Friday, November 27, 2009

Come, Ye Thankful People

It's the tradition of the season to enumerate the things we are thankful for and look back reflectively over the year. And Breatharian, we have so much to be thankful for. The garden wasn't what I had hoped for, but we had abundance in other areas. The fields and friends provided us with the herbs and medicines that we would need for this sickly season. There's been enough of what I foraged and put by to meet our needs, as well as share. While we were sick, there was elderberry and elecampane and ginger and such enough to take care of everyone. Even Tool Guy submitted to my ministrations, though he was much more...erm..."vocal" about the taste of the tinctures than the Hobbits. Inured and acquiescent to the things I demand of them, they merely produce delicate shudders, chase it with something yummy, and then get on with their day. When the cough started to settle into his lungs and remind him of The Plague, he asked me to start lining him up for the noxious nostrums with which I badger the Hobbits. He affirms that angelica is probably the nastiest medicament that has ever crossed his lips, albeit the most effective. The coughing is almost gone. The Flu Fairy came and went and we are recovered, unscathed by the visit. Much to be thankful for.

This year was the year I dedicated myself to the pursuit of herbs. An opportunity for formalized instruction and experience opened up a floodgate of information and exploration. I've never known seven months to fly by so quickly. My 25th wedding anniversary gift. Thankful for the apprenticeship. And the twenty-five years.

The Hobbits thrive and mature and astonish us with the amazing things they think of and say. As I scroll back through previous years, the years we spent in The Abyss, it comes home to me how normal our life has become, even if perhaps other people don't look in on us and see normality there. Only when there are stray infractions do we have to deal with extended sturm and drang dramas over the way a pair of socks fit--or don't. Or the way a pair of shoes fit--or don't. Or any other instance in where the planet seems inappropriately aligned with the universe. Things we used to deal with daily, even hourly. There's very little that I wouldn't do to achieve this level of serenity. So very much to be thankful for.

Bug continues to explore his enthusiasm for art. His current focus is on perspective drawing. He was barely satisfied with the sixteen books that I schlepped home from the library on the subject. The librarian and I agreed that our family needs a dedicated shelf on the reserve stacks. Princess has become an avid reader, which adds to the groaning weight on those stacks. We're getting ready to invent a bogus family member or five so that we can add more cards to our collection. Twelve holds and fifty books per card times five for three weeks at a time is hardly enough for a house full of bibliophiles. I remember a day when I worried about Bug ever being able to read fluently, let alone for enjoyment. I remember the anxious trips to the speech therapist and the inch-by-inch grasp of phonics. Now he reads as voraciously as the rest of us. Dog and I are plowing through the list of required reading for his Literature class this year and it raises the opportunities for some interesting discussions. Ever so thankful for these blessings.

There are pickles in the fridge because a friend shared the abundance of her garden, which flourished in a state of benign neglect this summer. She also shared the abundance of some pear trees within her stewardship. Since we still have a bounty of canned pears in our basement which still come up to visit us in the form of pear butter muffins, I decided to do something different with these. Mom and I were talking about how the Hobbits had enjoyed the cherry pie I'd made, when she suggested an idea from my grandmother, who made these as a great treat for the family.

Fry Pie

Gluten-free pie crust
Approximately 4 cups pears, peeled, cored, and sliced
1/2 cup water
4 T maple syrup, vegetable glycerin, or sweetener of choice
2 t cinnamon
3 T tapioca starch
1 lb lard or palm shortening

In heavy sauce pan, cook pears with cinnamon and sweeteners until soft. Dissolve tapioca starch into water and pour over cooked pears, heating until tapioca starch is thoroughly cooked and is opaque and thickened. Allow to cool. (The crust tends to be harder to handle and disintegrate when filling is warm.) Assemble pie crust ingredients. With a ball slightly smaller than a fist, roll out crust between two sheets of wax paper to about the size of a small plate. Removing the top sheet of paper, place a dollop of pear filling (1-2 T) in the center and fold the bottom sheet of wax paper over in order to close the crust. Pulling away the bottom sheet from half of the crust, bring the edges of the top and bottom crust together and gently roll up until edges come into contact with the filling. Gently flute edges with fingers or fork.

Heat lard or shortening sufficiently for deep frying. Picking up the pie still in the sheet, roll it onto a spatula large enough to support it. Very. Carefully. To. Avoid. Splashing. Roll the pie on the spatula into the heated oil. Fry for three minutes or until crust is brown. Remove from oil and allow to drain for a minute before placing in plate. Can be sprinkled with powdered sugar or maple sugar while still warm.

The Hobbits were ever so grateful for these! Even Dog, who swears he doesn't care for pears and originally didn't want to eat any. It was fortunate that I'd made "extra" because after he caught the tendrils of steam rising from the plate, he decided they might be worth trying. By the way, "worth trying" = instantaneous evaporation. Bug and Princess inhaled theirs. They might have tasted it somewhere in the process, but I'm not sure. Heh.

