Friday, September 18, 2009

I Sent You a Patrol Car, a Boat, and a Helicopter

The Summer That Wasn't is losing even that specious hold it barely possessed on the season and leaves begin to slip from the trees. These leaves were already beginning to turn their coats at the end of July. Makes you wonder what kind of winter it will be.

Tool Guy has been planning a road trip for a few weeks now. His mother is feeling poorly and he'd like to jaunt down to see her. Logistically, it works better if he goes alone. Prior to now, the single vehicle family factor has been a hurdle. Since he got his new set of wheels, which he calls "ambrosia for the back," he has begun to imagine that he could do this on his Harley. Not a few machinations have been in the works to finesse this possibility into a plan. Biking buddies have offered and then rescinded. Planning routes, plotting possibilities, preparing the bike.

I decided to send a care package to my mother-in-love, Claudia, along with him. In my herbal apprenticeship, one of our projects was assembling herbal eye-pillows. The combination that The Herbalist had collated was dried roses, lavender (calming), sassafras bark (earthiness), rosemary (remembrance), and mugwort (sweetens dreams) that we harvested, weighted down with rice or flax seeds. She brought out a selection of shimmery silks and I settled on the pink one. Princess pink. Guess who sleeps with that one? And reports that her frequent nightmares have gone! As we sat, stitching up the fabric envelopes, one of the other apprentices shared that during her chemo recovery, she had been gifted with a similar sort of pillow and it was the most comforting thing she possessed. On days when she was totally wasted by the treatments, she said she would curl up on the couch around this pillow. Sounded like something for Claudia.

Herbal Eye Pillow

2 T dried lavender
2 T dried roses
1 T dried rosemary
1/2 t sassafras bark
2 stem's of mugwort, dried, destemmed, and crushed
1 cup white rice

Pick a tactilely satisfying fabric cut into rectangle per personal measurements: Measure the distance from one temple to the other. This will be the length. Measure from the bridge of the nose to just above the browridge. This will be the width. Mark these measurements on a piece of fabric, doubled over and cut out. With right sides, together, stitch the open sides, leaving an end open for filling.

Mix together the herbals and pour into the open end. A canning funnel is particularly useful in this application, especially if you're mass-producing these. Close the end, tucking the raw edges under and stitch closed. Sweet dreams! I decided that my sister-in-love needed one, too.

A co-worker approached Tool Guy with an offer to use a spare car. He felt a bit nervous about the idea of Tool Guy tooling across the country on a bike by himself, Harley and all notwithstanding. Tool Guy was appreciative of the offer, but declined. He was a bit nervous about the whole road-trip-bike prospect, but determined. Mostly just keeping an eye on the weather.

Well, he was a bit nervous about the weather, too. Rainy as it has been, he wasn't elated at the prospect of three days on the road in the rain. The forecast has been less than auspicious. Growing up in Louisiana, there's more rain than sunshine and hurricanes and floods are as humdrum there as earthquakes are in Los Angeles. Ho-hum. I remember that old joke I'd heard growing up:

After a frenetic week of hysterical meteorological predictions for a Category Three hurricane, the first of the dreaded raindrops began. The police sent out patrol cars stop house by house and encourage people to leave. One good old boy greeted the officer with sanguine optimism. "Mais, no. Ah grew up here. Mah daddy grew up here. His daddy grew up here. Dah Lord's gonna take care o' me. I done ax Him." Nothing the officer could say would dissuade him.

As torrential rains fell, the bayous began to rise and lap at the steps of people's homes. Police patrols in boats went around collecting the previously reluctant and assisting them to shelter. Once again, the insistent good old boy maintained that he was going to stay put and that God was going to save him.

The water levels grew higher and higher, so before long, the persistent hold-out had taken to his roof to wait. At this point, a rescue helicopter came around, throwing down a rope ladder and bull-horning to him to climb up. He shook his head and insisted that God would save him, thank you very much.

Sadly, the man succumbed to the forces of nature and found himself in Heaven. He gazed reproachfully at God and ask why He had not saved him. God levelly returned his gaze and said, "I sent a patrol car, a boat, and a helicopter. What more did you want?"

A week before the trip, Tool Guy was chatting and sharing his plans for his trip with our pastor. The next day, he got a phone call from the pastor, who indicated that he'd not felt at peace with the idea of Tool Guy harleying across country and knew of a car that would be available to use if he was interested.

Not for nothing have we been married twenty-five years, because when Tool Guy called me to report this development, we had an immediate brain-share. We each shouted out the punch line of the aforementioned joke together and laughed. "I'm not waiting for the helicopter," he said. "I'm taking the car."

Halfway through his trip, Tool Guy called home on his spanking new Tracfone. When he got into Georgia, the sky opened up and it rained bullets. Nope. Not waiting for that helicopter.

