Arkansas Times Recommends is a series in which Times staff members (or whoever happens to be around at the time) highlight things we’ve been enjoying this week.
There are food-centric Instagram accounts I follow because I trust their recipe testing to the ends of the Earth (@smittenkitchen), accounts I follow to keep my salivation glands in good working order (@thrillist) and accounts I follow because imagining the accompanying captions read aloud in their author’s mellifluous, lilting voice sends me into a momentary lapse of euphoria (@nigellalawson). I’ve been keen on a new one from an Israeli-English chef and travel sensei named Yotam Ottolenghi, and his collection of travel photos, recipes and and re-posts are the perfect eye candy antidote if you’re in a bit of a rut in the kitchen, as ingredients go. Grilled grapes on a skewer alongside fennel seed-flecked burrata! Saffron Madeleines! Crispy egg yolk with warm mushroom jelly! Easter cinnamon rice! Find his Insta curiosities at @ottolenghi.
— Stephanie Smittle
I’ve come to terms with the fact that skeptics are annoying. I’ve also come to terms with being a skeptic. It’s just in my bones and blood to *not* believe. This blessing and curse was imbued by television: James Randi’s psychic debunkings, Bill Nye (the Science Guy [“Bill, Bill, Bill!”]), “Beakman’s World” and a certain magical school bus all contributed to my knee-jerk side-eye to claims involving the spiritual, paranormal, conspiratorial or anything to do with multi-level marketing.
There exists now a new medium, though, that needs its debunking champion: digital video. With governments, organizations and brands jumping on the “viral video” train more and more each day, faked videos are an easy way to sway opinion and/or garner attention. But the general web-video-consuming public doesn’t have the knowledge of post-processing and video effects to be able to spot a fake — and the implications could be huge.
Captain Disillusion to the rescue.
Born to Soviet-era circus performers, Alan Melikdjanian is an expert in video post-production and digital effects. In 2007, he created a YouTube account and the character Captain Disillusion – an android alien with bad makeup – through which he could channel his lessons on how to spot digital fakes and paranormal tomfoolery. His videos typically run from 4-7 minutes and cover a single faked video, breaking down the techniques and software used to pull off the effect.
The writing is fantastic, the lessons are valuable and the humor is spot-on, especially if you’re a skeptic yourself. One of my favorite things about his videos is the sign-off line for every episode: “Love with your heart. Use your head for everything else.”
— Jordan Little
For anyone both morbidly fascinated and deeply annoyed by the unshakable presence of vague high school acquaintances hailing the benefits of their “side hustle” — read: pyramid scheme — on your Facebook feed, I recommend “The Dream” podcast, hosted by journalist Jane Marie. Marie and her producers explain and investigate the origin of the pyramid scheme, the grip of multi-level marketing on small communities, and even its connections to the Trump administration in the 10-episode season. It’s insightful, revealing, frustrating and pretty heartbreaking, but I found it scratched a very specific and compelling itch.
— Rebekah Hall
In 2009, after putting out six of my albums as Silver Jews, David Berman made the surprise announcement that he was hanging it up as a musician. That came as a huge bummer for me. At least three of his albums, “Starlite Walker” (1994), “The Natural Bridge” (1996) and “American Water” (1998), are in my all-time-great pantheon. Not long after he announced his retirement from music, he posted on his label Drag City’s website a sort of explanation/origin story, where he divulged that his father was Richard Berman, a conservative lobbyist who he described as attacking “animal lovers, ecologists, civil action attorneys, scientists, dieticians, doctors, teachers.” He said he’d decided that Silver Jews were too small of a force to ever come close to undoing a millionth of all the harm [his dad] has caused.”
Since then, he’s popped up, hilariously, in Pitchfork’s news feed for random things: He released a book of cartoons. He started a Blogspot (still active, still weird, still occasionally great). He read a Frank Stanford poem for an event. He almost convinced Stephen Malkmus to name an album LA Guns. Etc.
But more recently, he’s been dipping his toe back into music. He appeared on The Avalanches’ “Saturday Night Inside Out” in 2016 and co-produced Israeli musician Yonatan Gat’s “Universalists” in 2018.
This week came the news that he’s now recording as Purple Mountains and will tour, something he was famously reluctant to do in his Silver Jews days. Purple Mountains will release an album in July and today put out a single, a delightful summer bummer with lines like “Ten thousand afternoons ago/All my happiness just overflowed.” I’ve got it on repeat.
— Lindsey Millar
Tortilleria Brenda at 5317 W. 65th Street is my standing recommendation for people who need to get out of their neighborhood comfort zone and experience Little Rock south of the border.
They make fresh corn tortillas for every taco truck in town, so you know they’re good. The flour tortillas make fine burritos and quesadillas, too.
Really in-the-know customers arrive while the tortilla press is cranking. And apparently, you can ask them to sell you a stack wrapped hot off the line. I saw a guy haul a stack of them wrapped in paper towels just the other day. I buy a big bag and freeze them. They are easy to pry off the frozen stack as needed for a quick skillet reheating.
But all this is a windup to my discovery. Brenda also sells Mexican soft drinks, Mexican cheese, some unusual vegetation and — wait for it — big bags of chicharrons, or fried pig skins. They have more heft, crunch and texture than the airy vending machine pork rind. They are fried a deep brown and well-salted. Good with cerveza or a margarita. Also try mixing them with some frijoles and roll them up in a tortilla. Muy bueno.
The British comedy series “Fleabag” is back with a second season, available now on Amazon Prime Video. If you missed season one, which was released in 2016, it’s worth starting there. Each season is just six, short episodes of wry humor and deep characterization based on an award-winning comic monologue written for the stage by the series’ creator, Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Frequent dramatic asides point to the story’s onstage origins and draw us into Fleabag’s orbit, where we spin with her between jocular derision, dumbfounding self-sabotage and heart-wrenching regret. It’s a fun stumble-run, for sure.
— Ashley Gill
If you have ever asked yourself, “How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Carribean by providence, impoverished, in squalor grow up to be a hero and a scholar?” and haven’t found the answer you need to go the theater. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s amazing hip hop/rap musical about the life of Alexander Hamilton hardly strays from history. But wait! You are afraid you can’t understand the fast-paced lyrics the musical is famous for (like the one at the start of this post), and that is a valid fear. Problem solved: read the lyrics on genius.com, which posts the lyrics to about a zillion songs, from Lil Nas X to Broadway musicals. Genius not only provides the lyrics to Miranda’s history-making as well as history-inspired musical, it includes commentary and the background to each song. Before you head to the theater, read the Marquis de Lafayette’s rapid-fire verses in “Guns and Ships.” You’ll know exactly what he’s saying he’s going to do the Redcoats and rejoice. By the way, “Hamilton” will be in Memphis July 19.
Here’s to playing with your food. Artist Harley Langberg has created some pretty dope portraits with food, using delicious black trumpet mushrooms, mashed potatoes and angel hair pasta dyed with natural food coloring, turnip, eggplant, nori and beef jerky to create Jon Snow. And then there’s RBG on a damn Oreo. Why did my mom tell me to quit playing with my food? I could be selling these too for $40.