Building Family on the River

When Fulcrum agreed to publish Let Them Paddle: Coming of Age on the Water by Alan S. Kesselheim, I was excited. The book, at first glance, is a family’s travelogue covering canoe trips on three rivers—the Kazan, the Yellowstone, and the Rio Grande. On another level, Let Them Paddle is an exploration of the transformative power of nature, the power of the natural world to not only provide us with sustenance and entertainment, but also to envelop us in the spiritual and connect us to ourselves and to others.

A view of the Navajo Bridge from the Colorado River

I’ve been fortunate in the last ten years to take at least one multiday river trip each summer. I’ve rafted the Green, the Middle Fork of the Salmon, the Yampa, the San Juan, and the Colorado Rivers, to name a few. Each river, like each river trip, is different, but there are some important constants: the feel of oars against the current, Dutch oven biscuits, the beauty of wilderness, trust in myself and those I choose to boat with.

Alan Kesselheim’s trips are taken with his wife and three children; mine have been taken with the extended river family whom I’ve chosen and who’ve chosen me. I admire the Kesselheims’ desire and fortitude to canoe and camp with toddlers and with teenagers—such an undertaking speaks of a family that loves, understands, and trusts each other. Not all families display such attributes and not all river trips result in friendships that become a family.

Again, I’ve been fortunate on rivers over the years. I’ve heard canyon wrens singing at Vassey’s Paradise, I’ve made every move through Pump House Rapid with perfect precision, I’ve listened to the wind whisper in remote Anasazi ruins, and I’ve flipped my boat in the company of my trusted river family. Even as water enveloped me and cold stole my core heat, I knew if I just held my breath long enough to surface, every upright boat in the group would be poised to pull me from the water. And I was right.

Righting a raft after a rough spot

Outdoor experiences teach us trust in ourselves and in others. The Kesselheims’ experiences in Let Them Paddle have something to teach us all—whether we frequent the remote wilderness or a local city a park—about our connection to the natural world and to those around us.

Why Garden Organically?

The reasons for being an organic gardener are many: concern for the environment, desire for self-sufficiency, and the joy of eating fresh food, to name a few. For me, gardening organically over the last twenty years has been both a cost issue and a nutritional choice. Organic, versus conventional, fruits and vegetables are less expensive to produce in the home garden, and they provide better nutrition.

1. First, let’s take a quick look at the price of using chemicals in a garden. With price, there are the obvious, monetary costs: $10 per gallon for all-purpose fertilizer, $156 per gallon for broad spectrum herbicide, $40 per half gallon of fungicide, $20 to $100 for a hand-held sprayer (prices are approximate and were obtained from a national retailer of garden and home products). Chemical costs can definitely add up over the years. Is the cost worth paying? I think not.

Organic Gardener’s Companion: Growing Vegetables in the West (Fulcrum, $24.95, ISBN: 978-1-55591-725-8) by Jane Shellenberger (publisher and editor of Colorado Gardener) makes this interesting point: “Two world wars, plus the Korean and Vietnam wars, provided not only many of the chemicals adapted and marketed for postwar agricultural use, but also the mindset necessary to convince farmers and the public that we needed to do battle to overcome nature and her ‘pests,’ at every turn employing a chemical arsenal.” I definitely do not want chemicals in my garden that were originally designed to kill people, no matter what the agricultural adaptation has been.

In addition to the monetary costs, chemicals exact a very high price from the soil and its myriad organisms. Each teaspoon of soil holds hundreds if not thousands of living creatures, including microscopic worms, protozoa, nematodes, and fungi, such as the water bear (below): “Water bears are named for their slow-faited walk. Also known as tardigrades, these microbial extremophiles can survive a range of temperatures from near absolute zero to 304 degrees, plus 1,000 times more radiation than other animals.” (Organic Gardener’s Companion, p. 30).

When a gardener uses chemical pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, or synthetic fertilizers, they may solve a garden problem, but the short-term solution destroys the biodiversity of plants and animals that make a self-sustaining garden possible. Soil and its creatures, weeds, and desirable plants create a biodynamic system in every garden. While occasionally the system can become unbalanced, resulting in a garden problem, an overabundance of dandelions is far better than a chemically burned yard full of “dead” soil.

