Monday, July 21, 2008

The Hurrier I Go

I'm repenting myself. I'm beginning to think that making to-do lists isn't such a good idea. To-do things on a page together are like rabbits...they reproduce more little to-do things. It's almost like when you start fixing up the house and more things start unraveling than what you planned on renovating. This to-do begets that to-do and we all know how long the begets begot before they were done.

Delusionally, I keep thinking that at some point, I'm going to get caught up on housework, caught up on food chores, and caught up on homeschooling to the point of being able to sit down and relax without it all hanging over my head. I just googled up my personalized homepage and realized that the items on the to-do pad there hold things that still are undone. Oh, and I haven't looked at that page in over six months. Sigh. Well, in all fairness, there hasn't been a lot of demand lately for that snow suit needing the zipper replaced, so I cry "mercy!" there. And you know things are starting to approach pathological when the door greeter at Sam's says, "Oh, I have your book!" And turns to bring you your to-do diary. The one that was weeks ago abandoned in the seat of the shopping cart when you were distracted by having to settle the seat spat in the van, while you were off-loading groceries.

This whole attitude reminds me of when we first started our food journey. Oh, I knew that the gluten thing was going to be for life. And I was okay with that. Making gluten free foods didn't daunt me...armed with a pile of Bette Hagman cookbooks and a catalog from United Buying Clubs, I was loaded for bear. It wasn't until after we had to go everything free that things started to get a bit more stressful. In fact, going gluten free felt positively halcyon by comparison. But I didn't think it would last that long. The literature said that IgG's would heal up and we could reintroduce the forbidden foods in four to six months. I remember using that to encourage my father..."Hey, Dad, it's only for four months...six at the most!" It was probably a good thing that I didn't know.

When, at four and then six months, we weren't gaining foods, but still losing even more foods than had originally shown up on the tests, I realized that this wasn't a sprint. It was a marathon. And now, as we're approaching the six year mark and the six month window is a vague memory in the past. I'm having to remind myself again...not a sprint...marathon...think marathon.

With that in mind--and remembering how I hate my own cooking right now--I decided to take a page out of my gardening partner's book and resort to stir fries. Oh! That reminds me! I have to tell tales out of school. My gardening partner will just have to forgive me. In addition to sharing gardening passions, we also share co-op responsibilities. She has the herculean task of juggling the produce order without benefit of purchasing software, as well as gambling on whether or not enough members will make impulse purchases sufficient to sell off any unencumbered produce before we close out our monthly pick up session. It's no mean feat and she does it every month. This past month, there was an unusual amount of bok choy unsold by the time the truck arrived and she came, loaded up and with a plan in mind. Whipping out her wok, she chopped up one of the heads of bok choy and tossed up a quick stir fry, adding just a dash of wheat-free tamari sauce and some onions. Setting it on the check out table, next to our accountant--where people have to stand to pay for their order--she waved it under everyone's noses and pointed out the fresh heads of bok choy on our surplus table. Heh. I guess I don't have to tell you that all of the bok choy sold...

With a surfeit of squash out--and me continually threatening the Hobbits with more vegetables--I decided to shamelessly rip off her cooking technique. And her measuring technique. The end result was this.

Scorched Squash

A couple of zucchini and summer squash, chopped up
A couple of dashes of San-J tamari sauce (not corn-free, despite their declaration on their website)
A couple of teaspoons of minced garlic
A couple of spritzes of olive oil

In a very hot wok (I put this under my "blow torch" burner on my stove), spritz with olive oil, just enough to keep the squash from sticking. In small amounts, stir fry squash until seared and browned, but still offering resistance when forked. Add minced garlic and tamari sauce and stir fry a moment or so longer to incorporate flavors. Serve hot.

This past week, I genuinely took the week off. I spent one hurly-burly day cooking ahead and spent the rest of the week with my feet up, listening to mp3's supplied to me by my mom. Thanks, Mom! Amazingly, I'm not any further behind than I usually am and I'm significantly more rested. Marathon...marathon...marathon...

Friday, July 18, 2008

Gone Fishing

Well...foraging, actually. I'm in a food funk. I'm sick of my own cooking. This is probably a precursor stage to another blitz of "cooking dangerously," but I'm not there yet. The weather is certainly a reason to draw me out of doors, being summer and all, with all of the activities that summer affords. We've been out of pocket this entire week doing Family Things. That doesn't leave much time for cooking and I doan wanna be in the kitchen any more than I have to be at the moment. Needless to say, I've been pulling out all of my Breatharian "fast food" ideas. The Hobbits should be heartily sick of them by this time. I know I certainly am.

