Weekly Sketch: J is for Juniper

I dabbled in color this week.

I’ve always known juniper berries were used to flavor gin, but I never really thought of them as edible until my uncle came to visit us in Austin and we took him hiking around Mount Bonnell. It had been a rainy winter, and the juniper berries were exceptionally big and round and vibrant. My uncle got very excited and started eating them right off the trees. So I tried some. To my surprise they were sweet and tasty, although the pits were a bit piney. I am now a fan of the humble juniper!

Categories: Artwork, environment, Family, food, Health, Life, Nutrition, trees, Weekly Sketch | Tags: | Leave a comment

He Can’t Eat What, Now?

A few weeks ago Luke was at the doctor getting a checkup and I asked them if he could be tested for food allergies. He doesn’t have any major symptoms, but he always seems to have dark circles under his eyes and a stuffy nose. So they did a blood test and the results came back positive for a ridiculous number of allergies. Wheat, corn, soy, peanuts, walnuts, sesame seeds, plums, scallops…clearly some massive dietary changes were in order. Toss in my dairy allergy and gluten intolerance and I was starting to wonder if we’d have to resort to cutting pictures of food out of cardboard and eating those.

In the summer it’s easier; we eat from the garden and orchard and life is good. But in the winter our diet tends to be grain-based, and we are running out of acceptable grains. Basically I need to organize a complete overhaul of our wintertime eating habits.

Not being able to eat bread is a fairly huge handicap. Over the past year I’ve gotten okay at making gluten-free bread, but I’m not crazy about it. It involves a lot of added starches and gums, which offends my whole-food inclinations, and it doesn’t keep well. I like my food to be simple, healthy and relatively undemanding. But man, do I miss bread. And pizza, and donuts.

One thing I don’t have to miss is pancakes and waffles, because I finally invented a GREAT recipe for those. Here’s something I’ve discovered about GF baking: the texture will be infinitely better if you add some kind of fresh fruit or vegetable to the batter/dough. The natural fibers are a surprisingly good substitute for gluten. If it’s not something you can add fruits or veggies to, try psyllium husks; similar effect with no noticeable flavor change. Here is my GF pancake/waffle recipe:

2 cups millet flour (sorghum flour would also work)
1 TBL psyllium husks
1 tsp aluminum-free baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 TBL oil (I use organic extra-virgin coconut oil)
1 banana, mashed
1 cup rice milk (any dairy or non-dairy milk would work)
1 TBL lemon juice
1 TBL sweetener (honey, agave nectar or maple syrup)
2 eggs, or 3 if you’re making waffles.


But most of my baking is still a work in progress. Last October I was browsing through a catalogue and saw a mini-donut maker that works on the same principle as a waffle iron. “Wow, I’d love to have one of those!” I commented.

Luke and Elizabeth heard, and remembered, and mentioned it to my ex-laws, and there was a mini-donut maker under our tree this Christmas.

(Tangent: this is another one of those unexpected things that I’m not sure how to feel about. This is the first time since the divorce that I’ve received a “from the kids” gift financed by Steve or his parents. And it’s pretty much the first time I’ve EVER gotten a Christmas gift from Steve or his parents that was even remotely relevant to my interests. I love the donut maker. I appreciate the gesture, truly. It just feels…a little…baffling.)

Anyway, the nifty thing about the donut maker is that it seems to be able to bake any “quick bread” (ie, no yeast) batter perfectly. I’ve been experimenting with biscuits, mini-pizza crusts, etc, with good results. Sure, they’re all shaped like little donuts, but that’s fine.

The best part is how easy it is — the most time-consuming part is milling the flour. Whole organic millet is my current grain of choice; it makes a tasty, light, cakelike bread. In theory I like quinoa better, but for some reason it disagrees with my digestion. If you’re gluten-free but not milling your own flour, sorghum flour is also a very good choice.

Once the flour is milled, it’s just a matter of mixing the ingredients and pouring them a tablespoon at a time into the preheated donut receptacles. Each batch cooks in about three minutes. In no time at all you have a plateful of delicious donuts or biscuits or whatever the bread du jour is. And it doesn’t even matter that they’re only really good the first day, because tomorrow you can take a few minutes and make more! SWEET! It’s a great energy-saver, too. No heating up a big oven, no use of propane and only a few pennies’ worth of electricity.

