Saturday, January 31, 2009

Hard Things

I'm 45 and I'm having a middle aged crisis. I'm trying to recapture my youth. Oh, not the tarty kind of "club kid" youth--I was never that--but the things I did Before Children. Like knitting. Yeah, knitting. I've gotten sucked into knitting forums and knitting lists and find myself fascinated with arcane discussions of yarn, needles, stitches, and the care of all such. It's almost as much responsibility as raising children and very much like being sucked down Alice's hole.

I have to blame it on a matriarch who inhabits our "village" and has undertaken the loving and nurturing of all of our children. In addition to doling out endless amounts of patience, attention, and affirmation, she also shares endless knowledge of all forms of stitchery. Inspired by some very chic things she's been working on, I dug my needles out of the attic and decided to steal her stitch and make some Christmas gifts. Oh. My. Good thing the Hobbits are learning to cook for themselves.

I'm reminded of a signature line I saw a while back: "Who is that mother whose house is so shocking? She there in the corner, knitting and rocking." Yeah. That would be me. I haven't gotten so far as to develop a stash, though I did amass quite a pile of FO's (finished objects) of giftables around Christmas time and have more than one WIP (work in progress) on the needles.

It's nice to have someone "live" to go to and ask for advice on techniques. Another of my peer moms is knitting, too, and we put our heads together from time to time to talk technique. But since we're both so busy on the days we connect, there's not much luxury for that. The Matriarch and I have more time, since she inhabits the table where she tutors all interested children...which include not a few boys...and during my free moments, we sit side by side and knit and explore the meaning of life. Things women have done since time out of mind.

She's sharing with me insights she is exploring. During my middle years, it's divine to know that at her age, I have the potential of finding new insights to explore. It would be depressing to think that one runs out of yarn half way through the project, so to speak. A common thread that came up in our last conversation was about hard things. She says that one of the reasons she's teaching our children textile arts is to help them learn to do hard things. To hold a small needle. Sew a straight stitch. Juggle a hook and yarn. Practice the tension. And she prays over each child's progress. Priceless. Absolutely priceless.

Her perspective is, "Yes, I can go to the store and buy this finished item. But it is more important that I have learned to do a Hard Thing. Hard Things are good for me." And so she cultivates an appreciation of the Hard Things among the next generation. I admire people who voluntarily undertake this kind of self-discipline because it is Good Thing. I'm glad for my Hard Things, though I admit that I didn't sign up for them. I got drafted. It was what I needed, though.

The current economy is starting to make things harder for most folks. Hardest for the folks for which things were already hard. These days we're discussing economizing and making our food dollars stretch to further impossible lengths. Rice is always popular as an economical measure. Since corn grits are off the menu here, rice farina makes a nice substitute for that, rice being almost as cheap as corn. What makes rice farina not as attractive economically as corn grits is that it isn't a grocery store staple and is usually only marketed by the high ticket alternative food brands. Unless you have your own mill. See? Power tools are not the exclusive provenance of Tool Guy. And they do pay for themselves in relatively short order.

Rice Farina

Whole rice (I use brown)
Burr wheel mill with adjustable grind or food processor/blender

This is one that costs 1/3 of the price of the commercial rice farina (Yeah, Bob, I'm talkin' to YOU!) if you can grind it yourself, so you're making breakfast cereal for the cost of your rice. This is also one where the Retsel Milrite makes it up to me for not doing well with rice flour, since my K-tec high impact mill won't go as coarse as grits. I've not experimented with this, since rice is an exceedingly hard grain to grind, but a blender or food processor might yield a "grits" consistency where it won't go so far as to yield a satisfactory rice flour.

I saved the last of the commercial grits I bought to give myself a "gold" standard or exemplar by which to measure the grind of what I do myself until I get a feel for doing it consistently. On the Retsel, I tightened the wheel to about half the width of a grain of rice and started from there. It was a pretty satisfactory grind. If you're doing this with a processor/blender, pulse the blade, stopping frequently to compare to the exemplar. Okay, confession time: I'm rather anal about this, but really, it isn't an exact science, so pulse away until it looks like whatcha wanna cook.

