The Crush Letter No 140: More Ask Dish, Comfort Mac & Cheese, dishing

. 18 min read

I'm Dish and I write a weekly newsletter about life, love, and culture for those 50+. Because midlife and beyond is so much hotter than they said it would be. Hell yes, sign me up for the Dish.

Hello Crush,

Hope your Hanukkah was full of light.

I received an absolutely perfect gift already this holiday season. My friend Allie dropped off her homemade Mac & Cheese. Divine. Comforting. The best I’ve ever had, I kid you not. Who doesn’t love friends who drop off obligation-free comfort? (Last spring she dropped off a key lime pie. I love her.) And who is not exhausted, right about now, and needing a chill night in? I asked her about the recipe and she said it was her own adaptation from a Martha Stewart recipe, using a mix of cheeses, mostly sharp cheddar. But we are sharing a quick and easy Mac & Cheese recipe below.

And we have another stray holiday question, from ”New Squeeze,” wondering what to give a new girlfriend for their first holiday together. Yay for you, New Squeeze. Your question forced me to reminisce through the best gifts I received from early squeezes (and one awful one). I also did some research, and in my answer to New Squeeze I was forced to trash the advice of one of my favorite relationship experts. An amusing stroll for me, and I hope a useful one for all of you giving gifts to those you love.

Our Song of the Week provides a master class on giving. The Little Drummer Boy tells the simple story of a poor boy summoned by the Three Wise Men to the nativity of Jesus. In awe, but without a gift to give, ”I played my best for him,” the boy says. I still get shivers after all these years of listening to it. It is a pure expression of true giving.

In dishing I take the opportunity that a recent blogpost from Sex & Good creates to remind you to check the ingredients in your lube, CRUSHes. (And to use lube! Because, as I said in Everything’s Better Wetter, it’s good.)

Only 15 days to go and we are on the other side of New Year’s. We can do this, CRUSHes.

Get your sleep.


In This Letter. +Ask Dish: Answers To Your Stray Questions Holiday Queries Part 2 I have a newish girlfriend “Kate” … and I’m very excited.” +Zoning Out in Comfort. By Dean Christopher I say, whenever you can find any comfort in anything, pile it on! +Shameless Quick & Easy Mac & Cheese. By Evie Arnaude Sometimes you need to stuff your face with a shameless mac and cheese. +dishing +Social Media I Loved This Week +Our Song of the Week I played my best for him

Ask Dish: Answers To Your Stray Questions

From the sublime to the ridiculous, I get a lot of random questions. I answer them periodically here. Got a stray question?  Submit it using this link.

Dear Dish:

I have a new girlfriend “Kate.” We have been dating about three months. She is fabulous, and I’m very excited. This is the first Christmas we’ll go through together, obviously. I should say Christmas “season” because we are spending the holiday itself with our separate, respective children (she will be in New York City and I’ll be in Florida). (We are both in our sixties, by the way.) We agreed to pick a night before she leaves town to celebrate Christmas together, and then we will be spending New Year’s Eve together. I was hoping that you could give me some suggestions? Some things about her: she is chic, a “nester” and into cooking and entertaining; she loves eating out at stylish places; Paris is her favorite place; she is more into meaningful things (gestures, experiences, etc.) then material things and she loves rom coms, fiction, needlepoint and doing things with her girlfriends.


New Squeeze

Dear New Squeeze:

She sounds fabulous, lucky you! And how caring of you to give her first holiday gift so much thought. I get why you are asking, because this initial dating period is tricky for gift-giving of all sorts, and the holidays are already loaded for so many. I think the most helpful thing I could do might be to share some of the gifts I’ve appreciated the most during the early dating period (whether holidays, Valentine’s or birthday). This is going to be more of an “approach to gift giving” than a list of specific suggestions because, as you’ll see, I believe that the best gift we can give each other is to take good care of each other. (If a list is helpful, though, I wrote about the ’For Her’ Gift Guide from Erin Gates last week.)

