Book Camp, Day 3

Something entirely new. That was today’s lesson. An adaptation seeks to create something entirely new–not out of nothing but out of things that already exist.

Baking

We can make apples into virtually anything: pie, cobbler, cake, cookies, sauce, jelly, butter, tart, bread, sausage, juice, smoothies, and on and on. Can you leap to something entirely new?

As I prepared for book camp, I searched the web for novel apple foods. Listen, y’all make apples into e-ve-ry-thing. I downloaded a recipe for chilled apple soup and one for creamy pumpkin apple pasta sauce. Both would at least be new to us. But what could we possibly make that might be truly new?

I searched for apple pasta. My search returned spiralized apples, apple-pumpkin sauces, and apple-tomato sauces. But I did not find a flour-based pasta made with apples.* There were recipes galore for adding herbs, spinach, beet or carrot juice, or squid ink. So, of course, we tried.20180613_162811And we asked ourselves a question: What might we have to deal with as artists when we break the mold and make something entirely new? Here are some of the kids’ answers:

  • judgment
  • criticism
  • and failure.

I agreed. We might get pushback from others. Critics saying we didn’t know what to do or how to do it. People telling us to stay in our own lanes. But there are other things too:

  • critics wowed by something unexpected
  • greater demand for our work
  • people copying the work in admiration
  • and people seeing themselves represented for the first time in a meaningful way.

Risking failure and criticism opens the door to…more.

We made that pumpkin-apple pasta sauce with great ingredients. As one thirteen-year-old put it, “It tastes like vomit. It is vomit!” Perhaps in other hands the recipe could work well, but we found only criticism and failure and waste of ingredients.**

That apple pasta, though. It is less than perfect and more than beautiful. So many hands kneaded the dough. We rolled it. Little hands folded the dough and cut it into long strips. Some narrow, almost broken. Others wide and sturdy. Patted with flour and curled into a nest. It was a risk. Five young artists, young bakers, had never before made pasta and emerged from the day with apple-flavored lengths of delight.

Hamilton

I asked the kids, is Hamilton: An American Musical a brand new thing or not? They answered as I would. Yes. And no.

Musical theatre is not new. Hip hop and rap are not new. Using hip hop and rap in musical theatre is not new. Alexander Hamilton himself–definitely not new.

But Hamilton used hip hop and rap to tell a story about something other than hip hop and rap. It employed performers of colors to portray historical figures who were white.

Hamilton was not a brand new thing. But it so was. Miranda faced all the risks and rewards incident to doing a brand new thing.

What each of us must decide for ourselves is whether to create something conventional or something out of the box. Do we want to accept the risks of the brand new thing or tell the same stories in the same ways, bake the same pies with the same apples, sing the same love songs with the same beats.

Writing

Today the kids began their adaptations in earnest. They had chosen their source materials and their formats. Today they worked on core story elements–the ones they need to keep–and the elements they would distort, change, rearrange, or introduce.

Not every creator wants the brand new. For those who do, the risks can be enormous or may be tiny. But the risks ought never be the deciding factor for the creator who seeks a new creation.

Apple Pasta

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup applesauce

Whisk together wet ingredients. Mix in flour with hands. Form into a soft ball. Knead  vigorously 12 minutes on a floured surface. Let rest 30 minutes. Divide the ball into quarters. Roll out one quarter to your desired thickness, then fold and cut in strips. Flour each strip to prevent sticking. Repeat with the other three quarters of dough.

If using immediately, boil for 2-3 minutes. Drain. Enjoy!

If saving for a later time, flatten the noodles and stack them. Seal the bunch in an airtight container. When ready to use, boil for 10-12 minutes or until cooked to desired doneness. Enjoy!

*Please do not send me to all the sites you happen to know with perfect apple pasta recipes. It’s too late. We already finished. Plus, you missed the point.

