Friday, July 24, 2009

There and...

Tool Guy and I used to have itchy feet. We moved all of the time and when there was nothing else pressing, between moves, we hopped into the Plymouth Fury we'd christened "Polly" and explored the back roads. Indiana certainly has plenty of those. We'd head off on vacations that included mountain biking in Colorado and white water rafting in North Carolina. "Paddle or die."

Post-Hobbit, the scenery has been less varied. Just after settling in the Shire, we popped up to see what the rave over Maine was about and dipped our toes into what Ogunquit had to offer...which, in October, was rather modest, but it was a nice outing. After the food pyramid collapsed on us and Princess sent notice that she'd be inviting herself into our family, we stuck much closer to home. Actually, I crawled down the Hobbit hole and slammed the door behind me, Bilbo/Peter Jackson-fashion, shrieking, "No, thank you! We don't want any more visitors, well-wishers, or distant family relations!" Contemplating the prospect of traveling under our limitations made my mind slam shut with similar force. Doubtless there are folks who have mastered such limitations and traveled successfully, but I must admit that the knack of it has heretofore escaped me.

So instead of birthday parties, Tool Guy planned individual outings for each of the Hobbits on their birthday...things that would appeal to their unique personalities and interests. Dog took a plane ride--and piloted it for a while, he will be quick to inform you--and a cruise on an oceanographic vessel where the visitors assisted in collecting data. Bug took a historic train ride, a quick cruise around the bay on a sloop, and a visit to a coal mine. We're trying to get Princess to expand her interests outside of Build-a-Bear, but so far, her passion for animals is theoretical. In real life, they terrify her. We're working on it. Each birthday, the celebrated pair would head out the door to the intended expedition, armed with food stuffs such as chicken strips and shoestring fries, which have been favorites in our kitchen for longer than I would have imagined possible, and would dive into the day with relish.

As the Hobbits have gotten older and our food choices expanded, we began to contemplate the possibility of more distant horizons. This year, Tool Guy decided to lump all of the birthday outings into one vacation. A small one, but an official vacation nonetheless. I began to imagine that this might just be do-able. Proximity and prospect made Maine again an appealing choice. A room with a kitchen made it a possible one. After he'd made the reservations, I began my meditations.

Jerky was the obvious choice for travel food, but Hobbits do not live by jerky alone and need other food stuff to "fill in the corners." I considered our options, how to transport, how to prepare, and what was portable and possible. For months before our trip, I kept a weather eye out for sales on beef, snatching up the good buys on roasts and other cuts that would slice nicely, dividing them up into handy portions and freezing. I also started ramping up my supply of kombucha down in the basement. About a month before departure date, I began the marinading and dehydrating process. Knowing that the flavor goes a bit stale after a week or so even if the meat itself is still good, I decided to vacuum seal the finished jerky into mason jars and freeze them until the departure date. This worked out rather satisfactorily. I planned that this would be the bulk of our road food coming back home. For traveling out, I decided fry up the ever-faithful chicken strips and have a handy loaf of bread with Hormel Natural roast beef, the only lunch meat that I've found corn-free. (The roast beef is the only Hormel Natural that is corn-free.) Slowly, I started constructing a plan to cover my bases.

Tool Guy was of a mind that we should go shopping after arrival and make up meals in the room. It initially sounded reasonable, but as I meditated, I became increasingly uncomfortable with that plan. Too many uncontrolled variables. And, yeah, I'm a control freak. That sound you hear is my mind, once again, slamming shut. His perspective was that he didn't want to make any "extra work" for me. Heh. Naive lad. I opted for Plan B, which was to pick foods that would be can-able and reheat them upon arrival. No worries about ingredients, temperature and portability there. It isn't optimal food, but at least it is food food and can sustain us in a tight spot. Besides, I'd rather do my work upfront and not spend precious vacation time sussing out safe food sources and cooking.

Now one would think that Hobbits of such constricted food choices would celebrate over whatever is available to them. Unfortunately, that is not our reality. All of the stuff I blog about is stuff that gets eaten here; the rub is that there is very little that all three of them want to eat universally. At the same time. That I can transport. We narrowed down our very narrow choices to two: chili and chicken noodle soup. Dog and Tool Guy are always up for a bowl of chili and the rest of us feel the same way about chicken noodle soup. Which is just enough for a two-day trip.

The only nervous-making prospect of the whole canning expedition is that I've never canned meat before. It was rather a leap of faith. I pored over the canner manufacturer's instructions, Stocking Up, and The Ball Blue Book on canning. Repeatedly. Tool Guy rolled up his sleeves and made a couple of huge batches of chili, which canned up to perfection. We were all hovering over the bubbling jars, wiping the steam from our glasses, and listening for the metallic pops. I think I was holding my breath. All of them sealed beautifully. The Canning Gurus would've been proud.

