Feeding the Active Writer

A bit late today, but here we go.

Italian Parmesan Chicken

This is another of those ridiculously easy recipes, or at least ridiculously easy if you have the Italian salad dressing ready to hand.  If you want a no-sugar/extremely low carb version, I have a recipe for it (included) but that’s a bit more work. Of course, you could make, and keep, the dressing itself at any time and use it for this recipe.

The chicken:

4 lbs of boneless, skinless chicken. (I use the bagged chicken from my local supermarket.  It’s cheap.)
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese. (You can use the powdered “grated” cheese as well, but the “shredded” cheese produces what I think is a more pleasing texture to the result.)
2 cups Italian salad dressing.

Place the chicken in 1 4-5 quart slow cooker.
Sprinkle the Parmesan cheese on top.
Pour the salad dressing over all.
Cook on low 8-10 hours.
Stir slightly when done to distribute the cheese and drippings through the chicken.

And that’s it.

Really.  That’s it.  Except to enjoy.

Low Carb Italian Dressing:

1 cup vegetable oil.
1 cup red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp finely minced garlic (I believe I’ve mentioned before that I like garlic?)
1 Tbsp onion powder or minced dried onion.
1 Tbsp oregano
1 Tbsp basil
2 Tbsp dried mustard.

Combine the ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid.  Close it.  Shake.

Refrigerate for storage.

Options:  You can use olive oil instead of vegetable oil but in that case you’ll want to bring it to room temperature for use.

Again, enjoy.


Shakespeare in Hell, a review

First let me apologize about missing “Feeding the Active Writer” this past Monday.  I had nose surgery in mid July and starting this past Thursday I was suddenly having bad nosebleeds, culminating in a trip to the ER and follow up with my ENT.  I appear to have recovered, but still want to take it easy so as to not spring any more leaks. (Red just is not my color.)

I’ll get back to Feeding the Active Writer next week.

Today, it’s “Shakespeare in Hell” by Amy Sterling Casil.

At it’s heart, it’s a basic concept.  Dead people.  In Hell.  However the simplicity ends there.

We start with Bob Haldeman of Watergate infamy near the time of his death receiving a visit from a mysterious woman who shows him a toy from his childhood and speaks to him of magic.  Later, we jump back in time to the same woman–the Dark Lady from Shakespeare’s sonnets–appearing to William near the end of his life and asking him to write one final play.

The story proceeds to Hell itself.  Beelzebub, Satan’s lieutenant, is bored.  Dancers such as Isadora Duncan choreographed by Busby Berkley bore him.  He seeks instead a play and so goes to the “Cave of Writers.”

It is here we meet Oscar Wilde, Edgar Allen Poe, and the Dark Lady (who is a writer herself) and are offered a chance to escape from Hell if they can write a play that pleases Lord Beelzebub.  Is this true or is it another lie from the Lord of Lies?

Enter William Shakespeare as the story delves into each of the main characters as they seek their paths to either redemption or an even more terrible Hell than the one they already endure.

It’s a story about hope and despair, about damnation and redemption, and how the difference between lies within each individual.

Five stars.

Feeding the Active Writer

This week:  Italian Meat Loaf

There are several variations of the meat loaf recipe that one can use.  I did a Mexican Meat Loaf before.  This week I’m doing an Italian theme.  Unlike traditional meat loaf, this is done without bread, cereal, or other grains.  The secrets to doing a really good meat loaf this way are first, to use the leanest ground beef you can (generally sold, progressively leaner, as ground chuck, ground round, and ground sirloin; locally we also get “extra lean ground beef” which is the leanest yet).  The less fat in the ground beef, the less shrinkage and the less the loaf will end up swimming in liquid (normally absorbed by the bread or equivalent) during cooking.  The second secret is lots of egg, which helps bind everything together.

