is available on Bandcamp and Spotify.
BRITTAIN YOU ANGEL.
Rachel Reminds You That You Can Take the Girl Out of Academia but You Can’t Take the Critical Feminism Out of the Girl
not NOT further footage from Rachel's apartment.
Although I left (let’s be candid: dropped out of) grad school several years ago, I still remain intellectually and emotionally obsessed with the topics I was thinking and writing about back in my PhD program, which included American women poets of the second half of the 20th century and feminist theories of motherhood/maternity/female selfhood. However, one of the things that’s made it okay to be out of the ivory tower is that there is SO MUCH awesome and drop-dead brilliant writing going on in non-scholarly but not unintellectual spaces on the internet these days, and luckily, my obsessions seem to be shared by some very smart writers. Here are a few readings that have ~nourished~ my quondam academic heart lately:
Recent pieces in the Washington Post and Literary Hub both referenced Diane di Prima, a frustrating and fascinating female Beat writer who has been on my mind for about a decade now; maybe she’s having a comeback? If so, I am here for all the thinkpieces.
I think podcasts are in many ways the future of media, and that means they may also be the future of scholarship. Lately I’ve been loving podcast that do low-key feminist work—that is, that aren’t explicitly presented as feminist shows, but that use a feminist lens to tell their particular stories (as opposed to unapologetically feminist shows like Witch, Please and Secret Feminist Agenda from recent guest editors Marcelle and Hannah, both of which I love wholly and completely). For examples, turn to the recent 99% Invisible episode on “Repackaging the Pill” and the Criminal episode “The Procedure.” All snaps to Radiotopia.
And, of course, I have to include something from my Internet scholar idol, Anne Helen Petersen, namely her essay on Kim Kardashian’s transgressive performance of celebrity pregnancy (excerpted from her new book, Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman, which I just picked up last weekend and can’t wait to read).
On the lighter side, feminist performance art electro pop band The Blow has a new album coming out in the fall and the first single, “Get Up,” is a super great bop. Also check out their v. cool WOMANPRODUCER project.
Finally, love public media? Want to support them? Are you also a huge nerd and kind of a perfectionist? First off, SAME, let’s be friends, and secondly, this game is for you: FIX IT from the American Archive of Public Broadcasting lets you help edit and review transcripts of public radio programs for accuracy FOR POINTS. You’ll learn about random, NPR-worthy topics while also ensuring accurate transcription for future generations of nerds and scholars. WHAT COULD BE BETTER???
Julia Child, Dames Idol 4EVA: also brought to you by public broadcasting!