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5th Annual Latke Festival Comes to New York City

5th Annual Latke Festival Comes to New York City


The event took over the Metropolitan Pavilion

Dan Myers

Commerce served a scallion latke with farmer’s cheese, smoked salmon, and caviar

The fifth annual Lake Festival took over New York City’s Metropolitan Pavilion on Monday evening, Dec. 2, smack-dab in the middle of Hanukkah, and 17 local restaurants got in on the action, turning out some spectacular and creative twists on the traditional Hanukkah staple.

Kutsher’s Tribeca served a Peking duck-topped offering; Veselka’s was topped with braised pork and cherry compote; Mile End served a butternut squash latke with fresh sage; Commerce served a classy scallion latke with farmer’s cheese, smoked salmon, and caviar (pictured); The Plaza Hotel served a duck fat-fried latke with duck confit; Delicatessen’s sweet potato latke was topped with a slider made from ground brisket; Stone Park’s was filled with braised short rib and topped with smoked crème fraîche and sour cherry compote; Toloache served a yucca latke with salmon pastrami; and The Butterfly served a latke topped with sliced prime rib, caramelized onions, and horseradish cream. To top is off, Dough was on hand, giving away donuts filled with either strawberry jam or passion fruit cream.

As delicious as those may sound, the restaurants walked away empty-handed, as the award for "Best Latke — Judges’ Choice" went to Mae Mae Café’s latke with maple mascarpone and cranberry bourbon sauce, and Benchmark took the "People’s Choice" title for its caraway-scented latke with a slab of short rib pastrami, truffled sauerkraut, and mustard crème.

The event featured what must have been some of the most creative latkes ever constructed, and the crowd was more than eager to try them all. If you didn’t have a chance to make it this year, be on the lookout for it next time Hanukkah rolls around.


Biden’s HUD secretary violated Hatch Act with election talk: watchdog

Andrew Yang, the apparent frontrunner in the New York mayoral race, likes to cast himself as someone whose lack of government experience will allow him to be an imaginative leader. But his pricey new proposal on one of the city’s biggest issues — post-pandemic housing — shows him to be an unimaginative follower.

Yang joins Eric Adams, Kathryn Garcia, Scott Stringer and others in accepting the idea that the city must help finance “affordable housing.” In a Bill de Blasio redux scheme, Yang this week proposed spending $32 billion for 250,000 subsidized apartments, part of his vision to make New York the “anti-poverty city.” Eric Adams is no less grandiose, promising “affordable housing for all who need it.”

Yang and the others have simply not noticed that the city already has more public and subsidized housing than any other US city — and what’s more, the post-pandemic housing market has changed dramatically.

Not only have some 300,000 New Yorkers left the city — meaning less demand — but the most recent data show that such change has mattered. The well-regarded Corcoran Report for the first quarter of 2021 shows Manhattan rents sharply down: 18 percent for studios, 14 percent for one-bedrooms, 11 percent for two-bedrooms and 18 percent for three-bedrooms.

Rents are becoming more affordable on their own: They’re down a whopping 27 percent in both Soho and Murray Hill, for instance. And a key measure of vacancies, the so-called “visible vacancy” rate, reached nearly 5 percent last year and still stands at 3.85 percent (and it’s probably an underestimate).

Nonetheless, Scott Stringer has declared his campaign to be all about defeating the “gentrification-industrial complex.” Huh? Doesn’t he realize rents are down and vacancies up?

Failing to acknowledge the changed city puts mayoral candidates in de Blasio-style groupthink. The outgoing mayor, in his newly announced spending plan, would devote $1.45 billion to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development’s capital budget.

Yet New York already has more public housing and rent-regulated units than anywhere else. We’ve got more housing-voucher-backed homes than anywhere else, as well.

Indeed, more of our housing is non-market than any other city, both in total and as a percentage. All in all, some 1.3 million units — 61 percent of occupied New York rentals or 42 percent of all New York homes — are price-regulated in one way or another, according to the New York City Rent Guidelines Board. In that respect, New York differs radically from most American cities, where public-housing programs are small, subsidized construction limited and rent regulation nonexistent.

An imaginative mayoral candidate would connect the dots to help voters understand that there’s a connection between all that affordable housing and the city’s perennial housing crisis. Our housing-turnover rates have been among the lowest of big cities. Now that we’re seeing a COVID exodus, that’s finally changing — and thus rents are falling.

Andrew Yang is among the mayoral candidates that need to rethink how they approach affordable housing. Matthew McDermott

An imaginative candidate would speed up the conversion of illegal basement-apartment units in Queens and the Rockaways to safe and formal housing — helping low-income minority owners increase their wealth. An imaginative candidate would look to the sale of high-value public-housing projects — and use the funds realized to compensate tenants so they can move up and out. An imaginative candidate would discuss how to phase out public housing, not trap its residents in long-term poverty.

An imaginative candidate would hold his fire on housing policy until the completion of this year’s census report on the city’s housing market — which could show the vacancy rate has topped the 5 percent threshold required by the rent-stabilization law to do away with rent caps. Indeed, an imaginative candidate would raise the question of whether rent stabilization makes sense in a city that has hemorrhaged residents.

What poor New Yorkers — like all New Yorkers — can least “afford” is a city whose mayor fails to provide effective basic services: public safety, sanitation, education, parks and recreation, treatment for mentally ill street people (a k a the “homeless”). Budgets imply choices. Financing more and more subsidized housing inevitably means less and less for core services.

This, in other words, is the worst time to divert public spending to build more subsidized housing — when the market itself is adjusting downward and basic needs are going unmet.

Howard Husock is an adjunct scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a contributing editor of City Journal.


