Friday, June 1, 2007

Lost In Austen

I used to be an avid reader. The librarians would flinch when I walked in the door. Seriously. Before children, I would swoop in with a cavernous gym bag and not leave until it was almost too heavy for me to drag out, leaving wide gaps on the shelves. And I've lived before there were computerized check-out systems. Just imagine.

However, the rigors of time management require having less time to curl up with a good book, let alone a mountain of them. Then a few years ago, my partner in food crime shared with me her enjoyment of books on tape. Just plug that puppy in and go about your day. Oh, my. Absolute heaven.

Doing a little poking around the very cutting-edge library system we have at our fingertips here, I discovered a vast wealth of audio books at my complete disposal. Thanks goodness for Library Elf, because with four library cards in my pocket, I'm worse than a shopaholic with all of the credit cards. Needless to say, these days very little of what I "read" is actually words on a printed page. But I'm able to cover, if not all of the volume of books I once regularly read, at least enough to keep my mind entertained, challenged, and active.

A while back, I decided to cover in full all of the Jane Austen novels that I enjoyed so well as A&E productions or feature movie productions. I spent a whole year lost in Austen. And my children went with me. Poor things, they didn't have a choice, because there were the lilting, vibrant narrative tones following them through the house, over and over. Even the incomparable Wanda McFadden can't best Lyndsay Duncan's version of Pride and Prejudice. I should know because I've listened to them both. A few times.

On top of this, Tool Guy bought me a portable dvd player to entertain me while in the kitchen, cooking dangerously. My stack of Jane Austen productions are looking, shall we say, "well-loved" at this point. I realized just how much was trickling down the food chain, as it were, when I was standing toe to toe with Dog about getting a job done. As I won the point and he slouched off to perform the required task, he tossed back over his shoulder, "Very well, but it gives me no pleasure." Who knew? I'm raising Mary Bennett.

Mrs. Bennett's catty remark about her daughters not having anything to do in the kitchen because they were well able to afford a good cook made me start thinking about how we live today and how they lived back then. When we first started this everything free business, I told a food friend that I was living a 19th century life in the 21st....sort of like the folk in Frontier House, but without all of the soap opera drama. I have to tell you that this creates a certain amount of dissonance with the dominant culture. People who can toss frozen dinners into the microwave or order out for pizza or pop off to the closest fast food restaurant have a concept of time that is very much at variance with mine. Life feels like it moves at a much faster pace for the rest of the world than it does for me. Many of my foodie friends tell me they have the same experience.

My days are about planning, prepping, staging. One meal flowing into the next. Or housework. Hanging out laundry. Or yard work. Or gardening. Oh, and there's some homeschooling in that mix somewhere. But that's probably the way that it's always been. The speed of life as we know it today is a modern construct....perhaps an artificial one at that....and not how most people have lived over the larger course of history. For most of our history, with the exception of the Bennetts of this world, people did it all themselves, as extended family, or as a community. Another friend, who has similar food issues, visited a family down in Mexico who live in a rural setting. She described their days much as I'd always imagined and I feel an affinity for their daily rhythms. Only there were other hands to help so nothing was terribly burdensome and the husband always made sure there was wood for the fire or sufficient water available. Community is and always has been terribly important in this lifestyle. Our Western ideas of autonomy definitely drive the inspiration for labor and time-saving devices and food. My friend said the food there was real and wonderful. So much so that she burst into tears in the middle of a meal. "Way to startle a hostess," she lamented. I thought it was the ultimate compliment. I can understand that kind of gratitude for a safe meal from someone else's hands that is exquisitely delicious.

The affluent of Regency England hired people to see to all of those details for them. Today most folk do the same, only they are paying manufacturers and producers indirectly instead of directly hiring servants. Then there are the "everything free" folk who are doing everything themselves. See why I don't do much reading anymore? Well, I did manage to squeeze in What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew: From Fox Hunting to Whist-The Facts of Daily life in Nineteenth-Century England by Daniel Pool. An easy read and very interesting.

All of this culture sparked an interest in Bug and even Princess. It started when she came home with a hand-me-down toy china tea set made from real china. After they'd played with it for a while, Bug wanted some real tea. And scones, please, Mom. Tweaking a scone recipe when one has never eaten scones before is, needless to say, an additional challenge. On the other hand, if there's no basis for comparison, the untutored palate should be easier to please, right? Hey, some days you get the bear and some days the bear gets you. This scone recipe is a work in progress and I expect that as I refine it, this post will be replaced with the updated versions. Kinda like Scone 4.7.

I would love to say that these scones are identical to the authentic ones that you'd get within the embrace of the UK, but in all honesty, I can't. Ingredients like milk were originally added to recipes for the very reason that they do appealing things to the end product. I've found that losing milk in baked goods makes a significant dent in the outcome. So if you're looking for light and fluffy scones, then continue looking, gentle Breatharian, for these are not they. But they're not exactly hockey pucks either. They are buttery tasting with a slight tang, a little crispy on the outside, and provide an adequate raft to the garnishments of High Tea for an indiscriminate Hobbit's enjoyment.

Almost Everything Free Scones

1 cup gf flour
1/2 cup potato starch
1/2 cup dried potato flakes
2 tsp. cream of tartar
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. guar gum
10 drops stevia liquid
1/4 cup ghee
1/2 cup coconut milk kefir

Cut ghee into dry ingredients, stir in coconut milk and stevia. Knead lightly until incorporated, adding liquid if necessary. Roll between silicone, parchment, or wax sheets, cut out and place on baking tray. Bake at 400* for 10-12 minutes.

Everyone enjoyed the tea immensely. Well, Dog didn't care for the beverage itself, but he did enjoy the experience and the scones. Bug and Princess relished it all. Looks like Tea is going to become a tradition around here. Here's to gracious living.

These days the librarians still flinch when we troop in. Because I don't come alone. Dog has inherited my book gene and we've discovered how the tandem stroller that hobbits have outgrown will accommodate one hundred books quite nicely. Good thing everything is computerized, right? Tomorrow is library day and we're going to go get lost.

Princess wants to know when she's going to be old enough for her own card.


purple_kangaroo said...

I can so relate to this post. Especially the part about how doing everything yourself slows down the pace of life.

We love Jane Austen here, too, and tea.

Anonymous said...

Hey you! ;-)

Have you see the Beatrix Potter cookbook? I'm sure you'd enjoy it. A thin cookbook, yet very eye opening.


Loztnausten said...

No, I haven't! I'll have to look for it, though!

Anonymous said...


The directions mention yogurt, but I didn't see any in the I blind? I could be....

Loztnausten said...

Whups! Thanks for catching that typo for me. That's the coconut milk kefir. Bonus points for you! LOL!