FO OD ST Y LI S T: JA M I E KI MM . P RO P ST Y LI ST: EM ILY M U LL I N . H A I R : J EN N I FER B R E N T FOR TRE SE M M E . M AK E U P : D E N ISE M ARK E Y FOR ARTISTSBY TIM OTH Y P RIAN O.C OM .

MA N IC U R IS T: JAC KI E SAU LS B E RY FOR C H A N EL AT KR A MER + K R A M ER . C U P C A K E C O U R T E S Y O F M A g N O L I A B A K E RY, M A g N O L I A B A K E RY.C O M .

“There is no love sincerer than the love of food.”

—george bernard shaw

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PHOTOGRAPH BY HANNAH WHITAKER

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April 2012

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From Stand-Up to Souped-Up
Comedian Sara Polon gave up the spotlight to open a charmingly cheeky soup shop—and she’s still getting laughs.

even years ago, Sara Polon, then 27, toiled for a government contractor by day and worked the Manhattan comedy club circuit by night. “The sound of a crowd laughing was soul-warming,” says Polon. But comedy was exhausting. “One night a set would bring down the house; the next it might bomb,” she says. After four grueling years, she realized she’d had enough—of New York and stand-up—the night a rat skittered over her feet as she stood outside a club. Polon returned to her hometown of Washington, D.C., to regroup, but “I got so depressed,” she recalls. “I was really struggling with what I want to be when I grow up.” Polon, a health nut who had recently become a vegan, happened pick up The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan’s best-seller about where our food comes from. Inspired, she thought of her mother, Marilyn, an amazing home cook with a reputation among friends for her tasty soups. “She’d always been ahead of her time, cooking healthfully and with whole grains,” says Polon. So she decided to lure her mother out of retirement to help her launch a vegan soup delivery business. By 2008 the Polons had drummed up 500 e-mail addresses for a humorous newsletter that advertised each week’s soups; customers could order pints or quarts to be delivered to their door. Under the pen name “Soupergirl,” a hero who brings fresh, locally sourced soup to the masses, Polon described whimsical concoctions like the Back-to-School Blues Black Bean and Corn Soup her mother
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s a r a Po l o n , 3 4
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cooked for her as a child (“By Sunday night, I’d be wandering around the house wearing a cocktail dress, singing Nina Simone songs, holding a martini glass full of apple juice,” she wrote). The more she hammed it up, the more her audience grew; to date, she has nearly 4,000 readers, hundreds of whom order soup weekly via the Soupergirl Web site.

Last September the Polons opened their first brick-and-mortar soup shop, in Washington, D.C. “There’s an absurdity to owning a business, like when someone calls up to demand a refund on croutons,” says Polon. “You have to laugh through the chaos. That would be harder had I not spent so much time in stand-up.” —kelly dinardo
PHOTOGRAPH BY ERIKA LARSEN

R E D U x . H A I R A N D M A K E U P : J A C q U I E H A N N A N F O R T∙ H ∙ E A R T I S T A g E N C Y.

women the who make leap beautiful things

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Confectioner Julia Baker’s sugary creations are as dazzling as they are delicious.

Sweet Somethings

New flavors are occasioned by “whatever I’m craving at the moment,” Baker says, whether that’s the chocolate-hazelnut mousse she sampled in Monaco that inspired a praline confection, or the passion fruit filling that reminds her of her visit to Bora Bora. She also
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her spark

Baker was inspired to pursue her dream of working with chocolate by an unlikely catalyst— a difficult marriage. In 2007 she found the strength that would help her begin to break free: “I thought, If I don’t make a small step today, I’m going to be stuck in the same place next year, and the year

her story

Baker’s vibrant chocolates can arrive packaged in tiered hatboxes, beribboned containers, and boxes that resemble handbags.

after that.” Within a year, Baker had secured a factory space and ended her marriage. She credits her passion for her work with changing her life—and keeping her going through the hard

times. “For a small business to succeed, it has to be something that’s really your love,” she says. “It has to be something you can’t live a day without doing.”

—molly fischer

B A K E R : J O H N H A L L P H O TO g R A P H Y. P U R S E S : P H I L I P F R I E D M A N / S T U D I O D. R E D H AT B Ox : J O H N U H E R .

