An Update on the Bullying

After all the support I’ve received from family, friends, acquaintances, and completely strangers, I feel like I owe all of you thanks and an update on the situation.

The short of it is that Dr. Lecter will no longer be bullied by these little boys, and the administration is now well aware that if it should happen again, I will hold them accountable for it. Also that people are really fucking dense.

On Wednesday after I first posted about this (and as a result, got 3 hours of sleep due to excessive stress and crying), I received replies first thing in the morning from Dr. Lecter’s teacher and guidance counselor, both expressing horror about what had happened to her as well as surprise, having not heard reports of it elsewhere. They each escalated to the assistant principal and asked me to wait for her to follow up with me. I thanked them for being on top of it and asked them how Dr. Lecter’s safety on the playground would be ensured while they dealt with the situation. I also left a voicemail with the assistant principal asking her to call me about this. And in the event that they fucked up, I asked Clarice to keep her eye on her sister if the boys were out at recess playing.

I heard nothing until 4pm, when the assistant principal called me back. She told me that in the morning, she’d gone to speak to Dr. Lecter’s class, emphasizing safe behavior and how to ask the recess aides for help (but critically, not “Don’t tie other little kids up and drag them around the blacktop”). She’d also gone to Clarice’s class and emphasized “If you see something, say something.” Which seemed a little insulting to me given that those kids HAD seen something and said something. Then she assured me that after Wednesday afternoon, the ropes would be gone from the playground.

I went speechless for a few seconds because I was stunned that this was the solution she was offering me. My inner ragebeast was thinking, “Great. What the fuck are you going to do when they pelt her with balls, or throw mud at her? Are you going to remove all the goddamn mud from the playground, you thick sack?” So I told her, a little impolitely and derisively, that removing the ropes hardly solves the problem. Then I laid out my issues point by point:

  1. It wasn’t made clear to me whether or not this issue had been flagged up with the bullies’ parents or not. If my kid were bullying some other kid, you bet your sweet bippy I’d want to know and stop that shit ASAP. But I tend to give other parents the benefit of the doubt, that if they know their kid is being a dick, maybe they don’t want their kid to be a dick.
  2. The knowledge that a child is getting bullied doesn’t get disseminated to the staff watching the kids at lunch or recess, which means that lunch and recess are prime times for kids to bully and not be held responsible for it, because with all those kids to watch and so few staff, how are they supposed to be vigilant about bullying behavior when they don’t know it’s happening?
  3. Bullying that happens on the playground that actually IS witnessed by the recess staff doesn’t get communicated back to the teacher or guidance counselor. Which is actually two problems:
    1. Lunch/Recess staff have no authority. All the kids know that the things they do won’t get reported anyway, and they can get away with just about anything without any real consequences.
    2. Recurring bullying disappears into a vacuum during Lunch and Recess.
  4. Given that all the kids know that there aren’t any consequences, after these kids are disciplined, they need to publicly apologize to my kid so that they’re held accountable for their actions, and so that all the kids in the school know that there are consequences.

She acknowledged that those were all good points, but I don’t think she really heard me because I was so pissed off and having a hard time controlling my tone of voice. Then she said that she did speak to all the kids in the morning, and that all the teachers were now aware, and that Dr. Lecter’s teacher had spoken to her first thing after recess on Wednesday and said, “I can’t believe those boys did it again–”

“WAIT,” I said. And keep in mind, I was at work in the hallway at the time, which is the only reason I didn’t succeed in exploding her with my fiery psychic rage lasers. “Do you mean to tell me that it happened again today?”

There was a moment of silence. And then a very quiet, “Yes, there was an incident today.”

“So, even though I raised this issue this morning, and even after I asked how you were going to prevent this from happening anymore, it happened again?” At this point I was so angry I was visibly shaking.

So then she promised me that she was going to speak to the boys Thursday morning, well before recess, and that they would not be allowed to play with the girls, and that she would call me and apprise me of the situation once she’d handled it. I agreed and hung up because I didn’t trust myself to continue speaking rationally. I called Dr. Lecter’s father (who was out of town), and then told Earl, and then decided that I needed to go home and get my girl.

On the way home, Earl and I came up with my game plan over the phone, and being a teacher and the son of school administrators, albeit English ones, he had all kinds of insights. I didn’t follow the game plan exactly because I just wasn’t equipped for it, but this is what we came up with: I would send another email to the principal, vice principal, teacher, and guidance counselor expressing my concern over their policies, and that my confidence in their ability to keep my child safe was shaken. I would tell them I would be going to the school Thursday morning and would be happy to wait until an administrator was free to discuss with me all the lapses in their processes that led to my child being dragged around  a playground not once, but twice, even after I’d raised the issue with them. I would ask them to show me the bullying forms they’d filed and what corrective actions they’d taken to mitigate the bullying behavior according to their bullying policy, which they had a legal obligation to uphold, all in an effort to see how the processes had failed. And if they were unable to reassure me that their processes would keep my daughter safe, I would have no choice but to escalate to the Superintendent.

When I got home, the girls told me the story of what had happened at recess: unprovoked, the boys had tried to tie Dr. Lecter up again, but Clarice and a couple of other kids (including Dr. Lecter’s one and only friend) stopped it from happening, with Clarice physically taking the ropes from the boys and throwing them back in the jump rope bin (after which the jump ropes were removed from the playground forever, HOORAY PROBLEM SOLVED). I sent my email that evening, to which they replied that they’d be in meetings all day, but could meet with me after school, which I agreed to.

On Thursday morning, I got dressed in my most I’m Fucking Serious clothes, and after a quick discussion with a mutual mom-friend, decided to contact one of the bullies’ moms, whose email address I happened to have via room parenting and knew to be pretty cool. I assured her that my issue wasn’t with her or her son personally, but that I felt the administration had done both of our children a disservice: mine in protecting Dr. Lecter and hers in letting her know that her child was engaging in this kind of behavior. I told her that it was possible that they didn’t want to involve her until they knew for sure that he’d done it, but then she said, “Yeah, but that’s still something I would want to know. How can I have a dialogue with my child if I don’t even know about it?”

It was right around then that I started feeling bad about all the swear words I used about the boys.

I told her I would keep her updated, went to work, actually managed to get some shit done, and then went to the meeting, where I was greeted by the assistant principal, the teacher, and the counselor. They started off by telling me that the boys were kept in from recess and made to write reflections about what they’d done, and had talks with the counselor about what they did, why they did it, if they’d ever stopped to think about how it made Dr. Lecter feel, and that sort of empathetic thing (to their credit, two of the boys apologized to Dr. Lecter without prompting). Shortly after that, the assistant principal contacted the boys’ parents. I told them that all sounded good, but that I was far more concerned about the systemic problems, because I figured once these kids’ parents were told, they’d be all over their asses.