I know you wouldn’t do this, New Squeeze, but I have to start with a warning about the worst gift I got from a new boyfriend. An elaborate pair of “eye of god” dangly, woven, 3” rhombus-shaped earrings in purple and blue. He had picked them up from the holiday crafts fair taking place in his hotel lobby in L.A. as he checked out. (He was, ummm, a cool tech dude. (I shuddered just writing that. And breathed a deep, sympathetic sigh for my former self who found that appealing for three months.)) “I thought they were so neat,” he said when I opened them. You have never seen me in person, New Squeeze, but he had. Or so I had thought. Those earrings may have been perfect for a fortune teller working a bazaar in Bangladesh. Evidently he had not noticed my tailored style (my winter uniform was a fitted navy cashmere turtleneck with a pair of milky pearl studs). The biggest issue for me, though, was not that he hadn’t “seen“ me. It was that I never wanted to be seen in those ear ornaments. I would have to wear them out, in public, when we went out together. (I really mean “if” we went out together again, actually. Since I couldn’t, and we didn’t.)

The key take-away? Don’t buy her large rhombus-shaped earrings from a crafts fair that you happen to be walking by on your way home from L.A., New Squeeze.

Because you said that she’s chic, I’ll start with an actual, specific suggestion. At a lunch with a few chic girlfriends last week everybody agreed that the book they were hoping to get this holiday was Carolyn Bessette Kennedy: A Life In Fashion. I don’t think you could go wrong with that, especially if you were to include a note about how you love how stylish she is (extra points for remembering her in a specific outfit and how you felt wowed when you saw her in it).

A gift that makes her feel cared for would be a strong move. One of my favorite early dating gifts was from “Harry.” I lived in a three-story loft in a converted stone church that needed frequent handyman visits, but my long-time handyman had been battling cancer and consequently, I had a host of overdue projects piled up: the rail on my front porch was loose, I had pulled all the batteries out of my fire alarms after the “low battery” beep woke me up at 4am one morning (the hanging wires resembled jelly fish from below, he once noted), a corner of my den was dark because replacing the light bulbs required an extra-long 20’ ladder and etc., etc. On Christmas Eve I opened Harry’s card (tucked into the cookbook that the chef from one of our favorite restaurants had just published, which was nice touch) and it said, “I have hired my handyman to spend the first week end in January in your beautiful home to take care of all the projects you are stacking up waiting for your handyman to get back on his feet.” It was a bonkers gift.

Another nice one I think you should know about was “Paul’s,“ especially since you said Kate is into experiences. It was a quiet, “off-season” week end in Maine, where he had spent summers growing up. We had not taken a trip together yet, so a number of things made it work really well. It was someplace meaningful to him, so I got to know him better through his stories about what happened where. Because he knew it well, he made reservations at places he thought we would particularly enjoy, and he could act as tour guide and maestro, which made me feel spoiled. Also, what’s more romantic than bundling up in warm clothes and holding hands while walking down an empty beach? And a week end is the perfect length of time for a first trip with somebody, and a trip within driving distance that didn’t require catching a flight or train made it even more relaxed.

And finally, this last example is probably for when you are further along in the relationship, but it’s so good that I have to share it. The second winter that I was dating “Steven” he and I were both coming off particularly difficult, chaotic periods in our respective families (that included multiple hospital emergencies). Year end was also crunch time at work for both of us. Over dinner one night Steven said “Dish, why don’t we give each other the gift of taking each other off of our respective ‘to do’ lists this Christmas? We could do something like agree to give each other a book?” One night after dinner the following week we drove out to one of the best bookstores in the Boston are, The Concord Bookshop, to pick out books for each other. We were complete goofballs (as I am) and made it fun, sneaking around corners and hiding in aisles, acting like we didn’t want the other to guess which book we were considering. I distinctly remember spending a lot of time in the “Fantasy, Science Fiction, Romance & Dark Arts” aisle to throw him off my scent. We wrapped the books up and presented them to each other as if we were presenting royal offerings. We had fun and it was easy. And any time you can have fun with your partner, and make it easy, it’s good.

