Friday, June 26, 2009

Chickens Coming Home To Roost

Well, tie it up with a bow. The school year has ended. Whew. This has been the most mad six weeks that I can remember for any stretch of time. An extra co-op delivery sandwiched in between the Stanford for the older Hobbits, as well as a research paper/Science Fair project for Dog. But when your child tells you that he wants to volunteer to do extra work, one can hardly refuse, no? Actually, it was the display that he had really volunteered to do...or at least volunteered Tool Guy's help on it. By the time, I realized what had happened, they were quite committed to the accomplishing the of display and so Dog, by default, was committed to the research paper. He knuckled down with surprising cooperation--repaying the cost of display supplies looming over his head--to the completion of the paper. His first. With very little involvement in the actual writing of the paper from me. I just held his hand during the research portion of the project and helped him conform to the assigned format. The rest, he did himself. And brought home the Gold for his age group. Attaboy!

Bug's Stanford shows that he has taken tremendous strides forward in his reading and language skills...areas in which he has struggled in the past. Woohoo! I guess Raymond Moore is right. Better late than early. Some boys do advance better at eight years of age than before. I'm hoping the same applies to math word problem skills, because that's this year's area of greatest challenge. We've been using Singapore math, but if anyone has any suggestions or resources for beefing up word problem skills, holler at me! I'll also entertain feedback from anyone who wants to feed my internal mantra that this will come with time, like the reading did. Tool Guy thinks more time in the shop is the answer. Heh.

Princess began the year as a kindergartener who had a rudimentary grasp of the initial phonics rules and ended the year as a first grader who is also a reader and writer. We continually find little love notes tucked in out of the way corners around the house. Cute beyond words.

In the past, I have noticed the propensity of peer-mothers to, upon the entrance of their youngest into first grade, cast about for someone/thing new to mother. If they have decided that they are past the age of continual conception, most turn to the option of mothering something even shorter and furrier than Hobbits. A dog. Or a cat. Something I swore I'd never do. Now that the Hobbits are reasonably house-broken--having successfully broken the house--I swore I'd enjoy the languorous, sybaritic luxury afforded by my surfeit of spare time. Yeah. Right. Good luck with that plan.

Well, to my credit, it isn't a dog. Or a cat. I got chickens. That was my twenty-fifth anniversary gift, remember...a chicken tractor. Tool Guy brought them home to me from where they had been boarding at a friend's house until we were ready to receive them. They were more or less agreeable about coming. Except for one. Tool Guy said when they caught her, she'd "screamed like a woman." He's still trying to explain away that comment. Trust me.

The girls settled into the routine of our yard, trundling about the property in the tractor and nesting in their roost quite naturally. The Hobbits decided to name each of them, which I allowed, since these are going to be egg birds and not soup birds. The Wyondottes are called, respectively, Polka and Dot. We haven't been able to differentiate which is which. The other two are white, with one of them having neck and tail markings. The white one was christened "Snow" by the Hobbits, but I still refer to her as "Luci-" due to wiles.

Luci has decided that she's the alpha bird. Having already expressed her aforementioned reluctance to relocate, she has concluded that as opportunity presents itself, she plans to avail herself of the relative roominess of our acreage, irrespective of anyone else's thoughts or wishes on the matter. The first time she flew the coop, I think she startled herself and so stuck close enough to her flock mates that after an hour or so, she was nestled next to the tractor, clawing wistfully at the wire. Her bid for independence, when I pursued her, was rather half-hearted and I was quickly able to recapture her.

Her second excursion revealed a more footloose and fancy-free Luci. Her hour of liberty was about ten o'clock in the morning and she planned to make the most of her day. None of the usual coaxings, baitings, pleadings, or corrallings could persuade her. I can only image what the neighbors were thinking, as they must have been watching. It was a popcorn-worthy event. Or sorghum for the corn-sensitive. She successfully avoided the team of Hobbits and adults trying to secure her. Scoffed at any food offerings. Distained to flee to the box trap someone so cunningly devised. Tool Guy thought a blanket as a net would work, but that spooked even the more docile hens who had decided to stay at home. Dad thought a bamboo garden rake would work to pin her down, but she skittered away with raucous and reproachful cackles that echoed off of the hemlocks that make up our woods. Eventually, I threw up my hands and announced that we'd wait for sunset time when she would naturally decide that she needed to be in her roost.

Nothing wrong here that a batch of cookies wouldn't cure, no? With patient and continual doses of "a tincture of time," the Hobbits continue to gradually gain lost ground. Beans have been unequivocally reintroduced. This addition to the diet was strangely not met with the same cries of delight that accompanied chocolate. I can hear what you're saying. Go figure. Being the untrustworthy and deceitful parent that I am, I never shirk at an opportunity to engage in guerrilla nutrition. Hence, bean flour cookies.

