Friday, April 25, 2008

So, What Did You Do Today, Dear?

Sometimes our lives get so full that lots of things have to get crunched into a very short period of time. Once a month I have a crunch week. It's the week that I have to coordinate a co-op delivery for a burgeoning membership, attend the homeschooling co-op with its responsibilities, and grocery shop. Three back-to-back days that pull me out of bed as early as 4 am. and no later than 6 am. Groan.

This was crunch week on steroids. And it stretched into two weeks. My parents announced a visit, the first since that brief, abortive fly-by in December when the plague struck our house and they were forced to flee home. The house hadn't been deep cleaned since well before Christmas when we weren't harking to the angels sing. No, we were harking to the hacking of pneumonia. So the turn-the-house-over cleaning took longer than usual. You don't want to know what lurked in dark corners and in hidden places. When you have three short people running around, things can get pretty scary.

And somehow the planets aligned and ordained that our homeschooling group drama production, the Stanford Achievement Tests, and co-op delivery should all coincide in the same week. Did I mention that I offered to proctor the Stanford? So it wasn't just about ferrying Hobbits to go take the test. Nope. I signed on for the full ride. Did I mention that the co-op delivery came on the same day as the test? No stress there. That was the 4 am morning.

Of course, all of the perfect gardening weather happened this week when I was running back and forth between all of this stuff to do. I promised myself that Saturday would be gardening day and I'd take advantage of this wonderful sunshine and warmth. Did I mention that the forecast is now predicting rain for Saturday? All the way until next Thursday. Figures.

This was one of those weeks that I pulled out every gluten free "convenience" food that I've cobbled together. The Hobbits have lived off of chicken fingers, shoestring french fries, cowboy eggs, and buffalo hotdogs. I was even out on the back deck at 6 am, popping sorghum for snacks away from home. Even the bread was relatively easy to squeeze in.

Cold fermenting and slow rising sourdough breads have made juggling everything in our lives with everything free eating so much easier. I've even started pressing the envelope and playing with sprouting grains and grinding them to make flour. Kind of like Ezekiel bread, gluten free style. (And please don't let anyone tell you that Ezekiel bread is gluten isn't!) I've been playing around with making a sprouted sourdough bread and while I've met with a few disappointments, I'm closing in on the quintessential sprouted rice flour sourdough loaf.

Sprouted Rice Sourdough Bread (v.2.1)

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.


2 cups sprouted 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
3-4 teaspoons guar gum

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

Into the meringue, pour:

1/3 cup olive oil
3 egg yolks
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 return to the refrigerator for a minimum of 8 hours or overnight. Remove to a warm oven to rise. The dough may have a skin on top of it. I judge that the bread has risen sufficiently when the skin has stretched to cracking around the edges and the dough underneath takes on a more liquid appearance. Bake at 350* for 1.5 hour or until done. Sprouted bread takes more baking than regular gluten free sourdough and is much moister in the final product, so be sure that it is thoroughly baked before removing from the oven. I've even removed it from the pan and returned it to the oven to finish baking the last fifteen minutes. But do so with care. Ask me how I know.

Tomorrow is Saturday. I'm scheduling a nervous breakdown tomorrow. I'll have to get back to you about the time...

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Substance of Things Hoped For...

Farmers are gamblers. They're the folks who literally bet the farm every year. Gardeners take that leap of faith in a smaller way. Some years are better than others, but every year starts out full of hope and eager expectation. I like to keep a journal of my gardening journey to compare the different things I try, the different outcomes, what works and what doesn't. I have friends who smile behind their hands at the detail of the things I put in my journal. Yes, Breatharian, I even weigh the produce I harvest and journal that according to vegetable and variety. This is when you know that you've moved beyond gardening as a hobby. When the pole bean sprout that you planted begins to resemble Audrey II in Little Shop of Horrors and sing, "Feeeeed meeeee..." That's when you know that you have an addiction going on.

Every year, I try to branch out into a new aspect of sustainability. I'm still waiting to see if the kombucha'd molasses tea will yield great things from my garden. But twiddle my thumbs I will not; I'm also meditating on other things to improve the soil quality and yield in the meantime. These days, seaweed is coming up on my radar with more frequency. I use a lot of it in our foods. I put powdered kelp in the salt shaker. I sneak spoonsful into chili. I sprinkle dulse on my sprouted salads (if you look closely at the pictures, the red flakes are the dulse). And there's the perennial favorite, kimbop. Princess is the only one who will eat seaweed voluntarily, but I have no compunctions about resorting to guerrilla nutrition. I stealth sheets of it into the bone broth. Now I'm looking at the ultimate stealth: the garden.

