sports reporting, social justice and the steve dangle podcast.

In the most recent episode of the Steve Dangle Podcast (a Toronto Maple Leafs first, hockey second podcast that I listen to religiously because I have become a hockey fan over the past couple years, go figure), cohost Adam Wylde asked listeners to tweet the show and tell them how we found them. I have A Lot Of Thoughts And Feelings about SDP and have wanted to pontificate about it for awhile, so I am going to do that now. I’ll even tell you how I found them.

I wouldn’t call myself a sports fan, exactly. I’ve always loved the Olympics, as anyone I’m facebook friends with knows from watching their feeds fill up with Olympics-related tomfoolery last August, and about three years ago I started following hockey, but for me the actual sports are only part of the point. What really grabs me is the psychology of sports, the sociology, the anthropological lens on a culture that’s totally alien to me, what a good friend used to call “sports-adjacent stuff.” I love the internal minutiae of sports: the ridiculous salary cap finagling hockey teams have to do, the calculating nature of trades, the stupidity or brilliance of management groups and what it means for the teams they manage. I also enjoy watching hockey on occasion. But like pretty much everything else in life, I enjoy it infinitely more when I know the story behind it and can place it within a context. I don’t just want information. I want analysis, and I want to know where the analyst is coming from. Tell me what you think about something. Then tell me why.

It’s really no surprise, then, that I never warmed to mainstream reporting once I got into hockey. Initially a Blackhawks fan, I dutifully read Mark Lazerus in the Sun-Times, but I infinitely preferred him cracking wise and having actual opinions on Twitter. When I found Yahoo’s Puck Daddy blog, I didn’t look back. Puck Daddy combines traditional sports reporting with a heavy dose of analysis and opinion, and the straightforward way in which the writers make clear their biases gives their writing an honesty that feels absent in traditional sports media. It’s meaningful to have Devils diehard Greg Wyshynski write a celebration of Scott Gomez’s career. Everything Ryan Lambert writes is more interesting to me because I know he’s going to be blunt and cutting when he thinks things suck and sincere and celebratory when he’s excited about something, while backing it all up with in-depth statistical analysis. Sports is inherently theatrical. It should be fun. It shouldn’t be Deeply Serious News. Puck Daddy is fun.

All of which brings me to Steve Dangle, a hockey vlogger/blogger/podcaster/Leafs obsessive/new-media-loving guy who I first discovered through animated gifs of his youtube videos on tumblr when I was first getting into hockey in 2013. (I can’t find any of them right now. People used to gif him a lot though, I promise.) Steve, who is now employed as an actual Hockey Media Person by Sportsnet, has made a reaction video after every Leafs game for NINE YEARS, and when I started watching them I don’t think I could have named five Leafs if you paid me. I just liked Steve. He was funny and charming and sarcastic and very, very loud, all of which are traits I identify with. Particularly very, very loud. He was a diehard fan but assessed the team with clear-eyed honesty. (In 2014 and 2015, that mostly meant rage, sorrow and a sort of deadness inside.) Pretty soon I was watching every video response to the games of a team I didn’t actually give a shit about with as much enthusiasm as if they were my favorite.

I didn’t listen to podcasts at the time, and while Steve (along with his bff the Canadian Ryan Seacrest Adam Wylde and, now, producer Jesse Blake) has been doing the podcast for a few years, I didn’t turn onto it until the summer of 2015. In the summer of 2015 my then-favorite hockey player, Patrick Kane, was accused of rape. It was a more-than-usually gross situation that I won’t dig back into right now, and while both hockey blogs and mainstream hockey media were on the right side of history about it to a degree I never expected, hockey fans were about as shitty and as great as human beings tend to be about rape stories (that is to say, sometimes great but often shitty). In his videos and on Twitter Steve always came off as a genuinely good guy, but lots of people seem like good folk until you ask them their opinion on the wrong thing.

This is what Steve, Adam and Jesse had to say on the podcast about the Patrick Kane story and, in particular, a local paper’s choice to publish a victim-smearing account from the owner of the bar where Kane and his accuser met before going back to Kane’s house, where the alleged rape took place. This is what they led the August 10th episode off with (it starts at about 8 minutes in), and how they opened discussion on the topic:

ADAM: I will say that everybody who is going and supporting Kane and going, you know, ‘She’s probably a gold digger, she’s probably – ‘ whatever all the names you call ’em, you have no proof, and you have got to take a look at yourself and change everything about you. Because you are all wrong.

