Friday, August 9, 2019

"Coolest" field work ever: Arctic Mars Analogue Svalbard Expeditions (AMASE)

Figuring out the survival suits, AMASE 2004
Testing a new field portable spectrophotometer, AMASE 2005
         Since the emergence of the field of astrobiology in the late 1990s, fundamental questions still persist. What are the basic characteristics of life? How do we recognize life if it does not resemble any known life forms on Earth? These questions have been long debated by National Research Council committees, NAI teams, and numerous panels. In a 2007 report, the following requirements for life were described. First, living organisms are essentially never in static equilibrium with the environment. They exist in steady state, maintaining a balance between growth and decay, or actively growing. Second, an environment that is neither too hot nor too cold where complex molecules can exist without being vaporized or frozen is needed. Third, that environment should have a liquid, presumably water, to enable biological reactions. Last, there needs to be some system for allowing for evolution.
         In 2000, I helped organize a workshop held at the Geophysical Laboratory, sponsored by the National Research Council. In our report titled “Signs of Life: A report based on the April 2000 Workshop on Life Detection Strategies” (2001) we wrote the following:
“We make the assumption that if life exists on other planets or moons, it will be carbon based and dependent on liquid water.  It will also be self-replicating and capable of evolving.  Carbon is the best element for creating macromolecules; it can form chemical bonds with many other atoms to produce biochemical complexity. All life on Earth evolved from a single type of cell, referred to as the last common ancestor, and thus shares the same genetic code and central biochemistry. Extraterrestrial life could be so different from life on Earth that modern methods would fail to detect it.”

