HEY EVERYBODY. How’s your summer going? Hot, right? It’s very hot. Mine has been very hot. Hot enough that the days I’ve forced myself out into the hotness have been exhausting enough to make me want to sit indoors and stare at a screen and stuff myself with Brad’s Raw Leafy Kale (“Nasty Hot” flavor, naturally) until the fall.
And I love the summer. And the not-cold. Also I COME FROM FLORIDA. So you know it’s pretty hot when I’m complaining.
This week’s list thusly reflects my heatwave-avoiding ways, which a bunch of indoor stuff. I’ll try to be less of a hermit next week. Enjoy.
Oatmeal. Is the best. No wait, don’t go away.
Oatmeal gets a bad rap for being boring and responsible but this is TOTALLY a cultural construction, you guys. Oatmeal is secretly awesome. It’s satisfying and delicious when prepared well, and is probably good for your health too, although I’m just sort of guessing about that.
Of course, it’s summer, and nobody wants to wake up to a bowl of hot cereal in the morning. Especially not lately. I can’t speak for the rest of the country but the northeast has been pretty freaking miserable with the heat lately -- which is great for my pepper plants but not so great for me going outside and doing stuff in the sunshine. (I mean, I moved OUT of Florida because I prefer to be outdoors but NOT soaked in my own juices in the summertime. GET IT TOGETHER, NEW ENGLAND.)
However, avoiding the outdoors or the stove or anything that gives off heat in this weather does not mean that oatmeal is out. Because OVERNIGHT REFRIGERATOR OATMEAL exists and is here to save the day.
I know lots of folks do overnight oatmeal in a slow cooker, although this never worked for me because I always misjudge the time or do something wrong. And thus comes a winter morning with all its bright-eyed promises of a delicious hot meal and I discover to my disappointment that I have not made breakfast but have instead forged an oversized puck of cement-like oatmeal in the bottom of my Crock-Pot. And instead of enjoying a tasty meal I spend my early hours chiseling this brick from my appliance and swearing I will never do this again.
Overnight oatmeal in the fridge, however, is screwup-proof. It works like this: put some oatmeal and some liquid in a bowl (usually equal parts of each, although if you prefer your oatmeal stiffer or more liquidy you can always adjust). Add some flavorings, if you’re into that, like brown sugar for purists like myself, or fruit/seeds/the blood of your enemies for those of you with broader tastes. Cover the bowl with something, and chuck it in the fridge. Wake up and eat. HOW MUCH EASIER COULD IT BE?
Obviously anything this straightforward has massive possibilites for creativity. Lots of people mix in Greek yogurt with their liquid (I think this is gross, myself, but then I am disgusted by any yogurt that is not wholly plain and unadulterated). Some people add almond or vanilla extract, or even peanut butter. For the more Martha-Stewart-y among you, who might enjoy the idea of making overnight oatmeal in pretty little canning jars, here’s a how-to featuring a bunch of recipes.
Also worth noting: while most recipes will tell you to use rolled oats for this, you can actually do it with any kind of oatmeal. Personally, I prefer to use steel-cut oats because I like the texture, which is only slightly softened for its overnight sojourn in milk (I also tend to undercook steel-cut oats on purpose though, so unless you’re big on chewy oatmeal don’t follow my lead here).
I usually make mine with whole milk, brown sugar, cinnamon and cardamom. Oh, and chia seeds, which aside from being healthy or whatever, become gelatinous when soaked overnight and make your oatmeal almost like a porridgey-puddingy type thing.
Scott & Bailey / Orange Is The New Black
“Scott & Bailey” is -- SURPRISE! -- a UK drama about the lives and careers of its titular protagonists, Janet Scott and Rachel Bailey. Janet and Rachel are besties who are also both detectives who work for the fictional Major Incident Team of the Manchester Metropolitan Police, and apparently the series was at least in part inspired by the similar 1980s American series “Cagney & Lacey.”
