Friday, May 30, 2008

Breatharian's Diary

This is gonna shock you, so brace yourself. I'm a list maker. I know. Whoda thunk? What can I say? When every Hobbit views me as their own particular property and at their disposal for endless interruptions, it's very difficult to remain on track. Some days I find myself literally drifting in circles, like a rudderless boat. But it's worse than that; it isn't enough that I make to-do lists. No. I have to have categorized to-do lists. I have a to-cook list, to-clean list, to-school list, to-project list, to-garden list, and a chore list for the kids for each day. Is that anal enough? Not quite.

I've decided that I've discovered the value of a diary. Not the kind of soul-searching, deeply-delving journal where one pours out one's essence onto the pages as a bequest to future generations. No. This is much more shallow and callow than that: I want Brownie points. So much of what I do through the day is repetitive, routine, and ephemeral that I feel the need to have something to show for it. After all, I was on my feet and moving from early morning to 9p last night before I finally dusted my hands and called it a day. I didn't get but half of my to-do stuff done, but I was busy doing things. Doggonit, I want credit for what I did. Yep. I'm starting a diary. You know those dry, stale things that were a laundry list of laundry, et al that one does in a day, but no one is interested in reading? Yeah, no one in posterity is going to want to read these things, but dagnabit, at least I can hold that up next to my trashed house and say, "See??? I did SOMETHING!!"

Phyllis Diller said, "Cleaning the house while you have children is like shoveling the walk while it is still snowing." Yeah, but you can't wait until the mess stops making to start cleaning it. We had a taste of what that would be like this past week when Tool Guy He's converting some wasted space into a room for Princess. New England cottages are usually characterized by realtors as being "cozy." Well, our cottage is quite "snug," thank you very much. This little conversion provides us with some "found" space, but in order to utilize it, we had to displace a great deal Our timing lacks synchronicity, because while he was projecting away on the room conversion, I was beginning to tackle changing our wardrobe over from winter to summer. Which requires evacuating the contents of the attic. The house was in a state somewhat less fit for polite society. So as much as I would like to wait until it stops snowing...still gotta shovel. Through all of this mess.

There's a lot of Breatharian cooking that doesn't take a lot of time, even though the little bites of time start adding up after a while. Making ketchup is one of those things. Of course, since almost all ketchup is corn-sweetened, contain corn vinegar, or corn-based citric acid--though that may change with corn prices rising--Hunt's and the ilk are off the menu. As my tomato plants are adjusting to their new home in the greenhouse, I'm eyeing the last jars of tomato sauce and wondering if they will hold out until the first fruits come in. And I grab another jar to make ketchup.

Breatharian Flames Ketchup

6 ancho chile peppers, stemmed & seeded
1/2 white onion, chopped
1 tsp minced garlic
3 cups water
3 T vegetable glycerin
3 T maple syrup
1 T apple cider vinegar
1 quart plain tomato sauce
1/2 t salt

Place peppers, chopped onion, and minced garlic in a large saucepan and cover with the water. Bring to a boil and simmer over low heat for about 15 minutes or until peppers are soft. Strain out peppers, onion, and garlic and blend in food processor. Add tomato sauce and remaining ingredients and blend well. Adjust seasonings to taste and spoon into glass container. Store in refrigerator.

Keeping a diary of to-do stuff keeps me accountable. It keeps me on track. It keeps me aware of how I use my time. "Teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom." Psalm 90:12

Oh. Yeah. I'm also one of those people who do something and put it on the list for the joy of crossing it off. Am I pathetic or what?

Friday, May 23, 2008

Attitude Is Everything

Is it possible to get more cliche than that? Seriously. But as is with many cliches, there was an original moment of profound truth. We just need to clip away the frayed threads that fuzz up and obscure the fundamental principle.

