Death is Ugly

On my way home from work, I was rejoicing about my four-day weekend.  I was on a three-lane interstate preparing to exit when the truck in front of me braked.  Mildly irritated, I braked to avoid rear-ending him.  Then I saw a creature running for his life- an opossum.

(editor's note: opossum or possum?  What's in a name?  I tried to google and other word nerds are also stymied.  I shall use "possum" from this point in my story)

So he somehow made it across the second lane of traffic, despite the fact it was rush hour.  I continued to watch him in my rear-view mirror and felt panicky and hopeful that he'd make it across.  He was so frightened at this point that in his all-out mad gallop, he stumbled into the third lane.  I saw a huge RV headed for him.  The RV didn't swerve nor appear to brake.  I can't blame the driver; it happened in a split second and he/she may not have had time to react.  The huge vehicle bore down on the creature running for his life and I watched as a big black tire swallowed him whole.

I flicked on my turn signal and exited.

Even though the entire event took only a second or two, I was wide-eyed with a sort of disbelief.  That animal died for no cause.  He spent the last moments of his life in abject terror.  The only good thing to say is that his death was probably relatively painless.  But his carcass will lie in the road and be run over time and time again until it is unrecognizable.

I drove in silence for a few minutes, then inexplicably started to cry.  I think it started when I saw him stumble in his panicked state.  He didn't seem like an ugly, smaller version of an ROUS, he seemed like a creature running for his life.  Sure, I'm smarter than he.  But do I have more purpose?  I'm not going to wax philosophical here, because I didn't while I drove home.  I could think of nothing but how sad it was that he was so scared and then so dead.

I came home and petted my sweet, bratty doggie and wondered if the possum had babies that will starve now.

I could make this some powerfully poignant reflection on life and death, but I won't. The possum died and I cried.  How weird is that?


syriana.JPGIMDb link

As always, the reviews of others pre-colored my thoughts of this movie.  I had heard that it was difficult to understand the plot switches.  This little piece of forewarning was very helpful, because I was sure to concentrate.  Even so, some of the plot was too tangled in badly constructed dialogue.

This movie was full of quotes.  Someone would say a line, and I would want to jot notes so I could use it later, gems such as “it’s not racist if it’s positive” and “corruption is why we win.”  I think the writer may have been so busy filling the movie with profundity that he forgot plot movement and clarity is vital in the American market.

Some of the lack of clarity may have been intentional.  Three plotlines interweave and the theme that binds them is often the confusion of the characters or oil ruining their lives because the culture of oil is a tangled web.  There is no absolute good or evil in the film and each person makes decisions based upon their reality at the moment.

My problem with the movie is that there are two audiences of viewers: those that believe the film is more of a documentary than fiction and those that think none of the film’s concepts are plausible.  Both insulate themselves from the fact that we do not know that truth and cannot suppose to understand the climate of oil culture.

Whether truth or fiction, I started thinking more about how much I dislike our oil gluttony.  I think E85 is only a crutch used by automakers who don’t want to really leap into alternative fuels; however, it is quickly renewable and its source can be grown almost anywhere in the world.  Then again, it takes energy to make it, and it only delivers 66% of gasoline’s energy per gallon, and the facts are so politically charged that who knows where the truth lies.

Hey…wait…I’m talking about energy in the middle of a movie review.  Maybe the director accomplished his purpose.

If you want to feel like you’re seeing something that is “high art,” good for you, you should rent this.  If you just want to watch a superhero save us from ourselves, there are better choices.

[rate 3]

Oktoberfest Musings

I racked the Scottish ale Saturday morning and tasted the first bit from the siphon in a small wine glass.  While I like the two beers (a hefeweiss and a bourbon barrel ale) I have on tap right now, this beer is more delicious than either of them.  It is quite cloudy so I need to be sure to clear the yeast before kegging.

I have picked my Oktoberfest beers!  In addition to the Scottish Ale I ordered and made a week ago, I will be brewing Hex Nut Brown with American Ale yeast, Belgian Tripel with Belgian yeast, and last year’s taste test winner, Oatmeal Stout.  That means the only “new” brew will be the Scottish, as I’ve brewed all three of these at previous Oktoberfests.  But will the guests care it’s not new?  Doubtful that they remember, much less care!  I hope not.  I do have a lemon coriander Weiss that might also make the cut.

