Afrocentric splendor, mandatory chicken, "affluenza", and more.
Beyoncé's Black is King, released Friday on Disney+, is a revelation. The visual accompaniment to The Lion King: The Gift, the film features several Nigerian artists I absolutely adore, like Tiwa Savage, Burna Boy, Wizkid and Mr Eazi. As expected, every costume choice, movement, and setting is intentional and layered with meaning. The music of The Lion King: The Gift was criticized for being heavily (almost exclusively) West African. Beyoncé has listened and paid tribute to a much wider range of African cultures visually, from the Mursi women of Ethiopia to the Himba people of Namibia. This thread by Zikhona Valela on Twitter is a great summary. This Diet Prada post also features some of the best looks. My only criticism of this film is that we never get to enjoy any individual shot for too long. We see incredibly complex and beautiful scenes that are gone as quickly as they arrived. If you've seen Beyoncé's other visual albums (Lemonade or the eponymous Beyoncé), you'll know exactly what I mean. If you're outside of the US and you can't access Disney+: I'm sorry. But when this film inevitably becomes available to you on another platform in the future, you have this absolute audiovisual splendor to look forward to.
A screenshot showing costuming from one of my favorite shots. The white- and black-clad adults and children play a human game of chess on a board in a garden, it's stunning.
If you're a chicken-eater, you have to make these roasted chicken thighs with peaches, basil and ginger. It doesn't matter how skilled (or unskilled) you are as a home chef, you can nail this. I am confident that it's so wildly easy to make that I would genuinely like to hear if it's even possible mess it up. It doesn't make complete sense on paper, but you're just going to have to trust me. The flavors are out of this world. It's fresh, seasonal (if you're in the Northern hemisphere, at least) and amazing. That's it, end of conversation. Just go make it!
Photo from Jessica at How Sweet Eats. Pictured with the thighs intact, which is how I prefer to make it. Y'all should know by now that I'm rarely a recipe puritan. This is no exception.
Today I learned about the disturbing concept of affluenza. Have you heard of it before? It's a conflation of the terms affluent and influenza (i.e. the flu) and is lauded as an affliction uniquely experienced by rich kids. The term rose to modern popularity when a Texan teenager named Ethan Couch stole two cases of beer from a Walmart store and drove his father's car with 7 people in it, speeding at 70 miles an hour (110 km/h) in a 40 (64 km/h) zone. He hit and killed Brenna Mitchell, whose car had stalled at the side of the road, and three people who came to her aid: Holly and Shelby Boyles, and Brian Jennings. Couch's blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit, and he tested positive for Valium and marijuana. Despite all of this, he was given a sentence of just 10-years probation and mandated therapy after his lawyers argued he had affluenza; that he was too rich to know better and had been raised without boundaries. Classism is obvious here, but can you even imagine the treatment of a Black, or Latinx teen if they committed just a single one of the crimes of the above? Even if they were equally rich, this defense would never have worked on anyone but a white boy. I may not be entitled enough to have affluenza, but I sure feel sick hearing about it.
The four people Ethan Couch killed. Image from WFAA-TV.
Conscious cosmetic procedures, AOC’s perfect speech, buttery kimchi noodles, and more.
