The Breadwinner.

The Breadwinner just earned a nod from the Golden Globes in the Best Animated Film category, and is very likely to get a nomination from the Academy as well in the same field, where it’ll probably be an underdog to Coco but one with more than a puncher’s chance of winning because of the quality and themes of its story and the old-school feel to its animation. It’s not a movie for kids by any means, and the film lacks the feel-good resolution you expect in any animated feature, but none of that should detract from anyone’s appreciation of just how well-made this movie is.

Based very loosely on a 2000 novel by Deborah Ellis, The Breadwinner comes from Cartoon Saloon, the same Irish studio that produced The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea, and is set in Kabul under the rule of the Taleban. Parvana is the young daughter of a disabled Afghan veteran who lost part of his leg in the war against the Russians. He is sent to prison early in the film for daring to talk back to a hotheaded young Taleban soldier, leaving Parvana, her unwell mother, baby brother, and older sister with no means of support or way to even go out into the market to procure food, since the Taleban forbade any woman to go out in public without her husband or brother to escort her. Parvana cuts off her hair and wears clothes of her late older brother so she can work odd jobs (with her friend Shauzia, who’s doing the same thing) and go buy food, eventually trying to save enough money to bribe her way into the prison and see her father.

The movie doesn’t shy away from depicting the repressive rule of the Taleban, including a scene where Parvana’s mother is beaten, off-screen but audible, for going out in public and possessing a photograph of her imprisoned husband. Those moments are juxtaposed with a story Parvana tells in pieces over the course of the film, first to her baby brother, then to Shauzia, and eventually to herself, about a young boy who goes to challenge the elephant king who has stolen all of the seeds from his village, threatening the villagers with starvation if they can’t plant their spring crops. The tale is fanciful and magical, providing a hopeful metaphor for the Afghan people suffering under the tyranny of a misogynistic theocracy, but also giving us a subtler way to answer the mystery surrounding the death of Parvana’s brother. This last part lies below the surface of the film’s action, but his death and the trauma it inflicted on the family are all explained by the truth of how he died, which tells a greater truth about life under the Taleban while also showing how recovery was never as simple as deposing them – even after their rule ended, there are still widows, orphans, disabled veterans, other grieving relatives, families left without sources of income, and more.

The split narrative does work against The Breadwinner, however, if you’re expecting something linear, the way nearly all animated film stories are. Parvana’s plot itself is bifurcated by the lengthy stretches where she tries to get to her father’s prison, a separate endeavor from what she’s doing to feed her family, and then split further by the tale she’s spinning in bits and pieces over the course of the entire movie, with the two uniting only at the very end. That conclusion is also itself incomplete, which works within the overall structure of the movie (a ‘happy’ ending would be wildly unrealistic, and nothing that’s come before really presages one), and seems to play a little loose with the geography established earlier in the script – although it does provide one sweet moment where the kindness of a stranger helps Parvana avoid disaster. It’s all one more reason this isn’t a movie for kids or even much younger viewers; the lack of a real resolution, especially with children involved, lingered even for me as an adult (and a parent) for days.

The Breadwinner is a beautiful film that makes effective use of perspective, exaggerating the size of many of the adult characters to emphasize how the world might look to Parvana. Some of the animations look incredibly real, while others are more like caricatures, the latter also having the effect of softening some of the more disturbing edges of the story. It’s been a down year for animation in general, with Coco the only other animated release to earn positive reviews; that said, The Breadwinner would likely be an awards nominee even against stronger competition.


Columbus (amazoniTunes) wouldn’t even have come to my attention had I not heard about it from the Grierson & Leitch podcast, where Tim Grierson mentioned it at the start of its theatrical run and gave it a very strong recommendation. It’s an indie film in name and in spirt, driven entirely by dialogue and scenery, and perhaps not everyone’s tastes – but it is very much to mine, with a wonderfully written script by director Kogonada that reminded me of the novels of Kazuo Ishiguro.

John Cho delivers the best performance I’ve ever seen from him in a turn that should answer any question remaining about whether he can lead a film, starring as Jin, an American-born Korean translator who has left his job in Seoul to come to Columbus, Indiana, because his architecture professor father has fallen gravely ill. Once there, he encounters Casey (Haley Lu Richardson), a recent college graduate who is a bit stuck in neutral, still living at home with her recovering addict mother (Michelle Forbes), working a low-paying library job rather than pursuing her passion for architecture. The two forge a quick, intense friendship, unburdened by romantic or sexual tension, as they talk through their respective problems while touring the Indiana town’s major architectural sights.

(I was totally unaware of this town’s existence, but Columbus, Indiana, is actually a bit of a mecca for architecture fans, with a number of modernist buildings and other public art works, many the result of a foundation started by J. Irwin Miller in 1954 to help fund such efforts by paying the fees for noted architects to help design public buildings in the city. Wikipedia tells me that the American Institute of Architects named Columbus the country’s sixth most important city for architecture in 1991.)

Jin has been estranged from his father for years, and never had much connection with his father, who never speaks in the film but appears in Jin’s and his assistant Eleanor’s memories as a cold, demanding academic with a particular genius in his field. Casey has a chance to leave Columbus to study architecture, with help from Eleanor, but doesn’t want to leave her mother for fear she’ll relapse – and, perhaps, from the natural fear we all have of starting our adult lives in earnest. Their fast friendship comes across as very real, with the vicissitudes of any relationship where you suddenly spend a lot of time with someone you don’t know well, and their deep conversations are often set against stunning backdrops of the great buildings of Columbus or of other landscapes in the town, underscoring Casey’s reluctance to leave even as she’s showing Jin her passion for the subject. (She identifies several buildings by where they rank on her list of her favorite buildings in the town.)

Rory Culkin appears a few times as Casey’s friend Gabriel, an amusing sendup of the college student who’s just learned about hermeneutics and tries to introduce the jargon into regular conversation while also probably trying to get into Casey’s pants. (Spoiler alert: He fails.) The sparse script spills over into an equally scarce cast, most of whom deliver even if in limited roles, other than Parker Posey, who overplays Eleanor as a condescending materteral figure in a film defined by its understatement. The minor subplot of Jin having a crush on Eleanor when he was much younger, and possibly still harboring some of those feelings, felt similarly out of place, not least because I expected this older, worldlier Jin to see through Eleanor’s pretense.

I’m an avowed Ishiguro fan, for his stories, his intense understanding of human nature, and his gorgeous yet economical prose, all of which are in evidence here as well in Kogonada’s script. Jin and Casey speak in a slightly stilted style, a half-grade more formal than the rhythm of normal speech, but it matches the setting of buildings that seem similarly unreal, and the dialogue is thoughtful rather than clipped, with each character offering insight into the other’s emotions and the traumas that have come to define them. Columbus is just a beautiful, heartfelt film from start to finish, powered in particular by Cho’s performance, sadly overlooked already in awards voting but worthy of far more consideration than it’s getting.

Stick to baseball, 12/9/17.

For Insiders, I had four pieces this week (and may have another before the day is out). I wrote about what Shohei Ohtani’s deal with the Angels means for them and the AL West, Seattle’s trade for Dee Gordon, the signings earlier this week of Kevin Maitan, Mike Minor, and Miles Mikolas, and deals involving Welington Castillo, Aledmys Diaz, and Brad Boxberger. I held a Klawchat on Thursday.

For Ars Technica, I looked at the upcoming virtual reality adaptation of the board game Catan.

If you missed them here on the dish, my annual cookbook recommendations, gift guide for cooks, and top 100 board game rankings are all up.

Also, here’s your weekly reminder to buy my book Smart Baseball for everyone on your holiday list.

And now, the links…

Cookbook recommendations, 2017.

This is mostly the same as last year, with the same changes I make each year, adding one or two new titles I own and can recommend; I’ve also added notes on some newer titles I don’t have yet or haven’t sufficiently tested. As usual, I’ve grouped my suggestions into categories: The essentials, which any home cook regardless of experience level should own; the advanced books for expert home cooks; a few cookbooks from Top Chef-affiliated folks that I recommend; and bread-baking books, all by one author because I’ve never needed any others.