In the kitchen of her Scottsdale, Arizona, headquarters, Julia Baker creates decadent truffles, chocolate bars, and cakes that delight both the eyes and the palate. Her chocolates— in flavors like Irish Creme and white chocolate raspberry—are often adorned with vibrant patterns; her wedding cakes are crafted to evoke couture gowns, resemble giant chocolate flowers, or mimic the colors of a dramatic sunset; and her innovative cake truffles are topped with elegant sugar flowers or seasonal flourishes like Easter-eggshaped chocolates coated with edible glitter. Says Baker: “I want everything we make to have a ‘girly-girl with class’ sensibility.” Because she believes truly beautiful chocolate starts with the right ingredients, she imports her fruit purees from France— where she attended the prestigious culinary school Le Cordon Bleu, graduating first in her class.

her goods

Ju l i a B a k e r, 4 1
Founder, JuLia BaKer conFections s c ot t s d a L e , a r i Z o n a

looks to the runway for ideas: “Fashion translates so well onto a cake,” Baker explains. Her Valentino creation features a cascade of the designer’s signature rosettes. Baker says the aesthetic of her patterned chocolates—often decorated with plaids, polka dots, and stripes—is drawn from the tongue-in-cheek guide The Official Preppy Handbook.

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original “puppy raiser” was released. “I haven’t cried,” Ramroop says. “But [her leaving] has broken me down so much.” His life has been arranged around Oprah’s needs, from getting up at 6 a.m. to let her out (puppy raisers are chosen for their character and good behavior and must juggle training responsibilities with their

special the report leap

Sergeant William pagan (left) and puppy raiser Vijay ramroop with Lab oprah, November 2011.

“In the mornings, I look at her and she’s so happy,” says Pagan.
regular prison jobs) to practicing commands with her during free time. “Sometimes I’d be stressed-out, and she’d just come lie next to me,” Ramroop says. “It’s like she understands what you’re going through.” For the past two weeks, as they’ve trained together at the prison, Ramroop has been encouraging Oprah to bond with the strapping, wounded sergeant she’s been assigned to. Hard as it is, Ramroop tries not even to pet her (“She’s confused,” he admits). As for Pagan, he’s recovering from spinal injuries sustained under fire, and hopes to return to his job at the Department of Defense. Last January his marriage fell apart. He’s skittish and paranoid in crowded areas, yet isn’t comfortable alone in his apartment. Oprah has been trained to turn on lights, case a room for intruders before Pagan enters it, and wake him from his frequent nightmares, among 90 or so other critical tasks. She’ll also force him to get out of the house more. “In the mornings, I just look at her and she’s so happy, wagging her tail like, ‘Let’s go!’” says Pagan, who is overwhelmed by gratitude—for Oprah and Ramroop. “He has so much passion,” says Pagan. “He recognizes that he can grow. He’s shown me that I can grow.” Pagan pauses and chokes up. “I don’t care what they did in the past; I would serve with these guys anytime.” —meredith bryan
PHOTOGRAPH BY PEGGY VANCE

Pup and Circumstance
A very special canine graduates from a prison service-dog training program—and changes a wounded war vet’s life.
oprah’s reputation precedes her. “She’s a social butterfly,” people say. “She’s so outgoing that she forces you to engage. You can really talk, and she will listen.” The Oprah in question has golden ears, a soft, lustrous coat, and is prone to dousing complete strangers with slobber. At the moment, though, she’s snoozing contentedly behind the podium at the front of the room, where a prison official is welcoming us to today’s Puppies Behind Bars graduation ceremony. Oprah, along with three other Labrador retrievers napping alongside her, has lived for about two years at Fishkill Correctional Facility, just north of New York City, where she’s been lovingly trained by inmates to become a service dog for a wounded war vet. Today
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she’ll start her new life in Philadelphia with Sergeant William Pagan, 31, whose two tours of duty in Iraq have left him with debilitating post-traumatic stress disorder. But first, Oprah—who got her name as a puppy, after The Oprah Winfrey Show highlighted the work of Puppies Behind Bars—will say goodbye to Vijay Ramroop, who is seated in the audience, his bald head and green prison jumpsuit indistinguishable from that of the two dozen or so other inmates in attendance. Ramroop, 30, is serving up to ten years for his part in a 2005 armed robbery in Nassau, New York, but his affect here is anything but aggressive. Shy and softspoken, he says he’s been preparing himself for this day since Oprah moved into his cell several months ago, when her

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Best

Habit

Recently, in my 38th year, I was possessed with a desire to start running. Even though I’m horrible at it, the feeling just grips me, so every few days I sprint down the West Side Highway. Completely surprising, completely weird for me—but fun.

my the best life leap

Best

Reason to Be Happy

My partner, Susan. I’m alone a couple of days a week while I’m working in New York, but I haven’t felt alone in the world—I haven’t felt lonely—in the 13 years since I laid eyes on her.

Best

Legal Route to Joy

Gin, dry vermouth, and a twist of lemon peel; two chairs by the fire; a sleeping dog; and a long unscheduled night ahead. Rinse, repeat.

