Monday, December 13, 2010

Friday, April 30, 2010


One of the joys of parenthood is being able to compare the cute things that they say and do. And with three of them, I live in a target rich environment. I try to keep track of these little stories. If not for my own amusement, I figure they'll provide pocket money for me in the future. There's money to be made in extortion, after all...

Recently, I had Bug and Princess in the car with me while Dog was at Drama practice. We'd had several days of torrential rain and we had to pick up Tool Guy from work, since the rain was preventing him from riding The Bike. Getting into the car, there was a slight squabble over who was going to sit on which side. Sigh. Some days I miss my Soccer Mom Van. Fortunately, this was quickly soothed over as we began to be on the lookout for the spontaneous freshets and rivulets appearing down the hillsides. At one curve, Bug burst out into an impressed roar--we're working on volume modulation with this one--at the gusher that was cascading out of a hillside culvert. Princess was quite crestfallen that she wasn't sitting at such an angle as to be able to see this impressive wonder of nature. Bug sanctimoniously informed her that this was precisely the reason why he'd wanted to sit on this particular side of the car. After an extended period of silence, she primly replied, "That can't be true, had no way of knowing that we were going to see that!" She'll be a match for any telemarketer, that's for sure.

The Hostess caught up with me in Nitty Gritty Cooking Class the other day to compare notes on tortillas. Her family thinks the bean flour tortillas rock, too. She started chuckling when she told me that she had to share One of Those stories with me...a tortilla story.

The plan for the evening meal was tortillas. The family had returned home from a strenuous hike and Mrs. Hostess felt the need to lie down before beginning to get dinner ready. The tortilla dough was prepped up and ready to be made up. Her youngest son, a six year old who looks like Johnny Whitaker but for the curls and has all of the energy of Tom Sawyer, volunteered to help roll the tortilla dough into balls while Mrs. Hostess rested for a half an hour. Seemed like a reasonable request, so she agreed and went to lie down. From time to time, Johnny would come in and regale her with his efforts, which included a rather credible penguin. He nodded when she reminded him that these would be flattened shortly and went back to his endeavors.

She tells how the family gathered around the table after she'd made up the tortillas and began to dig in with relish, tortillas being a popular menu item. Biting in, however, the consensus was that these tortillas were somehow just not quite as yummy as past tortillas. Rather tough, in fact. Trying to pin down the variable, the new tortilla press was the first suspect. Was there some indefinable contribution that hand rolling them possessed that a press did not? She was beginning to regret the investment.

Then her father piped up with a previously unsuspected and uncontrolled--the word having multiple meanings here--variable. It seems that Johnny had been quite enthusiastic in his dinner preparation efforts. The separating the dough into balls hadn't quite scratched his artistic efforts sufficiently and neither had penguins. While everyone else was otherwise engaged, Grandpa lounged on the couch, observing these machinations...apparently with no little amusement and absolutely no intervention. Johnny, it seems, waxed quite creative and discovered that dough not only made penguins, but entire arm-casts as well. The additional squick factor being that he had a still healing war wound from an argument lost with a bicycle a few days prior. The older siblings were horrified, while Mrs. Hostess and another sibling dissolved into tears of helpless laughter. Which horrified the older siblings further, since Johnny would undoubtedly interpret this as endorsement and reach for new heights of food malfeasance.

Mr. Hostess asked Johnny if he had, at any time, dropped the dough. He gravely confirmed the additional transgression, but qualified it with the assurance that an older sister had recently swept the floors, making this okay. Heh.

Those of us standing in the kitchen while Mrs. Hostess spun out this tale were equally entertained by this story. Johnny, meandering through to gym class, found himself ambushed by entering in on the tale end of the telling. Mrs. Hostess turned to him and asked if he wanted to add his own details. With an expression somewhere between annoyance and disgust, he retreated down the hall, pursued by peals of maternal merriment as we moms in the kitchen collapsed into gales of helpless giggles. Really, you can dress us up...

I decided to harness this enthusiasm for playing with clay that I find in my own offspring. Modeling clay will often assuage this primal drive, since they don't care for the texture of homemade gf play dough and I don't care for the price of hypo-allergenic commercial ones. Recently, we were discussing as a family what foods we missed most in this Everything Free journey. With all the options still open to us, I'm 99.9% content. The only thing that I miss is pretzels. The commercial replacements are tolerable, but replete with soy and/or corn. So I decided to try my hand...and Hobbit sourdough pretzels.

Sourdough Pretzels

The first few attempts at this revealed that this is going to be a work in progress. Lots of variables in this one: rise time, boiling time, baking time, and, not the least, thickness which is extremely variable, particularly when drafting "help."

2 cups sourdough starter
1 1/2 cups potato starch flour
1 tsp. guar gum
2 T olive oil
1 tsp. salt
1/4 cup flax meal (opt.)
Granular or kosher salt for sprinkling

Using a dough hook, mix/knead all of the ingredients until a solid dough. It will be rather tacky, so olive oil on the hands while rolling these into shapes is helpful. Pull off a hunk and gently roll out into dough "pencils." Thicker shapes will be chewier and thinner will be crispier. On lightly greased baking sheets, allow the pretzels to rise for a few hours. They will begin to dry out and stiffen, which will allow for easier handling during the next steps.

In a large pot or dutch oven, bring a couple of quarts of water to boil. Using an egg turner, gently remove the pretzels from the sheets and drop into boiling water, a few at a time. Allow to boil for 30-60 seconds and fish out with a strainer. Return to greased baking sheets and sprinkle with salt, if desired.

Bake for 30-45 minutes at 350*, depending on desired texture.

I'm learning, as I delegate more to the Hobbits, that I have to surrender some standards and expectations--at least momentarily!--to allow them to develop their own skills and senses of accomplishment. Even if it means tortilla arm-casts...

Friday, April 16, 2010

Salad Days

All signs of blizzard long past, my plant friends are returning to visit again. Princess and I have meandered hand-in-hand around the yard and the neighborhood, looking for them. I don't think I've ever been so grateful for a springtime.

After two consecutive years of gardening disaster, I and my pantry are quite ready for a bumper year, thankyouverymuch. I continue to refine my favorites for planting. Still playing with Siberian strains of tomatoes to see if their yields and growing season will give me a leg up on the varieties from Southern hemispheres. Which doesn't mean I'm not hedging my bets. There's room for the handy-dandy hybrids that are tried and true. And delicious. There are plenty of arugula and deer tongue lettuce representing this year. I never got around to saving seeds when everything bolted last fall. Then I never got around to tilling, something that I'm trying to break myself of anyway. I'm enjoying the blessings of my neglect. Also I've decided to yield place to anything that volunteers. Even volunteer dandelion.