New for 2017

I’ve got one new recommendation this year, but it’s a bit of a tentative one because I don’t think it’s suitable for everyone. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve seen a handful of fresh pasta dishes that I’ve made over the last few weeks; those recipes have all come from Flour + Water: Pasta, a cookbook from the chef/owner of flour + water in San Francisco. The restaurant is nationally renowned for its fresh pasta dishes, and this cookbook is a grand tour of regional Italian cooking, with just about any style of pasta you can imagine, and the best directions on how to form, knead, and shape the pasta that I’ve come across. Every pasta dish I’ve made from this book has come out great the first time. There’s a catch, however: the non-pasta aspects of the recipes are poorly written and were clearly never tested by any non-professionals. One recipe calls for starting a sauce by cooking onions over high heat … for eight minutes, which is fine if you want to burn them (you don’t). Times and temperatures are off throughout, so if you’re a novice in the kitchen, this isn’t the book for you. If you’ve cooked a lot, especially Italian sauces, then you’ll spot the errant directions and make adjustments as you go. And the pasta is truly spectacular, enough that you might do as I did and spring for a garganelli board (used to shape a specific hand-rolled noodle).


There are two cookbooks that I insist any home cook have. One is the venerable Joy of Cooking, revised and altered through many editions (I own the 1997, now out of print), but still the go-to book for almost any common dish you’re likely to want to make. The recipes take a very easy-to-follow format, and the book assumes little to no experience or advanced technique. I still use it all the time, including their basic bread stuffing (dressing) recipe every Thanksgiving, altered just with the addition of a diced red bell pepper.

The other indisputable must-have cookbook is, of course, Ruhlman’s Twenty, by the best food writer going today, Michael Ruhlman. The book comprises twenty chapters, each on a technique or core ingredient, with a hundred recipes, lots of essays to explain key concepts or methods, and photographs to help you understand what you’re cooking. It’s my most-used cookbook, the first cookbook gift I give to anyone looking to start a collection, and an absolute pleasure to read and re-read. Favorite recipes include the seared pork tenderloin with butter and more butter; the cured salmon; the homemade mayonnaise (forget the stuff in the jar, it’s a pale imitation); the pulled pork; all three duck recipes; the scrambled eggs with goat cheese (using a modified double-boiler method, so you get something more like custard than rubber); and the homemade bacon. I’m trying his weekday coq au vin recipe tonight, too. Many of these recipes appear again in his more recent book, Egg: A Culinary Exploration of the World’s Most Versatile Ingredient, along with more egg basics and a lot of great dessert recipes; and Twenty itself builds on Ruhlman’s Ratio, which shows you master formulas for things like doughs and sauces so you can understand the fundamentals of each recipe and extend as you see fit.

I’ve long recommended Baking Illustrated as the perfect one-book kitchen reference for all things baked – cookies, cakes, pies, breads, and more. It’s full of standards, tested to ensure that they will work the first time. You’ll need a scale to get maximum use from the book. I use their pie crust recipe, their peach pie recipe, their snickerdoodles recipe (kids love it, but moms seem to love it even more…), and I really want to try their sticky toffee pudding recipe. The prose can be a little cloying, but I skip most of that and go right to the recipes because I know they’ll succeed the first time. That link will get you the original book from the secondary market; it has been rewritten from scratch and titled The Cook’s Illustrated Baking Book, but I can’t vouch for it as I haven’t seen the new text.

J. Kenji Lopez-Alt’s mammoth The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science, named for Kenji’s acclaimed and indispensable column over at Serious Eats, is a must for any advanced or aspiring home cook. Unlike many of the books here, The Food Lab is a better resource for its text than its recipes – I’ve made a bunch of dishes from the book, with a few that just didn’t work out (e.g., the pork shoulder ragout), but every page seems to have something to teach you. The one caution I’ll offer is that it doesn’t include any sous-vide recipes, which is something Kenji does a lot on Serious Eats’ site, although he does have a section on replicating the sous-vide technique using cheaper materials like a portable cooler.

If I know someone already has Ruhlman’s Twenty, my next gift choice for them is Nigel Slater’s Tender: A Cook and His Vegetable Patch, a book about vegetables but not strictly vegetarian. (There’s a lot of bacon here.) Each vegetable gets its own section, with explanations on how to grow it, how to choose it at the market, a half-dozen or more basic ways to cook it, and then a bunch of specific recipes, some of which are just a paragraph and some of which are a full page with glorious pictures accompanying them. The stuffed peppers with ground pork is a near-weekly occurrence in this house, and the warm pumpkin scone is the only good reason to buy and cook an actual pumpkin. I own but have barely cooked from his sequel on fruit, Ripe: A Cook in the Orchard, because it’s more focused on desserts than savory applications.

Another essential if you want to cook more vegetables is Hugh Acheson’s 2015 book The Broad Fork, which has become the first book I consult when I have a vegetable and am not sure what I want to do with it. Acheson conceived the book in response to a neighbor’s question about what the hell to do with the kohlrabi he got in a CSA box, and the whole book works like that: You have acquired some Vegetable and need to know where to start. Organized by season and then by plant, with plenty of fruits and a few nuts mixed in for good measure, the book gives you recipes and ideas by showing off each subject in various preparations – raw, in salads, in soups, roasted, grilled, pureed, whatever. There are main course ideas in here as well, some with meat or fish, others vegetarian or vegan, and many of the multi-part dishes are easy to deconstruct, like the charred-onion vinaigrette in the cantaloupe/prosciutto recipe that made a fantastic steak sauce. Most of us need to eat more plants anyway; Acheson’s book helps make that a tastier goal. It’s also witty, as you’d expect from the slightly sardonic Canadian if you’ve seen him on TV. As I write this in December 2017, I just pulled it out again last night for some ideas, and ended up making his roasted shiitake salad with celery, oranges, and ponzu sauce. Acheson also has a new book out for 2017, The Chef and the Slow Cooker, which I haven’t seen yet (I don’t use my slow cooker very often) but I’m comfortable recommending because his other books are great.

You know, a lot of people will tell you go get Julia Child’s classic books on French cuisine, but I find the one I have (Mastering the Art) to be dated and maddeningly unspecific. Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom is a slimmer, much more useful book that focuses on the basics – her explanation of vinaigrettes is still the gold standard, and her gift for distilling recipes and techniques into simple little explanations shines here without the fuss of three-day recipes for coq au vin. Oh, that’s in here too, but she does it in two and a half hours.


The The Flavor Bible isn’t actually a cookbook, but a giant cross-referencing guide where each ingredient comes with a list of complementary ingredients or flavors, as selected by a wide range of chefs the authors interviewed to assemble the book. It’s the book you want to pull out when your neighbor gives you a few handfuls of kale or your local grocery store puts zucchini on sale and you don’t know what to do with them. Or maybe you’re just tired of making salmon the same way and need some fresh ideas. The book doesn’t tell you how to cook anything, just what else to put on the plate. Spoiler: Bacon and butter go with just about everything.

Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty is an outstanding vegetable-focused cookbook that uses no meat ingredients (but does use dairy and eggs), although Ottolenghi’s restaurant uses meats and he offers a few suggestions on pairing his recipes with meat dishes. The recipes here are longer and require a higher skill level than those in Tender, but they’re restaurant-quality in flavor and presentation, including a mushroom ragout that I love as a main course over pappardelle with a poached egg (or two) on top and my favorite recipe for preparing Belgian endives (a pinch of sugar goes a long way).

Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery cookbook ($10 for Kindle right now) is is easily the best baking book I’ve ever seen, but unlike Baking Illustrated, the recipes are written for people who are more skilled and incredibly serious about baking. Ingredients are measured to the gram, and the recipes assume a full range of techniques. It has the best macaron recipe I’ve ever found – close second is I Love Macarons, suggested to me by Richard Blais’ pastry chef at the Spence, Andrea Litvin – and the Bouchon book also the homemade Oreo recipe I made for Halloween (but you need black cocoa to do it right, and I use buttercream as the filling instead of their unstable white-chocolate ganache).

Bobby Flay has an absurd number of cookbooks out there, but the one I like is from his flagship restaurant Mesa Grill, which includes the signature items (including the blue and yellow cornbread) and a broad cross-section of dishes. There’s no instruction here at all, however, just a lot of recipes, many of which have an absurdly long list of ingredients.

For the really hardcore, Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen is an essential kitchen reference, full of explanations of the chemistry of cooking that will make you a smarter cook and help you troubleshoot many problems at the stove. I haven’t read it straight through – it’s 700-plus pages – but I’ll go to the index and pull out some wisdom as needed. It also explains why some people (coughmecough) never acquired the taste for strongly-flavored cheeses.

April Bloomfield’s A Girl and Her Pig has the duck fat-fried potato recipe that got my daughter hooked on the dish, as well as a good selection of staple sauces, dressings, and starches to go along with the numerous meat dishes, including some offal recipes, one of which (made from minced pig’s heart and liver, with bacon, onion, and breadcrumbs) can’t be named here.

