Friday, March 28, 2008

Now Is the Spring of My Discontent...

We've past Easter and the First Day of Spring. It's definitely in the air. All over the Internet, too. Every search engine homepage has "March Madness" plastered across it and even articles on coping techniques. It kinda piqued my curiosity. I have my visions of what March Madness means. It means that I'm bored with most conversations on most of my email lists and I do mass deletes. I'm sure that there are treasure troves of information that will be forever lost to me and my life will never be the same for being bereft of those gems, but I dare say I shall survive. Can't sit still for doing much on the computer these days. It means that Bug and I hover over my seedling trays, chasing the patches of sunlight through the house over the course of the day, brewing up batches of chamomile tea for watering them, and doing endless head counts to update the census on how many sprouts have surfaced to date. So far, the Siberian tomatoes are living up to their reputation as early doers. It augers well. It means that I'm pressing the Hobbits outside to soak up the tentative sunshine, riding their scooters through the narrowing patches of snow that are shrinking from the yard. It means that we're drawing to the close of the lesson books we've chosen this year and putting the finishing touches on our test prep plans for April. Starting to make educational goals for next year. And this year, it means the milestone co-op order that is the largest we've ever handled to date. Yup. Changing the world one meal at a time.

With dim realization, it finally burst through upon me that the March Madness in Internet question is the playoffs. Duh. I admit to being absolutely sports-impaired. I even had to Google up to see what specific sport was encompassed by this flurry of playoffs. Basketball, it seems. Double duh. To compound my transgression, not only am I intransigent in my ignorance of sports, but I married someone who is similarly handicapped. It was no small asset in my eyes that Tool Guy is even further impaired in his interest in sports than myself. Let's see...non-smoker...loves to window shop...doesn't do sports. You may kiss the bride!

No, my March Madness is a restlessness. A discontent with the usual schedule of events. I look at my regular to-do list and can't rally anything like enthusiasm. Not even a remote sense of duty or responsibility to get it done. Good thing we're at the end of our canned curriculum, 'cause I'm the one who wants to play hooky. I wish I could even say that I'm distracted by the prospect of bursting out of doors and digging into the spring chores that will be waiting for me when the ground has thawed and dried sufficiently. Not even that. It's something that I can't yet define, but it's putting up its pale, thin shoots just as surely as the tiny specks of green that dot my seed trays. Dog is doing something similar...wandering the house aimlessly, having difficulty settling down into any activity for more than a few minutes. He's bored with his usual cadre of books and I'm giving him pointers on how to stretch his comfort zone into picking books that he might have overlooked before that still connect with his interests. Only Bug and Princess are still spinning through life like oblivious whirling dervishes, seemingly uneffected by all of this. I'm beginning to understand the reasoning for spring tonics like dandelion root, yellow dock, and nettles. They are just the ticket for invigorating and washing away the detritus of winter.

This is a good time of the year for sprouts of all kinds...the kind we mean to plant and the kind we mean to just eat. I've resumed sprouting fresh greens, feeling the craving for the crunch and crisp of new little leaves bursting with flavor and freshness. I'm also branching out into some new kinds of sprouting...grains. Janie Quinn, in her book Essential Eating, strongly encourages sprouting grains before using them. Her reasoning is that starches draw heavily on the pancreas' resources, probably more heavily than most bodies are capable of matching. But when grains are sprouted, most bodies recognize the grain, not as a starch but as a vegetable, making it much more readily digestible. Okay, I'm always up for a new project.

Sprouting grains does some very nice things to it. In the case of rice, it gives it a sweeter taste...sort of malted, if you will. It also makes it much easier to grind. I've found that rice is a very hard grain and some mills have trouble delivering anything better than a very grainy flour. When the rice is sprouted, the flour is much finer and softer. Sprouting rice for flour is very easy. It just takes some forward thinking and planning to use it on a regular basis and keep up with the typical demand of the average Hobbit appetite.

Grain Sprouts

2 cups rice or other grain
Appropriate sized sprouter lid or cheesecloth with rubber band
Wide mouth quart jar or larger

Add rice to jar and fill with water. Allow to soak overnight or 8 hours. Cover with sprouter lid or secure cheesecloth over the opening and drain, rinse until water is clear, then drain again. Leave jar inverted at an angle to allow water to completely drain. Rinse and drain 2-3 times a day. I find rice takes longer to sprout than some of the seeds I've sprouted in the past, but it will happen....usually in 4-6 days. It is only necessary to sprout until the tail is about 1/8" inch long or one third of the length of the grain. After the sprout has reached the appropriate length, drain thoroughly and spread out on a baking sheet. Dehydrate at 100* or so degrees for about 12-24 hours or until completely dry. They can then be cooked as whole grains or ground into flour.

