Friday, June 27, 2008

Another Brick in the Wall

It feels appropriate to say that food is now my calling. I've felt that way for quite a while now. It gets me some strange looks from people, though. Well, among the other strange looks that I somehow manage to earn. People aren't used to thinking of food in those kinds of terms. At least most people aren't. Some folks get it. Sharon gets it. She recently said this in an email exchange and I haven't been able to get it out of my head: "I find it impossible to separate my food life from my spiritual life. For me, they are the same." Bingo.

I think that the reason some have difficulty with this idea is that we've bought into the idea of a demarcation between the "sacred" and the "secular." Certain jobs are sacred and certain jobs are secular, right? It would follow that our being is divided up, then, into sacred (the spiritual) and the secular (the physical). I've seen a lot of folks use this kind of parsing to dismiss their food choices. It really doesn't matter what we eat, because that's only temporal, right?

For some years now, I've developed an increasing belief that the small and insignificant jobs that consume my day have a spiritual significance. An aura of the holy. I've wondered, from time to time, if this wasn't just a grasping search for meaning in a life mired in the mundane details of drudgery. And some days, I'll admit, it did and does feel that way. But I keep coming back to this core sense that this is what I'm called to do. And even though it doesn't earn me much respect, if any, and probably would earn me contempt from any movers and shakers that might happen to glance down and notice my existence, it still returns to me that this isn't trivial. These are the bricks upon which all is founded.

I've been doing a great deal of thinking about Nehemiah...the guy who was called to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Who gave up a cushy job as food-taster (there we again!) to go and stand on the rubble with a trowel in one hand and a sword in the other, to re-erect the walls that had lain in ruins for 150 years. Sounds like a secular job, right? Eugene Peterson, author of The Message, maintains that "work, by its very nature, is holy." Otherwise, why would it matter to God whether or not there were walls around a city? This was a holy calling.

I'm reminded of a conversation I was engaged in a few years back. The mom was consulting a noted nutritionist for her children. Her daughter had eczema and other symptoms that weren't responding to the usual treatments. The nutritionist pointed out the breakdown in the girl's digestive processes. "L's having trouble with her 'walls,'" she said. Indeed. Lots of us are having trouble with eroded walls and we are being called to rebuild them. Our contemporary food supply isn't designed to do that. We're going to have to do that on our own. Time to pick up a trowel and sword and put another brick in the wall.

The biggest stumbling block in this food issue is bread. I have acquaintances, even relatives, who won't consider making changes despite all of the indicators because of that one block...that one brick...bread. The most trafficked recipes I have are the bread ones. And the most requested of the Hobbits are bready things. It's a foundational food in our lives, even though we can live very healthy lives without it...sometimes even healthier lives without it. But it still comes down to wanting good bread.

The latest that I've been twiddling with is tortillas...working on achieving the penultimate tortilla. I'm getting closer. I noticed that the oh-so-delicious-but-ever-elusive-and-yet-corntaminated Food For Life rice flour tortillas have rice bran in them. So I acquired some rice bran and am now stalking their own perfect tortilla. One step closer.

Grilled Tortillas

1 1/2 cups rice flour
1/2 - 3/4 cups tapioca starch flour
2 T rice bran
2-3 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.

On a grill preheated to approximately 400*, gently lay tortillas and grill about two minutes per side, with the lid closed.

Nehemiah left a legacy that he restored the walls of Jerusalem and made it a safe place for a culture to flourish again. That's how I want to be remembered. As someone who made food something that nourished my children again so that they could flourish and become all that they can be.

1 Corinthians 10:31 says, "Whether therefore you eat, or drink, or whatsoever you do, do all to the glory of God."

Friday, June 20, 2008

Empty Handed

Sometimes when we try new things we are pleasantly surprised. Sometimes we aren't. Trying new things requires risk and risk means the possibility of failure. As I watch my garden not grow, I realize that I'm facing that possibility of failure. The risk I took when trying something new.

Honestly? It's depressing. I used to amble out to my garden in the mornings with a cup of coffee (now herbal tea), energized and excited to see what new things were happening. Now I make myself go out there around noon, dreading seeing the frozen plants, still the same size as when I put them in over a month ago. Sigh.

