Friday, December 28, 2007

Friday, December 14, 2007

Take Your Medicine

And still more milestones. In my ten year tenure as a mother, this is my first encounter with the dreaded ear infection. We were driving down the road into town to run errands when Princess announced that she needed her ears squirted out when we got home. She elaborated that there was a gnat inside her ear that was causing her ear to "boom." I got cold shivers when I heard that because it so aptly described what I remember ear infections being like when I was her age. And when I was her age, I got them all the time. I was one of those of that generation who got tubes in their doctor described what lurked in my inner ear as "airplane glue." Nice, huh?

I know that antibiotics are the normal course of events in most protocols for dealing with ear infections, despite the fact that the cure rate for sitting it out is almost identical to the cure rate for prescribing. Well, put me in the wait-it-out school of fish then. The more I read about antibiotics, the more I want to save it for things like tuberculosis and bubonic plague and not on frivolity like keeping cattle being fed a biologically inappropriate diet alive long enough to slaughter. Stephen Harrod Buhner talks about the overuse of antibiotics in his book, Herbal Antibiotics: Natural Alternatives for Treating Drug-Resistant Bacteria, pp. 8-9. Particularly riveting was his description of how bacteria become resistant to antibiotics. "As incredible as (their) capacity for literally engineering responses to antibiotics and passing it on to their offspring is, bacteria do something else that makes them even more amazing and dangerous. They communicate intelligently with each other." He goes on to explain how bacteria position themselves alongside each other and pass DNA back and forth, the resistant bacterium sharing its immunity with the naive one. As if this wasn't alarming enough, the resistant bacteria exudes pheromones that attract non-resistant bacteria to them in order to share this resistance. And exposure to only one kind of antibiotic lays in motion the chain that teaches the bacteria to be resistant to all antibiotics. It is believed that by these mechanisms, eventually all bacteria will be antibiotic resistant. To all antibiotics.

So it becomes clear why avoiding the use of antibiotics seems like a good idea, particularly in such ambiguous situations as a 50/50 chance of improving by not doing anything. And Buhner gives some pretty good suggestions about herbal alternatives that can be applied without risk of increasing bacteria resistance. While we wait and see how things with Princess' ears will progress, I dose her with garlic, licorice, ginger, and echinacea. While I was running errands, I picked up some mullein and garlic oil drops to put inside her ears and dose with that.

And, of course, there is the old traditional standby...chicken soup. Tool Guy tells me that before we got married, he hated chicken soup. Dunno what he'd been eating before, but when I whipped up my first batch of the homemade variety, he was hooked. He is an admitted chicken soup addict. Actually, all of the Hobbits are. With cold weather settled in outside and bronchitis settled in at least one set of lungs inside, we're swizzling the chicken soup. And now Princess' ear infection. Well. Nothing for it, then. Time to take your medicine.

Chicken Soup
(Or as Bug calls it "Chicken Noodle Doodle Soup")

2 whole chickens, quartered
4-5 carrots, bias sliced
1 lb. sliced mushrooms...anyone who has read Tolkien knows that Hobbits adore mushrooms, right?
1 bunch green onions, bias sliced
4-5 stalks celery, bias sliced
1 tsp. sweet basil
1/2 tsp. sage
1/2 tsp. thyme
1/4 tsp. rosemary
2 bay leaves
Black pepper to taste
2 tsp. Real Salt
1 gallon of water

In the largest stock pot you can manhandle on your stove, set the water and chicken to boil. (If you're in a hurry, this process can be shortened to 20 minutes or so in a pressure cooker.) Bundle herbs into a coffee filter and staple closed. Add this herbal sachet, salt, and pepper to the chicken while it boils. After the chicken is cooked, remove pieces into a bowl and allow to become cool to the touch in order to debone. Meanwhile, strain the broth through a cheesecloth and return to a clean stock pot. Place all of the vegetables into the broth and return to a boil, cooking until just tender. Debone the meat and return to broth. (Be sure to save the bones to make bone broth later!) Serve over hot pasta and enjoy!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Come Fill the Cup

Bug and I are having this repetitive, back and forth conversation about winter. Somewhere along the line, he got it locked into his red little head that Winter begins on December 1st. Every day during the month of November, he would run to the calendar and announce how many "days remaining until Winter." Every day, I'd have to remind him that Winter officially begins December 21-22, not the December 1st. It probably doesn't matter, because when you're this age and in this part of the country, Winter really begins when it snows. And Breatharian, it has snowed...on December 1st. So Bug feels quite vindicated.

We even had our first activity canceled on account of snow. Pity. It was a church dinner and I made the Autumnal Beef Stew with some killer alterations...Campbell's Soup, look out! It didn't go to waste though; all of the Hobbits made short order of it. Even I managed to snag a bowl or two.

We've had our first weather-related power outage of the season. Almost in synch with Tool Guy's morning exit at 7:00a, I heard our neighbor's burglar alarm go off. Squinting in the direction of the clock, I was greeted with a darkened face. Yep. Power's out. Tool Guy had cleared a path to lug the generator up the hill, but with snow and ice since, it was a tricky proposition. Still, I managed. Welcome Winter...whatever the date!

BK--Before Kids--I was quite disciplined about my Christmas regimen. Thanksgiving Day, the tree went up. December 1st, cards went out. Gifting chores done way ahead of time. That kind of thing. Needless to say, this schedule as suffered the predations of time and the vicissitudes of motherhood. I was bemoaning the schedule for the next few weeks to another mom at our homeschooling co-op and how busy things were going to be. She placidly replied, "Only as busy as you let it be." Know what? She's right. I think I'm going to notch it down this year. More snow flurries are coming down and in celebration of winter, I'm making a great old standby that fills me with some of that magical, healing soup broth. Quick, easy, filling, nutritious, and most importantly for the chronically cold: warming!

Egg Drop Soup

1-2 quarts bone broth
2 cups bone broth, kept separate
2-4 T tapioca starch (depending on desired thickness)
2-4 eggs, scrambled with a fork
Pepper, optional

Tapioca starch is probably the best substitute I've found for cornstarch. So heat 2 cups of the broth just until liquid and dissolve the tapioca starch into the broth. The remaining broth bring to a rolling boil, stirring in the well-mixed broth/tapioca starch mixture. Stir until the whitened soup becomes translucent. When the soup returns to a rolling boil, slowly drizzle in the eggs, stirring constantly until the strings of egg are completely cooked. Grind fresh pepper over the top to taste and enjoy!

The tree isn't up yet--I'm shooting for this weekend. I've recused myself from Christmas card obligations for the remainder of my existence. And Tool Guy did all the major shopping in October. All that remains is for me to make up a few more tote bags, rice bags, and the Roman soldiers' armor for the co-op play. I'm thinking cardboard shapes glued to a fabric tunic and some metallic paint. What'da ya think? Oh, yeah, and I need to replace the zipper in Dog's snow suit. After's past December's snowing...must be Winter!

Friday, November 30, 2007

Twenty Four and Counting...

Milestones. We've seen a few of them over the past few years. Making our last cross-country move. Buying our home. Bug's first steps here. Starting schooling. Our homebirth with Princess' precipitate arrival...good thing we'd planned a homebirth! Each dietary diagnosis. Each food taken out. The foods we've been able to add back in. And now Tool Guy and I celebrating our twenty-fourth wedding anniversary. Next year, the big one.

Several months back, our Party Planner offered, out of the blue, to take care of the Hobbits for Tool Guy and I to go off for a weekend. Days away seemed overly ambitious to me...stretching the umbilical cord a bit further than my comfort zone allowed, but we were definitely ready for a night out. So I watched the movie releases and waited for something relatively interesting and decent to come out. This took longer than even I had anticipated, Hollywood's creative vacuum being what it is, so it happened that the night we settled on was close enough to our anniversary to call it a celebratory date. Sweet. Dinner and a movie.

In our area, the safest place to eat out for anyone who is only gluten-free and not Everything Free is Outback. So we dressed to the nines...well, as ninish as one can get and not over-do it for an AMC Loews theatre, you know...and headed out for our date. I'm trying to remember the last time I've eaten out. Probably four years. Yeah, Outback isn't haute cuisine nor any of the other culinary ideals like eating local and all of that, but it's someone else's cooking. It's hard to be critical of something that is at least half way decent and I didn't know intimately from start to finish. If nothing else, the mystique is appetizing. We arrived hungry and were seated immediately, which is another indicator of how long it has been since we've eaten out together. We've never been seated that quickly at an Outback in our entire marriage. Yeah, that 24 year thing. Hey, I'll take my milestones where I can get them.

It was so refreshing to have a relaxing meal, refreshing conversation, and idle ease with a minimum of fuss. Our server did attempt to bring us a loaf of bread, but that was the only bobble. We each had our favorite picks and finished it all off with the brownie. It's probably an indicator of all the tweaking and testing that I've done that I was unconsciously evaluating the dessert as I dove in. My mind was weighing the crumb, the texture, the taste...all that stuff. Given that it's just cocoa powder, eggs, and stuff that just adds flavor, like a bunch of terrific crunchy walnuts. It did crumble apart rather mystery about why. But a massive mountain of ice cream, whipped cream, and shaved chocolate goes a long way toward holding that brownie together and I'm not about to quibble with such a surfeit of sugar, right?