Netflix's latest reality offering Skin Decision: Before and After was a pleasant surprise. I started it with the expectation that I'd hate it and critically pick it apart; on the surface it seemed reminiscent of those terribly toxic plastic surgery shows from the 00s. What I found instead was the 2020, socially conscious, update. It's a show that is fundamentally about empowering people, giving them the capacity to exercise agency and make choices for themselves, and that puts their needs at the center. It is also refreshing to see two women leading the show; a brilliant plastic surgeon Doctor Sheila Nazarian, and Registered Nurse with her own skincare empire "Nurse Jamie". They avoid toxic ideas of what bodies should be, and accept patient's decisions about what confidence means for them as individuals. They also use less risky non-surgical treatments wherever possible. Mental health is also a major focus of the show. Patients include survivors of domestic violence and serious physical trauma, a trans man taking his final steps to present the way he wants to￼￼￼￼, and women trying to balance their sense of self with motherhood. It's still a makeover TV show and is inherently focused on outward appearance and societal beauty norms, but it has a lot of the heart and soul Netflix is known for (think Queer Eye). I’ve binged it all in one day and if reality is your thing I really recommend it.￼
Screenshot from the show. Doctor Sheila Nazarian, left, and Nurse Jamie, right.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) recently delivered an incredible speech to US Congress addressing her harassment by representative what’s-his-name (I honestly can't remember and I'm not Googling it right now because frankly he's not worth our time). It shocked me. Not because of what happened, it's all too common for women, and I think we've all been there. Also not because of how brilliantly she speaks, I've come to expect no less. No, I'm shocked because she actually dug up the energy to address this head on, and nailed it so perfectly, because honestly she shouldn't have to. As she says so powerfully in her speech, she stood up to confront this issue for her nieces, for little girls watching her at home, and for her own parents who raised her to be strong. This isn’t acceptable. And yet in America today, it is increasingly accepted. She did all of us a service by articulating something that so strongly resonates with most, if not all, women. We may not have the energy to do this ourselves when it comes up, but now we have her words to help us stand, and we know we're all still standing in this together. I don’t think it’s relevant whether or not you agree with her politics, you should care enough about humanity to know that women should live free from harassment and vitriol. If you haven’t watched the full speech please take less than 5 minutes to do it.
This incredible illustration is by Hera Hussain. I spoke to the artist, Hera, about including this, and she asked me to link to her nonprofit @ChaynHQ instead of her own profile. I strongly recommend you follow them! It's an amazing survivor-led intersectional tech project empowering women and non-binary people facing violence.
These buttery kimchi noodles are my all-time favorite "oh I forgot about dinner" meal. It's so easy but always good. It doesn't feel like a lazy meal, even though that is 100% what it is when I make it. I always keep packets of fresh udon and jars of kimchi in the pantry, and eggs in the fridge. I actually use the linked recipe very loosely... For me this is very much a 'use what you have, don't stress about substitutions' recipe. Scallions are lovely to have but not critical; the dish is still delicious without. Gochujang, while uniquely delicious, can also be subbed for other Asian chili sauce (Lao Gan Ma is my fave), or just left out. Sorry if that's blasphemy but the kimchi has plenty of kick. The broth isn't necessary to make it lovely and saucy, in my opinion. But if you have it, go for it. If you've got sesame seeds on hand, garnish generously. For a non-animal-product version, vegan butter works just as well, and you can always skip the egg! I've also made this with soba instead of udon and I think the moral of the story is - put butter and kimchi on anything and you're good.
Photo by Alex Lau for Bon Appétit.
Good trouble, summer pasta, Amoako Boafo for Dior, and more.
As one of the original thirteen Freedom Riders, Congressman John Lewis put his own life on the line to transform America. He confronted racism directly, never shying away from speaking out and taking bold actions, while remaining steadfast in his commitment to non-violence. He was attacked by white mobs and the KKK, beaten bloody and unconscious, arrested for peaceful protests, and left in vermin-infested jail cells, over and over again. All this so that we Black Americans can enjoy the civil rights we have today. Without the critically important work he did to end segregation, with his own body and blood, I simply would not exist. But this fight is not done. We owe him, and his legacy, to keep going. Rest in peace and power, Congressman Lewis. Thank you for everything you did for us, and for this country.
"I want to see young people in America feel the spirit of the 1960s and find a way to get in the way. To find a way to get in trouble. Good trouble, necessary trouble." - John Lewis
It's the middle of summer in the Northern Hemisphere, and for Atlanta that means it's hot. What I never realized growing up in the Western Australian heat is that even though temperatures frequently exceed 40 degrees Celsius (104F) in the Summer, Perth is privileged to be on the coast. A sea breeze called the Fremantle Doctor arrives like clockwork daily. Atlanta has no such natural phenomenon, and there's no sea to give us cool winds. Humidity sits high, and we have a lot of hot summer rains. This makes light dishes like this delicious summer pasta with basil, ricotta and zucchini an absolute must. This is simple but so, so good, and pairs well with a glass of prosecco on our back deck, under the umbrella with the fan blasting in our direction. I'm still non-dairy because of Leo's milk allergy, but the cashew-based ricotta and Parmesan substitutes have worked well. A small tip: we also use Banza chickpea pasta these days, instead of the normal kind, because it tastes just as good but is packed with protein.