I chose these three because that will mean that all four beers this year will have distinctively different yeast.  I think in the future I’d like to mimic the “vertical tasting” concept done with wine: the same grape and vineyard is tasted through several vintages.  I’d like to make several of the same type of beer with different yeast, or have four with all the same yeast, or something else so that the beers can be better compared. 

This year will be a mesclun just like always.  Now, what food to serve: traditional or no?  Usually, I go with sauerbraten, wursts, and a variety of breads and whole-grain mustards straight from Germany.  No matter how much I make or buy, I almost never have leftovers.  I’m thinking that with the distinctively non-German beers I might instead have four stations of complimentary food pairings. 

Scottish Ale: A delicious meal in itself. So malty and sweet…can’t think of good pairings

Lemon Coriander Weiss: salsa, guacamole

Hex Nut Brown: white bean dip, fried mashed potatoes

Belgian Tripel: grilled fruit, baklava

Oatmeal Stout: Chocolate cake, cheesecake, macadamia-crusted something

The nice thing about all of these (except the fried potatoes) is that they can easily be made ahead.  Even the mashed potatoes can be made and rolled ahead, then quickly fried.  The other difficulty is it looks like most of the dishes are sweet, not savory, and I’m not a big sweets fan.

Well, now I’m just yammering with no point.  I need to order the beers and start brewing!

Bluegrass Home Companion

As I left home this morning, I was mourning the loss of a trip to Burning Man.  I saw the culture class epicenter moving ever westward as I drove southward to Kentucky.

I don’t like Kentucky.  If you’re from New York or LA, you are probably laughing at my Indiana snobbery.  Indiana and Kentucky are more similar than dissimilar.  I didn’t know until I was an adult that the “stupid Kentuckian” jokes were told as “stupid Hoosier” jokes south of the Ohio.  But my prejudice still surfaces and I prefer Indiana.  Amusingly, I prefer Indiana because Indianapolis doesn’t seem as prejudiced as Louisville.

But lately I’ve been luxuriating in All Things Cornfield.  As I was driving a few weeks ago, I noticed that the corn was so high I couldn’t see the roof of my house from the road.  I passed fields of soybeans and large family gardens full of ripening produce.  I saw wizened farmers with handmade “tomato’s” signs and smiled for loving their simpleness.  I decided to relish Indiana and its changing seasons: no longer mourning the shortening days but instead living in each moment.

Two weeks ago, my mother brought me fresh sweet corn.  She’d traded it from the receptionist at her doctor’s office.  I joked that soon she’d be paying the doctor with a new goat or something, but the corn was sweeter than any I’ve tasted in years.

Last week, my parents came to my house with a batch of tomatoes from their garden, freshly picked and in a recycled cereal bag.  I cut into the first one.  Under the skin was a deep, deep, garnet red of such beauty I almost photographed it.  The sun was setting and beams of gold light cut into my kitchen, highlighting the tomato flesh.  I quartered five tomatoes, sprinkled them with kosher salt, and ate them warm as I stood in the waning sunlight filtered through the corn in my backyard.

Every day for two weeks, one of my coworkers has brought in produce from her garden.  Tomatoes, cucumbers for pickling, yellow squash, eggplant.  She places them on a filing cabinet free for anyone to take.  Some people don’t "get" it, but I see her as caring and loving of all of us as she offers us the fruits of her labor.

So back to today.  I’m not wanting to leave my comfy home, leave my doggy with my parents, and hike to Kentucky to listen to folks talk badly about their friends or gab unapprovingly about other people who aren’t like them.  I pouted that my desire to be artistic was going to be suppressed by a weekend of shuffling closer to losing all creative touch.

Then I came here and unwound a little.  When the heat of the day was subsiding, we adjourned to the vegetable garden and started picking tomatoes for dinner.  The earthy smell of tomato vines took me back to being eight in my dad’s garden.  I would pick vegetables with my siblings and it would inevitably end in a game of chase with rotten tomatoes flying!

