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"Not That Kind of Girl" by Lena Dunham & Panzanella

"Not That Kind of Girl" by Lena Dunham & Panzanella

Let me begin by saying that I’m trying something new that I never thought I’d like: audiobooks. I’m a huge fan of radio shows like This American Life and its amazing new podcast spinoff, Serial, and I eventually realized that an audiobook is really not that different. The only thing is… does it really count as reading the book? I’m going to say no, but there’s a certain joy in having someone read to you, especially when your time is crunched. It’s also a better and safer idea to have the author read her book to you on your commute than to try and read while driving. Trust me. 

So! My first voyage into audiobooks is Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl. I have been a fan of her show, Girls, although I’m not sure that anything other than her struggles as an aspiring writer ever feel true to my life. Yet there’s something really compelling about it. What I’ve come to decide is that it’s the dialogue, the way that the show is written. Which led me to Lena's book. 

(Can I call her Lena? I think I will… mostly because I really want to be on a first name basis with her ;))

It’s a slightly different experience hearing Lena read her book than reading it myself. She speaks as she would play her character, Hannah, but the stories are far different. They dip in and out of time; jumping forward into her life as a college student at Oberlin, then back to her childhood. Between stories about her parents, her sister and her own experiences growing up, Lena casts her doubts about herself, acknowledges her flaws and inconsistencies, and provides her own (sometimes questionable, but always hilarious) advice. 

I enjoyed Lena’s contemplative narratives most. Two stories come to mind: one about keeping her sister’s coming out a secret from her parents, and the other about confusing her memories of camp with her mother’s because her stories were so vivid. Both are full of tension, contemplation, and a sense of deep connection with another person. She deftly weaves vibrant imagery and metaphors in and out of her experiences with asides reflecting on her decisions and her feelings of love and loyalty. Here, her writing shines. 

Then there are other essays clearly meant to take space, fractured into bullet points or numerical lists, funny, but also not quite as interesting or full of depth. And between those two types of essays are a few self-deprecating but also inherently strong, proud stories of feminism at its finest. In them, Lena shares honest details of bad sexual experiences, her passion for platonic bed sharing, her regrettable decisions, doubts, fears and neuroses, her dependence on a therapist — all with sharp observations from her current self. 

She writes nostalgically, bringing the wisdom and observant precision of her (not much older) self to the page. I think the best part is that Lena doesn’t pretend to have it all, or even to advise having it all. Rather, she sincerely shares the details of her life as if you were her closest friend, baring herself in the written form as she would on television, for scrutiny and critique. In doing so, she remains an icon for young women, a reminder that it’s okay to be flawed, funny, and make many many mistakes. 

Pairing: "Not That Kind of Girl" by Lena Dunham & Panzanella | www.paperplatesblog.com

I picked this recipe for a few reasons. The first is that Lena doesn’t ever cook (she admits to always eating out or ordering take out). The second is that she writes a really funny line about going out to dinner with friends while being broke, and sharing the cheapest item on the menu (even if it was an appetizer) at an expensive restaurant rather than going to a more affordable place. 

This panzanella is easy to make for the non-cook and as lovable as Lena… not to mention delicious and probably that something you’d end up sharing at a fancy restaurant with your best friend in college. 


PANZANELLA

Ingredients:

  • 6-7 Campari tomatoes (sweet and delicious! But you could use any kind of tomato you like)
  • 4-5 sprigs of fresh basil (about 1 cup basil leaves)
  • 2-3 sprigs of green onions (or 1 shallot if you prefer)
  • 1 clove of minced garlic 
  • Half a loaf of crusty French or Italian bread 
  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

Cut the bread into half inch cubes, sprinkle with a little extra virgin olive oil and some salt and pepper. Place on baking sheet and toast in the oven for 10 minutes at about 375ºF.

Combine sliced Campari tomatoes, basil, and green onions in a large serving bowl. 

In a separate bowl, mix minced garlic, balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. 

Add this mixture to the large serving bowl. Stir to combine. Allow mixture to sit 10 minutes (while bread is toasting). 

Once the bread cubes are toasted, add them to the large serving bowl, stirring again to combine. Allow salad to sit 15 minutes. 

Serve individually or in large serving bowl. Garnish with a sprig of basil if desired. 

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