They looked genuinely surprised, oddly. Thanks to some coaching from Earl, I summoned enough energy to be reasonable and cordial and clinical, never once losing my temper. If it became an emotional issue, the problem resolution would become more about mollifying an angry parent and less about solving a problem with the process. I basically repeated the exact same points I’d already said to the assistant principal over the phone. Only now with the counselor and teacher there, suddenly there was comprehension and it was treated like new knowledge. They were writing down notes and underlining shit and everything. In addition to the things I’d already pointed out, I told them that once they’d revised their policies and plugged up the holes, I wanted to know what the revised policy was and that it should be communicated to all the parents of the school (mostly so that parents would know exactly what’s supposed to be enforced). I also told them that instead of telling the kids who’d done the right thing that they needed to do the right thing, those kids needed to be praised.

I walked away feeling pretty positive about Dr. Lecter not getting bullied anymore, but then I realized I’d completely forgotten to bring up the issues with the bullying forms. Earl was incensed that for nearly two days, they’d failed to meet their legal obligation to keep my daughter safe, and that there was nothing in place to keep kids from being bullied in the future. I thought about this, and honestly, I couldn’t wrap my head around it. Why hadn’t all this been brought up as problems before? And if they had, why hadn’t the systemic issues been resolved? What are the bullying forms used for if parents are the ones filling them out, but teachers and staff are supposed to when they occur? Why are parents only contacted when children are disciplined, rather than after the bullying has been alleged, which can be takebacksied if it turns out to be nothing (“Joey gave me the STINK EYE! He’s BULLYING me!” “KATIE gave me the STINK EYE FIRST! SHE’s BULLYING me!”)? How do I go about getting them to realize there’s a problem when it took so much effort just to get them to realize how crap their lunch/recess coverage is? It just feels like this monolith of uncertainty, and I don’t know where to begin attacking it.

So I’m going to have a chat with the moms I’m acquainted with at school and gather more data. For the time being, I feel confident that Dr. Lecter is ok. I sent messages to the parents of the kids I know who stood up for her and asked them to please thank their kids for being so kind. I told Clarice over and over that I was so proud of what a great big sister she is. I told Dr. Lecter that ok, maybe she’s weird, but kids just needed to learn to see past the weird and then they would understand the awesome. And maybe that she should stop picking her nose in class, it’s gross, I told you so. Also that chasing kids around the playground with boogerfinger doesn’t win you any friends, but to keep the weird and lose the rude.

She’s smiling again, and I’m sleeping again. I’ll worry about the monolith later.

My 7-Year Old Is Being Bullied, and I’m Taking It Harder Than She Is

Update on the bullying and the hopeful cessation of it.

My apologies. I haven’t written a blog post in months because work has sucked all my brainpower away. But the software is due to be released relatively soon, which means I have more energy to devote to non-work things. Like blogging about things that have nothing to do with pie.

My youngest, Dr. Lecter, has always marched to her own drum. She comes by lateral thinking instinctively. She’s probably got ADHD (inherited from me) and last week we discovered that she’s also got trichtotillomania (inherited from her father). Her different-drummedness has never bothered her until this year when she found that she didn’t like only having one friend, and that friend isn’t in her class this year. Even that was tolerable because they could still play together at recess or after school. But as it turns out, that wasn’t true.

Her teacher sent me a note last Friday expressing her concern about Dr. Lecter. She’d been pulling at her hair increasingly more, and was acting out at lunch. The school guidance counselor had a talk with her and discovered a bald patch on the back of her head. We found that there were several triggers: anxiety over schoolwork, anxiety/stress over not being able to participate in PE because she’d worn the wrong shoes, sadness over no friends in her class, and most significantly, anxiety over 4 little fucking asshole boys picking on her. The guidance counselor pulled each child into her office individually and told the boys they had to leave her alone, and told her to stay away from them. They apparently ignored the guidance counselor because that same day at lunch, they yelled at Dr. Lecter, telling her she was “so annoying.”

I’ll be honest: my child doesn’t always play nice. She’s not great at taking turns, and she’s not spectacular at sharing, and she used to throw crying fits when she didn’t want to do schoolwork, especially writing assignments, so she’s probably got a reputation for being difficult. But she’s not the Stinky Kid, nor is she the Paste-Eating Kid. She’s just the kid with a really strong stubborn streak and maybe less than stellar manners. But she’s also funny, and affectionate, and clever, and sweet, and diabolical, and a really fun person to know. And no matter what her faults, she doesn’t deserve to be treated like shit by other kids.

Today she came home from school, and I asked how her day was. Sullen, she jerked a thumb at her sister and said, “I’ll let her tell you.” Apparently a group of boys including her bullies had tied her legs up with jump rope and dragged her around the playground. It was bad enough that a group of girls who didn’t know Dr. Lecter intervened, with several running to tell the Recess Aides (who aren’t teachers, but volunteers or something), and several others physically holding her so that the boys couldn’t drag her around anymore. The boys let go of the rope, and these kind girls helped untie her, and kept the boys at bay from coming at her again. The Recess Aide threatened “really big trouble”, but the boys laughed it off and ran away. Only one boy was caught and made to apologize, but it seems nothing came of it because despite my already-open lines of communication with Dr. Lecter’s teacher and guidance counselor, I didn’t hear a peep about this from them.

I’ve sent a controlled message to them, asking what we can do about this in as non-confrontational a manner as I can manage, but really. If adults did this sort of thing to each other, they would be charged with assault. Let’s be real: I am seething. I want to turn the full force of my maternal rage on these boys and their parents.  Mostly, I want answers. How are parents able to raise children so incapable of understanding that putting their dirty fucking paws on another child is wrong? Do the parents of bullies ever accept responsibility for what their child has done, or is it always, “Oh, kids will be kids”? How the fuck was this allowed to happen with adults supervising? Are these motherfuckers going to be punished, and receive actual consequences for acting like tiny crapbag Neanderthals?

The biggest question of all, the reason I can’t sleep right now, is will my baby be ok? Will these shitsticks leave her alone? Will my efforts to teach her Friend-Making Skills (sharing, paying attention when someone’s talking, letting other kids have turns, not grabbing) pay off? Will she get over the anxiety of having to start a task and not feel the compulsion to pull her own hair out? Will other kids figure out how worthwhile a little person she is? I had a minor meltdown at bedtime tonight thinking about all these things, and I broke down into tears in front of her. She patted my arm and snuggled up against me, and said, “Oh Mommy. I’ll stay here with you until you feel better.” So yeah, part of me knows my mighty little girl will be just fine.

But the rest of me is heartbroken for her.

