This plating account for Fig Newtons is genuinely *chef’s kiss*

Chicken Nuggets Fig Newtons
Chicken Nuggets Fig Newtons

Image: Courtesy of julia bell

For all their complex flavor, Fig Newtons are a deeply stigmatized cookie-cake hybrid. It’s the supermarket staple for “unhip” baby boomers, and one of the most under-appreciated snacks in the vending machine.

Some people are able to find love in their hearts for this ancient treat. Julia Bell, a 22-year-old college student has broken the code of silence around Fig Newtons and declared her love for the delicacy with her Fig Newtons plating account, @Fignudes.

The account treats Newtons like it’s part of haute cuisine, not some culinary underclass.

“I think they are pretty stigmatized,” Bell told Mashable. “They have a weird demographic — the only people who really eat them are really young people and really old people. I hadn’t had one in years in early elementary school before I started living with this girl a few summer ago. She started buying them … [and even though] they have this sad reputation as a disgruntled cookie, they have a more complex flavor than a lot of other convenience foods. They can pair with a lot of other flavors, savory and sweet — compared to Pop-Tarts, which is all sweet.”

Bell decided to start plating her Fig Newtons precisely because of their complexity. In her mind, they deserved to be plated just as much as other, high-end food.

“You see so many plates of really exquisitely prepared food on social media. It was such a stark contrast to everything I was eating while living on a student budget and trying to cook for myself. So I thought it would be funny to make what I was eating look what I was seeing online.”

On Fignudes, Newtons aren’t just plated. They’re garnished. They’re herb-crusted and made into weeknight recipes. They’re aromatized, whatever the hell that means. 

They’re beautiful.

Bell takes all the photos herself. By posting her account to the Culinary Plating subreddit, she was able to accrue almost 5,000 followers in just a few months. Sometimes, Bell says, her account makes it to the top of the subreddit. Other times, it’s labeled as spam because folks can’t believe it’s real.

For Bell, it’s all very humorous and all very real. The account is both a send-up of food culture as it is a celebration of it. Fig Newtons, she claims, are just as removed and intangible as other more traditionally upscale foods. Most people don’t have access to haute cuisine. And most people don’t understand the inscrutable chemicals that go into convenience store treats.

They’re both equally removed from regular people:

“A really highbrow plate of food — you won’t even know what it is,” Bell argues. “The ingredients have been so worked over, the language is a little inaccessible. But that’s also true of lowbrow food. If you were to look at a Pop-Tart, you couldn’t pick out many food elements of it.”

Folks, I encourage you to cast aside your prejudices and reconsider the Newton. It’s more than a cookie. It’s more than a cake. And screw it, it’s more than a cookie-cake hybrid. The Fig Newton a work of goddamn art, everyone, and finally we have the Instagram account to prove it.

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Time’s Up pushes Hollywood to hire female directors with #4PercentChallenge

It's about damn time this changes
It’s about damn time this changes

Image: Getty ImagesSonia Recchia/Getty Images

Over the past year hashtags like #MeToo and #TimesUp made waves in Hollywood. Yet the reality remains that #OscarsSoMale was trending once again this year in large response to the all-male nominees picked for best director.

Last year, Greta Gerwig’s nomination made her only the fifth woman in history to ever get recognized in category.

But the #4PercentChallenge demands change, not only for 2020 but to the fundamental systems keeping women out of leadership roles like directing. Organized by Time’s Up and the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, the hashtag already has big names committing to announcing projects with at least one female director within the next 18 months.

Kicked off by Tessa Thompson at Sundance on Friday, Jan. 25, plenty more stars followed suit over the weekend to all take up the challenge, including Oscar-nominated Get Out director Jordan Peele, Captain Marvel‘s Brie Larson, Crazy Rich Asians star Constance Wu, Star Wars director J.J. Abrams, and Reese Witherspoon.

The 4% statistic comes from the Annenberg Initiative’s finding that, “only 4% of the top 100 studio films were directed by women.” 

This isn’t for lack of talent, either. The cycle that gives so few women opportunities to take on leadership roles has perpetuated itself for too long in Hollywood. Women are given such few chances to prove themselves as directors, which gives studios the excuse to not hire them on the basis of lack of experience.

The new initiative hopes to pressure those studios into breaking down the systemic gatekeeping. And with the recent finding that women-led entertainment performs better at the box office, there’s ample incentive to meet that challenge.  

But access and opportunity aren’t the only challenge women directors face when it comes to getting their work recognized in Hollywood. In a Twitter thread, Women and Hollywood founder Melissa Silverstein called out the industry after the 2019 Oscar nominations were announced.

She pointed to how even when women do manage to get directing jobs, they are often given far less resources to both make their films and also campaign them for awards season. 

There were great, critically-acclaimed films in 2018 directed by women, like Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here and Marielle Heller’s Can You Ever Forgive Me. And there’s logistical reasons to why they’re not being considered by most major award committees.

Hopefully, social media initiatives like the #4PercentChallenge and #RememberTheLadies will begin the work tearing down these barriers.