Today, Bug turns eight. Someone commented recently to me that each child's birthday is also a day of celebration for the is our accomplishment as well. So true. On these birthdays, I sit and reminisce about the uniqueness of each of their births. Bug was my first v-bac after having a cesarean with Dog. Two days of labor and at least four hours of pushing. Big baby. Nine pounds, thirteen ounces and twenty-one inches long. It was a hard-won success, not because the labor and delivery was tough, though it was. It was hard-won because of having to swim upstream against prevailing prejudices within the medical community. Of finding medical professionals who would support me in my choices and assist me in doing it as safely as possible rather than practice defensive medicine. I read, researched, and educated myself. I swamped myself with success stories.

Some of the most useful discoveries that I made had to do with the attitude of the mom in the birthing experience. The moms who floundered or panicked were usually those who felt that the pain was something that was being done to them. The moms who were the most in control weren't the ones who didn't feel the pain. They felt the pain, all right. But they didn't feel as if they were at the mercy of that pain. Each wave of pain, each contraction informed what needed to be done next in order to help the baby emerge.

As I reflected on that birthing experience, I started to draw some connections. I've seen folks inundated with food issues who resisted. Fought against it. Looked for that magic pill. That silver bullet that would let them "get back" to their lives. And I've seen others that dove forward into dealing with the food issues, no holds barred and a can-do attitude. That's the way I want to handle it...that's the attitude I want.

So these days, I'm still working on my attitude. Particularly my attitude about fish. I envy people who love fish. The Hobbits adore it when Tool Guy fries up a mess of fish. Me? Not so much. But I know it's good for me. Again, at the gentle prompting of my gardening mentor, I tried this slap-together fish dish, gluten-free style. It is a delicious way of incorporating the benefits of wild-caught salmon--including the nutrition in all those little bones--painlessly into the menu.

Salmon Croquettes

1 15 oz. can of salmon
1 egg
3 slices of bread
1 tsp. seasoned salt
Lard or oil for frying

In a food processor, reduce bread slices to crumbs. Remove. Drain salmon and process with egg and seasoned salt. Add breadcrumbs and blend until completely mixed. In cast iron dutch oven, heat lard or oil. When ready, spoon salmon mixture into hot oil and fry for 2-3 minutes or until thoroughly brown.

Pain in life is a lot like pain in birth. Fight against it or work with it. Is it being done to me or is it informing me? I count myself lucky in a sense, in that my first birthing experience was a cesarean and I wanted to do everything I could to safely avoid that again. It was a powerful motivation for me to take a much closer look at how I wanted to give birth than I might have done otherwise. I worked harder and put a significantly larger amount of effort into it than I ever did for anything else before. It changed my complacency permanently. And I ended up being much more richly rewarded than I ever dreamed. I look back and see that all of the hard things that have come into my life have really been blessings, because they turned me down paths I never would have chosen but find I would be profoundly bereft had I not followed them. Likewise, with the food issues, the circumstances in life drive our choices and we often end up in unexpected and even better places than we would have chosen for ourselves, had we been left to our own devices. "God bless the broken road..."

Friday, May 16, 2008

Pride and Prejudice

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a middle-aged woman in possession of a good(ly) sag must be in want of an exercise program. Yep. That would be me.

There's a myth that circulates around that women of spare frames are correspondingly spared sag. Please allow me to disabuse any reader of this notion. Gravity is no respecter of persons. This point was driven home to me when in the recent past, I raised my hand to wave and my upper arm waved harder than my hand. I looked in horror at what looked like a flapjack hanging from beneath my bicep. Where did that come from?? Gulp. Time to face the ticking clock. I'm turning into my grandmother.

So much for pride. Time to overcome the prejudice against exercise. Don't get me wrong...physical exertion doesn't bother me. I've never gone in for "formal" exercise because I figured that gardening as I do--I'm deliberating upgrading what I do to "farming"--that I didn't need to get all chummy with an equally aging Jane Fonda. When I'd go to the doctor and meet the ubiquitous question of "Do you exercise three or more times a week?" I always answered, "Yep" without a qualm of conscience. After all, what else is mowing an acre with a push mower, but exercise?

My gardening mentor gently pointed out to me the benefits of regular cardiac exercise. Not the least of which is an improved immune system and increased energy. Both of these caught my attention, given our little pneumonia stint this past Christmas and the fact that most days I fall face forward into bed, going to sleep before I've finished crashing.

