Friday, April 27, 2007

An Everything Free Fairytale

It's amazing what discussions can be generated while showering with a 4 year old.

"You're a giant, Mommy."

"Fe fi fo fum."

"How do you spell that?"

I obediently comply. And then launch into the entire quote, "....I smell the blood of an Englishman. Be he live or be he dead, I'll grind his bones to make my bread." (Cheery thoughts, those fairy tales.)

"Gluten-free bread, right, Mommy?"

"Absolutely, Princess."

"Maybe that is why he was in such a bad mood. He was reacting. His mommy giant said to him, 'You're reacting....'"

I can just visualize the next installment: Sherlock Holmes as the Gluten Detective.

Friday, April 20, 2007


One of the things I love most about homeschooling is time. As busy and sometimes harried as my days may be...or at least feel to me...we still have so much time.

Since we don't have to get up and go anywhere on a daily basis, we have time in the mornings. Time to let a baby sleep in without invading her warm, cuddly space and pull her out to brace against New England winter mornings. Time to let a highly distractable pre-schooler develop executive functioning skills without the daily harassment of getting badgered into shoes in less than 20 minutes. Time to answer half of the twenty million questions that a deep-thinking adult in little boy skin has to ask. And to have an extra cup of coffee.

Most of the time, my days are unbelievably busy. Even my mother-in-law says so. But she's always been the best of mother-in-laws, has never criticized a single thing I've ever done, and has been unfailingly supportive. I want to be my mother-in-law when I'm a mother-in-law. So she might not be the best person to critically analyse my sense of the industrially hygenic. And even though I get a lot done with a lot left undone, there's still time.

There's time to have conversations with Dog, the oldest, about which came first...iconic characters such as the Eastern cultures use and the Egyptians left for us to see or phonetic-based alphabets and how the age of global networking affects languages that are still character-based, if any. Or to analyze the exploitative motives and techniques of any given commercial hawking the latest groove that is absolutely essential to happiness. Or discuss Smeagol's motivations in the beginning, middle, and end of the journey. Or theorize exactly how many times a sword can be folded in crafting as the Samauri did. Or just listen to him wax enthusiastic about an outstanding sequence in TMNT. Some things you don't have to share an absolute appreciation for. Just nod.

There's time to make an apron for Bug, who is starting to end up in the kitchen, wanting to wash dishes and help cook. Time to discuss the compatibility of being an artist and a chemist at the same time. To analyze the chemistry of baking, of seeds sprouting, of fermented foods. When I said to the van occupants in general, "Remind me to buy some salt and nutmeg out of the co-op cabinet when we get to church today," it was Bug who answered, "Oh, so you can make muffins, right?" Six years old and he has my recipes down.

Yep. There's still time. Time to find that narding control to my pressure cooker that lay nestled at the bottom of the snow drift. Don't ask. I don't want to talk about it.

There's still time to discuss the comparative merits of pink and purple with Princess, my youngest, who is starting to also express profound thoughts of her own that have nothing to do with regency matters or color coordination. Time to help her swaddle her babies and tuck them into her sling so she can get on with the business of her day while nursing her babies. Or set her up with water colors and let her imagination run wild.

All of these things happen while my hands are busy. Busy cleaning. Busy cooking. Busy prepping. Busy redirecting conflicting personalities, highly convinced that their view of the situation is The Only Way it can be resolved. But there's still time.

And I'm always looking for time-savers. Fast Food is out for us, so I'm always looking for ways to make "fast food" versions of scratch food. Fried chicken fingers/nuggets are probably the quintessential fast food and my little philistines have no less love for them than other kids their ages. There are some things that I make that I never worry about appealing to anyone outside of my family and my "chicken sticks" are one of those things.

Chicken Sticks

Chicken breasts
1-2 cups tapioca starch flour
1-2 tablespoons seasoned salt
plastic bag
squirt bottle of water
1 lb lard or palm shortening

In plastic bag, mix up starch flour and seasoned salt. Slice breasts into medium thin fingers. Dump the fingers into plastic bag and shake until well coated. Remove and lay out on large platter or baking tray. Spritz with water bottle until the surface of the flour is damp and pasty. Refrigerate strips for a few hours or overnight; overnight is better since the final product will be crispier and less soggy.

Heat oil to frying temperature and deep fry strips for 3-4 minutes, depending on crisp preferences. Ready for Hobbits of all sizes to enjoy. No one misses trips to the Golden Arches, unless it is to rhapsodize about the playscapes.

The beauty of this recipe is that chicken breasts can be pre-sliced and frozen in meal-sized proportions and defrosted as needed. They can be prepped ahead of time to be pulled out later in the day and a meal is ready in five minutes. My version of fast food and time-saving cooking.