The All-Butter Pie Pastry

This post is part of the monthly link up-party Our Growing Edge. This event aims to connect food bloggers and inspire us to try new things. This month is hosted by Francesca over at Fearless Kitchen. I’ve ripped this blurb, the links and this logo directly away from her. our-growing-edge-badge

I’ve been away for a while. It’s not that I don’t love you, O Pie-oneers; it’s that I took some time to fly to England with Clarice and Dr. Lecter for Christmas and get married. That’s right: I’m Mrs. Earl of Pie-ish Town now. Already the mystique of our relationship is waning, and someday soon we’ll be sitting around with our hands tucked into our waistbands, comfortably farting in each other’s presence.

I’m kidding. I’m a woman, and he’s English, and everybody knows that neither of those demographics fart.

I returned to the States an honest woman and when that got a little old after a few days, I found a fun invitation in my inbox to join this link-up party, asking if I might like to blog about a new food experience. It was rather coincidentally and fortuitously timed because just the day before, my children asked if I could make them a chicken pot pie, “but not that one with the crumbles on top. Can we have a REAL pie?” My heart burst with pride. We went shopping and got all our ingredients, and I got ready to make a crust when I realized that I hadn’t restocked my pie supplies before I flew to England. Nor had I replenished them when we’d just gone shopping 10 minutes prior. I was completely out of shortening. Which meant no Foolproof Pie Dough.

I find trying to make something while missing crucial ingredients incredibly great fun. It’s like jerry-rigging temporary solutions with PVC and duct tape, but with food.

The workaround was fairly simple: make an all-butter pastry, which I had plenty of recipes for but had never made. Frankly, the idea of Crisco is pretty gross. It’s highly processed and very chemical-y, and terrifyingly it never seems to go bad. But it works so well in the Foolproof Pie Dough that I’ve never thought to question it. Out of necessity, I made our chicken pot pie crust without it, and the results were quite pleasant but not completely ideal. Recipe (naturally from Ken Haedrich’s Pieble) as follows, followed by my notes.

Single Crust:
1½ cups (187.5 g) all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons (6.3 g) sugar
½ teaspoon (2.84 g) salt
½ cup (1 stick (113.40 g)) cold unsalted butter, cut into ¼-inch (.635-cm) pieces
¼ cup cold water

Double Crust:
2¾ cups (343.75 g) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon (14 g) sugar
1 teaspoon (5.69 g) salt
1 cup (2 sticks (226.81 g)) cold unsalted butter, cut into ¼-inch (.635-cm) pieces
About ½ cup (118.294 mL) cold water

1. To Make in a Food Processor: Put the flour, sugar, and salt in the food processor. Pulse several times to mix. Scatter the butter over the dry ingredients and pulse 7 or 8 times to cut the butter in well. Remove the lid and fluff the mixture with a fork, lifting it up from the bottom of the bowl. Drizzle half of the water over the dry ingredients. Pulse 5 or 6 times, until the mixture is crumbly. Fluff the pastry and sprinkle on the remaining water. Pulse 5 or 6 times more, until the pastry starts to form clumps. Overall, it will look like coarse crumbs. Dump the contents of the processor bowl into a large bowl.

To Make By Hand: Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Toss well, by hand, to mix. Scatter the butter over the dry ingredients and toss to mix. Using a pastry blender, 2 knives, or your fingertips, cut or rub the butter into the flour until it is broken into pieces the size of split peas. Sprinkle half of the water over the dry mixture. Toss well with a fork to dampen the mixture. Add the remaining water in 2 stages and continue to toss and mix, pulling the mixture up from the bottom of the bowl.

To Make with an Electric Mixer: Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Add the butter, tossing it with the flour. With the mixer on low speed, blend the butter into the flour until you have what looks like coarse, damp meal. Turning the mixer on and off, add half of the water. Mix briefly on low speed. Add the remaining water, mixing slowly until the dough starts to form large clumps. If you’re using a stand mixer, stop periodically to stir the mixture up from the bottom of the bowl. Do not overmix.

2. Test the dough by squeezing some of it between your fingers; if it seems a little dry and not quite packable, drizzle a teaspoon or so of cold water over the dough and work it in with your fingertips. Using your hands, pack the dough into a ball (or 2 balls if you are making a double crust) as you would pack a snowball. If you’re using this to make a double-crust pie, make one ball slightly larger than the other; this will be your bottom crust. Knead each ball once or twice, then flatten the balls into ¾-inch-(1.905-cm)-thick disks on a floured work surface. Wrap the disks in plastic and refrigerate for at least an hour or overnight before rolling.

So how does it compare?

  • You don’t have as much time to work with the dough. The butter starts softening as soon as you start cutting it up into ¼-inch (.635-cm) pieces, so unless you’re pretty quick with rolling out your dough, I would take steps to work in a frigid kitchen with frigid bowls and such or stick to going halfsies with butter and Crisco.
  • When it says “cold water”, I make a big glass of ice water and measure the ½ cup (118.294 mL) only as I’m about to sprinkle it. Every degree of chill helps.
  • The pastry ends up super flaky, even flakier than the Foolproof Pie Dough, almost to the point where it lacks structural integrity. It’s so soft and tender that it took on an almost cake-like quality when I reheated the leftovers the next day. If super tender and flaky doesn’t appeal to you and you like a little more rigidity, the all-butter crust is probably not for you.
  • It was really fucking delicious. Dr. Lecter finished her portion of pot pie and was too full to eat another, but the pot pie sat there in front of her at the dinner table while she patted her little tummy. She glanced at me, and I could see the gears turning in her diabolical head as she sat on her hands, willing them to behave. Then, unable to resist further, she darted her little hand towards the plate. Before I could say anything, she’d wrenched off a chunk of the crust, crammed it in her mouth, and started munching away at it happily with crumbs cascading down her chin. She caught me staring at her and said, “What? This crust is the best part.”

My 9-year old crimped this. You can tell by its glistening that it’s already trying to melt.

I’m sure there are many pie aficionados out there who’ve known all along what I’m only now discovering, but I am now quite the fan of the all-butter crust. I’m not so sure it would work well for pies with a viscous filling (like fruit pies), but for more solid fillings like set custards or icebox pies, it would complement the texture of the filling very nicely. Next up: performing my wifely duty and trying this hot water crust pastry English people seem to love so much. That’s what wives do besides farting or not farting, right?

The Case for More Women in Tech, and How It Relates to Pie

Hoo boy. I started writing this post while I was drunk and it made no sense, so I started over. Don’t write while drunk, people, unless it turns out funny.

We just pushed the beta release of a new (huge) piece of software out the door and, not unlike birthing a 9lb 4oz baby, it took a lot of medication, a lot of not sleeping, and a lot of goddamn pain in the nether regions. And I’m not even a developer.

