Comets and brilliance

We enjoyed some coffee (and bacon) during movie night on Sunday. The spooky season was over, but we found some promising new trailers. Coherence stood out. A table and some glowsticks. That’s all these actors had to work with, and they were brilliant.

I recently told my friend what I expect out of a horror film. I want scary. A clever plot. Likeable characters, a great story, a captivating new look at human nature and a lesson that I will still be pondering weeks later. He said, you’re expecting way too much from a horror movie. But why shouldn’t this genre deliver?

When I read that Coherence was a “puzzle movie”, my first thought was oh great, a pain in the ass puzzle movie. They’re always gratuitously complicated and with very little payoff. Coherence is completely different. The puzzle is elegant. So it’s not like some homework assignment for the audience. It’s really fun and easy, and you can go as deep as you want into the layers of clues.

The trailer doesn’t tell you much because there is no way at all to describe this plot (it’s basically about a comet that messes with lives). The preview is not scary. But the movie is. I was on edge all day; when I took out the recycling tonight the scarecrow on our porch nearly gave me a heart attack.

If you watch it with someone you trust, you might not recognize that person by the end of the movie. It really was a mind-scrambler. Don’t watch it with someone who plays cruel practical jokes because after this movie would be one hell of a time to scare someone.

For full enjoyment of the movie, pay attention to each character’s personality. Last night my mind was spinning on about identity, choices, kindness, the physical universe and how one small decision could lead to paths within paths that endlessly diverge away from the center. Five stars. At least.

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A book of Bitter

I’ve always liked adding a kick of arugula and dandelion to salads, or drinking Turkish coffee at October fairs. I didn’t anticipate someone would write a book about it, though. Brilliant idea.

In the footsteps of Salted, comes this éloge to bitter foods and so fitting as winter arrives. Hardy greens and roots that can survive the New England cold. Cacao, walnuts, some wild greens like chicory and many types of bark add bitter to otherwise boring recipes.

The author offers intriguing recipes and culinary topics like the invention of chicory root coffee. This goes back to the intersection of poison and edible. The mere act of enjoying bitter is one of evolutionary bravery, I say. A connection with the hazy world of plant-human life.

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Coffee and origins

I’m enjoying a Café Latte after a day of running. We had the perfect October morning. Fresh air after continual rain yesterday. Soon we’ll be hunting for root vegetables, hot cocoa and tea.

I read on Grub Street that the “First Columbia Starbucks” I’m annoyed already “promises to brew only local coffee”. Of course when they say local, they mean coffee grown in Columbia on a farm that’s at least 100 miles away.

The Andes is rich with volcanic soil, nice altitude and lovely conditions for growing coffee. Single Origin means the coffee came from one farm. Nothing about potential industrial methods or harm to the ecosystem. Granted, if you’re going to buy from a chain, Starbucks is the best one. Ecologist Julie Craves praises their Café standards.

Smithsonian estimates that 95% of shade grown coffee comes from Central and South America, Columbia included. That said, I always buy Smithsonian Bird Certified as it’s the ONLY program that enlists third party biologists and requires measurable benefits.

In Columbia, the tinto is a cup of black coffee shared by people who recognize their good fortune. Friends share the day’s news and good conversation. While Starbucks is making an impressive effort, it is just not the venue in which I picture myself enjoying a tinto with my most trusted friends.

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Cool clouds

It’s been too warm here. Our Fall teas have turned to iced tea. We’re still enjoying the spices of the season but in cool drinks. I’ve stayed seasonal with tunes from Iceland and dreams of visiting a cloud forest.

While in the tropics, researchers report these places have a cool, icy air that’s a pleasure to hike. They’re also downright pretty. Clouds and montane plants keep the atmosphere cool. They survive the dry season with superior stomata, that can take in 20% more moisture than non-montane plants. And of course anyone visiting gets to enjoy an abundance of clouds and mist rolling in from the ocean.

Endemism and new species are common including a chinchilla previously only seen in fossils. Quetzals in Guatemala are also common.

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Paws in the bourbon

Cats in whiskey barns. Punch has lovely photos of this old tradition. The hypothesis is that it’s just an extension of our “ancient” relationship with cats as protectors of grain. But really, these cats can’t find a nice population of voles outside the distilleries? I have a feeling it’s more about shelter, and tolerance. If they’re welcomed into a distillery (and fed) all the better. NPR pointed out that although rum makers have better rodent controls, cats are considered loyal friends of the trade to this day.

Elijah-Cat

And if you can’t get enough of Cats in Houses of Beverage, check out NYC’s popup Cat Café (they have a bouncer)! and the permanent Teahouse & rescue soon to come (ps they need funding). All the cats are from shelters and are up for adoption. Both of these to me sound like good solutions to cat homelessness. Give cats a nice space to live in, until they can get adopted. Leave the ferals to hang out with the booze.