With spring in the air, herbal studies have taken on a new earnestness. During the wintertime, we were using the fruits of the summer and applying what we've learned, but with the expression of new yields, we have an opportunity to try new things and grow new things that we regretted not having explored the previous year. The first herbal studies group focused on dandelions and the first wild greens of spring. The group leader tasked everyone with bringing a dandelion dish to the class. She asked me what I had planned on bringing. "Um...kimbop?" It's my favorite pot luck dish and never fails to please. I never have left-overs. I meditated for a minute or two, then recollected that my kimbop tutor had always included spinach in her particular recipe. Hmmm...spinach...dandelion. Yep. That'll sub. I'll bet I'm the first person ever to make dandelion kimbop. Close your eyes, SMK.

We talked about dandelion and the terrific stuff it does for the liver, the lymphatic system, and as a diuretic. This is a fortunate serendipity, since Tool Guy has had some unhappy swelling in one of his feet that hasn't explained itself to his doctor, despite extensive testing. Can't think of many gardeners who celebrate having dandelion popping up in their greenhouses, but I'm one of them. It seems that chickweed, my latest favorite herb for lung support, also sparkles as a diuretic.

Ditto on sweet violets.

Sheep sorrel is another mild diuretic.
And guess what all grows in my yard? I never cease to be amazed at the reckless and extravagant abundance that is to be found just outside my door. See how much I have to be thankful for?

I have another ubiquitous friend invading my faltering asparagus bed which I've identified as garlic mustard. It's considered an invasive and noxious weed, which I've come to interpret as meaning, "We don't have a clue how to use it and the deer won't eat it." But in fresh salad, it has a terrific mild garlicky taste--without the garlic drawbacks. I've found references to the root being a horseradish substitute, something that bears future exploration...

Fresh is almost always best, so we're plunging into the salad days of spring. In order to make these oddities more acceptable to Philistinian palates, a salad dressing is required. Something light, yet compatible with the somewhat bitter and sharp flavors of the unusual greens. A while back, a foodie friend had made an off-hand comment about using orange juice in salad dressing and this sounded like just the salad to try it on.

Orange and Olive Oil Dressing

1/2 cup orange juice, best freshly juiced
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp. Real Salt
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. maple syrup
1/2 tsp. dried dill
3 grinds of whole peppercorn

Run all ingredients through a thorough blend in food processor or blender. Best served at room temperature. Not only does this make a wonderful salad dressing, but also serves as a terrific sauce over fish.

Intrepidly, I took to the yard with basket and scissors in hand. I'm sure I cut quite the figure. I've come to imagine that my neighbors have either given up trying to figure out what I'm doing or avail themselves of a front row and provide themselves with a tasty snack to sustain them during the morning's entertainment. When Tool Guy came home, I pointed out the separate containers of washed and chilled greens for his delight and delectation. He was duly impressed. He turned to my mother and said, "Most families throw their lawn clippings on the compost pile. We eat them." See what I mean? Philistine. But he's going to eat his words. Every. Single. One. With salad dressing.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Tell Me A Story...

Nothing like the first fragrances of spring to inspire the creative juices. The fresh breezes and warm sunshine have everyone clamoring for water gun fights. Kill joy that I am, I'm making them wait until the breezes are a little less, um, fresh for that to happen. I am Mother, hear me

Along with spring breezes comes spring cleaning. Yeah. More kill joy stuff. That water fight is starting to sound better all of the time. But when one lives with Hobbits in a Hobbit-sized hole, one must be stringent in the discipline of one's use of space. And so begins the biennial task of cleaning, dejunking, and reorganizing and reuse of space. Not to be confused with the daily task of cleaning, dejunking, and reogranizing and reuse of space. I'm considering hiring St. George for this task. You know the guy. The dragon-slayer? All I'm saying is that I hold myself indemnified regarding what's in my basement...

This spring, in the midst of the 27 Fling Boogie, Dog unearthed a blank bound book. His eyes gleamed. I know that feeling. The call of the blank pages. The crisp edges of a professionally bound book. Oh, the possibilities...

He petitioned for custody and was awarded sole care of the treasure. I haven't been able to pry him out of its pages ever since. Much to the annoyance of Tool Guy, who is dragging Dog through the final laps of the final book in that dreaded, terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad curriculum that they chose. Can't say I blame him. I'd take a blank book over that any day and twice on Sunday.

He's doing a surprisingly good job at dialog and plot flow. The chapters are a bit brief, but the story is rather credible. For science fiction. Every day or so, we get to hear the newest twist of the harrowing tales of the anti-hero who still hasn't figured out what he needs to do in order to stop the spiral of catastrophe as it spins recklessly out of control. I'm a little piqued, however, since he scorned my title suggestion: The Perils of Pauline. Philistine.

Bug was similarly inspired and has launched into his own adventure series. He almost got bogged down in spelling and mechanical technicalities, but I encouraged him to ignore such trivia and let his imagination run wild. And run wild it has. It was endearing to hear him describing his story and apologize for the brevity of his chapters, but amended his statement by assuring the listener that they would get longer, since he had some ideas for reworking them.

Good job we subscribed to unlimited long-distance because the grandparents aren't to be neglected in the sharing of these flights of fancy in a style entirely new. In daily installment. None of this Dickensonian wait for the next week's issue to hit the press! We live in the communication age, right? Grandmere et Grandpere are, of course, duly appreciative and encouraging. (I think Bill Cosby had it right, though; these are old people who are getting ready to die. They're polishing their halos.) I probably need to slip them some chocolate.

For my own part, I'm turning my creative bents toward playing with buckwheat some more. I decided to try a dish that I first sampled in my herbal apprenticeship. It's a simple kasha recipe. When I asked for the recipe, the chef replied that it was the one that came on the box. Weeeeell, I'm the one who buys such things in twenty-five pound bags. Quelle dommage. I decided to play with it and figured that anything worth cooking was worth sprouting before cooking. So I did.

Sprouting is very simple. Soak groats for about an hour or so. Empty groats into colander and rinse thoroughly, allowing to drain. I usually leave the groats in the colander until sprouted, rinsing four to five times a day. As I said, they tend to be very viscous, so they need to be completely rinsed every time. They'll be ready in 2-3 days. The amount of sprouts this recipe calls for is about 1 1/3 cups raw groats.