I suppose the first indicator that there would be a change of direction in our evening plans was when we stopped off at the bank's ATM to get cash for the festivities. Tool Guy had recently received a newly PINned card, which had worked the last time he'd used it. Not tonight. Not at the bank's ATM. Not at another nearby ATM. And, unfortunately, not at the restaurant. And equally unfortunately, my purse with the checkbook and perfectly functional ATM card were at home. They were gracious about the glitch and we headed home to get more reliable coverage of our dinner tab. Scratch the movie. Fall back ten and punt. Sighing over the necessity, we drove back and continued the threads of the things we'd discussed over dinner, enjoying the night sky and joking about finding some spot to go parking. Hey, twenty-four years isn't that long, you know.

It's nice to be able to enjoy such food without worrying about reactions. Well, Tool Guy did have a minor reaction, but in a public place, cross-contamination is probably inevitable. I didn't even have any kinds of kick-backs from all of that sugar. The meal was grainless (except for the corn that has to be in there somewhere)...even the that was right up my alley. Someday, I need to go into the kitchen for some cooking dangerously and figure out how they do that flourless brownie. Meanwhile, I'm contenting myself with grainless pancakes. They're pretty light and fluffy and actually rather delicious. Well, not as delicious as brownies, but they do fill the hole and when slathered with ghee, they'll do. Until I hammer down that brownie thing.

Grain-free Pancakes

1 cup eggs
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup coconut flour
1/2 t guar gum
1/2 t salt
1/2 t baking soda

Blend up eggs and coconut milk before adding remaining ingredients and mixing. Be ready to add more milk...the coconut flour thickens as it absorbs moisture and it is very absorbent. Dole out onto heated griddle over medium low heat, turning when the top bubbles and loses its shine. Serve with ghee and maple syrup.

I had to smile when we walked in the door to see a totally darkened living room, populated with Hobbits on the floor, munching faux popcorn and shoestring fries. All of the faces were turned up toward the TV screen with 3D glasses perched on each nose. It looked like a flashback from the '50's. Trust Party Planner to come up with something that would make a simple DVD and a dark room a festive event. No one was missing us. Heh. Grabbing the stuff we'd come for, we dashed back out with just some quick explanations to resume the rest of our evening. No movie. Just lots of talking about plans and ideas for the next twenty four years. Good food and good company is all that counts.

Friday, November 23, 2007

For This We Give Thanks

The holiday season is upon us, despite the commercial attempts to skip both Halloween (no great loss there) and Thanksgiving this year. The garden has been put to bed and I've pulled absolutely as many leaves out of the yard as I ever intend to this year. Poke me with a fork. Of course, Thanksgiving brings up the remembrances of colonists and the profound gratitude for simple survival, which has bequeathed to us the traditional foods that represent this holiday to most Americans. These days, nothing in history is being taken for granted, but is being re-examined, rewritten, and restructured. Whatever the actual facts of the first Thanksgiving may or may not be, it is certainly appropriate to designate a time to acknowledge what we have received and be grateful for it.

We have a lot of things to be thankful for this year. The Hobbits continue to grow and thrive, to challenge and thrill us with their burgeoning personalities, skills, and reach, to amaze us with demonstrations of what they are capable of. Physical blessings and provisions above and beyond what we could have ever dreamed of asking for. A bountiful garden. Generous friends and family who love us unconditionally and forgive the hurts that closeness occasions. Deeper walks and deeper relationships. Expanding experiences and expanding borders. "He makes all things new."*

Recently, I received a phone call from a close friend. Since the inception of our multitudinous food allergies--which coincided with the unanticipated pregnancy with Princess--I've drawn in upon myself and pulled into a safe circle where I could figure out the huge confusion of what was happening to us and create a place for the Hobbits that wasn't rife with landmines. No eating out, no traveling, no socializing that involved the presence of food--too much risk of cross-contamination with my contact canaries who cop reactions from just touching the stuff. I called this period of time my "gestational hibernation." Which was pretty accurate while I was pregnant and Princess was a baby, except that now Princess is creeping up on five years old. The phone call from my friend was a wake-up call that it was time to take some baby steps out of my den. A fellowship lunch was coming up. We usually duck out before the food is served, despite Dog's protests that he'd like to stay "this once." Gently, this friend prodded me to reconsider cooking something safe for us to eat and coming along to join in the fellowship. Given our strides forward and her winsome reasoning, I relented. Unbeknownst to me, she ran interference for me with the kitchen coordinators to isolate our food to a corner of the kitchen to prevent cross-contamination on the site. We just had to show up with our food, eat, and enjoy. Blessings of the day: no later food reactions to cause regrets and a good time was had by all.

At the meal, this friend brought a ratatouille, which I'd never tried before. Since I'm impervious to contamination reactions, I taste tested the recipe and decided this was one to add to our repertoire. So in celebration of the many things that we are thankful for, it's part of this year's celebration...remembering to give thanks for friends who care enough to prod us to expand our comfort zone. Along with the Autumnal Beef Stew, per Bug's request.

Ratatouille, tweaked from Diana Rattray's recipe

Olive oil, sufficient to coat vegetables
2 cloves garlic, crushed and minced
1 onion, quartered and thinly sliced
1 eggplant, cubed
4 large tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch slices
2 teaspoon dried leaf basil
1 teaspoon dried leaf oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried leaf thyme

In a 4-quart Dutch oven or saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and onions and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 6 to 7 minutes. Add eggplant; stir until coated with oil. Cover and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep vegetables from sticking. Add tomatoes, zucchini, and herbs; mix well. Cover and cook over low heat about 15 minutes, or until eggplant is tender but not too soft.

During the course of the year, the Hobbits and I have discussed the various and sundry holidays and their significance. We discuss the various theories about the origins of each holiday. Some holidays are rooted in things that we don't embrace, but we still choose to celebrate that day anyway because its original meaning has been lost and it has acquired a meaning that is significant for us. So whether the story of the first settlers is apocryphal or not, we have begun molding and shaping a holiday tradition that makes it uniquely ours. Each year, as we have begun adding foods back into our originally sparse and spartan menu, it has become our practice to include those foods newly re-introduced from the past year in our Thanksgiving dinner and the next new food that we intend to trial. So you can see that our Thanksgiving dinner doesn't look anything like what most folks here are eating, but it gets to the heart of what we have to be thankful for.

This year the Hobbits are singing the praises of Fage Greek Yogurt. We're trialling dairy. Cross your fingers, folks...

*Rev. 5:21

Friday, November 16, 2007

Unprofitable Servant

We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do. Luke 17:10

I guess it's becoming clear that I hang out with a lot of foodie kind of people. It kind of happens that people who are in the same set of circumstances gravitate together. A goodly number of the email lists I inhabit are about food and food choices. Many of the people that come are, like me, in search of answers to questions that the medical community does not appear to possess the ability to answer. There are an astonishing and saddening number of people that persist in having problems that doctors and tests say aren't there. How contrary of us. I like hanging out with these kinds of people because the pooled experiences, feedback, ideas, and synergy of highly motivated folk can produce astonishing results. My best puzzle pieces came from these kinds of dynamic exchanges.

Change can be hard. Especially when it comes to eating. There are ten million diets out there, each with their own line of highly specialized products just for this very reason. Most of us want the variables and details figured out for us. But some people can see a truth, foresee the consequences to themselves, and set a course for themselves for change that is unwavering, in spite of the fact that they have no immediate feedback mechanisms rewarding or punishing them along the way. They just see a future danger and discipline themselves toward change without flinching. I admire these people so much because I had to be dragged into this. I'm one of those people for whom the consequences had to be more immediate and intense or I probably wouldn't have come along for the ride. That said, I'm never tempted to least on the Hobbits' behalf...the consequences are too severe for us. That's why I admire people who can look down the road at potential cumulative damage and change direction. That takes so much more will power. I have to say that I admire them a lot more than I admire me. I only did these things because I was spanked into it. I'm the unprofitable servant....I've only done what was required of me.

Shortly after our introduction of bread, I started having my own set of difficulties that pushed grains off the menu for me. During this time I played around with a grain-free sourdough bread made from bean flour. This bread uses garbanzo and fava bean flour, but any mild bean could be milled in most grain mills and then used. It has a hearty taste, but the texture tends to be a bit crumbly. I can't say that it is something that I'd yearn for like chocolate chip cookies, but as a stop-gap bread, it's a pretty good fill in.

Grain-Free Almost Everything Free Bread


2 cups bean flour
2 cups kefir-fermented apple juice

Mix thoroughly and let stand for 24 hours.

In a bowl, measure out:

1/2 cup tapioca starch flour
1/2 cup potato starch flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons guar gum

In a mixer, whip up 4-6 egg whites until frothy.

Into the meringue, pour:

1/3 cup olive oil
1 egg
1 tablespoon maple syrup
2 cups sourdough starter

Mix in dry ingredients. This yields a rather thin batter for a bread. It will be about the consistency of toothpaste, but not spreading out with the ease of pancake batter. Pour into bread pan and let rise until doubled. Bake at 350* for an hour.

I'm still reading farming books. The latest point of inspiration is Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. This is the first of her books that I've ever read...I've never been much of a follower of Oprah Book Club type of books. But I loved it. It was a great book. I laughed and cried, but mostly I thought that she'd been looking in my windows. She and I share an affinity for tomatoes and her description of her summer kitchen sounds a lot like mine. Actually, given our different perspectives on life, I was amazed that we had so much in common. Their story of making the changes necessary to eat local, uprooting their lives and relocating across country to follow this dream is amazing. I'm astonished and have a profound amount of respect for people who are willing to shake up the status quo and endure the disequilibrium that this brings all for the sake of personal growth and for ideological reasons. These people who are willing to endure the inconvenience and sacrifice with no other motivation than an intrinsic ideal...they've got what I want.

