The gay Oreo


The Nabisco company recently put the above picture on their website, with the innocuous / sweet caption: “Proudly support love!”



And, naturally, the company was immediately attacked by bigots and conservatives.



On account of what? A double-double-double stuffed cookie? I would have thought that a cookie like this would sell like hotcakes in the Bible Belt. Especially with all those bright colors.



But – despite this redneck protest – more and more companies are showing their true (rainbow) colors, and good for them: Target, J. C. Penney, Starbucks. Even Cheerios!



But the bigots and the religious right are thrashing around in anger, and threatening boycott.



Let them thrash, brothers and sisters.



See, I figure, for every religious / conservative kook who decides to boycott one of the above companies (and there are many more gay-tolerant and gay-friendly companies than this, as you’ll see if you follow this link), there’s at least one gay person or gay-tolerant person who’s charmed and delighted by those companies’ bravery.



(And do you know what one of the main complaints on the (mostly tolerant) Internet is? It’s that these gigantically-stuffed cookies aren’t actually available for sale.)




I haven’t been to Starbucks in a while. I should pay them a visit.



Do you suppose they sell Oreos?



The Supreme Court’s health care decision


Yesterday morning I was at the office, crawling under a desk to connect a telephone wire, when Partner called me. “The Supreme Court upheld health care!” he crowed. “Roberts voted with the liberals!”



I was so excited that I got up too quickly and bumped my head.



Seriously: I’m delighted. Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act was a landmark piece of legislation, which finally put health care into the same category as education: everyone should have access to it, in the same way. No more marching poor people off to emergency rooms, where they can wait patiently like the paupers they are. No more hospitals amortizing the money they lose on emergency-room care by charging more for standard services. No more insurance companies charging inflated premiums because hospitals charge inflated rates.



Well, maybe not all at once. But a huge step in the right direction: the biggest step since Medicare.



The Right’s attempt to overturn the health care act was, for me, sick-making. They couched it as a moral and political issue: how dare the government tell us what to do?



Honey, they do it all the time: law enforcement, income tax. Get used to it. And this is for something good and well-intentioned.


I have seen, just last evening online, images of Obama burning the Constution. I also read online that a number of angry conservatives are Tweeting about moving to Canada, to escape the communist tyrant Obama. (Canada, get it? That place with free health care?) When it was pointed out to them that this made no sense, they claimed it was a joke. Really?  “I’m moving to Canada” means, to me, “I like the idea of free health care.” One said: “At least in Canada they’re openly socialist, unlike Obama who pretends to be a democratic leader.”



Yikes yikes yikes.



And here’s the best part: even if the Mayans are right and Romney becomes President, he will have a hell of a time overturning Obama’s legislation; he will never have a supermajority in either house, and Democrats will filibuster him to death on the issue.



And the American people, in the meantime, will discover that it’s nice to have health care, and the polls will turn in favor of health care.



And you know how Mitt Romney feels about polls, and about agreeing with the majority.



I got up yesterday morning thinking it was going to be a sucky day. And it turned out to be a great day for America.



Who knew?


How to thicken your blueberry pie


Boy, I bet that title got your attention, didn’t it?






You know I’ve been baking blueberry pies lately. Partner and all his family members love them, and I enjoy making them.  I have mostly perfected the process.



Except that I have always struggled with the juiciness issue.



Berries are naturally very juicy.  In extreme cases (as when I use frozen berries), this results in a crust filled with sweet blue soup. More often, it’s just an issue of messiness. Also, it’s hard to sop up all that good blueberry flavor when it’s running around liquefied in your pie plate.



So we use a thickening agent. And, mama, I have tried them all. Cornstarch is moderately effective. Flour has seemingly no effect at all (though my friend Cathleen swears by it). Tapioca creates a nightmarish blue/white solid mass inside your pie that looks like Styrofoam; it tastes okay, but it looks horrible.