Rachel Maddow
The host of MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show and author of the new political treatise Drift shares her thoughts on honesty, trust, and a good martini.
Best Underappreciated Skill
The ability to repair things. Standing knee-deep in freezing water in my basement, I would happily have traded my PhD for the knowledge of how to restart my busted sump pump.

Best

Flaw

I’m not a morning person. Before noon all I’m capable of is marmalade and mumbling.

Earning the trust of others. If you’re someone people count on, particularly in difficult moments, that’s a sign of a life lived honorably.
Best

Best

Accomplishment

Best

Goal

I have a few: Learn Spanish, be Susan’s amiable consort on all the brilliant trips she wants to take, and teach the dog to turn off the bedroom light.

Motto

Best

Advice

It’s a toss-up between two deodorant commercials: “Never let ’em see you sweat,” which is key in a competitive workplace, and “Strong enough for a man, but made for a woman,” which are lesbian words to live by. Thank you, Madison Avenue!

Don’t lie—you have to remember it! The single best thing about honesty is that it requires no follow-up. Every lie is something you’re responsible for as long as you want to keep it going, and few of them merit that mental storage space. —As told to Stephanie Palumbo

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Seeds of Change
Tanikka Cunningham lends a hand to the nation’s black farmers—and inspires a new generation to make its living off the land.
of the country’s farms are operated by blacks, versus 14 percent in 1920. Through her work with her D.C.– based nonprofit, Healthy Solutions, Cunningham knew how hard it was for any small farmer to eke out a living. So she launched the Save Black Farmers Project to help AfricanAmerican growers who weren’t Internet savvy find the resources they a photo from John Francis need to weather Ficara’s series hard times. Soon American Black farmers were calling Farmers Project.

the you do leap what?

Fire dancer cynthia carvajal and her burning passion.
At clubs and lounges, along the red carpet at Cannes, on Hawaiian beaches, and at a gala in Istanbul, Cynthia Carvajal has carried the torch—and twirled it, too. The 30-year-old professional fire dancer whips flaming ropes around her body, dancing in fourinch heels and a blazing headdress. Carvajal got her start in 2000, when she saw circus performers brandish flames in their act. “I loved the artistry,” she says. “It’s entrancing to watch.” When one of the performers agreed to mentor her, Carvajal started twirling poi (chains with lighted balls of Kevlar at one end). “It’s easier than people think,” she says. (Give or take the occasional burn, which she says is “all part of the job.”) Eventually, Carvajal joined a touring performance troupe, and her hobby became a full-time job. It’s also a way for her to fund her passion: saving our seas. In 2010 Carvajal founded marine conservation nonprofit Ocean Lifeline—and has raised thousands by performing at events. “I never thought fire dancing would take me places,” Carvajal says. “But it’s been such a blessing—and it's helping me do my

hot Number

F o u n d e r , s av e B L a c K Fa r M e r s p r o J e c t wa s h i n gto n , d.c .

whiLe taniKKa Cunningham loved her job helping small farms sell their produce in urban areas, she couldn’t help noticing that few of the farmers she met were African-American. The granddaughter of a sharecropper, Cunningham knew that dwindling numbers of black farmers meant a loss not just of opportunities but of culture. “Every group’s heritage is rooted in food,” she says. “Black farmers are often the only ones who grow vegetables like okra, which are popular in our community. If they no longer exist, how will I pass down my grandmother’s stew recipe to my children?” The statistics were alarming: Less than 2 percent
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about everything from how to cut through governmental red tape to where to purchase new seeds. The project now assists more than 600 black farmers in seven states. But Cunningham also wants to inspire young people. Last year she launched the inaugural Black Agriculture Awareness Week to celebrate African-Americans' rich farming tradition. She’s also encouraging buyers like Walmart to purchase from black growers. “Many say, ‘We never knew this was an issue,’” notes Cunningham. “And I say, ‘We haven’t done enough!’ My staff is like, ‘Calm down. There’s always next year.’” —courtney balestier

C U N N I N g H A M : M A L E K N A z F R E I D O U N I . FA R M E R : J O H N F R A N C I S F I C A R A . C A R vA J A L : C O D I S , I N C .

ta n n i k a C u n n i n g h a m , 3 2

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the the donna leap files
My Kind oF deLicious
Donna Brazile on the places, tastes, and experiences that make life richer and more joyful.
Meeting strangers on planes, trains, or in hotel bars. I love hearing stories and gleaning insight into worlds far different from the one I’ve experienced. People love to talk, but it’s more fun to listen. strolling through the French Quarter late at night with a to-go cup Filled with spirits. In my hometown of New Orleans, you can visit the living or dead without arousing suspicion. I walk from Bourbon Street to Faubourg Marigny, listening to the jazz floating from the clubs, reveling in history, and being open to what the night air allows me to feel. sexy high heels. At least a couple of times a week, I wear my black Kenneth Cole pumps. They make me feel taller and just a little younger.
sitting in a hot tub in hawaii. As a reward for working hard all year long, I take a few days each December to recharge with some of my best friends on the Big Island. Watching the buttery sun drop slowly into the ocean gives me a real sense of peace.