Steven’s idea raises a larger point for me around the holidays, which is that it is a busy, stressful period for a lot of people for so many reasons. Not adding to somebody’s stress, or even relieving it, overlooking unintended stress-driven footfalls by our loved ones and being appreciative of the time and effort people make for you - these are all gifts.

Before we go, I would be remiss if I didn’t share the advice of my favorite online dating coach @ALittleNudge, even though I vehemently reject a particular suggestion she makes, because she is A DATING EXPERT. (And I am not. I am just a too-experienced dater, unfortunately.) (Here is a link if you can’t read the text below.)

I agree with her larger points about our partners respecting what we have actually told them (”nothing”), not expecting our partners to mind read and setting each other up for success. But, in the balance of practical versus romantic, the suggestion of providing a list leans much too heavily on the practical side for me. Particularly for a new love. It puts the pressure and stress on the gift receiver - to come up with a list of things that she wants, that she thinks are actually appropriate to ask of a new lover. (Stressful!) It feels materialistic, and reduces the gift giver’s role to that of chore-runner, and the resulting exchange into something resembling a yankee swap. Plus, wouldn’t that be dull?

If a new partner asked me for a list, for the reasons set forth above, here’s how I’d respond. I’d acknowledge the love and desire to please that such a request represents and, I think I’d respectfully say something like “You are very thoughtful, thank you. How would you feel if we came up with some things we could do together? Or for each other? Like I’lll plan, orchestrate and pay for a low-key week end away in the next six months, and you’ll do the same? Or, I’ll spend a Saturday helping you get your new Sonos stereo system set up, and you’ll spend one helping me trim my bamboo?” But I would never, ever (ever!) provide a list of actual material items.

But A Little Nudge’s approach does raise another possible suggestion if you still feel lost, which is to just say to Kate “It’s our first Christmas together and I want it to be special, so do you want to talk about what we want to do about gifts?”

And remember that the examples I provide above from past new squeezes are “high points,” but really, none of us are this good all the time. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Do you two have a favorite restaurant? Make a reservation there for your Christmas date night and let her know you’ve taken care of that. Send her a text the morning of telling her how much you’re looking forward to seeing her. If she’s game, maybe even steal some ideas from my sexting guide Tell Me More: Dish’s Ode to Sexting. Put extra effort into pulling yourself together. And over dinner, tell her how much you’ve loved spending these first three months with her, how lucky you are to have found her. How much you’re looking forward to your future adventures together. Everything after that is icing, New Squeeze. That’s what she really wants. To know she has found a caring partner who cherishes her.

Along those lines, here is artist @joce_cova’s Gift Guide.

Merry Merry!

Zoning Out in Comfort. By Dean Christopher

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One PrimeCrush writer argues that staying in your comfort zone is, well, the easiest road to comfort.

I have never understood why so many "life coaches" and "self-improvement" books urge us to "Get out of your Comfort Zone!"

In my view, with so much discomfort overwhelming the planet -- physical, societal, financial, psychic -- most of us are already out of any possible "Comfort Zone." It seems far more reasonable to go deeper into your Comfort Zone.

Comfort of any kind these days is a rare commodity. And how can anything significantly soul-nourishing, productive, or gratifying come from removing whatever slender comfort we may have already found?

Nevertheless, pop-psychology junkies and philosophers keep insisting that Self Improvement, Spiritual Growth, and Turbocharged Wisdom can come only when we leave our "Comfort Zone." All this despite the predominant theory that the only personal motivation stronger than pleasure-seeking ... is the avoidance of pain!

So "Get out of your Comfort Zone," is not unlike urging someone to "Get out of your Healthy Zone," or "Get out of your Financial Security Zone!" This poppycock appears to endorse the abandonment of rational intelligence in favor of illogic and stupidity.

I say, whenever you can find any comfort in anything, pile it on! How much have you got? I'll take it all.

By this, I do not suggest reducing homo sapiens to a species of un-adventuresome, blankie-wrapped thumb-suckers. But in this increasingly cold, angry and painful world, we must appreciate the opportunity to find any small shred of comfort.