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Sand schools

I’ve been neglecting your needs, dear reader. It’s been all ecology and not enough film. Behold then this short by film student Kyle Fleicher about a group of school children whose bus has flipped over in the desert and who make the most of a red church. It’s imaginative, funny oh and ps it’s dark. So keep that in mind. I swear my elementary school had the exact same slide……

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Black market lattes

We took a Fall stroll tonight. Scarlets and the aromas of spices, chimneys are lit. Obsessions seem to begin this time of year. The raking of leaves, gathering of Fall or school clothes, the hunt for Fall festivals. And the drunken draw of Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Lattes.

The mix alone is wrought with controversy. There is no pumpkin. It’s mostly spices. Some foodies have demanded it be called Pumpkin Pie Spice Mix. It’s desecrated everything from Ety’s ice cream to moonshine. And now, it’s on the black market. No, I’m serious.

Hugh Merwin of Grub Street wanted to buy some. Starbucks sells the mix on their website, but Hugh was suspicious, and for good reason, there doesn’t appear to be much spice in this creepy sugary mix. Sugar, condensed nonfat milk, high fructose corn syrup, annatto1 natural and artificial flavors, caramel color, salt, potassium sorbate. Aside from the nausea inducing amount of sugar, does anyone really think this is Starbuck’s secret recipe?

Ambitious Hugh found the mix on Ebay from a seller claiming this is the real deal; straight from the back alleys of Starbuck’s kitchens. No ingredient list. He found it to be nauseatingly spicy and toxic-level sugary. I’ve yet to see a response by Starbucks.

Home cooks have elicitly copied the mix for years, mostly from experimentation with ginger, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. You can make your own. Cinnamon, turmeric and ginger grown in West Sumatra is more sustainable as it’s grown under the shade of coffee trees.

1 Annato, by the way, is a spice derived from Achiote seeds. It’s used in South American and Mexican cuisines. But it’s mostly added for orangey color in food and beauty products. While it reportedly has a nutmeg aroma, it couldn’t have added much flavor to the spice mix as Foodies describe the taste as “claylike”.

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Stone age Creationists

You have to wonder if this state is looking to usurp Louisiana as the most anti-science of all. The Texas board is planning to adopt textbooks that proclaim “disagreement” among scientists over the cause of global warming, and one that even says a cooling spell will eventually even things out.

In Houston climate and evolution exhibits were altered to remove mention of anything that would offend conservative right wing visitors, including the removal of any displays mentioning evolution. An astute reporter noticed some displays censored and questioned the VP.

“We don’t need people to come in here and reject us,” Sumners said. The museum does have an extensive display about human origins and human ancestors — a subtle approach that one might call “just the artifacts.”

The UK has just banned all mention of Creationism in the classroom. While the US may be too vast for this type of unity, it’s something one hopes will be standardized in the year 2015. It’s a year that used to be seen as Futuristic in old sci fi movies. They never warned us that some would be lingering in caves.

Of local milk

I think that as we’re starting to hunger for real food, we’re hungering for real people. I have faith that there’s an audience that’s more interested in human beings and real life than some staged South Hampton fantasy or deceptively tidy suburban cloisters, neither of which exist. What I’m really enamored with is the texture of life itself from bone marrow to neuroscience, relationships to mortality. I’m not interested in an aseptic silence that avoids discomfort. There are messes that abide for weeks, screaming matches, missed deadlines, and ill starred decisions. And there is fresh bread, floral tea, and good work to be done. Living is a glossy, unctuous thing, and cooking is a divine, ancient art. It is the elevation of biological necessity. It is the beating heart. It is an empire built on grain and cacao. It is selenium and potassium. It is kale and cauliflower. It is sustenance. It is actually the art of living.

- Beth Kirby, Local Milk

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Sugar canes wiles

I wonder how many people know the source and types of sugar. Especially considering how much we consume. In the world of plants, it’s the best photosynthesizer. Like corn and wheat, it is a grass and a huge cash cow.

Sugar cane was once a crop of the slave trade. Sugar (as molasses) was shipped from the islands to the West and distilled into rum. Profits or goods were shipped to Africa to buy more slaves to grow more sugar cane. Plantations and boiling houses (hot as they sound) were fraught with accidents and deaths. Abandoned sugar cane plantations still stand and to this day it’s grown as a monoculture, notorious for gobbling up water and simultaneously polluting it.

A while ago I predicted that the word Sustainability, since the FTC chose to not regulate it, would become the new word of greenwashing. And indeed it has. Coke and BP got their hooks into a “sustainability” label. Look for companies like McDonald’s, Nestle, and others to suddenly have “sustainability initiatives” that are basically a load of hogwash.

As Julie from Coffee and Conservation says, the bigger the label, the weaker the standards are once companies like Coke and Nestle want one. She wrote a guide to these labels and I’d recommend assuming that none of the major ones have any ecological standards worth your money. Smithsonian Bird Friendly is the only standard.

Farmers and ecologists are finding sugar cane can be intercropped. While there’s always questions about efficiency hand picking, sugar cane grows in wide-apart rows and suffers from in-between weed growth anyway.

Eucalyptus, potato, peas and mustard (a bug deterrent) have all been shown to increase yield and give the farmer a great alternate crop to sell in the off season. And they’re potentially using 4 times less land than before.

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