Late Spring 2017 Playlist: Call to the Post

It’s our favorite time of year y’all. Winter has finally ceded the reins to Spring, flowers are blooming, and it’s time for the most decadent and depraved event in all of the South. Dust off your seersucker and unpack your fancy hat, it’s Derby Time! Now, as we reiterate each year around this time, while many hail Derby as “the fastest two minutes in sports,” we Louisvillians know better. Derby is actually a two-and-a-half-week long festival that contains multitudes of fun, food, fashion…and a healthy amount of depravity.

As we prepare to throw the fourth annual Zelda & Scout Derby Bash, we’re looking to our musical roots to build a playlist that really reflects the feeling of Derby time. We pulled classic country favorites like Patsy Cline, Kentucky favorites like Ben Sollee, the always applicable Dixie Chicks. And this year, we even brought in Zelda’s sister to consult on the current country music landscape to really get us in the mood.

So make a mint julep, place your bets, heed this non-traditional call to the post, and get yourself ready for Derby time. Listen here, on Spotify, or on YouTube.


Making Matzah You Want to Eat

It’s that time of year again! My favorite Jewish holiday is upon us. Yes, Passover is here, and along with all my favorite things — gathering around the table with friends, drinking wine, and opening doors for invisible guests — it also means eight days without the comfort of leavened carbs. If you know me, you knows that this definitely qualifies as a hardship. Instead of the glorious wheat products that normally make up the bulk of my diet, we get eight days of the cardboard-adjacent cracker substance known as “matzah.” But all is not lost! Today, the first full day of Passover 2017, I have scoured the edges of the internet to bring you ten recipes that make matzah actually tasty. The Jews of the internet have taken to Pinterest and Tumblr and what-have-you to take matzah to a palatable, even delicious, level. Enjoy.

Matzah Brittle: This recipe is first on my list just because I firmly believe the best way to make anything taste better is to cover it in chocolate and caramel. There’s really nothing better. If you make this right you’ll want to eat it even when it’s not Passover. In fact it’s so addictive, in Zelda’s house it’s known as matzah crack.

Matzah Brei: Matzah Brei is probably the most traditional way we Ashkenazi Jews have to make the unleavened fare of our ancestors taste better. The concept is simple. Take some matzah, break it into pieces, soften with water or milk, add eggs, and fry. It’s like a Passover frittata, or Pesach french toast. Slather with syrup and you can almost dream it’s a waffle.

Matzah Granola: Snacking is the hardest part of staying #Kosher4Passover, so do yourself a favor and prepare a bunch of this munchy-worthy granola ahead of time. Then you can snack away to your heart’s content!

Matzah S’mores: S’mores are always amazing, and while the loss of the graham cracker shell does hurt the overall s’more taste, the flavor of the matzah is mostly hidden by all the good-good melty chocolate and marshmallow. For a cross-cultural Easter/Passover experience, use marshmallow peeps instead of regular marshmallows.  

Matzah Latkes: Why not combine these two bastions of Jewish food? Latkes aren’t just for Chanukah, people. We can savor the delight of the potato pancake all year round! Even if it’s more potato than pancake during Passover.

Matzah Lasagna: Anything you can do with noodles, you can do with matzah, or so this recipe posits. Having experimented thoroughly in my younger years, I believe it to be true. Your matzah lasagna is going to be slightly more crunchy than the traditional sort, but it will still be good.

Matzah Pizza: Teenage Scout’s favorite way to eat matzah, covered in cheese and marinara sauce. It’s just pizza! Really, really, really thin-crust pizza. There’s room for a lot of variety in toppings here, so you can really hide the taste of cardboard if you try hard enough.

Matzah Puppy Chow: For some Jews (cough-Zelda-cough), kitniyot are not off limits, so there’s really no need for this recipe as rice or corn Chex are #K4P. But alas for us Ashkenazi’s they are not…for some inexplicable reason. So we have resorted to re-creating a beloved recipe with Matzah to…mixed results. We’re sticking with the theme here: If you cover something in enough chocolate, it can never really be bad.

Matzah Cake: This is one for the more ambitious among you. It turns matzah into a dessert that almost looks restaurant-worthy. It does require two whole boxes of of the stuff though, so it’s mostly for the people who stocked up beforehand (not the Scout’s of the world, who will wander into the grocery the day before Passover and be relegated to making the last box of off-brand matzah on the shelf last the entire eight days of the holiday).

Matzoah Kugel: It’s fitting to end with this recipe. My children, what we’ve learned today is that the key to making matzah taste less like cardboard and more like actual food is drown it in as many other ingredients as possible. Hide it under apples and brown sugar and eggs and never look back.

Photos via: The kitchn, Love + Cupcakes, Martha Stewart Living, Ingredients Inc, Martha Stewart, DelishSkinny taste, What Jew Wanna eat, Living sweet moments, Epicurious

On S-Town and Stories and Why They Matter

“John B McLemore lives in Shittown Alabama.” That was the subject line of an email that Brian Reed, a producer for the radio show This American Life, received in 2012. John B introduced himself. He talked about his shit town (known more widely as Woodstock, Alabama). He asked Reed to help him solve a murder.