         We were on the search for life as we don’t know it. Meanwhile, our challenge was to find evidence of life in the most extreme, seemingly barren places here on Earth. My efforts started with the AMASE expeditions, beginning in 2003, with Hans Amundsen of the University of Oslo as leader. He had assembled an international team of scientists and expedition artists for a voyage to the northern islands of the Svalbard Archipelago. Svalbard is located at about 80° north latitude, the same latitude as northern Greenland. Northern Svalbard is an Arctic desert, which was one of the principal Mars analogue traits important to our ecosystem studies. It is serviced by flights into the major town of Longyearbyen, a combination frontier and tourist destination visited in summer by people from around the world. Like Mars, Svalbard is cold, dry, and virtually devoid of biomass---with exposed rock formations, as well as thermal springs and dormant volcanoes, all-important characteristics for our study.
         My Geophysical Laboratory colleague Andrew Steele and his student Maia Schweitzer were invited on the 2003 trip. Steele was a novice field scientist, having worked primarily in the lab on experimental studies. Liane Benning of Leeds University, who became a close scientific partner of mine during future AMASE trips, accompanied them on the trip. Steele and Schweitzer brought back interesting microbial samples and rocks from Svalbard volcanoes to examine traces of microbial life and organic carbon concentrations.
         In the laboratory, I began to engage in the analyses of the samples finding small amounts of carbon and nitrogen in mantle xenoliths, as well as measuring carbon and oxygen isotopes in a variety of carbonates, some of which were cryogenically precipitated. Amundsen visited the Geophysical Laboratory in December that year and learned that I had a perspective that had not yet been considered. Not only were stable isotopes key for all the samples we collected, but also as a biogeochemist and geo-ecologist, I could bring a different perspective to sampling a Mars-analog site. I was therefore invited to participate in the AMASE 2004 expedition the following summer.
         The Geophysical Laboratory group in 2004 consisted of Andrew Steele, Maia Schweitzer, Jan Toporski and Jake Maule (Steele’s postdocs), Verena Starke (Steele’s graduate student), and me. The Director of the Geophysical Laboratory at that time was Wes Huntress, former NASA Associate Director and champion of the Astrobiology program. He provided special support for several of us to participate in the expedition. We took with us numerous small items of equipment designed to make measurements of nutrients and bacterial loads in the field. There were boxes of 50 ml Falcon tubes, rock bags, reagents, and rock hammers. We all packed duffle bags full of winter clothes, hiking boots, liquid nitrogen dewars, and other field gear. Our departure from Dulles International Airport was complex because of extra bags, travel from one airline to another, and the remote destination in Svalbard. Miraculously, we all arrived in Longyearbyen with our scientific and personal gear ready to meet other AMASE participants and train for the voyage to our field sites.      For most of my life, I abhorred cold weather. The thought of heading to one of the coldest regions of the Earth was something that appealed to me only later in life. Summers in the high Arctic can be very pleasant, depending on the year, with daytime temperatures requiring only a light jacket. Alternatively, a freak snowstorm can blow in, plummeting temperatures far below zero. By the time in 2004 that I left for Svalbard at 80° North latitude, I was so excited to be immersed in this cold, remote landscape. First impressions of this trip were of the outpost city, Longyearbyen, a frontier town with tourist shops and restaurants. I couldn’t wait to board our ship the M/V Polarsyssel and head out to the gray Arctic Ocean.
         After arriving in Longyearbyen, we settled into the local hostel, tested our equipment, purchased more Arctic-worthy gear, and learned about rifles and polar bears. The polar bear is the top carnivore in the Arctic. Typically, these bears spend much of their time on the ice pack hunting seals, but in the summer, when the ice pack retreats, the bears move onto land, give birth to their cubs, and do most of their hunting near shore. Polar bears are a protected and endangered species for a number of reasons, but polar bears and humans should not mix. The AMASE team was taken to the University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS) rifle range to learn how to protect our fellow scientists and ourselves if we did have a close encounter with a bear. Fortunately, I grew up with a father who was a hunter and taught me how to shoot a rifle, albeit a rather small one, at targets. The rifles we had in Svalbard were German Mausers, comparable to 30-06 rifles in the United States. They were heavy and manually operated; automatic weapons are banned in Norway. We learned loading and unloading of ammunition first, then the three positions for firing.
         Our group of about 15 was splayed out on our stomachs, the first shooting position we learned. The rifles had a substantial kick to them, and it took a steady hand to control the rifle as the shot was fired. We each fired off a round of 4 bullets at the target, learned to carefully check our weapon to see if it was emptied of bullets, and laid down the guns. Our trainers checked the targets. I hit mine every time--not in the center, but in a respectable area that may have been lethal. Our second position was kneeling, which required greater control of the heavy rifle, but improved our ability to aim it properly. Finally, we learned to fire the rifle standing up, the most comfortable pose, but also requiring attention to detail and a strong stance. My aim was decent and I passed the test to be able to defend myself and others from polar bears. Of course, we all hoped we would never have to actually fire the gun at a bear.
         We departed from Longyearbyen about a week after arriving in Svalbard. Our vessel was the M/V Polarsyssel, an icebreaker once owned by the Governor of Svalbard, and now available for hire. It was an older ship, not fitted out for scientific study. After loading our gear, we underwent our next training on how to don survival suits and learn “man overboard” drills. The bulky orange suits made us feel like monsters, and we laughed as we put the giant Norwegian sized suits on and hopped around the deck of the ship. When at our field sites, we wore these suits as we traveled to shore in zodiac boats. In ten years of AMASE expeditions, we never had a serious safety issue in the field.