3 lbs lean ground beef (chuck or leaner)
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes, drained
1 12 oz. can tomato paste
1 cup diced bell peppers (I use them from frozen bags so how many bell peppers that might be, I don’t know).
1 cup diced onion (ditto)
4 Oz chopped fresh mushrooms
5 eggs
1 Tbsp finely minced garlic (for folk who know me, this is actually a remarkably small amount)
1 Tbsp Oregano.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the ingredients.  The best way really is to get in there with your hands (I don’t need to remind you to wash them first, right?  Oh, I just did. 😉 ) and squish it all together until it’s thoroughly mixed.

Place the mix in a 4-5 quart slow cooker.

Cook 8-10 hours.

Let cool.

Portion.  I like to cut it into eights like a pie and remove the pieces to zipper bags to freeze to take to lunch.


Pantsing vs. Plotting

One of the great questions of the writing world:  Pantser or Plotter.

Um, yes?

When I first got started writing, I’d have an “idea”.  Since I write mostly SF and Fantasy the idea was usually in the form of some story gimmick:  what would it be like to play tennis on the moon?  How would an EMT service on the moon work?  Suppose psychic powers existed but were really, really limited?  Suppose “her world exploded” wasn’t a metaphor but literal truth?

And then I’d sit down and start writing, making things up as I went along.

Most of the time the story would fall apart and I’d have nothing.  I’d have an opening and either be going in circles or just get stuck and have no idea what to write next.

So I started plotting in advance, outlining the things that happen in the story.  I’d still have the stories fall apart in my hands but at least I wouldn’t have written a bunch of finished text before reaching that point.  And I learned that I can work from an outline.  If I ever do collaborative work, that can be important.

So, for a long time then I was a “plotter”.  But I often didn’t adhere closely to the outline.  Instead, I’d find the story going in different directions.  That was okay.  I could just pause, redo the outline to reflect the new direction, and proceed from there.  Sometimes it might take several iterations through that before I was done.

But here’s the thing.  The final stories weren’t any more likely to sell when I plotted than when I’d pantsed.

Enter Dwight Swain and his book “Techniques of the Selling Writer”.

One of the things Mr. Swain had in his book, on preparing for writing a story, was having a “starting line up.” This meant defining five elements of the story:  situation, character, goal, opposition, and “disaster”.  Your character exists in an initial situation.  He has a goal he’d like to achieve (which could simply be avoiding some bad thing happening).  There’s opposition to the character’s goal (usually a “villain” of the piece, but not necessarily).  And some bad outcome from failure to accomplish the goal, the “disaster”.

The stories of mine that failed to get off the ground in the past were usually over the lack of some element in this starting line up.  So, lately, I started to spell them out explicitly before starting writing a story.  Oh, if I have an idea for a story opening or something I might write that to get a feel for things and then pause to create the starting line up.  But I do it, every time.

And the result is that I’ve found myself going back to pantsing.  I can just write the story because the elements I need are there.  I can wonder a bit in subplots, explore character a bit, take some time letting minor characters strut their stuff, but with the starting line up to give direction I can keep the story moving in the way it needs to move.

So now my outlines, if used at all, tend to be smaller bits meant to work out particular story problems, a kind of guided free association to figure out how to resolve challenges. (Character is here.  I need him there.  How do I get him there?)

But that’s how I work today.  Tomorrow?  Who knows.  I’ve changed my working method before and there’s no reason to suppose I won’t do it again.

Feeding the Active Writer

This time Barbeque Pulled Pork.

Most commercial barbeque sauces are loaded with sugar.  But I like barbeque, and have for as long as I can remember.  So I found a recipe which was okay, but wasn’t quite there.  Over the course of several iterations I tweaked it until I was happy with the result.  So today, we’ll have the recipe for homemade, low carb barbecue sauce and and use some of it in making some pulled pork loin.

I like a  sauce that’s tomatoey (that’s totally a word; I don’t care what my spell checker says), smokey, heavy on the garlic, and with some “zing.”  This recipe fits the bill.