So we’re still working on creating a new wintertime menu, but my new gadget has gotten us off to a great start. Bread is a wonderful tummy-filler, and now I can make it with only healthy, allergen-free ingredients! Yay for mini donut makers!

Of course, now I miss polenta. I don’t suppose there’s a corn-free substitute for that….

Categories: Christmas, Family, food, frugality, Gluten Free, Health, kids, Life, Nutrition | 4 Comments

Seriously, 2011? Seriously?

Everywhere I look people are grumbling “Good riddance to 2010! What a crappy year!” Twitter, Facebook and most of my favorite bloggers seem to be in agreement about the epic suckitude of the past twelve months.

As usual I’m the oddball: I had a GREAT 2010. Truly a fantastic year for me and the kids.

2011 is, sadly, shaping up to be less than stellar. I know we’re only three days into it, but let’s take a look at what we’ve got so far:

On New Year’s Eve morning I woke up with the sort of head/chest cold and fever that erodes one’s will to live. And then it wouldn’t freaking go away. New’s Year’s Day I was still dragging around congested, feverish, coughing up smurfs and generally being a big whiner. Yesterday I finally kicked the fever and got my energy back, but all of the other symptoms are, as of today, still firmly entrenched in my respiratory system. This is what I get for bragging that I never get sick anymore since I started growing my own food.

This morning we woke up to about a half-inch of snow. My little car slipped and slid all the way to the bus stop. I suspect that I have the wrong vehicle for my location. Anyway, the bus was very late so I shut the car off while we waited, and than after it finally came and the kids left my car would not restart. It clicked like a bad starter, but the oil pressure and battery lights were both lit. I could have called AAA, but I was wearing my pajamas, a bathrobe, worn-out Uggs and a ratty Carhartt jacket, and was feeling less than presentable. I could have walked home, gotten dressed, called AAA and then walked back to the car, but it’s a about a mile along a paved road just to get to the driveway and see above regarding my stylish ensemble. So I gritted my teeth and called Steve. And he came and gave my battery a jump and my car started and I drove home. So before I get on with the grousing about how I probably need a new starter and I have no money and why did this have to happen right after Christmas, let me take a moment to marvel over the mindboggling fact that Steve has become one of the most dependably helpful people in my life lately. It is almost painful for me to admit that, and I would rather eat thumbtacks than take advantage of this inexplicable grace, but the fact remains that in the past year or two he has been there for me in moments when no one else was and I am deeply grateful.

And now: Probably need new starter, no money, why right after Christmas, etc. /grouse

So 2011 is getting off to a shaky start for me. I’m really hoping it’s just getting all the bad stuff out of its system right at the beginning, so the rest of the year can be drama-free. Yay optimism!


In other news:

Luke has a passion for turn-of-the-century (as in 1900) machinery and steam-tech, especially in European settings, so the game Ticket To Ride: Europe was an easy pick for one of his Christmas presents. It’s a lot of fun to play, but the gameboard is basically a map of Europe and we don’t know how to pronounce some of the city names. Most of them we can figure out because we’re familiar with the English translation, like Bruxelles and København (Brussels and Copenhagen), but others we just have to guess at. Sure, we could Google the correct pronunciations, but because we are children we prefer to substitute our own words in place of the names. All of this is to explain the following exchange from a few nights ago:

Luke: “I’m claiming the route from Breast to Diaper.”

Me: “Ah, yes. Pretty short trip, as I recall. About twenty minutes, usually.”

Yes, I am twelve. And so is my ten-year-old son.


Speaking of twelve-year-olds, I also got Luke two of the “Diary Of A Wimpy Kid” sequels, “The Last Straw” and “The Ugly Truth,” since he enjoyed the first book so much. He and Elizabeth have both spent the past week reading, rereading, laughing at and quoting their favorite bits from both of them. I haven’t read any of the series myself yet, but just going by how much my kids love these books I have to recommend them to anyone with kids in the 10- to 15-year-old age group. Luke doesn’t read a lot of fiction, he’s more into history, science and machinery, so for a kids’ book to grab his interest this hard it has to be exceptionally entertaining. If you have kids of middle school age or thereabouts, check this series out!


And now I am off to eat a bowl of frozen pomegranate seeds, because they are magical and will restore me to full health. Any day now.