This isn't a year that I wanted this to happen. This is a "gardening when it counts" year. This year when tomatoes are tainted with salmonella, no doubt from sloppy farming practices. This year when food prices are skyrocketing. Usually at this point, I'm looking at the empty shelves and jars in my basement with something like satisfaction, knowing that they fed us all winter and will be full to feed us for the next. Knowing I've wrung every ounce of production out of my garden that it was able to deliver to me. This year feels very empty. Even if my garden starts producing, I'll know that it wasn't all it could be.

Right now, a few jars of pizza sauce loiter on the shelves, waiting to get used up. Not sure how much company they'll get by the fall. So we're savoring the last of last year's garden, holding up empty and hopeful hands...hoping the garden snaps back and gives enough to fill the empty shelves.

Since we are trialling beans--and beans haven't been one of the foods that the Hobbits have been clamoring to eat--I'm on the lookout for ways to stealth them into the food supply. More guerrilla nutrition at work. This is made with garbanzo beans, sprouted, cooked, then blended down and fermented for a couple of days with a bit of sourdough starter.

Grainless Pizza Crust

1 cup sprouted bean paste
1/2 cup dried potato flakes
1/4 cup tapioca starch flour
1 egg
2 T olive oil
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 tsp guar gum

Mix all ingredients into a bowl until incorporated. Spread out on a pizza stone with a bowl scraper to the desired thickness (we tend to like crispier crusts). Bake in a 350* oven for 15-20 minutes. Remove and top with pizza sauce and other desired toppings. Return to a 450* oven and bake for another 10 minutes or until toppings are browned as desired.

...And at last I comprehended
With my stupid mind and dull,
That GOD could not pour HIS riches
Into hands already full.

Martha Snell Nicholson

Friday, June 13, 2008

Is It Hot Enough For You?

Summer has arrived without much of a nod at Spring. We jumped from woolen sweaters to sweating in a week's time. My garden jumped from suspended animation to rabbiting upwards in a very short time. Whew! I was beginning to worry for a while there.

Despite the heat, the business of eating must go on. There's baking to get done, bone broth to be made, and other very warm occupations that need to be finessed to cooler parts of the day. And mowing the lawn, as well.

I'm actually enjoying mowing the lawn this year, though I won't be doing it as often...much to my neighbor's chagrin. Gas prices and carbon footprints dictate that Mistress Mary needs to be a little less nice about how the garden grows, thank you. Besides, I'm finding that benign neglect can have some pleasing returns. Last year, I scaled back in order to let the grass have a chance to re-seed itself. And clover started creeping in. This year, as I forage through the first swaths of mowing, I see new patches of clover reaching out to the rest of the yard. Clover means good stuff for the soil and good stuff for the bees, of which I'm mindful as I mow. You've seen that 1970's bumper sticker that says, "I brake for butterflies," right? Yeah, well, I'm getting one for my lawnmower: "I brake for bees."

Mowing takes on a meditative quality for me. It must be the drone of the motor and the repetitive motions of the job. Rolling it out, I felt like I was greeting an old friend who had been away for a while. In truth, the mower spent a goodly part of the winter at the shop, being lovingly tuned, cleaned, and refurbished for Spring. When I pulled the cable, it spoke to me in a completely new voice and scythed through the waves of grass with butter-smooth power. Wow. The grass being as tall as it was, I was making frequent trips to the compost pile to dump them. Where I got a chance to fight with the black bear for supremacy. Guess what? Picture me dusting my hands off, 'cause I'm king of that hill.

It's been sweltering for the past few days--we had a tornado watch in effect, in fact, and had our first grid black out of the season--so I selected early morning to start on the lawn. I traced familiar steps over the now-memorized roots and rocks, glistening with condensation...the cool damp of the ground competing with the deepening heat of the day. The Hobbits furtively dash from tree to tree, pursuing some "secret mission" that brings them out of the house when I mow, dripping coconut milk from the vanishing popsicles in their sticky hands. The popsicles are our quintessential signal that summer has begun. That and getting sprayed with the hose. Both are so cold that it has to be really hot in order to enjoy them. Well, Breatharian, it's been really hot.