2. Another reason to grow vegetables and fruits organically is that they’ll provide you with more nutrition than conventionally grown food. For years I didn’t have the scientific verification to prove the better nutritional value in organically grown versus conventionally grown vegetables. Then, on February 13, 2009, Science News published an article by Janet Raloff titled “AAAS: Stress Can Make Plants More Nutritious.” In the article, Alyson Mitchell of UC–Davis “compared identical cultivators grown on certified organic plots versus those where standard fertilizers and pesticides were being applied. And as a rule, organics far surpassed their conventionally grown kin for vitamins and beneficial micronutrients, such as antioxidant flavonoids quercetin and kaempferol.” Mitchell found that the extra stress that organically grown plants experience causes their “defensive secondary metabolites” to kick into action in order to fight off pests. These secondary metabolites are also the mechanism that plants use to produce “phenolic acids, flavonoids, alkaloids, and terpenoids”—these natural plant pesticides and sunscreens function as important micronutrients and vitamins for humans. “And one potential bonus: Better taste. Some of the secondary plant metabolites break down into flavor compounds.”

So, next time you’re gardening and see a moth nibbling on your cabbage, forgo spraying pesticide and remember, those little holes indicate a higher vitamin content! For additional information on organic gardening, I suggest you visit your local library and look for a copy of Organic Gardener’s Companion: Growing Vegetables in the West by Jane Shellenberger. Copies are also available from the bookseller of your choice or at www.fulcrumbooks.com.

Posted by Ingrid Estell, veteran gardener and Special Sales Manager at Fulcrum

Gardening in the West: A Little Help from Jane Shellenberger

We recently spoke with Jane Shellenberger, publisher and editor of the regional gardening magazine Colorado Gardener (now in its 15th year) and recent author of Organic Gardener’s Companion: Growing Vegetables in the West (Fulcrum, $24.95, ISBN 978-1-55591-725-8) about the challenges and triumphs of organic gardening. Jane is a lifelong eclectic gardener who first learned about plants from her botanist mother, and her new book guides both veteran and newbie gardeners through growing the best fruits and vegetables in the semi-arid, high-altitude West. The book is written in Jane’s accessible and humorous style, and also features vibrant color photos from her own gardens.
Fulcrum: How long have you been gardening organically and why should one follow such methods?
JS: I’ve always gardened without using poisons. It just seemed like common sense, especially when it comes to edibles. I don’t have a strong desire for controlled perfection. The ever-changing, transitory nature of gardening is what makes it interesting. I’d rather have a garden that attracts life any day than a sterile, insect-free plot. There are far more beneficial insects (and fungi and bacteria) than there are pests, and you usually can’t kill one without harming the other. Food that’s grown organically also tastes better, is more nutritious, and doesn’t pollute water or harm soil. In fact, building soil is one the satisfying pleasures of organic gardening. If gardeners step back and view their yards and gardens as part of a much larger whole, they’ll better understand the importance of gardening organically. The collective negative effect of each person using “just a little bit” of toxic pesticide can be huge, and likewise, an interconnected network of many individual organic yards and gardens can create a safe haven for many pollinators and other critters that once had a place to survive in the wild.
Fulcrum: What are some of the unique challenges of growing vegetables (or gardening in general) in the West?
JS: Most western native soils are lean; plus, we have many more sunny than rainy days, so supplemental, regular irrigation is a must. Drought recurs at regular intervals. Even when it does precipitate during the growing season, it often comes all at once or, even worse, as hail that violently pummels the garden. Then there’s our intense UV light at high altitude, coupled with drying western winds that suck all the moisture out of plants. Nights are often too cool for warm season vegetables like peppers, while summer days can be too hot for cool season broccoli and salad greens. Mountain conditions are even more extreme, with very short growing seasons. Some knowledge of which varieties can survive or thrive in the West will come in very handy. Did I mention deer?
Fulcrum: What vegetables are good “starter” veggies for those of us who have limited/no gardening experience?
JS: Cool season greens like arugula, chard, mustard greens, chives, and cilantro are great crops from seed for beginners. Garlic is super easy but best planted in the fall. As long as temperatures don’t get too hot, I find broccoli is always a winner — and delicious!  Plant it early (March or April) from seed or starts and keep it mulched. Broccoli likes our bright light and cool nights, and keeps on producing lots of side shoots after you harvest the main head. Zucchini is a relatively easy and very productive warm season vegetable. It needs warm soil to get going, so wait until temperatures are consistently above 50 degrees at night before planting.
Looseleaf “cut and come again” lettuces like mesclun mixes are simple to grow. They can be trimmed for eating and will continue to grow for months. Bronze Arrowhead and Deer Tongue are very slow to bolt in hot weather and don’t turn bitter like some varieties. There are many, many varieties to try. Seed catalogs and seed company websites can be a wealth of information, especially those located in the West. If you’ve prepared your beds with good soil, everything will be easier to grow.
Fulcrum: What should gardeners in the West be doing right now to prepare their gardens and planning for growing season?
JS: It’s been dry and windy in January, which isn’t atypical. That’s why I like to cover my vegetable beds through the winter with dried fall leaves and hay mulch to keep the soil from drying out and blowing away.
Now, while it’s still wintery, do some research on varieties by reading seed catalogs and talking to gardener friends. Decide what you’d like to grow and where, how you’re going to water, and what you plan to use for mulch. Sketch out a plan for your garden to help yourself get organized. Even if you don’t stick to it, you’ll learn something during the process. Buy some seeds.
If you haven’t already prepared your vegetable beds by adding chopped-up leaves, compost, and other organic materials, pick a warm day and start now so you’ll be ready to plant when the time comes. Water the beds afterward to help the soil microbes and earthworms start the breakdown process. If the process seems overwhelming, get some help. Gardening is more fun and more productive with a friend. If you prefer to work a community garden plot, call your municipality or organizations like Denver Urban Gardens and Pike’s Peak Urban Gardens to reserve one now.
Thanks, Jane! Happy gardening, everyone!