Like most UK police procedurals, the crimes and the topics covered tend to be pretty dark. Janet Scott and Rachel Bailey are played by Lesley Sharp and Suranne Jones respectively, and they bring a genuineness and sincerity to the characters that is freaking impressive considering how frustrating and occasionally downright terrible their behavior can be, both personally and professionally. That said, both women are remarkably complex and even when they are difficult to like, they’re hard to ignore.
Rachel is a borderline alcoholic and frequent boundary-crushing monster, but she is also very smart and extraordinarily good at her job, so she gets a lot of passes as a result. Impulsive and often enormously self-absorbed, Rachel is both sympathetic and exasperating, like that slightly batshit friend we’ve all had who couldn’t get over their evil ex and who chronically makes ridiculous decisions in spite of knowing better.
Janet, in any other context, would be depicted as a woman struggling to balance her career and its long and often unpredictable hours with her responsibilities to her family, but she is portrayed without the standard career-mom angst. Instead, with help from her husband -- a geography teacher who does much of the active parenting, in an interesting reversal -- and her mother, Janet works it out. Rather than portray her career as a roadblock to her ability to parent, everyone just gets that sometimes she works late and that her job is not a hobby, but very important to her.
But neither Scott nor Bailey are my favorite part of this series. My favorite part is DCI Gill Murray (played by Amelia Bullmore), the DCI of the Major Incident Team-- a DCI apparently being the equivalent of a US police captain (or sheriff? or whatever, everything I know about British police I learned from television).
To put it more simply, Murray is Scott and Bailey’s boss, and she is freaking hypnotic, a tremendous mixture of toughness and humor and subtle humanity, when I’m more accustomed to seeing women in such roles portrayed as either demonic screaming shrews or as chronic punchlines.
Hilariously, much of the criticism leveled at “Scott & Bailey” has complained that the men in the series are too inept and coarsely drawn, which I find amazing considering this is the normal way of things for women characters in the background of male-dominated shows -- they are often present to make the men look smarter/more capable.
I’m not generally a “turnabout is fair play” kind of person, but in this instance I’m willing to make an exception -- it’s AWESOME to watch a series in which the women are more consistently competent and clever than then men. (It’s worth mentioning that this whole series was conceived, created and produced by women, and is usually directed and written by women as well.)
The first series (there are three total) of “Scott & Bailey” is currently airing on some PBS affiliates in the US, so check your local listings. (But please disregard the terrible US trailer they made to advertise it, which -- impossibly -- uses “Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves” as its soundtrack in a fully unironic fashion.) Also you might be able to find it on YouTube. No, it’s not on Netflix. Yes, I know, this is annoying.
What IS on Netflix (and on the other side of the law, HA! sorry) is “Orange is the New Black,” a series based on the prison memoir of Piper Kerman, who went to jail in her mid-30s for 15 months after pleading guilty to charges of money laundering and drug trafficking. OK, honestly I avoided this show like poison when it first appeared, because I (wrongly) assumed it was a silly prison comedy rife with stereotypes and shower jokes.
But my friend Sam, whose taste in media usually mirrors my own, kept insisting it was awesome. So I started watching. AND IT IS AWESOME.
Piper Chapman, the fictionalized version of Kerman, is positioned at the start as a stunningly naive young woman who has plead guilty to a crime she committed years ago, during a misspent youth. She is white, blond, and conventionally pretty, which of course sets her up in contrast to our assumptions about women in prison, as well as to her fellow prisoners.
But rather than sink into lazy, effortless stereotypes, this show creates a range of diverse characters and assumes nothing about them. Even Piper is more than she first seems on the surface. Most notably, the people of color are not just background action (as I had figured they would be), but are full-fledged individuals with their own stories and motivations.
There’s also a lot of queer diversity, which I love. And with Sophia, the series even identifies the very real problems trans women face in trying to get their needed hormone prescriptions while in prison. (Sophia’s story is fascinating for lots of reasons, but I don’t want to spoil y’all.)