The chicken noodle soup took a bit more thought, since I'm not a huge fan of canned vegetables. That's actually a major understatement. It was quite easy to sell me on the principles of fermented vegetables, since I don't think it is possible to convince me to voluntarily eat canned vegetables. The few experiments I made in that direction, with the exception of tomato sauce, ended up being stealthed into chili. Keep that under your hat, one here is aware of this little tidbit and the less said on that, the better. In the end, I decided to keep the canned ingredients to a minimum: just the meat and veggies. The pasta came along with us in the bag, boiling up fresh pasta with each meal and adding it to the reheated soup at the last minute. I seasoned and boiled the chicken as usual, keeping the cut vegetables aside. After the meat was cooked, I deboned the chicken, returning it to the broth with the uncooked vegetables. I canned both the chili and the soup according the the manufacturer's canning instructions for meat. I was a bit disappointed that two of my chicken soup jars never popped, but that did give us the chance to see how our final successful product turned out before we were past the point of no return. Amazingly, the vegetables weren't mushy and there was surprisingly little savor lost. However, if I do this again, Philistine that I am, I probably would add a touch more salt.

When we packed up the trunk of our Malibu, we had only two suitcases--and I promised Tool Guy that I wouldn't mention that one was his while the other held everything else for everyone else...he's admonished me in the past that I tend to overpack...ahem--and the rest was, you'll not be surprised, food. The jerky, chili, and soup filled two boxes, while the rest of our dry food stuff and cooking paraphernalia consumed the remaining space. We were able--just--to close the trunk and cram ourselves into the intimate quarters of our little car, while my very own Mr. Sulu plugged in his spanking new Garmin and programmed the coordinates.

On the road again.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Things That Go Cough In the Night

Elecampagne Plant

He never has been a cooperative child. Even before he was born, Dog refused to change his presentation to accommodate me and the OB. In a stubborn transverse position the entire final trimester, the best compromise he would yield was a single footling breech. He's been digging his heels in ever since.

We've been fighting Dog's cough off and on for over a year now. Tried lots of stuff, including pulling the passionately favorite ghee, thinking that the dairy was a contributing factor. For once, though, it wasn't a food issue. Go figure. Getting rid of that musty-smelling mattress did improve breathing conditions for the remainder of the winter. Bug and Tool Guy are sequestered in the shop, cranking out a bunk bed set reminiscent of Stone Henge to replace the former sleeping arrangements.

However, we are now in the height of pollen season. My email inbox is daily peppered with pollen reports of maximum measures of oak, hickory, birch, grass and other delectables which have left their yellow evidence sprinkled over every conceivable surface. When pollen counts aren't spiking, this very chilly, damp...I believe the season might be considered "summer" yielding sky high mold counts. So I'm breaking out all of my big guns to deal.

Our first line of defense is a neti pot. This cute little pot hasn't been welcomed as a best friend among the Hobbits, but application three times a day has certainly reduced the nightly wheezing and coughing. For such an intransigent child, Dog is really pretty good about putting up with my whack-job remedies.

This is the season to forage and what I'm looking for grows in abundance where we live. A few plants that are historically used for coughs are mullein, elecampagne, and coltsfoot. The Herbalist says these are her "go-to" plants for lung complaint.


Foraging can be a relaxing outing, but when one is on a mission and there's mileage to be covered, many hands make light work. One sunny (rare, this year) afternoon, the four of us set off with totes in one hand and clippers in another in search of some off-road infestations of coltsfoot and mullein. A bit of land that fell to the ax of tax arrears has just opened up to public access for fishing in our neighborhood "kill" (shirespeak for "creek"). Rich pickings there, not only in coltsfoot, but also mullein. Off the road yet. It's always recommended to try to harvest plants that live at least eight feet off of any roadway, in order to avoid any toxins that the plants may absorb from proximity to passing vehicles. Score! I'll be watching for these mullein plants to be flowering soon. Earache season will be here before we know it and it never hurts to plan ahead.


As we clipped, Bug began to unpack his own personal recollections of herb lore, surprising me with the amount of information he'd retained. Things I either didn't remember telling him or assumed he never processed. Astonishing, since this is the child whose lowest scoring domains are in listening skills. Guess it requires the right motivator.

Eager and enthusiastic hands make light work of filling our bags. The dehydration process didn't finish quite so quickly, but at the end of three days, the yield was such that I felt we'd collected enough.

Elecampagne Flower

Elecampagne is another big gun for respiratory difficulties. It rocks for things like pneumonia, bronchitis, and this coughing that is plaguing Dog. It certainly helps to clear up the gunk that clogs his lungs. This is one that has to be harvested in the fall after the second hard frost, since the tincture is made from the roots.

Every day, we check the pollen and mold counts the way some folks check their stock portfolios. So far, no single remedy is the silver bullet for us, but a combination of applications...and some cooperation from the "participant" and all of us, Dog not the least, are breathing easier and sleeping better at night.

*Peterson's Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs has this to say about coltsfoot:
"Contains traces of liver-affecting pyrrolizidine alkaloids; potentially toxic in large doses. In Germany, use is limited to 4 to 6 weeks per year, except under advice of a physician." p. 147