(Yes, I know this is not the most pressing problem in the world, and not in the league of – say – world hunger, or a cure for cancer. But I set myself small problems to solve, and I generally achieve my goals.)



I was browsing the King Arthur catalog a few weeks ago when I noticed a product called “Instant Clearjel,” which promised to make runny / juicy pies a thing of the past.



For $4.95 plus shipping, it was worth the gamble.



Ladies and gentlemen, hats off to this product. It is the greatest invention of our time.



The package said to add anywhere from two to five tablespoons, with berry pies getting more. I decided to be cautious in my first attempt, and added two.



The result was spectacular. The pie, when I cut into it, was glorious: a few berries crumbled away, but the filling held its shape. The individual berries glistened like dewdrops in the morning sunlight.  It made me feel like Martha Stewart and Rachael Ray all in one. Partner pronounced it one of my best pies ever.



I have no idea what’s in this stuff; the package says only “modified food starch.” Modified how? Shot out of a cannon? Exposed to gamma rays? Combined with something that came out of a meteor?



I don’t care.



All you pie bakers out there: save your nickels and dimes and buy some of this stuff.



It’s wonderful.


Rest in peace, Nora Ephron


So sorry to see another witty smart person go: Nora Ephron, who died just yesterday.



I love her novel “Heartburn.” Here are a couple of (inexact) excerpts:



“I was hired by the National Caper Council to develop a bunch of recipes including capers. For a month I put capers in everything including milkshakes, and I realized that everything that tasted good with capers tasted better without.”



Also (I paraphrase broadly on this one): the narrator is in the hospital, watching over her critically ill mother. The nurse comes in and covers her mother’s face with the blanket. “Our mother’s dead,” the nurse says warmly.



Narrator flares up. “She’s not our mother! She’s my mother! And – “



And all at once Mother sits up in bed, spreads her arms in triumph, and says:”Ta da!”



(And then dies shortly afterward.)



(Rest in peace, Nora. We will miss you, and your wit, and your warmth.)


Internet identities


I had a acquaintance some years ago who was active on every single social-networking site: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn. He was anxious to make a name for himself. More than a name: an image.



(This is not me, by the way, so get that idea out of your head. It’s not one of those “I have a friend who . . .” things. This is a real story about someone else. You know I always tell the truth about myself. Well, most of the time.)



My friend’s LinkedIn image was professional: he’d had more jobs than you could shake a stick at. He was all over the place in his profession, rising from level to level. You could trace his career growth on a graph, if you wanted to: manager, director, executive director –



Except that it wasn’t true. I knew that he’d actually lost his previous job and wasn’t working at all at the moment. So: he was either making it all up, or misdating the information he was posting. I didn’t want to call him out – who wants to destroy a career? – but I had a strange feeling about all of this, as I watched him go from untruth to untruth on LinkedIn.



Then there was his Facebook persona.



On Facebook, he was Mister Philanthropist. He was all over the place: giving speeches here, making heartfelt appeals there. He was amazing. Some of his Facebook friends were buying it: he was getting “Congratulations!” comments right and left on his various philanthropic / altruistic posts.



(I, on the other hand, knew that he might or might not be making this stuff up. And, even if he wasn’t, he was certainly making the LinkedIn stuff up. And, for those of us who were following him on both LinkedIn and Facebook: we had to ask ourselves how he could possibly have the time to do all these things – be a stellar businessman and a stellar philanthropist – at the same time?)



So what’s a girl to do?



I could have messaged him, or confronted him. So could lots of other people, I imagine.



But I didn’t.  Oh, well, I thought.  It’ll blow up eventually. And, when it does, it will be spectacular.



And we (who knew the truth) will be able to say: “Oh, I had no idea! I thought it all sounded a little out of kilter. But I really didn’t know he was doing all of that . . . “



A warning to all of you fibbers out there: the truth will come out.



The Internet is built that way.


My ophthalmologist is a jerk


My eyesight turned bad when I was about nine years old. I’ve worn glasses ever since, and go for regular checkups.