Also, it has Natasha Lyonne in it. Which, frankly, I would have watched for that reason alone.
So I’ve been pleasantly surprised and quite happy to have been wrong about it. But I’m only halfway through so if you spoil me in comments I WILL DESTROY YOU. You can watch “Orange is the New Black” on Netflix and -- that’s it. It’s a Netflix exclusive.
Along with my first computer -- a late-80s Tandy 1000 from Radio Shack that I got for Christmas when I was about 10 years old -- I received copies of two games that were landmarks in the adventure game genre: “King’s Quest” and “Space Quest,” both published by the magnificent Sierra On-Line, whose very name and memories of their stylized mountain logo make me sigh with a nostalgic wistfulness most people reserve for memories of their first crush. (This was before “online” meant “internet”, even.)
Adventure games used to be the thing. Even if you don’t think of yourself as ever having been impacted by them, odds are, if you’re of a certain age, you’ve had some degree of experience, even if it was just playing Oregon Trail on one machine with four classmates in the computer lab at school.
Adventure games formed a pretty significant influence on my formative years, and I don’t think I’m overstating matters when I credit them with helping me to develop certain skills, namely those of patience and problem-solving. Back then, if I got stuck in a section of a game, I couldn’t just google a walkthrough -- I had to retrace my steps and reconsider anything I’d missed.
In these early games, sometimes you could miss something in a section hours before -- like a key you were supposed to pick up from a desk -- and if you couldn’t get back there, your game couldn’t move forward. (Another thing I learned from playing old-school adventure games: SAVE YOUR WORK OFTEN, BUT KEEP COPIES OF YOUR EARLIER EDITS. Because sometimes you really need to go back there again.)
If I was REALLY stuck, I could beg my dad to let me call the Sierra Hint Line, a 900 number that would give you advice, but of course, being a 900 number, it cost money, and complete-game hint books (that came with a red tinted piece of plastic that allowed you to read only one line at a time so as to avoid spoiling yourself) would come later.
I HATED calling the hint line, because in my tiny child brain it represented failure. I should have been able to figure it out myself, because in those times when I DID finally puzzle out an issue on my own, often after days of obsessive backtracking, I felt like the HAPPIEST KID IN THE WORLD, and also possibly the smartest. And that feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment is probably my favorite thing about these sorts of games.
Unfortunately, as graphics became more advanced and first-person shooters started taking over, adventure games -- nerdy and often slow-moving experiences that they were -- fell by the wayside, and in time the availability of new adventure games went from a mighty torrent to a weak trickle. Which is a bummer for nerds like me who miss them.
The good news is, in the past several years, more and more independent game developers have been working to bring adventure games back -- or if not to bring them back, to at least provide them to those of us would want to play them. Wadjet Eye is one such studio, and one of the games they’ve published is “Resonance,” a point-and-click adventure game developed by Vince Twelve.
This is not a game invested in lifelike graphics and a dizzying array of weaponry. But that’s actually OK, because it IS invested in solid storytelling and excellent voice acting (which, if y’all have played a lot of adventure games, you’ll know this has been a weak point of the genre ever since “acting” became a thing you could incorporate in games).
You start off as Ed, a math nerd involved in a physics experiment with the power to do the world enormous good, or to wreak massive destruction. When Ed’s boss is killed by an explosion at his lab, Ed and a motley crew of three other characters -- all of whom you can play as -- must locate the missing technology before it’s too late.
I started playing Resonance last weekend and became totally obsessed, like to the point of not eating dinner because I wanted to keep going. I finished it after a few nights, and then felt legitimately sad it was over, JUST LIKE THE OLD DAYS, coughcough, getoffmylawn. There’s humor, as you might expect, but there are also a few unexpected twists that left me kinda gobsmacked (and one fairly large plot hole, but eh, I’m willing to overlook it).
e-David, The Painting Robot
Here is a video of a robot that some German scientists have taught to paint. It’s mesmerizing.
Have a pulchritudinous weekend, y’all.