Ghanaian artist Amoako Boafo recently collaborated with Kim Jones, Artistic Director at Dior, to create their men's summer 2021 collection. In this hauntingly beautiful 10-minute short film 'Portrait of an Artist', which premiered this week, Boafo explains his artistic sensibilities, unique finger painting technique, and the role of fashion and style in his work. I find this particularly interesting because obviously given the circumstances of the world amidst COVID19, a traditional show wasn't possible. Dior has turned to a different storytelling medium, film, to tell Boafo's story and to exhibit the collection. For me, this is an exciting and dynamic way to share fashion, probably because it's so inclusive. The vast majority of us outside of the industry who enjoy fashion as an art form, will never be invited to sit along one of those runways. But here, we get to be fully immersed and included in the experience. And what a tremendous one it is.
Creative writing, "botanical sexism", sumac-roasted strawberries, and more.
I love to read short stories. I highly recommend them to anyone who doesn't actively seek them out. They are a great way to indulge in literature in a single session, and without a large time investment. They are hard to tell well, but when they are, the impact can be huge. I'm having a really busy week and have paused my current novel, so I searched some of my favourite literary magazines for new "creative writing" to read. In a moment of weirdly meta self-determination, I found a wonderful story actually titled "Creative Writing" by Israeli writer Etgar Keret. It's translated from Hebrew, and was originally published by the New Yorker in January 2012. It is ambiguous, in a way that the best shorts are, and tells a layered, humorous, at times painful story of a wife, a husband, and some creative writing classes. It’s very short indeed, and as a perfect exercise in minimalism we are given just enough to speculate and draw our own conclusions as readers, while being given no surety at all. If you read it, I’d love to know what you think (you can hit reply to any of these digests to send me an email).
Since I started The Seven, a fair few of my loved ones have been sharing content with me, hoping I’ll find it interesting enough to include. This week’s winner (I am entirely joking of course, it’s not a competition) is my husband Alex, who shared this fascinating piece with me about a concept called “botanical sexism”. If you live in the United States, or have visited in the Spring, you might be familiar with the huge clouds of yellow pollen that tend to stifle our cities and cause allergenic reactions in huge swathes of people. Well it turns out there’s a very practical reason for this: almost all of our urban trees are male. Urban planners and city officials found the idea of cleaning up the fruits and flowers that drop from female trees unfathomable, so they planted male, pollen-producing trees en masse instead. The article contains a quote from an opponent who argues that “sexism”, a very real human issue shouldn’t be applied to plants. I tend to agree. It doesn’t make the phenomenon of male tree dominance any less interesting. I want to learn how to identify trees' sexes visually, so I can see how prevalent this is in my own neighbourhood… But judging from the yellow blanket of pollen on our car earlier this year, quite. If anyone is an arborist, botanist, or generally knowledgeable about these things, please point me in the right direction!
I'm mindful that I have not featured many recipes that aren't dependent on animal products, and I will ensure to include more diversity with regard to ingredients going forwards. In this vein, I've got another Ottolenghi hit to share! So I've got diversity of ingredients, but maybe not of chefs or culinary styles (will table that for later). I find that when I buy a huge punnet of strawberries, I can never use them fast enough and they always start to rot. This sumac-roasted strawberries recipe is the perfect way to enjoy the berries at their turning point. I cooked it for a date night last month and Alex, who has discerning tastes and doesn't give compliments easily, called it "restaurant quality". That's one for the history books. For the primary part of the dish, all you need are the strawberries, some lemon juice, mint, salt, vanilla, sumac and sugar. I used plain greek yoghurt as a side for Alex, and cashew yogurt for myself (you can too for a vegan version), but once I stop nursing and/or my son Leo's milk allergy resolves - I'm making the full thing with the yoghurt cream. If you do sooner, please tell me how it went.