Top Chef Division

Richard Blais’ Try This at Home has become a staple in my kitchen both for about a half-dozen specific recipes in here that we love (sweet potato gnocchi, lemon curd chicken, arroz con pollo, sous-vide chicken breast) and for the creativity it inspires. Blais has lots of asides on techniques and ingredients, and if you actually read the text instead of just blindly following the recipes, you’ll get a sense of the extensibility of the basic formulas within the book, even though he isn’t as explicit about it as Ruhlman is. His second book, So Good, came out in May 2017; I’ve tried four recipes so far, with the chicken thighs adobo and spicy green pozole both hits.

Hugh Acheson’s first book, A New Turn in the South, and Top Chef season one winner Harold Dieterle’s Harold Dieterle’s Kitchen Notebook are also regulars in my cookbook rotation. Acheson’s book reads the way he speaks, so that it comes off more like you’re hanging out with the guy, talking food, rather than taking instruction. His bacon-wrapped whole fish recipe is unbelievable, more for the powerful aromatics (winner, best use of fennel) than for the bacon itself. Dieterle’s book requires some harder-to-find items, but his side essays on specific ingredients run from the mundane to the esoteric and drop a ton of knowledge on how to choose and how to use. My particular struggle with both books is that they use a lot of seafood, with Dieterle’s including a ton of shellfish; my wife is allergic to shellfish, so I don’t even bring that into the house any more, which requires some substitutions and means there are some recipes I just have to set aside.


I’ve owned and given away or sold a lot of bread-baking books, because nothing has been able to beat the two masterworks by baker/instructor Peter Reinhart, The Bread Baker’s Apprentice and Whole Grain Breads. Reinhart’s books teach you how to make artisan or old-world breads using various starters, from overnight bigas to wild-yeast starters you can grow and culture on your countertop. If that seems like a little much, his Artisan Breads Every Day takes it down a notch for the novice baker, with a lot of the same recipes presented in a simpler manner, without so much emphasis on baker’s formulas, and is a good value at $24.

Klawchat 12/7/17.

Content: Insider posts on Maitan, Mikolas, and Minor; and on Castillo, Aledmys, and Boxberger. A look at the VR version of the Catan boardgame for Ars Technica. I should also have another boardgame review up for Paste shortly.

Keith Law: Freak what you heard. Klawchat.

Seth: What’s more drawn out, the Stanton sweepstakes or Kurt Vile’s last album?
Keith Law: I have never liked Vile’s work – mostly his singing style. But the Stanton thing is stupid: It’s all about him, and the team is pretending it isn’t.

Jay: As a Clevelander and a baseball fan, how do writers lose their HOF ballots. Asking for a friend…
Keith Law: The only time I know of a writer losing his ballot while eligible is Le Batard. They won’t revoke anyone’s ballot for sheer incompetence or the mere appearance of impropriety (e.g., voting out of spite, voting only for players the writer knows personally).

Jay: Have you see Murder on the Orient Express, any thoughts on how it matches to the book?
Keith Law: Haven’t seen it; I love Branagh, but the reviews have been tepid and the trailer makes his Poirot look so over the top, which isn’t true to the character. Poirot is a pompous little Belgian, but he’s not PT Barnum.

GS: Thoughts on players the Twins received in bonus pool trades? Think they handled the money well?
Keith Law: Meh.

Reese: Aaron Boone… leaves me scratching my head . Seems like great guy !! But no managerial experience.
Keith Law: I like Aaron personally and enjoyed working with him, but I have been pretty clear over the last ten years that I don’t think hiring a major-league manager with zero managerial experience at any level is a good idea, and the results of such hires have been very poor.

GS: Top Chef is back! Can’t wait for you recaps. Any cities you’d like them to go to in the future? Minneapolis would be fun…
Keith Law: I announced in my newsletter this week that I am not doing recaps this season.

Crazy Eddie: With the Tigers in a rebuild, would they listen to offers on Michael Fulmer? Any rumors that he is available?
Keith Law: There were rumors to that effect last summer but he ended the year on the DL and this is the wrong time to deal him.

Dog: Is this chat protected by attorney-client privilege?
Keith Law: Well, neither of us is an attorney, so that’s a yes.

Brian: Do you think AJ Preller has done enough to justify his 3 year extension? Do you think the Padres rebuilding plan is working under his leadership?
Keith Law: I do – I think the system is very, very strong.

Matt: O’s beat reporters keep mentioning the possibility of Hunter Harvey pitching in the majors next summer. That would be madness, right?
Keith Law: Yes. That sounds like someone in the org trying to push an idea on people above him.

Robbie: What do you think of the job Eppler has done for the Angels? He seems to really be making solid moves without mortgaging the future. The simmons trade has to be one of the most underrated in some time.
Keith Law: Simmons trade was great, the farm system is massively improved since he took over, and I like the way he’s added around the margins given how handcuffed he has been by the poor system he inherited and major financial commitments to just a few players.

RSO: How much can the Orioles expect to receive for 1 year of Manny Machado?
Keith Law: I don’t think he’s going to be traded, but I would ask for two significant prospects. One year of Machado is huge value for a contender. Might add 5-6 wins, maybe more.

cnp: Would you ever consider running for public office?
Keith Law: I wouldn’t rule anything out – I’ve always believed in keeping all doors open. It’s better to have an opportunity come to you and then have the choice to decline than to never have the opportunity at all.

Jimmy: If you were a GM would you give $350 Mil to Harper or Machado?
Keith Law: Yes, either.

Guest: Any thoughts on Kazuo Ishiguro winning the Nobel Prize in Literature?
Keith Law: I’m a fan. Loved Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go – both are top 100 all time novels for me.

Dave: What’s your gut feeling about Matt Olson? Potential franchise player, platoon guy that got hot, somewhere in between?
Keith Law: Below average regular is most likely outcome. Juiced ball may have helped him a lot.

Shaun: Love the things you post on. For your pour over coffee, do you use a gooseneck kettle, and/or is a standard kettle good enough to get by.
Keith Law: I use a regular kettle. The gooseneck thing is about 10% substance and 90% style for me.

Anthony: Which Braves prospects would be on your Do Not Trade list?
Keith Law: If the Angels called and offered Trout, but you had to trade Acuna, would you do it? I would. So I’d say none of them.

JP: Thoughts on Bitcoin?
Keith Law: It feels like every other bubble I’ve ever lived through or read about.

Steph: Happy Holidays klaw and thanks for the annual guides! I heard yesterday was the 1 year anniversary of the Chris Sale trade. 2 part question: how would you rate the White Sox transaction over this past year and what should be their goals for this offseason? Has Moncada taken a step backwards in his development or is he performing as expected?
Keith Law: Happy holidays to you as well. I think Hahn has done a great job overall in restocking the system, maximizing the value of most of his tradeable assets. I think the trade with the Yankees is the one least likely to work out. Moncada for me is the same player he was a year ago, same upside, same real concerns about his bat.

John: Why do people still get so upset with Hall of Fame ballots? The institution is meaningless at this point–it no longer honors the best players. It’s just nostalgia porn for old men.
Keith Law: The part that bothers me is that these writers with horrendous ballots, like Livingston, are assigned to cover the sport, yet show with their ballots that they don’t know the first thing about the sport. If you can’t realize that Chipper Jones is a Hall of Famer, then you shouldn’t be paid to cover baseball. There are lots of people out there who could do the job and also understand something about the sport.

JP: Giving up JBJ for Abreu would be a terrible deal for the Red Sox, right?
Keith Law: I think that’s an overpayment.

Randy: Thoughts on Joe McCarthy (Rays) after his solid 2017 at Double-A. Any chance he develops into a big league regular?
Keith Law: Yes, I’d agree with that. Potential first-rounder before a serious back injury killed his junior year at UVA, mostly because everyone believed he could hit. Now it seems that’s coming true. He was a tick old for AA, though, and obviously needs more power as a corner guy, but I think 15 HR is within the realm of possibility (before we discuss the MLB ball).

Joe: Do you have any thoughts about Johnny Depp as Grindelwald in the next Fantastic Beasts movie? Even if one can manage to put abuse allegations aside, it still seems like a miscast for the role.
Keith Law: Yes, totally miscast. What Depp does well – and I do think he’s a very good actor – is wrong for that role.

Nick: True or false: “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer”
Keith Law: I’d say true.

Ben: Thoughts on Jerusalem decision? Seems like many advisors told Trump not to do it, but being the 5 year old that he is, he did it. It’s almost like he’s hoping to cause as much chaos anywhere and everywhere.
Keith Law: This administration has consistently pandered to the extremist Christian right. It fits the pattern.

BD in DC: Gerrit Cole for B. Goodwin, E Fedde, and L Garcia… who says no?
Keith Law: That’s a terrible deal for Pittsburgh.