Being the sort of weather that induces one to wish to limit kitchen time, a quick and cool source of protein is always a welcome addition to menu. I'm happy dancin' that beans seem to be back on the menu now, though it is early days yet...too early to call it a success. So I'm looking for ways to stealth more of them into different dishes to maximize exposure. Seeds being back on the menu, hummus seems like the answer to it all.

In keeping with my new-found passion for sprouting everything sproutable, the chickpeas are no exception. Soak overnight and rinse 2-3 times a day for 2-3 days or until the beans display a "tail." I run mine through the pressure cooker for a scant 2-3 minutes after pressure is attained.

Sprouted Hummus

2 t minced garlic
15 oz sprouted and cooked garbanzo beans
3 T lemon juice
2 T tahini
1 t salt
1/2 t paprika
3 T coconut milk

Process beans in food processor until smooth. Add all other ingredients until thoroughly blended, adding additional water and/or coconut milk until mixture reaches desired consistency.

After a purging thunderstorm swept in and scrubbed away the sticky heat, we all breathed a sigh of relief. I walk through the yard to look at the latest blooms of clover pushing up from the tight carpet of leaves beneath. The first of the bees bob on the now cool breeze.

He makes all things new... Rev.21:5

Friday, June 6, 2008

The Road Goes Ever On and On...

When Tool Guy and I first married, one of the favorite forms of entertainment was jumping in our Plymouth Fury--nicknamed "Polly"--and running the roads...just seeing what was beyond the next bend. Needless to say, that practice is curbed these days, along with the vehicle most of the time. Unfortunately, it isn't only the price of gas that has kept us burning the home fires...lack of convenience foods tends to take the spontaneity out of things. We do day trips from time to time, but only with care and planning. I tend to overpack for those occasions, since I have this dread fear of getting lost or breaking down somewhere and not having safe food to eat. This week, a friend expressed frustration at her own family's particular food issues at times controlling their activities. At times? For us, that would be just about all the time. It certainly limits the scope of our treking.

It makes it particularly challenging, then, when travel is mandatory. Tool Guy, who disguised as mild-mannered Safety Guy in his day job, has to attend training sessions a couple of times a year that are somehow never close to home. More like the other side of the country and he's grounded from flying. In the past, Amtrak has been an attractive choice. "Let someone else do the driving" kind of thing, and for a few years, they did a reasonably satisfactory job of accommodation. Unfortunately, in this day of "cost containment"--which usually means "scaling back on quality"--the last Amtrak trip meant that there was very limited safe food to eat and absolutely nothing do-able on the breakfast menu. All prepackaged stuff. Nothing like being trapped in a steel box for three days with no food, eh?

This year, he's driving. But restaurant reliability is a very dicey thing. Anything that is a chain is doomed to the same fate as other prepackaged fare. Anything that is not a chain is a roll of the roulette wheel. The Russian Roulette wheel. He shared with me that he is singularly tired of getting contaminated every time he takes a trip. Toward that end, he acquired a small crock pot and a game plan for this trip. And I've been playing around in the kitchen, working on "road food" toward the goal of us being able to expand our horizons and find some elbow room. Lots of ideas swirling around and this seemed a good time to start working on application. This is the first one to go on my list.

A couple of themes that have been running through my attempts at "cooking dangerously" these days are grain-free and sprouting. We're trialing beans in this corner of the Shire and sprouting seems to be the best way to make them as digestible as possible. Many of the less of beans disappear when they have been sprouted before processing. The idea of making bean tortillas popped up when I was trying to think of a way to svengalli the Hobbits into eating enough beans to register if they react or not. They could eat tortillas by the stack if I made enough of them. Lots of nutrients and certainly better than rice flour.

The beans need to be soaked overnight and then sprouted (the technically correct term for this is "germination") for about three days or until a "tail" emerges to about the length of the bean. I run these through the pressure cooker for a mere two minutes once pressure has been reached. After a quick trip through the food processor, I mix in a spoonful of sourdough starter and leave in the fridge for a day or two.

Black Bean Tortillas

1 1/2 cups bean paste
1/2 - 3/4 cups tapioca starch flour
2-5 T melted lard
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.

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 couple of minutes.

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

"'It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,' he used to say. 'You step into the Road, and if you don't keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.'"

Maybe having a safe food supply will make going out the door a little less of a dangerous digestive business...