I'm still experimenting on the baking with sprouted flour thing. Gluten free baking is twitchy and this seems to be no exception. My very first loaf of sprouted bread never made it to the cutting board. Apparently it is going to take more baking time than with unsprouted flour. When I pulled the loaf out of the oven and flipped it out of the pan, the lovely crust collapsed on the still mushy center. Ah, the joys of "cooking dangerously." Hopefully, the next loaf will see me much more contented.

To sprout or not to sprout...there is no question.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Ties That Bind

I hang my laundry out on the line year 'round. It has been my experience, since moving here, that wet clothes will dry in any temperature as long as the wind is blowing. And the wind does blow quite well here. Ask my tipsy greenhouse.

Still, what is a grudging chore during the winter months becomes an opportunity to step out and enjoy the sunshine and brisk breezes of spring. As the clouds race by and the sun bounces in and out of sight, standing outside and hanging laundry in the fresh winds is almost as satisfying as gardening. Okay, I said almost, alright?

Every time I talk laundry with someone--and I've been on email lists where "Love of Laundry" threads have consumed untold megabytes of server space somewhere--there's always some unfortunate soul who is unable to hang out their clothes because of some residential restriction of one type or another. Someone was quoted as bitingly opining that hanging out laundry was trashy and poor. It always saddens me when I hear this, because it demonstrates to me an impoverished perspective. Laundry flapping in the breeze is part of the ambiance that says "home." Banning that is like forbidding the scents drifting from a busy kitchen.

I think of laundry as I think of all of the fundamental tasks that women have accomplished through the millennia. A generational thread connecting us. This task contributes a fiber to the thread of our lives...this thread that is woven into the warp and woof that makes us the fabric of history. These small, menial repetitive things that connect me to all of the women who have ever lived who poured out their lives in the sustenance, nurturing and nourishment of their families. Each generation is woven into the succeeding ones. We hand off the threads for those that follow to continue weaving after us.

Edith Schaeffer talks about these threads in her book The Tapestry. This reminded me of another book that was influential to me in the early years of marriage: The Hidden Art of Homemaking. This book, I realize now, was fundamental in providing me with an glimpse of the significance of the responsibilities I had undertaken. Her ideas, suggestions, and perspective sewed the early seeds that I now begin to see are the harvest that I am reaping in my life right at this moment. The idea of taking very little and using it to create daily beauty. The idea of thinking outside of the consumeristic mentality. The significance of the menial and small things in making our lives meaningful and beautiful.

Riffling through my memories, I am humbled to realize how much of what is coming to fruit in my life is a result of someone else's effort, someone else's germination, someone else's investment in my life. All that is spread out before me in my life is built on the underpinnings of the people who have shared, shown, and modeled for me their ideas, their epiphanies, their experiences and wisdom.

Making breads of all kinds are one of those generational threads. There's nothing so homey as bread, is there? Mother teaching daughter the tricks, nuances, and idiosyncrasies of dough. Isn't the loss of bread, the substitution of bread, the relearning it all the biggest hurdle in gluten-free living? (The most frequently clicked-on recipes here are the bread ones.) So many people stumble over the idea of giving up bread as they know it. It's fundamental to our concept of nutrition. And almost every culture has their form of bread.

When we lived in San Antonio, tortillas were an intrinsic part of the cuisine there. Every little mom n' pop restaurante made their own and I, a transplant from Louisiana, was introduced to the "breakfast tortilla." Dunno how traditional that is, but it surely was yummy. We recently trialled the Food For Life tortillas, but became convinced that the xanthan gum confirmed our suspicion that corn is still off the menu for us. Time for some "cooking dangerously."

Almost Everything Free Tortillas

1 1/2 cups grain flour
1/2 - 3/4 cups tapioca starch flour
2-5 T melted lard
3/4 - 1 cup warm water
2-3 t guar gum
1 t salt
Extra lard for cooking

In mixer, using a dough hook (one of the rare times that gluten free baking requires a dough hook), mix the dry ingredients with the melted lard and slowly work in the water until incorporated. The dough should be dry enough to work with your hands. Break off a ball of dough and roll into a ball. Using sheets of baking parchment or wax paper, flatten in a tortilla press or roll out with a rolling pin. Thinner is better.

In cast iron skillet over medium low heat, melt more lard. Place tortillas one at a time into the skillet, browning for a minute or so until it starts to brown and bubble. Flip tortilla and cook the other side for another minute.

Best eaten warm, but these can be frozen and reheated later.

I think of all of the hands that continue the timeless tradition of nurturing their families with warm tortillas. Blest be the ties that bind.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Happy Birthday!

Birthdays and other auspicious beginnings. Spring is the perfect time for both. That's probably what spurred me on a year ago to start blogging about all of the stuff that we'd been through and where we were heading. Yep. This week marks one year of blogging for me. Whew. Never knew I had that much to say. Well, an exasperated former supervisor probably knew it. There may come a day when I run out of things to say, but Breatharian, today is not that day.