Troy: Hey Keith – Thoughts on Monte Harrison? Is he for real if he can stay healthy?
Keith Law: I think he has a chance to be an above-average regular, with a fairly high bust probability still because of plate discipline/pitch recognition questions. I like the athleticism and hand strength.

Bobby Evans: I want to give up all or most of the top prospects in my already thin farm system for Stanton’s big contract. That’s not a bad idea, right?
Keith Law: It’s not a bad idea if you aren’t paying so much of the deal that you choke the franchise for the next decade. The discussed package of players isn’t my concern; they can float the losses of those guys.

Clay: Is Brazil turning into a legitimate baseball country? A handful have found their way to the bigs, at least a couple prospects (Gohara, Pardinho) are highly touted.
Keith Law: My limited knowledge of baseball in Brazil – boosted by that great multi-part series Pedro Moura did about it maybe a year ago – is that it’s popular where Japanese emigres settled, but unknown in other parts of the country.

Jesse B: Ohtani, Gore, Baez, and Quantrill to go with Myers, Hosmer, Margot and Tatis, is that enough to make the Padres relevant again?
Keith Law: The Padres signing Hosmer would be, by far, the dumbest fucking thing they could do.

Tyler: Thinking of quitting Facebook/Twitter as a New Year’s resolution. Any suggestions as to other time-killing websites that won’t sink me further into depression?
Keith Law: The dish? Wait, scratch that, those Saturday posts are pretty depressing.

Daniel: What fallout do you anticipate from Braves scandal? Will other organizations have to clean up the way they do things?
Keith Law: I believe the bundling practice will stop – it was definitely illegal, but the system encouraged teams to do it, and the argument was that the players still ended up getting paid so the harm was somewhat limited. But MLB has made it clear they’re done with looking the other way on much of that stuff.

Justin: Who is a better plan B for the Cardinals if/when Stanton opts for the west coast – Donaldson or Yelich?
Keith Law: Donaldson if the goal is win now, which I think it is. Yelich is the better long-term asset, but should cost you more in prospects.

Jake: If you’re the Cardinals, which young pitchers are you least willing to deal for a bat. Reyes and Hicks?
Keith Law: I’d trade any of them. Reyes is still coming back from TJ, and I said well before his injury I thought the short stride made him an injury risk (and made his breaking ball worse too), so there are enough knocks that I wouldn’t make him untouchable even though he has the best stuff of all their young arms.

Justin R: As someone who takes anxiety medication, do the studies that such medication increase risk of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease worry you? I stopped taking Celexa a few years back because of this but am thinking of jumping back in and wanted to weigh the risks.
Keith Law: The etiological connection between these drugs and eventual dementia is not well established, and the risk even in patients who start SSRIs before age 65 remains low, just higher than it is for those who never take them. You have to consider the benefit – do I want to live with anxiety, and the associated lower quality of life, to avoid this higher risk that is not completely understood? I’ve been on the medication, off, back on … yeah, I don’t think I want to live unmedicated. I was miserable and it affected people around me too.

Sterling Malory Chris Archer: What is it about Ohtani’s swing that you think he won’t be successful in MLB?
Keith Law: I answered that at length in my article about him:

Joe: Does Austin Hays have 60h 60p tools?
Keith Law: No.

Wally: If you were a GM, would you do more prospect challenge trades than we see generally? Mejia for Robles seems like one that might make sense, given the roster composition of CLE and WAS. Would that be fair, or would one side need to top it up a little?
Keith Law: Both top ten overall prospects, reasonable from a value sense, but Cleveland could also move Mejia to another position rather than trade him.

Steve: Your music playlists featurelots of obscure artists, maybe u hear them on sat radio, but What’s your music “wheelhouse”, if you can describe.
Keith Law: I do have Sirius XM but they tend to be late to bring new artists on air. I like music that’s interesting, that boasts something like strong melodies, intelligent lyrics, technical proficiency, new sounds or textures. I’ve listened to so much music in my life that I get a lot of “I’ve heard this before” feelings from mainstream radio.

Chris: Any idea why Ohtani and/or his agents would make 23 teams go through a useless exercise of filling out the dog and pony forms?
Keith Law: Maybe they had a purpose that didn’t make it useless. Maybe they didn’t want to show such disrespect to teams as to say “Ohtani is so unwilling to play for you that nothing you can say would change his mind.”

EC: For closers and the HOF, even if – and that is a big if – we wanted to put them in, don’t we have to wait until we have a larger crop to judge who were the best (Mariano excluded)? There seems to be an arguments that Hoffman is the second best, but there are some that seem obviously better (Nathan) or could be considerably more valuable by the end of their career (Kimbrel, Jansen). What’s the rush to get Hoffman in?
Keith Law: Every writer who lists Hoffman on his/her ballot is telling you that s/he still values saves, even though we know the stat is meaningless for discussing individual value. If Hoffman pitched exactly the same way, the same 1089 innings, the same 2.87 ERA, but had zero saves, this isn’t a discussion. He would have fallen off the ballot two years ago. He did less in his career than Brandon Webb, for crying out loud. But these voters will not let go of their precious saves, even as the teams they cover have made it very clear that they see no utility in the statistic.

Ted: Are you planning on updating your kitchen gifts and cookbook recommendations for this year? I have found them to be very helpful around the holidays the past few years?
Keith Law: The gift guide went up yesterday ( and the cookbook guide will go up after the chat.

Jason S: Have you had Philz coffee? If so, thoughts on it, have you had better?
Keith Law: I have had it. I’ve had a lot that’s better.

Andrew: Hi klaw, greetings from the UK, something of a baseball noob here and have adopted the Rays. My first season of regular viewing was last season. Was just wondering your general view on the strength (or otherwise) of their farm system..
Keith Law: I think it’s below the median, but I’ll do a detailed ranking & explanation in January when I post the prospect rankings package.

Jay: With Del Rosario, Negret, and possibly 5 1st round/comp A picks, do you think the Royals can turn around the farm system quickly?
Keith Law: I don’t. You might – I don’t want to infer too much here – be overrating the impact of the two former Atlanta prospects. I will say this: they probably need to approach this draft differently than the last few. Their recent emphasis on high school pitching hasn’t panned out so far, and with the extra picks and the money they bring, they can be more creative than they’ve been since the new system went into place.

Jack: How concerned should phillies fans be about mickey moniak? Should he start in low a again?
Keith Law: I’m pretty concerned. He looked like he’d never seen a slider before every time I saw him, and I believe the Phillies are considering moving him to a corner, having played him there in instructs too.

JC: Are there any long term internal options the Braves have at 3B? Let’s include college options to be drafted at #8 (assuming, of course, they are BPA while drafted). If not, should they sit out this year for external options in a potential buyers market?
Keith Law: I’m not a Riley fan, but he is their best 3b prospect and I know internally they rank him more highly than I do.

Chris: You talk a lot on these chats about abuse and assault from athletes and other entertainers (and thank you for that), especially how ridiculous it can be that people then target the victim as a liar. However, I wanted to know what your opinion was around rehabilitation and what needs to happen before you would accept those accused getting back into the spotlight.
Keith Law: Those people can certainly go through counseling, although its effect is far from certain (especially for those abusers who are themselves trauma victims). But we don’t have to let them be famous again. I don’t need to see Josh Lueke in a major league uniform again – there are plenty of guys who throw hard and have never raped a woman.

Eddy: I’m having trouble nailing down the HR and SB totals for Gleyber Torres in a typical season. What is a reasonable expectation? Seen everything from 15 HR to 25+ and single-digit SB to 20.
Keith Law: He’s not a runner. I could see 20+ homers, definitely, but if he steals 20 it’ll be on instincts rather than speed.

Ray Liotta as Shoeless Joe: I apologize if you have answered this before, but it is December so it is Hall of Fame season. Is Pete Rose a Hall of Famer? Not a Hall of Fame talent…a Hall of Famer.
Keith Law: I think he has to be, as much as it disgusts me. I can’t argue for any player who is a ‘known’ PED user under the argument that the Hall needs to show the best players, period, and then argue against Rose.

TJ: The common refrain around the Red Sox is that they need power, but wouldn’t a consistent hitter at 1B be just as valuable? So many times to break a game open they just need a base hit while Hanley would swing out of his shoes to hit the long ball. (anecdotal but still). Is there a point at which upgrading the power is being pursued too much to the detriment of a better offense?
Keith Law: They really do need power. They have plenty of guys who can hit. The lack of power sank the offense last year.

Chris : Any chance Mickey Jannis gets scooped up in Rule 5?
Keith Law: Doubt it.

Enquiring Mind: Better upside and/or chance of reaching it: Kingery or Bo Bichette? I’ll hang up and listen. Thanks as always for the chats.
Keith Law: Bichette better upside. Kingery is a big leaguer right now, though.