Buckwheat Kasha

2 cups sprouted buckwheat groats
2-2 1/2 cups water or broth
1/2 tsp. salt (or less if using salted broth)
1/2 cup diced shitake mushrooms
1 T olive oil

In cast iron skillet, dry roast groats until brown. In heavy sauce pan, bring broth or water/salt to a boil and add oil and groats. Simmer on low for 10 minutes or until water is absorbed. Cover and allow to steam for another 10 minutes or so.

As a newly-minted seven year-old, Princess is not to be left behind in all of this composition. She's dragged out a few notebooks and began copying a book. Then she began working on an original piece herself. It's rather amusing--though I'm not sure she means it to be so--and largely involves a boy and girl on adventures in which the dialogue is characterized not by "he said/she said," but the two of them "shouting" to each other. I imagine this is to lend excitement and suspense to the tale. Amazing what dramatic tension one can conjure from detecting the owner of a wayward kite. Oh, to be seven again...

Her best works, though, are the stories she tells me when I'm brushing out her very, very long hair. It's never been cut and is almost down to her knees now. That's right; I'm raising Crystal Gayle. So everyday, we brush out her old braid and plait a new one. There's always a surly collection of knots in one particular spot. Tender-headed, she has dubbed this snarl "Mr. Big Knot." As I brush her hair, she tells me about the exploits and derring-do of Mr. and Mrs. Big Knot. As I work my way down to the lower reaches of her hair that aren't so stubborn, we only encounter the less aggressive knots that are easier to defeat. She has deemed these Mr. Big Knot's "minions." Minions. I ask you.

Drowning in juvenilia. It's time for Tool Guy and Bug to build us some more book cases...

Friday, March 19, 2010

Here Comes the Sun

No groundhog on the menu this week. He's been given a reprieve. The sun came out. We were supposed to have a dissection class, but one of the participant's family had a bout with some bug and wouldn't be able to make it. With all of the golden glow lighting up the landscape, the remaining participants made sympathetic noises, told the stricken how sorry we were for their illness, and, of course, we would not even imagine proceeding with the next portion of our studies until everyone was fit for duty. It was a huge sacrifice. But that's what you do for friends, right?

The snow is gone and our propane delivery person managed to slog his way through the soggy tundra to fill our tanks. It does the heart good to see such dedicated personnel, doesn't it? And who says that good help is hard to find these days? It was amazing to see how quickly the extensive footage of snow disappeared, leaving the layer of detritus that its weight brought down. The sides of the road are invisible under the fractured boughs along the berm. It's been so warm, in fact, that the friend of mine, whose sons make maple syrup, has been praying for colder nights. It seems the recipe for good sap flow is warm, sunny days and nippy nights. The weather does seem unseasonably mild, particularly after the ferocious snow storm.

While it is unusual for it to be this warm at this time of year, I couldn't resist the call to go out and play in the mud. St. Paddy's Day has become my traditional Starts Day, so I schlepped down to the cellar and pulled out my trays and markers, beginning my gardening journal for the year. I soaked my seeds, wadded up in saturated paper towel bundles, softening them up for the planting. Some wise gardening soul shared that her favorite trick to optimize her efforts is to do this and actually sprout the seeds. This way she only plants what seeds have demonstrated viability, so as not to waste time or space on a seed that won't be doing anything. Sounds like a plan.

This took an amazingly short period of time make pots, fill trays, and whip through all of my starts. The Hobbits dipped their fingers into the project and helped, so we were done in short order. And still there was more sun. And 70*... No way was I staying inside.

This is the year that I'm going to begin my herb garden, which shall be an entirely separate entity from my vegetable garden. I realized last year that if I start "tucking in" this herb and that herb, I would pretty soon have no room left for vegetables. Herb gardening, it seems, is much like any other gardening. You start out thinking that you are doing the garden, but after a short span of time, the garden is doing you. Herbs are no exception. So I figured that I needed to make space for the horseradish, the comfrey, the sage, the rugosa, the echinachea, the gumweed, the lomatium, the goldenseal, the, the, the...okay, all the other stuff that I feel that I just have to have in order to find fulfillment in the universe. Bottom line: no room with the tomatoes. Yeah, and I only have 36 of those started. For a 20 x 10 greenhouse. I know, I know...good luck with that plan.

After I paced it off, laid down marker rocks, and spread the bag of lime over the fallow ground, the sun was still shining. No way was I going to go indoors. Facebook and all of my lists would just have to wait. Besides, I need my Vitamin D. The compost pile called to me. It has been sitting there for at least two years, since I've been in a snit over my garden failure of year before last. Not to be confused with last year's garden failure. What can I say? I'm a glutton for punishment. Third time pays for all.

So I rounded up one trashcan, two big buckets, and three Hobbits to haul wagon loads of this mature, black compost up a hill and begin layering it over the newly lain lime. I grabbed my shovel and stabbed into the loamy pile. And felt the reverberations up my arms and into my spine. And muttered imprecations at the rock that had found its way into my compost pile. This is not a totally unanticipated occurrence. I have to dig rocks out of the yard every spring that sprout up as liberally as the plantain. I moved over a foot or two and stabbed again. Another imprecation. Another rock. By the third stab, I was beginning to sense a pattern here and scraped off a thin layer of compost to discover that the pile was frozen. I did some mental math and realized that I'd never assayed the outside portion of gardening this early in the year. Mature compost piles freeze. Who knew? Hey, I'm from Louisiana, remember?

Undaunted, I turned to Dog and sent him after the pick axe. Yeah. You heard that right. Pick axe. Hey, the sun was still shining and time's a-wastin'. He came back in short order and we all resumed work. I taught them the lyrics to "You Load Sixteen Tons" while I hewed away at the compost pile, filled the buckets which they used to fill the trashcan, and we all muscled up the hill for the dump. It only took us two days to move a compost pile the size of a VW. No doubt we provided ample entertainment to our neighbors as we carried slabs of frozen compost--the freeze was only a layer on the top--to the garden site and played at discus tosses. The Olympics may be over, but the spirit lives on.

As winter is winding down, I find that I'm still in love with the warming herbs. Hey, these 70* days aren't going to last. There's got to be at least one or two more snowfalls and several hard frosts before the shouting. Since I laid in a generous supply of what I needed to make chai tea, the smells reminded me of an old favorite Chinese food recipe: five spice stir-fry. I had an antique bottle of the five spice powder haunting the back of my cupboard. When I say antique, I'm not referring to the bottle, but to the spices. God only knows how old this bottle was, but I think we moved here with it. Nine years ago. Don't look at me like that. It's all I can do to keep the clothes closets rotated for each appropriate season. But with a fresh supply of The Real Thing spices ready to hand, I decided to take the idea of Five Spice Powder and make something like a Five Spice Infusion. So here's what I did.

