Stir It Up: In the Kitchen of a Comparative Lit Major. Episode 1: What Evil Lurks Within?

What do The Winter’s TaleDr. Strangelove or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the BombSouth Park Season 10 Episode 6: Manbearpig and empanadas have in common? For starters, I encountered them all recently in a concentrated cluster that left me on the brink of cognitive overload. At 48 years old, there seems to be a lot I don’t know.

I went to see The Winter’s Tale in mid-July at New England College’s Open Door Theatre. If you live in small town New Hampshire and there’s a play by the Bard within walking distance of your apartment you better go see it because the chance might not come along again soon. Plus, there are those gaping holes in my cultural literacy. So bothersome.

A week or so later rather than the expected knowing laugh, I gave a blank stare in response to the quote “Women sense my power and they seek the life essence. I do not avoid women, Mandrake. But I do deny them my essence.” I’ll just gloss over how and where I heard this quote. But how could you hear it and not want to know more? To remedy my reaction I was treated to a viewing of Dr. Strangelove or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (imdb.com/title/tt0057012) on Graboid (something else I knew nothing about.)

How could I have worked in the Personnel Reliability Program (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personnel_Reliability_Program) as an airman at a Tactical Air Command base and never have heard of this movie? Sad. Really. Really. Sad.

Only days later, I encountered Manbearpig on my son’s Facebook page (facebook.com/#!/kyle.lanzit) after he came face to face with a bear while hiking near Ft. Huachua. (Coincidentally, there’s a bear mauling in The Winter’s Tale.) “Bears are a national menace. Forced us to hike an extra hour to avoid them. Damn you, manbearpig!!” Kyle posted. Turns out, Manbearpig is a creation of Al Gore in a South Park episode. This creature is half man, half bear, and half pig. Who knew? Not me. I watched it on-line, of course, as soon as I could. No sense delaying my cultural education any more than necessary.

I was still having a sort of panicky feeling wondering what other important stuff I might have missed that everyone else seemed to know about, when I sat down with my younger children at the window counter of Dos Amigos in Concord and opened up The Hippo Press while waiting for our tacos. Inside was a recipe for empanadas. They sounded disgusting: the pastry crust was innocent enough but the stuffing? Ground turkey and swiss chard. Swiss chard? Ewwww.

I’d never eaten or seen empanadas and there was no photo provided that I can recall but I tore out the recipe and stuffed it in my purse. I just had to try it. See, I’ve learned that if it sounds horrible but there’s a recipe, it might be delicious, even addicting. Like coleslaw in your pulled pork sandwich vs. on the side, or sweet and sour tuna fish, or poutine.

What else do the play (King Leontes), the movie (General Jack D. Ripper), the sitcom (Al Gore’s animated character) and the swiss chard turkey empanadas have in common? They’re all smooth and attractive on the outside and very messed up on the inside.

King Leontes is deranged by paranoia, and in Dr. Strangelove, General Ripper is too. Former Vice President Gore in the Manbearpig episode floods the cave where the children are trapped in order to kill the beast he’s convinced is in there, and thus become a hero. All forms of tyranny, brought about by deranged, paranoia-fed mental states. And the empanada? Swiss chard? It’s just wrong. Like when your mom hides spinach in tomato sauce.

As it turns out, mentally disturbed leaders make a good story. And the swiss chard in the empanadas was delicious.

To make the empanadas, saute some ground turkey, chopped onion, garlic, diced green chiles and a bunch of thinly sliced swiss chard in oil along with some spices. Try white pepper, cayenne pepper, cumin, salt and cilantro. Mix in some Mexican 4-cheese blend that comes shredded in a bag, nothing too fancy. Put spoonfuls of the mixture into circles rolled out and cut from a standard pie crust recipe, seal the edges with water and crimp down with a fork. Brush the tops with an egg wash and bake for about 20 minutes in a 400 degree oven. Keep an eye on them so they don’t burn, and adjust accordingly, depending on you oven’s heat.

Enjoy with a viewing of your favorite paranoia-themed media offering. Top with sour cream and Tabasco, or not.