I think I'm ready to move beyond just dragging my feet and doing what is required of me. Look out I come.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Good Enough Is Perfect

I'm delving into farming books. I'm planning on turning our little corner of the Shire into a mini-farm. Visions of chicken tractors dance through my head. A must-read book on the subject is You Can Farm by Joel Salatin and the way he writes it makes you think that it's really can farm. One of the more notable quotes in the book comes from his father. He tells how his father gradually passed the reins of the family farm over to him, allowing Joel to make decisions and do things without micromanaging the changeover. "Good enough is perfect," he said. When I first read that, it rubbed my perfectionistic, control-freak nature the wrong way. I cringed. But the thought stayed with me and bubbled in the back of my mind like my pickles. I pondered the hazards of "analysis paralysis," of being caught up in trying to do things so perfectly that nothing gets done at all. Sometimes it is best just to move forward, even if it isn't the best plan around, just to get moving and see what happens.

Which got me thinking about all of the work that I do and the very little that I task the Hobbits to do and the disservice that exacts...for all of us, all for the purpose of satisfying my way of doing things. I've been working on letting go. One excruciating inch at a time. The breaking point for me was the leaves in the yard. Last year, the leaf fall was significantly diminished by the emergence of a cyclical defoliating pestilence. They were amazing. I could stand out on the back deck of our house and hear them eating the leaves. I'm not the only one who noticed this....several other people commented on it, so I know I'm not nuts. (Well, I probably am, but at least this isn't the evidence of it. Smirk.) Yard clean up last fall was an easy-breezy affair. And it only took that one easy-breezy year to forget just how many leaves the trees in our yard produce. After slogging away for an entire week and not being half way done--ignoring the new deposits on the areas where I'd cleaned--I decided that I needed to fall back ten and punt. This was the time for Operation Good Enough Is Perfect.

It came to me one night as I was falling asleep. I'd equip Princess with a small rake and have her edging around buildings and trees; Bug would man the hose and garden, soaking the leaves to speed composting; Dog would run relay on the mulch bags for the mower. Of course, when I announced my plan, it was met with crows of delight from work-famished younglings who were eager to assume this Herculean task. Um. Not. Nonetheless, everyone went to their assigned stations. What had taken me a week to half way complete was accomplished in two days with the four of us working. Dog estimated that he'd satisfied all of his PhysEd requirements for quite some time. He pondered weighing a full mulch bag and calculating the poundage he'd schlepped into the garden, just to throw in some practical math skills applications on top of it all. Bug was a trooper and soaked the leaves relentlessly, just pausing long enough to call for more EMs to refill the spraying cup. "This is the best job I've ever had!" he chirped. I gotta get these guys out more.

On chilly, hard-working days like these, it's divine to come into a house warmed by the oven and infused with the smell of dinner baking. I'm telling you, I keep flashing on all of my childhood favorites these days. Comfort food. My mom used to make a cream of mushroom casserole that we all loved. When everything went off the menu, we lost this one, since it was a "box of this, can of that" kind of recipe. After a while, it dawned on me that someone had probably used the packaged food as a short-cut from a Real Food recipe. I twiddled with it and reverse engineered it into a recipe that everyone with furry feet can enjoy, namely the Hobbits.

Cream of Mushroom Chicken Casserole

6-9 chicken parts
8-12 mushrooms, sliced
2 cups rice
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups coconut milk
2 T dry Italian Dressing Mix

I said before that my grandmother started every recipe by browning the meat in carmelized sugar and oil. See? Here it is. So dump oil or lard in cast iron dutch oven and heat sugar until brown and bubbling, just to the point of smoking. Add meat pieces and allow to brown on each side, turning for even browning. Add sliced mushrooms and saute. Add bone broth, coconut milk, rice, and stir. When the liquids begin boiling, add dressing mix and stir until until incorporated. Bake at 350* for 1-2 hours or until cooked.

Italian Dressing Mix

1 T garlic powder
1 T onion powder
2 T oregano
1 t pepper
1/4 thyme
1 t basil
1 T parsley

For dressing, mix:

1/4 cup cider vinegar
2/3 cup oil
2 T water
2 T dry mix

In the quest for gardening perfection, I stumbled across Efficient Microbes as an enhancer. I used it one Fall and in the following spring, all of the dead fall leaves in the garden were dirt...almost no leafy matter left. And worms? There were so many that when I walked through the garden, they would spring from the ground and wiggle across the tops of my feet with each step. Really. It was like something out of Tremors. The following year I skipped the EM and the results weren't as stellar. It's a great product. But that's the problem. It's a product that I'm buying from someone else and I've taken Sandor Katz's admonition to heart...the one about becoming a producer and not a consumer.

Then the idea struck me. EM is fermented molasses water with some additives thrown in. Fermented molasses water. How about kombucha tea made with molasses instead of white sugar? In the interest of this science project, I sacrificed all but two of my scobies to make this muddy brew. It fermented up and even made more muddy scobies in the process. I had Bug spraying this stuff all over the layers and layers and layers of leaves blanketing what was my garden. I won't know until the spring whether or not my science experiment did its job. I'll know if it the leaves have been reduced to rubble and have returned to the dust sufficiently.

And good enough? Yeah. That would be perfect.

Friday, November 2, 2007

That Which Makes Me Stronger

I'm not a student of Nietchze nor am I an Existentialist. But while I was in college, I heard the late Francis Schaeffer say, "All truth is God's truth." And whatever else he erred over in all of his philosophical wanderings, in this respect Nietchze was right: "That which does not kill me makes me stronger."

Dog is getting older. Our first born. You know the old wag, "The first one is an experiment..." Well, we're feeling our way gingerly into the pre-teen years. It makes me nervous. He asks some very hard questions. Like "why us?" Being different is starting to bother him. I knew it would happen at some point. I just didn't expect "some point" to be now. But it is. "Why do we have to be the ones who have to eat differently than everyone else?" This is tough to answer without resorting to the hackneyed (and intrinsically insensitive) chestnut about how "I used to complain that I had no shoes until I met the man with no feet." Ugh. But we did discuss how everyone who is hit with something unexpected, unpleasant, and difficult to deal with wants to know why. There are lots of possibilities of "why." Most are too long and complicated to get into when someone is having a Big Feelings moment and many don't even really matter. Many times, knowing the "why" of something doesn't make it any easier to bear.

In this case, for me, there is at least one "why" and the knowing of it makes it easier. This stuff we're going through--this journey we're on--it does make us stronger. There are so many ways that I've grown through all of this...many of which I'm only dimly beginning to sense and am awkwardly groping for ways in which to articulate them. Some I'll probably only discover in later years down the road. I'm finding that one of the ways I'm stronger is that I've become free. I'm liberated from the absolute craving for approval from others. I don't need others to agree with the decisions we've made and how we're moving through life. I'm also realizing that just enduring doesn't accomplish the same thing as embracing. I've watched people enduring the overwhelming floods of what they face and I've watched others embracing. No doubt about it. Those who embrace move through it, carrying more away with them than those who just endure or rage against it all. Since I have to go through this, I don't want to waste a drop of strength that I can possibly glean from the experience. If I'm going to have to pay the toll of walking down this road to which I've been drafted, I want as much for my money as I can acquire. I don't want to squander it on anger.

Embracing the challenges we face reminds me of a cookbook I picked up from the library recently, Grandma's Wartime Kitchen by Joanne Lamb Hayes. It's filled with recipes from a time when things were in short supply and life was about "use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without."

Cottage Pudding with Toffee Sauce adapted from Grandma's Wartime Kitchen by Joanne Lamb Hayes

4 (3 inch) squares or wedges day old unfrosted vanilla, spice or pound cake or pear butter muffins
1/3 cup coconut or other alternative milk cream
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 tsp ghee or other oil
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350*. Arrange cake on a wire rack that fits on top of a 9-inch square baking pan. Place the pan in the oven; fill with boiling water to within 1 inch of the top of the pan. Place rack full of cake on top of pan. Cover with oiled aluminum foil or an inverted bowl. Heat cake until sauce is prepared--no longer than 10 minutes.

Combine alternative milk, maple syrup, and ghee/oil. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.

To serve, place cake on individual dessert plates; divide sauce over cake pieces and serve immediately. Don't worry. It'll disappear in less time than it took to make.

While Dog and I talked, it all distilled down to the fact that our genes aren't going to change. We'll always have to eat, to some degree, out of the mainstream and we can either embrace it or rebel. Rebelling has too many thorns...more than embracing. I'm expecting that Dog may have to spend some time when he is older exploring those thorns, but that's going to be his journey.

Friday, October 26, 2007

There Shall Be Showers of Leaves

Literally. It looks like I live on the set of Legend. The Hobbits are going wild in the flurries that are cascading down with each gust. Dog has grabbed the broom and is sweeping off the deck. Bug has appropriated the rake and is plowing through the yard. This all has the effect of trying to empty the ocean with a tea cup, but they mean well and are having fun. Plus they are outside. With cold weather coming, it gets harder and harder to pry them outside and so I encourage them to get as much outside time as they can before it gets really cold. Who am I kidding? I encourage them to get as much outside time as they can. Period. I wax lyrical about going out to be Christopher Robin and explore doing nothing. They don't always buy it. They're getting much too canny as they get older. Darn. Looks like I'm going to have to develop new strategies. So it is nice when there are exciting things that pull them out into the yard to enthrall their energy and attention, like finding newts in logs. And falling leaves.

