Stand By Me
I watched "Stand by Me" for the first time last night, in the company of friends. I've wanted to see it for decades... never somehow had the right opportunity. I forgot about it for long swaths of time, I don't tend to watch a lot of movies alone, and no one seemed to want to watch it with me. I'd gotten the idea that it was cheesy and not very well thought of.

It was an outstanding movie, and actually I realize now that it was also a fairly famous and well thought of movie. And, like most good movies that deal with death and loss, it left me simultaneously happy and sad... grateful for the people I love, and prone to tearing up all day, not from depression, but from the sort of bittersweet sorrow that almost feels good.

Not too worried about spoilers for a 25-year old movie, but I'll cut it for lengthCollapse )

Bujold and Genre
A question for whoever is still reading this now that most of y'all have moved on to facebook: would you call Falling Free a romance? How about Ethan of Athos?

Obviously answering that might involve spoilersCollapse )

Ramblings about Pears
Way back when I was a kid, I read a little story in some magazine or other in which the author related a supermarket encounter concerning pears. A stranger asked her anxiously when the pears for sale would be ripe. "Maybe two days, maybe three," she said. He pressed for a definite answer, but she couldn't give one. "But how will I know?" he asked. "When the pears are ready, you must be ready," she told him.

It was cast as a life lesson- about stopping to smell the flowers, being in tune with the moment, something like that. I suppose I agree, but I think what she should have told him was to "Check the Neck (TM)."

I'm not sure whether to be amused or horrified that that is a trademarked phrase. It works, though. Press gently on the pear near the stem, and if it gives way, the pear is sweet and ripe. (Pears not only soften after they are picked, they also get sweeter.)

I have decided that this winter I will eat lots of pears. That way I am sure to eat many perfect pears, and satisfy my cravings. (I did that one summer with corn on the cob. It was immensely satisfying, and once I had _finally_ eaten as much corn on the cob as I truly craved, I never felt starved for it the way I always used to.)

Because I spent so many years unable to tell when pears were ripe, I never dared experiment with pear varieties. Somehow that fear of experimentation persisted long after my pear skills improved. But this year I am trying them all.

Starkrimson: they look really cool with vivid maroon skins. They taste great, sometimes with a hint of floral undertone, but the center is a little bitter, unlike a Bartlett. They are also prone to be a really pretty shape without a lot of lumps.

Bosc: I only had one Bosc pear so far, but it also had a little floral undertone.

Japanese: unlike other pears, this one is meant to be eaten while it's crisp. It had an intensely floral taste, and a fascinating texture which managed to be intensely juicy even though it was also rather crunchy. I suspect that I will come to either love or dislike the taste of these - the Starkrimson and Bosc were very similar to the Bartlett, but this was dramatically different.

Pears also have the annoying habit of all ripening at the same time. I've realized that purchasing multiple varieties at once is a way to combat this.

Pancake breakfast was very fun -- thanks to all who came. It's been a while since Uly and I hosted something with an open invite, and it felt good. I happened to pick the hottest day of the summer to date, but we did okay, mostly. Everyone would have liked it to be cooler, but the heat didn't really kick into high gear until afternoon, and at that point we retreated to Green Lake. I missed some friends who weren't here, but honestly, given the heat, I think the apartment was at capacity. In more temperate weather we might have squeezed another person or two in via the deck and the computer room.

I do not miss our house. But I do miss one or two things about it, and pancake breakfast was high on the list. It felt really good to find out that Uly and I can still do pancake breakfast, even if the menu was a little more limited and the crowd a little smaller.

Grr Bumbershoot
Uly and I were gonna buy tickets today, on mcjulie's advice that if we want to see Bob Dylan we shouldn't put it off to the last minute like we usually do. But evidently the only way to buy them right now is if you have Mastercard or Visa.


West African Peanut Soup
This is my favorite new recipe, and is nothing at all like the other African peanut soup I make. The ingredients and flavor are very different.

Cut for lengthCollapse )

Ironman 2
I enjoyed Iron Man 2 a lot, but nonetheless, I will complain. I"m a fan, it's what we do. It's a sign of love.

In part, people go to superhero movies for the fun of seeing superpowers in action, and of seeing stuff go crash bang boom. So your hero should be able to do amazing things. But movies are boring if the hero is never in danger, so the enemy has to be able to do amazing things too.