The ground in my corner of the Shire isn't fertile. Breatharian, there's a reason that the settlers began to push on to the Midwest from here: this here ain't really farm country. Trapping, hunting, and dairy farming, yeah. Planting, not so much. The only thing that one can grow with ease and rapidity here are rocks. I discovered very quickly after assaying into the gardening world exactly why New England is laced with rock walls. Add to that the highly acidic pH and my first garden didn't yield very much. That year's journal tally totaled 68 pounds. It's come a long way, but we're not there yet. There's still more to hope for.

After reading an excerpt from Seaweed in Agriculture and Horticulture by W.A. Stephenson and following the enthusiastic flow of information about the myriad of ways that seaweed benefits the soil fertility and tilth, I was convinced. My soil needs all the nutrients, minerals, and structure that I can pour into it. So this year, along with the compost, clippings, leaves, manure, lime, and molasses kombucha tea, I'm turning under a large supply of seaweed.

One of the things that impressed me mightily with seaweed is that it tackles the fungal challenges that can plague gardens. Yeah. That would be my garden. I'm not sure if it is impaired soil quality, over watering, watering at the wrong time, or overcrowding, but every year I run a race with a kind of fungus that rushes to consume my garden. Neem oil has helped keep it in check, but I'm looking for better answers. Got a lot to hope for this year.

Last year's garden...a definite improvement on the very first...left me with a generous supply of tomato sauce and the remnant jars of that still cling to the shelves that line the basement. Mostly we're satisfied with our style of eating these days, but once in a while, Tool Guy will wistfully emote about a particular food that he misses. I gaped at him, slack jawed, when he recently sighed over missing spaghetti. He was a little taken aback when I informed him that everything necessary for spaghetti was already in the house. I whirled through my stashes of stuff and threw together a pot of spaghetti that had all of the Hobbits humming. And they never knew it had seaweed in it. See? Guerrilla nutrition.

Spaghetti Sauce

4 lbs. ground beef
1 quart tomato sauce
1 quart bone broth
2 tsp. kelp powder
Tinkyada rice pasta

Brown ground beef in cast iron dutch oven and drain. Return meat to dutch oven, add sauce, kelp, and broth, then heat until incorporated and simmering. Meanwhile, in a pot, bring water to a boil and add rice pasta. Cover and turn off heat. Leave pasta in hot water for twenty minutes without removing the lid. After 20 minutes, drain pasta. Perfect pasta every time. Serve spaghetti sauce and meat over pasta.

The iodine in seaweed has a lot to offer our bodies. It works with our endocrine system. It is becoming recognized as a viable way of dealing with pathogens and avoiding antibiotics. It certainly helps deal with fungal overgrowth in our bodies as well as our gardens. In my zeal to include as much seaweed in our diet as guerrilla nutrition will allow, I've discovered that a light hand is required. Better to use less in more foods than more in less. Yes, they'll be getting a lower percentage, bite for bite, but a little seaweed in a Hobbit tummy is a higher percentage than all of the seaweed still in the plate. Softly, softly...

In addition to sustainable gardening, I'm also interested in other sustainable forms of harvesting. In discussing a source of seaweed, The Maine Seaweed Company came up. This company is a delight to do business with. Larch Hanson has a warm, personal touch and is always up for an email exchange about gardening, how to use the seaweed, and is eager to share what's going on in his garden. I'm quite impressed with how his cold frames are producing.

The Hobbits continue to grow and thrive. We continue to stalk new foods. My seedlings are sturdily pushing upwards and putting out their true leaves. In another week or so, my garden will be redolent of seashore. We've come a long way. The substance of things hoped for...the evidence of things not seen.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Polly Wanna Cracker?

I think we've crossed the terminus of a status change. We're no longer just Breatharians. We're now the proud owners of a set of birds that makes us something different now...we're Budgerigarians. Yep. Dog has been lobbying diligently to become a pet owner of some type and this, after much deliberation and discussion, is what was agreed upon.

