The I Dare You Tag, a.k.a. “I Am Easily Guilted”

I was tagged to answer these questions by author of the wonderful blog The Orangutan Librarian. You should definitely go over there and check out her posts. Number one, she’s an orangutan, and number two, she has some great satirical pieces.

What book has been on your shelf the longest?

I was going to show a Bible picture book that I’ve had since I was 3, but it turns out it is not on my shelf any more as I have passed it on to a niece. So, here …

What is your current read, your last read, and the book you’ll read next?

What book did everyone like, but you hated?

OK, this is the question that calls for courage. 

There are several that everyone agrees are great, and they probably are, but I’m avoiding them.

The Hate U Give, The Help, and The Secret Life of Bees.

I even have two of these on my shelf, but I haven’t cracked them open. 

Reason? I’m super easily guilted.  I don’t want to read a book that is going to call me racist, because even though I know I’m not, I’m going to feel responsible for all the bad stuff that happens in the book.  I will go around hanging my head just that little bit lower.  Then I’ll be angry that I am being blamed for segregation or for a police shooting in a city I’ve never been to, and … well, you get the idea.

What book do you keep telling yourself you’ll read, but you probably won’t?

The Brothers Karamazov.  I’ve started it, and it was super good, and I know it has amazing writing and a ton of spiritual insight, but I’ve heard so much about it that I feel like I already know the ending.

What book are you saving for retirement?

At this rate, what I’m saving for retirement is probably my entire career as a novelist.

Last page: Read it first, or wait ‘til the end?

Wait, definitely. Unless you’ve read everything that came before, the last page won’t make much sense and, even if you can sort of figure out what is going on, it certainly won’t have the same impact.

That said, I have been known to skim ahead a page or two in a book, just to break the tension, when I sense that something really awful is about to happen.

Acknowledgement: waste of paper and ink, or interesting aside?

Ok. I have lots of thoughts on acknowledgements.

In general, I like them. They are sweet.  I love it when the author thanks their spouse for all the sacrifices they made.  Also, the acknowledgements can be a way to find out the name of the author’s agent, which is helpful if you write similar kinds of books and want to query the agent.

But I’m not fond of acknowledgements that fill 1 – 2 pages and, seemingly, list every single person who had anything to do with bringing the book to print.  First of all, I can’t pay attention to all those names and my eyes glaze over, and then I feel guilty because clearly all these people deserve to be thanked.

Secondly, these long acknowledgement sections can be discouraging to a fledgling author.  If a dozen people are listed, and every one of them is thanked for their “invaluable edits and corrections,” and is a person “without whose work this book would never have come to be,” we get the impression that it’s impossible to write a book (at least, a decent book) without a team of at least a dozen at your back.  Which means that our current WIP is probably trash, which makes us doubt ourself since we know it’s not.

Also, I once saw a long acknowledgment section by Nicholas Sparks that was nothing but a bunch of puns on the titles of his previous books, none of which I had read. I didn’t end up reading that one either.

Which book character would you switch places with?

Bertie Wooster.  Who wouldn’t want to have Jeeves on hand?

Do you have a book that reminds you of something specific in your life (place, time, person)?

Yes, all of them. 

(I once told a Medieval Lit professor that because of a certain past friendship I had “issues” around the entire corpus of Arthurian legends, and added, “I guess that makes me a real literature dork, right?”

And she said, “I don’t know, I think most people have issues like that with different works of literature.” I think she was right.)

Name a book that you acquired in an interesting way.

A Meeting at Corvallis by S.M. Stirling. I read the first book in this series (Dies the Fire) by checking it out of the library. But I couldn’t find the second one in the library, though they had later books in the series. (What are you thinking, librarians?)  So I was forced to go online and order copies of the missing books.

This shows the value of authors getting their books into libraries, by the way.

Have you ever given a book away for a special reason to a special person?

Only all the time.  It’s called “forcing books on people.” It’s my social handicap (one of many). Apparently I communicate by giving, lending, and recommending books.

Which book has been with you the most places?

This is a tricky one. In my youth I was a world traveler, and I am one of those people who always have to have a book with them, so I have dragged many different books to some very remote places. But it’s never always the same one. I remember reading an Indonesian version of The Two Towers while on a canoe, and reading How Green Was My Valley (in English) sitting on an ironwood porch in the jungle.  Little House probably wins, though, since I re-read that one on the ironwood porch as well. 

