Recommendations, 7/26

This week, we’re into fruit bars, comedy podcasts, old books, and the perfect TV show to rock your baby to sleep.


As much as I loathe the heat of the summer, I could survive it with much less whining if I could eat as much ice cream as I wanted. Sadly, we live in a cruel universe where such things as “calories” and “the post-binge sensation of bloat and shame that there’s probably a German word for” exist, so I can’t rely on Ben and Jerry’s to be my surrogate air conditioner. So this summer, I tried to game the system. After all, there are many frozen sweets besides ice cream; maybe I could find a slightly less fattening substitute.

Here’s the problem with that idea: ice cream is basically the perfect sweet food. It’s high density of sugar and fat makes your body crave it, and its composition of cream and aerated ice gives it a singularly luscious texture. It’s served everywhere from greasy diners to The French Laundry, and at all points along that spectrum, it’s amazing. And you can buy it anywhere. Since I live in the city, a pint of bliss is never more than a block away.

Okay, clearly I could just write a sonnet to ice cream (and maybe I should), but my point is that not just any fruit bar, frozen yogurt, or sorbet can fill that void. Even if it isn’t as great as ice cream, my substitute has to be something I actually look forward to eating. It has to be a treat, not some grim obligation that just reminds me I’m not eating ice cream. With this in mind, I started scouring the freezer aisle of the huge Safeway near my apartment.

And to cut a long story short, I think I found it! In my best Christopher Kimball voice, I declare the best non-ice cream frozen sweet available in American supermarkets to be Dreyer’s Outshine fruit bars. These are your basic grown-up popsicles, but they have a lot going for them. Most importantly, they’re just delicious. They have clean, intense fruity flavors, and a pleasingly smooth, slushy texture. After I eat one, I legitimately think, “Damn that was good, I want more.” So far I’ve tried peach, tangerine, lemon, and raspberry, and I can confirm that they’re all totally satisfying. And ridiculously, they range from 70 to 90 calories, which is like 25% of an equivalent serving of ice cream. Finally, their ingredients list is pretty decent for a mass produced foodstuff, so I don’t have to worry too much that my healthy alternative is killing me in other ways. So yeah, I feel okay about eating one of these a day (okay, maybe sometimes two).

Oh, and a couple of tips if you’re gonna buy these bars: make sure you don’t accidentally get the ones with Splenda in them (almost happened to me). And although their coconut water bars sound cool, I found them pretty bland. I’d stick to the fruit bars.



I’ve never listened to comedy podcasts before, so I’m not sure how the one Michael Ian Black and Michael Showalter does, called Topics, really figures against the million of others floating around the internet. But whether or not Topics works as a satire of other podcasts (I suspect that it does), it is a brilliant send-up of every awful conversation you’ve ever heard at a party, where armchair philosophers try and take on life’s big questions and come up with answers like, “I’m more spiritual than religious,” or “At the end of the day, I really don’t understand why war happens?”

I’ve long been a huge fan of these two guys’ stuff, especially The State, Michael and Michael Have Issues, and Stella (done with fellow State alum David Wain) as well their conversations on Twitter, where they also take on “topics” of the day in a similar exercise-in-banality fashion. Topics is basically a longer version of that Twitter banter, and just so, so funny.



New York Review Books Classics just re-issued two books by Alfred Hayes, a dude I have never heard of. But these slim novellas — In Love and My Face for the World to See, both originally published in the ’50s — are a couple of the most delightful little books I’ve picked up this summer. More than these two books themselves, I am recommending any NYRB Classics title. It’s basically hard to go wrong picking up any of their books, most of which are re-issues or translations of 20th century literature from all over the world (kind of like the Criterion Collection of underrated books). You can identify them pretty easily by their consistent cover design (bonus: their spines will look very handsome on your bookshelf!).

I only picked up In Love because I liked the title. Also it was short — 120 pages — and I read the entire thing on a long subway ride. It’s one of those stories that’s clever at a line level and surprisingly affecting as a whole. The concept is simple: in New York, a sad sack of a guy is lamenting his love of a woman he met at a bar, who he didn’t appreciate until it was too late. It sounds heavy, but it’s swift and occasionally sweet. Sometimes we want our fiction to devastate us. That’s not the case here. After finishing In Love, I simply felt refreshed, lighter even.



My recommendation two weeks ago was a simple up-down-left-right-arrow racing game called Trackmania 2 that I played for distraction while my wife was nearing her due date. Now we have a newborn and I recommend the hands-free, television equivalent of Trackmania 2: the CW show Arrow (season 1 is available for streaming at fine streamers everywhere). Arrow features a comic-book vigilante in the Batman mold with the twist that he shoots arrows and targets mostly rich 1%-ers. These super-wealthy baddies have a diabolical plan to destroy the city because, I guess, poor people annoy them. (There’s no Raz-al-Ghul-style moralizing about the populace being corrupt.) Anyway, Arrow is an easy watch for the sleep deprived. I watch it during 4 a.m. bottle-feedings or after afternoon diaper changings. My mind is so vegetative at the moment as to be basically vegetable. I forget which episode I am on (fifteen, I think) and end up re-watching old ones as if they were new. Luckily, Arrow requires about the amount of mental lifting it might take to lift a low-fat marshmallow. Arrow is perfect escapism — an inventive action/ adventure show interspersed with a frothy soap opera involving easily recognizable characters who signal when they are serious by becoming stiff (The O.C. and Gossip Girl alum Willa Holland is particularly guilty of acting through her clenched jaw when feigning seriousness).

If there is one misstep in the show it is the reliance on what I hereby dub the “geek-ex-machina” — a “hacker” who can solve any problem in seconds by staring at a computer and tapping seriously. In this case the omnipotent IT-ninja who can advance any Arrow plot is Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards) whose glasses say nerd and whose body says personal trainer. As Aristotle noted many years before the WB even existed: “It is obvious that the solutions of plots should come about as a result of the plot itself, and not from a contrivance.”

What’s that? Oh no, my baby is crying. He wants to be rocked to sleep with Arrow playing softly in the background. Gotta go.