Luckily, the Rhode Island Eye Institute is a block and a half away from our apartment.  The day before my last appointment, I received a telephone reminder from a robotic assistant, who told me blurrily that I had an appointment on Wednesday with a Doctor – Newberg? Newsome? Nugent?



I couldn’t remember.  I’ve had at least three different doctors since going there; the first one retired, the second one moved away.  When I checked in, I tried “Nugent,” as that seemed the trendiest, what with Ted Nugent in the news and all.  The receptionist looked up at me wearily.  “Newman?” she said.



“Sure,” I said.  “Why not?”



First came the assistant.  Eye drops.  “Is this better – or this?  Number one – or number two?”  I’ve been doing this since I was nine years old.  I know the drill.  I hate the drops, but I can deal with the glaucoma test and the blazing lights they shine into my eyeballs.  I’m tougher than I look.



Then, after an interminable wait (to allow the drops to take effect), in walks Doctor Newton: younger than me, blondish, goofy-looking, very sure of himself.  He looks into my eyeballs.  Optic nerve blah blah blah. Cornea blah blah blah. There’s some pitting of the retina that might (if I live long enough) be serious, but not to worry: surgery can fix it. 






I decide to ask a question.  “I’ve been wearing bifocals for a while,” I said.  “Do I really need them?”



He starts to giggle. “You probably don’t realize that you’re using both lenses,” he said.  “That’s a good thing.”



At first I’m relieved.  Then I notice that he’s still laughing at my silly question, and glancing back at his assistant to make sure she notices what a silly thing I’ve said.



And I suddenly realize that my ophthalmologist is a jerk



I have pretty much decided I will never visit Doctor Nerdburger again.  There are lots of ophthalmologists in the world.



I wonder if Ted Nugent is available?



For Sunday: T. Rex performs “Bang A Gong”



Now, ladies and gentlemen: one of the stupidest songs ever written.



Also one of the most effective.



Presenting: T. Rex performing “Bang A Gong.”



Get it on!






Finding out what the yellow flowers are called


I walk to work most days. Some days I walk all the way, which takes about thirty minutes. Most days I ride the Providence trolley with Partner; I get off on Wickenden Street, which is about a fifteen-minute walk from my office.



I walk past a florist, and a used-record store, and a couple of restaurants and bars, and a hardware store, and two coffeeshops, and a pizzeria, and an art-supply store.



Then I walk through a field of flowers.



I-195 used to run through the center of Providence. They rerouted it a few years ago. All of the former interstate-highway space is now a green boggy wilderness, full of weeds and flowers. (Rhode Island is largely swampland, so there’s a lot of squashy reedy ground reasserting itself too; geese are returning in large numbers, and those geese are mean.)



In the green space, there are yellow flowers, and white flowers, and yellow, and purple. I recognize some of them: carpet bugle, and butter-and-eggs, and milkweed, and even Jimson weed. There’s chicory, and vetch, and mullein. 



But there are a few I don’t know.



Some are yellow, on long spindly stalks. Some are small purple flowers on short stalks. Some are white, and small, and subtle.





There’s an Ursula LeGuin short story called “The Day Before The Revolution.” It’s about an old woman, Laia, who has inspired a revolution, but is now too old to care about it: all she can think about is her own past, and her dead husband, and the moments of joy in her life.



At the end of the story, she goes upstairs to her room to rest, and probably to die. On the way,  she looks out the window at a field of yellow flowers, the same flowers in which she lay down with her husband for the first time. And the last line is: “Eighty-five years, and she never had time to find out what the yellow flowers were called.”



I understand this.



I want to find out what the yellow flowers in the green field are called, before it’s too late.


By request: my piecrust recipe (by way of the King Arthur Cookbook)


Since writing my blueberry pie blog the other day, I’ve gotten innumerable (read: two) requests for my crust recipe.



