Have You Heard the Good News?

Confessions of a former J-Dub

“Have you heard the good news?” I said to the woman in a muumuu, looking confused behind her screen door. “The good news of the Kingdom?”

This was on a Saturday or Sunday many moons ago, when Blockbuster and Kmart were still suburban kings. If I was lucky, the door would slam in my face and I would be relieved from kid proselytizing until the next stop. If I was unlucky, I would be invited in and forced to carry on a conversation with the other adults accompanying us in whatever musty living room we found ourselves in.

Of the facts that surprise people most about me is my brief but traumatic upbringing as a Jehovah’s Witness. My parents made my sister and I attend twice weekly meetings, plus door-to-door ministry, until I was about 11, when they separated and my mom mercifully left the church on her own volition. “It wasn’t the truth,” I remember her saying about the faith that members commonly refer to as “The Truth.”

The older I get, the harder it is to remember much of what JWs believe anymore. Relatives and childhood friends swiftly cut us off as we drifted further and further away, back into mainstream society. I had my first *real* birthday party when I was 16 — mom rented a limo out of guilt, I think, for the prior 15 birthdays that went unacknowledged. Luckily, I never had to worry about voting when I turned 18, something JWs also prohibit members from doing. I think the only real lasting influence of the church was always feeling like an outsider.

That feeling is cultivated by the faith — and many other fundamentalist religions — to make their members feel special, but also trapped. The more you conform to their rules, the more virtuous you are. Perversely, you start to think those outside the group are actually the ones blindly conforming — because they don’t know “the truth.” It’s earned a reputation as cultish. I recently fell down a rabbit hole watching young JWs with TikTok accounts making inside jokes about all the weird rules they follow, and it made me profoundly sad.

The Good News of the Kingdom™ was actually pretty grim. Some might even call it Bad News. Many Christians believe mankind is so rife with sin that only the return of Jesus Christ can redeem humanity, but only a handful try to predict when that will be. JWs were bold and set dates for Christ’s return at least twice over the last century, leading to disillusionment and large declines in membership when it didn’t come to pass. Now they’re just going with the movie trailer version: Armageddon is “coming soon” to a town near you.

I am no longer religious, but my upbringing may have helped prime me for my career and our current age of conspiracy theories and disinformation. If I can find any good in the bad of it all, it’s that I treasure my personal agency and right to vote more now that I’ve seen what it’s like to have it taken it away under the guise of piousness and truth.

JWs do not believe in self-government. Therefore why vote or try to improve it at all? You’re waiting to frolic with domesticated tigers in the New World (an actual thing they teach). It’s an extremely self-serving point of view that seeks to disenfranchise people from trying to make things better in our society. This brand of Christianity shares some DNA with the toxic individualism of our current politics and culture, which has so far contributed to more than 170,000 COVID-19 deaths and millions more lives put on hold for six months.

While I do not put all my faith in our current system to fix everything, there’s no reason not to try and make it better. So, like JWs, if a political party or pietist or president is trying to convince you not to vote or sow doubt that your vote will be counted or even matter, better vote like your life depends on it. That’s the truth.

Nearly Canadian

Hot damn, cold water, cold shower

Happy New Year! No use burying the lede, so I’ll start by saying that I am gainfully employed again some 2,000 miles to the east in the beautiful North Country region of New York.

I’ll be reporting for North Country Public Radio starting next week and have already begun amassing the kind of wardrobe early explorers of the Saint Lawrence valley used as their wooden ships navigated chunky ice blocks occluding their journey to Quebec.

The picture above is of the Raquette River, the third longest in New York. It flows through the village of Potsdam and north into the Saint Lawrence river, the icy vein dividing the U.S. from Canada. It’s a very rural area. About two hours from Montreal, three hours from Burlington and six to NYC. The closest airport is Ottawa! I say this by way of explaining that while I don’t expect many visitors, there’s a lot to see and enjoy in this part of the country that I am very much looking forward to.

I have lived in West Africa, D.C., the Southeast, the Intermountain West and now The North. This region isn’t quite New England technically, nor is it Canada, nor what people consider the “upstate” in Hudson Valley. It’s got a unique footprint and culture, the vast Adirondacks, a flat population, low cost of living and lots of hockey.

I will miss Utah and the West. I’ve said this before, but pursuing journalism has meant uprooting my life more times than I care to count. Moving books always sucks. This will be, probably, my tenth move and sixth state since graduating college a decade ago. It takes a lot to re-establish routines, find a dentist, make new friends, find the closest IKEA (again, Ottawa). I spent a lot longer hanging around Salt Lake in 2019, working on Bread Riot and part-timing at a high school, because I wasn’t sure I was ready to do this all again.