New Year, New Roles as Citizens

Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons/Carwil Bjork-James

For those of you who make New Year’s resolutions, here’s one to consider (albeit a few weeks late): resolve to become a part of the solution this year. It might be easier than you think, thanks to Colorado state senator Morgan Carroll. A major advocate for citizen involvement, Morgan, with her new book out this month, Take Back Your Government: A Citizen’s Guide to Grassroots Change, shows how any ordinary citizen can make and change law and policy in their state, through practical tips, checklists, and sample documents. Morgan aims to give readers an inside look at how state legislatures really work through this accessible how-to manual.

Morgan conducts hundreds of town hall meetings and community seminars, teaching ordinary citizens how to influence the legislative process, and it was her own civic activism that launched her ultimate decision to run for office. In Take Back Your Government, she shares practical information and easy-to-follow steps for beginner advocates, including:

  • How to find out who your elected officials are
  • How to make contact– sample letters, e-mails, and telephone scripts are all included
  • How to write petitions and fact sheets
  • How to  testify at a legislative hearing
  • How to be an advocate in ten minutes or less
  • And more!
Morgan (above) will be at the Tattered Cover Colfax on Friday, February 10, at 7:30 pm, and at other venues around Denver this spring and summer. For her upcoming schedule, please check here. For more tips, follow Morgan on Twitter: @TakeBackYrGovt, on Facebook: www.facebook.com/takebackyourgovt, and on her blog: www.takebackyourgovt.com.
(Top photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons/Carwil Bjork-James)

The Jul Tomten

This week’s blog post comes from Ingrid Estell, our sales manager.

 ♦    ♦    ♦

In America, almost every family has holiday traditions and cultural celebrations. Fulcrum Publishing has a fascinating book, New Year’s to Kwanzaa: Original Stories of Celebration by Kendall Haven (ISBN 978-1-55591-962-7, 240 pages, $16.95) that showcases 30 celebrations observed by a variety of worldwide cultures found in the United States. Through each story, readers learn about the culture, customs, people, and places of the celebration. What better way to understand people throughout the world than to understand what and how they celebrate?