Five Spice Beef Stir-fry

Five spice infusion:

2 star anise pods
2 cinnamon sticks
12 whole cloves
1 tsp. whole fennel
1 tsp. whole peppercorns
1 quart of water

Early in the day or the day before, pour water into heavy sauce pan and bring to a boil. Add all of the spices and lower heat to a slow simmer. Cover, allowing to simmer for about 20 minutes before removing from heat. Leave covered and allow to infuse for 2-4 hours. Strain out spices and reserve infusion to make sauce just before serving.

Stir Fry:

1 pound beef steak, thin sliced - I usually freeze the steak and then partially thaw, running the meat through the slicing blade on my mandolin. This is usually marinated overnight in a solution of wheat-free tamari sauce and water.
1 bunch green onions, sliced
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
4 whole carrots, bias sliced
1 cup broccoli, separated into small pieces
3 celery stalks, bias sliced
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
Lard or coconut oil for stir-frying
1-2 T Sesame oil for flavoring
3-4 T Wheat-free tamari for sauce
2-3 T tapioca starch

In a wok over high heat, melt lard or coconut oil (approximately 1-2 tablespoons) and add onions, garlic, and carrots. Stir fry carrots for 3-5 minutes before adding chopped broccoli. Stir fry another 3-5 minutes before adding celery slices. After about three minutes or when vegetables are cooked to taste, remove the entire contents of the wok to another container. (While these ingredients are cooking, drain marinating meat in a colander.) In the wok, melt another tablespoon or so of oil and add mushrooms with a dollop of wheat-free tamari sauce. Stir fry mushrooms until cooked and add the wok contents to the already cooked vegetables. Pour a couple of tablespoons of sesame oil into the cooked ingredients and stir. Add more oil to the wok and stir fry the drained beef strips until cooked to preference. Drain the cooked meat, discarding the liquid, and return all of the cooked ingredients to the wok.

In a heavy sauce pan, pour five spice infusion, less one cup, and wheat-free tamari sauce and bring to a boil. In the reserved one cup of five spice infusion (which should not be warm--cold is good, actually), stir in tapioca starch until dissolved. Add the infusion and dissolved tapioca starch to the boiling pot and stir continually until the sauce has thickened and the milky appearance has become more translucent. Pour sauce over stir-fry and stir until all of the pieces are completely coated.

Serve hot over steamed rice.

Our sunny days have disappeared in a deluge of flood warnings. I remain unperturbed, however. I got my peas in the ground in the greenhouse. Which is an improvement on last year, when I missed the pea planting opportunity altogether. While I was at it, I decided to put down some broccoli and cucumbers, too. Hey, let's garden dangerously. If they don't make it, I still have time to start some more, right? Meanwhile, I've started a new compost pile, since the old one has now surrendered its space and is gone. I'm feeling all kinds of virtuous about getting it done so early.

Marilyn Monroe was wrong. Pickaxes are a girl's best friend.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Great White North

A friend of mine says she's going hunting. She's cleaning her rifle. She's loaded for...groundhog. Yeah. That's right. Groundhog. Particularly the one who lives in the climate-controlled environment enjoying all of the amenities of life while the rest of us are slogging out the dregs of winter. Keep your head down, Phil. That's all I'm sayin'.

I can't say that our week began with the most auspicious preparations. A power outage the previous week had revealed that our generator, serviced over the summer, wasn't actually as ready as we had hoped. Fortunately, it had only been of a short duration and since we'd had no other outages this winter, there probably wasn't anything to be concerned over. The utility company had been ruthless in their pruning efforts this past summer, as the misshapen and mutilated trees lining the local rural roads could attest. Trees intrepid enough to grow within the easement parameters were hacked, hewn, and even hawed to almost shrub-like proportions. Yep. The power people were set. Right? Riiiight. And so we hoped that their readiness would compensate for our own rather shakiness in that department. I mean, you try finding service for a generator this time of year. Pick a number and stand in line.

I spent the first of the week in a flurry of activity, because before the end of Tuesday afternoon, there were goosefeather snowflakes wafting their way down to settle on the solidified masses of previous snowfalls. We had planned a winter outing that morning, but I canceled so that way I wouldn't have to pick up Tool Guy from work. I had no intentions of making anymore uphill hikes in heavy snowfall to collect him. Been there, done that, bought the sweatshirt. And, indeed, when Tool Guy came home, stomping in out of the snow, he affirmed that, like the Princess on the Glass Hill, it was possible to come down, but impossible to go up. Then the power went out. With a futzy generator. Greeeeeeat. Just great. Fortunately, dinner was five minutes away from hitting the table and so we had a warm meal for dinner. Given how the week would go, this was being thankful for large favors.

The Hobbits were all troupers. Nay, they were excited. They always celebrate occasions that are marked by lighting the hurricane lamp that has followed us from Louisiana. Something romantic and adventurous about the soft, warm glow. And smoking wick. Yeah, I'm still working on the knack of trimming it properly. Where's Jane Austen when you need her? Nonetheless, we circled around the table after dinner and resumed work on lessons and reading. Everyone was feeling quite Little House on the Prairie-ish. We had to flip a coin to see who had the honor of blowing out the lamp. Yeah. I know. Gotta get these kids out more often.

When I woke up at 4 am and the staring red light on our smoke detector wasn't glaring down at me, I knew that we were in for more than just an inconvenience. I looked out the window and saw the relentlessly gentle parade of flakes continue to come down. Buckle your seatbelts, passengers...

In the morning, Tool Guy decided that it was worthwhile to argue further with the generator and he was able to persuade it to be of his way of thinking. Happy day! Heat. Hot showers. Sanitary sanitation opportunities. Hot food. Cold refrigerators. A man who can coax a generator to start is a man of inestimable charm. Think I'll keep him around a while. I immediately filled up several storage buckets full of water in case his persuasive powers didn't hold. I've decided that among the canning activities in which I will indulge this summer, not the least of these shall include canning water. Yep. That's right. Water. If I'm going to have extra jars taking up space down in the basement, the least they can do is haul their weight by keeping us stocked with water in the future event that the choke on our generator decides to resume its recalcitrance. Besides, I want to be able to flush, okay?

