(It is only a natural for trans people to ask what might have happened if their gender assigned at birth had matched their gender. The obvious answer is that we would have been too beautiful to even look upon, but I have a very specific answer, thanks to the angel Honorarium. One night, she visited me, and as I looked upon her strange and glowing tentacles and beaklike mouth flapping wordlessly, I saw she was trying to give me something. It was access to Mrs. Rogers Neighborhood, a recipe blog started by Emily Rogers, my cis self, who lives in Wisconsin, in the year 2008, which she quit her job as a “communications specialist” to run in 2011. Now, it’s 2020, the blog is mostly sponcon, and she hates herself. Let’s have a look, shall we? A note: Regrettably, the photos that accompanied this post did not make the journey across dimensions, but fortunately, the alt-text did, so I have embedded that where the images would go. I found the below image of “Snickers salad” via Google image search, so you can picture this unique Midwestern dish, which I am well acquainted with from my own life.)
Happy Monday, Emmy’s Army (and happy Anzac Day [observed] to all my Kiwi readers)!
It’s getting warm here in Door County (finally!), and that means the kids are doing some distance learning — far away from me! Every day, I open the back door and let them run out into the backyard right after lunch, while mama pours herself a glass of wine and kicks her feet up.
IMAGE: Two children run, gleeful, toward a strip of trees behind a large, Victorian-style house in a rural area, while a blonde woman watches them dispassionately from the porch.
We’re still hoping and praying for a COVID-18 vaccine [Editor’s note: The coronavirus pandemic appears to have hit Cismily’s universe in 2018, but is otherwise more or less similar to our own outbreak], so everything can get back to normal. Hubby David says President Trump has it under control, and I just say nothing, as per our agreement of late 2017. One thing we can agree on is that this time is a salute to our essential workers!
You know who else agrees? Mars, Incorporated! The candy company recently sent me a whole pallet of Snicker bars. [Editor’s note: “Snickers” appears to be called “Snicker” in Cismily’s universe. It is impossible to ascertain where this divergence in the timeline occurred.] Now, I can’t eat all of these Snicker bars, and J and G keep asking, but I wouldn’t be a very good mama if I let them, right? So if you’re an essential worker on the frontlines in the fight against COVID-18, snap a selfie and send it my way at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “SNICKER CONTEST ENTRY.” Mars and I will pick 15 winners at random, and we’ll ship you a full box of Snicker bars, along with a copy of my new book, Mrs. Rogers After Dark. I’m sure you’re sick of hearing about this book, but it’s a great one for when you need to plan a meal for a romantic evening with just the hubs! (Or the wifey!)
IMAGE: Book cover — the same blonde woman, an implacable rictus grin on her face, holds an enormous platter with a full rack of lamb on it next to a table with candles lit upon it. An unseen man’s hands, holding a knife and fork, enter the frame from just off to the right, but the woman is smiling at us, always at us.
But what are you going to do with those Snicker bars? Can I suggest Snicker salad? It’s a Midwest tradition!
IMAGE: A grotesquerie, an abomination, a collection of bits and bobs, covered in a strange white gloss. A Snicker wrapper sits next to the bowl.
IMAGE: A smiling boy child taking a big bite of the salad. The blonde woman smiles indulgently at him.
IMAGE: A dog in a kitchen chasing his tail as the blonde woman laughs in delight.
I had never even heard of Snicker salad when I met David, having grown up in the South. [Editor’s note: Cismily, having been adopted by different parents, grew up in Florida.] The first time I went home with him for Christmas, his mom smiled at me. “Emily, will you help me make the Snicker salad?” she asked. I later realized this was a challenge to the new girl! Keep up, or keep out. It turned out she’d done this with other girlfriends, and they expressed confusion or concern about a salad with actual Snicker bars in it.
What I said was, “A salad with Snicker bars in it? That’s really clever.” I meant it sarcastically, but David’s family are all Midwesterners, and they don’t always get sarcasm. (Neither does David, honestly!) [I STILL READ THESE THINGS, YOU KNOW.] (And I love you, honey.) Anyway, my future mother-in-law, may she rest in peace, interpreted this as genuine enthusiasm for the Snicker salad, and David always says that was when she decided I was worthy of her son. And since Snicker salad was one of her favorite foods and since she died of complications from COVID-18 a few months ago and since we’re honoring essential workers, let’s make some Snicker salad.