New Year’s to Kwanzaa: Original Stories of Celebration by Kendall Haven (ISBN 978-1-55591-962-7, 240 pages, $16.95)

Recently, I had my own small cultural exchange with my elderly Swedish neighbor, Gunda Van der Mars.  Before I begin, I must pass along the quick Swedish language and cultural lesson Gunda shared with me. God Jul means “Good Christmas” in Swedish and is the common greeting of the season. The Tomten (and I do mean the Tomten) is a character from Swedish folklore who is similar to Santa Claus, but unlike the single Santa who helps Americans celebrate Christmas, The Tomten is one among many Tomtar, plural of Tomte, mythical creatures, both large and small, that live in the Swedish countryside. The Jul Tomten is the most important Tomte of the year. Other Tomte are associated with other Swedish holidays and seasons.

On December 29, 1929, Gunda Van der Mars was born in Tallsjo, a small Swedish village just south of the Arctic Circle. She remembers the unending forest where her father and the other villagers worked as lumberjacks. In the winter, three or four feet of snow covered the ground for four months.  She remarked, “My father made all eight of his children wooden skis. We cross-country skied to school through the winter.”

Gunda remembers the anticipation she felt before the Christmas holiday.  “On Christmas Eve, my father would strap on his skis and take his children into the forest to look for the perfect tree. If the tree wasn’t perfect, once we had it home, he’d drill holes in the trunk and insert branches so a perfect inverted V was created. We decorated the tree with cookies, little apples, candles, and woven heart baskets. Sometimes we put little treats in the baskets and ate them on Christmas Day. We also put Swedish flags on the tree.” Once up and decorated, the tree was kept in the house for twenty days after Christmas.

“My father was handy,” Gunda said. “He built our house and made the chimney from bricks he made himself.  He made a birch bark backpack to carry supplies when he was out in the woods. He sewed the bark together with juniper roots. Sometimes, he’d be gone all week in the woods and he’d take butter, bread, and other food with him. He even made a wooden butter dish to carry inside his pack. He made each of us children small packs too. In the fall, we’d all go berry picking for wild lingonberries and blueberries. We’d pick enough berries for the entire year and my mother would preserve them.” Gunda was handy herself; she learned to knit when she was six. In her words, “It was a necessity. We made almost everything we needed to live. I made socks and mittens for the family.”

In Sweden, children anxiously waited for The Jul Tomten to make his yearly visit. Gunda remembers sitting at the window, looking out into the Swedish winter night.  She told me, “Some years, the moon would be full and I could see a long way down the road. The Northern Lights would move across the sky in sheets of color: green, blue, and yellow. The lights looked like brilliant ribbons in the cold air. The lake near the village would ‘boom and sing’ – deep groaning noises came from the ice when the Northern Lights shone.  I could see the stars so clearly.  In December, Sweden’s days were very short, but the nights were so bright that sometimes I could read by moonlight.”  And, she could see The Jul Tomten making his way on the snow-covered road toward her house.

In her memory, a knock sounded on the door and The Tomten stepped in. Dressed in colorful clothes and wearing a red stocking cap on his head, he held a sack of packages in his arms.  His rosy cheeks glistened from the cold and perhaps a little something else as he asked, “Are any good children here?”

Gunda’s mother replied in a loud voice, “Yes,” and packages were passed around. Gunda and her brothers and sisters were excited. A soft package was likely to be mittens or clothes—welcome, but expected. A hard package, on the other hand, could be something wonderful!

“When I was six,” said Gunda, “my aunt sent me a ‘hard package’ from Stockholm. It was exciting to get a package from Stockholm, our capital city. It seemed so far away especially as I hadn’t even seen a train or airplane yet. My aunt had moved to Stockholm years before and worked as a clothes designer and seamstress. She created and made costumes for the opera and theatre. She sometimes sent us ‘fancy’ stuff. That year, when I opened her gift, I found a set of doll furniture hand-painted with beautiful flowers. I carried that furniture with me for months.”