So gritting my teeth and resurrecting a mini-trampoline that I'd bought for the benefit of the Hobbits, I acquired some handweights and burned off some of my favorite fast-stepping music onto a CD equal to the amount of time I wanted to...okay...give me a minute...I'll get it out...exercise. Some pretty amazing things are happening. And I thought I was in pretty good shape. I'm now enjoying being in better shape. And that energy thing? Yep. It's actually true. During crunch week a while back and the week thereafter, I gave myself "permission" to be excused from working out. And I felt like death warmed over on a cracker--gluten free, of course. As soon as I pushed myself to pick up those weights and start it all over again, my energy level rocketed.

Lots of things I can do with that energy. Gardening--rather, farming, getting the house whipped into shape, planning for that SAT essay prep class I have to teach this fall. What else? Oh, yeah. That would be cooking.

A while back I was playing with a biscuit recipe. What's Southern cooking without biscuits? This one turned out so nicely that Tool Guy refers to them as my "Bisquick biscuits." And he's not far off the mark on this one.

Almost Bisquick Biscuits

1 cup sourdough starter
1 cup dehydrated potatoes
2 T tapioca starch
2 T potato starch
1/2 t salt
1 t guar gum
1/2 t baking soda
2 t cream of tartar
1 egg
2 T oil
Coconut milk to equal 1 cup total liquid

Preheat oven to 375*. Fill muffin forms half way and bake for 15 minutes or until done.

When these popped out of the oven, I handed one to Dog for him to taste test. His eyes rolled back in his head and he mumbled through a mouthful about getting some ghee. I assumed that meant he liked them. Matter of fact, I don't think there was any left of that first batch for Tool Guy to try. We're working on that sharing thing, but every Hobbit has his priorities: Feed me.

My priorities these days including starting early with some weights, some jogging, and Steven Curtis Chapman "Live(ing) Out Loud" in my ears. Summer is coming on and there's grass to be cut. "Bring It On," because I'm ready!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Years of the Locust

People are always talking about how the years get away from them. It is always startling, nevertheless, when you wake up and realize that you're one of them. The years are flying by. Before having children, things were rather timeless. When you don't have short people standing beside you who begin to measure themselves against your height, it is easy to forget the passage of time. These days, every time I look at one of the Hobbits, I am astonished at how much they have changed since the last time I looked at them...even if it is just five minutes before. And the things that they say and do are equally astonishing. I keep having to remind myself that I can challenge them with more responsibilities, because they are certainly equal to more than I ask of them.

I'll admit that I was a bit nervous with the director/producer of our homeschooling group's drama department asked if Dog would be willing to step into a part that had been vacated by an uninterested teen. But since she asked, knowing fully well what she was asking...she lives down the road from us, after all...I agreed to put it to Dog and see if he was interested. He was. Big surprise there. Not. Heh. Playing Jackie Gilbreth in our version of Cheaper By the Dozen would be his first opportunity to do something more than don a bathrobe and carry a stick as a shepherd in the Christmas play. He accepted the part with alacrity and didn't even mind sacrificing gym time to go through the months of prep time and rehearsal. I did wonder if he'd be able to stay focused and involved for the three hours of being a supporting role, Jackie's part being only a small speaking part, but a frequent presence on stage.

I kept having flashbacks to the first time he stepped on stage in front of a crowd, five years ago. As all of his age mates filed obediently off the stage, he stood at the head of the steps facing the auditorium, raised his arms in Rocky Balboa fashion and leaped off the stage, bellowing, "I'm the CHAMPEEEEN!" It was in that moment that I became intimately acquainted with the underside of our pews and was able to take a complete census of the fossilized gum left there for archaeological purposes. The next year, he haunted the narrator's steps and, despite repeated redirection from both the directors and his parents, seemed unable to refrain from stalking the podium for a peek at what the narrator was reading. This would be a step forward indeed.

As the play loomed closer, the rehearsal schedule stepped up. Twice a week and late nights, too. Dog, who has a usual bedtime of 9pm, was staying out until 11pm two nights a week, rolling home via the generosity of our neighbor director. It was amazing to watch a new maturity settle over him like a new set of clothes. No grumping the next day. No attitude problems...well, nothing that wasn't there before. Can't have everything, can we?