Jeff: Is the talent in this year’s Rule 5 better than normal, or are there just more recognizable names that haven’t panned out?
Keith Law: Couple of more recognizable names – Nick Burdi’s name has come up a few times, I think he’ll go off the board – but not necessarily better ones.

Luke: Should we all just quit caring about the Hall? I fail to understand how Vizquel is getting so much support while Edmonds got booted off the ballot in his first year, Edgar and Walker can’t get elected, the roiders sit on the ballot every year taking up votes and keeping deserving players out…nothing about it makes sense. And then there are writers like Livingston that you commented about on Twitter today that make a mockery of the whole process. Rant over. I guess my question is how do they fix the process for election?
Keith Law: The electorate for the Hall will change more slowly than the electorate for postseason awards, because the former includes a lot of people who haven’t covered the game for 5+ years, and a lot of people who still cover it but haven’t bothered to keep up with the seismic shifts in how baseball players are valued by the industry itself. But it will change.

Evan: Atkins said that they are going to exhaust Connor Greene as a SP “until he has no choice.” (Smart decision.) Do you think Greene is destined for the bullpen, and if so, could he be a top end high-leverage RP?
Keith Law: I would still try him out as a starter. I don’t think it’s foreordained that he’s a reliever.

Evan: I heard a rumor the Braves are trying to open up a corner OF spot for Acuna this season. If he plays the bulk of the year in the majors, what type of production do you think he would have?
Keith Law: I can’t imagine he’s there Opening Day, for service time reasons; that would be silly. But I’d release Matt Kemp for him, definitely. Think he’d hit .280-.290, low .300s OBP, 30+ steals … I want to say 10-12 homers, but the juiced ball has really thrown me off the last year or two. He hit 21 across A+-AA-AAA last year with the minor league ball, so is it absurd to say he could really hit 20 homers if you gave him 600 PA in the majors?

Brian: Not a question, but fwiw, my grievance with insane HoF ballots is exactly the same as yours. In fact, I’ve noticed this is usually what makes me upset about things in general: when people are in charge of things for no reason, and yet it is very hard to do anything about it …
Keith Law: It feels like you’re talking about something more than just sports here.

Dan: Heliot Ramos appeared to have a good debut this summer, but have you heard anything from scouts (or scouted yourself) to change your pre-draft opinion of him? Is there star upside there? Or more average regular?
Keith Law: Nothing new, just a great debut, which I don’t read a ton into other than that he didn’t fail right away, which worries the hell out of me when a player does that in his first pro (wood bat) experience. Some guys get around it – Nolan Jones was much better in 2017 than in his debut – but most don’t.

Tom: I believe on Twitter (or maybe it was a chat) that you said if the SF Giants took on all of Stanton’s contract, it would cripple the franchise. But earlier in this chat, you said you’d give $350m to Machado or Harper. Does it have to do more with the players receiving the contract, or what teams are positioned to hand out a contract of that size?
Keith Law: I don’t recall saying that, but I’d be way more comfortable giving that money to Harper or Machado, who are three years younger than Stanton; both better, higher-impact players, with more defensive value; and don’t have Stanton’s injury history.

James: Any inkling of where you think Otani will land?
Keith Law: Nope. I haven’t even asked anyone about it. It’s all BS until he signs, and then it matters.

Steve: I know you’ll probably have a write-up on it but what are you’re initial thoughts on Chatwood to the Cubs?
Keith Law: That’s WAY more money than I thought he’d get. I had him as a potential bargain (heh) because getting him out of Denver might help him rediscover his curveball.

Pat D: Franken and Conyers are rightfully resigning. Yet there sit Roy Moore and Donald Trump with people like Janet Porter getting airtime to defend them. At what point is it right to give up faith in the people of this country to do the right thing?
Keith Law: Oh, I passed that point a long time ago.

Tim: any truth to the rumors that ESPN is hiring Ohtani as your scouting intern because it represents a pay raise for Ohtani over what he will receive in this absolute garbage MLB international system?
Keith Law: It’s really cool that they all negotiated to raise the amount Ohtani’s team would get without regard to what the player himself – the one fans are paying to come to see – will get.

RSO: I know the Astros won the World Series last year, but how good does the Brian McCann trade look for them right now with Abreu, and Guzman both doing very well? Both have risen into the top 10 in their system according to some publications
Keith Law: I think the Astros are very happy with it.

Dutch: Lucroy should bounce back in 2018, no? IIRC he hit .300 with an OBP over .400 once he got out of Texas. Would imagine that Coors played a role in that 2nd half improvement too.
Keith Law: I think he’ll be better this year – no real reason to believe he just forgot how to hit and frame, or was somehow physically incapable of doing so.

Mike: Do you think it’s finally the year where a HS RHP goes 1-1?
Keith Law: I do not. I don’t see who that guy would be.

Dutch: Moving Myers back to the outfield would be incredibly stupid, no? Seems like Preller and San Diego have forgotten why they moved him to 1B.
Keith Law: Incredibly stupid.

Tony: Do you still write for ESPN or is all your work behind a paywall?
Keith Law: I’m having a hard time with the structure of this question.

Dennis: My project for 2018 is to read Don Quixote or Ulysses. Which do you recommend? Which will take longer to read?
Keith Law: Read Don Quixote. It’s just long. Ulysses is complicated, and it’s really not a book to be read like a novel.

Dennis: Do you like Henry James? If so, any recommendations?
Keith Law: I only liked Portrait of a Lady.

Charlie: Curious about your thoughts on the Martinez hire. Bench coach for a decade worthwhile preparation for the role, or just another flavor of “no managerial experience”? Do you see a distinction?
Keith Law: I would at least distinguish him from someone without any coaching experience. I have heard mixed things on Martinez over the years, but enough people whom I trust seem to like or recommend him that I want to give him the benefit of the doubt going into year one.

Dennis: Any interest in reading The Tale Of Genji?
Keith Law: I got 100 pages into it and bailed. Too slow. I’m not a huge poetry reader either, which didn’t help.

Tony: Given the numbers Cesar Hernandez has put up the past three years, how much better can the Phillies expect Kingery to be compared to that baseline? It seems like they have similar skillsets
Keith Law: Kingery’s a 70 defender at 2b with much more power, but I don’t think he’s going to post a .373 OBP any time soon. Makes Hernandez tradeable, but not necessarily someone who has to be traded today to make room because Kingery would be markedly better in 2018 (it could be a push now, Kingery better in the future due to power).

Chris: just ranked Singer as their #1 draft prospect, but I know you’ve said he has reliever written all over him going forward. In your mind, what percentage chance does he have to stick as a starter?
Keith Law: Maybe 25%? I don’t think I’m doing a draft ranking until February now, but he won’t be top ten. Arm slot and action worry me. Dude was 90-91 the night I saw him face Kyle Wright.

Nelson: Whats a reasonable price to pay for 12oz bag of top notch coffee beans?
Keith Law: That’s going to run you $13-16, most likely.

Chuck: Do you expect Puk to be up in ’18?
Keith Law: Yes, before year-end.

Dennis: How do you carve out the time to read each day? I’m guessing you always have a book with you and you avoid internet browsing and social media.
Keith Law: I dedicate certain time to it in the morning, and I sit with my daughter every evening I’m home because she has to do 30 minutes of reading a night for homework.

Oden: No longer a prospect, but door you think Devers sticks at 3rd? Should Boston sign say Moose, move Devers across field?
Keith Law: Yes, he’s a 3b, chance to be a good one.

Adam Doctolero: If Hankins is there for the Giants at #2, he’s has to be the pick, right? Who else would you say is in that mix for a top-2 pick?
Keith Law: No I don’t think he has to be the pick at 2. He’s very good, but I wouldn’t separate him right away from the pack. Heck, Rocker is a different type of pitcher, but he could be above Hankins on some boards, and I haven’t even left Georgia yet.

Henry: Check out the new Noel Gallagher LP. It’s very good!
Keith Law: I have, but it didn’t hold my attention at all. Liam’s isn’t really setting the world on fire either. They’re better together, obviously.

John: Hot take: Billy Wagner is more deserving of the Hall of Fame than Trevor Hoffman. Better pitcher, shorter career. The only reason Wagner isn’t getting the support is that he retired at 39 and didn’t compile another 100+ saves like Hoffman did. (Neither are actually deserving, by the way…Wagner’s just closer)
Keith Law: I agree. Wagner was better than Hoffman when they actually pitched. I wouldn’t put either on my ballot.

Jim Nantz: Are the relatively low salaries paid to managers (I saw that Callaway won’t even clear $1M this year) a sign that teams don’t believe managers add much value?
Keith Law: I think that’s fair to assume.