Chocolate Chip Bean Flour Cookies

1/2 cup palm shortening
1 tsp salt
1/2-1 cup maple syrup
2 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
1 tsp. guar gum
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 cup tapioca starch
1/4 cup potato starch
1 1/2 - 2 cups cup bean flour
1 cup Enjoy Life chocolate chips

Garbanzo beans usually figure largely in my bean flour blends, but I've abandoned the favored fava beans of Bette Hagman's "garfava flour" fame for my own combination of adzuki beans and garbanzo which I call "gadzuki flour." Yeah, I know. As Mrs. Weston put it, "all...people will have their little whims." So humor me, okay?

Cream shortening together with the syrup, vanilla, and eggs, mixing in the remaining ingredients, except the chocolate chips, which are best incorporated with hand stirring. Roll into balls and flatten with a plate or cup bottom. (I find that sandwiching between baking parchment or silicone mats assist in this process.) Bake at 350* for 10-12 minutes or until desire consistency.

As the sun started setting, I ventured out into the yard to see if Luci could be persuaded to submit. She'd spent most of the previous hour looking for her own way into the tractor. (By the way, leaving an opening for her to access at her own leisure only allowed Polka to emerge, giving us yet another refugee to regain. Fortunately, she did it with a better grace than Luci.) When Luci started fluttering and poking around the elevated hutch of the tractor, I judged it might be time. I circled the tractor while she walked the ridgepole of the roof, Anne Shirley-style. She wanted nothing to do with my help, silly git. I waited until she turned her back to scope out another angle before I reached up, finally grabbing one of her legs with success. I'll leave the shrieks of indignation and wounded dignity to your imagination. Not much that you could conjure up would fall short of the reality. But she'd come home to roost at last.

I spent the first couple of years of our food journey chasing the intolerances around, hoping to pin them down and to be able to put them where I wanted them. That wasn't any more successful than chasing Luci. We had unnecessary setbacks because I'd not yet learned to wait. But it's happening, though. All the chickens are coming home to roost.

I'm stalking bananas next.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Redeeming the Bread

Bug's favorite excuse is "I got distracted." While he's a highly distractible sort of Hobbit, it does get old after a bit. It's sort of a contagious variety of excuse, since I'm hearing it from other members of the clan besides Bug. Tool Guy trots it out from time to time, to my cynical sneers. Oh, the hubris...

Sunday mornings are not an oasis of quiet and reflection in the midst of a hurly-burly week. As much as it pains me and as it is humbling to admit, Sunday mornings = stress in this Hobbit hole. Two hours is barely sufficient time to organize and corral five people out of the house in a tranquil and pacifistic manner. That's what the commute is for...regrouping and refocusing after the mad dash out the door. It's like herding cats.

I really should know better than to try and squeeze in any other activity than the ones required to get us out the door for the morning. I really should. It should be enough to feed and dress everyone, organize snacks, collect up textbooks, music materials, and sermon notes. Watching us leave must look like a troupe of Hobbits breaking bivouac. But for some reason or another, it seemed like a reasonable, rational, nay, even possible goal to get a loaf of bread going in the morning before we left. The theory was that if I set the bread to rising--my starter is sluggish of late and needs more rise time than previous--when I first got up, I could set the timer for the rest of the rise, the oven would turn on, bake the bread, then turn off, patiently waiting for our return home a few hours later. It makes a nice theory, doesn't it?

Half way down the road, it came to me that I'd never set the timer. Nothing for it but to sit in the passenger's seat and fume over the wasted product. Okay. Breathe deep. The rest of the drive involved my mind furiously shifting through ways to salvage the situation.

Redemption Muffins

2 cups of flopped bread dough
1 cup pear butter or apple sauce
1 cup dry quinoa flakes
2 t cinnamon
1 T vinegar
1 t baking soda

When I got home the dough, nestled in its 100* oven, had risen and fallen with a lovely layer of froth over the top. It was quite liquid, too. Hence, the addition of dry quinoa flakes. This may appear an arbitrary ingredient to add and, indeed, it is. The theory was that the dry flakes would soak up the extra moisture. Besides, the flakes were part of a cereal that the Hobbits swore that they loved, but really what they loved was to pick the dried mangoes and strawberries out and leave the hideously expensive quinoa flakes behind with a sneer. Soooo. One cup of dry quinoa flakes it is.

I think that I now passionately adore vinegar and baking soda as a rising agent, since stumbling across a cake recipe recently that called for this combination. Betty Crocker look out. So I now use it instead of the much pricier cream of tartar. But just to keep things interesting, I've taken to using cane vinegar, courtesy of our local international grocery store, since it has a sweeter and more mild taste than other vinegars and is a more palatable addition to dessert breads.

Mix ingredients and pour into muffin molds, baking at 350* for 30 minutes.

Dog, who has of late turned his nose up at such humble offerings as pear butter muffins, inhaled these and declared them the best he's ever tried. Figures. Now I have to go and engineer a deliberate mistake...