Notable Quote

"Jewish food makes Italian food seem like Lean Cuisine." —Joan Rivers

Classic, still-thriving eateries including Russ & Daughters, Katz&aposs Delicatessen, and Sammy&aposs Roumanian Steakhouse share their comfort food recipes and celebrities—including Bette Midler, Lou Reed, and Isaac Mizrahi—share their memories of favorite Yiddish dishes. "I look at Jewish food and think, &aposHow can anyone hate the Jews with all of the scrumptious things they produce?&apos" Joan Rivers writes in her posthumous introduction for the book. "The food of my childhood . prune hamantaschen, a good macaroon, tzimmes! I&aposm in heaven."

These crispy-on-the-outside, fluffy-on-the-inside latkes are one of our favorite recipes from the packed cookbook. The recipe comes directly from New York&aposs famed 2nd Ave Deli and is best enjoyed in the light of a menorah, surrounded by family.

Makes: 20 latkes

2½ pounds potatoes, peeled and quartered2 large onions (use 1½ grated don&apost tamp down)3 eggs, beaten2 cups matzo meal1 cup flour3/4 cup corn oil½ cup corn oil for frying2½ teaspoons salt1 teaspoon pepperapplesaucesour cream

1. In a food processor, fine-grate potatoes (don&apost liquefy leave some texture), and strain to eliminate excess liquid. Don&apost overdo it just let the water drain out.2. Fine-grate onion, and mix in a large bowl with potatoes. (If you don&apost have a food processor, you can grind the potatoes and onions in a met grinder.)3. Add eggs, baking powder, 3/4 cup of corn oil (most of it cooks out), flour, salt, and pepper mix well. Fold in matzo meal, making sure that everything is very well blended.4. Heat ½ cup corn oil in a deep skillet. Spoon batter (use a large kitchen spoon) into the pan to create pancakes about 3½ inches in diameter. Fry on low heat for 3 to 4 minutes until underside is a deep golden brown, turn, and fry another minute or two.5. Drain on paper towel.6. Serve with applesauce and/or sour cream.


Woke Medicine Comes to New York City

Medical workers tend to a patient at a Brooklyn hospital that has seen a rise in coronavirus-related cases on December 15, 2020 in New York City. / Getty Images Aaron Sibarium • April 20, 2021 5:00 am

A pair of doctors at Brigham and Women's Hospital last month outlined a pilot program that, they said, would offer "preferential care" to patients of color. The proposal, published in Boston Review, accuses hospitals across the country of practicing "medical apartheid"—something they said must be addressed through "race-explicit interventions."

Those interventions may violate civil rights laws, and Brigham and Women's Hospital assured the Washington Free Beacon that they are "not currently underway at the hospital." That hasn't stopped one of its authors, Dr. Michelle Morse, from moving on up: She is now the chief medical officer of New York City.

In her new post, Morse will wield enormous influence over New York's hospital system, and she has promised to use it to "advance health equity." Part of her job will be serving as a liaison between the health department and local medical centers, including three she singled out as examples of " apartheid ": Montefiore, New York-Presbyterian, and Mount Sinai. She was also named the deputy commissioner for the Center for Health Equity and Community Wellness, a division within the New York City health department.

Asked how her office would address apartheid at local hospitals, Morse did not respond to a request for comment.

Morse's ascent reflects the larger trajectory of progressive activism, which has migrated from the fringe of academia to the heart of public health bureaucracies. Vermont's health department announced this month that people of color will get first dibs on the coronavirus vaccine as a part of the state's commitment to "health equity." And in December, the Centers for Disease Control proposed vaccinating essential workers before the elderly because the elderly skew white.

Morse's march through the institutions—from foundations to fellowships and finally to a top government post—reveals how radicalism gains influence. Supported by an incestuous network of left-wing nonprofits that credentialize activists and funnel them into positions of power, activists like Morse use studies funded by those same nonprofits to give their agenda a veneer of scientific credibility. And since the nonprofits combine charity with activism, it is easy for them to launder the latter as the former, further insulating them from critique.

Take EqualHealth, which Morse cofounded after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. What began as a support system for Haitian health care workers soon became an effort to stem "the miseducation of health professionals on the root causes of illness." Those root causes, per the group's website, are racism and capitalism, which it seeks to combat through "disruptive pedagogy."

In 2015, EqualHealth founded the Social Medicine Consortium, "a collective of committed individuals, universities and organizations fighting for health equity." Morse received a $100,000 grant from the Soros Equality Fellowship three years later to launch the "Campaign Against Racism," a network of health equity activists who work to "dismantle racial capitalism."

All the while, EqualHealth continued its original work in Haiti—giving an air of humanitarian legitimacy to what became a radical group.

This sort of legitimation gives activists a foothold to further burnish their credentials. Morse went on to a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation fellowship that sent her to Washington, D.C., to work on "health equity priorities" with the House Ways and Means Committee. By the time she became New York's chief medical officer, she had experience in both nonprofits and government, making her a prime candidate for the position.

Once in power, activists are buoyed by a flood of foundation-funded studies that serve to justify their agenda. Race-conscious policies of the sort Morse advocates have found a home in prominent medical journals such as the Lancet, which in February released a Soros-supported report calling reparations a public health measure. These studies cite others from the same nonprofit complex, giving activism an air of academic legitimacy.

The Brigham and Women's Hospital proposal is a case in point. Every stage of the argument, from diagnosis to prescription, rests on foundation-funded critical race theory. The proposal borrows heavily from a paper—"Critical Race Theory, Race Equity, and Public Health: Toward Anti-Racism Praxis"—that was funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and written by two "health equity" scholars, who argue race-conscious programs are better than colorblind ones at reducing racial health disparities. As evidence for those disparities, Morse cites her own 2019 study on the relationship between race and referrals for cardiac care—which itself draws on the Kellogg-funded paper to interpret its results.

"By assuming the existence of institutional racism across all American institutions," Morse's 2019 study reads, "we can turn from research focused on documenting disparities and inequities to implementation research directed towards correcting them."