Falling leaves mean it is time for the wardrobe flip. That foray into the recesses of the attic for boxes of seasonal clothing and marathons of trying on clothing to see what fits or what is ready to be passed on to another home. This is the twitchy time of year when winter clothes are too warm and summer clothes are too cool, so you have to have a little of both to get by. Meanwhile, there are piles of clothes that need a home in one place or another. After twelve season flips, you'd think I'd have this down into an efficient routine, but it ain't happening. I'm sure Fly Lady has a cure for all of this, but I've never been able to get past those daily emails to find out. I am, however, making a concerted effort to put my shoes on in the morning, even if I'm not going anywhere. There. That's enough of a baby step for now, eh?

With damp and chilly weather settling in for the week and we're not going anywhere, I've decided to take some time off. A stack of trashy novels piled up next to my bed along with a container of sunflower seeds, my current marginally tolerated snack. And a cup of coffee...decaf, natch. I snuggle down under flannel sheets and, being the coldest creature in the house, a ton of crocheted comforters. More cooler weather, more comfort food...warm and warming things that remind me of home and childhood. There's probably not a recipe that means all of that to me more than garlic chicken. It was a quintessential dish of my childhood, one that my grandmother taught my mom and she, in turn, taught me. Luckily, it's a Hobbit favorite.

Garlic Chicken

1 whole chicken, quartered or 8-9 chicken pieces
2 T lard or olive oil
1 T sugar
1/2 vidalia onion, rough chopped
1-4 heads of garlic, minced
2-3 bay leaves
1/2 tsp. red pepper
2 cups bone broth or 1 tsp. salt and 2 cups water

Optional Spices:

1/4 t. dried rosemary
1/4 t. dried sage
1 t. dried sweet basil
1 t. dried thyme
1/8 t. allspice
1/8 t. coriander

My mother tells me that my grandmother started every recipe by browning the meat in carmelized sugar and oil. So dump oil or lard in cast iron dutch oven and heat sugar until brown and bubbling, just to the point of smoking. Add meat pieces and allow to brown on each side, turning for even browning. Slice onion and allow onions to saute while the meat finishes browning. Add bone broth or salt and water, pepper, and minced garlic. Measure out optional spices into a coffee filter and staple closed, making an herbal sachet. Toss in and allow to soak in the liquid in the pot. After liquid comes to a boil, lower to a simmer and allow to cook for 45 min - 1 hour or until meat is done.

Serve over hot rice.

Yep. More leaves coming down. The turkeys are parading through the yard. They're supposed to be shy creatures, but apparently someone has failed to inform my particular flock, since my yard isn't exactly a quiet place. They dodge the Hobbits, who are building piles of leaves to leap into. Bug buries himself under a particularly large stack and Dog, the straight man, comes to enlist my "help" in finding him. I make loud mouth noises about needing to mow up all of these leaves before it rains and head for the lawn mower. Bug, ever the sucker, jumps up and nervously demands to know if I was serious. Then they dash off down the hill to run and tumble into another pile. Next week, there will be a soggy blanket for me to peel up from the surface of the yard and compost. But today the leaves keep falling.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Not 'Til You Eat Your Vegetables

Here's my dirty secret. I don't care for vegetables. Yeah, yeah, I know I garden and all of that, but I just like certain vegetables, like tomatoes, cucumbers, and broccoli. Guess that's one of the reasons that vegetarianism never pulled very strongly at me. They are beautiful on the vine or in profusion at a farmer's market, but once I get them home, there's this whole disconnect. Okay. Now what do I do with them?

So I'm planning next year's garden and my New Year's Goals early. Both of them have to do with eating a wider variety of vegetables. For the past several years, I've been focused on getting the Hobbits healed up and we're well on our way. Some of the masses of medical information that I sifted through indicated that higher portions of protein are necessary in cases of compromised gut integrity and so that has been my biggest focus. But these days they are catching up to themselves and Bug and Princess have even pulled ahead, so I'm looking to balance things out and include more vegetables in our diet.

Of course, an assay of this nature means--for me--a systematic pillaging of our library's resources of recipe books for appealing dishes. The problem with most recipe books I've found, especially vegetable ones, is a heavy reliance on ingredients of which most are off the menu for us. But I'm stalking this one dish at a time. Baby steps, you know.

With an abundance of leaves littering the ground and cooler weather creeping up, I'm starting to really believe that summer is over. Spending ten hours de-leafing the yard has a tendency to drive that point home. Especially when you wake up the next morning and the yard looks as if you did nothing the previous day but swan on the couch with the latest Victorian thriller and eat Endangered Species chocolate. Next time, I think that's what I'll do and just tell everyone that I de-leafed the yard. No one will know the difference, right? Anyway... These days, I'm feeling like warm comfort food, so when our latest co-op delivery brought us grass-fed stew meat on sale, I splurged and then decorated the meal with as many vegetables as I dared.

Autumnal Beef Stew

2 lbs. stew beef, cubed
3 large carrots
3 large parsnips
2 yams
2 potatoes
6 tomatoes
1 zucchini
1/2 vidalia onion, sliced
1 tsp. dried sweet basil
1 tsp. dried thyme
4-6 dried sage leaves
1/2 tsp. dried rosemary
1/2 tsp. Real Salt
2 cups bone broth
1 tablespoon lard or olive oil
1 tsp. sugar

Bias slice carrots and parsnips. Cube yams and potatoes. Slice tops off of tomatoes and drain out liquid and seeds--I find a helpful prod from a finger does this nicely. Rough chop tomatoes and zucchini and run through food processor until liquefied. Measure herbs into a coffee filter and staple closed. Heat oil and add sugar, allowing to caramelize to smoking point. Brown meat and onions in oil, adding broth and vegetable juice when sufficiently browned. Bring to a simmer boil and toss in herbal sachet, sprinkling in salt to taste, and allow to simmer for half hour. Add remaining vegetables and simmer for 30 minutes or until fork tender. If there isn't enough liquid, add more broth with vegetable juice until sufficiently liquid. Serve alone or over pasta.

Everyone in the family, Hobbits included, downed this delight with dispatch. Tool Guy waxed long and appreciative. The parsnips added a delicate sweetness to the whole dish and no one wanted to waste a drop. It was a gratifying foray into expanding our palates. Confidence bolstered, I'm now meditating on eggplant, brussel sprouts, cauliflower...all the possibilities. In just a couple short months, it will be time for seed shopping and before you know it, sprouting season will be upon us. Now that I think about it, I'm not sure that winter will be enough time for me to get many little space...

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Okay, I have to get this off my chest. Again. It bears repeating, so I'm repeating it: Corn is evil. Some people believe that gluten is evil, but they are mistaken. Nope. Corn is evil. Don't believe me? Read The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. I'm not talking about the juicy cob, bursting with yellow goodness that gets roasted or boiled and served up on a platter. I'm talking about the agricultural monster commodity. And since there are countless tons of corn annually that need to be used for something, it is getting dumped into the food supply and beyond in distorted and frankencorned ways, but never completely forgetting its "corn-ness." Like the corn-based packing peanuts. I'm sure that the person who invented these probably was heralded as an ecologically brilliant thinker, since they dissolve in water and are biodegradeable. But it does make the experience of opening up that package in the mail very much like opening up a pipe bomb. You never know what is might be shredded magazines or it might be corn. Tag. You're it. It's almost worth investing in a hazmat suit.

What really fashes me is how hard some manufacturers work to avoid frankly telling the consumer that there's corn in their product. So it's rather refreshing to see some actually advertising this information on their package. Again, from an earth-friendly standpoint, biodegradeable bags make sense. Still, I can't help but think that it would be more ecological and earth-friendly to break the addiction to mono-cropping that we have trapped ourselves into and not grow more corn than is physically impossible for us to consume, thereby forcing us to resort to finding ways to unload the obscene surplus of one vegetable that isn't even a vegetable anymore. Like carpeting. Carpeting...I ask you!

I know that George Washington Carver pioneered industrial applications for agricultural crops and there are a host of reasons for admiring the man. He's a fantastic role model. But some days, I feel like I've got this love/hate thing for him. Indirectly, I have him to thank for all of the corn "gotcha's" from envelope adhesive to water bottles. Corn even lurks in such seemingly benign and "natural" places as honey, since many beekeepers are addicted to high fructose corn syrup as supplemental food for their bees. And do we really need to have corn in our laundry detergent?

Okay, there are some bio-friendly detergents out there. Alas, I am not one of those altruists who impale their budgets on the spike of alternative green products for their own sakes. Nuh-unh. Gotta be cheap for me. As a side note, I am working on re-indoctrinating myself with the principle that it isn't that alternative products are so expensive, though they do seem so. It is that they do not carry the government subsidy that corn-based products enjoy and so have a harder time competing against that financial offset.

Still, cheap is good. Dirt cheap is even better. Which is why I was doing the Snoopy Dance when I came across a recipe for home made laundry soap. Crystal is my kind of woman. Those pictures of her farm capture what I want my acreage to look like someday.