That leaves more time in my day. Time enough to instill what we believe and what we value into our children. These days, Dog does things like pick up someone else's mess or give his brother a dollar out of his own wallet for spending while Bug is having some quality time out with Dad. Or voluntarily owning up to a wrong-doing. Bug gives me hugs when things get too much and I sit down and cry. And Princess remembers to ask for prayer in Sunday School for her uncles with terminal cancer. That's when I'm really thankful for the time we have.

Time enough to bop through the house, plugged into my CD player, and polishing my ASL interpretation of Chris Rice's "Nonny, Nonny" while thrilling to the idea of this life being just the first sentence of eternity.

Bug was exploring the dynamics of magnets the other day. Holding his huge horseshoe magnet in his hand, he sucked up all of the widgey bits into mid-air. He turned to me and said, "When Jesus comes back to get us, He's going to use a magnet just like this."

That's exactly right, Sweetie.

I'm acutely aware of it washing away from me, this time thing, but I'm glad I still have so much more of it to look forward to.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Some Things I Do For Me

When you become a mother, it becomes all about your children. Elizabeth Stone said, "Making the decision to have a child--it's momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body." And I still tear up every time I read that quote. When you're a mom to children with multiple food intolerances and very limited food choices, then the focus intensifies.

For the longest time, I only cooked for the children, meaning that I only made what they could...and would eat. Tool Guy was really okay with this--what's not to love? He's supportive of everything I do--since he told me when we first got married that it didn't matter if I could cook. As long as it was warm, he'd eat it. Romantic words for a new bride to hear. I've never been a food person, myself. Really. Give me peanut butter on crackers and a glass of tea and I'll call it dinner. And have. I love reading food blogs now, but previously I was always mystified by the passion for food. There must be some irony at play in this, since food has been our focus for the past five years.

During the Years of Cooking Dangerously, when all of my focus was on finding food equivalents to what had gone off the menu, I didn't have the energy or will to do more than eat things like egg salad and sprouts on rice cakes and pat myself on the back that this covered most of the food groups. Friends and family would fuss at me about my eating habits, but I had hunkered into survival mode. Then somewhere in the middle of all of this, a mom joined our homeschooling group. She's a first generation American citizen from Korea. And can she cook. Oh, my.

My initiation into Korean cuisine was kimbop, which is the Korean version of sushi. Distinction: no raw fish. Immediate bonus points there. SMK generously made up a batch in response to my pathetic begging for authentic Korean food, which was probably one of the best choices for a first taste. Not only was the food perfect, the presentation was stunning. (Wish I'd taken a picture of hers back then!) I was to learn that she valued presentation almost as much as taste. In an even more generous gesture, she invited one of the other moms and myself to her house for a kimbop tutorial. It's a labor intensive dish, but well worth the effort and one that I carve out time and energy to prepare at least once a week. It's an entire meal, rolled up into a seaweed tube; a nutritional powerhouse. Be prepared. It requires, as many traditional foods, some prior staging and planning.

Pickled radish is a popular ingredient to include, since kimbop needs a sour element to balance the salt, sweet, and umami flavors. Korean grocery stores sell packaged pickled radish, but it isn't Breatharian-compliant, having corn acid. I prepare my own from fresh daikon radish, using the radish tops in cooked greens another time and shredding the root into matchstick strips through a mandolin slicer
which SMK introduced me to from her favorite Korean grocer. A word to the wise. Carpenter glove. That's all I'm saying. After the radish is run through the shredder, hopefully without including any finger protein, then stuff it into a wide neck mason jar and cover with rice vinegar. I've used apple cider vinegar in the past and it works, but I find the ACV to be harsh compared to rice vinegar's delicate flavor. The pickled radish will be ready to use in a couple of days. The bolder adventurer might want to include pickled ginger, made from fresh ginger root in the same fashion as the pickled radish. Another word of warning: pickled radishes smell pungent. Yeah. That's the word. Pungent. Tool Guy uses other adjectives.

Another ingredient that I stage is the meat, which can be chicken, beef, or meat of your preference. Kimbop is another "potato salad" kind of recipe, so tweak with abandon. I freeze the cut of meat or chicken breast ahead of time. The day before making kimbop, I lay the frozen meat on the counter long enough for it to soften slightly. Removing the toothed blade from the mandolin, I cut thin slices of partially frozen meat into a bowl and marinate in wheat-free tamari sauce, usually overnight.