So let’s get your ingredients. First, you’re going to need some milk. 2 percent is ideal, but you could make this with whole, too. Just please not skim. (Since this is cheesehead country, I got mine at a local dairy, but no need to be fancy!) You’ll also want some apples! I like a nice, tart Granny Smith, but you could use any apple you wanted, really. Look how green these are. (I got them at the orchard my friend Cassidy and her wife run. [Editor’s note: All of Cismily’s friends appear to be my friends from this reality, but with slightly different names. It’s very strange.] Love is love is love is love!)
IMAGE: A small girl taking a giant bite out of a green apple as a different dog looks up, wagging its tail. In the upper left corner, there is a strange dark smudge.
Now you know that I try to keep things as natural and healthy as possible here for my kiddos, but come on. This is called Snicker salad. It’s going to have some processed food in there. So you’re also going to want four Snicker bars, some processed whipped cream (I just used Kool Whip), and a packet of instant vanilla pudding (I just used Jell-O brand).
The thing about Snicker salad is that as weird as all of that sounds, it’s easy to make. I spent some time trying to figure out how it came to be, and it’s the same as a lot of Midwestern cooking — a lot of shelf-stable items that were sitting in somebody’s pantry or fridge, which got mixed together, which became this dish beloved by Midwesterners the world over. That’s a lesson I’m so glad I learned from my mother-in-law before she passed: Sometimes, what you really want isn’t what you think you want. It’s what’s in the pantry.
Like you’ve been reading this blog a while now, Emmy’s Army. You know I love a project. (Remember ramen week? Didn’t we have fun?) But sometimes a project isn’t called for. Sometimes you just want some Snicker salad. And that’s OK, too. [YOU DON’T HAVE TO SOUND LIKE YOU’RE INDULGING A CHILD.] (Oh, you!)
So let’s get to cooking.
First chop up your apple into pieces about a half-inch long, like so.
IMAGE: The blonde woman cuts an apple into smaller pieces with a gleaming chef’s knife
Then you want to do the same thing with the Snicker bars.
IMAGE: The blonde woman cuts the Snicker bars into smaller pieces.
Probably, you want to have a Snicker bar after all that work. After all, there’s a reason Snicker is America’s number one candy bar. You can’t beat the combination of chocolate, caramel, almonds, and rich, velvety nougat. Everybody here at Rogers Central loves ‘em! Thanks to Mars, Incorporated for my new secret stash!
IMAGE: The blonde woman smiles up at the camera, as if caught by surprise, holding a just unwrapped Snicker bar. Her mouth does not touch the candy bar. Her mouth never touches the candy bar. You cannot know if she eats the candy bar. You cannot know if she has ever had a candy bar. She looks like she does yoga. Probably she does yoga. The lighting in this kitchen is perfect, all warm sunlight from outside, except for the shadow spreading across the ceiling.
Okay, so now you mix together the instant pudding mix and the milk in a big bowl. Don’t overthink this. You’ll know when it’s done! Then if you wanted to have a sample — well, who would stop you?
IMAGE: The blonde woman has a pudding-covered finger in her mouth. You cannot know if the finger had pudding on it ever. You cannot know anything from these pictures. Behind her, one of the children plays, but his face is a strange blur.
Anyway, let that pudding mixture sit for a couple minutes — at least two but no more than five. And once that’s done, fold in the whipped cream—
IMAGE: A rubber spatula blending the Kool Whip with the pudding mixture.
—and then the apples—
IMAGE: The spatula folds in the apple chunks. The void is in the spatula.
—and then the Snicker bars!
IMAGE: the void is in the spatula the void is in the spatula the void is in the spatula the void is in the spatula the void is in the spatula the spatula is in the void the spatula is in the void the spatula is the void the void the void the void the void the void the void the void THE VOID THE VOID THE VOID
Give it a good mix, and honestly, that’s it. You can put it in the fridge to keep cool until you want to bring it out for a gathering or just family dinner. It’s a real crowd pleaser!
IMAGE: The smallest child, the one who seems to be a girl, but how can you tell, how can you tell?, licks a spoon indulgently. The blonde woman, hands on hips, looks down at her and laughs like she has never worried about anything in her life. But she worries. Everyone worries.
Even David likes it! [IT’S ONE OF MY FAVORITES, AND YOU MAKE IT SO WELL.] (Better than your mother?) [NO ONE MAKES IT BETTER THAN MY MOTHER. HER SECRET INGREDIENT WAS LOVE.] (Awwww!)