The sauce:
6 strips of bacon, chopped fine.
1/2 cup finely minced onion
2 tbsp finely minced garlic (I buy it in jars pre-minced so I don’t know how many cloves that would come to–I like garlic).
12 oz tomato paste
1 12 oz can Diet Coke with Splenda (I kid you not!)
1/2 cup sugar-free catsup (Heinz has that available here)
2 Tbsp mustard.
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 Tbsp hot sauce (or to taste.  I use Cholula original because their Chili Garlic is no longer available–did I mention I like garlic?)

Fry the chopped bacon in a saucepan.  A two-quart or so should be fine.  Stir frequently to prevent clumping.

Add the onion and garlic cook over medium heat until the onions are soft, about 3-5 minutes.  Here’s one place where you can tweak the sauce to your taste.  If you like the sweeter taste of roasted garlic, cook it on the longer side at this stage.  If, however, you prefer the sharper taste of raw garlic, cook a bit less here or even wait until the onions are done before adding the garlic.

Add the remaining ingredients, bring to a boil, and then simmer covered for 20-30 minutes to combine the flavors.  If you consider it too thick for your taste, add some water.  I usually add about one cup.  The result is a little “chunky” because of the bacon bits, onion, and garlic.  That’s normal.   You can blend the final product to smooth it out if you prefer.  I don’t bother.  The chunks give it character.

That done, I filled a 24 oz glass jar to set aside and had some left over.  We’ll come back to that left over sauce later.

The  pulled pork:
Take one pork loin, 3-5 lbs, and cut it into 4-5 chunks.  Place the chunks in a 4-5 quart slow cooker.  When cooking in the slow cooker, I use slow cooker liners to save on cleanup.

Cook on low 8-10 hours.

Now, traditionally, you would take the pork chunks out of the cooker and pull it apart with forks.  I don’t bother.  By this time it is so tender that you can simply take a large, metal, slotted spoon and stir.  The pork will fall apart nicely and the juices that had cooked out of it will mix in with the shreds.

Mix in barbeque sauce.  How much you use is largely up to you.  For my taste, the amount left over after making up the batch above and filling the jar (for more barbecuey–totally a word–goodness some other time) is just about the right amount to flavor a batch of the pulled pork.  If you like to go heavier on the sauce, indulge.  If you prefer a lighter touch with the sauce to allow the flavor of the meat to come through, be my guest.  In the end, the Active Writer cooks to please himself and perhaps his family.

I made this batch for my lunches to take to work, so the final step was to let it cool, then portion it out in single servings in zipper bags.  So I take a bag to work, add the contents to a microwave safe plate along with some non-starchy vegetables, and microwave until warmed through.  Makes a hearty and tasty lunch.

Immigration Policy

In another forum, I was discussing the topic of immigration policy.  Specifically, supporting legal immigration while not supporting illegal immigration.  The question arose of children of illegal aliens, brought here through no fault of their own.

In the case of these kids there are two options as I see it. First, either they are still kids in which case the only realistic thing to do with them is send them back with their parent(s). Second, if they are not still kids, then as an adult they chose to stay here illegally and that’s on them.
The above options are for children brought here from out of country. In the case of children born here to illegal alien parents, there are two different options because of “birth citizenship.” The first is that the parents may choose to retain their parental rights, in which case the child goes back with them (As far as I’m concerned amnesty followed by promises of future border enforcement is a non-starter.  “Fool me once….”) but, as a citizen, may return on reaching adulthood. The second is that the parents may, at their option, give up their parental rights and allow the child to be taken into foster care and possibly adopted by an American family. In neither case do the illegal aliens remain in the US.

Now, while that would be the base policy I would also agitate for a bit of flexibility to deal with innocent mistakes, paperwork errors, or being misled in procedures that lead to someone through no intent of their own being here illegally. I’ve known people who’ve had that happen, My wife had that happen. (We filled out my wife’s paperwork after our marriage. I sent it off. Only between the time when we received the paperwork and we sent it off the location to which it was supposed to go changed. After a period of no response, no response, no response, we ended up hiring an attorney who helped us resolve things.  And I checked.  Our copy of the forms said “send here”.  Lawyer said, “No, send there”. And the “there” is what finally got things straightened out.)