Black cowboys, Palestinian food stories, queer identity in Soho, and more.
If you've heard Lil Nas X's "Old Town Road" (and hopefully seen this delightful music video with Billy Ray Cyrus), you might've reacted with surprise to see a Black country rapper, like I did. It's an intersection of genres that feel otherwise discrete. Lil Nas X is also an openly gay man, with killer style, which for me felt very outside of my idea of what country music is. Country fans, it seems, disagreed with the limitations I'd imposed on them, giving him a coveted Country Music Association award last year. This week I learned that Lil Nas X is far from the first Black man to foray so deeply into cowboy subculture. It turns out that one in four cowboys in the American pioneer days was Black. The history of cowboys in this country has, like many (most?) things, been whitewashed. I highly recommend you take the time to watch this beautiful short (14-minute) documentary by Dillon Hayes, which provides a window into the life of one Black cowboy named Larry Callies. Mr Callies operates the Black Cowboy Museum outside of Dallas, Texas, working to shine a light on this suppressed reality. He comes from a long line of Black cowboys, and was once on the cusp of country and western stardom. I’ll let you hear the rest from him.
This week I received my copy of Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley's new cookbook Falastin. As you know well by now, I am a huge fan of Yotam Ottolenghi and his culinary sensibilities. Sami and Tara are longtime friends and collaborators of his. So, as you'd expect, the dishes in Falastin are beautifully photographed and the recipes are accessible. However, it's the stories that add a new dimension to this book. Take for example "the yoghurt-making ladies of Bethlehem". It's a quirky, meaningful story and well told in a way that makes you feel as though you're in right the car and a part of the adventure with Sami and Tara. Here is a free-to-read version of the story from the Penguin Australia website. I was fortunate to visit Israel and Palestine for the first time last year, for a Forbes event. I was unfortunate, however, to have been early in my pregnancy and well into my food-ruining nausea. I will continue to sit in my kitchen, fantasise about traveling again in a post-COVID world, and for now - cook my way through this beautiful book and enjoy its soulful storytelling. A selection of the recipes are available for free online in this promotional piece by The Guardian.
A promotional image from Penguin Random House, showing the cover of Falastin. The US edition (which I have) doesn't look like this. In the US we get different versions of everything, because it seems food nouns (cilantro/coriander, arugula/rocket, pepper/capsicum etc.) are the English languages' only truly dialectical features.
My husband Alex, an alumnus of UCL's Bartlett School, sent me these lecture recordings of 'Soho Scenes', an event UCL hosted digitally in April. It's hard to be engaging in a digital broadcast, especially in an academic lecture format, and yet queer activists Dan de la Motte and Chardine Taylor Stone are completely enthralling. The storytelling method works perfectly: eloquent, thought-provoking spoken words, accompanied by strong, simple visuals. From Dan, a beautiful reflection on the relationship between place and identity, and the queer history of London's Soho area in the West End. From Chardine, an important exploration of intersectionality and how queer Black identities get lost in queer, and Black, histories. I recommend you carve out the time to watch both talks. They are less than 20 minutes each, 18-minute Q&A video is a bonus.
In yesterday's edition of The Seven, digest #3, I included a link to Zadie Smith's "Generation Why?" essay on The New York Review of Books website, noting that it was free. It turns out it is not free; though the opening paragraphs are provided as a preview, it sits behind a paywall.
For those who have just signed up and didn't receive yesterday's digest, I'm referring to a book of essays by Smith called Feel Free. I believe the entire book is important, and each essay is worth reading, so I've decided to run a giveaway. I will be sending one subscriber a copy of the book, posted to you for free (via Book Depository), wherever in the world you are.
Existing subscribers: Please visit the contest page to enter. I will not automatically enter you, so please register your interest there. You of course don't need to sign up to The Seven a second time!
New subscribers: If you have been forwarded this message, you will need to sign up to The Seven, and also complete the contest form.
I will cross-reference the subscriber database with the contest entrants (it isn't automatic) so if you haven't subscribed to the Seven and entered with the same email address on the contest page, you won't be eligible to win.