Originally, he wanted a dog. A husky, in fact. There were several factors excluding this from practicability. Not the smallest of which was the size of our family and the inverse size of our house. (Reason #1) Plus the well-known, well-established fact that after the shine has worn off of any pet, the primary caregiver becomes...come on, admit it...Mom. And Mom just has about as much on her plate as she can handle. (Reason #2) I insisted to Dog that if I wanted another creature to raise, I'd get pregnant again. He was, unsurprisingly, unimpressed. The biggest factor came down to the fact that most dog food is a gluten, corn, et al landmine. And, yes, I'm aware of the trend in feeding animals on a Biologically Appropriate Raw Food Diet, affectionately known as BARF. See Reason #2. Add to that the cost of feeding Hobbits and you'll have Reason #3 why even a BARF diet doesn't solve the pet problem.

We toyed with the idea of rabbits. Actually, the Hobbits toyed with the idea. When "rabbits" came out of Tool Guy's mouth, it was of a mind to raise them as one would raise chickens. I wasn't sold on the idea, because at least with chickens, you get eggs. I like having multi-tasking appliances and multi-tasking animals working for me, you know? Even the Hobbits are starting to work for their keep anymore, but that's fodder for another blog another day.

Finally, Dog settled his heart on birds. After all, bird seed...what could be easier? A veritable piece of gluten-free cake, no? It even happened that as Tool Guy and I began to finalize the decision in our minds, a very lovely Theresa in a neighboring village offered a very pristine bird cage on Freecycle and we became the happy recipients. Tool Guy spirited Dog out for a father/son outing and came back with two young budgies, one blue and one yellow, dotted with green. All of the Hobbits were enchanted. Tool Guy also was equipped with toys and a bag of bird food.

Picking up the bag with idle curiosity, I began to read the list of ingredients. Very shortly into the list, it popped up. Wheat. Wheat gluten. Sigh. Nothing about this Breatharian stuff is compatible with prepackaged anything.

But just as having to think outside the cereal box liberates the Breatharian to eat more nutritiously than the person who shops the inner aisles of the grocery store, being unable to feed the bagged stuff liberates the Budgerigarians to pursue a more nutritious diet for the budgie. It seems that the experienced bird handler knows that an all-seed diet can cut a bird's life expectancy by more than half. At the instruction of a foodie friend who also has birds, I raided our stores of grains, beans, and seeds down in the basement and began to tutor Dog in the fine art of sprouting. Sprouts of fenugreek, millet, quinoa, amaranth, adzuki, buckwheat, and others joined the jars lining the sink. I even dipped a hand into my stash of nori sheets and we shredded up bits for them to nibble on. In a very short time, these SAD budgies had abandoned their station at the millet seed cup for the attractions of the sprouts. Following a referred link, I discovered that not only do these birds do better on a fresh and varied diet, it's also recommended to consider a gluten-free diet for them.

Digging around through our stores turned up the amaranth and quinoa that had been sitting in my "hope chest" of food...hoping for the day when they would be back on the menu. Today is that day. I also pulled out an old friend of a recipe that the Hobbits used to enjoy, when rice had disappeared from the menu and before seeds followed.

"Graham" Crackers

1/2 cup amaranth flour
1/2 cup quinoa flour
2 T tapioca starch flour
1/2 t guar gum
1/2 - 1 t cinnamon
2 T maple syrup
1/2 t baking soda
1 t ground flax seed
2 T lemon juice
1-2 T water
2 T oil

In a large bowl, mix flours and dry ingredients. In blender or food processor, blend liquid ingredients with ground flax seed. Stir into flour mixture until it forms a ball. Add more water and/or oil as necessary.

Divide dough into two pieces. On a sheet of wax or parchment paper, sprinkle a dusting of flour to prevent sticking and place dough ball under another sheet.

Roll out until very thin, trim edges, and transfer to cookie sheet. Use pizza cutter to cut dough into pieces.

In a 325* oven, bake for 10-20 minutes or until crisp and brown as desired. Test a cracker in the center of sheet for crispness. If the outer ones are done, but the inner ones aren't, remove the crispy ones and return the rest to the oven, repeating until done.

