#Normcore

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Normcore capitalizes on the possibility of misinterpretation as an opportunity for connection — not as a threat to authenticity. [K-Hole]

I’ve been fascinated by the concept of normcore since it first swept through the internet at the end of last year. The dissemination of the concept and the responses to it have been strange, to say the least. I’ve used it as an opportunity to dust off the critical theory portion of my brain, and ponder some big issues related to culture and food. Doesn’t that sound like fun?!

I’d like to start with a bit of a normcore reader, in case you’re not already a scholar on this cultural idea/trend/confusion.

  1. You should start with the origins of the term: Youth Mode: A Report on Freedom by K-Hole and Box 1824. K-Hole is a collective of thinkers/artists using the style of corporate trend reports to comment on our cultural moment and forecast trends(?). I’m really interested in their work, which exists in a space between art, satire, and academics. The report is dense and at times, I think, deliberately unclear. So, don’t feel bad if you have trouble with sections of it. Overall, it’s good stuff. Normcore, as defined by K-hole and interpreted by me, is the valuing of connections and participation over authenticity or uniqueness.
  2. There are some serious responses to their work.
  3. Later, the idea of #normcore spirals into a bunch of trend reports that seem to lose sight of what K-Hole was initially suggesting and focus on the idea that clothes from Wal-Mart are now cool (which, to be precise is actually #ActingBasic according to K-Hole). It gets weird. People are understandably annoyed by the discussion. Bon Appetit wants to prove they know what normcore is (they don’t).
  4. Then more recently, Thomas Franks responds. We still seem interested in the idea, though we continue to use it to fit our needs.
  5. This is probably a good summary of the cultural moment, if you’re more of a cliff-notes kind of student.

All of that should send you down an internet hole that will take a while to return from, good luck. And here I am, eating onion rings.

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The Midwest

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My friends and I are approaching middle age, some of us more quickly than others. Babies are included in dinner reservations. Our bodies aren’t as reliable as they once were. Most of us have grown-up jobs or own property (buncha sell-outs!). I’m also noticing that many of us are questioning everything. It’s similar to what we went through after graduating from universities, but now the questions have changed: do we want to have kids? am I on the right professional path? where should we live? (who made these rules anyway?!)

Where should we live? is a question that Bryan and I ask each other a lot.  On our frequent trips to Los Angeles we often have moments where we think it would make sense to live there. We have family and friends in the city, the climate, landscape and lifestyle all seem to fit us. We fantasize about what life would be like in sunny California and it’s a blur of avocados, apocalyptic sunsets, and year-round backyard dinners. These fantasies are usually followed by very real moments trapped in freeway traffic where I end up screaming “I hate this fucking city!”. Sooooo, maybe not Los Angeles.

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Cornbread

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I’ve had a little bit of a crush on Josey Baker since I first discovered his blog a few years ago. For those of you who don’t know him, he’s a guy who fell in love with baking bread and became one of the kings of bread in San Francisco (check out this video for more). He’s partially responsible for the toast trend that we discussed earlier. He’s also really charming. I haven’t met Josey, or visited The Mill (his bakery), but I know I’d like him. And having spent the last couple of weeks reading and baking from his recently published cookbook, my feelings have only grown stronger. read more+++

Toasted Barley Risotto with Spinach and Herb Purée

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The sun is out (it’s going to be nearly 70° today!), birds are singing, and it is supposed to snow on Monday. It is spring in Chicago—which looks a lot like winter in other places, with the occasional warm day. But after the winter we’ve had, I think we’ll take whatever we can get. Soon, our food will take a technicolor turn and I couldn’t be more excited.

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Lottie + Doof + Amanda Rockman

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Recently there has been some discussion about pastry chefs and their importance in restaurant kitchens. You know by now that I consider dessert to be the most important part of any meal, and I stand in solidarity with pastry chefs and their kin. I want to spend some time this year highlighting my favorite pastry makers and bakers in Chicago, because they are amazing and have a lot to teach home bakers.

I’m always shocked when people don’t order dessert—are they ill? is this a sign of mental illness? do they not understand what dessert is? I order dessert. Sometimes I ask to see the dessert menu first so that I can plan my meal based on that final course. Occasionally Bryan and I even order second desserts. We once, famously, order four plated desserts at a fancy restaurant in town. They undoubtedly assumed we were restaurant critics, but we  just wanted to try all of the options. Pastry chefs are among the only chefs whose names I remember, I even follow some on social media, and I’ll tell you what—they tend to be kind, generous, and usually have a good sense of humor (if you will permit me to generalize).

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One of the chefs that I have followed for quite a while is Chicago’s Amanda Rockman. She’s become a bit of an iconic Chicago restaurant character. Within our household, Bryan has taken to calling her A-Rock (which may, or may not annoy her). I’ve followed her from The Bristol, to Balena, and now to Nico Osteria, where she currently works. These are three of Chicago’s best restaurants—she ain’t no fool (and neither are they). Over the past few years I have grown to believe she is baking just for me. She gets me. It’s similar to how I feel about my favorite musicians. If Amanda Rockman is making dessert, you better believe I will be there. Her sweets manage to be totally comforting and satisfying without ever being pedestrian. This is in part because of her attention to detail and impeccable craftsmanship. But she also knows how far to push things before they start to get weird, and I think that is an important skill in a pastry chef. I want to be challenged by dessert, but not so challenged that I can’t relax and enjoy it. Her version of tiramisu at Balena (and indeed at Nico) was a perfect example of her genius. Elements were familiar to anyone who had eaten tiramisu in the past (which is 100% of the population?), but she threw in a streusel and a perfect little pear roasted in coffee. It was insanely delicious. At Nico she has made so many beautiful dishes, from an affogato made with Chinotto and fior di latte gelato to a walnut flan tart. read more+++

David’s Paris Kitchen

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If you read any food blogs, you probably read David Lebovitz’s. You should—it is wonderful. I can always count on David to teach me something new and to make me smile. His site inspires kitchen projects and frequent daydreams of trips to Paris. The blog is such a great resource, but of course David’s work doesn’t stop there. He is also a successful chef and cookbook author (and all-around great guy!). So, it is an exciting day for all of us when he releases a new cookbook.