Laundry Soap by Crystal Miller

1/3 bar Fels Naptha or Zote
½ cup washing soda (not baking soda)
½ cup borax powder

You will also need a small bucket, about 2 gallon size

Grate the soap and put it in a sauce pan. Add 6 cups water and heat it until the soap melts. Add the washing soda and the borax and stir until it is dissolved. Remove from heat. Pour 4 cups hot water into the bucket. Now add your soap mixture and stir. Now add 1 gallon plus 6 cups of water and stir. Let the soap sit for about 24 hours and it will gel. You use ½ cup per load.

I've been following Crystal's recipe for six months now and I'm still on the original boxes of powder. That puts my investment so far at less than $10 for laundry for at least six months. This is washing clothes for five people--well, six if you factor in Tool Guy changing clothes between going from his day job to his tool job, plus a Princess still in night time cloth diapers.

I recently had a chuckle over a conversation I had with a telemarketer about laundry detergent. Despite the fact that we're on the No Call List, Boyfriend called me up to sell me some whizz-bang laundry detergent that would rock my world. Did you know that there are telemarketers out there who still ask to speak to "the lady of the house?" At any rate, I informed him that I make my own. Silent pause. I guess that answer wasn't on his "if/then" flow chart of Q&A's, since he then launched into a non-sequitur riposte of what a great savings it would be for me. Huh. I informed him that a penny a load was the price to beat and if he couldn't sell it to me that cheap, we had nothing more to say to each other. Haven't heard from him since.

I'm bummed. Can you tell?

Friday, October 5, 2007

Thanksgiving Comes in October for Us

Okay...uncle. I'll admit it. It's Fall. Every morning, there is a fresh layer of leaves carpeting the lawn, my garden is slowing down and it's getting downright nippy from time to time. The deer have lost their foxy coat and are turning gray. The squirrels are pillaging the trees for nuts; each tree has a pile of hulls littering the ground beneath. And the torrent of food from my garden winds down to a trickle. It's been a fruitful summer.

The other major hallmark of Fall in our house is the annual pear harvest. A neighbor of my parents, who live down South, has pear trees growing in her yard and what is food for us is a burden for her, since she has no use for them. Every October, my father harvests these pears by the boxful. Boxes of them. Hundreds of pounds of them. Every October, my parents trek up to our house with these boxes and boxes of pears. Every October, we spend a week in the kitchen, cutting, slicing, pureeing, spicing, processing, and canning. This year, the Hobbits were particularly excited about helping out with the processing. Everyone was armed with a knife and a cutting board. It's a family affair. The Hobbits sat down with my parents and plowed through two hundred pounds, non-stop, while I processed in the kitchen, non-stop. Dog is ten years old and is starting to produce adult-like labor, but even Princess didn't give up her end until the job was done. In fact, she was decidedly crestfallen when the last pear was chopped up and her part was complete. Between the garden and the pears, my basement is bursting at the seams. See how much we have to be thankful for?

The pear butter recipe is really simple, just a lot of work when you're talking two hundred pounds of pears.

Pear Butter

14 cups of pear puree
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 teaspoons vanilla

Whirl through food processor and freeze or can as desired.

Dear Mrs. Baccus,

What can I say? Words fail me to describe your generosity in sharing such delicious pears, year after year, so faithfully. These have become such a staple in our household. Preserving these pears each fall has become a tradition in our house that we all look forward to. The pear butter recipe is a well-worn and spotted page in my recipe book. Each fall I imagine all of the possibilities. Some of them get juiced, some of them are sliced and dehydrated, but most end up in rows of jars that will sweeten our winter.

You would think that over these years the kids would tire of eating pear butter muffins, but with each batch, still Bug runs through the house, excitedly announcing when a fresh batch has come out of the oven. Then there is a corresponding thunder of feet as everyone lines up to get a steaming handful. I wish I could bottle up that enthusiasm and send it for you to enjoy. It smells like muffins fresh out of the oven. And that enthusiasm is just as fresh each time.

Thank you.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Pick Two

I adore interpreting. I used to be a workshop junkie. Workshop? I'm there. First there and on the front row. Conventions? Oh. My. Workshop heaven. While I was an active interpreter, I never missed a convention. If I couldn't afford to go as an attendee, I worked the convention. I got to listen and get paid. What's not to love? And I've benefited from the knowledge of some of the best in the profession. One workshop that stands out in my mind where Anna Witter-Merithew talked about the price of quality. The price of excellence. She recounted her experience getting her car repaired. The mechanic had a memorable sign posted on his wall: "Good. Fast. Cheap. Pick Two." She applied this to the discipline of becoming a good interpreter. There's a price to pay and you have to pick your priorities.

This principle came back to me after a conversation I had with another mom this past week. She was asking my opinion about her teenager and some food issues. I shared my opinion of the cause of the issue and what my experience showed me would work. As I was speaking, she stood there shaking her head. "Isn't there an easier way?" she despaired. I suggested a particular supplement that people have reported as helping, but tagged on the caveat that it was $60-$100 a month. "Isn't there a cheaper way?" I responded that I do things the way that worked for us....I know no other way.

After spending the week thinking about this conversation, my workshop experience came back to me. The same principle applies to dealing with this food problem thing: "Good. Easy. Cheap. Pick two." There are supplements out there that are helpful. Probiotic packed pills. They cost. Gluten free convenience foods cost. The bottom line is that the most effective therapies take time and discipline. They can be cheap, if you're willing to do the hard work over a period of time. It comes down to the prosaic point that this "everything free" diet stuff is like all other diet stuff. It's work, it's discipline, it's more about lifestyle changes than "diet" and there aren't any silver bullets. Each person has to decide if the cost of discipline is worth the return.

The evidence is mounting, beyond just the dismissed and minimized experiences of such parents as I, that doing this kind of work pays off. A study, hot off the press, has some validating things to say about eating effecting our brain function, particularly in autistic children:

"The bacteria produce propionic acid, a short chain fatty acid, which in addition to existing in the gut, is commonly found in bread and dairy products, MacFabe said." Fascinatingly, the study scientists were able to use this bacteria to replicate autistic behaviors in rats, as well as effecting the same kinds of physical changes that are exposed in autopsies of autistic patients. "Now we're learning that the brain and body can influence each other," she said.

This sent me back to thinking about "easy, good, and cheap." And discipline. Some of the best foods that feed brain function are foods high in Omega 3 fatty acids. Like fish. Grandma wasn't being poetical when she said that fish is "brain food." It literally is. That covers "good." And the price of wild-caught sardines qualify as "cheap." But for someone who doesn't really care for fish so much, the "easy" option becomes dicey...gotta pick two. Fortunately, thanks to my Gardening Mentor, sardines can be easy to fix, if requiring some discipline to eat.

Quick Sardine Supper

1 medium onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 medium tomato, choppped or a handful of cherry tomatoes cut in half
olive oil
1 can of sardines
fresh basil (a few leaves) or a pinch of dried basil
salt and pepper, to taste
crushed red pepper, if desired

Heat oil in medium skillet. Add onions and saute until softened. Add garlic and cook lightly. Stir in tomatoes, then sardines. Remove from heat, season to taste. Serve over pasta, crackers, or rice.

The CBC report continues to say:

"'Treating a child's health should be the first step in addressing autism...Behaviour therapy is certainly important. But the child's health controls the bandwidth that the child has for being able to benefit from behavioural therapy. If a child is sick, they won't be able to focus."

Parents should watch their children closely to determine what foods trigger reactions and to consider removing those triggers, she said. Herbert strongly advocates a balanced diet, consisting of all food groups, not just 'bread and cheese.' 'If you have foods that (a) child is sensitive to in their immune system, that can set up processes that can impact brain function, and it can do so in a negative way. And if you remove those foods, that negative impact can stop.'"

Incredibly validating to hear The Powers That Be saying it, too.

Easy, cheap, good. Pick two.

Friday, September 21, 2007

I'm the Mayonnaise in This Sandwich

Sibling rivalry. It bites. Big time. I always said that we had Bug for Dog's benefit--he was too entrenched in the benefits of being an only child--and God sent us Princess for Bug's benefit. For the past few years, ever since she became mobile, Princess and Bug have been best buddies and do everything together. This tendency is still there, but perhaps it is an age/stage thing, but now this "attached at the hip-ness" is accompanied by continual squabbling. I don't get it. I really don't. When someone works my last nerve, the place I most wanna be is the furthermost from their presence. Not these two. Everything must be done with the company of the other, even if it means that they are going to bicker over their use of space to the smallest centimeter.

Somehow, despite my best intentions, I always manage to get sucked into this. I've tried to take the strategy of letting them resolve their differences between them. I mean, they have to learn how to get along and I don't want to always be the referee. At some point in time, however, the decibel level begins to approach aircraft velocity and a mother must needs step in. I usually "ground" them from each other. They can go about their day and do what they want, but they have to do it separately from each other. Any communications have to go through me. Yep. I'm the mayonnaise in this sandwich.

Speaking of which, I scored a major coup at the grocery store today thanks to my gardening mentor's discovery: Hormel Natural Choice deli meats. Shelly at Hormel assures me that while "natural flavorings" is proprietary information--doesn't that just fash you?--it doesn't contain any soy, dairy, or corn, nor anything that was such in a previous incarnation. Looks like sandwiches are back on the menu! Another bugaboo of ours is what to put on the sandwich. I've sussed out a safe deli meat line, a safe mustard, a safe and delicious for the mayonnaise.