The night before the play opened, I was spending some time online. Up late, I was emailing a friend and sharing with her what the past ten years had been like for Dog and us.

Parenting children who fall outside the box can have precious moments, but also moments that can be hideous. Actually, avoidance of that hideousness is the prime motivating factor for all of what I do. I didn't start out doing this for Love of Food. I've never been a foodie. Peanut butter and crackers sounds like a meal to me. Never did enjoy cooking. That's why I call myself The Unprofitable Servant. I've only done what was required of me. Meaning that I will do aaaaaaaaanyTHING I have to do to prevent that hideousness from rearing its ugly head. And that's why we never, ever, ever, ever, ever cheat. Nothing is worth that abyss.

Dog used to rage for hours while I tried to deal with him and get him calmed down. And as soon as we reached closure, he would loop back to the beginning of our conflict and it would be as if we had never had that two to four hour "conversation." That started when he was two and didn't disappear until we got off of gluten and later, after we'd eliminated all of the intolerances.

That's an abyss I never want to stare into again. My neighbor still hates my guts because she thinks I'm a terrible mother because my child/ren screamed all of the time. They told us that they had called the police and CPS because he needed to be committed to a mental institution. (We were never visited, so that may have been simply a threat.) Even after we got the diet cleaned up, every time there was the merest brush with a problem food, the world exploded. People would ask me what the symptoms of the "allergies" were and I would laugh and say, "Oh, their heads spin around and an alien bursts out of their chests." But that didn't feel like it was far from the truth.

We never had Dog evaluated for ASD. I don't know if he would have qualified for a diagnosis. Perhaps so. He was hyperlexic. He had no idea how to relate to other children. I don't know if my eldest would have been diagnosed as ASD as a child. I would take him to the playground as a toddler and he would stare at the other children without moving. I had to show him how to use the playground equipment and even then I had to guide him through playing with it...he never turned loose and took off and played. I would take him out into the yard to play, expecting him to
take off and do what kids do, run explore, eat bugs, whatever. He would stand there and look at me like, "Okay. What do I do now?" When my parents turned on their sprinkler, he just stood and stared, when any other child would have dashed into the spray....which he did a few years later, when we returned to visit--gluten free. But he is and always has been brilliant. Quick to connect the dots, understanding complex concepts at early ages. Practically a photographic memory.

A couple of years ago, he might have gotten an Aspie diagnosis, because he had NO clue about how relationships work, but he is losing those markers as well. He's doing social boy stuff with the other boys. He is recognizing when a friend isn't a friend, when someone is using him, when someone is lying to him. He's finding the courage to walk away. He's fitting in. He's stopped saying the weird, geeky things that used to make people stare at him. He used to stand out as a flake...he presented as someone a bubble off plumb. A stranger might not quiiite be able to put their finger on what didn't exactly click. Or maybe put him into a Computer Nerd pigeon hole in their mind. Now he looks just like any other kid.

And that's why I tilt the food universe. But I had to be beaten into submission. I didn't start out doing this because it was the best thing for my child and he needed the best nutrition. I'm The Unprofitable Servant. I did it to make the screaming stop.

This is Dog's favorite dish. It's mine, too, particularly since stir fry is something that allows you to throw in everything and the kitchen sink. Whatever your favorite vegetables are, they probably will taste even better in stir fry.

Asian Stir Fry

Whole chicken breast or beef steaks, partially frozen
Broccoli, chunked small
Sliced mushrooms
Carrots, bias cut
Celery, bias cut
Green onions, sliced
1 T minced garlic
small knob of ginger, minced
San-J wheat free tamari sauce
Toasted sesame oil

A day ahead of time, slice meat into thin strips. A mandolin is particularly helpful for this. Marinade in diluted tamari sauce...enough to cover meat...overnight. When ready to prepare, drain meat in a colander.