Doing without foods certainly makes one thankful for their return. This year, we reintroduced walnuts and--except for Princess--all manner of beans successfully. I think that in all of these Breatharian years, the thing that I've gained that is so precious, but so unexpected, is an attitude of thanksgiving. Struggling through this journey has changed me in ways that I never anticipated and even now cannot fully articulate. But as I sit and ponder it, the most compelling emotion I feel is gratitude. Gratitude for relentless generosity, support, for mercy, and for grace. As much as it has harrowed and winnowed me, I'm thankful to have gone through it all and wouldn't have missed it for the world.

I'm thankful.

Friday, November 13, 2009

La Grippe or "Postcards From the Hankie's Edge"

It had to happen, right? It is, after all, an epidemic. We now consider ourselves officially epidemicked. Princess led the way, as is appropriate for royalty. It was heralded with a barking cough, quickly followed by a fever of 104.6. Bug, always a camp follower, wasn't far behind. Dog remained the stubborn outlier for a while, but eventually succumbed to peer pressure and decided to follow suit.

Once again, I'm hanging out our "plague" sign and quarantining us. The kitchen has gone into overdrive, making cough syrup, elderberry syrup, bone broth, and other such stuffs to soothe, satisfy, and otherwise stimulate the unwell. I'm pillaging my stores of elderberry, barberry, rosehips and assorted herbal matter. Tool Guy continually sniffs the air when he comes home, not sure if he is smelling dinner or medicine. The neighbors wonder at my frequent trips to the white pines in the yard as I jump for ever-higher branches, to strip off needles. What do I live for, but to be entertainment, no? Tool Guy is making sly comments about Marie Laveau and gris-gris. Philistine.

It is exceedingly hard to doctor by proxy and most of my dosing the Hobbits has been based on reading and the feedback they give me, both symptomatically and descriptively. Princess has gotten impatient with my queries about exactly where the irritation inspiring that cough is coming from. "I don't know how to explain it to you," she stated truculently. Sigh. I'm sure that this will be fuel for therapy down the road someday.

Happy day. I get to try all of this out on myself. The Flu Fairy came to visit yet again and I've been blessed. I haven't been ill-prepared, but I'm not best-prepared either; there were quite a few other things I'd wanted to have ready before coming to this. Still I've got enough tricks in my repertoire to at least do something besides lay there in a stupor.

So here's what I've found that works:

Elderberry is definitely wonderful. Something about the glistening liquid jewel tones pouring from the bottle is as reassuring as the thick sweet taste that coats the throat going down.

Andrographis continues to shine as an immune support. Gotta be right there in the cabinet next to the echinachea and astragalus.

Elecampane tincture helps to keep the congestion from building. Toward the end of our confinement, I dipped into the angelica that was maturing, to help ease the coughs. I think this one is going to be a staple in my cabinet, too.

Clary Sage and Red Thyme essential oils are definitely useful in damping down night time coughs.

Ginger continues to shine as my new favorite herb. Just prior to the onset of La Grippe, I decanted the herbs that I'd been researching while Dog was sick as a dog and had begun maturing. Ginger tincture was among the lot and, blessedly, I'd put up quite a lot of it, which freed me to use it without regard for supply.

I found that I wanted ginger tincture at my bedside so that when I woke up coughing in the night, a couple of droppers (approximately 30 ml) eased things sufficiently for me to return to sleep. This, paired with the essential oils, allowed me a reasonably restful night. Princess is right, though. It does burn all the way down. Heh.

And all of this has accelerated another bout of experimentation. My herbal mentor quoted Rosemary Gladstar as telling a story about going overseas to study with an herbal guru. The first two weeks of the study required absolute silence after which she would be allowed to ask one question. She spent the two weeks wondering what she would ask. What popped out of her mouth isn't what she had anticipated, but I'm glad it was the question she asked: "What is your favorite thing for lungs?" The answer? Juice up ginger, bury it for three months and let it ferment.

While the herbal class discussed this remedy, I began to envision what this project would look like. I immediately decided that an unglazed earthenware vessel was the container of choice. Why bury something unless it was to share the biota of the soil with the ferment? Like traditional kimchi. The Herbalist suggested that if I were going to do this, try one in a glass jar and one in the earthenware and see if the resulting ferments were appreciably different. Sounds like a plan.

Juicing ginger is a bit more of a muscular activity than juicing, say, grapes, but pretty soon, I was watching a chartreuse river flow from the mouth of the juicer into the jar. I divvied the yield up between the glass jar and the pottery. Given that ferments produce expanding gasses, I endeavored to keep the glass jar's lid as loose as possible to prevent subterranean explosions. I contemplated sealing the pottery with bee's wax, but opted out.

I dug up a likely spot in our woods--"likely" being any place that is more earth than rock--and buried the experiments. I put a rock marker on the spot, knowing that ginko might not help me remember the place on my own. The neighbors probably thought I was burying a pet. Oh, the things that they don't know...

Next postcard in three months.