Zero Gravity: Experiments on the Vomit Comet

Zero Gravity Space Team

We’ve all watched those space movies—Sandra Bullock floating around trying to repair a space ship, her hair twirling around her head, waving herself around the universe. It’s as fun as it looks, which I found out in 2004 on a trip on NASA’s Vomit Comet. In order to train astronauts for the feeling of zero gravity, NASA has a special plane taking off from Johnson Space Flight Center near Houston, Texas. In order to achieve zero gravity, the aircraft, a large C-130 cargo jet aircraft, follows a parabolic flight plan going up in an arc followed by descending in a similar arc. During the upward climb, gravity is about double Earth’s gravity; on the downward trajectory, gravity goes to zero.
            My opportunity to fly on the Vomit Comet was made possible by working with Jake Maule, a postdoc working with Andrew Steele. Jake, now a physician at Duke University Hospital, is a trim, sharp-looking Brit who had dreams of joining the astronaut core. His Ph.D. is in medicine, so he was looking to use that training combined with an astrobiology theme to be attractive to the very competitive NASA program for selecting astronauts. Jake and I were both interested in immunology at that time. I had purchased an instrument capable making the types of measurements that can detect complex diseases like HIV-AIDS. The instrument, an ELISA reader (enzyme-linked immuno-sorbent assay) measures the amount and strength that antibodies have in binding to the molecules, antigens, they are trying to remove from harming our bodies. To neutralize antigens, which are potentially harmful compounds, antibodies hook up with antigens in complex physical structures.
            Jake’s idea was to use the ELISA reader, to find out whether and how antibodies and antigens hook up together without the benefit of gravity. He asked to borrow my instrument. I told him, “OK, but you have to take me with you!” He thought about it briefly, and agreed. We flew down to Johnson Space Flight Center for 2 days of training. After a morning of lectures, we went into a space simulation chamber that was evacuated leaving almost no air, but all was fine because we were wearing oxygen masks. The chamber was then filled with nitrogen gas—which does not support life—and we were asked to remove our masks. It took me only 20 seconds to feel the effects—I was unable to count to five! My mask went right back on.
            Jake and I practiced our experiments in a lab on the ground. We planned to fly 40 cycles alternating between zero gravity and two-times gravity (2-G) during our 3 hour flight. Each cycle lasted 20 seconds—barely enough time to complete the manipulations needed. The morning of our flight we were given two medications to help—Dexedrine and scopolamine-one to keep you awake and the other to keep you from getting airsick. Donning NASA flight suits, 15 scientists, a flight supervisor, and the flight surgeon entered the plane. Excitedly, we set up our experiments. Ours was inside of a newborn baby’s Isolette, a plastic box with armholes for two people to attend to a premature infant, which kept our supplies from floating around the aircraft.
            We were seated for takeoff, then at 10,000 feet we moved to our workstations, where our feet were placed under straps so we wouldn’t float away. When we were about to enter zero-G, special lights flashed on. Then, as we switched to 2-G, the flight supervisor shouted, “Feet down! Comin’ up!” We heard that phrase more than 40 times.
            The first zero-G experience made your stomach do a flip-flop. Your hair raises up, your equipment floats around. Wow! Then, all too soon, you feel 2-G making you twice your body weight. A slight movement of your head and you felt nauseous, even going so far as to cause vomiting. On the second cycle, we began the manipulations. My skills on working at sea on ships tossed around by big waves trained me for this work. Opposite to me, Jake was turning a bit green. The flight surgeon floated by, offered him a barf bag, wrapped it up, and then went on to the next scientist who needed some help. I’m proud to say my stomach remained in check.
            After 40 cycles of zero G, Jake and I unplugged and floated for the next couple of parabolas. The feeling of weightlessness, even for 20 seconds, is something my body has never forgotten. The ability to float in air, even fly, is something we only dream about but never experience. The trip on the Vomit Comet let my soul soar!
            Because I was a trooper on the flight, the pilots invited me to sit in the jump seat just behind them when we were returning to Johnson. What an eye opener!  First, I saw how close we were to another airplane and how the pilots handled that. Then, a warning light came on in the panel of instruments on the plane’s dashboard. We were all connected via headsets, so I could hear them discussing the meaning of the orange light. Apparently, it had to do with the functioning of one of the two jet engines. After we safely landed, the plane was taken into a hanger for maintenance to figure out what was happening with that engine. Turns out that it needed to be completely overhauled. Our 2nd flight was cancelled and the Vomit Comet was out of commission for months.
            Our experiments were successful. We determined that antibodies and antigens had no problems working in the absence of gravity. Although humans evolved with the benefits of a gravitational field, our biochemical systems could adapt to spaceflight.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Astrobiology! Are we alone? How did we get here? My start...

Rus Hemley, Nabil Boctor, George Cody, Jen Blank, Hat Yoder, Jay Brandes, Bob Hazen, and Marilyn, Hat Yoder's Lab circa 1999

“The probability for the chance of formation of the smallest, simplest form of living organism known is 1 to 10,340,000,000.... The size of this figure is truly staggering, since there are only supposed to be approximately 1080 electrons in the whole universe!” Harold Morowitz, in Energy Flow in Biology (1968).

         In 1996, NASA announced that it had found evidence of life contained in the Martian meteorite Alan Hills 84001 (McKay et al., 1996). They held press conferences and presented evidence for what they termed bacterial cell structures in the meteorites, along with some amino acid profiles. News spread like wildfire among Mars aficionados and skeptics alike. The search for life on Mars stimulated several lander and orbital missions to Mars. At the same time, NASA under the advice of Wesley T. Huntress, Associate Administrator for Space Science, had the idea to form the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI), a virtual institute in which scientists in disciplines as far-ranging as astronomy and astrophysics would regularly engage with molecular biologists and geochemists. Objectives central to this effort was to understand how life arose on planet Earth, to determine when it arose, and to devise a set of criteria everyone could agree on that constituted evidence of life.
         This task has been more difficult than it sounds. To this day, NASA and NAI scientists still are discussing how they will determine which chemical or physical line(s) of evidence constitute proof that there is life on another planetary body. I was part of two original NAI teams that took very different approaches to search for life. The Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) team focused on biosignatures. Biosignatures are fingerprints of life such as isotope fractionation patterns or elemental ratios. Ken Nealson, who specifically moved from University of Wisconsin to JPL, led the effort. Our work was carried out in both modern extreme environments as well as in ancient rocks. Being on the JPL campus, this NAI team used several new techniques that were being specifically designed for space flight. The goal of this group was to develop biosignatures in tandem with new analytical methods.
         Working with postdoc Sue Ziegler, we started with a simple mixed culture of microorganisms and fed them a single protein, Rubisco the protein I studied for my Ph.D. work. We then analyzed the chemical isotope signature in the microbes and found that bacteria totally scrambled the isotopic patterns in amino acids of the Rubisco protein. The process was rapid and completed overturned in a matter of a day or two. Bacterial proteins were decomposed and recycled as well. Our data shows that on very short time scales, hours to days to months, microbial products are formed and degraded. On a geological time scale of hundreds, thousands, or millions of years, biologically-resistant material gradually obtains an isotopic and chemical composition that has little resemblance to original biochemical compounds. If we were to find evidence of life in martian rocks billions of years, we needed to broaden our thinking.
         The approach by the Carnegie team, which I also working with, was completely different. Geophysical Laboratory staff member Bob Hazen and Harold Morowitz (George Mason University) had the idea that we might be able to study some of the most basic reactions of the TCA cycle using hydrothermal techniques rather than biological enzymes. Hazen wrote a book, Genesis, about how this project evolved. Geophysical Laboratory staff member George Cody, former Geophysical Laboratory Director Hat Yoder, and myself as well as Bob and Harold, postdocs Mark Teece, Jay Brandes, Tim Filley, Jennifer Blank, and Nabil Boctor discussed how this could be carried out. Bob and postdocs would seal organic reactants into gold tubes that served as reaction vessels; Hat Yoder would subject them to high temperatures and pressures in his internally heated, gas media pressure bombs; George and postdocs would analyze the products of the reaction; Mark Teece and I would measure the isotopic patterns in the products; Harold and the rest of us would interpret the results. Experiments were more complicated than we ever anticipated. 
Hat Yoder's Internally heated high pressure "rig"
         Bob Hazen is an accomplished writer of popular science books, textbooks, as well as scientific articles in his discipline. Over the years, I watched him transform from a high-pressure mineralogist to an astrobiologist to a big picture thinker on the nature of carbon in the deep earth. He was never a “lab guy” like the rest of us at the Geophysical Lab. Instead, he partnered with bright people like Larry Finger, George Cody, Robert Downs, and others to anchor the data collecting. Often, we sparred with one another, at unpredictable times. He saw my work as incremental, which is what most scientific advances truly are. I saw his work as broad brush, not getting at the heart of problems. Either way, Hazen sustained having novel scientific ideas which he supported with his encyclopedic ability to read articles, understand them, and write about them with style.
         Harold Morowitz was a real original thinker and intellect. Working at a second tier university in northern Virginia, he struck me as a person who could work anywhere that welcomed complex thoughts. Harold knew the biochemical pathways and enzymes thoroughly, which we appreciated. When he made visits to discuss experiments, with time, there was a tension when hypotheses did not match results and findings. Both he and Bob Hazen were scholars, while the rest of us were soldiers in the laboratory figuring out difficult analytical problems. Fortunately, George Cody and Harold worked on the same plane and were able to match their talents to produce the detailed work on abiotic organic synthesis.