STEVE: That’s my kind friend Adam. My take is you’re all fucked. You’re fucked. You’re fucked in the head.

[…]

STEVE: The bar owner goes, ‘Well, he was taking photos with people all night, and he was acting like a gentleman, and he had these girls hanging off of him, just hanging off of him all night, practically blocking other girls from talking to him, and they just wouldn’t let him go. And then they went home with him.’ Now, let’s pretend every word of that is true. WHO! GIVES! A FUCK! [ … Rape happens] at the moment of, ‘Hey, do you wanna?’ […] There’s a yes-and-a-no time, okay, and Fuckface at stupid Sky Bar was not present for yes-and-no time, so what Fuckface had to say has no relevance.

Now, if you are a Social Justice Type, that is pretty basic shit. But if you are a Social Justice Type, you also know that an absolutely breathtaking number of humans are not even in the same room as that shit. And the thing is – sports is shaky territory, if you’re a lady, and especially if you’re a social justice-minded lady. To hear people who are on the one hand fans like me, but are on the other hand people I listen to and trust for my Sports Opinions, not just saying that stuff but saying it like it’s basic fucking common sense and anyone who doesn’t get it is the idiot in the room – it’s more than meaningful to me. It’s a giant banner waving in the air that screams “YOU ARE WELCOME HERE.” I was hooked.

Anyone who knows me (or who is able to scroll back a few years on this blog) knows that I had my Social Justice Warrior phase. I actually think it was pretty good. I think I had some good opinions and yelled some good yells and fought some important fights. I think I changed a few minds. But that part of my life is pretty definitively over. I still have those opinions – hell, I’m a fucking social worker, living those principles is my job now, for money – but my willingness to argue about them is dramatically diminished. Now, what I want is to be around people who have the same fundamental social justice principles as me and not talk about them. I want to have the emotional and psychological safety of knowing we agree about the things that matter without having to unpack them all the time. And that’s how I feel listening to SDP. I can enjoy a sports thing without worrying that the guys are going to make some casually, thoughtlessly -ist comment. Or if they do (I’m looking at you, Adam “I’m going to say how different men and women are! before going into a 10 minute story about buying my girlfriend a make-up bag” Wylde, what even was that comment, bro?), it’s something so benign that it barely registers. What does register are things like the guys’ strong, enthusiastic and ongoing support for women’s hockey. What registers is the care they take to talk about the Washington Redskins as “the team from Washington,” because their name is a fucking racial slur that no one should say. What registers is the way they make a point of always referring to generic example people as “sir or ma’am” and talking about “guys or girls.” As a social-justice-minded lady person, it’s those small details that tell me, as much as any long rant about rape culture, that these are guys who give a shit, who aren’t looking for social justice cookies but are just trying to be good people. Who might roll their eyes at internet social justice warriors, but are far closer to those SJWs in practice than they might admit.

They’re not perfect. I remain incredibly frustrated that they talk, over and over, about the racism faced by NHL players of color and P.K. Subban in particular without ever using the word “racism” (oh yes, the crazy lady screaming “RACISM” at her car radio on the highway is me), but have no problem labeling the attitude towards Russian players as xenophobia. But they get it right far, far more often than not. And when they’re wrong, either factually or analytically or just through being underinformed, they admit it. They’ll even have the people they were wrong about on the show as guests! (Jakin Smallwood I AM JUST SAYING.)

I don’t want to give the impression SDP is a social justice podcast with a side of sports. That could not be farther from the truth. This is intensely hockey-focused, in-depth coverage (it’s a minimum of 90 minutes, and sometimes goes over two hours). Like the writers at Puck Daddy who first got me excited about sports analysis, the SDP guys aren’t shy about their biases but still provide honest, informed analysis in incredible detail. They have an allergy to #hottakes that I’m pretty sure is physically measurable, and they pull no punches. I am a far more informed hockey fan, and more thoughtful sports fan in general, from listening to them.

They’re also funny as fuck.