Chris: You wisely are more bearish on Ohtani’s ability to be an impact player as both a pitcher and a hitter. Do you see a player ever filling both of those roles with the specialization of today’s game given how difficult it is to be a true two-way player?
Keith Law: I don’t. The hype around him has been ridiculous.

Andy: Don’t most teams rate their prospects more highly than you? I mean that even if they take an even handed approach, most teams are going to focus on positives of their guys, while minimizing the negatives.
Keith Law: Your job as a GM or farm director or VP is to try to evaluate your players objectively so you can make better decisions around trades, promotions, and adjustments. So if a team rates all or most of its prospects more highly than I do, then they’re probably doing themselves a disservice.

JJ: A writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch shared his HOF ballot. He voted for Clemens but not Bonds, for obvious (?) reasons. He also declined to vote for Chipper Jones, citing Joe Morgan’s plea for character to matter, specifically Jones’ “Sandy Hook was a hoax” tweet. Should Jones’ post-playing career dumbassery have any impact on his HOF candidacy?
Keith Law: If you read the one sentence in the voting guidelines, it seems fairly clear that we’re discussing character while a player. I think hoaxers should all be sent to live on the surface of Venus, but this was a single comment that he walked back fairly quickly. If you’re downgrading him for “character,” the lengthy extramarital affair he had while in the peak of his career should weigh more than a single post-career tweet. (If you want to argue none of this should matter, I’m fine with that too.)

Doug: You have a take on the John Oliver/Dustin Hoffman incident? Big fan of Oliver but it seemed a tad extreme in his part.
Keith Law: It is exactly what we needed, and I hope more people take a cue from Oliver and call the accused out in public when they’re getting a free pass.
Keith Law: That’s all for this week. Thank you as always for reading and for all of your questions. Because of my travel schedule around the winter meetings next week, the next chat will probably be on December 21st (or thereabouts). Have a great weekend.

Gift guide for cooks, 2017 edition.

As usual, this is a repost of the previous year’s list, with new items I’ve added clearly marked, and some minor edits to the rest. There’s very little new for 2017; I just didn’t buy or get as much stuff this year, because I really don’t need anything, and I gave a lot more money to charity this year in the wake of this fall’s hurricanes. Enjoy and feel free to ask questions in the comments.

I’ve seen a few “Christmas gift guides for the cooks in your life!” over the last couple of years, but most of them are like this 2014 gem from Grub Street, with recommendations for things that no one could possibly need – a “rosemary stripper” (I have two of those; I call them “hands”); a “banana slicer” (use your paring knife, genius); a $140 toaster (makes toast); and a $1600 set of Thomas Keller-branded pans, which, unless he forged them personally out of pure adamantium, are a colossal fucking waste of money. These are not gifts to by the cook in your life; these are gifts to buy the person in your life who pretends to cook but really just likes playing with toys. Toys don’t make you a better chef; they just make you a less socially responsible one.

I do have a few pricier toys in my kitchen, but aside from one, they’re all highly functional, at the middle to low end of the price range for their jobs, and built to last a long time. I’ve had my chef’s knife for over a decade, my food processor for 17 years (my next upgrade – looking at this Cuisinart model), my Dutch oven for about eight years, and just replaced my 18-year-old stand mixer when we moved in 2013. You are free to call me cheap, but I think I’m just prudent. I’ll spend money in the kitchen if it gets me something I need. I will not spend money to get a famous name, a fancy design, or a paperweight to live at the back of a gadget drawer until we move again. If I can make do with something I already have in the house – binder clips, a (clean) putty knife, a (clean) paintbrush – I’ll gladly do that instead.

Therefore, what I recommend here – for your cheffy friends or for yourself – is largely what I own and use. If what I own isn’t available, or isn’t good value for the price, I recommend something else. I am also willing to answer any and all questions about these or other suggestions; if I include it here, that’s an endorsement that it’ll be money well spent. I will post an updated list of cookbooks I recommend in the next few days; in the meantime, here’s last year’s list.

The most important tool for any cook is a good chef’s knife, and I love my Henckels 8″ chef’s knife, although I have a discontinued model with a different handle. It’s a workhorse, has only needed professional sharpening once, and is a comfortable grip and weight for my rather small hands. It’s also nearly 60% off right now, a steal at $38.50, so while in past years I’ve steered readers towards the $36 Victorinox 8″ chef’s knife, which America’s Test Kitchen has long recommended, at these price points I’d say go for the Henckels.

The basic knives any home cook must have are a chef’s knife, a paring knife, and a bread (serrated) knife. The bread knife is good for more than just slicing bread – serrated blades are safer for slicing tomatoes, and they’re excellent for chopping chocolate and other hard foods. I have another Henckels four-star model, also eight inches, but the same blade is available with a different handle for just $13. You might look at a 10” blade if you get a lot of large, artisanal loaves. Any strong paring knife will do, such as this OXO 3.5″ paring knife at $15. With a modicum of knife skills, you can tweak and hull strawberries with one of these without any risk to your fingers or waste of fruit. It’s also good for cutting citrus supremes, slicing apples and pears, pitting olives and cherries, and other fine-motor-skills work.

I do have two other knives I use frequently, but they’re not essential for most cooks. One is the santoku, a very sharp knife with a thin edge but wide body that’s ideal for slicing vegetables and hard fruits; I recommend a 7” blade, which you can get in this two-santoku Henckels set for $27.50 and just … I don’t know, regift the 5” version or something, because I can’t see any use for it. The boning knife I own, from Henckels, appears to be discontinued, but there’s another Henckels 5.5″ boning knife for $26 that looks like it has the same blade. A boning knife is ideal for breaking down a whole chicken – it’s substantially cheaper to buy a whole chicken (sometimes called a broiler-fryer, usually 3-5 pounds total weight) and cut it into parts, and you get the bones to make stock – or for deboning other cuts of meat like short ribs. Some folks recommend a flexible blade instead, but I have never used that kind so I can’t give an opinion.

I finally caved and bought a home knife sharpener in 2015, buying this Chef’s Choice Diamond Hone 3 Stage Sharpener, a manual sharpener that turned out to be both easy to use and very effective; I sharpened every knife I own and even a few pairs of scissors, including the kitchen shears some of you saw me using to spatchcock this year’s Thanksgiving turkey.

My pots and pans aren’t a single set any more; I have some remnants from an All-Clad anodized aluminum set I got with rewards points in 2001, but have swapped out certain pieces to get better nonstick (coated) skillets. What you really should get for your loved one (you may include yourself in that category) is a a 12″ Lodge cast-iron skillet, an absolute workhorse that can handle about 90% of what I need from a skillet or a saute pan. I still use a nonstick skillet for egg dishes, and a saucier (sadly one that’s no longer made) for sauces or custards, but the Lodge skillet is past a decade old and just keeps getting better. The work of seasoning them is nowhere near as arduous as you’ve heard.

I got a Lodge 10″ carbon steel skillet for Christmas in 2015, and I love it. It’s not as nonstick as the cast-iron one, which I’ve had for years and thus has built up more of a coating, but for getting a pan rocket-hot quickly and working fast on something small, it’s great. I’ve found that the more I use it, the more resistant the surface becomes to sticking – even eggs – and it is the ideal skillet for making the dramatic, puffy pancake known as a Dutch baby.

If you want to splurge on something, get an enameled cast-iron Dutch oven, great for soups, stews, braises, deep-frying, jam-making, and caramelizing huge batches of onions. Cast-iron doesn’t distribute heat well, but it holds heat for a long time. These pots are heavy, but I use mine for every saucepan duty that doesn’t involve boiling water or cooking grains on their own. They go stove to oven (as do the skillets) and can take the hours of low heating required for a proper braise. I own a Le Creuset that I got on sale at an outlet store because the color was discontinued; if you’re not quite that fortunate, try the 7.5 quart Lodge model, a pretty good value at $60 considering how heavy and durable they are.

I upgraded my stockpot last year with this $30 Excelsteel 16 Quart Stainless Steel Stockpot. I make stock constantly throughout the year; I buy whole chickens, break them down myself, and freeze the carcasses and necks for future stocks. I also made a turkey stock after Thanksgiving with the backbone, neck, and the picked-clean roasted carcass, and the result was so full of gelatin that it was solid at room temperature. (It made an unbelievably rich turkey and soba noodle soup.) I needed a good stockpot since my previous one’s pseudo-nonstick finish had started to fade; this pot is also taller and heavier so it holds the heat in more effectively and I can do a double batch with two chicken carcasses and plenty of aromatics. I usually have to get at the interior bottom with a little Bon Ami, though. It’s also been my go-to pot for sous-vide cooking, since it’s deep enough to hold my circulator.

