Experiments gone wrong

By now it's probably clear that I love experimenting.  I like to play with recipes, learn how to grow things, make decorations for my home – all kinds of creative learning.  Most days, things turn out pretty well; I've come up with a yummy gluten free chocolate chip cookie and made some fun crafts along the way, but this week I’ve had to learn a couple of things the hard way – through failure and near-death. 

Yes, you read that right.  Please pardon the drama.

Looking delicious from the outside

In my first failed experiment, I bombed an attempt at making gluten-free bread.  After several hours of researching recipes, finding substitutes for ingredients not available in Uganda and letting my bread rise, I convinced myself I was about to perfect a bread made with flours from grains all grown in East Africa.  It smelled delicious, but when I finally took it out of the oven and cut it open, it was as dense as a brick.  I felt like a failure and I’d wasted a whole day, but I told myself that failures are how you learn, right? 

Dense as a brick, but I'll keep working on it!

Well, that is, until they kill you.

Yes, today I endeavored in a little experiment and luckily I hadn’t gotten far before I learned of some very fatal possible outcomes. 

I’m known to pick up interesting finds in nature and decorate my life with them.  Whether bird feathers, branches, rocks, shells, seeds, or butterfly wings, I think the more natural elements in my life, the better.

A few weeks ago, Eric and I went on a marriage retreat weekend to Rwakobo Rock, a lodge just outside Lake Mburo National Park.  On our last day, I spotted some bright red seeds in a bush and I started anxiously collecting as many as I could, dreaming of threading them into a necklace, gluing them onto a picture frame, or putting them in a glass bottle as decoration.  I asked the owner of the lodge what they were called and he shrugged and said, “We just call them lucky beans.”

"Lucky" beans.  Deceptively beautiful.

Rosary peas

When I got home, I put the seeds in a small glass bottle and perched it on a shelf in my kitchen until I could find some time to try out another idea, which brings me to today.   This afternoon, I poured the seeds onto our table and took out some needles to poke at the seeds, and see if I could easily string them onto a necklace.  My needle was not going through at all, so I thought I’d see if anyone else in the world had some luck – I Googled it.  And here are some of the results:

13 Plants That Could Kill You
Top 10 Most Poisonous Plants
Survival after Ingestion of Abrus Seeds

Come to find out, my beautiful little seed is called Abrus Precatorius, AKA the Rosary Pea.  They used to be used in making rosaries, until too many jewelry makers died by pricking their finger while handling these deadly seeds, which are full of a poison called abrin, "one of the most toxic poisons known to man"!  Just one seed, it said, could kill a human.  One website joked about the toxins in a rosary pea being used to make a weapon of mass destruction.

And here I was, storing them in my kitchen and poking at them with needles.  Good grief.

My glass of rosary peas, just sitting on my kitchen shelf near the pestle and mortar, vanilla extract, and curry powder.  Who wants to come over for dinner?

My glass of rosary peas, just sitting on my kitchen shelf near the pestle and mortar, vanilla extract, and curry powder.  Who wants to come over for dinner?

I put them back in their bottle, went to tell Eric about my new intel and asked him if I should throw them away.  He answered to the affirmative and I responded, half pleading, “But they’re so pretty.”  He gave me one of those looks, so I turned around and properly discarded them.

Later, I giggled when I remembered the story of my mother mistaking pokeberries for elderberries, making my grandpa a pie out of them and nearly poisoning him.  Luckily, he knew the difference and didn’t eat it.  And luckily, I had Google.

Like mother, like daughter, I guess!