SDP, Steve in all his ventures, and Puck Daddy are examples of where I really hope sports reporting is going: smart, thoughtful, socially conscious, aware of broader narrative contexts, honest about biases and clear-eyed in analysis. If this is what my generation is bringing to the table, I couldn’t be more excited.

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the brian fallon show OR the song that doesn’t end

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The foregoing is a portrait of Brian Fallon.

Here are some things about Brian Fallon, lead singer of The Gaslight Anthem and The Horrible Crowes, and now solo artist with the release of Painkillers back in March.

  • He is proooooobably trash. The attitudes towards women in his music range from questionably self-aggrandizing to reprehensible. All his love songs are written from a wounded crouch, casting himself as the victim of some woman’s cruel whims. (“Here’s Looking at You, Kid” is all the argument anyone could ever need against the idea that rap is uniquely misogynistic.) It is not clear that he has ever had a self-reflective thought in his life.
  • He presents as charmingly self-deprecating, but when the rubber meets the road he’s tiresomely self-important. I once saw him play a show where the audience was very drunk and very douchey, the band was clearly pissed off about it, and the vibe turned sour. I left the show feeling kind of embarrassed about the whole situation and sorry for the audience’s behavior. However, the very next day Fallon published a multi-thousand word screed about what had happened that effectively killed any good will I’d had towards him (you can read about the whole thing here and here. It wound up getting some press coverage because it was so fucking stupid). He just seems to spend a lot of time engaging deeply with his navel and doesn’t come up with anything particularly interesting, but is desperate to know why you don’t love him anymore. It’s all pretty off-putting.
  • In the same way that Woody Allen has been telling the same joke for 40 years and you either think it’s funny or you don’t, Fallon has been writing the same song since the late ’00s. Sometimes it’s fast and sometimes it’s slow. (Sometimes it’s up, sometimes it’s down, sometimes it’s almost level with the ground…) I’ve listened to The ’59 Sound a million times, and to this day I can’t remember which track is which song (and I like most of them! it’s a really good album!) because they all sound the goddamn same. It’s true that most bands have a sound they don’t deviate too far from, but Fallon legit has a song and a handful of riffs, and he has been playing Jenga with them for about ten years. I blame no one for being tired of this.
  • I have seen him three times now, twice as Gaslight Anthem and once as Brian Fallon and the Crowes, and not once has the bass been properly balanced. He likes the bass to be so loud that it’s physically uncomfortable, and for this I resent him.

These are all true facts and solid opinions. I don’t defend Brian or his compositions or his dumb, dumb lyrics. I’d argue that both Elsie (The Horrible Crowes’ only album) and Painkillers are musically interesting, but to anyone who finds Gaslight boring and repetitive, I’d say, “Yup.” It’s all a thing I like without a lot to that opinion; I just like it. Brian has one song, and it’s a really good song.

I’m thinking about him because I saw him at Terminal 5 last night. It was a pretty good show. He played most of Painkillers, a couple numbers off Elsie, and one or two Gaslight songs. He opened with a cover of Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down,” whose music I would argue is a much stronger ancestor of Fallon’s sound than Springsteen. (Gaslight and Fallon are constantly, and semi-inexplicably, compared to Springsteen. As far as I can tell, the reasons for this are that they’re both from the Jersey shore and their music has *superficially* similar lyrical content (unlike Fallon, Springsteen’s respect for women is constantly evident in his work and I’m gonna write about it soon).) Fallon looked like he’d just stepped out of The Outsiders, as he always does. He’s got the rock’n’roll look down to a science, and paired with his ever-raspier baritone, he winds up ridiculously sexy for someone who’s not that good-looking. (I, of course, think he’s good looking because I read The Outsiders too many times as a kid and also like dudes with pointy faces.) He engaged in some pretty terrible banter and joked about getting mixed up with Hillary Clinton’s press secretary (they have the same name – his twitter bio right now is, “I write songs and have never been to the White House”). There was too much bass and a lot of assholes taking video by holding their phones above their heads and right in my line of sight, and I pissed off the girl in front of me by asking her not to do that. I’m a cool old lady at the rock show, yup, yup I am.