I'm thankful for any excuse to get out right now. Gardening is still a bit of a tender subject, but there are things that are doing well enough. Almost everything that I planted is going to produce at least some amount of seed, so I'll be able to have seeds to save for next year's garden. It's been interesting to watch the arugula shed its petals and see little seed pods fatten up. I never knew that lettuce went to seed that way. Not sure what I had in mind, but that wasn't it. There are a couple of tenacious beans asserting their existence in the garden and I figure something that is that determined to live is something that I want reproducing next year. My newly settled asparagus crowns are sending spindly ferns up way past the point of being able to support on such thin stalks. Even though the brochure assures me that I can harvest briefly this year, I'm abstaining, once more thinking ahead.

This is a good time for thinking ahead. Thinking back to last winter with all of the miasma that floated around, I'm planning. The elecampagne plant in my garden is taller than Tool Guy and that's saying a lot. This looks like it is going to be a mullein year, too. Last year, I began looking for them late in the summer and gathered enough for a few cups of tea. This year, like the model car one has recently bought, I see them everywhere. Great stands of them littering the roadsides. I've already harvested a grocery bag...fabric, thankyouvermuch...full of the broad, flannel leaves, dehydrated them, and they now occupy four quart jars in the bottom of my basement.

In an enthusiasm of tincturing, I decided to make mullein oil, as well. I pounded a bunch of leaves into a quart jar and glopped olive oil over the top, suctioning all of the air out with a lovely vacuum seal to finish it off. And while I was on the phone, chatting to my herbal mentor, she informed me that the flowers provide the virtue of mullein oil for earaches. Oh. Flowers. My bad. Feeling like Roseanne Rosannadanna prattling about violins (violence) on TV, I grabbed a mason jar and headed back out to do some more foraging.

Picking mullein is not unlike picking cotton. Well, it doesn't have the spikes that lacerate fingers, so bonus points there. But the very small blossoms make harvesting a rather painstaking process. And mullein oil requires a lot of flowers. It's beginning to become apparent why mullein oil sells in these petite little bottles for a not-so-petite price.

It's a pretty straightforward tincture...stuff as much as you can into a jar and cover with oil and forget about it for 6-8 weeks. I cap mine with a canning lid and a vacuum seal to help draw all of the not inconsiderable air out of the whole morass. I have been more active with my particular batch because mullein in an unevenly blooming flower. The blossoms don't all blow at the same time, so a tincture may very well be best done in stages. About every three days, I do another round of foraging and collect what flowers are open and ready for harvesting. I throw these on top of the previous batch, press them down into the saturated flowers below and top off with more olive oil, sufficient to cover the top. Looking at the resulting oil, I'm thinking that straining this through a cheesecloth would probably be a good idea when all is said and done.

I'm working to forage as much as I responsibly can. Seems to me if the herbal plants are having a bumper year, it might be because we'll have a bumper need for them this winter. So every few days, I head out with my bag or my jar and collect new batches. And gingerly step around the blackberries...the crop that I didn't obtain permission to harvest. Drat.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Sleeping With the Enemy

It's probably no surprise that I inhabit the internet quite a bit. In addition to all of the things one has access to and the informational goldmines out there, I find the interaction between people to be inspiring. "Iron sharpens iron." A recent conversation with a mom of a boy with burgeoning sensitivities brought back a flood of memories of what it was like for us when all this food stuff was new with us. When we paused on the brink of the abyss, not knowing how desperate things could and would become. We talked about how some children self-limit their foods out of fear. Out of a sense of losing control and desperately grabbing for the last edge of solid ground.

Developing food sensitivities is a horrible, out-of-control feeling. Control is definitely at the root of food issues and for a very good reason. There's a fundamental betrayal in all of this. Almost nothing, if not absolutely nothing, comes closer to the core of our psyche than what we eat. We can live without physical intimacy, but we can't live without eating. Food is one of the defining aspects of a culture and it is part of defining who we are individually as well. One of the basic "getting to know you" questions people ask is, "What do you like to eat?" When we can't trust our food supply or our food intake, we are whatever/whomever...on the most basic and earthbound level we can reach. If we don't have safe food, what do we have? If we can't trust our food to nourish us, what can we trust?