But comfort itself is highly subjective.

Certain undesirables find it comforting, for example, to saw squirrels in half; to short-sheet the beds of hospitalized veterans; to deface great paintings in the Louvre. These are people who really need to get out of their Comfort Zones as soon as possible; indeed, to be forcibly removed from them if necessary.

For most "normal" folks, Comfort Foods are great spirit boosters, especially traditional family home cooking. This is probably because it evokes strong memories of a happy, secure childhood.

Every family has its own menu, its own memorable recipes. But we can probably agree that common examples of Comfort Food include: Meatloaf; Mac and Cheese; Chili; Ice Cream; Franks and Beans; Pot Roast with Mashed Potatoes ... almost anything high caloric, chock full of gluten, sugar and fat.

All those comforting carbs and calories! Do calories equal comfort? Here's what comforts me:

  • The fragrance of lamb and oven potatoes cooking in my Greek grandfather's old iron roster.
  • Little children's merry laughter.
  • Improvising at the piano.
  • One (well, maybe two) of my crisp dry Beefeater martinis (two olives, please).
  • An old friend's voice on the phone, or a visit on Skype.
  • Mom's old rosary, a gift for her First Communion in 1922.

    But best of all is to be with my daughter and grandsons. Unfortunately, they live 5,500 miles away, in England. So I must settle for visual chats, which comfort me -- long distance.

    Hey, I'll take even that. Comfort is wherever we are lucky enough to find it.

Shameless Quick & Easy Mac & Cheese. By Evie Arnaude

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Because there’s nothing more comforting than warm cheese and butter! And a night in during the holiday crush with a tried-and-true comfort food is what we all need now.

Don’t you hate it when you’re looking for a great recipe and it starts with some long, languid story you never wanted to know? Me, too. So, I’ll cut to the chase: Sometimes you need to stuff your face with a shameless mac and cheese. Now, there are ways to make this recipe healthier —mac-free/cheese-free/veggie-overload— mine makes no attempts at being healthy. In fact, it’s an age-old, no-fail recipe where I add even more “shameless” ingredients. Why? Because that’s what real mac and cheese are all about.

The recipe is a classic, right off the Campbell’s condensed cheddar cheese soup can.

There are four main parts to this: Cheesy soup, pasta, and breadcrumbs prepped with tons of butter.

All you’ll need, for the “cheese”:

1 can Campbell’s condensed cheddar cheese soup

2/3 cup water

2/3 cup milk (I use whole fat, but do what you like)

1 cup pasta (I prefer rigatoni, but you do you, friends!)

Prepare the soup as directed. Because Mac & cheese is a personal thing, and some like a thinner cheese, you may want to keep a little bit of extra water handy to add while stirring.

Cook the pasta separately al dente.

In a separate small skillet, melt one stick of butter on low heat. Pour in a half cup of seasoned breadcrumbs and stir it up. Add more butter if you want to, because, well, there’s no going back now.

Combine the pasta and cheese into a 2-quart casserole dish, pour the breadcrumb/butter goodness on top. (Don’t have a casserole dish? Throw it on anything oven-safe and flat! Who are we kidding here?) Go ahead and just sprinkle more breadcrumbs on top like glitter. I’ve seen some people cut butter pats and place them on top, too.

Bake at 350 for 15 – 20 minutes. You want the top to be a little bit crispy and for the mac and cheese to boil and scream “Eat me!”. It’s just shamelessly delicious.

Things I thought you might want to know about, and some you probably don’t.

Film at Lincoln Center published its Film Comment list of Best Films of 2023. I haven’t seen most of them (lots of esoterica here), so in some sense it’s aspirational? But I did see May December, its number one film of the year, which I had told you earlier I thought was “exquisitely well-acted.” And creepy as shit. Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon was on the top of a lot of the individual lists contributed by critics I admire to Film Comment, as were Anatomy of a Fall, Past Lives And The Boy and the Heron (all on my list).