But there was something about the show that made it rise above being just another pretty good rock show: Brian looked genuinely happy. He actually seemed to be having fun. He smiled a lot! He seemed totally content to just bang out rhythm guitar chords and sing lead and bop around the stage. He wasn’t objectively a great frontman in terms of his crowd engagement and such, but his enthusiasm was delightful, and made me more forgiving of when he’d say dumb shit. When I remember this show, I’ll remember him wandering back by the drummer, whacking out chords on the beat and grinning from ear to ear. He’s probably a douche, but douches deserve to be happy too.

I don’t really have a point here. When I started writing I thought maybe I wanted to talk about loving something despite its flaws, but my relationship with Gaslight and Fallon doesn’t rise to that level. I just like it. I like how the music sounds. I like how Brian’s stupid images land. He’s extremely fucking good at writing evocative and emotional lyrics, even if the overall picture they paint is actually pretty dumb. I like being annoyed by what a douchebag Fallon seems to be. I like chuckling at his near-total lack of range. I just like it. And liking stuff doesn’t always need a reason.

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man, the dope said there’s still hope.

I want to talk about Bruce Springsteen, but I’m not sure where to start. It’s so cliche – the girl from suburban New Jersey in love with The Boss, so in love she’s contemplating a Springsteen tattoo, so in love she goes to concerts and cries for the first hour, or maybe on and off for the whole thing. But cliches don’t come from nowhere, and the feelings clogging my chest during Springsteen shows are some of the truest I know.

I grew up on Springsteen, but as with so much of the music my parents liked when they were young, it had been filtered into Greatest Hits collections by the time I came along. We had Springsteen’s Greatest Hits, and sometime when I was a teenager we got Born to Run and Born in the USA on CD – Born to Run turned me inside out just as bad thirty years after it came out as it did to folks in 1975 – but the deep dives were my own.

It really started in 2008. (That’s 33 years after his debut album, for those of you keeping score at home.) I don’t remember why, but I decided to take my dad to see him that summer. We saw him from the nosebleeds at Giants Stadium touring in support of Magic, and I was done. I’d never seen anything like it – never seen anyone play so long, love the crowd so hard. I remember going back to my desk job at the University of Chicago Press and watching live video after live video, reaching for that magic. I remember sitting in my apartment listening to Magic again and again, astounded at how good he still was, how his 2007 work was still fresh and vital without abandoning his sound. I saw him again in 2009 on the Working on a Dream tour, also at Giants Stadium, and got to hear him play Born to Run top to bottom, right in the middle of his set list. That tour was the last time he was going to play that version of Giants Stadium – they demolished it in 2010 – and he opened with an acoustic version of “Wrecking Ball” (which would later appear on his 2012 album Wrecking Ball), saying goodbye to the stadium where he’d so many times loved on Jersey and been loved back.

My love quieted down after that. I still loved him, but the near-obsession that had burned through me for a year cooled, and he became more a part of my life’s fabric, less a star. When he released local tour dates for 2016 – his first since 2012, though I didn’t realize it at the time – I took one look at the prices and opted against going. The idea of digging into his catalog deeper than the trifecta of Born to Run/Darkness on the Edge of Town/Born in the USA was always in my mind, but listening to music thoughtfully is something that demands a lot from me, and I kept not getting around to it. But last spring, I decided to make the time. I decided to listen to him from the beginning to the end, spend as much time as it took to get intimate with each album, and make some sense of this forty-plus year career that still meant so much to me.

I listened to Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ (January ’73). I listened to The Wild, The Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle (September ’73). I did this over and over and over, until I felt I was beginning to understand them. Then I listened to Born to Run (’75) and Darkness (’78), both of which I already knew, with a more critical ear than I ever had. I was thinking a lot about Bruce, formulating some insights and figuring shit out, and having quite a time of it.

And then a funny thing happened – Prince died. I’ve never known much of Prince’s work (though I like what I know), so I wasn’t personally affected, but the depth of mourning I witnessed was staggering. Bruce was playing Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn that weekend, and he opened his first show with “Purple Rain.” And I thought about the fact that someday Bruce was going to die, and I knew that was going to knock me to my knees in the way celebrity deaths never do, and I bought a ticket for the second Barclay’s show two days in advance. It was $144. I didn’t pay it off for months.