I don’t own a proper mandolin slicer, but I do pretty well with a handheld mandolin for under $20 that works great for things like root-vegetable chips or thinly slicing onions. I use my digital instant-read thermometer almost every night, and I’ve run through at least three of them over the last ten years. Amazon tells me that I bought my Microplane classic grater in November of 2003, and I’ve had their coarse grater for almost that long. The former is great for zesting citrus fruits or grating nutmeg; the latter is ideal for creating a snowfall of hard cheese over a pasta dish. I now own four silicone baking mats, two of which are amazon brand, now listed at two for $14 but which I got cheaper on Prime Day this summer.

I own two scales – a chef I’m friends with on Twitter made fun of me for this – one, this AWS Digital Pocket Scale for weights up to about 2 kg, which is ideal for precise measurements like grams of coffee (more on that in a moment), and a larger scale that’s long discontinued. This $13 Ozeri scale looks like a more than adequate replacement, measuring up to 12 kg; I rarely need to measure more than about two pounds of anything, maybe a little more for some large-batch baking but that’s about it. You need at least one good scale if you’re serious about baking, though; the best bread and pastry recipes all use grams, not cups or liters. I finally killed my digital candy/frying thermometer this year, replacing it with an old-fashioned, $7.50 analog frying thermometer. I use it for jam, macarons, and my various deep-frying experiments (see the sous-vide discussion below). You absolutely must have one of these to make caramel, any kind of jam or preserves, or true buttercream frosting.

I haven’t included this on past lists, but I do use my OXO potato ricer for mashed potatoes – it’s much better than a so-called “masher,” which is otherwise useful for guacamole or for crushing fruits while making jam but makes lumpy mashed potatoes.

Other things I always appreciate getting or often end up buying for myself: Wooden spatulas (not spoons), silicone spatulas, good (not decorative) metal measuring spoons, Pyrex or similar measuring cups for liquids (never measure liquids in a plastic cup designed for measuring solids).

I don’t have this exact brand/model, but I love having a few silicone ingredient cups in the kitchen. I use one for measuring and pouring out coffee grounds, and I often have another one next to the stove with salt or freshly ground pepper or toasted sesame seeds to add to something right before serving.

Now, for the expensive stuff:

* New for 2017: I finally caved and upgraded my food processor to this 14-cup Cuisinart model, although mine is black and has a slightly different model number (which I can’t find on amazon). You can get a 7-cup model for $100, and it will probably be fine for most home cooks. I have a few recipes I make regularly that require the larger capacity. I have also noticed that the blade on the new model is the sharpest thing I own. I’m actually a little scared of it. But you kind of need a food processor for things like pesto, hummus, mayonnaise, pie or biscuit doughs (if you don’t want to or can’t do them by hand), and my favorite pumpkin pie recipe.

* I’ve gone full geek, getting an Anova sous-vide immersion circulator for $99 (pot not included) and using it frequently for cooking chicken legs, chicken breasts, steak, pork, duck, even salmon. Serious Eats has many recipes for it, and I’ve used their chicken thighs recipe many times, often cooking entire chicken legs that way. (I’ve discovered that, if you can handle some spattering, you can take the drumsticks, pat them dry, then bread and deep-fry them for some of the juiciest fried chicken you’ll ever taste.) I’ve cooked skirt steak, which can be tough even when cooked medium-rare, sous-vide and it melted in our mouths. Sous-vide cooking takes time, and some up-front investment – I caved and bought a FoodSaver vacuum-sealer, although you can do it with zip-top bags too – but once you use it you’ll find it indispensable.

* I have this Vitamix 1782 TurboBlend “food preparing machine” (it’s a blender, stupid), and it’s amazing. I can make smooth vegetable soups with it, no cream required; don’t toss those broccoli stalks, just peel, quarter, and roast them, then blend them with some vegetable stock and season to taste, maybe with some basil oil and toasted pumpkin seeds on top. I used it at Thanksgiving 2015 to make the carrot soup in Hugh Acheson’s The Broad Fork. The blender is down to $328 (from four bills), but that’s too much if you’re just making milkshakes and smoothies (and there is nothing wrong with just making milkshakes and smoothies). You’ll probably be fine with just a basic blender and the food processor.

* I have the 5-quart KitchenAid stand mixer, which is about $270 right now. I kind of wish I had the next model up, mostly for bread-baking, which is still a bit of a chore for this model, but it’s great for everything else – mixing up cookie dough, brownie batter, quick breads, whipped cream, and Italian meringues (for macarons). The pasta-maker attachment is overpriced, but it does the job, and the grinder attachment has been good for me in a handful of uses, especially for turning stale bread into bread crumbs.

* Coffee is my big kitchen weakness, at least when it comes to spending money; I’m fortunate to have a few friends in the industry (whom I met through social media) who work for direct-trade roasters and have tipped me off to good sources of coffee and helped me pay for the gear I own, which is wonderful but expensive. The Baratza Virtuoso burr grinder is the least expensive grinder of its kind and caliber; when my first one had an issue with the motor, I sent a quick video of it jamming to Baratza and had a new machine within two weeks. I do make pour-over coffee at home using this Hario V60 ceramic dripper, but my preference is espresso, for which I use a Rancilio Silvia machine that is a wonder. The boiler is huge, so it bounces back quickly between shots and you can heat up the steam wand before your shots go cold. (You can probably beat that price by $30-40 if you shop around.) If you get your ratios right – for me it’s 17.5 to 19 grams per double shot, depending on the bean and roast – you’ll get great crema, 30-32 grams of output in 25-30 seconds, with almost no bad pulls. I use it every morning and I miss it when I travel. I weigh the beans, grounds, and output on the AWS digital scale I mentioned above, which came recommended by a barista at Lord Windsor Roasters in Long Beach, California.

Good Time.

Good Time is the newest film from the Safdie brothers, whose last project, Heaven Knows What, was based on the memoir by Arielle Holmes, who starred in it and then played the Darth Vader-obsessed character in last year’s American Honey. Good Time is a straight-up heist film, with Robert Pattinson tremendous as the main character, in the vein of a Jim Thompson novel but less successful than Thompson was at tying up the loose ends of an intriguing plot setup. It’s out now on iTunes and amazon.

Pattinson plays Connie Nikas, who robs a bank with his developmentally disabled brother Nick (Benny Safdie), only to have a dye pack in the bag of cash blow up on them in the getaway car. This leads to an extended chase sequence where the brothers are separated and Nick is arrested, leaving Connie free but desperate to free his brother from Rikers, where he knows Benny isn’t likely to survive. Connie’s attempts to pay his brother’s bail drive the rest of the film, aided by the fact that Connie is about half as smart as he thinks he is – I don’t think the word “contingency” would be in his vocabulary.

Pattinson is absolutely great in this, the second excellent performance I’ve seen from him this year along with The Lost City of Z. He’s a magnetic presence, and he plays Connie in a constant manic state that keeps the tension high and also makes it clear to the audience that he’s liable to fly off the handle at the slightest provocation. His concern for his brother is palpable, maybe the one sign of humanity we see in Connie, who otherwise is somewhere on the sociopath-psychopath spectrum and seems destined to get a lot of people maimed or killed. Several critics, including A.O. Scott, accused Safdie of overdoing his portrayal of someone a little slow and a little hard of hearing, but I didn’t think it was exaggerated or offensive in the limited time he’s on screen.

No one else in the movie even seems real, and there’s no depth at all to any character. Pattinson ends up in the apartment of an older woman he met on a hospital bus and befriends her 16-year-old granddaughter, but those two are largely ciphers in the film – you expect a back story, a connection, even a metaphorical one, but there’s none there. I found nothing at all beneath the grimy surface of Good Time; it’s a heist gone wrong story, with a dark-hearted character at the center, who ends up teaming up with a feckless idiot in a last-ditch attempt to raise the funds he needs. Once those two pair up, the energy of the film sputters out, and doesn’t return at all until the final sequence before the credits when the story gets its resolution.

One aspect to recommend the film, beyond Pattinson’s performance: The score from avant-garde composer Daniel Lopatin, who records as Oneohtrix Point Never, is banging, and props up the film in several moments when the engine starts to stall.


I can’t remember where I first heard about Dan Vyleta’s novel Smoke, which I think falls somewhere in between the YA and adult literature genres, but I’d had it on my shopping list for a year when the paperback version appeared in June for under $10. Offering a gothic-themed setting in an alternate reality where sin is revealed as visible Smoke emanating from the sinner’s body, Smoke follows its trio of compelling characters through a physical and metaphysical journey that leads them to question everything they’ve been told by their parents, teachers, and every other moral authorities in their lives.