While Gunda and her brothers and sisters opened their gifts, The Tomten joined Gunda’s father in the other room. For many years, Gunda didn’t know why. Now, she knows that The Tomten, a villager named Oscar, was enjoying a cup of cheer: a cup of schnapps. She also knows her mother placed the sack of gifts outside the house for The Tomten to deliver. Every house that The Tomten visited shared a cup of cheer with him, so by the time he’d made his village rounds, Oscar was a very tipsy Tomten indeed! Some years, he finished his Tomten duties facedown in the snow, but good Viking genes kept him unfrozen and alive to be The Tomten again and again. “God Jul!”

Fulcrum’s Holiday Favorites

If you’ve been following us in the Twitterverse or on Facebook, you know that we’ve been getting into the Christmas spirit this year by reminiscing about our favorite holiday reads, from Vivian Walsh and J. Otto Seibold‘s “Olive, The Other Reindeer” to the Dr. Seuss classic, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”

In a sincere reply, Katie, our marketing manager, explained how books can be more magical than Hollywood’s holiday blockbusters:

"At one time, most of my friends could hear the bell, but as years passed, it fell silent for all of them. Even Sarah found one Christmas that she could no longer hear its sweet sound. Though I've grown old, the bell still rings for me, as it does for all who truly believe."

Before it was a movie (which I refuse to see, based on principle), The Polar Express was simply THE GREATEST CHRISTMAS BOOK OF ALL TIME. Written and illustrated by  Chris Van Allsburg. My mom bought it for me the Christmas after I, um, found out the truth about Santa, ahem. It had been a devastating year for me, what with not only Santa, but the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy, and she felt I needed some cheering up. My brother, on the other hand, just thought I was pathetic. I was 10 years old, after all, and I was still getting the same number of presents under the Christmas tree regardless of who bought them, so what was the problem, kid? I’m a simple sort of person, though, and believe in things whole-heartedly, and The Polar Express returned most of my childlike faith to me by the end of my first reading. I still have my copy and tear up every time I read it, remembering how beautiful both a child’s belief can be and how warm this season of love and family is to all of us. The Polar Express is the perfect Christmas book for children of all, ahem, ages.

Our editorial intern and another faithful blogger at Fulcrum, Marit, once again illustrates how the elegance of Christmas can get mixed up with a bit of sibling rivalry.

My favorite holiday book is actually a combination of the book and music recording for The Nutcracker. When I was three, my dance class did a recital (or rather, a three-year-old approximation of a recital) to the music from The Nutcracker. After that, until I was about ten, my sister and I officially welcomed the holiday season each year by reading the book, then putting on Mom’s old 33½ mm and dancing through the entire recording. There may or may not have been fights about who got to be the Sugar Plum Fairy.

As for me, I was torn. Being a die-hard Peanuts fan, I wanted to explain the warm and fuzzy feeling I used to get when A Charlie Brown Christmas was featured on CBS and the ABC every year. I planned to go into how, though it’s a television special, I do have the book with sound effects. (A very intuitive present from my little sister, Kara… two Christmases ago. I am not ashamed.) And, last but not least, how I have had a few Christmas trees who were likely direct descendants of Charlie Brown’s poor Christmas tree. Yet, I just can’t call it a favorite book… mostly because that wasn’t its original form.

courtesy of cstock.org

Instead, I’ve unearthed “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” by Barbara Robinson from the dusty tinsel of my childhood memory as one of my favorites. To be honest though, I didn’t remember much about it at first. I simply remember a bunch of hooligans taking over a Christmas pageant (therefore making it

better) and trying really hard in class not to burst out laughing during silent reading time. To this day, I think I was probably one of the five who were actually reading.

After reminiscing a bit over Wikipedia articles and Amazon book reviews, I was surprised how deeply religious the book was from an adult standpoint. As a child, I mostly remembered the narrator’s annoyance and terror when confronted with Imogene Herdman, the second-oldest in the Herdman hooligan clan, and the closest to narrator Beth Bradley’s age. What made the book incredible to me was how these kids, who where obviously not wanted in the church or by the community, made the yearly predictable Christmas pageant something real and valuable again. Whether they wanted to or not, the community invested in the Herdmans and showed that they, too, had value.

Whether you’re a Grinch or a giver, Scrooge or Santa, we at Fulcrum Publishing wish you all the warmest of holiday greetings.

And since I’m still a Peanuts lover at heart, I’ll leave you with this…

More Fun with Gourds

This blog post is brought to you by Marit Hanson, code name Intern 3.

To begin this post, I need to refer back to a previous one– specifically, to Jessica’s Corn Bread creation.

As…interesting…as the final product may have been, in Jessica’s defense, I have yet to see a prettier cornbread than the one she concocted during our kitchen cooking adventure. We both agreed that had the sugar been added, the cornbread would have undoubtedly been pleasing to the eye and the palate.

For my own foray into cooking with The Mitsitam Cafe Cookbook, Recipes from the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, I chose Hazelnut and Honey-Roasted Acorn Squash. I picked this recipe partly because I am currently obsessed with all things squash and partly because (as Jessica mentioned) it had only four ingredients.

Given my history with gourds, I probably should have known that preparing acorn squash was bound to be a challenge. Then again, even if pumpkins and squash weren’t determined to thwart my attempts to carve/prepare them, there are two things that would have made preparing this recipe much easier for me:

1)    A large, sharp knife. Emphasis on both large and sharp. Don’t be fooled by its size; acorn squash has relatively small seed pods, which means that the shell and flesh are very thick. A large, sharp knife will make quick work of parting the squash in two. Anything else (like, say, the smallish steak knife I used) will result in a fifteen-minute game of Stab the Sqaush.

2)    Actually knowing how to prepare acorn squash. Having baked acorn squash once or twice before, I assumed that I knew the best way to prepare it. I assumed wrong. As this blog shows, there are several tricks to make tackling this little squash easier, such as halving it vertically rather than horizontally. Since this recipe calls for the acorn squash to be sliced into wedges as well, use the natural ridges on the outside of the squash as guidelines. Also, don’t do as I did and attempt to cut the wedges with the “bowl” of the squash facing up; it will inevitably flip toward your face and you will nearly take off one of your fingers with the knife.

Aside from this little hiccup (and a brief session of hacking away at the hazelnuts with another small knife – a food processor, like the book suggests, would have been a better option), my Mitsitam cooking experience was decidedly less eventful than Jessica’s. Baked tender and golden and drizzled with honey butter and hazelnuts, the acorn squash was delicious.

Hazelnut and Honey-Roasted Acorn Squash

½ cup hazelnuts, toasted and skinned

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature

2 tablespoons honey

2 medium to large acorn squash, unpeeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch-thick wedges

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

In a food processor, pulse the nuts 5 to 6 times, or until coarsely ground.

Add the butter and process for 15 to 20 seconds, or until combined. Scrape into a medium bowl. Add the honey and whisk until smooth.

Oil a rimmed baking sheet. Arrange the squash wedges, skin side down, on the prepared pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and spread with the hazelnut butter. Roast for 30 minutes, or until fork-tender. Remove from the oven and serve hot.

Next up: The December intern bake-off! My fellow interns had better brush off their skills with a spatula, because I plan to bring my A game to this pursuit of pastry prowess!

You get a book, and you get a book, and you get a book!

We’re not quite Oprah, but we know how to give out a free book or two. Or four.

Here are some of the lucky Goodreads winners of our titles!

Kyle Campbell from Plant City, Florida won Serengeti by Boyd Norton.

Maybe next time Boyd will take Kyle with him.

 Megan Anderson from Richmond, Kentucky, nagged a copy of Bobby Bridger‘s Where the Tall Grass Grows.

Do you mind telling us where, exactly, the tall grass grows? I somehow managed to miss that part, but I'm not great with directions.

Brooke-lynn Christian has a copy of Parks for the People headed to her mailbox in Muskegon, Michigan.

Parks by Frederick Law Olmsted, for the people... especially you, Brooke-lynn!

Things Natural, Wild, and Free is headed to Holly Perrin in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Flying to a mailbox near you, Holly!

Jealous of our readers? Want to get on the free-book train? Check out our other giveaways at goodreads.com!

C is for Chemistry, B is for Bad Baking, and S is for Sugar

This week’s post is served to you by Jessica Engman, editorial intern extraordinaire, or as we affectionately call her, Intern 1.

***

Baking is like chemistry: it is a complex experiment with directions that, when followed precisely, can be repeated over and over again to produce identical results. There are ingredients to be measured and combined, stirred and mixed, and heated and cooled to the right temperature to create chemical reactions. But instead of a calcium-chloride concoction that does nobody any good, in baking, the results are far more delightful: fluffy sponge cakes, breads, light and airy soufflés, and buttery caramels and candies!

I love baking. However, unfortunately for me, one thing I learned from my high school chemistry class is that I am not good at chemistry—not one bit. As an amateur chemist in Chemistry 101, I couldn’t seem to re-create a single successful experiment to save my life, let alone my grade. “C is for Chemistry!” I told my mom.

And today, although my high school chemistry days are far behind me, I have realized that truly, I cannot fully escape the diabolical treachery of my own crappiness at chemistry…and baking.

It all started when Marit and I, aka Intern 3 and Intern 1, decided that we were going to try to re-create some of the seasonal recipes from one of Fulcrum’s latest books, The Mitsitam Cafe Cookbook, Recipes from the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.

Excited to eat? Yes. Excited to dishonor Native culinary tradition with my horrible baking skills? No.

So, I searched for an easy recipe, one I couldn’t possibly mess up. A recipe with as few ingredients and directions as possible: I chose Corn Bread, with a total of eight ingredients and a single four-line paragraph of instructions. Piece of cake!  …or…corn bread.

My corn bread recipe called for four teaspoons of crystalline disaccharide sucrose (aka white table sugar) to be added to four teaspoons of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), along with sodium chloride (salt), an emulsifier (egg), lactose (C12H22O11, or milk), H2O, flour, corn/oil, and of course corn meal.

Here’s the breakdown for those of you who don’t speak chem-nerd lingo:

Corn Bread

Makes 9 3-inch squares

1 cup cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 large egg
1/4 cup corn or canola oil

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch square baking pan.

In a medium bowl, combine the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Stir with a whisk to blend. In another medium bowl, combine the milk, egg, and oil. Whisk until combined. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients just until combined; do not overmix.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until lightly browned. Remove from the oven. Cut into squares and serve warm.

Marit chose to make the Hazelnut and Honey–Roasted Acorn Squash recipe for the main course. Her recipe only had four ingredients…we should have switched.

That night after work, I went home and got everything ready, measured out the dry ingredients, put them into a big Tupperware bowl to bring in the next day. Everything was going really well up until I realized that I was out of sugar and milk; it was late, it was dark and cold outside, and my neighbors are creepy, so I just decided I would use  four teaspoons of coffee sugar and a cup of creamer from work. Then I noticed that my recipe called for 1/4 cup of corn or canola oil. Well I didn’t have canola oil, and I like corn a lot better than I like oil, so I searched through the cupboards and found a can of corn—it is corn bread after all. I packed the Tupperware, the can of corn, and an egg into a brown bag and called it a night.

The next day during lunch, Marit and I headed to the Fulcrum kitchen and got to baking. I was shaking up all the dry ingredients in the Tupperware, and then went on a desperate search for a measuring cup so I could add the milk (uhh, creamer) and the corn. Meanwhile, Marit is grunting and trying not to remove her fingers as she carves away at a rock-solid acorn squash with a dull steak knife—of course, the recipe called for the squash to be cut into thin slices.

After checking the cupboards and drawers, I came to the conclusion that there was no measuring cup. So, I found a little plastic cup in the back of a drawer—it looked close to what I thought a cup”might look like. I measured out the milk, cracked the egg, and opened the can of corn and presto! Mix, mix, mix, pour into a pie tin (the corn bread was supposed to go in a 9-inch square baking pan, but we didn’t have one, so a round pie tin, I figured, would suffice). Preheated the oven to 350, inserted corn bread pie, and set the timer. Done!

We set the table and waited for the magnificent smells to begin filling the office.

When the timer buzzed, we ran to the kitchen, pulled out our masterpieces, and regretted that we forgot to bring a camera. Everything looked great.