Radical Wolfe, the documentary on American writer Tom Wolfe, is now out on Netflix. When it aired in theaters in NYC this past fall I wrote this to a friend: “It covers a bibliography of his life and major works, putting both into cultural context (of the period, as well as situating him outside of New York intellectual elite circles). There is some great footage, since he was in the media so much. Lots on his brilliantly written 1970 piece skewering the fundraiser the Bernsteins threw for the Black Panthers. But at 100 minutes there’s too much ground to cover. (In contrast, the Didion documentary was 40 minutes longer, though she was not nearly the cultural blockbuster). So it is an appreciative, fun and entertaining, but I’d argue, thin treatment.”

The Atlantic Theater’s off-Broadway production of Buena Vista Social Club is a fun, joyous ride, raking in great reviews. It is the musical story behind the wildly popular original album released in 1997, which inspired a critically-acclaimed 1999 documentary by Wim Wenders. Written by playwright Marco Ramirez, the new theater production was a thrill to watch, agreed me and my friend Philip, as we walked out. The fine music and dancing carry the narrative, which is more of a backdrop.

Kendall Roy is a teenage girl and that‘s why women love him. From The Face‘s ”best of” articles, this one dissecting the millenial tik tok “love” of Kendall Roy is incisive and fun. “A chunky subset of the always-online world loves and nurtures the media mogul’s second eldest, hopeful inheritor of dad’s ​“dinosaur” media empire. To them, Kendall (played by Jeremy Strong) is a misunderstood teenage girl – a baby girl or Kendoll, whichever feels cringiest to you. They stan him with the ferocity of the BTS Army …

Picture a montage of Kendall’s most vulnerable moments on the show, each one embodying the overwhelming ​“please, just love me” mood of a volatile teen girl.“

Sex & Good, which sells good sex products, just published this post These habits are bad for your V. And it’s good, but it’s missing one thing. Bad lube. And by that I mean lube that has bad ingredients in it. Please, CRUSHes, check the ingredients in your lubes. I write about what to avoid, and which safe lubes our PrimeCrush Toy Testers like in Everything’s Better Wetter.

Social Media I Loved This Week








Song of the Week

The Little Drummer Boy: Harry Simeone Chorale

This is the original version of this 1965 masterpiece, which captures the true spirit of the holidays. Thank you to CRUSH Reader kt for sending it over.

Listen here.

Dish Stanley XO,

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Other articles in our sexting CRUSH Letter spell out the 101’s of sexting: establishing expectations, consent, checking in and agreeing on what can (and cannot be done) with your sexts after the fact. We recommend you read Foria’s Totally Useful Guide to Sexting to start. Here Dish reveals
Book Suggestions for Holiday Gifts. PS: Get Your Books from The PrimeCrush Bookshop!
Need a book for somebody? We’ve combed through past Letters (and our own bookshelves) to come up with suggestions for everyone on your list. For Anyone Who Obsessed Over The Official Preppy Handbook, or Tinsley Mortimer’s Recent Wedding Flight of the Wasp: The Rise, Fall, and Future of
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The holidays are tough for a lot of people. There are an infinite number of reasons for this: loss, divorce, loneliness, separation from loved ones, feeling crushed by holiday demands on top of everything else. For a few years, for me, as somebody who ended up a childless widow in
Pamela Anderson: What Her Story Says About Us By Daisy Foster
If her recent documentary and memoir have taught us nothing, it’s what it means to survive a very full life–and keep a hopeful heart. One unsuspecting evening in 1997, I trudged over to my writing partner’s several-story walkup in NYC’s Murray Hill to find him standing,

If you love me as much as I love you (and I really do love you!), then please help me grow by forwarding this {love} Letter to a friend! And I'd love to have you join us on instagram.

The Crush Letter
The Crush Letter is a weekly newsletter from Dish Stanley curating articles & intelligence on everything love & connection - friendship, romance, self-love, sex. If you’d like to take a look at some of our best stories go to Read Us. Want the Dish?


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