We picked tomatoes, hot peppers, watermelon.  We discussed pickling beets and the best kinds of refrigerator pickles- English cukes with vinegar, salt, garlic, onions.  And yes, despite being triple the age I remembered, a rotten tomato was thrown.  We ate a cold supper in the kitchen, just like Mrs. Belden used to make for Brian, Mart, Bobby, and Trixie.  (If I’ve lost you there, we’ll catch up later.)  We quietly read the day’s paper or magazines.  Someone mentioned watermelon and the men walked to the garden, peering at the melon patch in the twilight.  Under the vine-covered arbor, we spread newspapers on a metal wicker table and quartered the two-foot-long melon with a machete.  We ate with abandon in a way only acceptable in the outdoors: stickily slurping melon juice and spitting seeds onto the newspaper.  I don’t know if the partial darkness helped us all feel masked, but with the lax manners, we also talked more.  We laughed and carried on and I ate a pound or two of sweet pink melon without caring that the juice dripped down my chin.

I guess my point, if this is pointy at all, is that I found beauty in the simple things.  I allowed myself to live slowly, to retreat from the concept of Big Art by Big Artists, and saw the gorgeous color that the real world can bring.  I saw my narcissistic angsty pouting as an excuse to feel sorry for myself, which is possibly one of the most useless feelings to have.  I realized that I could take what I saw and translate it into art of my own, even if it only becomes the e-words on the e-page you’re reading.  I saw that I could drink in these experiences and enjoy the flavors and textures presented to me by the bountiful harvest of the Midwest.

Even in Kentucky.

Burning for You

The iconic installationSometimes I think I live in this tiny little world and have no idea about anything.  A cowboy with no horse; a deipnosophist with no drivel. I feel kinda like the day I first discovered Firefly.  How have I never heard of this?  And this, this is even more so.

During my Gen Con carpool, I first heard of a little, tiny art show called Burning Man.  After researching it, I realized that to call it "little" or a "show" or even merely "art" was a misnomer.  It's like calling Gen Con a little gaming party.  I started reading about Burning Man a couple of days ago and realized how left in the dust I am.

I have an artist inside that craves to come out, but I never find the time.  I pour my talent into other things: cooking, RPGs, even mini painting.  Minis…well, sure, they're art, but let's not kid anyone: I get EXP from my GM too.  Ever the multitasker am I.  All of the art of mine that is on display in my house is at least ten years old.

Then I hear of and read about this place where people not only view art, but live and breathe it to a level I can scarcely comprehend.  I want to be challenged like that.  I want to sit in front of a statue for three hours and not say a word.  I want to stand in front of a light installation for 30 seconds and be unable to stop yammering because of the excitement.  I want to talk art with artists and arties who know far more than I, and who can teach me so much.  I want to feel awkward in the face of great art.

Burning Man takes my emotions one step further and burns them.  It's not a painting where I can look at one brushstroke, so lovingly placed, and my eyes well with tears.  It is art that feeds on itself, and thus mirrors the fact that the art's experience is fed by those who experience it.

Here I am on the raggedy edge of the emotions I feel and the sad hole where my artist's soul used to be.  I am envious of those who allow themselves to go to this weeklong indulgence.  I wish I could be as free.  I wish I would let myself.

Crunchy Thai Peanut Noodles

I made this up on the fly. Ingredient amounts are by no means precise!

With a knife, poke some holes in
a large spaghetti squash
Microwave on high for 3-4 minutes.  Turn over; microwave 3-4 minutes or until it gives easily when pressed.  Holes may foam.

In the bowl of food processor, combine:
3/4 cup raw peanuts
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
(can substitute white wine vinegar)
4 tablespoons brewed soy sauce
1 tablespoons sambal oelek
(can substitute other hot sauce)
Chinese five spice(about 1/2 teaspoon)
2-3 teaspoons toasted sesame oil

Buzz ingredients until they are a thin, non-lumpy paste. Drizzle in

1/4-1/2 cup peanut oil. Buzz until very smooth. Pour in a large bowl.  Cut the squash in half; allow to cool before handling.

With a pestle, crush

8-10 indian red chillies (can substitute 3 tablespoons purchased chili flakes)
in a mortar. Fold into peanut sauce. Taste; adjust seasonings (I needed a little more chilli and a touch of salt).

Using a spoon or tongs, pull seeds from squash and discard.  With a large fork, scrape spaghetti squash into the bowl with sauce.  Toss to combine; serve at once in deep bowls.