I graduated with a computer science degree knowing that I didn’t want to write code for a living. I could do it competently enough but it wasn’t what I enjoyed in the slightest. What I enjoyed was breaking shit and trying to figure out why that shit was breaking. But actually producing shit? About as appealing as producing an actual shit. We’ve recently (finally) realized that we don’t have enough QA staff in proportion to developers, and after a few rounds of interviews spanning the last year, I’ve come to the conclusion that good Quality Assurance people are really fucking hard to find.

Ideally, a QA person quickly understands how things work, thinks outside the box about how those things actually work (or should work), and communicates well enough to explain why a problem is a problem. Those qualities seem pretty straightforward, but for some reason those kinds of people are not doing QA. I don’t know what the fuck they’re doing, but they need to start thinking about a career in QA because my team needs them. We need them about 3 months ago.

My desperation leads me to the part where I implore more women – and very importantly, little girls – to enter the tech field. I am sure that the recent #shirtgate incident is not all that far from your minds yet. It’s true that the number of women in the sciences is stupidly low. It’s true that there are many places where being a woman in the industry is more difficult than being a man in the industry, but that has absolutely nothing to do with the actual work and everything to do with the environment. There are those who believe in gender-based abilities, where boys are good at certain things, and girls are good at certain things, and so boys like certain things, and girls like certain things.  Then they grow up, and the next thing you know, men are engineers and upper management and like strippers, and women go into liberal arts and like diamonds.

Those people are full of shit.

I was raised by a father who earned a PhD in Physics from Brown University and a mother who earned a Masters in Sociology, and their academic demands on me were high. My mother’s math skills were never very good, but she never sympathetically told me, “Oh, math and science were hard for me. It’s ok if you don’t like them either.” Oh no, she Tiger Mommed the shit out of me and said, “You have your father’s math genes and your mother’s linguistic genes; you have no excuse for not excelling.” A friend of mine recently told me that her mother once said to her, “If you don’t do well in math, YOU WILL TURN INTO A PROSTITUTE.” Our mothers’ methods and words may have been a little heavy-handed, but the message was that there was absolutely no reason why the sciences were beyond our capabilities.

So clearly I don’t buy into the gender-based brain differences. The cool thing about brain plasticity is that as your behaviors and experiences change, your brain activity and neurochemistry change. If girls are taught from an early age to fear math and science, or to shy away from exploration and investigation, of course their brains will work differently as grown women compared to grown men who’ve been taught to fear or shun emotions as boys. This is not to say that the differences are necessarily bad, but the argument that one gender is hardwired to be better at some things than another gender is baseless.

But my plea for more women in tech is about numbers. QA is not just about finding bugs and filing them anymore; QA is about knowing the product inside and out from both the customers’ perspectives and the developers’ and being the liaison between the two. In order to do that effectively, having a sufficiently technical background – knowing how to read and write code, and software engineering in general – is huge. And the more of those kinds of people there are in the candidate pool, the fewer people who can’t satisfactorily answer my interview questions I have to reject.

But maybe you think am the one who is full of the shit.

That’s fine. Sometimes I am, and I have a cup of coffee, and everything is all better. But say you do think that gender-based brain differences are A Thing, and that said differences are not only complementary but predetermined  (in which case, I suggest you read this article or this article or this book or this explanation of brain plasticity and neuroscience  in conjunction with this article). Well then, those behaviors you stereotypically assign to women are perfect for QA. Multitasking? Facilitating communication between analytical and intuitive processing? Knowing where things are located? Awesome. If you’ve ever had to fuck with a hash table, come in and interview.

Which brings me to pie.

A common probing question to find out how people think is to ask them how they’d QA a coffee machine or a vacuum cleaner or a blender or some common household appliance. I hate this question because you can just do a 15-second Google search and memorize the answers. So I make up inventions that don’t exist (but TOTALLY SHOULD) and ask them the same sort of thing. My machine of choice at the moment is a catapult that launches pies. Even better if they aren’t familiar with a catapult (it’s surprising how common this is) because then I have to explain the difference between the ballista or a trebuchet or a mangonel, and they have another dimension to think about. My favorite interviewees are the people who either exhaustively come up with test case scenarios for a few aspects (like usability or performance), or come up with a few test cases for a comprehensive number of aspects (performance, usability, acceptance, adapability, portability, security, etc). Such test cases might include:
– Is the catapult built to the customer’s requirements?
– Is the catapult built to the design specs?
– Are those specs still good?
– Does the catapult meet government restrictions for catapults?
– Does the catapult support the weight of the pie?
– How heavy a pie can it handle?
– What happens if I try to launch more than one pie?
– How many times can I launch a pie before the catapult breaks down?
– How easy is it to break down and set up the catapult?
– What’s the farthest I can launch a pie?
– Could launching a pie kill a person?
– How easy is the catapult to operate?
– Are there child-safety features on the catapult? Do they work?
– How easy is it to move the catapult?
– How easy is it to aim the catapult?
– Can a customer stack a pie on his existing shark and launch a shark with a pie on its head?
– How much torque is needed to release the potential energy in the catapult?
– Can the catapult be adapted to work indoors?
– Can you lock the release lever so that only authorized personnel can launch pies?
– Does the pie stay in the bowl/bucket until it’s launched?
– Does the pie not splatter until it hits its target?
– Say I wanted to launch a Baked Alaska Flambé – could the catapult handle fire?

If this is the way your brain thinks, get into QA please, because QA needs you. If this is the way your child thinks, foster that inquisitive mind and encourage him or especially her to pursue math and science. Though it’s totally ok if they do something that isn’t QA, like maybe mechanical engineering, because pumpkin catapults are nice, but I still don’t have a pie catapult.

Subconscious Pie (Salted Caramel Oreo Chocolate Ganache Cream Pie)

I literally dreamt up this pie, which is surprising given what my dreams usually put me through. Feel free to skip to the end if you just want the recipe. It’s a cookie crust with a layer of salted caramel, and then a layer of pastry cream, and then a layer of crushed oreos, and then a layer of chocolate ganache.

My dreams are frequently, to be blunt, fucked up, or at least bizarre. There are some commonly repeating themes, like gobs of gum getting stuck in my teeth, dirty toilets, and the kind of superpowers that allow me to take huge bounding leaps from tree to tree. Or bamboo to bamboo. Sometimes my subconscious will erase all trace of a loved one (even my children!) and within the dream, I will have no memory of their existence. I’ve heard that vivid (fucked up) dreams indicate a creative mind, and I comfort myself with this theory, hoping that my weird dreams don’t mean I’m actually borderline demented. To wit:

Where I have daddy issues: When I was 5 or 6, I dreamt that my father had died, and my mother and I were attending his funeral, which was in black & white and at night. We’d just gotten to the part where the casket was getting lowered into the ground when one of those cars from the 1920s came roaring in with a group of revelers. I had this dream 3 times.

