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What's making us happy: A guide to your weekend listening, viewing and reading

Steve Lacy performs at The Fillmore Silver Spring in Maryland on Oct. 15, 2022.
Kyle Gustafson
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The Washington Post/Getty Images
Steve Lacy performs at The Fillmore Silver Spring in Maryland on Oct. 15, 2022.

This week: How to kick our holiday parties up a notch, when to put up your Christmas lights, and recipes for sweet treats.

Here's what the NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour crew was paying attention to — and what you should check out this weekend.

Midwest Modern Twitter account

I spent the first 22 years of my life in the Midwest, in the Chicago area, and then in Michigan for college. So, I have a lot of pride in the region. Architecture is my first art love. And one thing that keeps both those appreciations alive is a Twitter account called Midwest Modern. It's run by Josh Lipnik, @joshlipnik on Twitter. He mostly posts photos of buildings, but he will also post designs of things from all around the Midwest, both in big cities and small towns, of buildings from over the past century and even earlier. I think he has a really great eye, he sees value in just about everything. The account brings the beauty of the Midwest to the Internet. – Danny Hensel

Unclear and Present Danger

I recommend the podcast Unclear and Present Danger. It is hosted by Jamelle Bouie and John Ganz. The initial mission is to talk about '90s, post-Cold War thrillers. However, they are expanding it in certain ways, including through their Patreon. I find it to be a really nice balance between fun, but also serious and analytical politics. It's a really smart way to take popular culture and engage with its very specific moment. They also talk about The Firm and The Fugitive. They talk about a lot of films with political content that is a little different from straightforward post-Cold War films like The Hunt for Red October. – Linda Holmes

Recipes from my mom

Picture of Bob Mondello's mother on a checkered shortbread and bourbon ball background.
/ Bob Mondello
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Bob Mondello

I don't know if it's just because we've been talking about The Fabelmans which is in the context of my childhood or if it's just the season. But I have been thinking about a couple of my mom's holiday recipes. I am not a baker. I don't really know how to do it, but I used to love when she would start making things. She would allow me to stick my hands into it and squish the dough together. They were just amazing. There were two things she always made. One of them was bourbon balls, and the other one was shortbread. The shortbread only had three ingredients. It had four cups of flour, a cup and a third of sugar and a pound of salted butter. Obviously good for you.

Mondello's Mom's Shortbread
4 cups flour
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 lb (four sticks) butter
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut butter into flour and sugar with knife. Crumble mixture with fingers, and pat mixture into Pyrex dish. Bake for 45 minutes (10 mins into baking, poke some holes with fork). Cut shortbread into squares immediately after removing from oven (DO NOT WAIT FOR COOLING) but leave in the Pyrex dish. Remove to platter only when completely cool.

... And then, of course, you pop them in your mouth and they're so good. The shortbread is really simple. I've been finding recipes online that have everything from baking soda to vanilla to salt and all kinds of other things. This recipe has just three ingredients, which I thought was fantastic. – Bob Mondello

Gemini Rights

I recently discovered Steve Lacy's album, Gemini Rights and I have been listening to it for the last few weeks. It is for me, a no skips album. I love the song "Bad Habit." It doesn't sound like anything else on the radio right now, which I think is partially why it's been so successful and, for me, such a revelation.

"Bad Habit" is a song about having a crush on someone and thinking that they weren't into you, but then realizing maybe too late that they actually were. And questioning why you didn't pursue it. The whole album is great. One of my other favorite songs is "Helmet," which is kind of like Stevie Wonder meets Sly and the Family Stone in the best way possible. Steve Lacy was a guitarist and producer with The Internet and in his solo career he's making some really interesting, fun, groovy music. – Aisha Harris

More recommendations from the Pop Culture Happy Hour newsletter

by Aisha Harris

NPR's Books We Love! is back for a 10th year.
/ NPR
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NPR
NPR's Books We Love! is back for a 10th year.

Last week, our friends on the Book Desk launched their annual "Books We Love" guide – a cornucopia of recommendations for the year's 400-plus(!) best reads. (Which includes our very own Linda Holmes!)

I rarely watch movie trailers, unless I'm already in a theater and forced to sit through previews, or it's for a franchise where there's little room for surprise or novelty to begin with. Which is why I'm fully on board with Vox critic Alissa Wilkinson's argument against viewing trailers as a general rule, because most of them are really bad at conveying what a movie is actually about. Go in cold! You might like some films better if you did.

If you love Christmas music but can't stand the new stuff or are a little over the old standbys, then check out the days-long Spotify playlist "FaLaLaLaLa Sentimental Christmas Shuffle-List." It's mostly songs of the easy listening/jazz variety circa the mid-20th Century, and features lesser played versions of familiar songs (Jackie Gleason – yes, from The Honeymooners – singing "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm") as well as novelty songs you've likely never even heard of ("When Santa Claus Gets Your Letter" by ... Captain Kangaroo?).


NPR's Pilar Galvan adapted the Pop Culture Happy Hour segment "What's Making Us Happy" into a digital page. If you like these suggestions, consider signing up for our newsletter to get recommendations every week. And listen to Pop Culture Happy Hour on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Linda Holmes
Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.
Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.
Aisha Harris is a host of Pop Culture Happy Hour.
Pilar Galvan
Pilar Galvan (she/her) is a reporter whose work focuses on the intersections of media and culture. She is passionate about film, music and sports. She recently graduated from Yale University where she double majored in anthropology, specializing in ethnomusicology, and art, concentrating in digital media. She previously worked in digital media at art institutions including MoMA PS1 in Queens, NY, and the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon, Portugal.