Along with the beginning of blogging, this week celebrates another beginning: the day Princess emerged into the world. Each of my pregnancies and deliveries were radically different from the others. Dog, being a recalcitrant, unrepentant transverse position, required a c-section, even resisting two attempted versions. Bug was an unmedicated v-bac (natural birth after Cesarean) in a hospital birthing room with a midwife. While we hadn't planned on another baby, when I became pregnant with Princess, I swore that I was going to have a home birth. Fortunately, my birthing success with Bug paved the way for finding a midwife who would accept me as a client. Other than being very tired and cranky...the whole Breatharian thing had descended upon us by that was a pretty good pregnancy, especially for someone tipping the Big Four-Oh.

My final visit with the midwife informed us that the delivery could be at any time...which turned out to be that night. I'd gone to bed early with the benefit of some Benedryl courtesy of a cold shared by Bug. Thanks, Bug! Shortly after midnight, I was pinched awake by the contractions. Leisurely strolling to the phone, I informed the midwife that we were getting close. Bug's arrival was prefaced by twenty-four hours of labor, so I wasn't anticipating anything precipitate. I should have known better. Princess has always been determined to set her own pace. From the start. So far, nothing has changed. Heh.

When it became apparent that things were moving faster than the arrival of the midwife, Tool Guy, in a spousal state of panic, tentatively suggested heading toward the hospital. When this was greeted with gutteral growls, he retreated to the laundry room to warm up some towels instead of warming up the car. Good plan. Suggestions to change locations or change positions were equally death-defying efforts. He lapsed into supportive silence. Not for nothing has this man been married twenty years.

With all of the aplomb of a runaway train, Princess bound out into the world and decided to stay. Fifteen minutes later, the midwife arrived and, looking over the situation, informed me that she never had any worries about us. It was nice, though, to have someone tuck Princess and I into bed and take care of the rest of the details.

Princess requested cupcakes for her birthday this year and since Sin on a Spoon is essentially an icing recipe, I decided to play around with toppings on our standby cake recipe.

I had planned on photographing the mouthwatering outcome of my labors. Unfortunately, there was an unanticipated "earthquake" in the refrigerator and the results Oh, they were still delicious enough for a Hobbit to gobble, but their appearance didn't do the cupcakes justice.

Caramel Carob Cupcakes

First make the cupcakes:

Red Devil Cake

2 cups flour (I used 1.5 cups rice, 1/4 tapioca, 1/4 potato starch)
1 c sugar (I used 1/2 c date sugar, 1/4 c vegetable glycerin)
1/2 c cocoa powder or carob powder
2 t double acting baking powder (I used cream of tartar)
2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
2 eggs
1 t guar gum or xanthan gum
1 c diced cooked beets (I used pear puree)
1 c water or water to appropriate consistency (My uses average 1/4 cup)
1/3 c olive oil
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
2 t vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350* F. Lightly oil or spray two 8" square baking pan (I used a 9" round). Mix flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in bowl, combining well.

If using flax instead of eggs (see substitutions below), grind to meal in coffee grinder. Place 1/3 cup water in blender, start blending while adding flax meal. Blend 30 seconds. To flax mixture or to eggs in blender, add beets, 1 cup water, oil, vinegar, and vanilla. While mixing, add guar or xanthan gum. Process until frothy and well blended.

Pour this quite thick liquid mixture into dry ingredients. Mix quickly just until everything is moistened and incorporated. Pour batter into prepared pans and immediately bake for 35-40 minutes or until tester comes out clean. Watch carefully as it may take less time.

Frost when completely cool.


Add more cocoa/carob and chips to get a richer flavor
Sub 2 eggs with 2 T flax and 1 cup water
Sub 1/3 c mashed banana instead of eggs or flax
Sub carob instead of chocolate
Sub sweet potatoes, yams, squash, pears, or pumpkins for beets
Make cupcakes instead of cake (approx 15)

Sin On a Spoon Icing
(All ingredients/amounts negotiable)

8 T ghee
1/4 cup cocoa powder
2 T coconut milk
2 T vegetable glycerin or agave nectar or
8 drops stevia
2 tsp. lecithin

Blend ghee with balloon whip mixer attachment on high until soft. Pour in cream/coconut milk, lecithin, and sweetener, whipping until blended. On stir setting, add cocoa powder, turning speed up to high as the powder becomes incorporated. Mix until the desired consistency, adding more lecithin if necessary to emulsify the ghee and coconut milk.

Caramel Topping

2-4 T maple syrup
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. ghee
Enjoy Life chocolate chips

In heavy sauce pan, combine ingredients and boil until syrup reaches the string stage. Allowing the syrup to cool just enough to not melt the icing (stirring the whole time), drizzle over the iced cupcakes. Garnish with chocolate chips.