Did I mention that I had a co-op order to coordinate during this week? Yeah. No stress there. Because even with power from the generator, when cable is down, cable is down. Needless to say, when, thirty-six hours later, the power came back on, I flew into action. I spent the morning catching up on phone calls, ordering, email, as well as grinding flour, setting up bread, and anticipating whatever else we might need. The forecast was predicting another front of snow. As it turned out, I had exactly twelve hours to get everything that I needed done done and then, like clockwork, the power went down again. Tool Guy turned to me and inquired about the prospects of relocating South. I asked him if that meant that I wouldn't be able to go grocery shopping in the morning. Nope. My week certainly wasn't going according to plan.

It's nice to know that there are some things that can come together even in sticky spots. We might have been low on coffee and cream--which might be characterized as a state of emergency in its own right--but we had plenty of everything else, despite an inability to get to the grocery store. Our storage shelves had a sufficiency of whatever we needed to get us through the tight places. Even bread baking went on as usual. Speaking of which, I've been playing around with making my bread egg-free. A few people asked me if it was possible. And I'll be honest...I'd never considered it, throwing as many eggs as was rational at the bread recipe in a desperate bid to have it succeed the first time. Which it did. And, for one who claims to cook dangerously, I had never worked up the nerve to leave them out and have it potentially flop. But when our egg supply disappeared, I had a greater incentive to see if it was possible. Guess what? It is. So for those who asked, here's the egg-free bread. My baking pans hold about four cups of dough, so the recipe is sized accordingly. Your needs may vary.

Everything (Including Egg) Free Sourdough Bread

These days, I'm making my starter with a blend that looks roughly like this:

1/3 cup adzuki bean flour
1 cup buckwheat flour
1 cup red quinoa flour
1 cup millet flour
2/3 cup rice flour

I measure heaping cups of these, because I want there to be a little starter left over to help feed the next generation. As I've mentioned before, teff or fenugreek makes a great lactobacilli magnet if your starter needs to be perked up or restarted.

4 cups sourdough starter
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup flax seed meal (opt.)
1/4 cup tapioca starch
1/4 cup potato starch
1 tsp. salt
3 tsp. guar gum

Mix ingredients together, bringing up to high speed once the batter and dry ingredients are incorporated. "Knead" for about five minutes. The consistency needs to be something between toothpaste and cake batter, so add water or a couple of tablespoons of flour as necessary to achieve this. Pour batter into pans lined with baking parchment. I've gotten quite addicted to the ability to pop the bread pans into the refrigerator and let them rise until I feel like baking them. To prevent a skin from forming on the surface of the breads, I lay a sheet of plastic wrap or baking parchment over the top before storing in the fridge and then peel off when I'm ready to put them in the oven. Bake at 350* for approximately 1.5 hours or until done. When baked, pop out of pan and onto cooling rack, waiting until completely cooled to cut.

The Hobbits have pronounced this to be my best bread ever. Yeah, I know. You've unearthed my secret. I keep them on such a short leash that anything new I do feels like an improvement. I have to say that I'm pretty fond of it, too, though. Prolly 'cause I keep myself on the same short leash. At any rate, when I let it rise sufficiently--and therein lies the art of much is high enough without the bread collapsing--I get this towering loaf of bread that doesn't need the lift from eggs to make it lofty. For the egg-free folk, enjoy!

Bread in hand, we were well-provided for. In spite of twenty-four hours without government snow removal and an inability to achieve the roads to go anywhere, our widow's cruse of gasoline held out--with a bit of judicious rationing--until the power came back on almost forty-eight hours later. Which was two days before some of our other neighbors regained grid connectivity, Lord love 'em.

Secure provisions are reassuring when you have snow encroaching on your window sashes. Or the handrail on your entry stairs. This isn't for the faint of heart. The propane delivery person announced himself "too old for this" and refused to return until there was a cleared path to the backyard. Yeah...that's gonna happen... My die-hard neighbor, who has relationships with his walk-behind snowblowers that looks like other men's relationships with their classic cars, threw in the scarf and hired a back-hoe to clear his driveways.

The blizzard of 2010 will be something that the Hobbits will talk about when they are our age. They'll tell about the "roughing it" and the igloos they constructed--Princess has quite an architectural bent--and the tunnels they burrowed through the yard. When I was her age, we had two inches of snow and, in Louisiana, it left the same kind of impression as the footage does now.

Meanwhile, as I'm digging out from under, I'm also digging around for groundhog recipes.

They're gluten-free, right?

Friday, February 5, 2010

De Ja Vu

This is always the most difficult time of year. The hackneyed complaints about cabin fever set in and the Hobbits are invariably bouncing off of the walls, but trenchant in their resistance to take the energy outside. By now, the romance of the fresh fallen snow has been stomped into pockmarks across the yard and so has the exhilaration of sledding. Even Bug's forays into converting his saucer sled into a snowboard has lost its shine.

And homeschooling. Picture me with a hag-ridden expression and ragged wisps of hair tufting a gleaming scalp. This is the time of year where the curriculum has lost its shine and everyone wants the year To Be Done. Tool Guy and Dog started the year with high hopes. They had collaborated on the purchase of a "school in a box" kind of curriculum and had, apparently, polled the masses with a product satisfaction survey, receiving very positive feedback. They must have found the very one consumer who liked the wooden material, since everyone that I asked actually shuddered at the mere mention of the books. Literally. I reasoned with the guys that it was not for naught that I found unopened boxes of this curriculum on the exchange table, free for the taking. Collecting dust. Sun-faded. But nobody listens. So Dog and Tool Guy are slogging their way through the remainder of the material, with Tool Guy dragging comprehension from Dog, piece by piece. They flirted with chucking the whole package and switching to more lively material, but decided that slogging was less work than catching up. Live and learn.

Bug is also bogging down. Before I whinge, I have to hand it to Bug that he has made enormous strides. I was listening to him during family time, reading from the teenage NIV with such ease and facility that I couldn't believe this was the same child who was stumbling over the easy readers just a year ago. But math? (See? It's even a four-letter word.) Not that math at his level is particularly hard, but it is when Someone (insert meaningful, pointed glance at a certain furry-footed shortling) is resisting the discipline of memorizing the times tables. Yeah, we've done the whole grouping/counting bears/multiplication-is-just-fast-addition theoretical exercises and he gets it. But there's nothing that replaces the actual instant recall and facile command of the multiplication tables. I'd given him a variety of tools with which to master the facts and left him to it. It wasn't met with cries of delight. By the time we got to this mid-point, it became clear that we weren't going further until he muscled his way through the memorization exercise. I had to get draconian, but he got there. It's been a rough couple of weeks.