In a stainless steel wok or large skillet, pour enough oil to coat bottom and stir fry onions, garlic, minced ginger, and carrots, until the carrots are still slightly crunchy. Add celery and broccoli until medium soft. Remove all vegetables to a bowl. Add more oil, a dash or two of tamari sauce, and saute mushrooms until soft. Remove mushrooms to bowl with other vegetables. Add more oil and stir fry meat until done.


4 T San-J wheat free tamari sauce or to taste
2 cups water
4-6 T tapioca starch, dissolved in small amount of water

In heavy saucepan, bring tamari and water to a boil. Add dissolved tapioca starch to boiling liquid, stirring constantly until cooked and translucent.

Return all ingredients to wok and cover with sauce, adding a tablespoon or two toasted sesame oil for flavor. Stir until all ingredients are well coated. Serve over hot rice.

Opening night, I sat with all of us, including my parents, laughing and snapping pictures of the action on stage. Dunno how the rest of the kids did. I could only watch Dog...amazed at how well he did. And as I watched, I had only one thought,

"And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten..." Joel 2:25

Friday, May 2, 2008

What I Did on My Nervous Breakdown...

That nervous breakdown I was scheduling? Yeah. This is what I did. I wish every nervous breakdown of mine would have as much to show for it!

The Hobbits...with a little "encouragement"...pitched in to help haul my garden rocks over to the wall and helped me plot the placement. Dad manned the tiller over by the compost pile and dug up generous piles of pitch black soil. Everyone grabbed a shovel of some sort, pushed, pulled, and otherwise wrestled the dirt uphill and helped fill the rock well. We all stood and cheered as we baptized the raspberry canes.

This is container gardening, New England style....where there is never a shortage of rocks. This is, after all, the geography where Robert Frost wrote "Mending Wall." You know. "Good fences make good neighbors." And we have lots of "good neighbors" around here. I liked the outcome of this so well, I think I'll do it again for my asparagus that I want to start this year.

It looks like, as a family, we've moved into "project mode." Everyone has projects that they want to accomplish. Tool Guy is newly restocked with a load of wood that he is in raptures over. He and Bug--rather, mostly Bug--just completed a side table that goes beside the bed in the master bedroom. Bug walks around with an enormous sense of accomplishment as a budding carpenter apprentice. He and Tool Guy have big plans for built-ins for the house this summer.

Lots of plans for kitchen projects. Dog is still perfecting the chili recipe. With the assistance of feedback from Tool Guy, the recipe now includes significantly increased amounts of pepper. Let it be noted that this is the chili that follows Tool Guy to work each day. Ouch! Bug is polishing his reputation as The Muffin Man and is honing his technique at mastering pear butter muffins. And now Princess is clamoring for her share of the glory. Well, it is actually her share of the spoon-licking that she is clamoring for, since to the chef goes the spoils. In our house, it is the custom that the person doing the baking is the one who gets to lick the spoon, bowl, and everything else that might be batter-spattered.

My kitchen is frequently characterized by organized chaos. It all pivots around one drawer in which I shove my favorite small implements, like my everything knife, scissors, measuring spoons, and the pages that I scribble my recipes on. I've gotten a little more organized and now have a notebook filled with clear page protectors that I slip my recipes into as I perfect them. Still sometimes scraps of paper sink to the bottom of the drawer to be forgotten. Until a spring cleaning spree unearths them from the lower strata and brings them to light again. And so it was that I discovered Princess' forgotten favorite: carob muffins, scribbled onto the back of a crumpled and spotted old co-op invoice.

Carob Muffins

Muffin Mix:

2 1/4 cup grain flour
1/2 cup potato starch
1/2 cup tapioca starch
1/3 cup carob powder
1 t baking soda
2 T cream of tartar
1 t salt
1 t guar gum

1 cup mix makes 6 muffins

Per cup of mix, add:

2 eggs
2 t oil
1/3 c water or juice
1 t vanilla
20-30 drops stevia

Mix thoroughly, pour into muffin forms and bake at 350* for 12 minutes or until done.

Princess is enjoying her debut into baking. Her favorite part is collecting all of the bespattered implements and licking them clean. She's still young enough to end up wearing more than she eats, but it's her specialty and she's the queen. Or rather...Princess.