My seat was more or less in the next county, but it was directly opposite the stage and there was no one sitting to my left. The tour was in support of the 35th anniversary reissue of  The River. He played that album top to bottom. I’d never heard most of it before, and I’d been apprehensive about so much new-to-me music, but I was floored. I danced and I sang and I cried. I cried when he sang, “Let there be sunshine, let there be rain, let the brokenhearted love again.” I cried when he sang, “At night on them banks I’d lie awake and hold her close just to feel each breath she’d take.” I cried at any number of other completely senseless times, at meaningless lyrics, when it all just got to be too much to keep inside.

Springsteen shows are theater as much as they are musical performance. There are things that always happen: there’s an audience singalong for the first verse of “Hungry Heart.” There’s a particular riff the audience sings on “Badlands.” Bruce crowd-surfs (most of the time). The band takes requests made by fans in the know, and in the pit, on huge oaktag signs. Bruce selects these personally. During this particular show, he brought a 10-year-old girl on stage to sing “Blinded by the Light.” This was after the band had played The River in its entirety, which by itself would constitute nearly a full live show for any other musician, but for Bruce was just about half. He played for three hours and forty-five minutes that night. When he released dates for a tour extension, I dropped $150 without batting an eye to see him in August. Bruce is worth the debt, and I wanted to be on the floor.

The thing about Bruce’s music – everyone knows the rockers, the crowd-pleasers, the ones he plays at the end of his live shows with all the house lights up. “Born to Run.” “Thunder Road.” “Born in the USA.” “Prove It All Night.” “Rosalita.” “Jungleland.”And it’s not that these songs aren’t great, because they are. They light you up on the inside and make you want more from your life, make you want to grab hold of your future with both hands. But that’s only one side of Bruce, and the greatest joy of my ongoing deep dive has been learning how diverse his music is, what a truly great musician and bandleader he is, that his music isn’t just fun but good, creative and interesting and complex. Greetings from Asbury Park and The Wild, The Innocent, which I listened to all spring, bear only the faintest overt hints of the incredible rock and roll to come, and I fell for their weirdness as much as anything else. I fell particularly in love with the crazy wordplay in “Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?,” the neon-and-spray-paint vision of New York it depicts that may not have ever really exists, and with the innocence/experience of Spanish Johnny and Puerto Rican Jane in “Incident on 57th St” exploding into the youthful house party invincibility of “Rosalita.” He doesn’t play the stuff on those first two albums nearly as much, and anyway, the first two times I saw him I didn’t know any of it, but the fact is I had never heard any of the deep tracks off those two albums played live. But this time – last week, August 30th, the weather about as perfect as ever gets – he told the crowd that this was the third of three shows he was playing at MetLife Stadium (the new Giants Stadium), and he was going to try to play stuff he hadn’t gotten to on the first two nights. And so for the first two hours of a four hour show, he didn’t play a single number from after 1973. He played “Incident” and slammed straight into “Rosalita,” and he played “Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?” I cried when he sang, “Man, the dope says there’s still hope.” At the end of the day, you can distill at least 2/3 of Bruce down into that lyric. There’s still hope.

Bruce himself is an interesting guy. He’s incredibly smart and ever-increasingly political, and he has a career whose richness puts that of his musical peers to shame. This is a great New Yorker profile of him from 2012. He’s acutely conscious of his role as a bard for the working classes, for young people from small towns who need someone to show them the way out. But he also wrote a song about police murder of black men in 2000, after Amadou Diallo was murdered, that is just as wrenching today as it was 16 years ago. He has three kids he raised in New Jersey, one of whom has grown up to be I shit you not a fucking fireman. By all appearances – which can, of course, be deceiving – his marriage is enviable. His wife, Patti Scialfa, tours with the E Street Band, and he’s still singing love songs to her on stage and talking about her “long, sexy legs.” I say all this because I want you to know, and I don’t know where else to put it.

It’s a cliche, the girl from Jersey in love with Springsteen, but cliches don’t come from nowhere.

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mamma mia and the sexuality of grown-ass ladies.

::knocks on door, dusts off furniture, peeks around corner into dark hallway, promptly falls into large hole created by rotten floorboards::

….. ow.

Uh, hi guys? Hi. It’s been a minute. But, you know. Y’all still love me, and probably no one is still reading this anyway, SO. Let’s talk about Mamma Mia!