Where I discover why football needs to be kept out of the Olympics: When I was 15, I dreamt that I was playing ping-pong with Alberto Tomba in a swamp on a floating platform. The ball fell in the water, and Alberto went to retrieve it when he found himself attacked by the ’93 Buffalo Bills (I guess staying on the platform kept me safe). They killed him by cutting a hole in the crotch of his pants and inserting a snake into the hole.

Where I’m M. Night Shyamalan: About 5 years ago, I dreamt I woke up in a bed (yes, rather meta) to a girl crying to my right. Concerned, I turned towards her and asked her why she was crying, and she said that her sister had died. I said, “Oh no! What happened?” She pointed behind me, to the left of the bed, where her sister was hanging from the ceiling. It still gives me the heebie-jeebies.

Where mmmm, chocolate crepes: 2 years ago, I dreamt of a chocolate crepe, where I’d added cocoa to the batter, and put chocolate, nutella, and mochi chunks in the crepe. That was a great dream.

Where I’m M. Night Shyamalan again: Not long after the crepes, I dreamt that I threw a party, and some asshole kids had turned on the water in my bathtub until the bathroom was flooded. I went to clean up the mess, and there were two disembodied, decaying legs in my tub.

Where I’m a stripper: I dreamt that Earl invited me to observe one of the classes he was teaching, and he told me I had to behave. When it came time to observe the lesson, I discovered that I was in the process of getting undressed. I actually looked down and saw my dress half-off, and thought, “Oh no, and Earl told me to behave too…”

Where I can’t be tied down: I dreamt I went on an OkCupid date to Clarice’s piano competition, but I took my man-harem with me (I had a man-harem in the dream; I don’t have one in real life). My date was very upset about this, and the harem and I were baffled about why.

Where mmmm, brioche: I dreamt that I had a huge loaf of brioche, which I cut open, pulled out a chunk in the middle, sprinkled it with wine, and replaced the chunk to infuse the wine flavor into the rest of the brioche.

Where I’m meant to be a porn star: I dreamt that I was roommates with a couple, and while the woman wasn’t home, I cheated with her boyfriend, which involved him spraying me from head to toe with ejaculate, like the worst firehose ever.

Where Ryan Reynolds gets my friend’s wrath: I dreamt I made out with Ryan Reynolds, and a friend of mine thought it was a huge joke, so he tried pretending to make out with me too, only when he realized that Ryan Reynolds and I were making out quite seriously, he became angry and gave Ryan Reynolds a titty-twister.

I jotted all of those down to illustrate what it’s like to be in my head: if I’m not dreaming about something bizarre, I’m dreaming about delicious food. In September, I dreamt about this pie and didn’t have the time or occasion to make it until Thanksgiving. And since now I know how well dream-pie worked out, I also prophetically know not to live with any couples now unless I want to be drenched in semen. I’m intuitive like that.

Caveat: the crust, caramel sauce, and pastry cream need to be made ahead and cooled before being layered. The crust takes about 30 minutes to cool, but the caramel and pastry cream will take several hours. It takes almost no time at all to make the ganache and to assemble the pie, so it might make things easier on you to make the crust, caramel, and pastry cream the day before. I made the crust, let it cool, made the caramel, let my kids help me drizzle it into the crust, and then put the crust-caramel assembly in the fridge overnight.

Cookie Crust (this crust is out of Ken Haedrich’s Pieble)
– 30 chocolate wafers (these wafers by Nabisco)
– 2 tbsp (25 g) firmly packed light brown sugar
– 1 tbsp (7.81 g) all-purpose flour
– big pinch salt
– ¼ cup (½ stick (56.68 g)) unsalted butter, melted

Salted Caramel Sauce
– ½ cup (99.22 g) granulated sugar
– 4 tbsp (59.15  mL) water
– 6 tbsp (88.72 mL) heavy cream
– 2 tbsp (28.35 g) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
– ½ tsp (4.9 g) sea salt

Pastry Cream
– 1½ c (354.88 mL) half-and-half (half cream)
– ½ c (99.22 g) sugar
– 2 large eggs
– 1 large egg yolk
– 2 tbsp (15.62 g) all-purpose flour
– 2 tsp (7.39 mL) vanilla extract

7-8 Oreos

Chocolate Ganache
– ¾ c (177.44 mL) heavy cream
– 1½ tbsp (21.26 g) unsalted butter
– 6 oz (170.10 g) semisweet chocolate, chopped
– ¾ tsp (3.70 mL) vanilla extract

1.  Preheat the oven to 350ºF (176.67ºC). Lightly butter a 9-inch (22.86-cm) pie pan.
2. Combine the wafers, brown sugar, flour, and salt in a food processor. Using long pulses, grind the wafers to a very fine texture. They should be both slightly gritty and floury. Dump the crumbs into a large bowl and add the butter. Mix, first with a fork, then with your hands, rubbing thoroughly to blend. If the mixture still seems a little crumbly, drizzle on ½ teaspoon (2.46 mL) water and rub again.
3. Spread the crumbs evenly in the pie pan, pressing them into the bottom and up the side. Refrigerate for 5 to 10 minutes.
4. Place on the center oven rack and bake for 6 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack before filling.

I took “evenly” pretty seriously for this one

Salted Caramel Sauce
1. Combine the sugar and the water in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and stir over medium-low heat until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat to medium-high and DON’T STIR. Bring the mixture to a boil. Boil until the syrup is a deep amber color, about 5 to 6 minutes. Do not take your eyes off the pot or let your children distract you because that motherfucker goes from deep amber to irretrievably burnt in the time it takes for you to say, “Dr. Lecter, will you stop eating all the Oreos?” Remove the pot from the heat and don’t splatter anything because caramelized sugar will totally give you second degree burns.
2. Slowly add the cream, and when it’s done very violently bubbling, whisk carefully. Add the butter and salt and continue whisking until everything is combined.
3. Cool the sauce a little and then drizzle it into the crust. Place plastic wrap on top and stuff it in the refrigerator. Or cool the sauce thoroughly and drizzle it in the next day. I don’t care.

Pastry Cream
1. Whisk the sugar, eggs, egg yolk, and flour in a medium bowl.
2. In another heavy-bottomed saucepan (or the same one if you have someone like Earl who cleans up after your whirling dervish cooking style), bring the half-and-half to a simmer on medium heat, whisking to avoid that nasty milk-skin that forms on top when you cook milk products. Remove the saucepan from the heat.
3. Temper the eggs by drizzling a third of the half-and-half into the egg mixture while whisking it very enthusiastically. Pour the rest of the half-and-half in, still whisking very enthusiastically.
4. Pour the combined mixture back into the saucepan and cook on medium heat, whisking constantly until the mixture thickens and just begins to boil, about 5 minutes. Do NOT overcook or else you’ll get this weird grainy cream where the granules are bits of solid egg. It’s unpleasant. At that point the only thing you can do is either take an immersion blender to it and basically pulverize the egg bits, or whisk several times more enthusiastically.
5. Pour the mixture into yet another medium bowl (this is why Earl is so handy, because that original bowl would be washed and ready for me to dirty again if we weren’t separated by an ocean). Press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the pastry cream, avoiding too many air bubbles to keep the pastry cream from drying out.
6. Cool for at least 4 hours (or overnight).