Set some time in the late 19th century, Smoke begins, as so many young adult books do, in a boarding school, where we meet Thomas, a volatile child with hidden rage and some sort of secret in his family background; and Charlie, his new best friend at school, a more mild-mannered, rule-abiding kid. The school is for children of the upper class, who send their kids there to learn to avoid producing Smoke – easier said than done, as it turns out – as part of the complex social hierarchy that has evolved to protect those who don’t smoke, the gentry, from those who do. The opening scene, which does a wonderful job of pulling you right into the story, sets Thomas up against his antagonist for the remainder of the book, Julius, a Malfoyesque character who runs the school’s unofficial but apparently tolerated inquisitorial squad. What appears at the start to be a conflict among boys, two good against one evil, takes a hard and unexpected right turn when they visit Thomas’s aunt and uncle over the holidays, only to find themselves plunged right into the heart of the mystery of Smoke and on a quest to try and solve it, to save Thomas’s life and perhaps overturn the entire autocracy the aristocrats have constructed with Smoke as their weapon.

Vyleta takes the story from there into some surprising places, and does well to create a panoply of opponents for the two boys and Thomas’s cousin, Lydia, as they work on unraveling the knot of Smoke. There are some agents who are clearly evil, but many others who are working at opposing purposes to the kids for independent, moral, or even banal reasons. Eventually, we need and get a showdown with the worst of the baddies, but it is not central to the book the way it is to so many YA fantasy novels. (I’ve seen it referred to in video games, especially for RPGs, as the “Kill the Big Foozle” plot device.) It’s the other stuff that makes Smoke … um, sizzle, because the varying motivations and understanding of what’s actually going on beneath the skin, literally and metaphorically, open up the characters to natural discussions about right and wrong, moral authority, and historical revisionism. The most obvious target of Vyleta’s satire is the Church – Catholic, Anglican, you pick – although much of Smoke‘s subversive subtext works quite as well when applied to the pernicious effects of classism, environmental racism, or how people respond to totalitarian regimes.

By setting up a multi-threaded conflict, Vyleta set up a delightfully unconventional ending with plenty of tension, including the big fight that some readers will demand, but also resolving other plot threads in unexpected ways, not always thoroughly (by design) but at least hinting at what the End of Smoke might entail for whole groups of people whose identities are tied to the status quo. The book itself was inspired by a line from Dickens’ Dombey and Son, but the vibe of Smoke is much more along the lines of Lev Grossman’s superb trilogy The Magicians: It’s a bit dark, but not overwhelmingly so, and there’s plenty of humor and empathy to balance out the sinister elements. It’s too well-written to call it a true YA novel, but the themes would be appropriate for teens.

Next up: I read James Gould Cozzens’ Pulitzer-winning novel Guard of Honor, and it was just so bad – boring in story and prose – that I’m not going to bother with a full review. I’m now 2/3 of the way through Bessel Van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, which is $2 right now for the Kindle.

The Florida Project.

The Florida Project is the best movie I have seen so far in 2017. Granted, it’s December 3rd, and there are many movies left to be seen, but I will go out on a limb and guess that when I’ve seen all the likelies I will still end up with this bold, empathetic film at or very near the top of my list. The movie takes a look at a small bit of the American underclass, delivering a slice-of-life story that becomes so much more because of the living, breathing characters that populate it and the script’s obvious regard for its denizens.

The title is a play on words of sorts; it takes place in the Magic Castle, one of the welfare motels around Walt Disney World, a place where residents pay by the week and often must vacate the premises for one night, moving to a neighboring flophouse, because the apartment’s management won’t let anyone stay long enough to establish residency. (I presume Florida has a consecutive-days threshold where a transient guest becomes a tenant and acquires additional rights.) The property manager is Bobby (Willem Dafoe), who plays an important role in the lives of the two central characters, single mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) and her daughter Moonee (Brooklynn Prince), as they live through a period of a few weeks at the start of Moonee’s summer break from school.

The movie shifts focus frequently, but the bulk of the story is told from the eyes of the kids, Moonee, her friend Scout, and new friend Jancy, with whom the first two get acquainted when they are caught spitting on Jancy’s mother’s car – because that’s the sort of thing you do all day when there’s no school, little money, and lots of time to fill. The three head off on daily adventures in the neighborhood, which is mostly filled with other low-end housing complexes and tacky stores selling Disney paraphernalia, finding trouble when it doesn’t find them first.

The struggles of the adults in their lives play out right in front of them, including the central struggle, paying the rent. Much of what happens in The Florida Project mirrors the problems Matthew Desmond covered in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book Evicted: paying the rent means working, which means someone has to watch the kids, which either costs money or means leaning on neighbors, friends, even strangers, so some people don’t work. Halley is an unemployed stripper whom we see selling knockoff perfumes to tourists for cash and who eventually (and inevitably) starts turning tricks to pay the rent, which precipitates the crisis that turns this movie into a routine slice-of-life piece into a story with an arc and a conclusion. Her background is never discussed, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to assume she’s a victim of something traumatic, especially given her disproportionate responses to even minor disappointments. Halley feels like a fictional incarnation of Sen. Orrin Hatch’s “people who won’t help themselves,” but while she’s unsympathetic on the screen, it’s also quite easy to see how she could feel thoroughly trapped by her environment. There’s no path for her out of poverty, and she’s basically one mistake away from losing her home and/or her kid.

Moonee is the real heart of this movie, and Prince, who was six at the time of filming, gives one of the best performances of the year. She’s mischievous, vivacious, and perceptive, adept at manipulating adults and navigating their world, often tumbling out adult words that you don’t expect to hear from a six-year-old’s mouth. She’s the ringleader of the three kids, and is almost totally unflappable, even when crises seem to unfold around her; when they cause real trouble, she’s the one trying to come up with the cover story. You can see glimpses of the impact this life is having on her, but she’s also still at an age where she’s resilient to setbacks, and her bond with Bobby, while seldom directly referenced, is one of the best emotional threads in the story. (Prince, who reminds me a bit of English actress Honeysuckle Weeks, and her two young co-stars did an adorable interview about making the film with Variety.)

Dafoe also delivers the best performance I’ve seen from him, even though Bobby is probably a bit too good to be true – he’s likely poorly paid, constantly dealing with tenants who are late on the rent or causing trouble, and often doesn’t have the money to undertake needed repairs, but he’s still got a heart of gold, especially where Moonee is concerned. The scene where he sees a non-resident adult talking to a group of the project’s kids as they play is one of the film’s most gripping moments, giving insight into Bobby’s character and setting his temperament apart from the more labile personalities living in the building.

Director/co-writer Sean Baker employs some subtle perspective shifts, some just varying the distance to the characters, but getting particular value from dropping the camera to the kids’ level even when the adults are the center of the scene. The Florida Project would be utterly joyless to watch without the kids – even though it would be true to life – and Baker uses the kids’ storyline both to provide some needed relief from the depressing reality of Halley’s life and to show how the wonder of childhood isn’t tied to wealth or possessions, but to time and that sense of adventure. That contrast between Moonee’s view of the world and Halley’s parallels the other, unspoken contrast between the story in this movie and the fantasy world in the shadow of which the film occurs. The Magic Castle may not quite be the Unhappiest Place on Earth, but it feels close when we see it through Halley’s eyes. The movie ends on a perfect note, as well, as the climax itself, which was not just inevitable but which I would say was the only possible outcome of what had come before in the script, gives way to an utterly priceless concluding sequence. Yes, we know it’s temporary, and we all know what will come afterward, but for that one last moment, we see the characters leave the world behind and run for joy.

Stick to baseball, 12/2/17.

My Insider post on Shohei Ohtani is finally up, with a scouting report compiled from aggregating opinions of multiple scouts who’ve seen him hit and pitch, and thoughts on what MLB’s rigging of the rules against him really signals. Between the lack of significant activity in the hot stove and the fact that I got quite sick in the middle of the week, that’s been my only baseball content since Thanksgiving. I did hold a Klawchat on Thursday.

For Paste, I reviewed the train game Whistle Stop, a mid-weight title that’s among the best new board games I’ve played this year. My ranking of the top ten games of 2017 will go up the week of December 10th. EDIT: My first piece for Ars Technica is up now – a look at a beta version of Catan VR, an upcoming digital port of the global bestseller from Asmodee Digital.

I’ve taken an unintentional hiatus from my free email newsletter, but will resume this week. The holiday, PAX Unplugged, and that virus I had have all conspired against me, I swear.

Smart Baseball is out now in hardcover, e-book, and audio formats, perfect for your holiday shopping! Buy one or forty copies, your call.

And now, the links…