The cooking ratios are 3:1...four parts water to one part cereal and salt to taste. I usually use 1/4 tsp Real Salt in 1/4 cup cereal and 3/4 cups water. Depending on the size of your burner, simmer for 5-8 minutes. Stir once in a while to keep from sticking. A bit of oil/fat thrown in helps in that department, too.

There ya go. Your own rice farina. Bob's your uncle.

I'm sure we'll all be talking more about saving money in the days to come. Some things that are hard are forced upon us. Some things that are hard we do because they are good for us. We accomplish so much more in the long run.

"We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too. " -- John F. Kennedy

Friday, January 16, 2009

T'is the Season

It's winter. Ask me how I know. The ice and snow were the dead giveaways. Gotta get up pretty early in the morning to fool me, eh? Funny how even homeschoolers have their "snow days," even though most people quip that it is one of the kiddie down sides to homeschooling. No "Mom, I missed the bus" or "It's a snow day!" when you don't have to walk outside your front door. Heh.

We're getting socked with snow and ice pretty heavily here in the Shire. The Farmer's Almanac hits another one out of the park, because they've been telling us that winter was going to be slow getting here, but when it arrived, it would be making up for lost time. Bingo.

Somehow in the past few weeks, all of my days that I must and shall be out have occurred on days of significant snowfall. And, when New England calls it "significant," it is Indeed Significant. However, being the intrepid soul that I am, I must and shall go forth. The Hobbits, being less intrepid, decided that staying home with Granny and Paw-Paw would be the thing. Slackers.

Getting the early morning grocery shopping done wasn't the big fat hairy deal. It was getting Tool Guy, whom I had blithely dropped off at work before heading out to the store, home. Yeah, I went shopping and got home safe and sound. If that would have been the end of the story, it would have been the end of the story. But all Paul Harvey fans know that there is a...Rest of the Story.

This was the day that I was to learn that a Certain Degree of Incline combined with a top-heavy van, snow, and no grit are inimicable combinations. Half way up the Incline of a Certain Degree, the van decided that I was being totally unreasonable in my demands and refused to climb any further. Well. At least I wasn't stuck in a ditch. So I set off walking down the road...rather up the road where Tool Guy's office lay a mere mile away. In the blowing snow. On the top of a mountain. And me without a hat. Blessedly, the Hobbits were at home babysitting the grandparents.

I wasn't too fashed about the situation, because I figured someone would stop and pick me up. After all, Breatharian, the only thing at the top of that mountain is Tool Guy's place of work. And the only people coming and going are co-workers. Right? I was beginning to feel like the wounded soul on the side of the road in the Samaritan's story after the second car passed me by without even slowing down. Not that they were driving fast or anything to begin with. I plodded along, mentally playing with colorful metaphors and tracing the dubious genealogies of the persons who drove on past. Every now and then, I disappeared my head into my coat to thaw out my scalp and kept walking. I figured I could pretty much walk blind...what would be the danger? No traffic. Besides, if someone did hit me, then they would have to pick me up, right? Okay, it was a plan. That's all I'm sayin'...

Fortunately, before the mile was out--and there was never a mile so long--I heard the crunch of tires coming to a halt next to me and the window of the truck rolled down. I wasn't sure if it was steam or cigarette smoke billowing out of the window, but I didn't hesitate an instant at the invitation to climb inside. No respiratory snobbery here. If it was cigarette smoke, I could hold my breath for a very long time.

I explained my situation to Tool Guy's obliging co-worker and he set off. My rescuer apologized for the length of time it took the heater to get going, but I assured him that, by comparison, the interior of the truck felt positively tropical. He was the perfect gentleman and pretended not to notice that the ice cap on my head was thawing down my face in an oh-so-winsome fashion. Not a Kodak moment.

We achieved the top of the hill in short order. See what four wheel drive and your very own snow plow will net you? I've decided that no vehicle is "fully loaded" unless it sports its own snow plow. I don't care what the sales rep says.

Lately, I've had the urge for bbq chicken. Yeah, you certainly don't have to tell me it's winter time. I've picked up on the subtle seasonal cues, thankyouverymuch. But, Philistine that I am, I still haven't gotten into season eating. And a gas grill on the back deck calls to me--especially in weather like this. So I schlopped out the sauce from my pulled pork assay and tweaked it a bit further so it would stick to the ribs...or drumsticks...or whatever is destined for the grill.