Categories: books, Family, Gaming, Health, Humor, kids, Life, Nutrition, Weather, Winter | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Misty Pomegranate-Colored Musings

Sunday night we got another nice rain, and Monday night we got our first frost of fall. Yesterday most of the pomegranates on my tree had suddenly developed those little splits in their skins that means they need to be harvested soon or they’ll go to waste. So I spent most of yesterday taking pomegranates apart, putting the seeds in containers, and putting the containers in the freezer, which was…about as tedious as it sounds. But also satisfying, because around January and February a handful of half-thawed pomegranate seeds tastes like a fresh little boost of happy.

Still pretty tedious, though. The mind wanders while the hands work, and my mind had lots of time to wander on Tuesday. Some thoughts it offered up for my consideration:

1. I’m amazed at how many people see love as a weakness to be exploited. These people are seriously shortchanging themselves. Love is the most powerful force in the universe, and they will live and die without ever tapping into that vast, amazing power.

2. People have to receive before they can understand the value of giving. People have to be listened to before they can understand the value of listening to others. They have to be accepted and respected, in all their quirky uniqueness, before they can accept and respect others who are different from them. If you convince a child that her feelings don’t matter, she will grow up believing that no one’s feelings matter. Feelings either matter or they don’t. If you’re constantly telling your child not to be so sensitive whenever your thoughtless words and actions wound him, don’t be surprised if he grows up to be insensitive and thoughtless of others. If you try to teach your child humility by treating her as if she has no great value or importance, don’t be surprised if she grows up treating herself (and others) like garbage. This often involves chemical addictions and promiscuity. If you try to impose your will on your child by force, don’t be surprised if he grows up believing that might makes right. If you try to impose your will on your child through lies and manipulation, don’t be surprised if he grows up to be a manipulative liar.

3. A common misconception among Christians is that they are (or should be) somehow exempt from the natural consequences of their own poor choices. This is an unrealistic expectation. You may be “saved by grace,” but you still have to water your garden, tend lovingly to your personal relationships and feed the dog, or they will all wither and die. If you lie and cheat and steal people will stop trusting you. If you are unreliable people will stop investing in you. Being “a Christian” doesn’t absolve you of any earthly repercussions or responsibilities. It’s silly (and totally missing the point) to think it should.

4. One person’s “normal” is another person’s “completely unacceptable.” One person’s “attractive and desirable” is another person’s “eww.” What one person admires and reveres, someone else will feel nothing but contempt for. A way of life that feels like heaven to one person will feel like hell to another. What feels like glorious success to one person will feel like dismal failure to another. I don’t think there are any exceptions to this rule. To borrow Alan Alda’s phrase, “all laws are local.” You have to walk the path God designed you for, and accept that not everyone is going to understand.

So much for the navel-gazing. In other news:

5. I’m currently reading “Travels With Charley” by John Steinbeck. It’s one of the books that came with my house when we bought it twelve years ago and it’s been in my “to read” pile all this time, and I finally got around to it. It is an incredible book, and I highly recommend it if you’re interested in shrewd, amusing and often brilliant observations on human nature and eerily accurate predictions (it was written in 1961) about the impact of technology on American life.

6. I decided to make some of my kids’ Christmas presents this year, to save money. Somehow it didn’t occur to me that this would suck up the last vestiges of my spare time. If my blog goes dark for a while, that’s why. Turns out there is a finite number of minutes per day, and that number is not negotiable. Who knew?

7. A closing quote borrowed from one of my favorite bloggers, wordsmith Scott White of Caveat Emptor:

Once I met a man with a hundred hands. “It must be amazing to be able to get so many things done,” I said. “Alas,” he replied, “if only I had a few more brains and a longer reach, maybe that would be true.” Then I understood the value of people working together.

Categories: books, Christianity, Christmas, Family, frugality, Gardening, Health, kids, Life, Love, Nutrition, Self-Sufficiency, trees, Weather, Winter | 9 Comments

Wordless Wednesday: Persephone’s Downfall, Jewel of Winter

Categories: Edible Perennials, environment, Fiction, food, frugality, Gardening, Health, Life, Nutrition, Self-Sufficiency, Winter, Wordless Wednesday | Tags: | 1 Comment

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