Alternate Title: Small Infernos Here and There
Also, no matter what happens, I will NOT social distance from pasta and soup.
“Shaker was built on the underlying philosophy, by the founders, that everything can and should be built to avoid disaster.”
(Reader, there is disaster.)
Little Fires Everywhere is the new Hulu miniseries adaptation of Celeste Ng’s 2019 novel, and I watched the first episode late last night. (The first three are available right now.) Disclaimer: I’ve already read the book and liked it a lot. Plus, I like Reese Witherspoon (I’m a sucker for Legally Blonde and Big Little Lies, what can I say?) and Kerry Washington (I will freely admit that I watched Scandal even after it went off the rails). So I’m biased towards the adaptation.
It begins with the central disaster of the show—Elena Richardson’s house burned down, and it seems to have been an act of arson. Someone placed little fires everywhere, set them alight and let the place go up in flames. But why? Who crossed what lines in the otherwise fairly idyllic little Ohio suburb? How did it come to be that Elena, matriarch of a model family, found herself in a burning house, and what does any of it have to do with the enigmatic Mia Warren (played by Kerry Washington)?
Race and class have a lot to do with it, actually. I was pleasantly surprised to see that, even more so than in the book, the Richardson family is full of good intentions and careless privilege. For example: while giving Mia a tour of a duplex that from the street looks like a single-family home (all the houses on the street look the same to "avoid the stigma of renting instead of owning”), Elena offers up that her mother was on the school board when the city’s schools integrated. Mia is more than a little taken aback by this polite little microaggression, one of the first that echoes throughout the episode. Elena later offers Mia, now her tenant, a job in Elena’s house as — you guessed it — a maid. Mia, naturally, is offended, which causes Elena to later go home and ask her husband if there was something wrong with what she said. Her husband says yes, and Elena says something to the effect of “well, I didn’t mean to be racist.” Oof.
It’s an interesting turn, made even more curious by its links to art. Mia is an artist, a photographer, something which peaks Elena’s interest during that initial house tour. Mia doesn’t exactly say what kind of art she makes throughout the episode, but she does allude to it showing the true nature of people, not what they’d have you believe. There’s a joke Elena makes about Mia being a starving artist, and it makes you wonder what kind of stuff is worth moving all over the country for, as she and her daughter Pearl have been doing for years. In any case, Mia the artist wears black, takes a job at a Chinese restaurant in town and is overall badass and cool. Elena’s youngest daughter, Isabelle-but-goes-by-Izzy, is the rebel of the family: she burns off her own hair, refuses to go to orchestra camp, plasters her room in rock posters and spray-paints something black in the front yard of the beautiful Richardson house. Both Mia and Elena pose a sharp and distinctly disaster-oriented contrast to the idyllic, rich, white, suburban life that everyone else seems to at least uphold, if not actively cherish. Perhaps most notable is the choice of television for the other four Richardson children: reality television, in particular The Real World. The fight between high art/low class versus low art/high class couldn’t be clearer.
All in all, the pilot of Little Fires Everywhere intrigued me. I’m not going to say I’m hooked, but I liked it enough to watch the next episode. I’d recommend at least the pilot. If the intersections of race, class and art didn’t catch your attention, maybe the teenagers in the show will — they were sympathetic, a feat of television. (And if you noticed the eyes that Mia’s daughter Pearl made at Elena’s oldest son Trip, you might like Normal People by Sally Rooney, also a book that will be turned into a Hulu show; it also featuring two teens from opposite sides of the track, with lots of eyeing of each other.)
So, beyond my media rec for the week, I’ve got little more to offer you. It’s been a busy week despite or because of coronavirus, so I haven’t had a lot of time to consume media. But I did enjoy The Plot Against America, season 1, episode 1 on HBO; Bombshell, courtesy of Verizon on-demand; and Melmoth by Sarah Perry.
What I’ve been doing instead is reminiscing on some of my favorite recipes, especially pastas and soups, because, you know, everything requires comfort food. A few weeks ago, I made some friends bucatini with butter-roasted tomato sauce, which is both easy and delicious, highly recommend if you’re having people over and don’t want to fuss over too much in the kitchen. I’ve really enjoyed creamy one-pot pasta with peas and mint, which reminds me of summer all year round. Mushroom carbonara is fantastic, hands down, and so are red wine spaghetti, pasta al limone, Vietnamese canh and chicken-lentil soup with jammy onions.
My favorite thing to make sans recipe and all the time is a super simple chicken and rice soup. I season and brown chicken thighs over medium-high in a Dutch oven for 10-15 minutes, set the chicken aside and shred into big chunks with a knife and fork. I throw in some olive oil and tons of garlic and a little bit of umami seasoning, saute for a few minutes. Then I add the chicken back in with enough chicken broth and water (and a few dashes of fish sauce, plus more salt and pepper), to cover with a few inches to spare. I turn the heat up a bit so that everything comes to a boil, throw in a handful of rice and more chicken broth and water if needed and cover the pot with the lid for roughly 20 minutes. I taste the broth and add more fish sauce, salt and pepper if needed, plus lots of dill. If the soup’s too thick for my liking, I add more chicken broth and water and keep it cooking for about 5 more minutes. When I’m satisfied, I take it off the heat, add in the juice of one lemon, stir for a moment then ladle it into a bowl. I top that bowl with a tablespoon of Greek yogurt and more dill, because why not. It’s pretty quick, pretty hands-off and really good, I promise.
That’s all for this week, folks! Remember to stay safe and healthy while you’re waiting for the next American Girl Doll to come out.