BBQ Sauce

1/2 cup Breatharian Flames Ketchup
1/2 cup water
2-3 T maple syrup or vegetable glycerin (depending on sweetness preference)
2 t wheat-free tamari sauce
1 T tapioca starch

Dissolve tapioca starch in 1/4 cup of the water. Mix remaining water with the other ingredients and heat to a slow simmer. Slowly add dissolved tapioca starch to bubbling sauce and stir until tapioca is cooked. Apply to the grilled meat during the last 15 minutes of cooking over a low heat to avoid scorching.

Refrigerate any unused sauce.

Tool Guy and I were reunited and able to resume that oh-so-thrilling ride back down the Incline of Certain Degree. The journey home wasn't quite the adventure as getting up and down the Incline of Certain Degree, but the potential was there, given the paucity of snow removal personnel who had...rather had not...gone on before. Needless to say, this wouldn't have been a happy day to collect performance reviews for the snowplow infrastructure of our county. I'd share the love with our Town Manager if I thought that it would even be read, but one has to choose the swines before which one casts ones pearls. At any rate, it is warming to know that for all of the bureaucratic slackers out there, the world still possesses Samaritans who will stop and help in the worst of weather.

There's snow in the forecast. Welp. Time to fire up the grill.

Friday, January 2, 2009

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

One of the most treasured things about having children is the opportunity to relive the magic of our own childhood Christmases through them. And as they get older and are able to pitch in with helping out, it gets even better. Of course, Christmas time is the time of year for baking and cookies. Which coincides with December being our "test" month. I usually pick one of the biggies that are missing out of our diet to test drive and see if it is suitable for reintroducing. This year, the Hobbits asked about oats. No controversy there, eh? So I bought a box of certified gluten free oats and romanced it for a couple of months before giving them oatmeal. They were singularly unimpressed. Go figure. You'd think that with such limitations, everything new would be greeted with a ticker tape parade. Not so, Breatharian. They suggested that the appropriate medium for oats would be cookies. Yeah, I know that suggestion surprised you, too. They've never met a sugar they didn't like and it covers a multitude of palatial shortcomings. So I underwhelm you with my

Just Another Gluten Free Oatmeal Cookie

1 cup gluten free oats
1 1/2 cup grain flour
1/4 cup tapioca starch
1/4 cup potato starch
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. guar gum
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 eggs
1/2 cup palm shortening
1/2 cup maple syrup

Whip palm shortening until soft, adding eggs. Add remaining dry ingredients until well incorporated. Form dough into balls and press flat on cookie or silicone baking sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes at 350*

December always brings extra busyness for everyone, though we blessedly avoided The Plague this year. (Thanks everyone for asking!) We had an homeschooling co-op day called on account of weather this past month, so that put a cramp in the projects and deadlines that tend to loom upon us this time of year. Well, in all truth, I don't think that those students with papers due felt the cramp at all, but some days you get the bear and some days the bear gets you. However, it was a bit tense for those responsible for the Christmas play, which was a spirited rendition of I Witness Bethlehem, an anachronistic juxtaposition of modern and ancient in the retelling of the Christmas story.

Three months was a very abbreviated time in which to cast, stage, and rehearse all of the students from 7th grade and up who were drafted into the production, but it all coalesced brilliantly. The costumes was appropriate for angel choruses and magi. Even the MIB (Men in Black...yes, Herod's secret service detail consisted of Men in Black...I did mention anachronistic juxtapositions, didn't I?) gleamed smartly and bore appropriately impassive visages. The sets were a tribute to the hard work and creative vision of the art students. Props for the props folk, too.

What brought this play to life was the absolute ease with which the students possessed the stage. None of the wide-eyed, shell-shocked, doe-caught-in-the-headlights episodes of stage fright for this troupe of thespians. Perhaps rabid gorillas do indeed have a salutary effect on acting skills; the quality of this production is proof enough. The actors comfortably and convincingly delivered their lines, synchronized their steps, and harmonized their notes. Each ad libbed line or interaction was a testament to the teamwork and camaraderie of the cast. The end result was a Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer Golden Studio Era style of performance that made the audience smile, laugh, howl, and ultimately remember the meaning of Christmas.