Oh, and I would bend. over. backward. to encourage people I think of as “Americans who just happen to be born elsewhere” to come here, people who could read the Constitution (the Bill of Rights in particular) and the Declaration of Independence, and basically say “Duh” (Or call it, oh, say, 85% or more agreement), people like Darryl Hadfield and Sarah A. Hoyt. I don’t much care how they get here, so long as they do get here to counteract the “we’re going to come to America and turn it into a replica of the place we just came from” folk.

And with that, I leave you with this musical interlude:

Why is medicine so expensive?

Over on FaceBook an image posted a Senator’s facebook page asked the question “why are prescription drugs so expensive in the US? It also claimed to answer it: “We are the only major country without a national healthcare program and the pharmaceutical industry can charge whatever it wants.”

Well, let’s leave aside that latter part which ignores things like competition and supply/demand curves. (What?  You’ve never price shopped among different treatments?  Asked if there was a lower cost alternative to some expensive medication?  Whyever not?  I have.)  Instead, let’s look at what effect a “national healthcare program” really has.

The production of new medicines and passing the extensive testing required to get them approved is extremely expensive. That cost, and the cost of those medicines that do not get final approval has to be recouped somewhere. Now, all these places with “national healthcare” are a monopsony (that’s “single buyer” in the same way that “monopoly” is “single seller”) and, thus, can dictate the price they will pay. This means the cost of development cannot be recouped there. But it has to be recouped somewhere.
And that means that we’re subsidizing medical research for the rest of the world. Even if something is developed overseas–One of the medicines I used to take (a beta blocker–not allowed while I’m on allergy shots) was developed in Great Britain and only just “aged out” to having generics available–guess who pays to recoup the development costs? Yep. We do.

We not only subsidize our own research into new medicines and treatments, we subsidize the research of the entire rest of the world.

The problem is, if we stopped doing that–by whatever means, national health care, some “fair price” law, whatever–then research into new medicines would also stop. We could “enjoy” the same level of medical progress as, say, Yugoslavia.

Don’t think so?  Get a copy of an insurance formulary (many of them are available).  These list the various approved medicines at various copay price points.  Go through and list the ones that were developed in the Soviet Union, Communist China, Cuba, or similar highly “socialist” society where it’s all “good of the State” rather than profit motive.

Did you even have to turn the paper over to continue the list on the reverse side?  I didn’t think so.

So, take away “recouping costs” and “making money” from the equation and go instead to  top-down government funded and dictated research and medical progress essentially goes away.  You may reduce the costs of what you have now, but what you have now is all you will ever have.

So why, you may ask, do the pharmaceutical manufacturers sell to these other countries if they can’t recoup their development costs?  The answer lies in a concept called “marginal cost.”  Marginal cost is the added cost of producing one more of something.  If you’re making 10,000 pills, the marginal cost is how much more you have to spend to produce 10,001 instead.  Now, so long as you have some way, some how, to make back the fixed costs you can make money selling more so long as the price is higher than the marginal cost.  Sell 100,000 pills in the US priced to recoup costs and make a profit.  Sell 100,000 pills in the US at the same price and also sell 10,000 in France just a bit more than the marginal cost and make a somewhat bigger profit.  But without that 100,000 selling in the US at a price that recoups cost, the 10,000 to France won’t exist.

As I said, we’re subsidizing the world.

The bright side is that once that cost is recouped, prices do come down. Half the medicines I take every day are “$4 generics” (that’s not a co-pay. That’s what the pharmacy charges). And the ones that aren’t are mostly in the $10-20 range. But all of them were expensive during that limited window the developer had to recoup costs.

The Senator in question, of course, knows all this. At the very least, someone on his staff could explain it to him if he asked. But it’s much more useful for him to use the cost as a means to grab even more government power.

And that’s what this is really about–a power grab. The more dependent you are on government, the more they own you.

We’re subsidizing the world.  But if that’s the price for continued development of new prescription drugs and other treatments, I can live with it.  End that, however, and you end medical progress, which means my daughter, when she gets older, won’t have anything better than I have today.

And that I will never forgive.