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My Paris Kitchen is David’s homage to his life in France and the food he cooks at home. The first thing you’ll notice about the book is how beautiful it is—both the photography (by the talented Ed Anderson) and the design are sharp and evocative. (Ten Speed Press seems to be leading the pack as cookbooks published here in the states get better and better looking.) But it’s David’s voice— funny, smart, and informative—that draws you in. He’s created a book that manages to be beautiful, engaging, and full of recipes you will be anxious to try. read more+++

Pineapple Pie

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[I did not intend to share a recipe for pie on pie/Pi (π) day, but here I am.]

The past year has been good for pie, and for those of us who love it. Two wonderful cookbooks were published in 2013, The Hoosier Mama Book of Pie (Chicago!) and The Four and Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book, both of which I’ve written about on these pages. Now, First Prize Pies, a third (wonderful!) cookbook dedicated to pie has arrived. Its author, Allison Kave, is no stranger to Lottie + Doof. She is responsible for both the Apple Cider Cream Pie and the Dark & Stormy popcorn—two of my favorite recipes. I was eagerly anticipating this book and I am happy to report that it does not disappoint. It also completes some sort of holy (unholy?) trifecta of professional pie cookbooks.

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There are many recipes I am anxious to make (avocado! smoked almond! all of the summer fruits! summer, yes, summer!) but nothing sounded better than this pineapple pie. I have never seen a recipe like it before—fresh pineapple in a pie?! Is that even possible? Spoiler alert: IT IS.

Pieces of sunny pineapple are suspended in a lime and rum flavored custard and the whole business is encased in a deliciously rich and flaky crust. It is absolutely wonderful and Bryan and I could not stop eating it. It is the perfect pie for these last days of winter, a little sunshine on your plate.

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Buttermilk Pecan Fudge

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Fudge shops are not usually indicators of a rich culinary scene. I associate fudge with tourist-filled fair-weather vacation spots from Monterrey to Saugatuck to Ogunquit. The fudge in any of these shops inexplicably looks the same, thus undermining my faith in the product. It is sometimes sold alongside all forms of gummy/sour candies and ice cream that is crystallizing before your very eyes. Though I frequently enter these shops, they do have their charms and usually are well-air conditioned, I rarely eat anything. read more+++

English Muffin Bread

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A few years ago I told my friend Sandra that I thought she should be selling toast, that it would be the Next Big Thing. I like to think that I was prophetic, but who knows—maybe I had heard rumblings. It’s now a cliche, and “hipster toast” has been simultaneously ridiculed and worshiped across the land. It would be easy for me to dump it into the same Dumb Stuff category that I reserve for things like Kinfolk, mustache irony, and articles trying to convince us that food and fashion are not strange bedfellows. Except, it’s toast and unlike those other things, it has a soul (for lack of a better word). Though its current moment may be slightly annoying, toast is a food for the ages. We’ll enjoy toast even when mustaches are taken seriously and Kinfolk has found a sense of humor. read more+++

Saffron Pasta with Spiced Butter

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I can’t see a pasta maker without thinking of this one painting by John Currin. The painting is of two guys, presumably a couple, making pasta together. It’s not a painting that I particularly like, but it is a painting I will never forget.

Chevrolet has recently been airing some commercials that feature diverse families: multiracial, single parents, same-sex parents. They almost make me care about Chevrolet.

Representation is an important thing. Those of us in marginalized groups grow to understand this, and either long for it or find ways of embracing our otherness. Seeing yourself reflected in the culture is powerful, it validates you. I grew up without any positive depictions of gay men—literally none. There was no literature read in high school, no characters in film or television, and I certainly did not have any examples in my own life. There were millions of examples of heterosexual love and lives. I have an imagination and so of course I was able to see myself in characters and situations that were unlike me, we all do. I identified with people like Mick Kelly in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Audrey Horne in Twin Peaks, and Levin in Anna Karenina.

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But this identification is not the same thing, it isn’t representation. That painting of the gay couple making pasta is burned into my mind because it was the first (only?) time I had seen my life represented in painting in a literal way. Both in terms of the relationship between the two men and depiction of them in a domestic situation. Even today, when there are more diverse representations of gay men, they are rarely in domestic spaces—they are rarely mundane. The act of painting imbues the couple and their domestic act with an importance that was oddly moving and unsettling the first time I saw it. Over the years it has become iconic to me and impossible for me to separate from the act of making pasta. How odd! I don’t necessarily like this fact. It is stupid that I could feel so desperate for this sort of representation that I am forced to hang onto a painting that I don’t even know if I like.

So when Bryan and I, in a collective effort to make better use of sometimes neglected kitchen appliances, decided to make pasta, we both said: LIKE IN THE PAINTING! Because it is stuck in Bryan’s head too.

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