The Brigham and Women's Hospital plan also calls for reparations as a form of "medical restitution," citing a paper that claims to model their effect on COVID-19 transmission. That paper, which Morse co-authored, was likewise supported by nonprofit as well as government grants and rests on similar assumptions about institutional racism.

Estimates of disease transmissibility, the paper says, "seldom capture oppressive social forces including institutionalized racism and sexism," an omission it describes as "the symbolic violence of R0." Since reparations weren't in place, ending coronavirus lockdowns "had a disproportionate adverse mortality effect on black people" and thus "resembled a modern Tuskegee experiment."

But it is arguably doctors like Morse who are proposing medical experiments, on the very same patients they're claiming to help.

If implemented, the pilot program at Brigham and Women's Hospital would be an unprecedented act of social engineering. "Rather than rely on provider discretion or patient self-advocacy to determine whether they should go to cardiology or general medicine," the program would encourage doctors to send black and Latino heart failure patients to cardiology, on the grounds that minorities are referred less often than whites.

But the hospital's own data suggest that this could backfire, causing worse outcomes for minority patients.

Between 2007 and 2018, black heart failure patients were more than three times as likely as white heart failure patients to have end-stage renal disease, which requires a dialysis machine to treat. Since general care is used to referring patients for dialysis, patients with both heart and kidney failure may be a better fit for general care. Sending them to cardiology instead could delay life-saving treatments.

It could also lead to black patients getting too much care, rather than too little. A common critique of the American medical system is that it funnels patients to specialists instead of general care practitioners, resulting in misdiagnoses and unnecessary treatments. That excess care can have fatal consequences: Medical error is the third leading cause of death in the United States. So by increasing the rate at which black patients are referred to cardiac specialists, the program could hurt the very people it's meant to help.

Brigham and Women's Hospital may not pursue this particular medical experiment. But in her new role with the city of New York, Morse will have plenty of test subjects.


5th Annual Latke Festival Comes to New York City - Recipes

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DO JOIN US IN-PERSON OR LIVE STREAMING ONLINE FOR THIS MAGICKALLY UNIQUE EXPERIENCE…

THANK YOU, STAY SAFE AND WELL ….

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Get a reading with one of our experienced Oracles of Fates! Live Online. Book directly with your chosen Oracle of Fate.
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Escape It All and Go to a Spa

Are you not into hordes of people pushing past you for a selfie with the Rockefeller Tree? Me neither. I'm all about escaping the crowds, and treating myself to some R&R during my time off. A little self-care—say, a massage or trip to a day spa—always fills that bill. I swear you can still find some of the best massages in Chinatown, but this year I'm dying to check out BATTHOUSE in Williamsburg. And, since I live in Brooklyn, not having to leave the borough is a treat in itself. P.S. Make a dent in your gift shopping at Artist & Fleas and Rough Trade, which are in walking distance. —Megan Spurrell


5th Annual Latke Festival Comes to New York City - Recipes

While we were looking forward with great enthusiasm to bringing the very best comedy talent and fans from around the country and the world to New York City this fall, the circumstances presented by the pandemic will prevent us from doing so. As such, we have cancelled this year's festival, which was scheduled to run from November 9 - 15. This was an extremely difficult decision to make, but after extensive discussions with the creative community, our partners, sponsors and venues, we came to the unanimous decision that it would not be possible to try to bring the talent and fans together in New York City in a safe manner. Our top priority is the health, safety and well-being of our fans, talent and everyone involved in the festival. It's during times like these when we can all use a good laugh. But, as they say in comedy, it's all in the timing. So, as we press pause for now, we look toward the future and will continue to work diligently to help bring comedy back to its place as an essential part of New York City's cultural landscape in the coming year, as we are already in the process of planning for 2021. The 2021 NYCF will take place from November 8 - 14. We are grateful for your continued support and look forward to seeing you very soon.


2020 Champions

Partner ◦ Benefactor ◦ Patron ◦ Promoter ◦ Producer
Karen Advocate-Connolly & Thomas Connolly ◦ Kath Andersen & MaryLisa Kinney ◦ Danielle & Rick Arnstein ◦ Baker & Dr. Nadine Chang ◦ Dr. Nazila Baria and Thomas Van de Ven ◦ Diana Ayala ◦ Angela Barkan ◦ Amy & Brad Barr ◦ Stephanie Bell ◦ Miriam Biolek-Jones & Brian Jones ◦ Isabel Carvalho & Courtney Lagace ◦ Matt Castellan ◦ Jack Chen ◦ Vincent Cloud ◦
Claire Goodman Pellegrini Cloud ◦ Bonnie Comley & Stewart F. Lane ◦ Jodi & Andrew Dady ◦ Erika Dillon & Timothy Donovan ◦ Zeke Duarte ◦ Deborah & Ron Eisenberg ◦
Lauren Elliston & Ning Yao ◦ Benjamin Ezrick ◦ Liz Flood & Zachary Alper ◦ Amy Frankel & Martin McCarthy ◦ Ashley Garrett & Alan Jones ◦ Angela & Richard Geiger ◦ Leigh & Jared Gerstenblatt ◦ Vickie & Steve Griffith ◦ Aylin Gucalp ◦ Lynn Hackney & Kimberly Hoover ◦ Nicole Hadi and Carlos Rios ◦ Alexandra Harper ◦ Susan & Larry Hauser ◦ Kim Haxton & Charles Dougiello ◦
Andy Heller ◦ Lynn Hackney & Kimberly Hoover ◦ Dorit Ingber & Michael Corwin ◦ Robert Jetter ◦ Richard Kaufman ◦ Diane Keimig ◦ Holly Kelly & Andrew Lipsky ◦ Grace Kim ◦
La Vida Feliz Foundation ◦ Michael Lee ◦ Tara Liberman & Michael T. Cohen ◦ Tony Longhini ◦ Tara Kraft Lowenstein & Michael Rotter ◦ Dianne McKeever & Shreyas Gupta ◦ Kevin McVey ◦
Jeffrey Morgan ◦ Kathleen & Lou Pastina ◦ Nick Patnaik ◦ Mariel Pearl ◦ Stan Perelman ◦ Dana & Mike Robinson ◦ Sydney Rose ◦ Chelsea & Morwin Schmookler ◦
Jolie & Gabriel Schwartz ◦ Beesham A. Seecharan ◦ Jill & Jeff Sellars ◦ Sapna & Ashish Shah ◦ Peter Slavish ◦ Michele Spano & Gary Boigon ◦ Tara Sweeney & Erin Sweeney ◦ Maxim Tyorkin ◦
Rachael & Richard Wells ◦ Gail & Ranan Wichler ◦ Alessandro Zanelli ◦ Anonymous Donors