Friday, September 4, 2009

When Your Hand Finds to Do Hard Things

It hasn't been a gardening year, but it certainly has been a foraging year. I'm learning that when something is available in abundance, lay some by, because next year may not be so extravagant. Last year, it was impossible to see the horizon for the poles of mullein obtruding themselves upon the vista. I dehydrated leaves and gathered the flowers, until I felt absolutely obsessive. This year, there has been only sporatic, lonely plants claiming the occasional attention in the occasional meadow. I'm not despairing, though, knowing I'm covered on that front because of last year's surplus.

One of this year's foraging finds was blackberries. What a blast from my past! As I was pouring the fruits of our collective labors into the baking dish, the aroma of hot blackberries dragged me back into my childhood and I started to the Hobbits about what blackberry pickings were like where I grew up.

I come from a make-it-do family. My grandparents survived the Depression on a farm in the South and, even afterwards, a farm isn't a place of affluence. My own childhood was hedged by strict economy and sweat equity. A foraging friend and I were discussing hunting (which my Dad did annually) and fishing and the potential for local game in these areas. It reminded me of summer Louisiana afternoons, when we would load up into our Buick Century, with buckets, nets, and, um, scrap chicken parts. How's that for an idyllic summer interlude? Ah, but wait. Not far down the road, the Intercoastal Canal brought tides inland and even the roadside ditches were home to countless blue crab. When I was Princess' age, I was adept at dangling a chicken neck on a string to entice a crab's attention, only to swoop it up with the net. Many a dish of crab etouffee over many a summer. Gourmet cuisine on a shoestring. Literally.

Blackberry foraging was another summer outing. My hometown was host to a then-defunct military base, that, at the time, had left miles of runway to crumble, surrounding by miles of waste fields. Fields quickly overrun with blackberry brambles. Being public property, the blackberries were finders-keepers to any intrepid individual who was willing to wade out and collect them. I have memories of enamel canning bath pots and every imaginable container from our kitchen collected into the back of that Century, while we piled in with long sleeves and pants, ready to bring home that black gold and not stopping until every monstrous container overflowed. We reckoned the stickers...and the week-long recovery from be a small price to pay for a year's supply of blackberries, canned or frozen.

This year, a dear friend, constitutionally unable to keep such an embarrassment of riches to herself, called me up to make a date to show me where she had found an incredible score of blackberries...which was also where she "thought" there were some elderberry bushes. She was right on both counts. We spent the next two months tag-teaming on tripping out to the field and collecting whatever was ripe of both types of berries.

This was a new experience for the Hobbits. They've become somewhat accustomed to my tendency to come to a screeching halt on the shoulder of the road, because I spotted some stand of plants that I've just developed an affinity for, the fact that I now always carry a backpack with two field guides, a pair of snips, gardening gloves, and a jeweler's loupe (for more exacting plant identification, doncha know?), and my total addiction to the smell of freshly harvested mugwort. But most of my passions don't require much in the way of physical discomfort for them. So when my friend and I waded into the briar patch to reach the more shy and recalcitrant of the berries, all three of them were rather disaffected with the process. The Hobbits are used to suffering of a sort, but it's more of mental endurance than a physical one. My friend encouraged them that it was good to do hard things. Dog had a harder time considering that the blackberries were worth the purchase price, but Bug threw himself into the task...if not into the brambles themselves.

Sourdough "Bisquick" Mom used to make...well, almost. (Thanks for the inspiration, Mom, and not just with the recipe, either!)

Berry Filling:

3/4 cup water
2 T tapioca starch
1 quart berries
3/8 cup (6 T) maple syrup
2 T vegetable glycerin (if you want to bump up the sweet without bumping up the sugar)

Dissolve tapioca in water. In large saucepan, bring to a boil and cook until thickened. Add berries and sweeteners, then heat through. Pour into 10x10 baking dish.


1 cup sourdough starter
1 cup dehydrated potato flakes
2 T tapioca starch
2 T potato starch
1/2 t salt
1 t guar gum
1 T maple syrup
1/2 t baking soda
1 T vinegar
1 egg
2 T oil
Enough coconut milk for all of the liquid ingredients to equal 1 cup

Measure out liquids into a bowl, add starter, then mix. Add remaining ingredients, except for the baking soda and vinegar and stir. Allow to sit while the oven is preheating to 425* to give the potato flakes time to rehydrate. When oven is heated, mix in baking soda and vinegar, and pour over the blackberry mixture. Place in oven and bake for 25-30 minutes or until crust is brown and crispy.

After their first firey baptism into foraging til it hurts, the Hobbits took to the task with equanimity. Some days were rainy and we got wet. Some days were sunny and we were hot and thirsty. (Hint: This year, the rainy, wet days were more numerous than the hot and thirsty days!) We always got scratched. Good thing that last year was a bumper year for plantain, because this year hasn't been, but we've got enough salve to see us through another season and still managed to sooth the welts left by the briars. We didn't get any chiggers. I'm going to give the credit for that to my rockin' bug spray that I cobbled together from essential oils. At least, that was one less hard thing that we had to do while we foraged with our might...