The winner will be chosen at random on Saturday night (GMT-4), and announced in this coming Sunday's digest of The Seven. I will then contact the winner to get their preferred shipping address and send the book!
Sending warmth from Atlanta to wherever you are,
The Seven is a weekly digest sharing a collection of seven carefully curated stories, recipes, images, movies, essays, books, songs and other content. Thoughtfully contextualised and passed along with consideration, for your mental nourishment.
In February 2018, not long after we first moved to Atlanta, I went to a launch event for Zadie Smith's collection of essays Feel Free. I wouldn't typically buy a book of essays, but I am a huge fan of Smith's work and I desperately wanted to see her speak in person (it was brilliant). Feel Free is not the kind of book you can necessarily read cover to cover, because the essays have been collected over many years, and talk about a huge range of topics - from Justin Bieber to Brexit. In one essay, "Generation Why?", Smith reflects on the problematic rise of Facebook, and the cult of personality behind it. One anecdote I remember well; that Facebook's iconic branding is blue simply because Zuckerberg himself is red-green colorblind. It's a reminder that this huge technological powerhouse came from his college dorm room project, in order to rank the physical attractiveness of women on the Harvard campus. It was built by him, for him, and now we are all sucked in. Smith first published this essay in 2010, when 'only' 500 million people were registered users. It foreshadows, but of course can't predict, the continuing growth and impact of Facebook. It is a sobering read as now, ten years later, Facebook's enablement of widespread interference in political processes in the USA, and incitement of major violence in Myanmar, are lived realities. I recommend the entire book, but you can also access many of the older essays online for free, including “Generation Why?” which is on The New York Review website.
I am unashamedly a huge fan of the teenage film and television genre. This has been the case before, during, and now well after my own teen years. One of my all time favorite teen movies, Love, Simon (2019), is somehow the very first time a mainstream film in this genre has told a queer love story. I first saw it on a flight, cried my eyes out from happiness watching it, and then signed up to HBO (who own the streaming rights in the US) so I could watch it a few more times. It’s a beautiful film that follows most of the teen movie tropes but in a modern way, and culminates in a typically epic romcom ending. You can only imagine my utter delight when I saw that Hulu had released a spin-off show called Love, Victor. While it features cameos from the film cast, it tells a very different love and coming out story and stands on its own two feet. Both are magical and both get my endorsement for your viewing pleasure.
Yotam Ottolenghi's prawn and orzo dish from SIMPLE is a winner. It's a great recipe to have on hand, because it can be modified to be made when the only fresh ingredient available is an orange. We always keep a supply of prawns in the freezer, plus canned tomatoes, garlic, herbs, spices and packets of orzo in the pantry. I've only made it with the marinated feta once, and typically use greek yoghurt instead (as I do on most things). In my current dairy-free life, I've used cashew yoghurt (not actually bad), or just had it as-is. When I'm out of fresh basil I used dried leaves in a very small quantity, and I've found it still tastes great. The fennel seed taste can be overwhelming if you overdo it, and I tend to use half of the recommended amount because we're not an overly liquorice-flavor-loving household. Try cooking it properly the first time, and when you see how good it is, find out which substitutions work for you so this delicious combo can become an easy weeknight staple!
Maya Angelou is one of the few writers who occupies a special place in both my mind and heart. As a half Black American, half white Australian woman who grew up between Australia and Southeast Asia, my Black identity was always an elusive (often stress-inducing) object of inquiry that I struggled to investigate from afar. One of the first times I connected with, and began to understand the multiple facets of my identity as a Black woman, was when I first read Still I Rise. Now, living in Atlanta as an adult, I've returned to Angelou's writing and found new nuance, but the same warmth and comfort. In particular, I adore and continually re-read her memoir All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes. The book reflects on Angelou's time living as a 'Revolutionist Returnee' in Ghana in the 1960s, and highlights and unpacks many of the tensions and contradictions of being a Black American in 'Africa'. This is an experience I relate to in many ways, as I lived in Malawi for a short time long before I returned to America, the place of my birth. Angelou also gives us an incredibly transparent window into her personal life, as well as an organic exploration of civil rights history. I couldn't recommend a book more.
