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If you're a noted chef and invited to a holiday party, it's kind of assumed that you'll bring something homemade along. At least that's how it usually goes for Yotam Ottolenghi, who admits his success can sometimes intimidate hosts.

But you don't have to be a world-class chef to make showstopping desserts this holiday season: We asked him to suggest recipes that home cooks of all skill levels can tackle.

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This comes close to the quietest Tiny Desk Concert we've ever had. The music Greg Gonzalez makes with his longtime bandmate Phillip Tubbs as Cigarettes After Sex is hushed. The common thread in these songs is minimalism, heard in both Greg's guitar and Philip's synth, that lay just under Greg Gonzalez's barely audible, somewhat spoken singing. Yet, somehow, this sound that barely exists holds together because of the strong melodies in these songs. I find I sing them to myself over and over again.

When you're facing a major life change, it helps to talk to someone who has already been through it. All Things Considered is connecting people on either side of a shared experience, and they're letting us eavesdrop on their conversations in our series Been There.

North Carolina band Blame the Youth has been playing together in and around Charlotte for three years.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says the U.S. would negotiate with North Korea without demanding that the country first agree to nuclear disarmament. This marks a significant change in a approach for Tillerson, who has spent much of this year working on the pressure campaign to cut off financial resources for the North Korean nuclear program.

How much would you pay to avoid traffic jams on your daily commute? $10? $20? How about $40?

That's how much a tollway in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., charged for a short time last week. Outraged commuters call it highway robbery.

But transportation officials say the high-priced toll is less about money and more about changing commuter behavior and reducing congestion, and commuters all across the country might soon see more tolls in the future.

Margo Price sings classic country songs that manage to enchant, even as they disillusion. Her steadfast voice and songwriting conjure a powerful sense of nostalgia — she emerged in 2016 with Midwest Farmer's Daughter, an album that didn't so much callback to '70s country as it did flawlessly reanimate it. But if her musical signifiers are comfortably familiar, her lyrics stand in stark opposition to that feeling.

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All this week we are talking to our friends here at NPR about their favorite things from 2017. And we're nerding out here. These are not, like, simple best-of lists.

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Flipping through O Magazine this month, we saw a blurb that read reckless decorating.

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And we laughed and thought, like, what does that mean, mixing tinsel and garland?

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Thousands of firefighters who have traveled from across the country to Southern California have started making progress containing the fifth-largest wildfire in the state's history.

The week-old, nearly 230,000-acre Thomas Fire is now 20 percent contained, after firefighters on the ground and in aircraft took advantage of weakened Santa Ana winds on Monday night. The fire has consumed an area larger than the size of New York City.

"Do you pray at all?"

It may as well have come in all caps, the way it landed like an accusation instead of a question. It wasn't the first time I'd received a text from my mother dripping with good ole Christian guilt. The only sin greater than letting God down is allowing your parents to find out your faith walk is no longer patterned after their footsteps.

In Westfield, N.Y., perch, bass, catfish and trout are growing fat on the byproducts of an adjacent brewery and distillery. The fish, still young but intended to be harvested and eaten next year, are the first fruits of an innovative project aimed at turning waste into food while addressing a suite of problems associated with more conventional means of catching and farming seafood.

Women in Australia's music industry --- more than 300 of them --- have now released their own version of a united front against sexual assault. Centered around the hashtag #MeNoMore, an open letter, including anonymized stories of abuse and harassment, was published today.

In this session we welcome JD McPherson, the Oklahoman who made retro rock sound modern with "North Side Gal." There's a reason his new album Undivided Heart & Soul sounds different. McPherson uprooted his family from Oklahoma to Nashville, Tenn., and ended up making the new album at the historic RCA Studio B — whose walls have soaked up music from major country acts for decades. Elvis, Charley Pride, Floyd Cramer: They all recorded there. In fact, the studio is a museum in the daytime.

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For a chaotic year, I'm offering a chaotic "Best Books" list — but I think my list is chaotic in a good sense. These books zing off in all directions: They're fresh, unruly and dismissive of the canned and contrived.

You can't go wrong with any of these books. As one of Dashiell Hammett's dangerous dames might have said: They're all the bees' knees.

If they are to successfully make the jump to light speed, Star Wars movies require a precisely calibrated fuel mixture: one-third epic space battles, one-third narrow escapes and duly buckled swashes, one-third hooded beardy dudes standing around looking pained while solemnly intoning the cheesiest hokum about Darkness and Light as if it's Hamlet's Yorick speech (which in a way, it is).

Last summer I took my daughter to Vans Warped Tour for the first time. She'd been clamoring to go since the first time she'd walked into a Hot Topic store and bought a t-shirt emblazoned with the logo of the band Black Veil Brides; deeply devoted to that band and its sweetly philosophical, doe-eyed singer Andy Biersack, she'd even had their album cover painted on her eleventh birthday cake. By age 13 she'd become utterly versed in current pop-punk and grunge-indebted metal, shouting along to her playlists of Neck Deep and Attila songs in the car.

The Arctic is a huge, icy cap on the planet that acts like a global air conditioner. But the air conditioner is breaking down, according to scientists who issued a grim "report card" on the Arctic on Tuesday.

They say the North Pole continues to warm at an alarming pace — twice the rate as the rest of the planet, on average. This year was the Arctic's second-warmest in at least 1,500 years, after 2016.

I know it seems absurd and headline-grabbing, but honestly this song is going to be the high bar to hit for guitar-driven, brokenhearted love songs in the coming year.

While independent bands don't quite have the ability to make the earth stand still like Queen Bey — we all fall short of the glory, etc. — one lesson learned from the surprise-album release is how an artist and a fan trust each other. Album announcements, artwork announcements, teasers for single premieres, the actual premiere, a video for the same single, a teaser for the second single — you can understand why some artists who have been at this a while would rather skip the industry cycle and go direct.

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