Like millions of other people, I spent the past few days falling headfirst into S-Town, the podcast that emerged from years of reporting by Reed, all sparked by this missive. I’m going to warn you now, if you have not yet listened to S-Town, this post contains spoilers as to the content of the podcast. So please, do yourself a favor, and go spend a few hours journeying through its seven chapters now. I’ll wait.

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The podcast was produced by This American Life and Serial, Sarah Koenig’s true crime wunderkind. I was a huge fan of Serial, so when this new show was billed as an outgrowth of that one, a murder mystery cut from the same cloth, I was intrigued. The actual show would turn out to be so much more.

S-Town is a murder mystery, it’s true. But not of the one the previews introduce. It is also an investigation, an autopsy, a celebration of a life cut short. John B killed himself, you see, a few years into his correspondence with Brian. And what began with one death — that of a local kid, whose murder John believed to have been committed by the son of a local lumber scion and subsequently covered up, and which turned out not to have happened at all — turns into a deep examination of another. The podcast traces the aftermath of John’s death: the battle over his estate, the feud between his relatives and friends, the aftershocks that ripple through his community and, more slowly, through his spiderweb of friends. More importantly, it grapples with who John was and the life that he lived, restoring clocks and rescuing puppies, caring for his mama and seeking human connection, building mazes and inhaling mercury and loving and losing and worrying and hating Shittown.

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The podcast has been described in several reviews as Southern Gothic, and I believe the label is a fitting one. Wikipedia, the internet’s number one source for all cursory knowledge, describes the term: “Common themes in Southern Gothic literature include deeply flawed, disturbing or eccentric characters who may or may not dabble in hoodoo, ambivalent gender roles, decayed or derelict settings, grotesque situations, and other sinister events relating to or stemming from poverty, alienation, crime, or violence.” Its characters, “madness, decay and despair, continuing pressures of the past upon the present.” S-Town unfolds like a novel — even the episodes are called Chapters, numbered I-VII — weaving through time and space, from interviews to digressions into fire-gilding techniques or climate change. It visits characters mysterious and strange (and yes, definitely eccentric), from John’s friends and family to former professors and fellow horologists, his mama and cousin, proteges and friends. While there is very little hoodoo, there is much exploration of gender roles and ambivalent sexuality, especially when it comes to John himself, who describes himself at different times as various percentages of straight vs. gay. The setting is either lush and verdant or horrifyingly decrepit, depending on whose eyes you see it through. There is poverty and crime, violence in the form of murders that weren’t and suicide and self-mutilation that, heart-breakingly, were. And there is madness here, although whether it arises from the environmental decline of the world or the poverty of rural Alabama or too much mercury or simply bad genes, or all of the above, is anybody’s guess.

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But what I think makes S-Town such a vitally Southern story — setting the, well, setting aside — is that its roots are so clearly grounded in the region’s storytelling tradition. The South is rich in lore, a region that can’t shake the shadow of its history and digs deep into its roots, pride mixing with surrender. This tale is one of a town grappling with a complicated history and an ugly present. It’s also the story of a community that comes together, cobbled together from parcels of land and sheer resolve. It’s a saga of families both biological and chosen, of the scars our parents leave on us, of the legacy we leave behind. It’s complicated and messy, and the gears don’t always seem like they’re going to fit. It is exquisitely real.

To be a human being is a lonely thing. We are all, each of us, trapped inside our own minds, starring in a movie of our own making without a ticket to anybody else’s cinema. And we tell ourselves stories, as one of my favorite writers says, in order to live — to feel less alone. The last chapter of S-Town in particular asks a question: “What gives a life meaning?” The question is specific — what did John B think defined a life as worthwhile, and did his own, when he ended it with a swig of cyanide, fit the bill? But it also endlessly broad. What makes a life worth living? What can each of us hope to accomplish with our few precious days on this earth?

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I believe we can listen. I believe we can tell our story. And I believe, if we’re lucky, we can help to tell the stories of others, especially those whose voices are often muffled. That’s why I’m a writer. I write because I do not understand, as a way through the darkness. I write to puzzle the knot of my life into something slightly less kinked, and to tell the stories of the folks I meet along my way. We all live in bubbles — whether in hipster corners of Brooklyn or small towns in Alabama — but stories, both journalistic and fictional, help us to see beyond our sphere. And what Brian Reed does so brilliantly here is to follow the witness marks of John B’s life, to reconstruct as best he can what all the gears and pulleys of his mind looked like, and to invite us inside for a spell. In another’s hands, this would have been the story of a crazy dude in a shitty redneck town, who subscribed to conspiracy theories and wasted his resources on obscure projects and died writhing on his front porch. But Reed tells his story with curiosity and respect. He always questions, never assumes. He listens. He looks at every angle. He tries to find the whole, messy truth.

John B McLemore is dead. He died in the same Shittown where he was born and raised, never straying too far beyond its borders. But his life, which at first glance seem small, left a mark on this great wild world that continues to ripple out. And a storyteller named Brian Reed helped, is continuing to help, him do that. To borrow from another of my and Scout’s heritages, it is one of the greatest mitzvahs a person can do. To really listen to someone. To see them. To celebrate them. To tell their story, without reducing any of its complexities or quirks to stereotype or a cheap joke. To make them remembered.

IMAGES VIA: FORBES, SHEKNOWS, PASTE MAGAZINE, PEDESTRIAN