Princess mostly flies through her stuff. Oh, she puts on airs and pretends that this is difficult. After all, she has the wailing and gnashing of teeth around her and we are nothing if not creatures of imitation, but the reality is that this stuff is a cakewalk for her. She makes me look good, but I didn't have anything to do with this. My first grader has set a goal for herself that she will read through the Magic Tree House series and she's been doing it at the rate of a book every day or so. Her main complaint at this point is the slowness of the library system to produce next book in the series--"Because, Mom, it's frustrating to not read them in order!" This loses a lot when you can't see the earnest expression and the accompanying gestures. I try not to smile too openly.

School matters aren't truly a vexation for Princess, but in recent months I've begun noticing some unhappy symptoms of a different nature. Quite a sinking feeling, since Princess has been my "golden child"--the one with whom I did Everything Right. Home birth. Breastfed. Gluten/casein free since before birth. Growing up with bone broth, fermented foods, and everything free. Everything augured well for her to sail through childhood without any digestive hitches. I only anticipated dealing with teenage mutinies when this dietary stuff started making them feel too different. Alas, no.

A few months ago, I noticed that she'd become much more emotionally fragile. Irrational. Then the Shoe Problem popped up. Shoes that had been perfectly acceptable--nay!--favorites suddenly became intolerable. At first, I thought she'd just outgrown those, but when I replaced them with the next size up, the problem persisted. And when I insisted on her accepting the shoes anyway, the frustration was displaced to the velcro. I personally have now developed a rash reaction to the sound of velcro ripping. I think there's probably even an IgE rast for it. This is due to the long and daily sessions of fastening and unfastening and refastening the velcro repeatedly on the shoes to get the tension Just Right. And when one shoe was Just Right, the other shoe's tension had to be the same exact Just Right as the other. Or the process had to be repeated again. And again. Did I mention repeatedly? And socks. Don't get me started on seams on socks that must be aligned with the ley lines in England at the same time as the Nazca lines of Peru. Just. Don't.

At this point I began having flashbacks to when Dog was a toddler. The sun was too bright. And none of the clothes felt right. All manner of sensory disagreements. It's amazing how easy it is to forget these things. Well, probably not forget. Rather say that it is easy to shove those memories to the back of the closet. Life has become too normal for us. These days, when Dog asks why he can't wear sweats to church, it is more about the teenage stuff than it is about sensory integration issues. Reluctantly, I faced the presentation of these dynamics with the digestive upsets she was experiencing and accepted that there's some food stuff going on with her. Sigh.

Before diving hog wild into testing, I've decided to do some judicious pruning to see if we can address this first with a bit of deduction. Beans was the most recent addition to the diet and although the boys are showing absolutely no problems to the daily inclusion of this in their food, it was the first suspect for Princess' reactions. This was discouraging to her, though she took it in good grace. She's well used to discussions about pulling food, though this is one of the few times it actually applied to her. While I continue to make a bean bread multi-grain blend for the boys, I'm making a bean-free version for her along with theirs. She's particularly mourning the absence of toasted garbanzo beans. I started wracking my brains for a comparable snack for her to enjoy. Something like honey-roasted nuts for the nut-free.

Buckwheat is my current new Favorite Thing. I'm exploring the different things that I can do with it. It's a dominant flavor in my current bread combo. It's got a viscosity to it that makes me think of gluten, even though its gluten-free, name notwithstanding, so I'm watching to see if it improves the texture of the bread as well as adding more nutrients. There are tons of papers out there where other people in lab situations are playing with the viscous potential of buckwheat. Why should they have all the fun? I've started playing with sprouting it, too. Sprouts up nicely and quickly, though that viscous thing is evident in the first day or so of sprouting, requiring particular attention in thorough rinsing. The nice thing about sprouting, aside from the obvious advantages of sprouting in and of itself, is that the sprouting eliminates that stickiness from the process when one goes about toasting the grains.

The Nitty Gritty Cooking class was playing with caramel corn using honey and butter, so duly inspired, I decided to extend the application to buckwheat. Princess loved the resulting crunchy, nutty-tasting snack. Kinda made me think of the old maids in those stale boxes of sticky treats that we mostly ripped open for the prize inside rather than the treat itself.

Cracker Jills (Caramel Buckwheat)

4 cups sprouted buckwheat
2 T ghee or coconut oil
1/2 cup honey

Toast in oven at 350* until nicely browned and no longer damp, stirring from time to time to allow for even toasting. In a heavy saucepan over a low temperature, melt ghee and honey, stirring to mix as thoroughly as possible. Pour over buckwheat and stir to completely coat. In tray or cookie sheet covered with a silicone mat or baking parchment, spread the buckwheat out as thinly and evenly as possible. Return to oven and toast for 10-20 minutes. As it cools, the crunch will emerge. This is one snack that was greeted with cries of delight. It makes a great finger food snack or a nifty breakfast cereal.

No magic bullets for Princess yet. Ramping up the bone broth and the coconut milk kefir and all things fermented. She's taking enzymes with meals, which seems to be helping. I'm giving bentonite clay a toss, too.

And I'm knitting again. Socks. The kind with no seams at the toes.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Living Well Is The Best

What's that expression? "Living well is the best revenge?" My spin on it is "living healthy is the best reward." I'll be honest, though, that it has taken a long time for us to reach the reward stage. Remember? I'm the unprofitable servant...I've only done what is required of me. I'll admit that most of this journey has been spent running from a stick of sufficient magnitude to make the effort worthwhile rather than the enticement of a theoretical carrot. I admire people who have the self-discipline to persevere and discipline themselves on that idea of a pay-off in the far-flung future. Shamefacedly, I admit that I'm not one of those. Stick, me. Big stick. Big, big stick.

Our journey was supposed to be only one of four to six months, but has extended to eight years now and still counting. We have a couple stubborn outlying foods that still evade our grasp, but we're getting there. These extended years, though, have afforded me the opportunity to begin to enjoy the carrot phase of the journey while still grappling with the stick aspects.