**Please do not offer helpful hints to improve the pumpkin-apple pasta sauce. It tastes like vomit. It is vomit.

Book Camp 2018: Day 1

‘Tis the most wonderful time of the year! Three boys, 13, 11, and 10–Eldest, Middling, and Third–two girls, 13 and 11–First and Second–and me. Quarantined in a house for a glorious week of creativity.

This year our book camp centers on adaptations, and we’re studying Hamilton!

What is Adaptation?

The kids told me adaptation occurs when a plant or an animal changes for to better live in its environment. They had examples and everything. Yay science!

We moved to a new kind of science: food. If we make ten pies, each is a pie. We begin with a crust and fill it with apples or blueberries, chocolate, peaches, or meat. We could fill it with all kinds of yummy goodies, bake it, and devour. And that’s a kind of adaptation: adapt the crust and filling to our tastes and our needs.

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We can also adapt apples from pie to all kinds of other tasty treats: apple sauce, apple cake, apple streusel muffins, apple butter, apple cookies, apple cider, apple tart, apple anything. Today we baked apple streusel muffins, then apple cake, then apple pie. Meanwhile, we cooked apple sauce. And we looked at how different the products turned out. From the same basic ingredients, we made four products that are eaten somewhat differently, that vary in sweetness, that will invariable satisfy some palates but not others.

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In any adaptation, ingredients may largely be the same. But how they appear, when they appear, and what exactly they do may be different. There may be flavors in one that don’t appear in the other. Some may need help rising while others don’t. One adaptation may take eighteen minutes and the other an hour and a half. And we, as bakers, must learn what our adaptations need.

Hamilton

While the muffins cooled and the cake baked, we turned our attention to Hamilton: the musical, the album, The Revolution, and the biography inspiring the play. All four tell the story of Alexander Hamilton. The musical play and the album are both delicious, but one satisfies both visual and audio appetites, while the other is only for audio consumption. Depending on when we see the musical play, the voices may be somewhat different than the ones pressed into our brains from listening to the album on repeat.

The Revolution gives us words but no music. Today, we played a couple of scenes reading the lines and forcing the music from our minds. The effect felt wholly different. So the book takes away something but also adds notations and background information we could not consume elsewhere.

The biography, Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow, offers a different taste altogether. It is more meal than dessert. It is more fact, and the musical with its sibling adaptations are historical fiction.

But Chernow and Miranda began from the same place: adapting source material. Chernow adapted research into a biography. Miranda adapted the biography into something else entirely. The album and The Revolution were natural, necessary adaptations from there.

How Do We Begin Adapting?

For the five young writers in the house, we need to distill so much baking and Hamiltoning into some tenets for adaptations.

  1. Hone the source materials down to its most basic elements.
    • Apples, sugar, butter, flour, etc.
    • Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, Revolutionary War, etc.
  2. Mash bits together to make them fit your form.
    • Use loaf pans because you don’t own a bundt pan. Change the order of process through trial and error. Substitute ingredients to avoid allergies.
    • Combine events or reorder them for time, space, or cohesion. Assign actions to substantial characters because the audience already knows them.
  3. Add flavor.
    • Use sweet apples instead of tart or vice versa for a new experience.
    • Use hip hop and rap to tell the story.
  4. Use new ingredients outside the source material.
    • Add cardamom to your apple spice profile. Use really great butter instead of oil.
    • Add conversation no one could know. Thread in tidbits others raise, like “you’ll be back,” or vine and fig tree.

Brainstorming

The kids brainstormed their projects. What do they want to adapt this week? We’re keeping it tight: poem to story, scene to song, fairy tale to poem, or some other manageable task.

Watching an Adaptation

We talked about the similarities between comics and movies–visually and stylistically. And then we watched Spider-Man: Homecoming because it’s fun!

If you adapt something along with us this week, be sure to drop me a line.

Referenced Materials:

  1. Hamilton: An American Musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda
  2. Hamilton: An American Musical, original soundtrack
  3. Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter
  4. Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow