Maddie Oatman

Maddie Oatman

Research Editor

Maddie worked as a travel guide in Argentina and a teacher at several educational nonprofits in San Francisco before joining Mother Jones. She’s also written for Outside, the Bay Citizen, and the Rumpus. A proud Boulder native, she makes time for mountain climbing, stargazing, and telemark skiing.

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It Ain't Easy Skiing Green

| Mon Dec. 19, 2011 6:30 AM EST

As a skier, I'm constantly in search of empty fields of white far from the crowds. So the idea of my local ski area acquiring new mountainsides to plunge down sounds like a good way to disperse hoards of fellow snow bunnies into wider pastures. This year in California, skiers and boarders have been gushing over the merger between Tahoe's Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows, a connection that now allows patrons to access the two resorts using one lift ticket. Even more exciting is the potential that we'll get to ski in the undeveloped wilderness behind each resort to get from one to the other through a backcountry access gate (an internal pilot program to test this traverse starts this winter). Eventually, says Squaw Valley spokesperson Amelia Richmond, there may even be a series of chairlifts connecting the two mountains. It's also rumored that JMA Ventures, Alpine's former owner that still owns nearby Homewood Mountain Ski Resort, has looked into connecting Homewood to Alpine–clearing prized backcountry wilderness in its path.

But the Ski Area Citizens' Coalition, which grades ski resorts on their green practices, sees this type of development as something else entirely: a devastating blow to untouched natural reserves. Transforming a mountainside into a ski hill makes it unavailable as habitat to most species, and denudes land, making erosion more likely. New ski runs also mean more energy-guzzling chair lifts, which add to the emissions you've already created by driving to the resort. And making new snow to cover these runs depletes streams in already drought-ridden areas, as well as uses energy and contributes to global warming. That's just the beginning, says SACC: Ski resort land development paves the way for a real estate creep from incoming hotel chains, condos, and outlets. At the core of SACC's research efforts lies the nagging question: Do we really need to ski more terrain?

The SACC grades Western ski resorts on 36 criteria, ranging from snow-making practices to investment in biodiesel, to educate winter sports nuts about which ski area to choose if they care about their environmental impact. Released in an annual report card, the grades reflect info culled from public records, development plans, and surveys filled out by each resort.

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Y La Bamba's Mariachi Makeover

| Mon Dec. 5, 2011 7:00 AM EST

Y La Bamba (photo by Alicia J. Rose)Y La Bamba photo by Alicia J. RosePortland indie band Y La Bamba doesn't serenade you at restaurants or feature a trumpet, and its members don't sport matching embroidered tuxedos. Its resemblance to a mariachi band is more subtle: emotive lead vocals, a plethora of stringed instruments, an accordion, songs of lament. Though her music is now rather folky, lead singer Luzelena Mendoza's past reveals an adoration of traditional Mexican singers whose influence on the band is undeniable.

"When I was a little girl I loved mariachi and the conjuntos and all the little trios and singing at church," Mendoza fondly remembers. It's hard to imagine Mendoza, six feet tall with striking tattoos scrawled across her shoulders and neck, as a small, pious child. But as she continues to resurrect memories, the picture comes into focus.

The singer grew up in sheltered Mexican communities, first in Michoacan and later in California and Oregon, and her list of childhood favorites sounds like a classic Latin jukebox medley: "Ramón Ayala, Los Madrugadores, Los Panchos, Los Dandys, Los Caminantes, Pedro Infantes, Pepe Aguilar, Javier Solís." During Mendoza's teenage years in the US, R&B entered her repertoire and prompted her to develop her voice. "I would sing along with mariachi stuff in the background because I loved the way it felt."

The reason she was entranced with Mexican singers in the first place? "I was born into it." Her dad was a fan of the accordion and someone who "always wanted to be the center of attention and sing his heart out." But her parents haven't always been supportive of her career path. "They didn't really know how to accept who I was. It's not like I'm half-Mexican or something—it was the real fuckin' deal. To see something like me come out of something that strict and thick and beautiful," she explains, referring to her conservative Catholic upbringing, "they were like, who is this?"

She pushed onward, dabbling in punk rock and working as a body piercer before creating Y La Bamba with fellow Portlanders in 2003. Mendoza writes most of the band's songs, dipping into legends and stories as much as her own personal experiences. Recently, for instance, she wrote a song called "Lamento de Madre," which juxtaposes her own mother with the famous Mexican legend of "La Llorona," the crying woman, whose wails of grief over her children's deaths plagued waterways in Mexico and Central America.

Salsafying Cranberry Sauce

| Wed Nov. 23, 2011 5:33 PM EST

Cranberry salsa—that's salsa, not sauce—has been my Thanksgiving dinner contribution of the last few years. I gave up on the traditional stuff long ago, after too many Thanksgivings where the cranberry offering slides out of a can and plops into a bowl, maintaining its floppy cylindrical shape until someone mashes it into a gelatinous goo and sticks a spoon into it. I'd wager that secretly, only about a fourth of Thanksgiving eaters even like the stuff.

"Not so!" shouts Ian, my MoJo colleague from the next cube over. Ian hails from the fair hills of Connecticut. "In New England, cranberry sauce is an important marker of a good Thanksgiving," he tells me, glaring at me for questioning what he sees as an essential holiday coulis.

But I say, why suck the life out of this tart, crimson New England bead, reducing it to an insipid mess of sugar and limp berries? According to the Cape Cod Cranberry Growers' Association, the cranberry is one of only three fruits native to North American soil, along with the Concord grape and the blueberry. It's time to get to know the fruit in raw form, and salsa allows you to taste the tangy snap of fresh cranberries. In the recipe below, the cranberries' tartness pairs well with the heat of ginger and chilis. Orange zest pulls it all together. So what if we've wandered off the traditionalist's map? On a plate heavy with roasted, boiled, sautéed, and simmered vegetables, a bit of raw crunch is a welcome respite.

Cranberry Salsa

Recipe inspired in part by SHASH's cranberry salsa recipe on AllRecipes.com

• 1 bag of fresh cranberries
• juice and zest of 1 orange
• 1/4 cup sugar
• 2 tablespoons minced ginger
• 1-2 serrano peppers
• juice of 2 limes
• a pinch of salt
• 1 bunch of chopped cilantro

Directions: In a saucepan, heat sugar, orange zest, orange juice, and ginger with 1/4 cup water until the mixture reduces and turns syrupy. In the meantime, chop the cilantro and serranos. Combine chilis and cranberries in a food processor until finely chopped. Transfer into a bowl, and add the ginger-orange syrup. Stir in cilantro, salt, and lime juice. Add a little more sugar and lime as needed; the salsa gets better after a couple of hours of soaking in its own juices. Eat with tortilla chips as an appetizer, or serve as a side dish.

The Case of the Missing Red Snapper

| Fri Oct. 28, 2011 6:48 PM EDT

I call myself a pescatarian, though when I do choose to layer lox on my bagel or slurp the occasional oyster, I prefer responsibly sourced seafood, or at least to know exactly what I'm eating. And sometimes when sitting down to a sushi dinner, that's not exactly clear. To everyone but the most discerning epicure, pink fish can be pretty easily mistaken for other types of pink fish. So it came as no comfort to read Consumer Reports' new investigation, "Mystery Fish," which found that more than 20 percent of seafood purchased at restaurants and stores in three US states was improperly labeled or identified. Among the most mysterious meats was red snapper, which, after going through DNA matching during this particular investigation, could never be positively identified as such.

Consumer Reports sent 22 samples of "red snapper" to an outside lab for DNA testing, where along with other seafood samples, their genetic sequences were compared with standardized gene fragments. Eight red snappers were deemed as possible DNA matches, but the rest were unidentifiable or simply mislabeled.

Abigail Washburn Brings Bluegrass to the Silk Road

| Mon Oct. 24, 2011 6:02 AM EDT

"The first day I stepped forth in this fair country," Abigail Washburn's breathy voice wafted down over the grass, "border man took my paper, told me I would be free." A slight figure dressed in black gossamer, Washburn looked rather elegant when I caught her live at San Francisco's Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival. The crowd below lay drowsy and peaceful in the mid-morning sunshine, ready to be transported to wherever the singer wanted to take them.

And transport them she did. While the clawhammer banjo queen can fit right in at a hoedown like Hardly Strictly, she's become just as comfortable entertaining crowds on the other side of the globe. A Mandarin speaker and self-declared Sinophile, she's made a career out of bringing bluegrass to the far corners of China—and by the same token making Chinese folk music accessible to American bluegrass fans. Themes of migration and boundary-crossing pop up in her songs, as with the abovementioned tune, "Dreams of Nectar."

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