         George Cody is a one of a kind, often self-absorbed and oblivious to humans, other times thinking about the long-term vision for the Geophysical Laboratory and his colleagues. Cody is most comfortable at the console of his custom built NMR spectrometer. As he evolved from being a coal chemist to an organic geochemist to an astrobiologist to a generalist, his skills in analyzing complex data sets thoroughly distinguish his work. At parties, George often can’t leave his work behind. After a couple glasses of red wine, he can regale his friends about hamiltonians (an obscure parameter measured by his NMR spectrometer), while his wife looks patiently on. When we worked together, I could always rely on George to huddle together with me and figure out gnarly lab problems, personnel issues, and weird data.
         The team learned that the anticipated products were unstable at high temperatures (e.g., 170°C). Hundreds, if not thousands, of reactions were sealed in gold tubing, heated, and chemically analyzed. After almost two years, Cody and Hazen realized that they were examining a different type of reaction than they had originally thought. Rather than studying synthesis, the work slowly evolved to studying decomposition. Further, although the starting reactants were often a single molecule (e.g., citrate), the products were very complex. We never made it to the point of measuring stable isotopes. Bob and George shifted to investigating metal-sulfide catalysts and iron-nickel catalysts, searching for the Holy Grail of recreating the biological tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle via hydrothermal reactions.
         Eventually, Cody and team members found a potential entry point into the reductive TCA cycle utilizing metal sulfides and reduced carbon bearing fluids. This pathway, named the hydrothermal redox pathway, is not used in any extant organisms but may have been the ignition point for primary metabolism during the early evolution of living organisms. The potentially critical catalytic role of such metallic catalysts may be a crucial link between geochemistry and biochemistry at the point of life’s emergence. Integrating all of this, they discovered that they were within one reaction of demonstrating a purely geochemical carbon fixation pathway that closely mimics the TCA pathways.
Hiroshi Ohmoto giving astrobiology lecture with Boz Wing to left, Canada
         Origin of life studies were being carried out across the NAI and internationally at this time (2000s). The RNA (ribonucleic acid, one of the molecules carrying the genetic code) world hypothesis (Shostack et al) had been a favored pathway for jump-starting life. RNA can catalyze simple reactions, directs the construction of more complicated molecules like proteins, and holds heritable information. The problem with this model was figuring out how to make RNA molecules in the first place. One hypothesis was that meteorites that bombarded early Earth brought these molecules with them.
         Zita Martins and the organic geochemists at Goddard Space Flight Center were searching for the building blocks of DNA and RNA, nucleobases, in organic extracts of Murchison meteorite, one of the most famous carbonaceous chondrites of all time. Zita was working with Danny Glavin and Jason Dworkin at Goddard, and her colleagues and Ph.D. advisor in the Netherlands. Using a sophisticated type of mass spectrometry, she could detect nucleobases in some of the Murchison extracts. She was able to zero in on these unusual and complicated structures, essentially picking the “needles out of the haystack” of other compounds. We began a collarboration to measure the stable isotope patterns in these particular molecules. If they really came from outer space they should have an isotope pattern similar to other meteorite organic molecules others had measured. Alternatively, if these were terrestrial contaminants, they should resemble isotope patterns of biological molecules.
         ZIta arrived with extracts in hand at the Geophysical Laboratory, and we were confident that we could readily measure the carbon isotope patterns based on the results she measured at Goddard Space Flight Center. Unfortunately, the analytical system I was using, a combustion-GC-IRMS system, combusts all carbon compounds in the chromatogram, which was loaded with a multitude of other compounds, mostly organic acids, as well as with trace amounts of nucleobases (Martins et al., 2008).
         We were able to devise a clever analytical scheme for our instrument that separated the acids from the nucleobases without any serious overlap. During chromatography, the isotopic composition of the head of the peak can differ quite a bit from the tail of the peak. The carbon isotope patterns of the organic, dicarboxylic acids were very positive and similar to measurements others had made. We measured a similar carbon isotope pattern for uracil, a component in RNA, in the Murchison, relative to a much different carbon isotope pattern for uracil from the soil surrounding the location in Australia where it was found. Xanthine, a potential compound for forming nucleic acids, from Murchison had a carbon isotope pattern matching with uracil and the organic acids (Martins et al., 2008), confirming that these nucleobases originated from meteoritic organic carbon. This work supports one of the many theories about the origins of life. One of these theories holds that meteorites delivered organic molecules to Earth during its formation and the period when Earth was continually bombarded by incoming asteroids. Although it was known that amino acids (e.g., Engel et al., 1980; Martins et al., 2007) were common monomers in some chondrites, no one had ever found nucleobases.
         Eventually, the stable isotope biogeochemistry studies of the Carnegie team shifted in emphasis. In phase two of the NAI project at the Geophysical Laboratory, we began to study the isotopic compositions of ancient sedimentary rocks and stromatolites and began an ambitious field campaign in Svalbard, an archipelago high above the Arctic Circle in a project termed AMASE: Arctic Mars Analogue Svalbard Expedition. Both the NAI and AMASE endeavors required field trips to far flung places to collect samples from ecosystems of interest to astrobiologists.