I have to pause to interject this caveat about the wheat-free tamari sauce I use. what I have available to me for use is San-J Gold Label Wheat-free Tamari Sauce which is certified gluten-free. And so it is, as far as I can tell. I feel compelled to comment about their description of the alcohol ingredient, as much as it pains me to do so. Their website, at the time of this posting, declares the alcohol to be "grain-free." Please be aware, gentle Breatharian, that their definition of "grain-free" is, in fact, corn alcohol. I know, I know. In what universe? Yes, I had a protracted "come to repentance" about this with their representative, but apparently have met with a resistant stance, despite the fact that she agreed with me. The designation hasn't changed. Amazingly, this is one source of corn that my canaries haven't yet reacted to, but their exposure is limited to a once-a-month stir fry night. More frequent exposure might raise a reaction, so we're stepping lightly.

The rice probably takes the longest to prepare. The rice of choice is sushi rice, otherwise known as sweet rice, sticky rice, or glutenous rice--glutenous referring to the texture, not any gliadin-bearing characteristics. For my serving sizes, I make 8 rolls of kimbop, which needs 2 cups of uncooked rice. I steam it in an Oster steamer. I prefer 2 cups rice to 2 cups water, a dash of sesame oil, 2 teaspoons Real Salt, 2 tablespooons rice vinegar, and 2 tablespoons sweetener, vegetable glycerin being my sweetener. My steamer may be on its last legs, however, because I find that I need to stir the rice from time to time during the process to ensure even cooking. Lately, I'm pointedly theorizing to Tool Guy that a rice cooker would obviate this apparent necessity to supervise the rice. Being Tool Guy at a big box home center has to have its perks, right?

When I'm ready to do the final cooking and assembly of the kimbop, I run about four carrots through the mandolin with the teeth blade inserted and...ahem...hand in glove. The carrot strips are sauteed with sesame oil, though for the seed sensitive, olive oil works well. I usually shred directly into the cast iron skillet, douse with oil, and settle it on my itty-bitty simmer burner set on low. When they're soft, they're done. Following SMK's example, I also make an omelet thick enough to slice into strips. Then I drain the marinated meat strips, lay them flat in the skillet, and simmer on low until done--which isn't long--then drain. SMK will include simmered spinach, which I sometimes do and Krabmeat, which I never do since it isn't gluten-free. This kimbop thing is way flexible and there are websites out there of kimbop in many different combinations waiting to inspire you.

The wrapper to all of this food is a paper thin sheet of seaweed called nori. A bamboo place mat serves nicely as a guide to providing even pressure all along the roll as you fill and roll these. Lay the sheet of nori down on the mat and spoon in about 1/4 cup cooked rice and spread. A flat-sided bowl scraper is invaluable here. Leaving about an inch of nori uncovered at the top of your sheet, use the scraper to spread the rice out over the surface of the nori sheet. This bare swathe will be the "flap" on your roll to seal everything in when you are finished rolling. Next I sprinkle in some totally optional sesame seeds, lay a strip of omelet, meat strip, carrots strips, some pickled radish, and a few sticks of pickled ginger in a layered pile. Then I spritz the flap with a quirt of water from a spray bottle and begin to roll until complete, sealing the flap when done. Amounts of each ingredient and rolling techniques are variables that become more fluid with practice and time. Don't worry about untidy ends. When all of the rolls are finished, take a sharp knife and trim the ends, slicing the entire roll into inch-sized slices. These are ready for immediate consumption, though I find that the flavor is richer the next day.

So how did these go over with the rest of the Hobbits? Eh. Not so much. Seems the nori is a bit off-putting. Oh. Quel dommage. Leaves more for me. The smallest Hobbit, who at four years of age is still imperiously requesting and requiring that she be addressed as Princess, occasionally snags one. But I'm the major consumer, so I make them even if I'm the only one eating them and I make them for my own tastes and my tolerances. These days I'm starting to do more things that are just for me. Like buying that Todd Agnew CD, Reflection of Something. The one with what Princess refers to as The "Curse You" Song. She's demanded--hence there term Video on Demand--to see the video so many times, I thought the poor man deserved some royalties for providing that much inspiration and motivation for both of us. Now I can carry the goosebumps around with me while I'm rumbling in the kitchen and be-bop while I snack on kimbop.

Friday, April 6, 2007

I've Taken a Scunner....

I'm an armchair linguist. Always have been. I don't talk about it much, because most people start glazing over when I start waxing enthusiastic over a curious linguistic detail. Becoming a certified interpreter of American Sign Language just fed that passion. My zeal for a turn of phrase or expression and my curiosity for how it came into use isn't limited just to ASL. I look for it in all the books I read and I gravitate to authors who give me windows into how other people and cultures use language. Which is probably why I love British Cozy mysteries, especially those set in the Highlands of Scotland.

When I first read the word "scunner," I could extrapolate from the context what it generally meant, but I looked it up to see if the helpful linguist would tell me how it was derived. Unfortunately, no, but it did confirm that it meant "to take a disgust to; object of loathing." Just so. I've taken a scunner to the ethics of some of the alternative health community. Particularly having to do with supplements and pricing. Yeah, that ugly topic of money.