1. Put the Oreos in a plastic bag. Push the excess air out and seal the bag.
2. Smash the Oreos into crumbs by taking a rolling pin to the bag. Whether that means rolling the bag or smashing the fuck out of it is up to you.

Chocolate Ganache
1. Heat the cream and butter in heavy-bottomed saucepan (Eeeaaaaarrrrllll) on medium heat until the mixture is hot, but don’t boil it. Remove creamy butter from heat.
2. Add the chocolate and the vanilla and whisk until smooth.
1. Whisk everything together in a double boiler over simmering water until the mixture is smooth.

The layers according to my subconscious go (from the bottom up): crust, caramel, pastry cream, Oreos, ganache, garnish. When you cut into it, it kind of resembles an Oreo too. As for the garnish, a lot of Oreo garnishes you see in pictures feature whole Oreos sticking upright out of the goddamn pie, and I find this visually unappealing. It’s reminiscent of a circular saw, and knowing what you know now about the kind of dreams I have, surely you can understand why I shun this imagery. I opted for something simpler and less dangerous-looking (NB: this is the result of too little ganache and not at all the result of too much ganache-sampling).

As an added bonus, that last half-Oreo has to get consumed somehow

The Foolproof Pie Dough: A Primer (Part II)

Need help rolling out your pie dough? Here you go!

O Pie-oneers!

I’m not sure where the saying “easy as pie” comes from, because anybody who’s rolled out a pie crust before knows it is the very antithesis of anything remotely resembling “easy”. I realize that (only very slightly) hyperbolizing the difficulty in rolling the dough out does little to inspire confidence. But that’s the reason for the primer! To teach you all the things I’ve learned along the way. I love pie, and I love people who love pie, and I assume that if you’re here, you either love me or love pie, so either by reflexive property or transitive property of pie, I love you. And so I share.

We need to discuss pie pans and plates. Often, recipes seem to assume a 9-inch pie plate, but there are many different diameters and depths, and therefore many different volumes. Standard plate sizes are as follows:

  • 8 or 9-inch (I…

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The Foolproof Pie Dough: A Primer (Part I)

Need an easy pie dough recipe? Use this one! The added bonus is that you can do shots while you wait for it to chill.

O Pie-oneers!

As I mentioned in my first post, Cooks Illustrated  opened my eyes to the ease of making your own pie pastry. Cooks Illustrated is a wonderful bimonthly periodical that doesn’t just provide recipes; it delves into the science and chemistry behind the food and teaches you HOW to cook in addition to WHAT to cook. It explains the Maillard reaction resulting in fond, and osmosis in brining meat, and the breakdown of cell walls when salting zucchini. I read an article and I suddenly have my own tiny ghostly Chef Gusteau floating over my shoulder, saying, “Anyone can cook!” In addition to the science and imaginary culinary cheerleaders, the magazine provides equipment ratings and user-submitted life hacks (#1 life hack: running your blowdryer on one of those price sticker labels on jars or dishes for 10-15 seconds will soften up the glue and let you remove the…

View original post 1,459 more words

Pie Week: Jack Daniel’s Chocolate Chip Pecan Pie

Apparently it’s Pie Week over at Epicurious, and never one to question what legitimacy an organization has for declaring that an arbitrarily selected time period should be set aside for celebrating pie, I’m going along with it, just like I go along with Pie Day. And Pi Day for that matter. At some point I’ll declare the month of my birthday Pie Month. And when I retire, I’ll establish a Pie Year.

I’ve been busy as all hell lately because that’s just where we are in the software lifecycle: the part where I’m so fucking busy at work that I come home and my brain has been pummeled so thoroughly that it’s all I can do just to drool on myself a little, never mind summon coherent sentences and get my fingers to type them out. But for Pie Week and Uncle John who needs a pecan pie recipe, I will do my best.

A caveat though: my editor, Earl, who sometimes doubles as my fiancé, has gone to India for 3 fucking weeks – because we weren’t quite separated enough by the Atlantic Ocean, he had to throw the Indian Ocean in there too, asshole – so any mistakes or gratuitous swearing are absolutely his fault. Absolutely.

This recipe comes from Ken Haedrich’s Pieble. I’ve made it at least half a dozen times, and I love it because it wants me to put whiskey in it. This pie can be kind of a butt because of the pre-baking (I’ve had not a few warped crusts in my pecan pie-making lifetime), but I find that nobody really gives a shit because you’re giving them pecan pie full of chocolate and Jack Daniels.

Ken Haedrich’s recipe is followed by my notes.

1 recipe pie pastry (Part I and Part II)

– 4 large eggs, at room temperature
– 1 cup (202.282 g) sugar
– ¾ cup (59.147 mL) dark corn syrup
– 2 tbsp (29.574 mL) Jack Daniel’s whiskey
– 2 tbsp (28.35 g) unsalted butter, melted
– 1 tsp (4.929 mL) vanilla extract
– 1 cup (104.185 g) pecan halves
– ½ cup (85.049 g) semisweet chocolate chips

1. If you haven’t already, prepare the pastry and refrigerate until firm enough to roll, about 1 hour.
2. On a sheet of lightly floured waxed paper, roll the pastry into a 13-inch (33.02 cm) circle with a floured rolling pin. Invert the pastry over a 9½-inch (24.13 cm) deep dish pie pan, center, and peel off the paper. Tuck the pastry into the pan, without stretching it, and sculpt the edge into an upstanding ridge. Place in the freezer for 15 minutes, then partially pre-bake and let cool. Reduce the oven temperature to 350ºF (176.667ºC).
3. Combine the eggs, sugar, and corn syrup in a large bowl. Whisk well to combine. Add the whiskey, butter, and vanilla. Whisk again until evenly combined. Scatter the pecans and chocolate chips evenly over the cooled pie shell. Whisk the filling once more, then slowly pour it over the nuts and chips.
4. Place the pie on the center oven rack and bake until the filling is set, about 45 minutes, rotating the 180 degrees (Π radians) halfway through the baking, so that the side that faced the back of the oven now faces forward. When done, the top of the filling will be toasted brown and the perimeter slightly puffed.
5. Transfer the pie to a wire rack and let cool thoroughly. Serve at room temperature, or cover with loosely tented aluminum foil, refrigerate, and serve cold. Either way, it is wonderful.