I made up this recipe because I was pressed for time- also, I have been trying to consume less processed flour and more vegetables.  My mom used to serve this squash as spaghetti, but I don't think it does well with Italian flavors; however, the noodle's crunch is reminiscent of bean sprouts and complements Asian dishes well.  Most recipes call for roasting the squash, halved, at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes.  This uses lots of energy, lots of time, and can make the threads mealy on the outer layer.

Prep time: 15 minutes
Total time: 15 minutes

Taste [rate 4]
Ease [rate 3]

Scottish Ale

It is probably began the first time I had a "MacNiven's Milkshake" AKA Belhaven.  I really like Scottish ales.  The have a creamy texture and low hoppines that are warm rather than crisp, mellow rather than lively.  It's a nice switch from the hoppy beers I often prefer.  When I want to chill and have a luxurious conversation, I reach for a Scottish ale.

So tonight I brewed my first one.  The recipe called for not only malted grains, but a wide variety: regular grains, toasty, coffee-roasted grains, brown sugar, and maltodextrin.  Despite the "malt" in the name, it is neither malted nor milk.  Maltodextrin is a polymer of dextrose.  I don't know why the variety of sugars, but I don't think it can hurt!!

The kit also included oak chips.  I have used oak chips with good success in a bourbon barrel ale; in that case, they were soaked in (obviously) bourbon and tossed into the secondary fermenter.  This recipe calls for boiling in water, discarding the water, then putting the chips in the secondary.  I do not know what the purpose is but I'm guessing that Scottish ales are fermented in oak.

Does anyone know the origin of this?  Help me. 

V for Vendetta directed by James McTeigue

v.JPGIMDb Link 

Remember, remember

The fifth of November…

Let's start this shindig by reviewing the fact that I love melodrama.  My first stage crush was going to the Indiana Repertory Theatre at the tender age of 13 to see Dracula.  The actor had such presence; the story, such mystique.  To this day that type of confident, swashbuckling performance completely captivates me.  So it took about 10 seconds for me to fall for the man in the mask.  The sound is great too- the subwoofer and bass shakers had a workout!

My knee-jerk reaction to the costuming and central man-in-mask-meets-girl plot was to think of Phantom of the Opera.  However, this is visual only; I see more linkage between V and the Spawn  comic of the 1990s.  Both fight with a curse of immense proportions; both know their death is imminent and necessary; both struggle between beauty and their self-forced obligations toward a goal.  The Faust mask of V also provides more linkage: Spawn's deal with the devil mirrors some aspects of Faust.

v-action.JPGThe grinning mask could have totally ruined the movie.  Hugo Weaving took this role knowing he was going to be acting and fighting with not one inch of his face or body showing.  His incredible voice drives the character.  During the soliloquy in the alley upon meeting Evey, he flourishes, tilts his head, and articulates perfectly.  I'm sure it's voiceover work, but it is done very well.  While it would never happen, I think he deserves an Academy nod for bringing just the right emotion and panache to this role without ever raising an eyebrow.  It could have been a campy remake of the original graphic novel (Starsky and Hutch-style), but this film instead seeks- and succeeds- to tear at viewers as they watch.  Instead of ruining the film, the mask with cheerily rosy cheeks brought a calm refinement to the choreography of the fight scenes.  The fighting style is unique and downright beautiful.  V's acts never seem desparate.  His calculation toward his goal is frighteningly logical.

V, the victim of a horrible crime against humanity, is a psychopath.  Utterly mad but still seemingly so lucid.  To him, the ends justify any means at all.  Evey reacts with the horror that any of us would and then with the acceptance that many of us would.  He makes his terrorism strangely beautiful and elegant.  As the movie unwinds and V commits more monstrous acts, he somehow becomes more endearing and human. I was ready to defend his actions when I saw what he'd done; I could feel him work his way into my consciousness without effort.

v-leader.JPGI had heard that there was controversy about this film and its parallels to our current US Administration; however, I didn't see it.  Among the four of us watching together, this lively debate carried on well after the film ended.  Sure, V is a terrorist and the government seeks to abolish him by any means necessary. The parallel I saw was not between the current administration and the British government of the film: I saw linkage in the fact that in the movie, the US was no longer united and was ravaged by war.  I think our country has suffered from too many wars on too many fronts for over 30 years.  I wouldn't limit it to any single administration, but hand the guilt to all our recent leadership.  Also, the government images and characters were more Lenin-colored and Third Reich-reminiscent.  There was one scene in particular the brought a cold chill upon me remembering WWII films I'd seen about concentration camp graves.