A lot of people became aware of the magnificently eccentric 1976 documentary Grey Gardens, when Jinx Monsoon played Little Edie on Snatch Game during season five of RuPaul's Drag Race. Occasionally, I find out that someone has never heard of it, and it brings me delight to introduce it to them. I am equally delighted to now tell you, dear reader, about this film on the off-chance you still need to be exposed to it. I find Grey Gardens hard to describe, because the film itself isn't the star here. What viewers remember is the complex, at times toxic, and always spellbinding characters, Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter also named Edith "Little Edie" Beale (cousins of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis). They frolick and fight around their decaying and decrepit Hamptons mansion, accented with wild animals and decadent objects. I can't find it anywhere to stream for free, but I believe it's well worth a $3 digital rental fee.
My wonderful friend KaM told me to start watching Living Single earlier this week, a 90s sitcom I had never heard of. She then explained to me how Friends and Sex and the City ripped off this show, which debuted in 1993, ahead of them both. I've been watching Living Single for the past few days, and the comparisons are clear. There are six friends, four women and two men, living in a Brooklyn brownstone in apartments on different floors. The format, the character types, and many of the comedic plot lines, were clearly transposed directly to Friends. Similarly, if you zoom in on the dynamic between the four single women in New York, you also see obvious links to the Sex and the City format: a high powered lawyer, a character in publishing, as well as a man-loving woman and her more demure foil. Whitewashing and remaking of black content, without giving credit or royalties, are not new phenomena. Yet, it's still utterly mind-boggling every time you realise a piece of Black history or art was (consciously or unconsciously - it doesn't matter) stolen and repackaged with a white face, only to usurp it entirely in the mainstream pop cultural lexicon. If you're in the US, Living Single is available on Hulu. If you're elsewhere, Google is your friend.
My cousin Kristeen sent me this wonderful recording of James Baldwin and Nikki Giovanni in conversation. It was filmed in London, in 1971, for the PBS program SOUL! Early in the conversation, while reflecting on Black survival in a white society, Baldwin remarks “you’re always scrubbed and shiny, you know, a parody of God knows what because no white person has ever been as clean as you have been forced to become”. I’m sure for some of you, these reflections are new, and timely. For those of us for whom these thoughts are very old, Baldwin expresses them so beautifully that it’s almost as though our own frustrated souls are speaking through him. Worth your time, all two hours of it.
Yotam Ottolenghi is the Godfather of our family kitchen, in the sense that his advice and sensibilities find their way into most of the dishes prepared there. As anyone who owns Ottolenghi cookbooks will know (if you've never heard of him, SIMPLE is a fantastic entry point), flavourful and healthy Middle Eastern staples like preserved lemons, barberries, harissa, tahini and sesame seeds, combine to make some ridiculously mouthwatering meals. This sheet pan recipe (halfway down the page) from his first cookbook, for delicious baked chicken, red onions and lemon slices, topped with sumac, za'atar, parsley and pine nuts, is my go-to for both dinner parties and easy weeknight dinners.
I’ve been building a Spotify playlist for a while, which is full of music that makes me happy. I don’t want to call it Afrobeats because it also includes reggae, dancehall, and other genres. Maybe we can stick with ‘talented Black musicians who aren’t played as often as they should be in the West’? Though I’d love to see that shift happen soon. Right now the song Mafo (Yoruba slang which means “don’t break”), by Nigerian musicians Naira Marley and Young John, is a big hit in our house. I don’t know what it is about this song that makes my son, who turns six months old on Thursday, so excited every time he hears it. But as teething kicks off, and his need for stimulation reaches high gear, I am grateful for any recreational activities we can both simultaneously enjoy. For now, that’s mostly walks outside and dancing in the house, with this playlist on.
This archive shares digests of The Seven that were originally shared more than two months ago.
The Seven is a weekly digest sharing a collection of seven carefully curated stories, articles, images, movies, recipes, books, songs and other content. Thoughtfully contextualized and passed along with consideration, for your mental nourishment.