Tool Guy is the a shining example of what "clean living" will do. His weight was ballooning, as is typical with the men in his family, until he decided to low carb a dozen years ago. In was an inadvertent diagnosis because the carbs he found most dispensable was bread. After we stumbled into our familial gluten intolerance diagnosis, we were able to connect the dots and realize why he responded so well to a low carb diet. Since going gluten free, he has resumed carb consumption without any particular attention or regulation to his diet. And excepting when sugar allures, he is able to maintain a stable weight that isn't far from his low carb ideal. And those annoying eczematic rashes on his feet have mysteriously disappeared, never to return. Without any medical assistance. Ditto on those troublesome ear infections that responded only to aggressive irrigation with Betadyne solution. But those improvements took a long time to surface.

Some improvements don't take so long to manifest themselves. Tool Guy's dad, Pop, visited with us over the holidays. He arrived from sunny Florida, announcing that felt as if he'd aged ten years in the last few months and he moved as if, indeed, he had. The airlines, while very tardy in their scheduling, were at least very prompt in providing a much-needed wheelchair to portage him from terminal to terminal in a timely fashion. Bless his heart, his ditty bag bulged with thirteen different medications. No, not thirteen pills to take daily. Thirteen different medications that required multiple doses a day. Blerg.

During his visit, he reconciled himself to eating what we eat with a minimum of greasy-spoon diner runs. During one conversation, he asked me what was good for arthritis. As it happened, I had some black cherry concentrate in the pantry, since the Hobbits like it to flavor their smoothies, and it became part of his daily routine to have a tablespoon in a cup of water. Within only a few days, he demonstrated how he was able to flex his fingers, effortlessly and painlessly.

Consequently, I started poking around to find what other things might help reduce arthritic inflammation and make him more comfortable. There were a few truncated references to Chinese Star Anise seed pods and bells started going off.

Tool Guy had recently gifted me with a french press coffee maker that I haven't been using to make coffee. I've been using it to make herbal teas, since the press is equally lovely for straining out the herbals as it is for coffee grounds. And the Hobbit favorite is Chai Tea. They used to have to put up with the bagged chai from the grocery store until I was given a recipe for The Real Thing. Definitely met with cries of delight and the more I read on the constituent herbs, the more healthy it is appearing. In addition to reputed benefits for arthritis, Star Anise is the food source for Tamiflu. Cinnamon is in good reputation for diabetics and high blood pressure. Ginger, as I learned this past summer, has a wealth of goodies, just waiting to burst upon us. And the bonus? It tastes good. And isn't it great to be able to juggle things around so that they are safe for us, good for us, and dance on the tastebuds?

I pinched as many pennies as I could to get all of these ingredients in bulk and as fresh as possible. It was well worth the sacrifice. After tweaking the recipe to suit highly specific Hobbit tastes--Hey, I personally happen to like a heavy cinnamon overtone, but, whatever--they have been clamoring for it on a regular basis. I imagine that this will be just as popular during the summer season as it has been during the cold and flu season.

Chai Tea, adapted from a recipe by Aleese Cody, Help's On the Way

1 quart water
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp dried ginger root
1 star anise pod
10 whole peppercorns
1/4 tsp. decorticated cardamom
1/4 tsp. whole coriander
1/4 tsp. whole cloves
1/2 whole vanilla bean or 1 dropperful of vanilla extract
1 tea bag

Combine ingredients except for tea and bring to a simmer for about 20 minutes. Cover and allow to steep for another 20 minutes, dropping the tea bag in during the last 5 minutes of the steep. Strain out spices and serve. Flavoring options favored by Hobbits include stevia and coconut milk. A tsp. of cocoa powder was trialed, but didn't pass the taste test. Your mileage may vary.

When Pop left, he was able to bend completely down and pick up anything that he may drop on the floor. And put on his own socks without a struggle. Something that was extremely difficult for him when he first arrived. On the return flight home, after two weeks in the extreme colds that New England is so generous with, he spurned the use of the wheel-chair, striding to his terminals alongside Tool Guy, who accompanied him to see him off. He plans on scaring up some black cherry concentrate.

Eating everything free isn't just about avoiding allergens, it's about eating well, enjoying the food, enjoying life. Living well. Pop has discovered that living free has freed him up from the bondage of the pharmaceutical. He left, down to only two medications. His blood pressure, his doctor tells him, is the lowest it has been in many, many years. Without medication. How's that for everything free? Let your food be your medicine and your medicine your food.

Living well is the best...revenge?...reward? Whatever. Living well is simply the best.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Old Man Winter

Winter has taken its time getting here. We barely had snow for Christmas. The blizzard that socked the seaboard sniffed at our feet and ran south to christen everyone in that direction. But when Old Man Winter decided to arrive, he did it with quite the flourish. We had a week of howling...and I am not using a hyperbolic metaphor when I say "howling"...winds to make things "interesting" for us. Blasts of 30 mph winds sustained themselves for over a week. Everyone was comparing notes on how many times the winds woke them in the night. Tool Guy and I were comparing notes on what new location in the house was exhibiting drafts and we were regretting not being more extensive with our weatherstripping of this past summer. I shared a bed with Princess over the holidays because we had surrendered the master bedroom to guests for the month of December. During our "sleepovers," my feet would hang over the end of her mattress and act as lure for any stray draft that may have wandered in. I think I got frost bite. It was definite incentive for me to finish those black socks that I began in February of last year.

The coup de grace was when I went up into the attic to start returning the Christmas decorations to their storage places. And noticed that there was more visibility and in our attic. The high, sustained winds had trashed the attic fan and the hood was completely gone. Oh. That was the fragments of something that we had noticed out in the yard, but everyone was too wimpy to brace the winds and go find out what it was. Bug's theory was that it was a crashed flying saucer. Well. Almost. It might not explain the alien abductions, but it definitely explained the mysterious drafts that the house had begun to manifest. No need for a ghost buster here.

True to form, this discovery happened on...yep...a weekend. You knew that, right? We consoled ourselves that the 22" hole in our roof didn't coincide with any rain in the forecast. One of the consolations of 12* weather. One of the few. Tool Guy covered the hole from the interior with a spare sheet of plexi-glass and we ferreted around for someone willing to mush out to our remote waste of frozen Shire tundra and climb on our roof to fix this. One insurance adjuster and three visits later, we are the proud possessors of a low-profile (I'm beginning to appreciate the value of this characteristic) attic vent. And it is snowing.