Crackers are among the things that are off the menu for budgies. Nice to know they aren't off the menu for Hobbits.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Another Hill To Climb

Tool Guy is inducting again. For the uninitiated, that's Atkins Diet speak for being back on the wagon. He's coasted along complacently, thoroughly enjoying the dangerous activities going on in the kitchen, like sourdough bread and pear butter muffins. It was Princess who shook him out of that complacency. Small children are brutally honest. She told him that she was no longer able to hug him, because he had "a hill." This is the same child who a few years ago deduced--and announced loudly--that the reason I didn't camp out in the tent was that I was "too old and fat." (Vanity forces me to report that I was 43 and 115 lbs. at the time.) She demands that I inform everyone that, as a newly arrived five year old, she no longer says this about me. It doesn't, apparently, preclude her from making such comments about her father. There's probably some logic in there, but it is too arcane to follow. Such are the vagarities of a pre-schooler.

Tool Guy took this to heart, however, and is inducting faithfully...more or less. It made me think about the beginnings of his love affair with Atkins' theories. It was quite a few years back...even before Dog was born. After years of low fat, high carb eating--you know, all the stuff that the "experts" say is heart-healthy and "good for you"--he was over 250 lbs and even at 6'3" that's more than he wanted to be. When he tumbled across the Atkins plan, he was excited to be able to eat, not feel hungry and still lose weight. And there's a good reason for that. Fat is the trigger that controls our appestat; it's what tells our body that we are full. When we don't eat enough fat, we are hungry in a very short time and "portion control" becomes torturous or impossible. Traditional diets prized fat for lots of very good reasons.

This was probably the very embryonic beginnings of thinking outside of the nutritional box for us, because everyone...including Tool Guy's doctor...swore that it would be the death of him, it was unhealthy, ad infinitum. Tool Guy even had a full physical done before starting and had a check up six months later. When his doctor called with the test results (this was pre-HIPAA), I took careful notes of the numbers. I asked him to repeat the cholesterol numbers from the first test. It had dropped 60 points. Being the professional gadfly that I am, I pointed out this little detail to the doctor. He was not amused.

Going low carb had other benefits that we hadn't expected. Persistent skin conditions that the doctor couldn't cure, repeated ear infections that resisted all treatments disappeared never to return. He even seemed calmer and in a better overall mood. It wasn't after we'd discovered gluten intolerance that we began to connect all of the dots. Because the main carb that Tool Guy avoided was...yeah, you guessed it...bread. Wish we'd known to have that rash biopsied. Dermatitis Herpetiformis is a topical manifestation of gluten intolerance and we might have had an earlier diagnosis. A few years later, while networking with other folks who were going gluten free, we began to see a pattern: a goodly percentage of them had also responded positively to the Atkins many that we began to quip that it was an unofficial diagnostic tool. If you lost weight on the Atkins Diet, then you were gluten intolerant. And only half in jest.

In addition to low carbing, which means no sugar at all as well as cutting back on carbs, Tool Guy has decided to start winnowing out the corn syrup and not go back. I guess all of my preaching is starting to seep through. He doesn't know it, but I've been playing King Corn in the player next to the bed while he sleeps. I, for one, have never believed the tommyrot that subliminal suggestions don't work. Mwahahaha... So this time, one of the first things he struck from the menu was that bottle of hunter's orange-hued French salad dressing. Since this is his favorite topping for just about everything, I promised to provide him with an Atkins-friendly version.

French Dressing

1/2 cup vinegar
2 tsp. dry mustard
1 T sweetener or to taste
1 1/2 tsp. Real Salt
2 tsp. paprika
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 cup olive oil
1 raw egg yolk (from pastured hens)

In a food processor or blender, mix vinegar, sweetener, egg yolk, and dry ingredients. Slowly, while blending, pour in oil until thoroughly mixed. Refrigerate.

Dr. Atkins, while vilified for a very long time, is slowly being vindicated by the fact that science is finally catching up with many of the things that he proposed. You can go without bread and still remain healthy. Animal fats are good for you. Red meat won't kill you. It's the sugar, refined carbs, and trans fats that are bad for you. It is a pity that his ideas have been co-opted into selling more processed junk food, albeit low carb, instead of encouraging people to continue eating healthy whole foods.

Tool Guy is presenting a trimmer, more svelte figure these days and Princess has deigned to hug him again. Oh, and he turns the big Five Oh this year. Can we say that he's over the hill?