But suspense doesn't just stem from the theoretical outcome of a battle. It depends on all the little choices along the way. The audience has to be convinced that it is plausible for the hero to get hurt.

With Iron Man, this is a challenge, because in the suit, he's invulnerable, but apart from the suit, he's just a guy. In a Jedi battle, you can show the hero falter and take an injury. With the Hulk, you can show him bleed. (The last movie never bothered to, but they should have!) But with Iron Man, it's hard to imagine a combat failure mode that doesn't leave him one big bloody smear on the ground.

Cut for courtesy's sake - but only the most spoiler-phobic need fear reading onCollapse )

An Iliad
I used mykque01's gift certificate to go see An Iliad yesterday. It was really pretty neat - it was a one man show, and I wasn't sure what anyone could do with a one man show based on The Iliad, but I liked it a lot.

US Health Care
MCJulie's recent post has motivated me to post this...

A couple of years ago, I got acquainted with a doctor, and I knew he had lived (though not practiced) in other parts of the world. I asked him why the US had such high spending and such low outcomes for health care, and he immediately said that it was due to system which was designed to be fantastic in a crisis and to suck at preventative care.

I asked him to explain, and he told me this story... I'll tell it as accurately as I can given the time that has passed since I heard it.

"When I was a resident doing my family medicine rotation, I saw a man in his early fifties who was obese, had untreated diabetes and uncontrolled high blood pressure. I knew he was at high risk for a heart attack.

"He was a low income guy - he worked full time but he didn't have insurance, and couldn't afford to get it. He was just scraping by financially. I counseled him about his diet. I also wanted to prescribe medication to treat both his blood pressure and diabetes, but he honestly could not afford them. I asked around and managed to get a pharmaceutical program to get him some free samples, but that was the best I could do.

"A few months later, he came through the ER. Sure enough, he'd had a heart attack. Now hospitals are legally obligated to provide critical care to anyone who's life is in immediate danger. So our hospital treated him, at considerable expense - probably around $100,000.

"As soon as he was stable, he got dumped back out with no follow up care. Never mind that his blood pressure and diabetes were still out of control and that he was at even greater risk of a second heart attack than he had been for the first one. He still couldn't get access to any preventative care, but when he has another heart attack, taxpayers will pay for that one too.

"Now step back from his case and imagine you give free treatment to every low income person who has high blood pressure. You won't prevent every single heart attack, but you will prevent many. Heart attacks are so expensive to treat, and the medication to treat high blood pressure is so cheap that you will definitely reduce expenses. That's without even considering the humanitarian aspects of the situation.

"But there's more. In most European countries, this guy would get a free annual checkup. He'd be counseled about his diet, and treated for high blood pressure and diabetes at an earlier stage. His health might never have deteriorated to the point it was at when I saw him in the first place.

"If you're going to have a heart attack, the US is about the best place in the world to get it treated. Great in a crisis, lousy at public health."

This story clarified a lot for me.

Spicy Peanut Dip
Spicy Peanut Dip was not bad, but it isn't perfect.

I followed the recipe from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.

1 cup unsweetened peanut butter
1 bunch scallions, including some of the greens, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
2 serrano chilies, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon soy sauce
juice and zest of 2 limes
1 teaspoon turmeric

Mix everything, then blend in a food processor. Add warm water to thin the sauce if necessary. Stop while some flecks of green remain. Taste and adjust proportions of peanut butter and lime.

My results:
I don't have a food processor, so I used my blender. I had to add quite a bit of water to get the blender to blend. The resulting sauce tasted great when I tried it plain, but was so thin that it slid right off when I tried to dip a slice of green pepper in it. So I added more peanut butter to thicken it up.

But after I thickened it, I didn't like the flavor as well. Peanut butter was too dominant. I was out of limes, so I tried adding a little lemon. Still not perfect so I also added a little more soy.

At that point, I still thought the peanut butter flavor was too dominant, but I decided to stop.

I'll probably try this again. Two possibilities come to mind. One is just to leave everything chunky. I'm a little worried about biting in to a chunk of serrano, but Uly tells me not to be a chicken. The other possibility (Uly's idea) is to use a commercial or homemade chili paste so the hot parts are pureed, and leave the rest of the ingredients chunky.

Though it wasn't perfect, I did like it, so I'll probably make it again.


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