One quality of this career that I keep coming back to, though, is my ability to be surprised. I thought I was addicted to the novelty of the work, tackling a different story every day, but even that can become tiresome. What I really love is when people, places and things surprise me. And what surprised me most about my visit to NCPR was how much they love doing the kind of radio I dreamed about in high school. The get-out-of-the-office-more mentality, the everyone-pitches-in camaraderie, the cultivate-interests-outside-of-work-to-combat-burnout ethos. Heck, my new boss even helped reopen a dive bar in an abandoned motel/diner that the other staffers go to. There’s a reason I told my friends I’m moving to the set of Schitt’s Creek.

For these reasons, I am happy to hang up my political hat in 2020. It’s going to be an exhausting mosh pit of a campaign and if I can still do radio and tell some good stories that surprise and delight those listening, that will be goal enough for me.

Utah Readers (most of you!)

I like doing this little newsletter, but since there are subscribers expecting a quick hit of Utah political content, I want to let you know it’s okay to hit unsubscribe if you are not interested in dispatches from Arendelle. Best of luck and happy 45 Days to those working the legislative session.

B is for Biscotti

And that's good enough for me

I last made cookie tins seven years ago when Obama was still president and I hadn’t yet developed frown lines. So much has changed, but making cookie tins for friends at Christmas remains a huge mistake, as I discovered Monday night, midway through a four-hour baking marathon. That said, everyone needs a good biscotti recipe in her life. That’s why I’m here today.

Biscotti are my favorite cookies. It’s a biscuit for all times and occasions: breakfast, lunch, dinner, after-dinner, pre-dawn panic attack, etc. This basic recipe is from my friend Andrew, who some Salt Lakers will remember as the former owner of Bubble & Brown Bakery until he decided to move to Portland and drive a pedicab or something. His recipe comes from America’s Test Kitchen, another good authority for basic recipes. Listen: THERE ARE NO ORIGINAL RECIPES. Only infinite possibilities to mess things up and ruin your night. But I think you will like the flexibility of this one. Just remember to mix sugar and eggs together first.

I put orange zest and anise seed in the ones you see above, but there is no wrong combo. You could do chopped almonds and chocolate, or lemon zest and pistachios, or cranberry and oats. Also if you’re not weighing your ingredients, please buy yourself a kitchen scale this holiday season.

Biscotti

2 eggs
198 g (~1 cup) sugar
zest of 1/2 orange or lemon (if that fits your flavors, otherwise exclude)
56 g melted butter
1-2 tsp extract (could be vanilla, almond, or orange — I used orange for mine)
270 g (~2 1/4 cups) AP Flour (you can sub 25 g for another flour, like almond meal, spelt or ww)
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 TB toasted anise seeds (I saved some for pressing into the top)
OPT ADDITIONS INSTEAD OF ORANGE & ANISE:
1/2 cup toasted and chopped nuts
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup cranberries or oats

1. If using, zest citrus into sugar and massage with fingers before pouring in mixing bowl with eggs.

2. Whip eggs and sugar for 3-5 minutes in mixer on medium-high speed until batter looks silky and ribbony.

3. Add melted (but somewhat cooled) butter and extract. Mix until incorporated.

4. Add flour, baking powder, salt and any additions (seeds/chocolate/nuts/fruit). Mix on low until just incorporated. Make sure to scrape down sides.

5. Flour hands and counter well, dump dough on counter and divide in half. Gently form into two 9x2 logs. Wrap individually in plastic and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

~BAKING~

1. Preheat oven to 325 F. Pull out dough logs and put on big sheet pan with parchment spaced 2-3 in apart to allow them room to spread.

2. Opt: Brush top with egg wash, sprinkle with sugar or nuts or seeds for a pretty crust!

3. First bake for 25-30 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for 10-15 min.

4. Remove one log at a time onto cutting board (being careful not to break). Using serrated knife, cut 3/4 in-1 inch slices, gently place them on one side back onto sheet pan. Repeat until pan is full of what should now look like biscotti.

5. Second bake for 25-30 min, or until golden brown, making sure to rotate pan halfway through and flip each piece over so color is even on both sides.

6. After they cool down you can keep these in a plastic container for a week or so. Or go crazy and gift them to all your oat-milk-latte sipping, Fellini-film watching epicurean friends.

If you’re interested, here are the recipes for earthquake chai cookies, marbled tahini shortbread and thumbprints from my tin.

This is my last newsletter of 2019. Sad! I hope you have a wonderful holiday and New Year. I also, fingers crossed, hope to have better job news to share early next year. In the meantime read a good book, go see Knives Out and drink lots of hot toddies.





The Real Housewives of Deseret

Bravo's infamous franchise finds an unlikely home in Utah

ICYMI, the “Real Housewives” are coming to Salt Lake City. Bravo’s love-to-hate-it reality franchise announced the outgrowth of its 11th tentacle in the Salt Lake Valley on Saturday, promising mommy moguls, snow-capped mountains and, most likely, lapsed Mormons. I am here today in your inbox to defend these grotesque female caricatures and cat-scratching elites as a necessary evil in our ongoing class war. If women’s studies have taught me anything, it’s that women are allowed to be backstabbing dirtbags, too.