Becoming a Breatharian ain't cheap. Unless you're one who carries it to its "purist" form. And there are some out there who do attempt it, I've discovered. I remember when I first staggered out of a health food store in sticker shock. Don't get me wrong. As I've adjusted, I find I've no quarrel with the home town health food store that works very hard to provide alternative foods in a very tight market. I don't even have a quarrel--well, not much anyway--with some of the popular alternative brands. I did buy a grain mill because rice can be as low as .25 a pound, which beats $2.50 a pound for the flour--sorry, Bob!--by a long stripe and is much easier on the Breatharian budget. Still, I understand why alternative stuff will cost more, given special handling, processing, more expensive ingredients, what have you. I grok profit margin. But some of this stuff approaches usurious and reeks of advantaging. Don't get me started on the website that sells common g/f flours for $10-30 a pound. Nope. Won't go there. But they're easy to blow off because what they sell is so readily found elsewhere for less. What really fashed me, for some reason, was the cost of supplements promising to restore digestive health. Those probiotic ones. You know. The magic dirt pills that cost $60 a bottle. Don't mistake me, these pills actually worked for least they did while they were still saying that they were gluten free. It happened when I was evaluating how long I could afford to keep buying these, knowing that IselleverysupplementunderthesunHerb wasn't going to continue those deep pocket discounts forever (they didn't!), but wanting to get my children to a point of intestinal integrity where they would stop developing new reactions. Mulling over the label and dosing suggestions, I found the maintenance dose: "one a day for life." At $60 a bottle. Havers.

That was when I really started digging in to changing our diets, not just as an immediate exigency, but as a way of life. When we first started down this IgG trail, I was instructed that we had a three to four month load to haul....six months max and then we'd be home free. After that time frame elapsed and the children were becoming worse and not better, I had to re-evaluate. This was going to be a marathon, not a sprint and I needed to pace myself accordingly. And thon wee scunner wanting $60 per from me for life just fueled my drive to find other answers. We take supplements to give our bodies what we can't or aren't getting from our diets. Since I was convinced that probiotics were important to recovery, I started looking for dietary sources of probiotics. Real probiotics. Life probiotics. I found kefir.

For those to whom kefir is a new word, may I refer you to Dom Anfiteatro, the guru who has the most complete handling of the subject I've found. Even Wikipedia links to his site. To be brief, kefir is made by adding the bacteria-charged organism referred to as "kefir grains," which look like rubbery, overcooked cauliflower, to milk and letting them sit for 24 hours or so. The grains themselves feed on the lactose and impart the broadest imaginable spectrum of probiotic bacteria. They inspire such passion and enthusiasm in devotees that there are multiple yahoogroup lists--high traffic ones at that--on the subject. Go poke around there. Since grains propagate in milk and usually beyond any individual's need, these folk are usually very willing to share their bounty, some for just the cost of postage.

Then there are the Breatharians who can't do dairy.

Yes, I know. There are people who, being unable to tolerate grocery store milk, will be able to tolerate raw, organic goat's milk when kefirred sufficiently. Unfortunately, that advantage isn't universal. I tried doing just that with my children for a couple of months and consequently set the healing process back and entire year. An entire grim, austere year. A word to the wise: kefir may eat lactose, but it doesn't eat casein. So casein sensitive folk, tread carefully. Besides, while kefir is a great and easy source of live probiotics, my research and reading has led me to the understanding that all cultures have fermented foods, and not a few among vegetables and roots. So fermented dairy doesn't hold the corner on microbial magic.

What I've found, from experience, is that the grains, while they won't survive and reproduce in media other than milk, they will impart their probiotic value to whatever media they are in until they eventually peter out and die. It appears that it really doesn't matter what the medium is, you'll get some probiotic benefit from putting kefir grains in it. Since we were also grain-free, nut-free, almost everything free at that time, coconut milk made the most sense for us from a nutritional stand point. Making kefir is very simple and, while requiring routine, is much less demanding than children, a spouse, or even a pet. If possible, it would be advisable to keep a percentage of grains back to store in dairy milk, propagating for future drafting into the service of non-dairy kefir.

Non-Dairy Kefir

Pick your media, be it coconut, rice milk, nut milk, fruit juice

1 tablespoon of grains
1 cup of media
1 jar with non-metallic lid
24 hours

Drop the grains into the jar of liquid of choice, shake gently and leave on counter for 24 hours. Strain grains out and dump into fresh liquid. Lather, rinse, repeat. Figuratively, that is. Flavor/sweeten liquid to preferences, given that it will be on the sour side and drink.