Friday, May 25, 2007

Yes, Virginia, There Is a Willie Wonka

Lollipops. They seem to be deeply embedded in the juvenile psyche. A quintessential emblem of childhood. Every child gets lollipops, right?

All of the hobbits, but Bug particularly, ask from time to time when they will be able to have lollipops again. It's one of those questions that stabs into the heart of a mom. Not having a scrying glass to be able to foresee when corn will be tolerated again, the alternative reply was, "When someone makes a corn-free lollipop, Sweetie."

Someone has. Finally.

And seeing their faces when I waved the lollipops in front of them and they realized that they could actually eat's enough to make a mom want to cry tears of gratitude.


Friday, May 18, 2007

My Village

A couple of years before I'd even heard of Hilary Clinton, I read the now famous African proverb that has sometimes been erroneously attributed to her: "It takes a village to raise a child." I imagine different people think of different things when they hear that. For some people, it conjures up visions of a "Nanny State" deciding what is the best way for other people to raise their own children. I hope it never comes to that. When I hear that proverb, I think about the warm and nurturing people that we have surrounded ourselves with since we settled here six years ago.

Six years ago, Dog was a pre-schooler, Bug not yet walking, and Princess, a surprise waiting to happen. We had yet to have had the whole food pyramid come crashing down upon us. We were on an adventure...relocating and discovering what it's like to live in a "Currier and Ives" post card. It took us a while to put down roots into the community that has become our village, but as we've come to know the people in our circle of association, I'm learning to be profoundly grateful for their presence in our lives.

SF, who shares my name and my passion for food issues. She's the one who got me obsessed with gardening, so when I start waxing lyrical over my produce, you'll know who to blame. She's also the one who dropped whatever it was she was doing to take me to the emergency room when I lost the argument with my food processor and entertained my children while I was getting stitched up.

CU, my teaching partner and party planner, who loves my children as much as her own and shows them. One of the benefits to homeschooling is that you know what you've taught, shared, discussed, or explored your children and when they come up with something you haven't covered, you can generally pinpoint where it came from. So when my 6 yo and 4 yo begin discussing the function of the spleen and the "kidney beans," I can tell that kind of thing came from her. So much of what she gives us is mortar for our stones.

AS, the art teacher, who proactively kept me abreast on what projects were in the works, what the art materials consisted of, and warning me when there was corn in the mix, so that we could take steps to protect my children from getting bitten. Unpowdered medical gloves are a wonderful thing.

TC, who kept me posted on the group dynamics in Dog's set, and how well Dog was handling it; who also, without knowing it, told Dog all of the same things I'd already told him while he would rant on the way home in the car.

And so many others who graciously give to us even in ways I'm probably unaware of.

Over the years, our homeschooling co-op has taken on larger proportions of importance in our lives. Every person there brings something precious to our lives. And for Dog, it has been a more significant contribution than for his siblings. Over time, he has discovered this thing called friendship, what it means and what it requires. He's learned that not everyone he likes is good for him and I can also see some loyalty issues looming on the horizon. He's learned how to play in other people's sandboxes and follow other people's rules. It's also been gratifying for me to watch him discover that other families can and do have the same rules we do. He's sheepishly finding out that Tool Guy and I aren't as unreasonable as he thought we were.

This is where having such a village is so valuable. The atmosphere of having the same values reinforced by other people. To know that the correction and redirection that they receive is as caring as what they would receive at home. And even when we bump up against the differences in families, it provokes some very thoughtful discussion on why there are "different rules for different families" and why what will work for one family won't work in ours and the other way around. Most people agree that this was the kind of village the African sage had in mind.

This past year, while being one of the best ever, has been particularly trying in one aspect. For several months, regardless of what precautions and care we took, every week Dog somehow got contaminated. The hugely frustrating part was not knowing where it was coming from. Sleuth as I would, I never did find out the source. SF gently suggested that since Dog is getting older and moving out from under my direct supervision, there are a million points of unbuffered contact with allergens. I started looking at how much scaffolding I was doing with the younger two, like wiping down tables between activities, sending the entire class to wash hands frequently, particularly after eating and handling food. I realized she's probably right. Just as mysteriously, though, Dog's contamination point disappeared. Weeks now and no more infractions. Makes me crazy. I can already tell that this growing up and letting them go thing has so many levels.

As we're wrapping up our co-op year and planning for next year, there's a lot to be satisfied about. I taught my first full year of Sign Language to the middle and high school ages. All of my students enjoyed the class enough that we're scheduling a continuing class in the fall. I look back to three or four years ago when teaching a class felt totally impossible. The thought of it overwhelmed me. I could barely manage to corral my own kids through an afternoon. Now I'm looking forward with enthusiasm to next year and teaching.

When we first started attending this co-op, I was still learning all of this food stuff and struggling to juggle it all. Any time we go out for any length of time, I always have to have food prepared and it needs to be portable food. Once while I was playing around with the food processor, I made shoe string fries. They were pretty good, so I started making them regularly. But it took going to the hospital for stitches for me to find a way to make them superlative.

The backstory is that Princess was a high need baby, who not only always wanted to be held, but always wanted to be nursing. Barring that, she'd agree to be assuaged with a pinkie to suck on. No pacifiers for Her Majesty. So here I was feeling like I was on top of my game with Princess in a sling, sucking on a pinkie, and me one-handing my way around the kitchen. It so happened that I was making some shoestring fries that day. Overconfidently, I grabbed the edges of the slicing disk with my fingertips to lift it out of the bowl, not anticipating that one of those fingertips would slip. You guessed it. Sheer hubris.

Struggling hard not to lose it with an infant in the sling, a toddler and preschooler to deal with, I phoned SF for help. While she was on the way, I looked at those fries that would have turned black by the time we got back from getting stitches. From somewhere in the back of my brain, I dredged up something about rinsing the starch off of potatoes. So I left them to soak in water until I could deal with them later. These turned out to be the best batch I'd ever made. Serendipity. These days, the only way I make fries is to prep them up the day before and leave them to soak in the refrigerator overnight. More serendipity: Just recently, I was informed that soaking and refrigerating potatoes before frying significantly reduces the acrylamide load. Gotta love it.

Everything Free Shoestring Fries

Using the 1 mm blade on the food processor, slice potatoes. After slicing the first time, stack the slices up like cards in a deck and reinsert them on their sides into the processor sleeve. Run through again. After slicing, rinse under running cold water until the water is completely clear. Refrigerate several hours or overnight.

When ready to fry, drain thoroughly. I use a large dutch oven over the blowtorch burner on my stove. Over the years, I've used a few kinds of oil, but the most satisfying has been Spectrum palm shortening or just plain lard. Actually, the lard is the best. Hey, everyone agrees that McDonald's fries haven't been the same since they changed the oil, right? I heat the oil until a raw fry dropped in immediately bubbles to the surface. Then I add fries until just above the oil and leave to fry, stirring about half way through the fry cycle to loosen them. On my stove, it usually takes 15-20 minutes for a batch this size to sufficiently brown. I scoop them out with a basket strainer, drain, and dump them to cool on paper towels. Sweet potatoes will work for this as well, but need more supervision, since they can go from "done" to "burned" very quickly.

In the four years that we've been attending this homeschooling co-op, I've changed the weekly snacks that I make several times....this cookie, that cookie, coconut covered date rolls, apples, fruit leather, what have you. But fries have remained the rock solid, consistent favorite. To even hint at dropping them would incite a mutiny. A recent family crisis centered around scrambling for a new source of lard when our usual source dried up. These fries stay crisp and don't turn limp when cool, making them a terrific portable food. There are everything free foods that I make that I don't expect anyone outside of our family to like, but these fries are something that I can be totally unapologetic for.

I'll always remember that week-long day camp last year. Dog was sitting there and eating his fries that I'd packed for snack time, surrounded by the other kids who were snacking on the camp-provided pretzels and corn syrup juice. One unknown lad looked at his own pretzels and then over at Dog's fries. Truculently, he demanded, "How'd you get fries?" Glancing sidelong at him and without pausing, Dog smoothly replied, "Because I'm lucky."

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Here's To the Day

Bug tells me that Spring is his favorite time of year. Me, too. As much as all of them enjoy backyard sledding, he particularly likes to see the snow melt. Then they all don their muck boots and stomp with abandon through the muddy bog in the woods. The artist in him loves decorating eggs and the kid in him loves the chocolate. Yeah. Me, too. Spring has been slow this year and winter has been grudging about letting go. And I've been thinking about endings and beginnings.

This year, Tool Guy lost his oldest brother, his childhood hero, D2 to cancer. They had wasted a large expanse of years estranged from each other, but toward the end, they reconnected. They spent long hours into the night IMing and catching up on those years. Or as D2 became weaker, just short phone calls to say goodnight and "I love you." When D2 left, he went in peace. At peace with himself, his brother, and with God. Endings and Beginnings.

Easter crept upon us and we still had snow on the ground. But I was getting ready. My seedling tomatoes still hanging on to the pale, inadequate sunlight, waiting for the garden. And me thinking about Communion. We hadn't celebrated Communion since going gluten free and both Dog and Bug had reached the point of readiness. So Easter, especially this Easter, seemed an auspicious beginning.

There's lots of discussion about low gluten Communions vs. gluten free Communions. I'm glad that for us, it is about the symbolism rather than the actual substance. I started planning what we'd need as substitutes for the elements. Edward and Sons Rice Snaps seemed an easy fit, but the vine element took a touch more thought. Everything commercially available to us has corn or corn acid. Tool Guy suggested tripping down to the basement for the juicer. For once, our work-arounds were actually simple.

We've never really discussed the Lord's Table with Dog and Bug, so Bug was shadowing me in the kitchen curiously on Easter Sunday eve and asked me what I was doing. As I pressed the grapes into the juicer and watched the liquid pouring down, I explained that we'd be celebrating Communion. He watched solemnly and asked, "So the juice represents the blood?" Somewhat startled that he made such a connection, I said yes and held up a cracker, asking him if he knew what that meant. He shook his head, replying, "I don't know." Then correcting himself, he pinched the skin on the back of his hand and said, "This." Never underestimate what children can pick up by osmosis. That night we all had an in-depth discussion about the deeper meanings of all of this. It always amazes me how intuitive children can be and how readily they can grasp very profound things.