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What the hell is going on in ‘Serenity,’ an explainer

Here’s the best spoiler-free description I can give you of Serenity: It’s Matthew McConaughey starring in a Nicolas Cage movie. Not a normal one either. We’re talking about one of those weird cult favorites, like The Wicker Man or 2018’s Mandy.

This isn’t a review of Serenity, nor is it any kind of critical look at the movie (though some of that might seep in since it’s hard to talk about Serenity without explaining how it lands). If you’re reading these words right now, it’s because you want to know what the big deal is with this bonkers assemblage of film frames. I’m going to tell you.

Here’s your one and only spoiler warning. I will say: Serenity probably shines the brightest when you see it spoiler-free. But I also understand that some people would rather know. So past this point, the resplendent absurdity of Serenity will be on naked display in all its terrible glory.

THE PLOT

Where to start? The movie bares its deeply weird tendencies slowly, so I’ll do the same. Serenity is about an obsessed fisherman with an implausible name, Baker Dill (McConaughey). Baker is a longtime resident of Plymouth, a Florida Keys fishing island that’s more Maui than Martha’s Vineyard (but everyone’s poor). He’s also a man on a mission.

He’s after Justice. Not the concept, mind you; there’s a giant tuna of legend in the waters around Plymouth and Baker calls it Justice. He’s gotten close to nabbing the giant fish before, but it continues to elude him.

Serenity probably shines the brightest when you see it spoiler-free. 

It’s a real problem for Baker. He’s consumed by his desire to get the fish. He makes his money taking tourists out on fishing cruises, but he’s prone to violence whenever Justice shows up. The first time we meet Baker he’s on one such cruise, and when Justice shows itself he straight up pulls a knife on his paying passengers to keep them off the fishing pole. 

Baker’s obsession is such that everyone in the Plymouth community seems to know about it. Even the morning radio DJ’s sign-off seems to be directed at Baker specifically: “Go get that fish.”

Very early on in Serenity, a “not all is as it seems” vibe sets in. The very first shot isn’t of Baker on his boat or anyone in Plymouth as far as we can tell. Instead, we see an overhead shot of young boy lying on his back. It’s only when the camera zooms in tight on one of his eyes that the waters around Plymouth appear, reflected back in his iris.

Right out of the gate, Serenity strongly implies that the whole story is a fabrication. Who is the boy? Why is Plymouth in his head? Are we dreaming?

THE WEIRD SHIT

The next hour or so of movie reinforces that not-quite-right vibe in all sorts of ways. The camera settles into odd positions now and again, or it jerks suddenly in one direction or another. There’s a slight, bespectacled man in suit constantly pursuing Baker, and constantly missing him by tens of seconds. 

We even get a few cutaways to the same kid we saw in the first frame, sitting at a computer and typing away. He’s seemingly connected to Baker, too. At one point, the fisherman knocks over a cup of water and swirls his hand through the small puddle. At the exact same moment, the unnamed boy is doing the same thing with a pool of water on his own desk.

Everything really starts to turn sideways, however, when Karen (Anne Hathaway) shows up. Baker’s ex-wife appears out of nowhere, wearing a glamorous white dress and a worried pout. She’s out of place in Plymouth’s little fishing village, but she also feels off somehow. As if she’s maybe not quite there, or quite real?

Editorial use only. No book cover usage. Mandatory Credit: Photo by G Bartholomew/IM Global/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (10073018f) Matthew McConaughey as Baker Dill and Anne Hathaway as Karen Zariakas 'Serenity' Film - 2019 Anne Hathaway The mysterious past of a fishing boat captain comes back to haunt him, when his ex-wife tracks him down with a desperate plea for help, ensnaring his life in a new reality that may not be all that it seems.

Image: G Bartholomew/IM Global/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

Through Karen we learn that Baker is a father. Their son Patrick still lives with his mom and her new husband, an abusive, criminally connected cretin Frank (Jason Clarke). Karen came to Plymouth to ask for help: she wants to get Frank, himself an amateur fisherman, out on a boat so Baker can kill him. She’ll pay $10 million for the dirty deed.

We also learn that Patrick is somehow the motivation for Baker’s quest for Justice (remember: fish, not concept). They’re linked telepathically it seems. So the kid we keep seeing, furiously tapping away at his keyboard as the camera cuts between him and Baker, that’s Patrick. It’s gotta be Patrick.

Things keep getting weirder! The glasses guy that’s been chasing Baker finally catches up with him, by waiting outside his ramshackle home in the pouring rain until 2:30 a.m., a totally normal and not-disturbing thing for a person to do. Baker is thrown at first, but he ends up inviting the man — he’s Reid Miller, a sales guy for a big fishing company — inside to make his pitch.

Protip: inviting strangers into your home at 2:30 a.m. on a dark and stormy night is more bad idea than good.

Reid has a gift for Baker. A fish-detecting machine of some kind. If Baker brings the doodad onto his boat and plugs it in, he’ll surely catch Justice on his next cruise. There’s no charge and no strings; the fish detector is a new product and Baker’s been selected to test it. That’s what Reid tells him, anyway. The guy seems harmless. But it’s also clear he’s hiding something.