Every new mayo recipe I've seen tags a raw egg/salmonella disclaimer to it, so I suppose I should lemming along with the rest and preface this recipe with one. To be honest, though, given the descriptions given by Michael Pollan and Joel Salatin on the conditions the chickens producing these battery eggs, I don't think I'd venture using them for mayonnaise either. Fortunately, we get what I call "yard eggs" which is a step beyond the murky term "free range" which often is a way of saying, "Our cages are slightly larger or have slightly fewer chickens than the Industrial Guys." Ours comes from a friend whose chooks run loose through his yard and his children Easter Egg hunt every single day.

Once again, I am thankful for having an antique cookbook on my shelf. Those were the days! I dip into the riches of The American Woman's Cookbook by Ruth Berolzheimer published in 1938, pg 448, tweaked our way. For this, I used rice bran oil and a touch of maple syrup. Tool Guy deemed it as good as Miracle Whip. I'd call that satisfaction.


2 uncooked egg yolks
1/2 tsp. salt
1 T lemon juice
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/4 tsp. paprika
1 T maple syrup
1 cup rice bran oil

To yolks, add dry seasonings, blend thoroughly, add vinegar or lemon juice and beat again. Add oil gradually while blending. The mixture should be thick and creamy. Should mayonnaise curdle, begin with a third egg yolk, add a small quantity of oil to the egg, and then by very small quantities, add the curdled dressing. At time a dressing may be quite firm when left, only to be found curdled and disappointing when the time comes to use it. This third egg process will, however, usually restore it.

Bug and Princess will--I am told and I'm taking on faith--one day reach a level of equanimity in their relationship. Today, however, isn't that day. I have hope. After an afternoon of being excluded from each other, Bug creeps up and penitently says, "I'm ready to tell Princess I'm sorry." Peace reigns.

For the next five minutes.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Back in the Saddle Again

Nope. Not ready. Not even close. It's too soon for the leaves to start turning and definitely too soon for the school year to be starting. Even after having left the South for quite a few years now, I still gauge Time For Fall by the heat quotient. It isn't time for fall until we've sweated out so many days that we can't drag ourselves through another hot and sticky morass without screaming. Even though we've been in New England for almost six years, I still find myself reaching for my inner yard stick of measuring out the summer. It doesn't feel like it's time for fall yet.

The garden is starting to play out. Tomato production has peaked and while quite a few still hang on the vines, there are more surrounding me in baskets full to the brim than are out there, dodging the predations of hornworms. I'm still mowing the lawn, the decrepit mower having finally gotten back from the shop (the first day back, I had to splint up the limp ignition cable...I told Tool Guy he owes me for repairs. Heh.) but now the grass is sprinkled with the first falling leaves of autumn and the squirrels are attacking the "pig nut" trees with fervor...a sure sign of impending change.

And homeschooling co-op begins. I'm so not ready. I'd planned on a few more splashes in the river, a few more outside adventures, a couple hundred pounds more out of my garden. Ah, well...

Over the summer, Tool Guy and I painted the dining room. He told me when he came home with the paint that it was the gray I'd asked for. With some squinting, the color blots on the lids did look a liiitle bit gray. On the walls, though, it is definitely on the blue side...unless you're examining the color at night, in which case, it looks closer to sea green. However, cleanly painted walls mean a blank slate to be filled up with all of the art projects and newest creations of the year. Last year's works have been archived into portfolios in storage and the first offerings of the new year adorn the places of honor. Okay, we're sorta ready.

Of course, the Hobbits look forward to fall reunions, old friends coming back, and getting back into the routine. It's a little unsettling at first, because every year is a little different than the previous one and we always show up with last year imprinted on our minds. There's always some disequilibrium and discontent until we get used to the new schedule, new rules, new faces and the lack of some of the old. It's like breaking in new shoes...a little stiff and awkward at first, but quickly becoming the favorites.

Then there's the annual "What's For Snack?" discussion. Unlike the meal menu selection, I want everything standardized for snacks. Thursday morning prep is too wild and woolly to try to handle it all times three. This year, we've settled on the perennial shoestring fries and chocolate chip cookies. In my opinion, Julie Andrews was unforgivably remiss when chocolate didn't make her list of Favorite Things, but it sure is at the top of ours. In our soy-free days, even soy lecithin was a problem and that ruled out just about all chocolate, soy being the emulsifier of choice in candy and chocolate chips. Enjoy Life chocolate chips became one of our Favorite Things. Still is.

Almost Everything Free Chocolate Chip Cookies adapted from Sandra J. Leonard and The Gluten Free Baker Newsletter

10 T Purity Farms Ghee
1 t salt
2 t vanilla
1/2 cup maple sugar
1/2 cup maple syrup
3 large eggs
1 1/4 cup sorghum flour
1 cup white rice flour
1/2 cup tapioca starch
1/2 cup potato starch
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 package Enjoy Life chocolate chips

Beat ghee until soft and fluffy. Add salt, vanilla, and both sugars. Beat until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat until well combined.

Combine flours and baking soda in a mixing bowl. Add half the flour to the butter mixture and beat on low. Scrape down bowl with a rubber spatula and add remaining flour.

Fold in chocolate chips. Chill mixture for two hours. (I make a huge batch of this and make cookies off of it for weeks from the fridge.)

Separate out balls of dough, approximately tablespoon-sized, and lay out on cookie sheet about 2 inches apart. Flatten to about 1/2 inch thickness and bake for 10-12 minutes at 375*

Let cool on wire rack.

There's a big bowl of cookie dough in the refrigerator, I've got my ASL lesson plan prepped out, and we're tackling Singapore Math one page at a time. Yep. We're back in the saddle again. Princess' eyes sparkle as she bites into one of these cookies and she exuberantly informs me that I'm "the most delicious mommy!" Aw, shuuucks....

Friday, September 7, 2007

Over the River and Through the Woods

You'd think that winter time would be the "busy" time for my oven...lots of breads, casseroles, cookies, muffins, soups, and such keeping the kitchen toasty and warm. Nope. This is the busy time of year. I did a quick check on my propane tanks--yes, I did say "tanks" as in plural...the propane company had to come out on three emergency refills before being convinced that my consumption habits don't conform with customary trends--and they are each half full. I take this as a measuring stick of all of the work that has gone into laying food by.

In addition to the usual cooking and baking, the seasonal prepping and canning, I'm also dehydrating herbs in preparation for the coming winter. Cough and cold medicines are largely off the menu for the Hobbits. We have a wonderful compounding pharmacist who understands our needs and works with us. The palm-based vegetable glycerin from Azure Standard makes a terrific suspension/sweetener for necessary medicines for little ones. In using glycerin to make medicine for our specific needs, he became so impressed with the efficacy and quality of its properties that he's taken to using it for all of his compounded prescriptions, not just ours.

As wonderful as it is to have things like acetaminophen, ibuprophen, and dextromethorphan compounded for us for times when one needs "big guns," it is infinitely more satisfying...and less expensive! have "first responder" remedies laid by. A few years ago, an herbalist friend introduced me to elecampagne as a remedy for the bronchitis that had visited me the first couple of winters after relocating to New England. As a native of Louisiana, I'm used to damp. However, I wasn't used to damp and cold and my lungs showed it. Elecampagne did amazing things and I've never had a problem since. Before moving on, she shared plants with a few of us, the off-shoots of which keep me supplied with roots. Potato vodkas like Luksoswana or Teton Glacier provide a wonderful extractive media for herbals for the corn sensitive. Luckily potatoes haven't been a problem for us, but I have also meditated on the possibility of tequila, since it is made from fermented agave nectar from agave cacti. In the fall, after the second hard frost, I go and collect elecampagne roots, run them through the food processor for a second or two, and submerge in vodka for a couple of weeks. I've found that the suction from a Food Saver vacuum sealer can improve this process even further. Then I strain off the roots and bottle up the tincture for the winter's use.

Elderberry has become a winter time favorite for us. It's even possible to buy the concentrate that has nothing added. Since I also doctor colds with garlic extract, the Hobbits view elderberry concentrate as an excellent chaser to the shot of garlic juice. Use your imagination to envision the delicate shudders. I know, I know....but, it works at killing colds. Spoonful of sugar and all that.

This year, I'm branching out and drying mullein leaves. The possibilities for applications look quite promising. One site even suggested that mullein poultices are good for bad backs. This should come as good news to Tool Guy's ears...and back. Mullein is reported to be good for coughs, digestive upsets, respiratory difficulties of all shapes and sizes. I'll have to report back about what I did with my winter vacation on this one. Previously I've only tangentially noticed the poles of yellow flowers punctuating the sunny spaces in the woods and fields around, but now that I'm looking for them, they seem everywhere. While I was out foraging, I also topped off some of the seed pods and brought them back to scatter clouds of the tiny seeds into my own sunny patch on the back forty, hoping that the ground will be receptive and the deer unobservant. Maybe next year, there will be fuzzy baby mullein peeking out through the growth.

All of the growing, canning, foraging, and dehydrating come down to really one thing: independence. Whatever knowledge and ability and effort I cobble together means that I'm not dependent on someone else for it. Some else to feed me. Someone else to doctor me. Since the advent of the "everything free" years, there have been precious few professionals to guide us on our journey. Our family doctor and I walked away from each other...each baffled and frustrated with the other and I never went back. There's no getting Chinese food from a McDonald's menu and you can't teach a pig to wastes your time and annoys the pig. Yep, that was one irascible swine.