the genius leap idea

e b e n B a y e r, 2 6 (far left) G a v i n Mc I n t y r e , 2 6
F o u n d e r s , e c o vat i v e d e s i g n g r e e n i s L a n d, n e w yo r K

Disgusted by the heaps of Styrofoam languishing in our landfills, two college students devised an alternative: fungi.
eBen Bayer grew up on a maple syrup farm in Vermont, helping his parents chop wood and bathing in water warmed by a homemade solar heater. But it wasn’t until he went away to college near Albany, New York, that he heard the word green applied to his family’s way of life—and saw how his bucolic past might shape his future. While devising an ecofriendly glue for a class on invention, Bayer remembered the sticky white substance—mycelium, the "root" of a mushroom—he’d occasionally seen growing on the wood chips his family used as fuel. “And I was struck by this wild idea,” he says. “Why not use mushroom roots as glue?” Bayer’s professor encouraged him to pursue the idea, and soon Bayer and a classmate, Gavin McIntyre, were growing the wet, rubbery fungus in McIntyre’s apartment. They discovered it was strong enough to bind together cornhusks, rice hulls, and other inedible by-products of farming. When baked with these materials, it produced an uncannily Styrofoam-like substance. Bayer
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The Mushroom Men

and McIntyre knew they were onto something. After graduating in 2007, the pair cofounded Ecovative, a company that sells biodegradable alternatives to materials like Styrofoam, which can remain in landfills for hundreds of years. Soon they were “growing” packaging for the office furniture company Steelcase and the computer giant Dell; they also recently inked a deal with Crate & Barrel. In a 10,000-square-foot facility in upstate New York, assembly-line robots now combine mushrooms with cornhusks and other food by-products from local farms; the fungi are then left in the dark to grow and digest parts of the husks before being baked (which kills the live organisms). Bayer hopes the mushrooms will eventually be used for everything from automobile parts (to replace the foam used in bumpers, for example) to flip-flops. “Our goal is to rid the planet of harmful disposable plastics,” he says. “When that bag from the supermarket finds its way into a field, I want it to be nutrients for the field.” —arianna davis

C O U R T E S Y O F E C O vAT I v E ( 2 ) . B R A z I L E : E R I K A L A R S E N / R E D U x .

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down I knew they were bad for me. I had overridden myself. After that I started trusting my instincts. If someone lacked decency or respect, I didn’t allow that person to stay in my world. A lot of women seem to think the way to ingratiate themselves is to put down other women or backstab. Union photographed That’s the quickest way to be elimiin Los angeles. nated from my life—try that with me, and you’re out. It might sound harsh, but you know what else is harsh? Someone who makes you feel victimized, sad, and anxious. We give a lot of others significance in our lives even when they don’t deserve it. It doesn’t matter if they’re family or if you’ve known them forever. If they’re not good for you, The actress—currently starring in the film they’ve got to go. Think Like a Man—describes how a traumatic attack taught In my career, there have been her to surround herself with the right people. roles I haven’t taken because someone involved with the project gave me a bad vibe. I don’t care how much money There were some so-called friends who came when i was 19, I had a summer is on the table: No job is worth feeling unby after my attack, not to comfort me or job at a shoe store. One night, as easy every day. As women we’re taught early offer support but to gawk at me, to gather a my coworker and I were closing up, a man on to be polite, to be nice, to not make anyfirsthand account of what I looked like or robbed the shop and raped me at gunpoint. one uncomfortable. But I always remember how I seemed so they could gossip to their Afterward, I was in shock. I just couldn’t bethis great line from a movie: “All we have… friends. I started going to counseling believe that something like that could happen. is all these years.” We can fill those years cause I wanted to move on. Therapy helped For days I asked myself, Why me? with toxic, negative people or with fun, posime ask myself, Who in my life is going to But it wasn’t long before I became uncomtive people. You don’t get any points when encourage survivorhood, not victimhood? fortable with feeling like a victim—once I you get to heaven for putting up with Suddenly, a light went on. I realized I had noticed that people will let you stay in that bullshit. —As told to Crystal G. Martin been keeping people around even when deep woe-is-me state for as long as you want.

aha! moment

Gabrielle Union

A Woman’s Intuition

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PHOTOGRAPH BY ROBERT ASCROFT

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