A musical built around ABBA’s hits, Mamma Mia! has the inauspicious designation of being more or less responsible for the wave of jukebox musicals currently dominating Broadway. It was a massive success onstage in both New York and London’s West End (and, apparently, 40 other countries). That isn’t usually a sign that the property in question is particularly interesting or transgressive (though Hamilton is doing its damnedest to prove that opinion wrong), but whoever wrote this thing managed to sneak some seriously progressive shit under the radar. Not only is the film adaptation the happiest movie in the world,  it’s also an unashamed and unabashed celebration of female sexuality – particularly older female sexuality. Which just makes me love it more. Obviously.

The basic story, strung around 20+ ABBA songs, is that of Donna (Meryl Streep, who has maybe never been more beautiful) and her daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried at her most charming). Donna owns a hotel on a Greek island. Sophie is getting married. She doesn’t know who her dad is, but based on a very old diary of Donna’s, she has three guesses, and she’s invited them all to the wedding without telling Donna. Right off the bat – the song setting this scene (“Honey, Honey”) is the second number in the show – we have an opportunity for shittiness and slut-shaming get turned on its head. Donna fucked so many dudes the summer she got pregnant that she doesn’t have any idea which of them is the father of her kid, and no one gives a shit, her kid least of all. Sophie’s pissed she doesn’t know who her father is, but she’s not mad about the ho’ing around that created the confusion. At no point does anyone, including Donna’s three former paramours (Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgård), say a word about it – except Donna, briefly, before her friends shut her up, because everyone is in agreement that she’s being silly.

Donna’s two best friends, Tanya and Rosie, are played with abandon by Christine Baranski and Julie Walters, and let’s take a sec to do a quick check-in on actor ages, because we all know they’re one of my bugaboos. When Mamma Mia! was filmed, Streep was 58, Baranski was 55, Walters was 57, Brosnan was 54, Firth was 47 – a mere babe! – and Skarsgård was 56. All the leads in this film were within 11 years of each other, the youngest actor was a dude, and the oldest was a lady. Take a moment and really let the remarkableness of that sink in, given the landscape. And (spoiler) who winds up together? 58-year-old Meryl Streep and 54-year-old Pierce Brosnan. It’s one of the great joys of Mamma Mia! to see actors playing to their actual ages and romancing their peers.

…. Mostly. Because I gotta say, it’s also a joy to see women in their fifties being portrayed as sexual objects for folks of any age. That’s best illustrated by Christine Baranski’s killer version of “Does Your Mother Know,” sung to the much younger bartender who thinks she’s the hottest thing he’s ever seen and during the performance of which she manages to seduce a beachful of men.

Baranski is a trained singer and dancer, not to mention a consistently magnetic screen presence – I’d personally watch Christine Baranski Sings the Alphabet and Dances the Times Tables with great interest – and she sells every inch of the number. But just as critical to its reception is the obvious adoration she’s met with by every man who looks at her, all of whom are considerably younger. She’s not just sexual, she’s powerful. Watching her is a rush.

But as a viewer, I think the biggest rush comes from the staging of “Dancing Queen.” Rosie and Tanya start singing it to Donna to cheer her up, but it very quickly becomes more than a bonding moment between three friends, transforming instead into a rallying cry of sexual power and ownership for all the women in the village. (Follow along in the video.) At 1:50, Rosie, Tanya, and Donna bound into the courtyard of Donna’s hotel, where a bunch of locals are helping with the preparations for Sophie’s wedding. As they dance towards the waterfront they rapidly collect a following of women of all ages, singing, dancing and leaping along with them, their faces confident and joyful. Take particular note of Streep during the second verse, especially her body language on, “Looking out for another / Anyone will do.” At 1:55, a young woman watches them pass through the courtyard with naked longing on her face – seriously, whoever that chick is, she’s doing some serious face-acting – and the moment when she runs to join the growing mob feels like a triumph. At the end of the number, when all the girls and women in the village are dancing on the dock with Donna, Tanya and Rosie and they point outwards, singing, “You can dance, you can jive,” it’s hard not to feel that they’re singing to you, the viewer. It’s hard not to feel buoyed by their joy. “Dancing Queen” manages to be a celebration of women as powerful, sexual beings; a statement of ownership of that identity; and an assertion that it’s only one part of what it means to be a woman. I’m not one for sisterhood pretty much ever, and I’m certainly not one for dancing, but when Meryl Streep calls me the dancing queen, I almost believe her. I definitely want to be on that dock with her.