I saw the movie a couple of weeks ago but its magnificant poetry still resonates in my head.  This review could be four more pages; you'll note I haven't even touched on Natalie Portman's or other actors' fantastic performances.  I want to see this again to fully absorb the themes.  This is a deeply engaging film that doesn't sacrifice plot for action- or vice versa. 

[rate 4]

Kill a Vegetable

I spent most of last week on a vegan/vegetarian diet out of respect for my houseguests.  It’s not a stretch for me; I give up eating meat every year for Lent.  I found out last year that there is actually a Catholic initiative around this practice to go beyond the obligation into personal penance of giving up meat altogether.

I used to give up fish, too; I feel like fish are second-class citizens in the fight against inhumane treatment of animals.  Most fish can’t cry out in pain nor show expressions of fear (I guess eyelids are the key).  They are caught with a huge net, then suffocate.  In “better” circumstances, they are hooked and released.  I think catch and release is awful because of the injuries it causes.

I changed my mind on giving up fish when I realized the reason to eat fish on Friday is to remind us all that we are fishers of men (Matthew 4:19).  It is purposeful and respectful.  It is one of the things that I do in my daily life that keeps me reminded of God.  So my preferred source of fish is me: go deep-sea fishing, hook the fish, then put them in a cooler of ice water so they slowly go into torpor instead of gasping to death. It’s the same technique I’ve used on my pet fish who are suffering to death.  I was telling a friend I’ve never practiced euthanasia with a pet, but I guess I have.  If I don’t kill one fish, he/she’ll die in the tank and infect all the rest of them.

Feedlot: Does this seem right to you?If you know the horror of cattle feed lots (and the E. coli from cows packed into tiny, unhappy spaces and covered in dung), you’d do what I’ve done and buy ¼, ½, or a whole cow for your family from a local farmer who lets the cattle roam free and doesn’t use feed lots or antibiotics.  I buy only organic, free-range eggs so that I’m not buying from hens that are mutilated to be squeezed into tight cages where they can’t even walk.  I buy organic chicken as well.

I cook a lot to avoid the overprocessed foods in our culture.  We add chemicals, strip nutrients, and inject color to make foods look more vibrant.  So I buy whole spices, whole chickens, whole grains, you see what I mean.  I shop for organic even when the prices are outrageous.

I was feeling pretty good about myself until this week.  When someone I truly respect says “no life is worth a flavor,” it gives me pause.  Am I doing the right thing after all?  Then, quite coincidentally, my best friend announces she’s becoming a vegetarian.

I felt vaguely angry.  I searched myself for the answer, then asked Carlton why I felt this way.  He said, “because you know that you’ll never be able to do that.”  He was right.  I felt left in the dust by people I love and respect.  I want to do what is right but I am never going to measure up to their sacrifice and commitment.  No, life is not a competition, especially among friends; however, I can’t help but feel like they are doing what I wish I could do.  Frankly, my best friend has a much harder road than the California boys: the Midwest is not kind to vegetarians.

Carlton and I always have fish on Fridays, so he suggested we add another dietary day and eating vegetarian one day a week.  I haven’t picked what day, but it is a start, I guess.


lifeboat.JPGIt's called Lifeboat, but I kept calling it Overboard- maybe because my character kept being dunked! 

I had the opportunity to play this game with its developer, Jeff Siadek.  It was a fun game that could appeal to traditional role players as well as non-gamers looking for a fun "game night" type game.  The rules were not complex, and after understanding a bit about mechanics, it was easy to play.  Of course, experience brings better playing, but I do like a game that beginners can enjoy right out of the box.  The only thing it needs is a game mat to keep track of what activities your character has done that turn (row, fight, et cetera) I will be buying my own copy soon! It was amazing to me to play a game with the person who developed it. It was so much fun to see what their take on playing was.  Plus, the Bucket of Chum card is a stroke of comic genius.

I had purchased Wench, another game-night type game, the previous year, but this game is much more fun and FAR less offensive.  I would recommend it to all types of gamers.  There's nothing like throwing your friends off of a Lifeboat!!!