To avoid refrigerator earthquakes, these are best served immediately.

Five years ago. Today. Snuggling the latest baby to bless our homeschooling group, I had some flashbacks and baby yearnings. Briefly. It's pretty exhilarating to be the mommy of an exuberant five year old. Think I'll keep her.

Friday, March 7, 2008

These Seeds of Change

Despite the fact that we got eight inches of snow last week, it is starting to feel like spring. Maybe it's because the sun is rising higher in the sky each day and setting later and later. There's just some internal clock that is telling me that it is almost time. Or maybe it's because I got my Seed Savers order in the mail and I'm itchy to get started on my starts. Yeah. That could be it.

In my opinion, the New Year is misplaced on our calendars. The dead of winter is not the time that we start thinking about starting over and new beginnings. I feel ever so much more motivated to begin new things, take on new projects, new goals, new aspirations when fledgling leaves are unfurling and the first spikes of grass are pushing up than when everything is still insulated under layers of snow and ice. Bright sunny days do more to infuse me with enthusiasm to accomplish. Under gray January skies, I just want to heat up another rice bag, crawl with it under the numerous voluminous blankets and read another Victorian murder mystery. With a bowl of Sin On a Spoon in my lap.

As the days grow longer and the sunshine feels brighter, I have no difficulty finding the enthusiasm to put new goals and tasks into motion. Forget January 1st resolutions of getting in shape and working out. March is the time I've started doing some fitness training and toning up. It's not hard at all. I keep reminding myself how useful it will be when it is time to hit the garden and the yard. No sore muscles then! Summer time is my Boston Marathon.

I'm pawing through my seed collection. A few packages with seeds from last year and some new one to try for this year. I used to wonder at people who were constantly changing what they planted from year to year when they were so happy with what they'd harvested the previous year. I'm beginning to understand the addiction: so many little space. And a comparatively short growing season. I'm hedging my bets this year. Barbara Kingsolver, in her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, referred to a type of tomato called Siberian, which is reputed to produce proliferately in, as you guessed, Siberia. My kind of 'mater! There will be a "what I did with my summer vacation" report on how Glastnost is producing.

The air is buzzing with discussion about what we're going to plant this year, what soil amendments we tried last year or plan on trying this year, what deer deterents are in place, and the best methods and places to compost. Sources of locally composted manure are secrets almost as guarded as where the best haunts for mushrooms can be found. Hey, some things are sacred, you know?

Gardeners can be as avid proselytizers as...say...foodie folk. We're always luring in the unsuspecting with suggestions that they "start small" and "read Square Foot's soooo easy." They're so charmingly innocent and have no suspicion of the inner gardening monster that lurks inside, waiting for the opportunity to come out and take over the world.

Yes, gentle Breatharian, I was one of those who "started small." Just a simple 5x5 square foot garden. Unh, huh. In a short three seasons, the garden has grown to a 290 square foot garden. With a greenhouse cover over it. The next door neighbor took one look at it and acerbically dubbed it the "Taj Mahal." Ya think?

The gardening seeds aren't the only seeds of change on my mind. Seeds of all stripe are also back on the menu for the Hobbits, which fires up another motivation...the one that sends me into the kitchen for some more "cooking dangerously." As I thumbed through The Allergy Self-Help Cookbook, I remember the feeling I had when I first opened it--the one that Alice must have had, tumbling down the rabbit hole. Little did I know. I came across this recipe after we'd gone gluten free and at the very beginnings of everything free. It feels like being visited by an old the return of spring.

Chili Seeds inspired by Marjorie Hurt-Jones

1 cup raw pumpkin seeds
1 cup raw sunflower seeds
1 T olive oil
1 T chili powder
1/8 t garlic powder
1/8 t cayenne pepper
1 T Real Salt
Enough water to cover seeds

In a glass bowl, measure out seeds, salt, and add enough water to cover. Stir to thoroughly dissolve salt. Let soak 8 hours or overnight. Drain seeds completely. Mix with oil and spices. Spread out on baking sheets at a very shallow depth. Dehydrate at 100-115* for 12-24 hours or until completely dry and crispy.

Soaking neutralizes the anti-nutrients that are in seeds, making them more nutritious and more digestible--a very important feature for those with digestive difficulties. While Tool Guy and Dog are enthralled with the crunchy zest of this recipe, Bug and Princess prefer their seeds prepared this way, only plain. It's such an easy recipe that it's no trouble to accommodate all of the palates.

Meanwhile, I'm watching the sun and counting the days until Gardening Begins. It isn't hard to get to the point of becoming a gardening monster. Les Brown said it best, "Everything is a cinch when you do it inch by inch."