We know that we can't trust other people to tell us if something is safe. Some people can be trusted, but not most. Tool Guy can't travel for any length of time without getting zapped. Despite all the precautions. Despite lengthy questioning of the food preparers. Despite doing all of the "right things." This sort of thing pierces to a molecular level. Literally. And it becomes scary to think that we can't trust our eyes or that we can't develop a reliable strategy to protect ourselves.

I remember what it felt like when we were losing foods. Things that were safe last week weren't safe this week. One time the Hobbits would eat something and it would be yummy. The next time they ate the very same food, even food from that same batch that was fine the last time they ate from it, they reacted. And it was usually favorite foods. This shatters any sense of comfort anyone has about food. You scramble to find the common thread...some clue...some predictor of what is going to explode in your face next time. It feels safer to not eat at all, which is, of course, impossible. Sleeping with the enemy.

And the more severe the reaction, the deeper the anxiety. This can be hard for some people to understand, even other people with food sensitivities, if they aren't high reactors. As much as I loved the flip tone of Against the Grain by Jax Lowell--I adore wisecracking, tongue-in-cheek, wink-wink-nudge-nudge writing--I can't bring myself to recommend it. Someone who suggests, when at a party and faced with dicey food choices, scraping the caviar off of the cracker with one's teeth and tossing the cracker rather than appear de trop or affected doesn't live in the same world I do. She isn't sleeping with the enemy. Not someone who mail orders food as if it were takeout from the corner Chinese restaurant. The more sensitive the canary, the less concerned about perceptions and the more concerned about sheer survival.

It's scary for the Hobbit, the child, the person to whom it is happening. One day corn was okay for him and then it wasn't. One day tomatoes were okay for him and now they aren't. What's going to turn on him today? What's the common thread? Vegetables? I can see why he's not wanting to eat vegetables. Losing food in a very painful way makes us hyper-defensive.

The Hobbits themselves never reacted by self-limiting foods, but probably because our worst reactions weren't physically painful...just soul-scalding rages--which made me want to do the limiting foods...I'm the gun shy one in our house. But food sensitivities do that. Everyone wants to be able to put food in their mouths without feeling like it will explode in there.

This is why I developed the style of eating we have. Some folks are surprised to find that we don't eat a wide variety of different foods, but, honestly, when I look at indigenous peoples' diets, I don't see as wide a variety as is advocated by Western import-dependent cuisine. We eat plain. Meat, a few vegetables, a few kinds of grains, some fruits and that's about it. And it is the same stuff. Over. And over. And over. And I let the Hobbits pick what they want. At every meal. I have a collection of things that I can make up at a moment's notice and each of them can choose from that list for each meal. My MIL quipped once that it's like living at a diner. But given the severe limits imposed on us, I want them to feel like they have some degree of control over what they eat. Of giving them as much control over what they eat as the limits of their reactions permit.

Exotic cooking is fun and exciting and I do like trying new things. Mostly, though, for day-to-day cooking, I like things that are comfort foods. Foods I can throw together without giving much thought to. Foods like chicken salad. Just the ticket for sultry July days. This is one of those recipes that I throw together as a bit of this and a handful of that. See? Not much thought to it. Comfort food. Yeah.

Chicken Salad

1-1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
3-4 chicken breasts
1 tsp. seasoned salt
3-4 handfuls of Tinkyada pasta
pickles, chopped (opt)

Make mayonnaise. Since I like my chicken salad to be tangy, when I make the mayo for this, I double the vinegar and leave off any maple syrup or sweetener. Sprinkle seasoned salt over chicken breasts and grill out for 10-15 minutes each side or until done. Boil up pasta. I like to follow the package directions and boil my water first, then drop the pasta in the pot and cover without disturbing for 20 minutes before draining. They're right. It makes perfect pasta every time. When the breasts are cooled, chop into small, bite-sized chunks and mix with remaining ingredients. Delicious served hot or cold.