There are a thousand other things to love about Mamma Mia! There’s Amanda Bynes’ sweet, high soprano and ebullient performance. There’s the total focus with which Pierce Brosnan bravely tries to sing (and even hits the right notes, more or less), an attempt which three different film reviewers independently compared to three different animals. There’s the electric chemistry between Streep and Bynes as mother and daughter, whose relationship felt deeply familiar to me as a young woman whose mom is her best friend, and their devastatingly beautiful rendition of “Slipping Through My Fingers.” (Major, major tearjerker warning on that. I underestimated how much it would make me cry even having seen it already, and legit found myself pushing down sobs on an airplane. It wasn’t classy.) But for me, the best selling point is the joy it finds in 50+-year-old women and the delight in takes in their sexual power. How many movies can you say that about?

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yet another way to cook chicken.

It’s officially winter. So let’s talk about warm, cold-weather-tasting, stick-to-your-ribs food. We have to, because the next several recipes I have to share with you are only appropriate for the summer months, because I am a monster.

Chicken with apples in honey mustard sauce is a gem by the wonderful Elise at Simply Recipes. As you might have guessed by its name, Simply Recipes is a low-profile, non-fancy food blog serving up highly delicious recipes without bells and whistles. It’s one of my all-time favorite blogs, and this recipe is a great example of why. It’s simple to make, requires no unusual ingredients, and is incredibly delicious. It’s the poultry counterpart to this pork dish that I wrote about in 2011, and I must say that I strongly prefer Elise’s take on these same elements – mustard, apples, cider, meat – to Jenny and Andy’s. Here’s how she makes it, with my own tiny changes included. You’ll need:

1/2 cup apple cider
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
2 apples
Salt
Pepper
Olive oil

Start by prepping your sauce: whisk together cider, chicken broth, cornstarch, honey, and Dijon, and set aside. Let the flavors marry. You’ll definitely have to whisk again before adding to the pan, as cornstarch has a tendency to turn into cement if you let it sit, but don’t worry, it will quickly re-mix.

Slice your chicken breasts in half longways to make four thin filets (and pull off the chicken fingers too, if they’re there). Salt and pepper them in the pan – this is a great way to kick up your flavor base, as opposed to doing it on the plate – and brown in olive oil on each side, about 4 minutes per side (if your oil was hot enough to begin with).

Once the chicken is brown, turn the heat down to medium and add the apples, which you’ve previously prepared: core, don’t peel, slice thin, bam. Mix them in around the chicken and let them soften for a few minutes, then add your cider mixture. Turn the heat to low, cover the pan, and let it cook for about 15 minutes or until the chicken is done and the sauce is reduced and the apples are lovely.

This is great cold weather food. Cook it ASAP.

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my recipes: corn, chicken, and potato stew.

In my quest to use up some motherfucking corn, I created a stew of corn, chicken and potatoes, inspired as loosely as it is possible to use the word by some excellent-looking corn stews in Good Maine Food, a borderline insane cookbook I acquired on a trip to Maine last summer and which I should probably tell you about at some point because it is just delightfully batshit. Anyway, here’s how you make my stew. I came up with it using my own brain. You’ll need:

3 slices bacon (I tell you what brand you want here)
1 small onion
1 green bell pepper
1 fresh hot cherry pepper (not the kind from the jar!)
2 good-size boneless skinless chicken breasts (or whatever part of the chicken you prefer; I like BSCB, as I’ve decided to call them, because they’re super easy and chunk up nice but you can do your chicken however you like)
3 – 4 large ears of corn, kernels stripped
Two handfuls of potatoes
Chicken broth
Heavy cream
Salt
Pepper

Obviously, these quantities can be monkeyed around with in whatever way you see fit (though I don’t recommend fucking with the aromatics until you’ve made this at least once). Add whatever veggies excite you. Go buckwild.