Director ◦ Friend ◦ Devotee
Sarah Abrams ◦ Bill Austin ◦ Ken Austin ◦ Prachi Bansal ◦ Patricia M. Beaury ◦ Somer & Andrew Bromwell ◦ Eric Brown ◦ Beverly Bryer-McLean ◦ Justin Burruto & Michael Duffy ◦
Cindy Cardinal & Daniel Tamkin ◦ Laurel Christy ◦ Michael R. Clarke ◦ Sandy Cook ◦ Gwen Darien & Jonathan Sibley ◦ Corey Delany ◦ Suzanne Denton ◦ Paul DiDonato ◦ Anthony Demby ◦
Suzanne Denton ◦ Joanna Donahue Soleil & Martin Montonye ◦ Andrew K. Fader ◦ Annette Ferstenberg & Jesse Goodman ◦ Andrea Fine ◦ Christine Flaherty ◦ Marc Freidus ◦ Chris George ◦ Elizabeth Greenstein ◦ Ruth Harbin & Sylvia Woodall ◦ Victoria Harmon ◦ Dale Harris ◦ Shawn Hart ◦ Patricia Hill ◦ Mark Hirshorn ◦ Ben & Lauren Holzman ◦ Carl Howard ◦ Jack Gray ◦
Amy Jacques & Mike Greenhaus ◦ Hephzibah H. Grossberndt ◦ Debra A. James ◦ Claude & Maureen Johnston ◦ Pam & David Jones ◦ Audrey Kelley & Jon Egan ◦ Lisa & Norman Kinel ◦ Kathy King ◦ S. Kitchens ◦ Gary Krantz ◦ Michelle Kring ◦ Jobie & Dan LaBelle ◦ Jason Lampert ◦ Maribel Ledezma-Williams ◦ Andrew Levine ◦ Ellen & Martin Levine ◦ Lisa Levine ◦ Erica Linderholm ◦
Jayne Lipman ◦ Marisa Manning ◦ Jessica A. Masella & James V. Masella, III ◦ Elizabeth McDonough ◦ Michael Murphy ◦ Gal Niv ◦ Doug Olcott ◦ Elliana M. Openshaw ◦ Jane Petrino ◦ Judy Pinals ◦
Aaron Pollack ◦ Rachel Quinones ◦ Taylor Raftree & Eric Steriu ◦ Carol Rattray ◦ Lyndsey Read & Peyton Boswell ◦ Patty & Greg Remington ◦ Lauren Rich ◦ Alex R. Rivas ◦ Marcie & Jeff Rowe ◦ Cheryl Russell ◦ Alan Sbarsky ◦ Elaine Schattner ◦ Samantha & Will Schneider ◦ Robert Schulman ◦ Jason Schulweis ◦ Drew Seath ◦ Sandra Shatkin ◦ Victoria Shaw & Luc Faucheux ◦ Leslie Silver ◦
Rhett Silver, MD ◦ Katherine Stallings & Jon Bren ◦ Nik Sturgis ◦ Xenia Tomlinson & Sonia Prescod ◦ Nancy & Jose V. Torres ◦ Alyssa & Bradley Tucker ◦ T.N. Tung ◦ Elizabeth Wade Smith ◦
Knisha Walters ◦ Ziggy Weiss ◦ Erik Weller ◦ Morgan White ◦ Josh Wiener ◦ Melissa Wohlgemuth & Matt Howard ◦ Robert Wu ◦ Li-Shin Yu & John Reese ◦ Daniel Zaccagnino ◦ Anonymous Donors

THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT

Ruth & Randy Abend ◦ Kath Andersen & MaryLisa Kinney ◦ Elvis Andrade ◦ Ken Austin ◦ Baker & Dr. Nadine Chang ◦ Patricia M. Beaury ◦ Heather Breen & Jon Howard ◦ Beverly Bryer-McLean ◦ Jennifer & Brian Burchell ◦ Baker & Dr. Nadine Chang ◦ Sonia Chin ◦ Vincent Cloud ◦ Bonnie Comley & Stewart F. Lane ◦ Laurent Corbel ◦ Roderick Cotten ◦ Byron & Dana Cotton ◦ Jodi & Andrew Dady ◦ Paul DiDonato ◦ Andrea Drasites ◦ Debbie & Ron Eisenberg ◦ Bryan Erdheim ◦ Pepper Evans & Robert Lieber ◦ Andrew K Fader ◦ Joshua Fischler ◦ Andrew Fishman ◦ Ellen Garin & Peter C. Simon ◦ Leigh & Jared Gerstenblatt ◦ Jack Gray ◦ Steven Greenberg ◦ Vicki Gross and Jonathan Levine ◦ Jill & Jimmy Haber ◦ Susan & Larry Hauser ◦ Lynn Hackney & Kimberly Hoover ◦ Nicole Hadi & Carlos Rios ◦ Lehua Hamashige ◦ William T. Hardie ◦ Patrick Haskell ◦ Denise Hoguet & Jack Riordan ◦ Patty & Jeff Horing ◦ Norwitz Household ◦ Alissa & Joel Isaacson ◦ Sara Jeruss & Jane Nevins ◦ Brian & Miriam Jones ◦ La Vida Feliz Foundation ◦ Holly Kelly & Andrew Lipsky ◦ Lisa & Norman Kinel ◦ Alison & Owen King ◦ Dean Landis ◦ Brenda Levin ◦ Diane Madfes & Jared Madfes ◦ Gerri Magie & Raj Vaswani ◦ Margaret Maio & Richard Brittson ◦ Mara McGinnis ◦ Kevin McVey ◦ Christina Molinari ◦ Israel Moreno ◦ Margaret Muhlfelder ◦ Debra & Clark Pager ◦ Stan Perelman ◦ Lauren Rich ◦ Dana & Mike Robinson ◦ Sydney Rose ◦ Chelsea & Morwin Schmookler ◦ Mindy Schneider & Dr. Michael Lesser ◦ Bertil Schuil ◦ Robert Schulman ◦ Jason Schulweis ◦ Jill & Jeff Sellars ◦ Sapna & Ashish Shah ◦ Leslie Silver ◦ Michele Spano & Gary Boigon ◦ Mark Spiegel ◦ Tara Sweeney & Erin Sweeney ◦ Jennifer Trauman ◦ Gerald Walker ◦ Knisha Walters ◦ Rachael & Richard Wells ◦ Gail & Ranan Wichler ◦ Anonymous Donors


2021 Information

The 10th anniversary new york city poetry festival will take place July 24th & 25th, 2021 on Governors Island! Please stay tuned for continued updates.


'God Created Everything. Testicles Too.'

Getting to the bottom of what it means to be a man at the twenty-fifth annual Testicle Festival.

Let&rsquos get it out of the way: No, testicles do not taste like chicken. Nor, when battered thickly with flour and tossed into searing oil, do they taste like chicken-fried steak. They don&rsquot taste like meat or like morels, though I was impressed with the suggestion, given to me by a Nebraskan gourmand who claimed he comes to the event known as the Testicle Festival&mdashheld annually over Father&rsquos Day weekend at Round the Bend Steakhouse, in Ashland&mdashbecause he thinks of cow balls as an affordable alternative to rare mushrooms. Instead, cow testicles taste, simply, like offal&mdashtoothsome and musky, the occasional gristle between your teeth, like an afterthought.

My tasting experience is limited to bull nuts, testicles shorn from male cows in spring so their testosterone levels remain relatively low, leaving the animals relatively placid and their meat tender enough to sell at market. (No, you can&rsquot call them Rocky Mountain oysters, one testicle enthusiast explained to me&mdashthat term is reserved exclusively for pig nuts.) But years ago, the Testicle Festival showcased a menagerie of animal testicles: beef, pork, lamb, and, more unexpectedly, turkey. Lately, to keep prices low enough that everyone who works in and around Ashland might attend&mdashbikers, farmers, mechanics, attorneys, accountants&mdashonly cow testicles are used, about twenty-two hundred pounds of them, shipped in from all over the country and processed an hour&rsquos drive away in Diller, Nebraska. They are deep-fried, then wedged ten or twelve to a red-check paper tray, with a piece of rye bread, a pickle chip, and a squirt of a ketchup-based dip called cock sauce.

When I arrived the evening before the twenty-fifth festival began, the sun cast orange and pink light over rippling cornfields, as far as the eye could see. The bar was set on top of a gently sloping hill, and at the foot of it, an enormous sign beckoned to drivers along the highway: &ldquoWelcome to right smack dab in the middle of everywhere.&rdquo I walked into the ten-thousand-square-foot event space known as The Ball Room (pun intended), and an enormous man in a sleeveless T-shirt, arms covered in tribal tattoos, introduced himself as TJ, the owner of Round the Bend, before scooping me up into a bear hug that squeezed the breath from me. &ldquoI like to tell people, &lsquoThanks for coming out and putting my balls in your mouth,&rsquo&rdquo he said, laughing.

While the Testicle Festival in Ashland is well attended, it isn&rsquot singular in form. Testicle Festivals of all shapes and sizes have been held regularly across the country, from California to Oklahoma to Virginia. Many of them, as you might expect, have a reputation for being the stuff of frat-house nightmares, and I admit that I was a little anxious about what I might find in Nebraska. Right before I arrived in Ashland, papers reported that another, more prominent Testicle Festival just two states north in Montana had been shut down for good after two people were struck and killed by a shuttle hijacked by a drunken attendee. That festival, more commonly known by its attendees as &ldquoTesty Festy,&rdquo had been infamous for its debauchery and violence&mdashfights, fatal crashes, and stabbings were all but expected. Chuck Palahniuk once wrote an essay about the selfsame event that opened with a woman slicked with whipped cream and chocolate pudding deep-throating a cowboy onstage, to an audience whooping like frenzied hyenas.

The cultural and historical origins of these events are humble by comparison. According to The Oxford Companion to Food, the tradition of eating testicles in spring is common, at least in pastoral communities where cattle farming is a way of life. There, in keeping with the tradition of honoring the Earth and its inhabitants, nothing goes to waste, including in spring when young cattle are branded and castrated. Testicles, in this tradition, are a delicacy, enjoyed tossed on the coals of a campfire, brought home to share, or, in Nebraska, carried to Round the Bend Steakhouse after a long day, tossed on the grill, and chased with a few Budweisers. That is, at least, how TJ&rsquos father, Ron, the original proprietor of Round the Bend, came to be inspired to create a ticketed yearly event called Testicle Festival. Eventually, his party grew from a few hundred attendees to upward of thirty-seven hundred&mdashsome years they have even hired headlining country artists like Neal McCoy to perform.