So now, if there's a scrape or scratch that needs more than a kiss, there's plantain salve from my yard. Great for bee stings, too. There's neem oil spray with a hint of patchoulli to keep the ticks and chiggers off. My knowledge base creeps forward and my remedy cabinet reflects it. Another inch of independence. This winter I'm foraging the library for more books on herbs and next spring, I'll be swinging my poke sack over my shoulder and taking to the river and woods, foraging in search of another inch of independence.

Friday, August 31, 2007

The Kitchen Is Closed

A few months ago before Dog's tenth birthday, he and I were standing toe to toe over some now-forgotten issue that he was waxing mouthy about. I snapped back at him that I'd tolerate no teenage lip while he was still in single digits. Heh. I was expecting to have a few more years of "kid" stuff before we got into the "teen" stuff, but Dog has always been old for his years, so I shouldn't be surprised.

One of the more memorable discussions we've had of late is over, not surprisingly, menu options. I expect that food choice is going to become a much-debated topic in the coming years. This discussion wasn't what one would necessarily expect, though.

As a bit of background, when we first started with our "free" lifestyle, I made some conscious decisions about how we would structure this. Since things are so very limited, I wanted to offer the Hobbits as much choice and control as possible within the very tight framework of our operational limits. To that end, I came up with ways to provide three choices of meals that could be prepared quickly and gave each of them the opportunity to choose for themselves from those three options at each meal. My version of convenience food...kind of a Once A Month Everything Free Cooking...except my major food prep ala OAMC is more frequently than that. This might mean that I might make up three (or four, counting dinner meals) different dishes for the same meal, but at least they would have some control over what they were eating.

We've gone on this course for about four years now and it's worked rather well. Not much fighting over food nor complaints about not liking what was for dinner. Still and all, some days it can be rather tiresome. There are days when I just want to do one thing and be done. This was one of those days. I just made food for the meal, set it on the table and called the Hobbits to come and eat. Dog sulked at me that he hadn't been consulted on his menu option and was prepared to be disagreeable about it. I pointed out to him that the number of children in the known universe who were at liberty to choose what they wanted to eat at every meal, every day probably totaled three. That was, of course, before I'd read the UCLA dinner study....I was stuck in my Baby Boomer childhood memories. Still, I'll entertain an "amen" chorus of comments to anyone who cares to leave any...any ammunition would naturally be shared with Dog. Hey, coming up on this pre-teen thing, I need all of the help I can get!

I decided that it was way past time for him to understand the amount of work that goes into making one meal, let alone coordinating three, however quickly they could be assembled. I'd meant this as a "taste of his own medicine" kind of natural consequence to his petulance, but he was actually rather excited about the idea. I'd settled on a quick and beginner-friendly recipe inspired by one shared by my gardening mentor. It's especially nice for those who are sensitive to tomatoes--not that this is us, for a change--because it relies only on herbs and spices for flavoring and color, not tomatoes. The lost-to-posterity cookbook called it "Real Deal Chili" (let me know if anyone knows the attribution for this recipe!) but I call it the

No-mato Everything Free Chili.

4 lbs ground meat
1 onion or 1 T onion powder
3 garlic cloves or 1 T garlic powder
4 T paprika
4 T chili powder
1 T cumin
1 T oregano
2 t pepper
1 t kelp (only because I'm always looking for a vector to sneak in sea vegetables)
1/2 lb. sliced mushrooms
2 t salt if not using bone broth
1 quart bone broth or water
2-3 T arrowroot or tapioca starch (optional for thickening)

While slicing mushrooms, brown ground meat in dutch oven and drain. Pour broth, mushrooms, and seasonings into dutch oven and boil until mushrooms are soft. If using starch flour for thickening, dissolve starch in small amount of water and add to boiling mixture. When the opaque liquid becomes translucent again, return ground meat to the oven and mix thoroughly until heated through. Allow to simmer to reduce if desired. The Hobbits like it served with rice snaps.

Dog took eagerly to chopping up the mushrooms--he's been one of my prep chefs for a while now--and measuring out all of the ingredients. He'll be able to lift me someday, but right now he still needs some help handling a hot cast iron dutch oven. The rest of it he does very well by himself. These days he considers this recipe his specialty and would be mightily offended if I were to presume to usurp his prerogative. Gotta smile. Just don't let him see it. We're always sure to have chili in the refrigerator, whatever the weather. So whenever Dog complains about what's on the menu, I direct him to the refrigerator where he can find his very own bowl of chili. I cooked one dish, hung up my apron and the kitchen is closed.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Lions and Tigers and Bears...Oh, My!

Tool Guy was called away on business for two weeks. All three of the Hobbits and I looked at each other and wondered what we would do with ourselves while he was gone. Still lots of tomatoes to can and, to their everlasting joy, we have begun our homeschooling year. Needless to say, I could have suggested instead that we watch paint dry--and in this very damp summer, a task that wouldn't happen with any rapidity--and they would have responded with something like alacrity. Party Planner and I conferenced and decided that we needed to plan some fun things to do during the interminable Absence.

The play date was lots of fun. PP brought her Grandson over to play. He's also an age mate in Princess and Bug's group in our homeschooling co-op. All of the Hobbits were orbital over having him over for fun. It's funny. There's a three years' age spread between each of the Hobbits, but each of them considers this little lad to be their own particular friend. Each of them planned what they wanted to do while he was visiting. Mostly, they wandered Christopher Robin fashion through The Bog and The Woods, poking around and releasing a captured frog back into the wild. PP and I sat on the back deck and relaxed with cups of cinnamon tea.

The next grand plan was an outing to a relatively nearby wild animal entrepreneur's version of a zoo. PP and Grandson are old veterans to this place and, from their descriptions, the Hobbits were beside themselves to go. Unfortunately for everyone in general and PP in particular, she suffered a toe injury that seemed to present as broken. Walking was out. Though they were crest-fallen, the Hobbits rallied well and we promised that the next week would bring the expedition, the toe turning out only to be strained. Dog organized his compass, binoculars, notebook and pencil. He takes this Stanley Livingstone thing rather seriously. Bug was jazzed about the idea of using his new Buzz Lightyear back pack. Princess was dreaming of all of the animals. As an aside, Princess loves animals. In theory, that is. In real life she's too afraid to touch's an interesting ambivalence to watch.

On the appointed rained. Amid the sounds of much wailing and gnashing of teeth, the foray was postponed again, crossing our fingers that the following day would be improved. Nothing could solace them but a trip to the library that netted two bags of books and a whole series of Marvel Comic graphic novels. Whew. For a minute there, I thought I was gonna have to break out some candy. Luckily for me, they're easy.

The following day was mizzly and chilly, but we decided "Sydney or the Bush" and pressed on. Private animal preserves can be either brilliantly choreographed or depressingly seedy and neglected. Fortunately, this concern was the former. For a small place, the collection was quite varied, well-tended, and comfortable. The schedule of events was spaced so as to be able to comfortably roam the park between the punctuations of programming. The first activity we plunged into was the Lorry Parakeet feeding. I hesitated a moment because replacement food for animals can be problematic food for some people. That would be us. When I observed that the workers passed out apples to the crowd, we joined the line into the habitat where everyone spread their arms out, apples in hand, to lure a bird to come feed. I've never seen any zoo that was so relaxed. Each of the Hobbits had an opportunity to feed one and I even had a couple crawling on my head to reach the apple I held. Princess was fascinated to watch but declined the honors.

We raced around, avoiding puddles and the occasional stroller, and didn't leave until we'd seen and done all of the enclosures and the activities, consulting an exotic animal fact notebook the whole time. (Well, I did have to veto the petting farm...all of the feed was a corn and gluten landmine.) All the Hobbits love a zoo. Princess was a bit disenchanted with the smell, though, Animal Planet having the obvious advantage of being odorless. The rest of the Hobbits were game for holding up carrots for the sticky embrace of a giraffe's prehensile tongue. The only thing that could have topped this for them was actually getting to pet the gibbon that entertained us for a long while with her calls and gymnastics. Bug felt a burning wish to be able to be a gibbon. Dog plans on perfecting his brachiation technique. I expect to see lots of workout on the playscape when the weather clears...

Packable foods can be somewhat of a challenge when most things that we consider convenience foods are off the menu. Being the special occasion this was, I'd planned way ahead of time and splurged, using up my store of beef in the freezer that I'd been saving for just such a purpose....beef jerky. Back when soy was off the menu (and it is currently enjoying only a probationary return) I felt frustrated by the fact that almost all jerky recipes called for soy sauce or tamari sauce. While twiddling with a recipe that called for a wine-based sauce--and not being able to get reliable confirmation that any wines are actually corn-free--I rolled the dice and used kombucha tea as the base instead and it yielded a dish that was a delight. This inspired me to use k-tea to make jerky.

Kombucha Tea is a fermented tea, aged with the assistance of an inoculation of some "starter" tea and a rubbery pancake of a fungal organism called a SCOBY. Tool Guy, of course, has his more graphic descriptors. The flavor of this beverage ranges from tangy to sour, depending on the amount of aging. There are lots of sources for this on the internet beginning with free-for-shipping sharing all the way up to some very pricey "kits." One suggestion that I've never tried myself is to buy some commercial raw k-tea bottled for drinking, open bottle and pour into glass jar, allowing brew to continue aging. Some people have reported that in continuing to age, raw tea will develop a new SCOBY, all of which can then be used in making more tea per the tea-making directions.