I took the dull steak knife to cut my golden yellow corn bread into pie slices. But just like in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, when Clark carves into that fateful Christmas goose, I took one jab at my corn bread and realized to my horror…I forgot the sugar. And with four teaspoons of sugar to four teaspoons of sour, alkaliney baking soda, this was problematic. To top it off, Marit looked at my recipe and informed me that when the recipe said “1/4 cup corn or canola oil” it didn’t mean I had the choice between actual canned corn and oil, it was referring to corn oil. Ahh. Okay.

Well we both tried it anyway, and yep, my corn bread was downright awful. It was so bad and so sour (I never knew corn bread could be sour!) that the aftertaste was like a punch to your face and make your eyes hurt.

“Honey?” Marit suggested as she coughed it down.

“Yes, honey. Lots of honey.” But nope, honey didn’t help either. The corn bread was bad, just plain bad. To make light of the situation, we began to think about who we could play a prank on by making them eat the stuff.

Today I realized that I am still bad at chemistry, even after all these years, because, yes, I am very bad at baking. Nevertheless, I learned three valuable lessons that may have helped me during my amateur chemist days:

1) Read the directions carefully.

2) Do not deviate.

3) Don’t forget the sugar.

P.S. We are doing an intern Christmas bake-off in December. Look out Fulcrum Kitchen!

On Getting Personal and Going Public

The Battle in Seattle

Receive a 50% discount on this title at http://www.fulcrumbooks.com. Use discount code OCCUPY at checkout.

Today’s blog is a second excerpt from The Battle in Seattle by Janet Thomas. Thomas has written plays about abortion, sexual abuse, nuclear war, the Vietnam War, and the war against the environment, books about hostel travel in the West, and she’s been editor of a magazine about spas around the world. She lives and teaches on San Juan Island in Washington State.

***

It’s this same corporate illness that’s at the core of the policies of the WTO. A corporation per se could be a beautiful thing. It could foster health among employees, well-being throughout the cultures it impacts, a ray of hope for our beleaguered environment. It could help to make life better. But corporations are organized in a very specific way to make a very few people very rich—the behind-the-scenes players who are so well disguised by the corporate mask, the fictional entity that does not exist.

I say this over and over because it’s frightening. Corporations have become the Emperor-Without-Clothes of the planet, and the rest of us are acting as though this nonexistent, bare-assed corporate catastrophe is fully dressed for winter at the North Pole. The corporate structure starts with evasions. We are misled by savvy and slick advertising and kept in the dark about the devouring bottom line.

The World Trade Organization, as it now exists, is structured to support the care and feeding of corporate fortunes at the expense of the democratic way, and to fill the deep pockets of a few at the expense of the no pockets of the many. The question is: Can we wake up in time? The people on the streets of Seattle during WTO week had only one thing to say: “Yes!”

Now to the hard part. What exactly do we wake up to? A corporation is easy to vilify precisely for the same reason it succeeds so well: There is no readily visible person at the helm. Nobody is accountable; nobody is responsible. Nobody is there. When we recoil and rebel, we are recoiling and rebelling from that which appears inhuman. A corporation, let loose to do its job, will always exploit without conscience. When money is the only measure, there is no other landscape upon which to gaze. But when human beings become measurable, as they did in Seattle, suddenly there is a shift, and the geography of corporate cause and effect is shown in its rightful complexity. A complexity that encompasses us all.

Recently, somebody said to me that “a corporation has all the attributes of a person.” His comment took me aback because I realized that it was partially true. A corporation is as complex as each of us, but there is at least one critical thing missing: empathy. Which means that if a corporation is a person, it is a sociopath. It changes shape to please its audience, it charms and seduces, it’s brilliant in rationalizing its position and in getting it’s way. But it has no ability to feel. And this is why it engenders so much fear and frustration, so much reaction. The potent beauty of being human and in partnership with one another, as well as with this sustaining earth, is threatened by a nameless, faceless, powerful sociopath that is out of control.

Excerpt © Janet Thomas. All rights reserved.

***

Interested in reading more? Use the code OCCUPY at checkout when you order The Battle in Seattle by Janet Thomas and receive a 50% discount at  http://www.fulcrumbooks.com!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 45 other followers