That the event came to be held over Father&rsquos Day weekend speaks mostly to Ron&rsquos bawdy sense of humor, but it&rsquos also helped the Ashland Testicle Festival find a counterintuitive niche. They may not be the largest or the most prominent ball-eating event, TJ told me over the phone in the weeks leading up to the festival, but they are the most family-friendly. He said that he and his wife, Tifini, who now run the bar and festival together, wanted to make sure their community had a place where anyone could afford to celebrate their fathers. It was never a place too crazy to bring kids&mdashin their twenty-five years of operation, he said, they&rsquod never had a single brawl.

I should mention that there&rsquos something else that drew me out to Nebraska. Lately, when it comes to men, I find myself in a confusing and dispiriting headspace, compulsively pondering questions like, is my date a feminist, or is he a shitbag with decent fluency in the cultural discourse? Is my colleague successful because he is objectively talented, or because our manager is misogynist? How should I feel when a formidably large male stranger is friendly? Five years ago, I might have acquiesced, radiating in the unchecked affection and warmth of a stranger, defaulting to trust rather than suspicion. I would have laughed, genuinely, at jokes about balls and cocks&mdashwhy not? But observing the ongoing spate of high-profile sexual-assault cases as they play out on the national stage has left me more than a little paranoid about my interactions with men, to the extent that I find myself struggling with an unsettling contradiction: I am certain now, intellectually and emotionally, that men are structurally advantaged to a toxic extent in this country&mdashbut can I really dismiss 50 percent of the population based on a designation they had no say in being born into?

Can I really dismiss 50 percent of the population based on a designation they had no say in being born into?

And this is why I found myself in the arms of TJ Olson on the eve of the twenty-fifth annual Testicle Festival. I flew 1,274 miles to the predominately white, Trump-supporting state of Nebraska, to an event that exudes masculinity in its most stereotypical forms, in order to spend time considering maleness away from the coast, where it sometimes feels as though anything male or male-adjacent carries intrinsically negative connotations. I wanted to see what it might be like to arrive someplace where masculinity is, instead, a neutral value, where I might observe men being themselves&mdashare there qualities of masculinity beyond those born from the privileges of bearing a penis and an Y chromosome? I wanted to know, in other words, what it means to be a man.

To observe TJ next to his father, Ron, in the flesh, is uncanny. They are both enormous&mdashat least six foot three, if not taller, with kind, wide faces like laughing Budais. To use the term &ldquobarrel-chested&rdquo would be like calling a Nebraskan winter cold. Where TJ is bald and energetic, his face often flushing red with emotion, his father has piercing blue eyes and long silver hair, and he&rsquos reserved, his cadence deep and measured, as if everything he says is meant to crackle through a transistor radio.

A few hours before the Testicle Festival opened to the public, staff from the bar milled around us, setting up friers and stacks of merchandise. The weekend&rsquos schedule was tightly organized and distributed on clipboards there were piles of brightly colored wristbands, for guests. The well-oiled operation was a far cry from what the Testicle Festival had been twenty-five years ago, when it was really just a couple of kegs and an outdoor lot covered by a tent. In those days, Round the Bend was located in nearby South Bend, in a dive bar that the Olsons lovingly describe as a dump. The ceilings were so low you could reach up and touch them there were rolling chairs bought at auction upstate, and the carpeted floors were slanted in such a way that, &ldquoif you didn&rsquot hold on to the table or hook your leg around a table leg, you&rsquod roll away from the table,&rdquo TJ recalled, laughing. He fondly remembers Ron bartending back then&mdashpeople would come by just to have a drink and talk with him.

TJ speaks about his father in mythic terms, relaying impish tall tales about Ron that romanticize his father&rsquos irreverent bullheadedness while forgoing plot or motive. There was that time that Ron rolled up to a bank and paid a fine with two overflowing buckets of pennies, to prove some long-forgotten point. When customers at the original Round the Bend complained about their food, TJ recalls his father charging out of the kitchen himself to tell them they were wrong, they were still paying for it, and if they didn&rsquot like it, they could go pound sand. More significantly, there was the time that the old bar was falling to pieces and Ron marched into a bank, informed a lender that he intended to buy land in Ashland to build a new bar, and walked back out with a sizable loan, the same day, no questions asked.

TJ had always dreamed of taking over for his father one day, running the family business. In high school, he passed notes to Tifini waxing at length about his plans to take over for his father. They were crowned homecoming king and queen, left for school, broke up, got back together again, and before long had taken out a loan and bought the business from Ron. TJ was twenty-eight. &ldquoI wanted to take care of my mom and dad,&rdquo TJ said. &ldquoI wanted them to retire and enjoy life, because Dad worked his ass off for a lot of years, and he needed that. He deserves that.&rdquo

What was most difficult for TJ about taking over the business was reckoning with what it meant to take charge of an operation that had for so long been defined entirely by his father. &ldquo[Dad and I] would sit at the end of the bar and talk. We were both finding out I&rsquom a grown-ass man now. And that was a struggle for me,&rdquo he said. &ldquoYou&rsquore raised a certain way and you just do life the way your parents raise you to do it. We all have to figure out our own way.&rdquo

He and Tifini hired a consultant to help them grow the company and bring the business above board. Little by little, TJ began to make Round the Bend his own. &ldquoI was tired of arguing with the customer and I thought, I&rsquom just going to go and we&rsquore going to talk to them. I mean, you go out and they&rsquore like, 'This isn&rsquot medium rare,' and they&rsquore still wrong. But it&rsquos not &lsquoYou&rsquore wrong, still paying for it, now get out.&rdquo It&rsquos &lsquoThis is medium-rare when you come here, and I apologize that this isn&rsquot what you were expecting, but this is what we do.&rsquo&rdquo