Kombucha Tea

The base of this tea is simple green or black tea--and amazingly there have been flame wars over to caf or to decaf--sugar, and water. The rule of thumb I use is four tea bags and one cup of sugar, the type of which is also subject to flame wars (I use white, but I have used honey...eew), per gallon of water. Boil water, add tea bags and sugar, and leave to brew until completely cool. Never add hot tea to starter and SCOBY or risk killing the whole thing. Brew needs to be room temperature. Using approximately 1/3 starter to tea ratios, pour aged tea starter saved from previous batch of k-tea to fresh tea and plop SCOBY into gallon glass* jar. I use one SCOBY per gallon jar. Cover jar mouth with coffee filter or cheese cloth and rubber band, place in cool location away from airborne dust and oils (ie, the kitchen isn't the optimal location) and allow to age 7-14 days. The brew grows more sour as it ages, so keep personal preferences in mind when planning this. When decanting, simply remove filter, fish out SCOBY (a new layer of "baby" SCOBY will have formed on the surface) and pour out. Save a couple of cups of tea as starter for the next batch.

*never use plastic or metal, as the acidity in the tea leaches constituent properties out of non-glass containers

Kombucha Tea Jerky

2-3 whole roasts of beef/buffalo/venison, sliced into strips
2 gallons of k-tea, aged two weeks
2-4 whole onions
2-4 T minced garlic
2-4 knobs raw ginger
2-4 T Real Salt
1-2 sheets dried kombu
1-2 t red pepper

When purchasing the beef, I generally buy roasts and section them into proportions that, when frozen, will make convenient sized strips. Thick cut steaks will do just as well. After freezing the meat, I allow it to thaw just enough to push through the single slicing blade of a mandolin...especially using a carpenter glove for this. Muscling semi-frozen meat through a slicer takes a bit of force and protection is a Good Thing.

Peeling and sectioning the onions, I toss them and all of the spices/seasonings into a food processor and reduce to a slurry. Using the same glass jars I used for making the tea, I leave 1/2 gallon of tea in each, pour in the half of the seasoning, and add meat strips until the jar is full, keeping enough tea added for the meat to have contact with liquid on all sides. Repeat with second jar. Allow this to marinade overnight. It can be stored in the refrigerator or in cooler weather, I have left it out. The acidic nature of the tea is a great inhibitor for bacterial growth.

The next day, I dump the jars into a colander, draining off the tea. I don't take particular care to remove seasoning bits...if they dry on the meat, so much the better. Carefully separating the strips, I lay them out singly on drying racks and stack in the oven, having lined the bottom with foil for easy clean up of drips. My dehydrating sources encourage 170* for safe meat handling practices. Meat this thin generally dries at this temperature in 6-8 hours, possibly more, depending on stacking and air circulation. If racks are stacked vertically, there may need to be some rotation of the trays to allow for even drying.

Though this treat generally doesn't survive beyond the first day--Hobbits can disappear an amazing amount of meat this way--I store any left overs in the fridge or freezer. Since there are no nitrites or preservatives added, I find that the flavors tend to go stale and flat if left out.

Home from the zoo, the Hobbits are each enjoying the fruits of their trip to the gift shop. Dog is target practicing with his toy bow and arrow set, Bug unearthed the pteradactyl from his Dinosaur Dig egg, and Princess is repeatedly going through labor and delivery, birthing her new plush puppy. It's to listen to. Bug is her birthing partner.

Even though it is misty and damp, it is still summer and the great outdoors call. Pack up the jerky and head out. Sydney or the Bush!

Friday, August 17, 2007

That Was Then, This is Now

Yes, Breatharian, brace yourself for more gardening drivel. I know. I'm intolerable on the subject. Just a little this time, I promise! It's the time of the year when all of the preparation and planning and waiting comes to fruition. I'm swimming in tomatoes. After scoring a stock pot from a yard was a "make me a deal" deal and the seller accepted my dollar....I'm reaching back through my recipe files for my favorite tomato sauce recipe. This has become a seasonal event in our house. The smells of baking bread and bubbling sauce tantalize the neighborhood....or at least the Hobbits. Everyone walks around with their noses in the air, sniffing. I don't think there's anything that evokes more of the feelings of "home" and "nurturing" than such good food wafting through the windows.

I've been spending such spare time as I have browsing through the archives of lists that chronicle our first furtive scrambles to figure out what was causing our problems and how to fix them. The medical community is singularly unhelpful in this area and almost all of what informed us came from those people who were fumbling and groping as we were. The Complementary Alternative Medicine community takes a lot of flack for giving little relief for the money that they collect, but I don't find the mainstream medical community to have a better track record. Somehow my searches for solutions always comes back to food.

Particularly the posts during our grain-free years stand out to me. Having a few years distance from that stage of our struggle, I'm reading my old posts with fresh eyes. What stands out to me most is how light-hearted they sound compared to how I felt. It certainly didn't feel light-hearted to me then. Some days, I felt like I was drowning. It was during that time that I developed such a strong feeling for The Lord of the Rings trilogy. After reading the books, I was never able to watch Peter Jackson's interpretation without having a stack of kleenex next to me, especially during Sam Gamgee's monologue about his favorite stories...the stories that really mattered.* I could strongly identify with the sense of profound weariness driven forward by desperation. It sounds melodramatic, perhaps, but watching the progression of my posts where more foods disappeared and the list of intolerances grew longer, I remember that this was how it felt at that time. Some days, I wished I had a Sam to carry me up the mountain.

The sense of unknown was an overwhelming burden. The not knowing why things were going wrong. Not knowing how to fix them. I saw a lot of guessing and groping in my posts. I'm not sure that I shared with other posters just how fearful I was. Afraid of not finding the answers. Afraid of things getting worse and not learning how to make it stop. And things did get frighteningly worse before they got better. One memorable post expressed the trap I found myself in, struggling to nourish children who couldn't tolerate the nourishment they need to be able to tolerate the food they need to nourish them.

I'm finding that dealing with personal disequilibrium is very much easier than dealing with it in your children, especially small children who have only a fuzzy grasp of why they eat differently from everyone else. It's easier to accept that I can't have that slice of pizza sitting on the table than it is for a four year old. And these Hobbits were absolute troopers. I can't sing their praises enough. I've never had a moment's concern about them sneaking food or not cooperating. Which is one of the reasons that I feel so highly motivated to find ways to get them the tastes that they so desire in a safe form. In the middle of our grain-free years, Bug sighed wistfully that he missed pizza. I asked him what was it he missed about pizza: the sauce or the crust? The sauce. Since fruit leather has always been one of his favorite snacks, I decided to use this platform to jump from the sweet to the savory.

The base of pizza leather is the tomato sauce. Since the flavor concentrates when dehydrated, it is necessary to add something that will dilute the taste without altering it. My first solution was to use zucchini or squash. This was a wonderful way of disposing of the excess from the garden that I thought I wanted to can, until I discovered what canned squash tastes like. Um. Won't do that again. Another solution--Bug's preference--is to dilute with apple puree, since he prefers a sweeter taste. Hey, I don't eat it, I just make it. Besides, this is a thrifty way of disposing with all of those odds and ends of apple slices that never seem to get eaten up. I have a bag in the freezer that I toss them into and bring out when it is time to make leather of one kind or another.

Foods that are low in pectin will crumble and separate when dehydrated. This is one of the reasons that apples are in all commercial fruit leathers. Another way to enhance the texture is to use pectin. Pomona makes a terrific product that is derived from citrus and is corn-free. Adding pectin, either through apples or canning pectin gives the pizza leather cohesive smoothness and chew.

Leathers are elastic in quite a few ways, both texturally and ingredient-wise. I confess that I don't have a hard and fast recipe for this, since I tend to just dump in what's on hand, using up the leftovers, bits and pieces of flotsam and jetsam in the fridge and freezer. It's all good.

Pizza Leather

2 quarts pizza sauce
1 quart squash or fruit puree
2-4 T fruit pectin

Run the sauce and fruit through the food processor until incorporated, adding the pectin slowly through the cap. When thoroughly blended, spread at approximately 1/4 inch thick evenly onto sheets of parchment or silicone baking sheets over dehydrating racks. Set temperature to 100-120 degrees and let dehydrate for about 6-12 hours. Some people swear by portable dehydrators, but I've never found one that I liked better than my own stove. It may happen that the edges will dehydrate faster than the center. In that case, I trim the dried parts away from what is still tacky. When it is completely dry and while the sheet is still warm from the stove, cut into strips with scissors.

Store in a dry container. I'd like to tell you how long it will stay edible in the cupboard, but I've yet to discover the end of the shelf life of doesn't stay around long enough to find out.

The last couple of years has seen the happy return of a few of our off-menu foods--grains not the least--but some of the things we relied on back then are still staples in the house. With the smell of tomato sauce curling through the house, appetites for pizza have been sharpened. Given the demands of canning this time of year, pizza isn't something I'm finding time to readily throw together. It's nice to be able to point to the pantry and say, "If you're really hungry for a taste of pizza, nibble on some pizza leather" and promise the real thing later.

While I still long for that future day when I can gleefully snoopy dance with the rest of the joyful "just" glutenfree-ers, it helps to remember that I'm still in the middle of the story and have yet to read the final chapter.

* "It's all rights we shouldn't even be here. But we are. It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were and sometimes you didn't want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines, it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you...that meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But, I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now."