Some "questionable" recipes!

Paul Silver (left) and Scott Shepard (2nd from right)--2008

Chicken-Potato Basic Bake-it by Paul Silver

Buy chicken legs and thighs (1.5/person)
Buy baked potatoes (one per person)
Put chicken in baking pan (make sure pieces do not touch). Season with thyme, salt, pepper.
Clean potatoes by washing in cold water
Preheat both ovens to 425.
Bake potatoes and chicken in each oven for one hour. (Editor’s note: Extra time may be needed when cooking for 25 people!)
Pull out and check that chicken pieces are cooked enough (no red or even pink).
Stick fork into potatoes (no resistance) to make sure they are cooked.

 Pasta of Greatness by scott sheppard

Serves 18-20.

Put eight quarts of clean cold water in pot.
Put stove on high.
Place pot o’ water on stove for 30 to 40 minutes.
When water comes to a rolling boil place 32 to 48 ounces of your favorite pasta type into pot.
Let boil for 10 minutes.
Strain water out of pasta.

Top with your favorite pre-made or homemade pasta sauce, heated before hand.
Place on table.
Watch people devour.

"Cooked Meat" by Eric Hauri

2 carbonated alcoholic beverages (bottles not cans)
1 grill (preferably >50,000 BTU)
Prodigious quantity of meat (your choice)

Open first alcoholic beverage.  Preheat grill to 700°C while drinking first beverage; sprinkle
some beverage on grill lid, if it steams off instantly, grill is ready.  Consume remainder of
first beverage.

Reduce heat to "High", place prodigious quantity of meat on grill.  Sear meat for 3 minutes while opening second beverage.  Flip meat and sear the other side 3 minutes.  Reduce heat to "Low", close lid and consume 3/4 of beverage while the meat cooks (keep fire extinguisher handy if grilling prodigious sausage...).  Turn semi-frequently.  Just before meat is done, baste
meat with remaining 1/4 of beverage.

Turn grill off, remove meat from grill, scrape off any black char, serve and enjoy!

from "Manly Meat and the Men Who Cook It", © 2007
Alpha Publishing LLC, reprinted by permission

**Editor’s Note: I would recommend having AT LEAST 3-4 carbonated alcoholic beverages on hand for this, what will all the pouring on grills and stuff. This meal is best prepared before attending staff meetings, rather than before using Ionprobe. For Lunch Club, you will need to borrow a grill from BBR.**

My favorite Lunch Club meals

Roast Turkey and Fixings by Marilyn Fogel

Several days before you would like to serve the turkey, buy a large, Butterball Turkey (frozen). Let it thaw in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. Purchase 1 disposable aluminum pan.

On the morning you plan to cook and serve the turkey, arrive early at the Lab. Take the wrapper off the turkey, toss it out. Look inside the two cavities of the bird—front and back. Remove the wrapped turkey parts and throw them out. Preheat the oven to 325 F using the Convection setting.

Wash the turkey inside and out with cold water. Put it into the aluminum pan. Place the pan and bird on a cookie sheet.

Sprinkle the turkey with salt, drizzle olive oil over it and then some spices (whatever you find in the Lunch Club spice cabinet.) You should have the bird in the oven NO LATER than 9 am. Pretend you are busy. Put the turkey in the oven. Neglect to turn on the exhaust fans for about 1 hour until the Building smells of roast turkey. Turn on the fans. Go back to work and get some science done.

At 11:30 return to the kitchen. You should see some juice in the bottom of the pan. Baste the turkey and giggle the leg. If the leg is completely stiff and there is little juice, turn up the temperature to 375 F.

Open two cans of cranberry sauce—lunch clubbers eat both jellied or whole berry sauce. Make two boxes of instant mashed potatoes by following the recipe on the back of the box. You will need 1 quart of milk for this and 1 stick of butter.