I asked Ron if it was difficult to watch the transition. He paused and TJ interjected, grinning at his father. &ldquoI told her, we&rsquore good to talk tension,&rdquo he said. &ldquoWe&rsquoll just hit each other, it&rsquoll be fine.&rdquo Ron smiled and told me the hardest part for him, in truth, was losing access to the bar. &ldquoThey didn&rsquot give me a key,&rdquo he said. &ldquoI couldn&rsquot do the things I used to do. I couldn&rsquot go and grab a bottle of whiskey to take home, couldn&rsquot grab a case of beer.&rdquo TJ nodded solemnly and told me, &ldquoWe changed the locks, no key. No alarm code. We wanted a clean break.&rdquo

&ldquoThey just ran things different than I was,&rdquo Ron said. He sighed. &ldquoIt was tough to break for a while there, but you know, I'm enjoying retirement now. I don&rsquot have to get up in the morning if I don&rsquot want to, and if I wanna go to Montana, I go to Montana and enjoy God&rsquos country.&rdquo

As much as the bar had changed, TJ said he felt it still hewed to the same values with which Ron had raised him&mdashthe words were different, but the tune was the same. &ldquoYou&rsquore going to provide for your family,&rdquo he said. &ldquoYou&rsquore going to screw up along the way, you&rsquore maybe not going to do it right, but you&rsquore going to try.&rdquo That&rsquos what being a man was about, he told me. And he&rsquod increasingly come to believe that part of his responsibility to provide meant providing for his community as well, by bringing folks together at a bar with good prices and good food, through the Testicle Festival. He paused, for a moment struck by a thought, uncharacteristically stern.

&ldquoLook, we just want to be honest with you,&rdquo he said, looking me directly in the eyes. I wondered what could possibly be on his mind. &ldquoWe&rsquore Christians,&rdquo he says, maintaining eye contact with me, while gesturing to himself and Tifini, as if to say, if I didn&rsquot like it, I could go pound sand. He told me that when he and Tifini took over, they felt like the Testicle Festival was an opportunity to exercise the values of their faith. (Ron, for his part, does not identify as a Christian, but he didn&rsquot have any problems with his son&rsquos faith or a less secular Testicle Festival.)

&ldquoJesus welcomed everyone, he took care of everyone,&rdquo TJ said. And while he and Tifini didn&rsquot actively proselytize, if the opportunity to share his faith presented itself, late into the night or over a couple of beers, he said he would not shy away. I marveled at the richness of the connection. A Testicle Festival, held annually over Father&rsquos Day weekend, as a way of honoring a holier patriarch.

&ldquoIt&rsquos why we like to call this our little city on a hill,&rdquo Tifini said.

&ldquoYeah, it&rsquos like, let&rsquos spread the word, through balls,&rdquo TJ said, laughing.

Tifini puts her hand on my arm, gently. &ldquoGod created everything,&rdquo she said. &ldquoTesticles, too.&rdquo

That afternoon, following a heartfelt opening prayer, a local band took the stage, playing a cover of Fall Out Boy&rsquos &ldquoSugar, We&rsquore Going Down&rdquo as if it were a bar-fight banger. Servers swooped around The Ball Room and its adjacent outdoor space in bright yellow shirts, clearing tables, greeting old faces, and hawking koozies emblazoned with the words &ldquoKing of Balls.&rdquo There were bikers in studded leather jackets and red bandanas sunning themselves in good Nebraska sunlight, and bronzed women in crop tops and cowboy hats chatting idly by the bar. And, of course, there were fathers and sons. It was Father&rsquos Day weekend at the Testicle Festival, after all.

Sitting just outside at a wooden table was a father coaxing his young son into trying a bull nut. &ldquoIt&rsquos just fried chicken, buddy,&rdquo he lied, tousling the boy&rsquos hair with a hand. Nearby, a seven-year-old boy had eaten an entire carton of nuts on his own. &ldquoDoes your dad teach you what it means to be a man?&rdquo I asked him. &ldquoNot really,&rdquo he responded. &ldquoReally?&rdquo his dad said, incredulously, picking him up and placing him on a table, to look him in the eyes. &ldquoIt&rsquos important to take care of sister,&rdquo he said softly. The boy nodded and looked at me. &ldquoHe taught me how to break a tree branch with my hands to build a tent,&rdquo he said, and his father put his hand on the boy&rsquos shoulder. &ldquoWe talk about how important it is to do what&rsquos right,&rdquo he said. &ldquoAnd no matter what he does,&rdquo he turned back to look at his son, &ldquoyour sister should feel safe when she comes to you.&rdquo

Nearby a group of four strapping middle-aged men leaned against a chain-link fence wearing ripped T-shirts&mdashand kilts. "I had all these older ladies keep trying to up-skirt me," one of them told me, when I asked about their outfits. He explained that they were wilderness survivalists, an old group of friends who occasionally ventured into the Nebraskan wilds, to practice living off the earth. The kilts were a practical consideration&mdashwearing a skirt and nothing else makes attending to the call of nature, let&rsquos say, a breeze. They told me they regularly took their sons out into the woods for survival weekends, too, in part to help them learn about becoming men. When I asked what that meant, to them, they listed off what they described as &ldquofive qualities for good men,&rdquo as if they knew them by heart: leading courageously, resisting passivity, accepting responsibility, investing eternally, and embodying a spiritual patience.

I drifted over to a woman wearing a shirt that read, &ldquoReal men smell like diesel and cow shit.&rdquo She told me she&rsquod made it herself, and I asked her what she meant by the aphorism. She explained that she worked on a farm and was interested only in men who could share that experience. "We prefer the country boys to the city ones," she said. &ldquoWith city boys, it's all about money and items in stores. Country boys have empathy and compassion for nature,&rdquo she said. And in place of flowers or gifts or expensive dinners, &ldquoa country person goes out and looks at the stars," she added. When I asked her if she thought good men resided primarily in the country, she paused. "Well, there are shitheads anywhere." A few women in cropped T-shirts and cowboy hats overheard me and wandered over. They heard I was asking about good men. &ldquoGood men dance,&rdquo one said glibly, and urged me to spend some time observing the men who hit the dance floor and those who didn&rsquot.

Well, there are shitheads anywhere.

Close by was a group of men&mdashfriends whose sons had grown up together and were now raising sons of their own. I asked them all what they felt was most important to teach boys: &ldquoFor sure patience, not everything goes your way, but you still have to deal with it,&rdquo one said. And another: &ldquoAct in accordance to the Bible that&rsquos the base of how you&rsquore supposed to act as a person, really.&rdquo Themes began to emerge as I chatted with countless fathers and sons about how to teach boys to become good men: Treat women with respect. Take responsibility for yourself and your loved ones. Develop a strong work ethic. And something less expected: &ldquoYou gotta show them love&mdashas far as I&rsquom concerned, that&rsquos all there is,&rdquo one father told me. &ldquoYou can&rsquot be afraid to show them affection.&rdquo

It didn&rsquot escape me that if I were back in New York, by this point, the topics of feminism, the patriarchy, and privilege would have surely become recurrent. And yet, though I never once heard those terms explicitly articulated, I still felt their presence throughout the weekend. Inextricable to my conversations about raising sons was the implicit recognition of how disadvantaged it is to be female in this country, and what it meant to raise children, to be human, in light of that disadvantage. I came to feel as though the people I spoke with were reckoning with the same institutional issues I was, in whatever shape or form they took in their lives. You don&rsquot need to have a degree in women&rsquos studies to understand misogyny and want to do something about it, after all. For their part, Tifini and TJ had described to me a plan for their own daughter, when I asked whether they would encourage her to take on the family business. They said they wanted her to learn the value of hard work from an early age and hoped she would go on to attend college, they told me. But they&rsquod privately set up a fund that she&rsquod be able to access in her thirties, so when the time came, she might pursue her own dreams, whatever they might be.

I ran into Tifini in a moment of chaos, and she stopped to see how I was doing, if I needed anything. We talked about her faith, what it was like for her to grow up in Denver and move to Nebraska. Eventually the conversation drifted to a recent Supreme Court case, in which a Colorado baker refused service to a gay couple for their wedding, citing religious freedom. I asked her if they&rsquod ever encountered similar dilemmas in their work, and she said that, in fact, they&rsquod had two women email them the previous year and ask to have their wedding reception at The Ball Room.

She said they&rsquod welcomed the women, of course, because that&rsquos what Jesus would do. But she said she had struggled with deciding whether she should conceal her own faith from the couple. She said that she and TJ had always considered transparency to be one of the core values of their business, and &ldquoall of the sudden the rubber met the road.&rdquo She decided, in the end, to disclose that they were Christians. &ldquoYou have to know that we love Jesus, and you are welcome and we&rsquoll treat you with dignity,&rdquo she said she wrote to them.

Listening to her speak, it was hard not to consider my own presence at the festival. If I had been concerned about what it might be like to come to the Testicle Festival, it had been just as risky, if not more so, for TJ and Tifini to embrace a journalist from New York who has predominantly written for publications that tend to dismiss their part of the country as a conservative hellhole. Yet, I&rsquod felt deeply welcome all weekend, and it didn&rsquot escape me that a great part of that ease had to do with a pervasive compassion, allowing me to be who I was rather than expecting me to be a fake-news propagator, a coastal elite, or, really, anything at all.

As the sun set and a crowd gathered to watch a brilliant fireworks display set to Bruce Springsteen&rsquos &ldquoBorn in the U.S.A.,&rdquo my mind drifted back to my original fixations on masculinity. I tried to put words to what I&rsquod learned over the weekend, observing men as they filtered in and out of The Ball Room. There were men who danced, men who didn&rsquot. Men who were busy building pyramids of empty cans with their friends, and their girlfriends. Men who didn&rsquot drink, or eat testicles, at all. And I realized that everything anyone told me that day about being a man had little to do with being male as much as it had to do with being moral: Strive to be a thoughtful human being who practices self-awareness in your treatment of others. In the face of human complexity, I suppose it is always disingenuous to concoct a thesis.

&ldquoNo farm stuff at all?&rdquo he asked, incredulously.

A father I interviewed earlier in the day approached me after the fireworks and said he&rsquod only just learned that I&rsquod flown in all the way from New York. &ldquoJust for this?&rdquo he asked. I nodded and explained that, in part, I&rsquod come to try to better understand men. He laughed and joked that he could set me up, if I wanted to stay in Nebraska. &ldquoI can introduce you to some cowboys!&rdquo he said. He furrowed his brow. &ldquoDo you know how to do farm stuff?&rdquo he asked. I told him I didn&rsquot. &ldquoNo farm stuff at all?&rdquo he asked, incredulously. Really, no, I said. No farm stuff. &ldquoWhat did you do when you were a kid?&rdquo he exclaimed, throwing his hands up in disbelief.

On the last day of the festival, a few hours before the ball-eating contest, I spotted Ron sitting at a table in The Ball Room, having a beer and presiding over conversation at his table. I sat down next to him, and we chatted about how he thought the festival was going. It wasn&rsquot long before he began dreamily recalling festivals past and his dreams long ago.

&ldquoI wanted to take the Testicle Festival on the road,&rdquo he said, his eyes growing soft. &ldquoI thought it&rsquod be nice to get a semi and load all our crap in there and go to fairgrounds. I thought that&rsquod just be the nuts. literally,&rdquo he said, laughing. &ldquoI always thought that people in New York should know what goes on here in the frontier.&rdquo


Watch the video: 5th NIFF 2013 Childerns Dance Performance