IMAGE: If you saw David in real life, you would know him. But you cannot know him, so you do not see him. He is in the void, too. This world is decaying, but so is yours.
Snicker salad is best at a big family gathering. We had some every Christmas, right there next to the turkey and cranberry sauce. At our last Christmas, our first without my mother-in-law, we took the Snicker salad, and we didn’t touch it, as a tribute to her. We let it sit through the whole meal, then put it back in the fridge. Later, one of David’s sisters donated it to a family from church who needed something to eat for Christmas. (I always loved how charitable David’s family is!)
You’ve heard a million times how I was headed out west to be “a writer” when I met David at the waitressing job I took in Chicago to make ends meet and save a little money. I didn’t have a plan, and the words weren’t coming any more because of stress, and my parents, unsupportive without a plan, didn’t want to help. (My brother spotted me a little cash. Thanks, Bryan!)
And then David walked in one day, and I knew him in the way I had always known him, like something out of time, calling to me. I had that one other time with my high school best friend, Beth, where it felt like I had known her in each and every lifetime. She made it out west. She’s doing great. She’s a big-time writer lady. Sometimes you just know. Sometimes you just do. Sometimes the door opens, and the person you’re supposed to meet walks in.
IMAGE: The blonde woman leans against someone and smiles, and the someone is evidently kissing her head, but you can’t see this. It’s not meant for your eyes. Quick. Run.
This sounds like woo-woo hippie stuff, I know, but it was real. Love at first sight and all of that. [I THOUGHT YOU WERE SUPER CUTE.] (I didn’t say you were cute.) [I CAN JUST TELL THESE THINGS.] (Ha ha, yeah.)
When I met his mother, she was tough. She was skeptical of this dumb blondie from down South who swept in and presumed she could be the girl for her only son. But I learned that toughness came from a tender place. You could tell she’d raised seven kids pretty much by herself, since David’s father was on the road so much, doing his business stuff. She had everything down to a T, and she cooked so many things with whatever she could find in her pantry, because I’ll bet she was tired. (I only have J and G, and I’m tired all the time!) It didn’t take too long before she opened up the gates and let me in. I felt them snap shut behind me, but she realized, I think, that I could be tough, too, and maybe that’s what her son saw in me.
IMAGE: The blonde woman is so much younger, and her hair is truly unfortunate, and she’s cooking alongside a stout, smiling woman who looks on with an expression somewhere between judgment and love. Always, in the Midwest, judgment crosses with love. The wires get crossed somewhere.
The more I think about these things, the harder it is to hold myself in place. If I think about them long enough, I know there was some version of me that kept on going to California, and I know there was some version of me who stayed at home in Florida, and I know there was some version of me that lived in France in the 1910s and watched all of the people she loved die in the war.
But I think about the version of me that went to California to follow her and Beth’s plan the most often. I think about her a lot, and I wonder what she’s like, what was different about her that made her go and didn’t make her stay. Is she still me if that’s true? Am I her? That’s what I mean when I say it’s hard to hold myself in place. I wonder if she ever thinks of me. Probably not.
IMAGE: The trees behind the house, budding a bit, leaves beginning to unfurl for spring. The sun dapples through them and casts cathedral lighting on the ground all around. There’s a dog darting off to the edge of the frame, toward someone who is off-camera. It is cool, and there is a wind that blows around your body, so you pull your jacket more tightly about yourself. There are so many lives you could have other than this one, and you can never know what they are like. The world is so big, and it is so variable, and you are never just you but also a million other yous. The sun is warm here, right here, so you stop for a moment, and you call out to one of the dogs, and the sound of it crashing through the brush returns you to reality, for a moment, perhaps. There is a void, but you don’t live in it, not yet.
Here is what I think about the people you just know. I see David every morning, and practically every minute of every day since we work together, and I always miss him. He’s always here, and I miss him, because I can feel, already, on the horizon, the day when he won’t be around, or I won’t be, and we’ll always have something we never got to share with the other. Eventually, we’ll make memories alone.
But I also miss him retroactively. Like that gawky high school girl who felt like she always said the wrong thing — I miss him for her, because she could have used someone like him in her life. [I MEAN, I WAS IN BAND. I WAS NO PRIZE.] (OMG, I was in band, too!) [YOU KNEW THAT.] (Yeah, shocking how that happens.)
You get people for a time in your life, but you are always you, and that’s the tragedy, because you can’t escape that, no matter how hard you try. They say that time is a dimension, which means that I am a person writing this blog post to you, and the person making that Snicker salad with Jane, and the person mourning her husband and the thought of having to make a life without him, and the baby just being born, all at once. Isn’t that neat? And terrifying?
I think we feel those things across time. I really do. I have this song I love by Kamasi Washington called “The Rhythm Changes.” I listened to it a lot after Jane passed. I like to listen to a song over and over again. It drives the rest of my family crazy, but it helps me feel like I’m lost in some other place. Anyway, I’ve been thinking about that song a lot lately, probably because of these lyrics:
Our minds, our bodies, our feelings
They change, they alter, they leave us
Somehow, no matter what happens
The time, the season, the weather
The song, the music, the rhythm
It seems, no matter what happens
It seems, no matter what happens, I’m here.
Snicker salad for dinner is not the sort of thing I usually allow, but tonight, maybe, I’ll make an exception. We only get so many nights like this, and it’s just starting to be spring. From the outside, the house will all be lit up, and that is how I love it most, when I can see it like a ship out at sea and know I’m coming home to it. For all that I wonder about those other lives, I’m glad I’m in this one. And I hope all those other mes are just as glad, too. I’d like to have them over sometime.
I’d serve them Snicker salad.
IMAGE: The house is lit up in the night, and it looks warm and inviting. The blonde woman walks toward it, back to us. All around those lights is inky black, and somewhere in the middle of that black, the pinpricks of stars.
Programming note: Due to unforeseen issues, Babylon Berlin had to be delayed a bit, but that means you’ll get two installments this week — one on Wednesday and the other on Friday. How lucky for you!
What I’ve been up to: I filed a massive piece at Vox recently that I can’t wait for you to read. But in the meantime, I interviewed the video head at Bon Appetit and made the case for you to watch my now-beloved Babylon Berlin:
That momentum is what I wish I could force prestige TV makers in the US to see in Babylon Berlin. How many times have you watched an American TV drama that dragged on well past the point of your engagement? Across the show’s first 28 episodes, only one installment of Babylon Berlin runs over 50 minutes long, and it’s the third season finale — a wholly acceptable time to have a longer-than-usual episode. The storytelling is marvelously efficient, too. A fantasy dance sequence in one episode turns out to teach you the geography of a location that becomes very important for a “sneaking around a house trying not to be detected” sequence in a later episode. Every moment of character development is a moment of plot development and vice versa.
Read me: I loved reading Kathryn VanArendonk on Quibi and just how forgettable its programming is. I genuinely cannot believe this thing exists or that it got as much press as it did!
The streaming works fine. The user interfaces are serviceable. The app itself functions as promised. The shows, though, are a mess. Quibi shows all share a few qualities: They’re short, with episode run times under ten minutes. Short doesn’t have to mean chintzy or trivial, but Quibi shows almost universally feel cheaper and less memorable than similar stuff on other platforms. The Quibi shows that are meant to seem like TV shows do feel like TV shows (Run This Town, Shape of Pasta, Murder House Flip), but their compressed run times and thoughtless cinematography just remind you of how much better they could be if they were TV shows. Camera angles and scene edits look identical to the visual design of a typical TV show, full of panning cameras and long shots, and it’s seemingly meant to signal that “this is a serious, expensive TV show!” Instead, it signals that no one’s put much effort into thinking about what this should look like when played in a vertical format on a phone. The Quibi shows that seem closest to YouTube series (Dishmantled, Gayme Show, Memory Hole) fare better, but even those feel half-hearted, all shell and no inner oomph. The worst are the movies, like When the Streetlights Go On or Most Dangerous Game, which Quibi advertises as “movies in chapters.” In their widescreen cinematography, the beats of each scene, the way they’ve been awkwardly crammed into tiny chunks, I swear you can still hear them screaming, “I’m a movie!” even as Quibi shovels dirt over their short-form-mobile-storytelling graves.
Watch me: My wife reminded me this exists, so honestly, just watch that 52 times.
And another thing… I don’t get hooked on many video games, but I am hooked on Planet Zoo. It’s such a fun game, and the animals in it are so brilliantly simulated. I made a chimpanzee habitat, and I felt like I had saved some actual chimpanzees as I watched them become friends. I highly recommend it.
This week’s reading music: “The Rhythm Changes” by Kamasi Washington (Editor’s note: I like this song, too, Cismily, and I think about you all the time — I’m glad you’re doing well)
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