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.