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blanched optimism / american standbys

+ WANDA (Barbara Loden, 1970)

Wanda, you've been on my mind. Your movements frantic and outsized, but motivations sequestered. Your blonde cheerleader's pony piled high, but none of the zest for life. Instead the hopelessness writ large across your forehead and Pennsylvania coal country grime smeared across the desolate landscape of 80s Americana. Dingy diners and dives. Rah rah. Under-seen yet undeniably a masterpiece about a young woman, penniless, futureless, and now motherless, WANDA has the the unintended side-effect of inducing an appetite for American standbys in iconic locales: take-out burgers and a road-side ice cream cone. Spaghetti in pasty tomato sauce twirled with messy abandon. Flutes of pale beer. Food, and the act of eating, becomes a place of retreat, somewhere for her to withdraw to in solace. Up until now a performance of frantic gestures, clumsy fumbles. Director/star Barbara Loden (notably a Tony winner, less importantly Elia Kazan's paramour), as Wanda, eats with deliberation and poise, plucking her potato chips just a few at a time, all bird-like. For this demoralized woman, merely an afterthought to those around her, dining proves a moment of respite to be savored in her dead-end universe. Read more on MUBI.


Smashed and griddled, a mere half-inch high. barely dressed. Joe Junior's in nyc makes a fine one, in a setting that's transportive and comforting, wood panels and all.

Try it at home:

Oil or butter a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat.

Plop an ice cream scoopful (~4oz) of ground beef into the hot pan. Increase the heat, then squish with a spatula to the height of a thin patty.

Do not disturb for 90 sec; flip it over when the crust's browned, burnished.

Lay on at least two slices of American cheese, and cook the meat through. Serve on a non-brioche bun. See the recipe at NYT cooking.

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