Popular culture that depicts women exhibiting joy, greed or narcissism — often in soap operas and reality TV — are often been dismissed as fluff. This trend pre-dates reality television, really, with chicklit, rom-coms and other genre-fication of women’s fiction. I’ll admit to having conflicted opinions about the value of this programming, but still defend its right to exist. As critic Emily Nussbaum writes in her review of Vanderpump Rules, a RH spinoff: “It’s an easily mocked mass artistic medium that’s corrupted by half-hidden deals, but it also provides a magnetizing mirror for the culture, dirty and mesmerizing. It’s television’s television.” (Nussbaum also advances a compelling theory here that RHONY became a hit in 2008, in part, because it distracted us from the evil all-male Wall Street villains who tanked the economy.)

The Salt Lake Tribune’s TV critic has already dismissed the latest Bravo venture thusly: “Other than nuclear waste, it's difficult to imagine anything more toxic hitting SLC.” I like to think of it more like circus coming to town. There will be things that shock and surprise you, maybe even upset or anger you, but overall you will be entertained. By seeing these women in their toxic and often controlling relationships with their husbands, we can actually cast a critical eye on the patriarchal, misogynistic structures they both represent and glorify. Furthermore, by writing criticism about these structures, we bring their edges to light.

These women are allowing themselves to have fun, to be made fun of, and to make fun of us for our gawking. These are empty calories we’ll be consuming, but they are nonetheless delicious.

Pick Your Sides

  1. Odd Ball,” a podcast about an unidentified metal sphere found in the backyard of a Jacksonville, Fla. home in 1974, combines all my favorite genres, i.e. history, UFOs, news of the weird.

  2. Finished Emily Nussbaum’s book, I Like to Watch, repackaging her excellent New Yorker essays on the big, popular shows of the last decade — Sopranos, Girls, Breaking Bad. If you like criticism and TV, this is a good book that both praises and probes our conventional wisdom on the past, present and future of TV.

  3. Marie Yovanovitch’s femininity is her superpower.

A$$ Deep in Peach

Transitioning from clingstone summer to freestone fall

Peaches and time. Two things of which you either have too little or too much. I fall into the latter camp. I purchased a 40 lb. box the other week from my favorite Colorado peach purveyor to do some canning. While tagging the orchard with my recipe progress, I inadvertently entered — and won — their contest to receive another 10 lbs. I shouldn’t complain, but I will. This is a recap of my last two weeks.

Day 1: Raw peach, mmm tastes so good
Day 2: Gonna make a peach pizza, I’m so clever!
Day 3: How about some peaches with fresh whipped topping and bitters?
Day 4: Jarring 64 oz peach butter while sustaining third-degree jam splatter burns
Day 5-8: Forgot I had peaches, oh shit, wdid? They’re getting flaccid :(
Day 9: A peach galette, always classy
Day 10: SURPRISE! YOU WON MORE PEACHES!
Day 11: Eating more raw peach, skin on
Day 12: Peach smash cocktails (courtesy Chelsea N!), also PeAcH PiE cUz iT sO gOoD
Day 13: Sheet pan roasted peaches with tomatoes, onion, and chicken (heeeelpmeeeee)
Day 14: Nine. More. To. Go.


Because I haven’t shared a recipe with y’all in a minute, to cap off this season, I’m sharing my friend Chelsea’s peach smash cocktail. First of all, you look like you could use a drink and second of all, it was delicious. (I fell into a small hole in the ground after just two.)

PeAcH SmAsH!

  • 1 fresh peach, diced up

  • Fresh mint or basil (we only had basil)

  • 1 oz honey, simple syrup or sugar

  • 2 oz bourbon or other dark spirit (barrel aged gin also worked well)

  • ginger beer

    Muddle some peach, sugar and mint or basil with a pestle (or any blunt object) in a bowl until gently smashed. Portion a few generous spoonfuls into the bottom of a highball type glass. Top with bourbon, a splash of ginger beer and stir. Chelsea says this also works well in a pitcher, like a sangria. That would mean having more friends over, which if your social anxiety disorder allows, you should do.

Newsletter Remix [insert record scratch]

Substack, the platform I use, introduced audio posts a while ago, and I am very tempted to try it out in the near future. The concept of an audio-only newsletter sounds both challenging and extremely indulgent. You may hate it. I probably will too. But no reason not to try since I bought a bunch of new audio gear to launch my future ASMR/whisper rap recording label. It will be called Shhh!ulia Records LLC.

R.I.P. Robert Frank, Beatnik-Gen Photographer

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