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.


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.



Radio star missing

Enjoying popcorn and cats on the couch is one good thing about movie night. It gets even better around Halloween, when all the scary films debut. It’s not easy to find good, imaginative films. Humor too. Humor should be mandatory in scary films. Like this one, about a podcaster who is lured into the home of a former seafarer obsessed with walruses.

When I read about this film, I didn’t realize it was a Tom Six type of plot. I’ve not seen it yet but reviews say it’s terrifying. I wonder how being from rural New Hampshire compares when watching I-was-lured-into-a-cabin movies. Is it more scary when you’re from the city? Less? More absurd? To me, it’s classic ghost story.


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.



The Donut Dollies

I owe readers an update on the secret journal I mentioned a while ago. Well, it’s not exactly secret (it’s a matter of public record) but you wouldn’t find it unless you were looking. So here’s a hint about the nature of that journal.

During Vietnam War, the Red Cross had a program called the Donut Dollies. They were “female volunteers, young and usually pretty”. Their sole purpose was to keep servicemen in good cheer. Vans were converted into mess halls with three girls to each van. Dollies made donuts and coffee for the troops, played records and handed out books, and led game-show style activities.

Yes, it’s easy to imagine the worst, especially in light of the issues we hear about the NFL and campuses these days. While there were some reports of harassment, others say these gals were more like sisters to soldiers, and that they’d sooner gouge out their own eyes than disrespect the gals.

You see the photos and it’s tempting for many to think of them as kind but empty-headed volutneers. In reality, Donut Dollies were often college graduates, and upon return from Vietnam would continue with much more travel and impressive careers.

The gal whose journal I found was not a Donut Dolly (not really) but she go on to modernization and travel. Below is my favorite photo of this time. I’m at once in awe of these women but also find the whole affair to be disturbing.

The Red Cross has had some pretty inane programs in its history. The Donut Dollies was clever but to take college women and objectify them, put them in the line of fire and put them up as borderline bait in a time of war, seems unwise to say the least.

As one former Donut Dolly said: Am I glad I did it? Absolutely. Would I want my daughter to do the same? Never.



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.



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.


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.


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……


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”.



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.


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