So as we walk this pocked-marked road toward healing, we're picking our way through the land mines...making our food choices carefully. That uneasy dance of sleeping with the enemy.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Hobbledehoy Days

It's the Fourth of July. It's officially summer time. At least it would be if it would stop raining. The yard was sporting a three week growth before I spent the day chasing hurly burly Hobbits through the yard with the lawnmower. In late afternoon, the annual erecting of the tent will arise with all the pomp and ceremony accorded to such an occasion. The adults are approaching it with all the trepidation that the weather accords to such an occasion. And, per usual, rain stalks the annual local fireworks display. I think in seven years, we've only not been drenched once. You'd think it was Louisiana. Except the mosquitoes there are bigger. State bird, you know.

Mrs. Elton's prim and disdainful voice echoes to me. "Are we to sit down with hobbledehoys?" Yeah. That would be us. Not much standing on ceremony and elegance around here. Just straightforward, what you see is what you get. I'm barefoot in the kitchen (though the prospects of pregnancy are fading fast, but I'm not complaining) most days. The Hobbits, of course, being Hobbits, shun footwear at the soonest possible temperature in the season and don't resume without duress until the absolute brink of frostbite.

It's a hobbledehoy summer for us. Lots of outside and doing fun things. While Tool Guy was away from home, the four of us packed off for a day at a nearby amusement/water park. It was small and intimate enough--and crowded with enough of the adults in our "village"--for me to cut the apron strings and let Dog and Bug run loose. A first for them. They hardly knew how to contain themselves. About once an hour, Princess and I would suspend whatever we were pursuing at that moment (usually another trip on the roller coaster or another wet and wild spin down the oh-so-descriptive "Toilet Bowl") and go do a head count. I think that it was about three or four hours before I actually saw Bug, but there were adults who were able to give me Bug "sightings" and describe how relentlessly he and Dog were pursuing a good time. Something about being an unencumbered, uninhibited child to be able to have such unalloyed fun. We got there at 10:00 am and I don't think I was able to convince anyone to eat anything until 3:00 in the afternoon. We didn't leave the park until the last vestige of enjoyment could be wrung from the opportunity and they couldn't stop talking about it for three days.

Lots of hobbledehoy goings on. Bee stings. Bug bites. Dog insists that he knows what poison ivy looks like, yet somehow manages to overlook it when he's beating the bushes...literally...and exploring. Even Princess picks up the odd scrape and rug rash. Despite her regal dignity, she careens across the floor of the activity room at church with a scooter and no shoes, yodeling to make way for "The Magnificent Princess." So much for decorum.

I have the magic potion. Plantain. Early in our Breatharian days, I had a friend tell me about her herbal stuff. She told me that plantain is a must in any medicine cabinet. She even claimed to have healed a gangrenous chicken wing using it. It strains credulity, but she swears it's true. Plantain is one of those "weeds" that is available in most places just for the picking. Another herbalist told me that it used to be called "settler's hoof," since the seeds for it were supposedly brought over with the settlers and favors high traffic areas. I have noticed that it has gradually proliferated through the yard in just such a pattern...the high trafficked areas.

Plantain Oil

Plantain leaves
Olive oil
Glass jar
A few drops of rosemary essential oil
A tincture of time

Herbals like this are relatively easy. I've begun sending Dog into the yard to collect the plantain leaves for me. Just a bowl and a directive not to stop until it is full. I figured that if he was the young jackanapes who couldn't remember to steer clear of suspicious foliage, then he could assist in replenishing the store of plantain that he depleted. After he brings in as much as he possibly can motivate himself to gather, I spread them out in the shade in shallow layers in baskets or on drying racks. An herbalist suggested letting them wilt a bit before processing to reduce excess moisture. After a few hours of wilting, collect the leaves and jam them into a glass jar, packing the jar as full as possible or using all of the leaves available, whichever comes first. Then cover the leaves with much as the leaves will absorb and then a little more so that the leaves are submerged. (A vacuum sealer helps to remove air bubbles and the oil to permeate the leaves.) Cover and let sit for about six weeks. Strain out the leaves. Add a few drops of rosemary essential oil as a preservative. I store surplus oil in the refrigerator and keep what I need handy in the medicine cabinet.

I understand that this oil can be used to make a salve with beeswax, but I haven't ventured that far yet. Maybe later on this year. Plantain is good for cuts, scrapes, rashes of all kinds and helps clear up topical infections.

There's something to be said for having herbal magic that only needs reach out the back door to acquire. Especially when one has hobbledehoy Hobbits at home.