The weather definitely has Tool Guy down. As a child of the Chicagoland, he has none of my romantic notions regarding snowfall. While I saw only two snowfalls of any moment in the bayous of Louisiana, he slogged through masses of this every year in his suburbian neighborhood--"lake effect," you know--and the childhood memories of such aren't of the cherished sort. Ours was not the generation of parents who drove children to the bus stop and sat, expanding their carbon footprint with a running motor to warm the car, until the bus stop arrived and the children dashed from warm car to warm bus to warm school. Nope. Ours was the one that said, "Bundle up, it's cold out there!" as we walked out the door, solitarily, to take on the quarter mile walk and the twenty minute wait at the stop. It was frigid enough in the swamps of the South. Bus stop huddles in this weather would certainly warp my view of New England winters. As it is, I'm free to enjoy my pink-hazed romance with the piles and billows that grace us without the jaundice of too much reality interfering. Heh.

This year, particularly, Tool Guy is grousing about the snow. He wants his motorcycle. The junkie and his crack. What can I say? He heatedly justifies this fervid attachment by expounding on how therapeutic riding is for his back. (You see what they do? Desperate justifications...) I nod. He continues to describe the relief. I nod. He waxes eloquent on the sense of well-being sustained riding provides. I nod. He gives up in disgust, muttering how I just don't understand. I nod. Poor guy. He is, however, hobbling around like a stiff old man, just a mite older than he actually is. So I took pity on him.

Mrs. Hostess (of Nitty-Gritty Cooking fame) is enjoying dabbling along with me into all things herbal. She came home from a visit out to Ohio this past summer with a salve that she declared the best thing since sliced bread...everything free bread even. She explained to me how she'd injured herself during the visit and had discovered this salve provided by an Amish farmer. Application of this salve had resolved the injury in an amazingly short period of time. The ingredients? Comfrey and chickweed. Et voila. Herbs that are readily on hand here.

We started our oil extraction immediately and when the leaves began to fall, we were ready to make the salve. We had planned that this would be our first venture into making a salve, myself heretofore being too lazy to make any of the herbal oils I've done in the past into an actual salve, but we decided that we'd try it together and planned a "salve party" at some point. However, A Series of Unfortunate Events conspired to prevent our party and the autumn wasted away before we got to it. And a few weeks after the bike's entry into hibernation, Tool Guy had commenced hobbling. Time to commence with the salve.

I'm beginning to understand the maddening vagaries of the herbalists whom I've been soliciting for wisdom. When one is accustomed to specific measurements, it sounds very elusive to hear things like "stuff a bunch into a jar." It grates on our Western sensibilities. But there it is.

I--forgive me--stuffed a bunch of comfrey leaf and chickweed in relatively equal amounts (how's that for specificity, eh?) into a quart jar and covered with olive oil. The plant matter need to be completely covered with oil, packed densely enough to have a substantial amount of herb in the oil, but not so tight as to prevent the circulation of the oil through the plant matter. A favorite trick of mine is to vacuum seal the jar with my Food Saver. As the vacuum seal is taking effect, the air bubbles rise from out of the leaves and oil and the leaves, particularly when fresh, will visibly darken. Goody!

Leave this jar in a handy, reachsome place, but out of the sun, for 4-6 weeks. When you walk by, shake it. Alcohol tinctures work on this same principle, but they are easier to shake. Shaking an oil extract is more like playing with a lava lamp and you have to give it a bit more of your time and attention than a tincture. If you have Hobbits running around who would be fascinated with the process and not so fascinated as to want to open the jar, you may want to recruit them. This has inspired not a few in-depth conversations that expanded into actual instructional sessions. Bug and Princess particularly have become adept at identifying plants and their uses from such spontaneous conversations.

An herbalist mentor of mine says that when making an extract or tincture this way, 80% of the virtue of the plant has been imparted to the liquid or "menstrum" after only two weeks. The remaining two to four weeks will net you the last 20% of what the plant has to offer. This is useful to know when one is in a hurry for the final product.

To decant the preparation, pour into a cheesecloth lined strainer. After the excess oil has run through, bundle up the herbs into the cheesecloth and squeeze aggressively. I'm actually drooling over a machine that will press this for me, but the price renders it a hopeless romance. Sigh. Ah, well. The strained oil is then the essence of your medicine.

Aches and Pains Salve

Herbal Oil
Rosemary Essential Oil (opt) or Benzoin Tincture (opt) for preservation
Fragrance oils, if desired
Salve jars, prepared and ready ahead of time

Measure out the desired amount of herbal oil. The ratio of beeswax to oil is approximately 1 T to 1 C, more or less depending on how soft you want your salve to be for usage. I tended toward a stiffer salve; your preferences may vary. In a double boiler, I melted the wax. I'm not sure if I regret using my double boiler. It melted wonderfully well without the requisite hovering that characterized the salve session in my herbal classes, but it did leave wax residue in the ring around the waist of the pot that required a not insubstantial amount of elbow grease to remove.

Oh, and a word on wax. In an effusion of enthusiasm, I bought a fragrant chunk of beeswax and romanced it for quite some time before I breached the wrapping. I was quite in love with this brick. Until I needed to melt it. Wax, despite its ductile reputation in candles, is actually a very hard substance and requires"downsizing" to expedite the melting process. Unromantic hacking away at the boulder was necessary--and a bit risky--if not to say messy. For the more discriminating salve-maker, wax beads are available that render this a less muscular and more genteel activity. And they melt faster. 'Nuff said.

While the wax was melting, I gently heated the medicinal oil so that I would be able to mix the two without the wax immediately setting up upon contact with the cooler oil. Turning off all heat, I combined the two and added about 10 drops of Rosemary EO. Any fragrance oils would be added at this point. Rosemary is a relatively popular food additive and when you see "natural preservatives" on food labels, you can bank on it that it is probably rosemary. The herbalist I studied with recommends a few drops of Benzoin tincture for the purpose (which I didn't have on hand) and another herbalist recommends a capsule of Vitamin E oil. I opted not to use this since most Vitamin E caps are based on wheat or soy. Besides, I had a sneaking suspicion this salve wouldn't last long enough to go rancid, so I decided to experiment with the Rosemary EO.

Stirring the ingredients together before the whole can congeal, pour them into the waiting salve jars, being careful about drips and spills. Allow to cool--a dimple will form in the surface of the salve--and then cover. Label with ingredients and date and store in a cool, dry place.

I waited until Tool Guy began to worry about the status of his back. "One bend away from it going out," was how he phrased it and I presented him with my finished product. That night, he anointed his back and went to bed in his favorite spot. The next morning, the hobble was noticeably absent and he didn't feel as if he were on the brink of the precipice anymore.

Yeah, it ain't his bike. But it beats codeine.