I’m flattered.  But I need to tell you that this is the classic piecrust recipe from the King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook (with very tiny modifications). It got me over my fear of making piecrust. It’s easy, and fairly quick, and very reliable, and everyone seems to like it (I haven’t gotten any complaints yet). As with any piecrust recipe, you will end up covered with flour. I was wearing sweatpants while making my most recent batch, and wore the same sweatpants to the health club the next night, and realized belatedly that I looked like I’d been sprayed with ranch dressing. Or something.



Herewith the recipe:



        3 cups all-purpose flour.

        1 teaspoon salt.

        1 teaspoon sugar (if you’re making a fruit pie; omit for a quiche / chicken pot pie crust).

        Approximately ¾ cup vegetable shortening, or other fat (some use half butter, half shortening; I get better results with shortening. I know it’s a trans-fat. So what? How often do you make a pie?).

        Very cold water (as in refrigerated; we use a Brita pitcher, so there’s never any problem finding good ice-cold water).



Measure the flour, salt, and sugar into a large bowl, and stir together lightly to mix. Add the shortening and methodically work it into the flour/salt/sugar mixture with a fork or pastry blender. (I prefer a fork.)  You want a sort of grainy / pebbly look when you’re completed this step: no big chunks of shortening left, and the flour should have darkened very slightly.



Stir in a few tablespoons of very cold water. (Don’t stir too hard – just try to blend them in.)  Then a few more. Then a few more. You’ll see the flour/shortening mixture turn gradually to piecrust consistency. If you overshoot the mark and add too much water, try adding a little more flour to even out the batch.



When you have a satisfactorily doughy mass in your bowl, turn it out onto your (floured) rolling surface.  (Partner’s sister gave me a big wooden plank, which works very nicely.) Work it with your hands a bit to make sure it’s thoroughly mixed, but not too much; if you work it too heavily, it’ll turn tough.



When it’s nice and uniform, split it into two equal masses, and plop one of them back into the original bowl, and put it in the refrigerator to wait its turn.



Roll out the first mass of dough, using flour liberally to keep everything non-sticky. (This is how flour gets everywhere.). Roll it to your desired thickness (I like it a little thicker than most people; with a juicy pie, it’s nice – the thick crust will absorb a lot of juice and be very flavorful).  Pick it up (carefully) and put it in your pie plate. (This is a terrifying moment. Be brave.)



Fill your piecrust with the filling of your choice.



Take crust #2 out of the fridge, roll it out, and do what you will with it.  (I used to do latticed crusts, which are very attractive, but Partner let me know that he doesn’t care so much about latticed crusts.  This is flattering, actually, because it tells me he actually likes the way the crust tastes, and doesn’t mind having a little more of it in the pie. In any case, do as you wish.)



Finish the edge of pie in your preferred manner.  (I pinch mine; it’s simple and very Early American.  My mother used to do an elaborate thing like a ribbon around the outer edge of the pie; it was beautiful, but I (frankly) can’t be bothered.)



There will almost certainly be lots of extra crust hanging around the pieplate.  Trim it off with a knife. 



(This recipe creates a lot of extra crust, if you do it the way I do.  I take the remaining crust (after trimming), roll it out in sugar, cut it in strips, put some honey and cinnamon and extra sugar on top, and bake the strips for about 20 minutes in the same oven with the pie; they’re a nice little snack while you’re waiting for the pie to cool.)



See how easy?


Editing; or, shorter is almost always better


(Warning: I am going to spoil several movies for you here.  Specifically, I am going to ruin “Chronicle,” “Sunset Boulevard,” and “Dark Victory.”  If you don’t want to know what happens in these movies, click away immediately.)



(Still with me?  Read on.)