At 12:15 pm, the turkey should be done. Check if it is done by wiggling the legs, which should move freely. Lift the turkey ON THE COOKIE SHEET out of the oven. Use the baster to put the juice into serving bowls.

Place on the table with a simple salad and some bread. Done.

Whiskey Hot Dogs by Marilyn Fogel

These are favorites! This is an old Fogel Family recipe.

4 packages of hot dogs (32 total): Buy some chicken and some all beef.
2 1/2 cups of ketchup
2 1/2 cups of brown sugar
2 1/2 cups of cheap bourbon or any other blended whiskey
Preheat oven at 300 F (low temperature).

Mix the ketchup, brown sugar, and whiskey together in a baking dish. Add the hot dogs so that they are in one layer. Use two pans if necessary. Put hot dogs in the oven at 300 F for 15-20 minutes. Turn down temperature to 275 F. Bake for 2 1/2 hours. Sauce should thicken.

Serve with buns, mustard, potato chips, a side dish, and salad. This recipe does not work with tofu dogs!

Jalapeño Corn Pudding by Marilyn Fogel

Serves about 18-20 lunch clubbers with salad and bread.

3 cans creamed corn                                                    6 medium onions, chopped
3 cans regular corn                                                      6 eggs, beaten
3 cups corn meal                                                         1
 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 cups melted butter                                             5 cups grated sharp cheddar
2 1/4 cups buttermilk                                                 
9 diced Jalapeño peppers (canned) or 3 can minced chilies

Grease a Lunch Club size baking dish (greater than 9 x 13).  Combine first 7 ingredients and pour half in pan.  Cover batter with half of the cheese and then the peppers.  Add the rest of the batter and the rest of the cheese on top.  Bake 1 1/2 hour at 375° F.

Cream of Zucchini Soup by Marilyn Fogel

Serves 4-6. Multiply for lunch club.

This recipe comes from my mother-in-law. Everyone, including people who do not like zucchini, loves this soup.

1 1/2 lb. of zucchini. Cut some into thin slices 18-24; the remainder cut into 1/2 inch chunks.
1/2 cup minced green onions
3 Tbs. butter. Cook these together until the onions are soft.
6 cup chicken broth
1 1/2 tsp. wine vinegar
3/4 tsp. dried dill or tarragon
4 Tbs. quick-cooking Farina or other cereal
1/2 cup sour cream
1-2 Tbs. fresh dill

Cook zucchini chunks in broth, vinegar and herbs. Simmer 20-25 minutes. Puree with blender or processor and return to the pot.  (This may be done in advance). Put in sour cream and dill just before serving and heat without boiling.


Some of the "tried and true" recipes

Larry Nittler, vegetarian Lunch Club chef, circa 2007

                Enough for 24+ people


3 lb boxes of macaroni or shells
12 small cans of tuna in spring water
1 bunch of celery
1 bunch green onions
1 jar pickle relish - medium size
1 large jar of salad dressing
1 small jar of mayonaise
salt and pepper for seasoning


Boil macaroni right away so it has time to cool in the fridge before lunch club starts.

Slice up the veggies and mix everything in the biggest pot available.

Drain the tuna in the cans and dump them in too.

Put the salad in the large baking pan for serving.

Garnish top with sliced red/yellow/green peppers.

Be ready to eat some leftovers for a day or two.

New-Mex Stroganoff by Larry Nittler

From the cookbook, "Hot and Spicy and meatless", scaled up for lunch club.

12 T olive oil
4 chopped large onions
4 lb sliced mushrooms
12 T flour
1 C dry white wine
4 C water or veggie broth
4-5 cloves garlic, chopped
2 t thyme
2 t basil
6 T hot paprika
6 t hot New Mexican style chile powder
8 C low-fat sour cream (or mix of sour cream and plain yogurt)
~4 lb wide egg noodles.

Sautee onions in olive oil for a few minutes. Add mushrooms, toss and cook ~5 minutes until soft. Sprinkle mixture with flour and toss lightly until veggies are evenly coated.
Add wine and broth, stirring until mixture starts to thicken. Add garlic, thyme, basil, paprika and chile powder. Cover and let simmer for  at least 15 minutes. Periodically check that there is some liquid and top off with more wine or broth, if necessary.

Add parsley and sour cream and stir thoroughly. Do not let it boil. Add salt and pepper to taste (optional) and serve over buttered noodles.