Any “required reading” you hated in high school that wasn’t so bad two years later?

No. I liked To Kill A Mockingbird when we read it in high school, and loved it even more later.  I hated 1984 so much that I’ve never gone back to it.

Used or brand new?

Library.

Have you ever read a Dan Brown book?

I can’t remember.  I have read one by another person in a similar genre, and reviewed it here.

Have you ever seen a movie you liked more than the book?

The Great Gatsby (Leo DiCaprio version). The film made the characters sympathetic and the story poignant, which the book didn’t do for me.

Have you ever read a book that’s made you hungry, cookbooks included?

I don’t need a book to make me hungry.

I am easily guilted (is a theme developing here?) by books that feature starvation.

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book Farmer Boy stars a 9-year-old boy who is always hungry and includes many detailed, sensuous descriptions of food.  Man, that boy could put away the pies! Of course, he was nine years old and was out ploughing all day.

Who is the person whose book advice you’ll always take?

Not sure this person exists.  Even people I respect greatly have different thresholds than I do.

Is there a book out of your comfort zone (e.g., outside your usual reading genre) that you ended up loving?

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver was out of my comfort zone and I avoided it for several years because I got the impression that it demonized missionaries as evil colonialists who don’t bother to learn anything about the cultures they enter.

Eventually, when I’d made some culture crossing mistakes of my own and been through some difficult personal stuff, and I had accepted myself as a flawed person and life had calmed down a bit, I felt ready to read it.

It is brilliant. 

I still think it demonizes missionaries to some extent, but it is such good literature that even the Baptist pastor villain is portrayed in a complex way. It does a great job of showing the huge learning curve faced by Westerners when entering a West African culture.  It deals with white guilt, parenting guilt, and more. At least three of the characters made me go, “This is me!

Also, the sections narrated by the pastor’s oldest daughter Rachel are hilarious because they’re filled with malapropisms.

Now it’s my turn to tag you.

Tag! You’re it. If you want to do this tag, go home and do it, and let me know. Or answer randomly selected questions from this tag in the comments.

Making “Coffee” from Chicory

My own sketch of the wildflower chicory, done in pen and crayon

When I think about The End of the World as We Know It, one thing I worry about is the availability of coffee.

I am sure this is a concern of yours as well.  Assuming that you get through the Zombie Apocalypse, the EMP, the Rising Sea Levels, or whatever your personal big fear is, and find yourself among a group of scrappy survivors, I guarantee you some of them are going to want coffee.  It might even become a hot commodity.  Worth its weight in gold.

The Inspiration for this Project

The Change series is also known as the Emberverse series.

The project documented in this post was inspired by S.M. Stirling’s The Change series.  In the first book, Dies the Fire, the world of the 1990s is interrupted when all electronics, engines, and gunpowder suddenly cease to function.  At that point the series becomes alternate history.  The series migrates toward Game of Thrones style fantasy the longer it goes on, but the first few books especially are more in the post-apocalyptic genre, about people surviving and starting to rebuild society in the Northwest and in Northern California.  And once they get a steady food supply going, their coffee substitute is “roasted, ground chicory roots.”

I could probably find chicory coffee at a co-op type food store, but I want to try to make it myself.  That’s the only way I can learn about the process and find out if such a thing would be feasible.

Let’s go!

Lessons from the Chicory Experiment

Chicory is a wildflower that grows all along the highways in our region at certain times of year.  Though there is an abundant supply of it on the medians, that’s not the safest place to gather it in this pre-apocalyptic world where vehicles of all kinds are still whizzing by.  So I had to seek chicory on a back road.  In this picture, the plants with lavender colored flowers are chicory and the ones with white flowers are Queen Anne’s Lace.

Today’s weather is very humid, and it’s so hot that there is a heat advisory.  Also, it turns out that chicory grows surrounded by thistles and extremely sharp-bladed grass. 

Lesson 1: Gather chicory in the early morning, before the day gets hot.  Wear cowboy boots, not flip flops.