Partner and I saw “Chronicle” a few months.  It’s one of those “found footage” movies like “The Blair Witch Project” and “Paranormal Activity,” all grainy video, supposedly filmed by the participants / characters themselves.  The problem with these movies is that you have to find a pretext for the filming.  In “Blair Witch,” they’re doing a documentary project.  In “Paranormal,” they’re trying to figure out what’s going on in their house.  The pretext in “Chronicle” is that one of the characters is being bullied and abused by his father, and is filming everything in an attempt to set up a shield around himself.  This device becomes a little difficult later in the movie – almost a hindrance.  After he becomes a maniacal supervillain, he sucks all the video devices out of the hands of the people in the restaurant at the top of the Space Needle and floats them around himself, to film himself.  Crazy!



Anyway, the movie’s about teenagers who (for some reason) develop telekinesis.  They get better and better at it.  Then one of them gets really sad and depressed, and –



Then there’s a big fight scene. It was blurry and murky, unfortunately; I had a hard time who was doing what to whom.  There was lots of smashing and crashing, anyway. Supervillain loses.  Superhero zooms away.



And then – horrors – there’s an epilogue



“Andrew!” our hero yelps into the camera.  “You were a good guy!  I know you were!  I’m gonna figure this thing out, and – “



Honey, Andrew nearly destroyed the city of Seattle.  He was not a good guy. 



Also, that epilogue scene was pretty much an embarrassment.   Too much; too cute; too obvious; too clearly a signal that, if this movie does well, we will have “Chronicle II.”



I was describing this scene to one of my student assistants, and she was giggling.  “I think that final scene did it for me,” I told her.  “Maybe they just should have chopped the movie off after the death of the villain, with the hero zooming off cryptically into the sky.” 



And then it occurred to me, epiphanically: editing is important.



Ever seen “Dark Victory”?  Bette Davis plays a wealthy Virginia horse-owner with an incurable illness.  All she knows is that she is going to drop dead very suddenly; she will, however, go blind about fifteen minutes before the end. In the movie’s final scene, Bette’s working in the garden with her best friend, and says innocently, “Did the sun go behind a cloud?” 



They suddenly realize what’s happening, and –



The whole thing takes only a few minutes.  The screen fades to black.  THE END.



Terrific ending.  But then I read the original screenplay.  In it, her widower and her best friend are at the races together, watching one of Bette’s beloved horses win the race.  They look at each other tearily.  “Wouldn’t she have loved it?” one says to the other.



Blech.  Thank god they cut that scene.



Movies are generally much too long.  Have you noticed, even in action movies, they slow down to accommodate love scenes and character-development scenes?  (As if we care about characters development in something like “Fast Five”!) One of the things I love about older movies is that they’re often under 90 minutes. Moviemakers in those days understood the attention-span of the average viewer, and our impatience with silly details.



And sometimes the story needs to end in the dark.  A movie called “Dark Victory” needs to end by fading to black.  “Chronicle” needed a darker ending; the villain, a persecuted boy who gains superpowers and uses them badly, is a tragic character.  We don’t need Light and Happiness; we need a moment to gather ourselves and move on.  (Yes, I know, it’s basically a comic-book movie.  Aren’t they all?)



One last editing story: the great movie “Sunset Boulevard.”  A great silent-movie actress (played by the real-life silent-movie legend Gloria Swanson) has driven herself nutso believing she’ll make a comeback.  She “hires” the handsome young William Holden to help her with the script that will reestablish her as a star.  She ends up insane; he ends up dead.



In the release version of the movie, we open on a scene of a man running out onto a patio.  We hear shots.  He falls into a swimming pool face first.  “Yes, this is Sunset Boulevard,” we hear William Holden intone wearly.



He is the dead man.  He narrates the entire movie; we don’t see him, but we know it’s him, and we know he’s dead.



In the initial “Sunset Boulevard” production, which was shown to preview audiences, the opening of the movie went like this: the camera pans through a morgue, with bodies on slabs.  Suddenly a body sits up and begins to speak . . .



The preview audience shrieked with laughter. 



The director and producer were smart enough to realize that this was not the effect they were looking for.



Editing is important.  And also: shorter is almost always better.



(And now that I’ve written this much-too-long entry, I ponder upon how I should accept this lesson into my own life.)


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