They speak of D2 often, especially when Miss Rosie, his wife, came to visit us. D2 is the first person Princess is aware of losing and she feels it in a surprisingly deep way. She frequently repeats D2's promise to be waiting for us, holding the door open.

Winter and Spring. Endings and Beginnings. Death and Resurrection.

"Pieces of Life....laid on the table,
Here is the Blood....poured out in love.
Fill the cup....raise it up.
Here's to the Day,
Remember." Billy Crockett

Here's to the Day, D2.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Why Bother?

Is it worth all of the effort? The work-arounds. The substitutions. The prepping. The planning. The budgeting. The economizing to make it all come together? This became a very heated topic of discussion for me--and the other poster to the thread--a while back.

A study, which I'm sure will cut a wide swathe across gf/cf circles, splashed down on an email list. It appears that a very small study of the intestinal healing in a handful of autistic children over two years showed dietary interventions to have no impact on digestive integrity and developmental outcomes. None.

The mom posting about this said she was struggling with these results. All of that effort for nothing? Why bother?

So I thought about why I bother and why it matters what I do.

It matters. It matters because it is about more than just getting from Point A with leaky gut syndrome to Point B with intestinal integrity. There is a life filled with days, experiences, and memories that are weighed in the balance. If making life as positive and successful as possible is a valid reason for medicating a child's behavior, then managing the diet toward the same end is at least as valid.

It's worth it. It's worth it to see a child, who complained about all manner of sensory input, now throw on his clothes without a whimper and manage his day with less and less scaffolding as times goes by. It's worth it to do less and less micromanaging and see a child able to complete tasks from start to finish without redirection, tasks that six months ago were impossible to surmount alone. It's worth it to watch a toddler blossom into doing all of the things that intuitively feel "right," and not be left wondering what's developmentally wrong or what's missing.

An argument could be made that all of this would have happened regardless of our choices and changes, but these advancements are too precious to me to have left to chance. And no one in our sphere can deny that any time there's an exposure to a food on The List that we have heart-breaking, soul-scalding reactions. That alone makes it worth the effort. I'll do any amount of work and make any amount of sacrifice to keep that from happening. Even if we get to Point B and find all of the other folk who chose differently waiting for us to catch up, losing just one of these episodes would make it worth it.

But fundamentally, I think it does make a difference what and how we eat, irrespective of food sensitivities. When first the issue of intestinal hyper permeability came up on my radar, I started rifling our library shelves on the subject. In addition to Food Allergies and Food Intolerances by Jonathan Brostoff and Intestinal Wellness by Elizabeth Lipski, I found Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. At first, I was daunted by the ubiquitous whey in all of her ferments--a rather nontraditional and, in my experience, often unsatisfactory solution--but what I did take away from the book was a resolution to get as basic and fundamental in our eating habits as was possible. In addition to live probiotics, another gut-healer caught my attention: bone broth.

It's amazingly cheap, since we already buy whole chickens anyway. Just save up all of the bones, carcasses, giblets and freeze until ready to use. It's almost like free food. Think of it as recycling. See? It even has a PC gravitas.

I did try it the prescribed way: slow cooker, longlonglonglong simmer, until the bones smooshed. The resulting broth was Okay. It was burned. And I could make barely enough for the kids to have a half a cup a day. Which was just as well considering the effort it required to svengali them into drinking just that meager half cup.

The Glutenator first broached the subject of pressure cookers. On the NT-style list, this was met with the sound of acolytes ducking for cover from the lightening bolts. It seems that Sally just doesn't approve of pressure cookers. No explanation or citations why. Just waves vaguely in their direction and says, "They're dangerous."

Nonsense. Only if you have a mouse in your basement.

The Glutenator pointed out that pressure cookers provide for optimal mineral and gelatin extraction while preserving flavor. Guess what? She was right. Now we have a steady flow of delicious jiggly broth. Bug asks for it on cold winter days to thaw fingers and tummies after sledding.

Bone Broth

The recipe is simple, just everything else worthwhile. The proportions can be tailored to the individual need. I have a 22 qt. capacity pressure cooker that I fill three quarters up with bones, giblets, veggie scraps, and 2-3 ounces of dried seaweed. Cover with water. Place the lid and control at 15 pounds and let it cook until the control has rocked for an hour to an hour and a half. I use a long handled colander to scoop out the bones and large pieces. Then I pour the broth into a large canning bath through a cheesecloth. I dump all of the bones back in, cover with water, and do it all over again. This yields about three to four gallons of broth. A batch this size is sufficiently salted with about three tablespoons of Real Salt. Finally, I pour into quart jars and refrigerate. This lasts us about two weeks. And since the bones are soft enough to compost easily, we're able to take the recycling full circle.

Why bother? Maybe I'm old enough now to know on a gut level that there is a long run and the effort we pour forth now pays off then. And two years is a sliver of a child's life, at once too short and too long. Too short to measure what the long haul will eventually show and too long to roller coaster through, hoping for the magic day when everyone pulls up even.