THE TWIST

This is where we reach the breaking point. I’ve said everything I can without spoiling the big twist, and I’ve also given all the information you need to truly understand and appreciate that twist. I could’ve started with that, but it means nothing unless you understand the story up to the Big Reveal.

Are you ready? Here it is: Plymouth, Baker, Justice, Reid, Karen, Frank, even Patrick… none of them actually exist. The entire fishing village side of Serenity is a fabrication. Everyone living there? Also not real. They’re all virtual creations dreamed up by the unnamed computer boy. 

Confused? Here, I’ll make it a little clearer: Plymouth is the setting for a video game.

Things keep getting weirder!

The unnamed boy is the only real person we see for the entirety of Serenity. He’s a computer whiz with an abusive step-dad, and he escapes from the horrors of his daily life by pouring himself into his virtual creation. 

Baker isn’t anyone’s actual dad, but he’s conceived as a sort of fatherly ideal-slash-angel of vengeance. Plymouth wasn’t built to be a violent video game setting. But the IRL dad’s abuses get so bad that the boy builds this whole murder plot into the game. He sends Baker off on this quest to kill a shitty step-dad as a way to stop himself from committing the real deed, in real life.

The game doesn’t understand this, however. Plymouth was built as a non-violent setting. So the growing signs of weirdness in Plymouth — from Reid’s arrival to pushy members of the community getting all up in Baker’s private affairs — are actually the game pressing back. It wants Baker to stick to his established script: getting that fish.

Editorial use only. No book cover usage. Mandatory Credit: Photo by G Bartholomew/IM Global/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (10073018g) Matthew McConaughey as Baker Dill and Anne Hathaway as Karen Zariakas 'Serenity' Film - 2019 The mysterious past of a fishing boat captain comes back to haunt him, when his ex-wife tracks him down with a desperate plea for help, ensnaring his life in a new reality that may not be all that it seems.

Image: G Bartholomew/IM Global/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

Baker ultimately becomes self-aware and convinces the program that his new mission is to kill Frank (sort of). That in turn prompts the boy (the IRL one) to grab a knife and go stab his shitty step-dad to death. He’s caught, of course, but our last sight in the movie is of him smiling as he imagines himself (or maybe Patrick?) written into the game.

I honestly don’t know what we’re supposed to take from any of this. The story is scattered and marked throughout by uneven pacing. Any themes it’s trying to get across are undermined by the nagging feeling that Serenity isn’t even sure of the story it’s telling.

But we’re not here to understand the intent of Serenity, just the reality of it. And that reality, in summation: Serenity is the strangest of movies, built around an oddly disjointed story which hinges on a twist that just barely makes sense.

It’s also a magical time at the movies and I truly hope everyone sees it.

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Still DIYing your taxes? Here are some reasons to go to a pro

If you purchase something through MashStash, Mashable might earn some cash through an affiliate commission. 

Most people agree that the fun part of filing your taxes is thinking about how you’ll spend your potential refund—a trip to Bali? A new laptop? Those sweet wireless speakers you’ve been ogling? 

Regardless of whether you’ll deposit that money straight into your savings account or use it for some retail therapy, you still need to file your returns on or before the April 15 deadline (unless, you happen to live in Maine or Massachusetts, in which case you have an extra day because of a public holiday, or D.C., where you get until April 17). 

While filing your taxes on time is the epitome of adulting, one of the most responsible ways to take care of your returns might be offloading the work to someone else, or in this case, a tax pro at H&R Block—especially with a $25 discount on in-store tax preparation.

Times are changing

Whether you got a new job, started freelancing, tied the knot, or had a baby, those factors can impact what you owe the government. At best, IRS forms are confusing and boring; at worst, they’re downright incomprehensible. With the current roll out of some of the biggest changes in tax codes in around 30 years, this tax season promises to be an especially mind-boggling one. Instead of trying to navigate new tax laws on your own, H&R Block has everything you need to know about the reforms, including how it will impact your refund (possibly for the better!) and your net pay.

Smarter way to file

Getting help with your taxes helps you get the most out of your refund. With convenient locations around the country, flexible hours, and several payment and refund options, H&R Block gives you the choice to meet one-on-one with a tax pro, who on average has 12 years of experience, or use their online services. In the office, you can ask your burning tax questions (Can you claim your dog as a dependent? Are gym memberships deductible?) and get a quote before you file. From the complexities of doing your taxes as a freelancer to the transition of filing as a unit, H&R Block has been assisting people for more than 60 years. 

On-time returns

By January 31, you should have your W-2 statement from your employer either in the mail or digitally (if you haven’t received it, contact your HR department asap) and filing early usually means getting your refund sooner. For freelancers who might be juggling a few jobs or clients, tax time means keeping track of a slew of different income sources—all of which H&R Block can help you get through quickly and efficiently. Whether you just started working remotely or have been doing so for a decade, a seasoned tax pro will detangle the intricacies of what you can and can’t deduct, from coworking spaces to movie tickets.

There are benefits to filing early, but you have until April 10, 2019 to take advantage of $25 off tax prep fees for your personal income tax return at participating H&R Block offices in the U.S. 

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