I assumed that chicory would have a taproot similar to a dandelion’s, so I brought a small trowel.  I couldn’t find my dandelion picking tool, so I brought a large screwdriver, which is almost as good for digging down beside the taproot to loosen the soil.

It turns out that chicory roots are similar to dandelion’s, but much larger, deeper, and woodier. 

Lesson 2: I probably could have brought a regular garden shovel instead.

Here is the chicory I gathered.  I have no idea how much “coffee” this quantity will make, but I’m hoping it will be enough for one cup.  Finding out is part of the purpose of this experiment.  I don’t have the time or energy to dig more due to having come at the wrong time of day.  Clearly, I have a lot to learn as a hunter/gatherer.

Next step. Google the process just to make sure I don’t accidentally poison myself by skipping a step. (We won’t be able to Google stuff after the apocalypse, which is all the more reason to do it now.)  The search takes me here.  Hank Shaw is a “hunter, angler, gardener, forager, and cook” and he seems to know what he’s talking about.  Uh-oh, he says you need to harvest chicory in the fall.  But he seems to have harvested some in the summer with no ill effects.  Onward.

Here are the roots after being washed.  I need to cut them into thin slices, dry them for two or three days in the sunshine, and then roast them as directed.  Cutting them yields mixed results.  Some have a woody core so tough that I have to saw it, with dirt trapped between this core and the outer, soft layer.  Others are softer, solid and cuttable all the way through, more like cutting a carrot.  My guess is that Hank’s nice, plump “root chicory” is more like this.

Lesson 3: Wild chicory might not be the way to go. It might be smarter to cultivate it.

My roots have yielded this measly tray of chicory slices. Following the expert, I sun them on the back of my vehicle.  They dry out for a few hours, and then promptly get rained on.  I sop them up with a paper towel and move the tray to our sun porch.

Lesson 4: Obvious.

After two days of drying on our sun porch, the chicory slices had visibly shrunk and felt dry. I put them in a 350 degree oven for about an hour and a half.  During this time, the house filled with a curious warm malty smell, as predicted on Hank Shaw’s web site.  This was reassuring, because it meant that I was in fact roasting the right kind of root.  On the other hand, my family complained about the smell.

Lesson 5: There is going to be a lot of complaining around our house after the apocalypse.  But I kind of knew that already.

This is what the chicory roots looked like after about 90 minutes.  They look done.

Next, I ground the chicory in a food processor …

… And put it in a one-cup coffee filter.  As I had hoped, it was just the right amount for one mug.

As you can see, the roots don’t grind up nice and even like coffee grounds.  There are some bigger chunks, and then there’s some powder that’s as fine as French Press coffee or even baking powder or something.  Perhaps I could have gotten the chunks chopped up further if I’d been willing to grind them for longer, but as I was grinding, fine dust kept escaping from the food processor and coating the surrounding counter.  I stopped when I figured the grounds would be sufficient.  If you were grinding roast chicory in large quantities, there’d be certain to be a lot of dust.

If there were no electricity, I guess I’d be forced to crush it in my marble mortar:

I poured hot water over the grounds, and it worked great!  A very creditable cup of something that looks exactly like coffee.

The wet grounds, and the liquid itself, smell very smoky.   I’m going to try it black first, because after the apocalypse there is unlikely to be spare milk, let alone hazelnut creamer.

It tastes exactly as Hank Shaw describes it: “a brighter acidity than coffee and … ‘earthy.'”

I give a sip of it to my trucker husband, who ought to know about mediocre coffee.

Me: Does it taste like truck stop coffee?

Him: Truck stops couldn’t sell coffee if it tasted like this.

Well, it tastes OK to me.  But I might be slightly invested, seeing as how I made it.

I add milk and continue to drink.  It tastes most coffee-like when hot.  As it cools, it begins to taste more and more like … smoke. Now I realize I’ve had this before.  I think it was called “smoke tea.” It must have been chicory.  I like the flavor, but I realize it wouldn’t be for everybody.

But the bottom line is: I did it!  I did it!  I dug up a common wildflower and forced it to yield a coffeelike substance.  It was a bit of a project, but not hugely inconvenient and actually took less processing than I’ve heard real coffee takes. 

Lesson 6: It is possible to make a coffee substitute from chicory, even if you have little previous knowledge or skills.