Campers Stew by Rick Carlson

Note: This is a famous LC recipe. For vegetarions, just leave out the hot dogs and add the rest.

Chicken Hot Dogs


Medium Onions


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Tomato sauce


Celery salt


Worcestershire sauce


Kidney beans

Regular size cans



Sliced potatoes


Cheddar cheese

 1 1/4
Pounds, grated

Slice hot dogs, brown in pot then combine everything but cheese. Add cheese just before serving. Serves 25-30 people.

Tofu curry by Conel Alexander

Quantities are for 4 people and accompanied by rice (basmati is best)

14oz of firmest Tofu, drained and cut into ~1 inch cubes
2 tablespoons of lime juice
1 tablespoon of tumeric
1 large finely chopped onion (~2 cups)
1 cup (8 oz) coconut milk (more if you want)
1-2 tablespoons (according to taste) of red curry paste (get in most supermarkets. I like Patak’s)
1 cup petite pois (small green peas) or soy beans
1/2 cup of halved cherry tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper

In a skillet (med-high heat) ‘dry’ the tofu. Should only take a few minutes to evaporate any liquid, remove from pan and into a bowl, and sprinkle with lime juice, tumeric, and salt and pepper.

Heat oil in a pan and cook onions until soft and light yellow/brown (at least 5 minutes). Be careful not to burn them.

Fry tofu until the start to colour, Keep the liquid (lime and tumeric). You can fry them with the onion, but I prefer to do them separately.

Combine tofu onion, coconut and curry paste, (and lime/tumeric if you like) bring to the boil and simmer for a few minutes. Add peas and bring back to the boil and simmer for another five minutes. Serve when the peas are cooked.

Beef Stew with Wine by Steve Shirey

(serves 25; modified from The Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook)

4-5 lbs stew beef
3 large cans stewed tomatoes
6-8 sweet potatoes
6-8 potatoes
4 yellow onions
2 lbs mushrooms
2 pkgs frozen cut green beans
2 bottles dry red wine
4 T cooking oil
1/2 cup flour
8 T or more of Worcestershire sauce
2 T Kitchen Bouquet
20 bay leaves
4 T thyme
1/2 jar of minced garlic
20 cloves
20 peppercorns
4 t salt
3 T sugar

Cut stew beef in 1 inch cubes. Coat with flour. Brown beef in oil in bottom of large pot. Add wine, stewed tomatoes and start beef simmering. Peel potatoes, sweet potatoes, and onions, cut into 1 inch pieces, and add to the pot. Slice mushrooms and add to the pot. Add beans to the pot. Make sure liquid covers all ingredients, cover pot, and simmer for 1 1/2 hours.  During simmering adjust seasoning to taste with remaining ingredients.

Layered Chicken Enchiladas with Tomatillo-cilantro Sauce by Seth Newsome
This recipe comes from Epicurius (
2 pounds large tomatillos, husked, rinsed, halved (You can substitute already made Green salsa)
1 1/4 cups low-salt chicken broth
10 garlic cloves, peeled
2 cups sliced green onions
2 cups (packed) very coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
1 large serrano chili, sliced (with seeds)
12 5- to 6-inch corn tortillas

1 purchased roasted chicken, meat torn into strips (about 4 cups)

1 pound whole-milk mozzarella cheese, cut into strips

1 cup whipping cream

Preheat oven to 450°F. Mix tomatillos, chicken broth, and garlic cloves in large saucepan. Cover and bring mixture to boil. Reduce heat; simmer gently until tomatillos are soft, about 10 minutes. Transfer hot mixture to processor. Add sliced green onions, chopped cilantro, and sliced chili; blend mixture to coarse puree. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper.

Overlap 6 tortillas in 13x9x2-inch oval or rectangular baking dish. Top tortillas with half of chicken strips and half of mozzarella strips. Pour 2 cups tomatillo sauce evenly over. Top with remaining tortillas, chicken strips, and mozzarella. Pour 1 1/2 cups tomatillo sauce over, then whipping cream. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake until bubbling, about 25 minutes. Cool enchiladas 10 minutes. Serve with remaining tomatillo sauce.

Rounding Third Base and Heading Home

Cards from Franny and Flowers the Rumbles   My daughter Dana is marrying George Goryan on June 25 at our home in Mariposa...