– I may have mentioned how I have a tendency to forget to leave my eggs out long enough for them to be room temperature. Just run them under warmish-hottish water for several minutes when you forget too.
– What, your country isn’t obsessed with corn and you can’t find dark corn syrup anywhere? That’s ok. Use golden syrup, maybe with molasses if you can find it. Then please do me the favor of explaining to me why the hell you call it a “corn exchange” if it doesn’t have much to do with corn. Thanks.
– I have been known to bump the whiskey up to 3 tbsp (44.360 mL), but mostly when I know that children aren’t going to be partaking. Contrary to popular belief, baking/cooking alcohol doesn’t burn all the alcohol off, and it won’t do to get your kids (and honestly, small Asians) drunk and hobble their impulse control even more than it already is.
– Screw pecan halves. Cutting pecan halves into neat pie wedges is a bitch. Chop those halves up coarsely.
– I always – always – add more than just ½ cup chocolate chips.
– Don’t be lazy and use the pecans from last year. That shit goes stale and people can totally tell. Not to mention after all that time, who knows what insects have laid their eggs in there and what kind of larvae are crawling around, hidden in the little grooves and crevices of the nuts. I speak from horrifying experience, people. Just pony up the $5 for a new bag of nuts.
– That note, “Either way, it is wonderful”, is a rare editorial within the actual text of the recipe. Usually he saves those little notes for before or after the recipe, so you know this one is special. Please pretend I said nothing about larvae, because it really is a great pie.

Deez Nuts

United We Stand: 10 Things I Love About My Country #10: Art & Fashion

FINALLY! I disappeared down a rabbit hole of wedding invite calligraphy and lice removal (unrelated) and haven’t been able to blog as prolifically as I’d like, but the invites are out, and the lice are contained (or at least, I desperately hope they’re contained now) so I can turn my attention to the last topic in our 10 Things I Love About My Country: Art and Fashion. Freakin’ Steve and Suzie.

I’ve been dreading this one. I’ll be frank: I’m an intelligent person, and I’m not afraid to openly declare this about myself. I know a lot of things, and the things I don’t know, I grasp fairly quickly. But when it comes to art, I am SO STUPID. I don’t understand it. I don’t understand what ‘composition’ is or the point of abstract art or how art is supposed to make me feel when I’m looking at what is basically horizontal stripes. I can’t say that I’ve ever looked at any piece of art in any sort of medium that has remotely moved me the way music or a novel or even poetry – another area where I’m stupid – have.

However, as Art Stupid as I am, I can at least recognize when other people find it genius. And this distinction is where I fail even worse when it comes to fashion. Most of what I know about the fashion world comes from Zoolander and Project Runway. I probably know enough so that I don’t look like a complete degenerate walking down the street, or to wear crop tops with high-waisted pants, but generally this is the flowchart that guides what I put into my wardrobe:

Jenny’s Fashion Flowchart

So it is with this caveat that I present this final list of 10 Things I Love About My Country: I don’t know what the fuck I’m talking about. But hey, I’ve seen people pull all kinds of crap out of their blogging asses, so if they can do it, I can do it.

1. Tavi Gevinson/Rookie
Tavi Gevinson started a fashion blog, Rookie, at the tender age of 12 (she’s now 18) and quickly became a fashion icon with the attitude of “I wear what I like”, favoring retro/vintage looks. She appeared on NPR’s Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! which is probably the only reason I’ve heard of her. The site had the potential to become a place of fluff and little substance, but under Tavi’s guidance became a community not just focused on fashion, but also social awareness and affirmation. She also brings her feminist slant to a population of young women at a time in their lives when such exposure can be highly influential. There’s quite a bit of pop culture, relationship advice, and the general shooting of shit that girls like to do as well. It’s the kind of site I wouldn’t mind finding my eventually-teenage daughters visiting one day.

2. American Gothic (Grant Wood, 1930)
American Gothic is one of the more famous paintings to come out of the United States. Even an unwashed philistine such as myself has heard of it and can summon its likeness just at the mention of the name. I love that this painting has been parodied by The Muppets, The Simpsons, LEGOs, Beavis & Butthead, Mickey & Minnie, and – would you expect anything less from the internet? – cats, among many others.

There’s a lot of stuff in this painting having to do with repeated themes and statements about hard work and domesticity, but it would be disingenuous for me to discuss them with anything resembling authority. I’ll just stick to liking the man’s overalls and how much he looks like Henry Fonda circa On Golden Pond.

3. The Landsdowne Portrait (Gilbert Stuart, 1796)
Gilbert Stuart’s more famous portrait of George Washington is the one that appears on the $1 bill. But I’m fond of this larger, more detailed portrait for personal reasons. It’s displayed in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., which was one of the places I took Earl on our first date.  The painting serves as a big centerpiece for the presidential wing, and the loop to see the exhibit gets an enthusiastic start because the first thing you see is George Washington with his hand extended like he’s showing you in.

There are a lot of elements to this painting having to do with Washington’s federalist and democratic policies, as well as  lot of symbolism having to do with power, loyalty, and to some extent, literacy. These things go completely over my head. My favorite thing about this portrait is Washington’s thin-lipped grumpy expression, owing to his poorly-fitting, hurty dentures.

4. Norman Rockwell
Norman Rockwell is best known for his illustrations for The Saturday Evening Post. He also did quite a bit of work for the Boy Scouts of America, but we’re going to ignore them because they’re huge assholes on the subject of homosexuality. After his illustrations, he’s also known for four paintings inspired by FDR’s State of the Union address in 1941. These paintings are now outdated, showing only happy Christian white people, but the Freedom from Want painting is a huge family sitting down to eat a proportionally huge fucking turkey together, and anything depicting a huge turkey for dinner is going to be my favorite (Rockwell’s own opinion was that Freedom of Speech was the best one).

But of all his works, my favorite Norman Rockwell works are his depictions of Santa Claus. Nobody captures his eyes (how they twinkle) or his dimples (how merry) or his cheeks (like roses) or his nose (like a cherry) like Norman Rockwell. I have a copy of A Visit from St. Nicholas (“‘Twas the night before Christmas…”) where the illustrations are entirely repurposed pictures by Norman Rockwell. It actually belongs to my children, but when they aren’t looking, I totally paw through it and savor the pictures like a mug of hot chocolate, only in print.

5. Layered Hair
I have strange hair. It’s not thick and coarse like the hair so many other Asians have; it’s light and kind of fluffy, but not exactly thin and fine. I also have a long oval face, and very long hair looks terrible on me. So until my sophomore year of college (not too long after The Rachel), I was battling between long hair that went flatter the heavier it got, or short hair that made me look 7. Then my best friend introduced me to the person with whom I’ve developed one of the most loyal, devoted, and steadfast relationships of my life: my stylist, Kim.