But start with bacon. Cut your three large (because you were sensible and bought the kind of bacon I told you to buy) strips of bacon into small pieces and render them until crispy. Lift your little crispy bacon bits out of the pot – I like chopsticks for working with bacon better than any other kitchen utensil – and set aside. Into the bacon fat put your diced green pepper, diced hot cherry pepper, and diced onion. Breathe deeply for several minutes.

Once you’ve acclimated to how fucking good your kitchen smells, go ahead and add your chopped chicken. Again, I like boneless skinless breasts because they are incredibly easy to work with, particularly in a preparation like this where you’re just adding them into a mix of stuff, but you could definitely level this soup up by making chicken stock with a whole chicken, using the chicken you used to make stock in place of the BSCB chunks, and using the stock you made as the base for this soup. But I’ve never made chicken stock and I certainly wasn’t going to start on COOK ALL THE CORN Day, so I used BSCB.

Mix your chicken chunks all up, then add your corn kernels (stripped from the cob aggressively, using a chef’s knife to get all the awesome corn goo out the cob) and your potato chunks. Oh, and just for the record, you chopped everything beforehand because this is soup, and soup is one of those things where actually doing a mise en place will legit save your dumb ass. So you add your corn and potatoes, and then over everything in chicken broth. I would say two cartons should do it? You might need more than two cartons, but you can always top off with water. Anyway, cover everything, add a good slug of heavy cream (maybe 1/2 cup if you feel like measuring) and boil! Then cover, simmer until the potatoes are donezo, and you’re done.

Make this now. Thank me later.

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corn muffins twice.

I mentioned to you earlier that I joined a CSA this summer? One of the …. consequences? I’m comfortable with the word “consequences” – has been a staggering proliferation of corn in my kitchen. There is no recipe that can use up this much corn. There are no two people that can eat this much corn. I spent an entire Sunday cooking almost exclusively recipes involving corn and the pile did not appear to have reduced at all. I think right now I have approximately twenty ears of corn in my fridge. Would you like some corn? I’ve got some corn.

In the spirit of, you know, having a little corn, I tried two corn muffin recipes. (Pro tip: corn muffins are a terrible way to get rid of a gangfuck of corn in one’s fridge. One batch typically calls for the kernels from one ear of corn, and that is insufficient to my needs.) One was smitten kitchen‘s corn, buttermilk, and chive popover recipe; the other was Melissa Clark‘s Fresh Corn Muffins with Maple Syrup. Let’s start with the popovers.

Popovers, if you’ve never had them, are light, fluffy creations, full of air and meant to be eaten hot. As such, they’re not a great candidate for a make-ahead breakfast, and that’s on me. I also didn’t have chives by the time I finally got around to making these, so who knows – maybe they were the missing ingredient that would have put the dish over the top. What I can tell you is that the finished product was seriously Not Great. First of all, as I alluded to earlier, these don’t keep for shit. I made them hoping for a week’s worth of breakfast at best and a few days at worst, and they were hard as unappetizing rocks by the next morning. Worse, though – they didn’t even taste that good. The black pepper did not complement the corn, but it did dominate the flavor profile of the popovers.

These were a failure. I ate one. Maybe try them if you’re making popovers for a crowd to eat immediately and you take out the pepper. Otherwise, avoid.

Melissa Clark’s muffins are a different story! Let me tell you right off the bat, they don’t taste like maple. Foolishly – foolishly! – I thought this meant I could leave the maple syrup out with no effect on the flavor as long as I boosted the sugar. You guys, I was so wrong. It might be because the maple-less batch I made was also made in a loaf pan large enough to swaddle a baby in and I’m pretty bad at figuring out how to adjust recipes for larger pans, but the maple-less batch did not hold a candle to the enmapled batch, despite the fact that the enmapled batch did not taste at all like maple.

It did, however, taste delicious. These muffins are fantastic. You should make them. I made no adjustments to the recipe, except that I don’t know where Melissa Clark lives that she can get maple yogurt in large enough quantities to put 1 1/4 cups in her muffins, I’ve only seen maple yogurt once and I bought it because it had a water buffalo on it and it didn’t taste like maple at all. So I did what she said to do and mixed some more maple syrup into the recipe along with plain yogurt. Next time I might use extra maple syrup, because goddamn right am I making these again.

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