Kim and I have been together for 18 years now. I followed her through 3 different salons before she found a place to stay where she has more control of her hours, and isn’t subjected to the despotic tyranny of a Turk named Sugar (seriously, that was his name). Nobody else ever touches my hair except maybe Angela, the shampoo lady, who has these sinewy bundles of mighty lamb-leg for forearms, because 10 minutes of getting your hair washed by Angela is like 40 minutes of sex.

We’re at the point now where I tell Kim, “I’m tired of this. Can we do something that isn’t Mom Hair?” and she just starts coloring and cutting. In those 18 years, I have had layered hair in some form or another, whether a layered bob, or a reverse bob, or short layers, or long layers, or some kind of flippy do. It works great because it gives the illusion that I have a lot of body and volume in my hair when really it’s just a good cut. I barely have to do anything. Even now, when my hair has rather abruptly decided that after 37 years of being straight, it would like to be wavy, layers are serving me well.

6. Bill Watterson
Bill Watterson is the genius behind Calvin & Hobbes, for which I will love him forever. Of all the comics I followed, I remember Bill Watterson’s announcement that he was discontinuing Calvin & Hobbes most viscerally, and in a sense, when Bill quit comics, I did too. My favoritism for this particular comic strip over others has many reasons: the ribbing and affection between Calvin and his anthropomorphic stuffed tiger, the clear intelligence of Calvin despite his poor performance in school, the mad brilliance it took for Watterson to dream up Calvin’s snowman creations, the never heavy-handed social commentary, and frankly, how normal Calvin’s Mom & Dad were. That my youngest, Dr. Lecter, bears a lot of similarity to Calvin isn’t lost on me either. One day she’ll do this sort of thing to me, and I’ll be part insulted and part delighted:

7. Georgia O’Keeffe
She says her flowers aren’t all about vaginas, and I of course respect the artist’s position regarding her own art work. But they really do look like vaginas. I can’t do a writeup about her vaginal flowers better than this post, so I’ll just leave that there. But what I like about her flowers-that-are-not-vaginas  is that she helped make vaginas ok to talk about openly in a non-sexual, normalized way. Even now, I like that I can just throw the word “vagina” out repeatedly and casually, to the point where my kids are completely comfortable talking about vaginas and pubises and penises as proper biological terminology for anatomical parts. Not long ago, I had this discussion with my then 8-year old Clarice:

Clarice: Mommy, where do babies come out?
Me: The vagina. But sometimes they get stuck and then they have to be cut out just above the pubis. Like you were.
Clarice: Oh. Doesn’t that hurt?
Me: Yes. It hurts lots.

Easiest sex talk ever. Except that we never actually discussed where the baby came from. I’ll let you know how that goes some day.

8. Boy Shorts
As my flowchart indicates, I don’t put a lot of thought into what I wear. I don’t even really care about rolling into the grocery store in yoga pants and the CHEERLEADER sweatshirt I stole from the Lost & Found at volleyball nearly a decade ago. On rare occasions involving illness, I’ve worn sweatpants to my No Dress Code office before, and in the past, pajamas, and quite possibly, gorilla slippers. Clearly, fashion is not a priority at all. But as with many things, I do have my limits, and my Giving A Shit threshold begins at Visible Panty Line (VPL).

If the reprobates at Home Depot are to be believed, men seem to like looking at butts. I can believe this, because even despite identifying as heterosexual, I like looking at butts. I can’t stop people from looking at my butt, but I can stop them from knowing exactly what kind of underpants I’m wearing based on how the buttflesh gets indented by the elastic and then highlighted by the pants, or skirt, or dress. Many people get around VPL by wearing thongs. But what if I don’t feel like having my nether regions flossed that day? What if I wake up and just don’t feel like perma-wedge is going to help my productivity?

I wear boy shorts! They’re like boxer briefs for women, but shorter and cuter, and because the cut of the leg hole is so low, nobody can see what kind of underwear I’m wearing!

Except now I’ve told the entire internet what kind of underwear I wear, so there goes that mystique. WAY TO GO, JENNY.

9. Annie Leibovitz
Annie Leibovitz has the questionable distinction of photographing John Lennon with Yoko Ono just a few hours before he was killed, and also getting thrown under the bus by Miley Cyrus after Disney got angry about her be-sheeted photo shoot with Vanity Fair. She’s also taken many other photographs of famous people from Queen Elizabeth II to R2-D2. Like Georgia O’Keeffe, she has a distinct style and you can see her influence in work produced by photographers who’ve come after her, like this wonderful picture by Art Streiber of the Princess Bride Reunion:

I don’t understand painting or sculpture, but I find photographs much easier to digest, and I love Annie Leibovitz’s preference for capturing what people do rather than who they are.

10.  Mount Rushmore (Gutzon & Lincoln Borglum, 1927-1941)
I nearly put Mount Rushmore in my Architecture list, but I couldn’t defend it as a building or some kind of civil structure. But as an enormous sculpture, I think it definitely qualifies as art. It’s a controversial choice given that it was carved out of a granite mountain resting on lands – sacred lands – seized from the Lakota Sioux in South Dakota. Slightly less controversial than the Crazy Horse Memorial, but still not without issues.

And sure, if you ignore the part where the United States dispossessed indigenous people of their land, there’s still the issue of why the presidents featured in the monument – Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt (Teddy), and Lincoln – were chosen: for preserving the Republic and expanding its borders. So let’s think about this: the US government kicked native people off the lands they’ve lived on for generations, decided that it should deface that land they’ve just taken, and then make the nut-kicking choice to celebrate that occupancy by vaunting the very people who enabled it! It’s just so American, to sweep in, displace others, and pat ourselves on the back for it. In fact, I just had a discussion with a friend about whether the Man Booker Prize has been ruined by including Americans (I still say no, because #NotAllAmericans, and I think Earl is convinced now too).

So why the fuck is Mount Rushmore on my list? Well…as a piece of sculpture, it’s still pretty impressive. Aside from all the (murderous, barbaric, atrocious, brutal) expansion business, each of those presidents did great things for the United States. Plus, you look at those giant heads and you think, “Yep, that’s totally Teddy Roosevelt.” It’s instantly recognizable and infinitely spoofable. It’s about as American as American gets except for the tragic lack of apple pie.

And it always comes back to pie.

Here ends the series. It was a great deal of fun, if not exhausting! Huge thanks to Steve and Suzie for the brilliant idea, both in concept and in topics, and letting me play along. I’ve enjoyed learning things about Scotland and England, and I sincerely hope I’ve done the United States justice. Now to stop slacking on those pie-related posts!