Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Delightful

Tired of flowers yet?

After spring break I grabbed my priest and we ran down to the park for a day trip. We were ridiculous, oohing and aahing all the way down. Unfortunately, I mean, fortunately, cell service is better than it used to be, and a parishioner was able to reach our priest with a legitimate need which cut our trip short. Instead of a long hike all the way up Lost Mine Trail to meditate, and a sit in the Hot Springs and a peaceful prayer in Boquillas Canyon, we hiked up midway the trail and had a picnic on a saddle point up in the mountains, ate our feast and then drove back to Alpine.

I only felt a twinge of selfishness, wishing that duty didn't call, but thankful for a priest who cared enough about the truly important things that matter.

I was so thankful to share with her a bit of my sanctuary.

A week later, friends from North Carolina who were friends way back in New Jersey came to visit. So what do we do? Load up all the kids, the bathing suits, the picnic, my parents and drive like maniacs down to Big Bend for picnic and swim in the Rio Grande time and sit and play in the rocks and take pictures of flowers and act like tourist time! It was spectacular. We were amazed to see even MORE wildflowers in this desert heaven of ours. While the kids climbed up the sand hill and cavorted in the Rio I meditated quietly, stacking little river rocks into statues and bridges and buildings, managing to set all my thoughts to the side. The sun baked our skin and the sand felt gritty and real and the sound of kids laughing in the river was more intoxicating than any glass of champagne.

We bragged and told stories of our favorite times in the Hot Springs, grabbed our towels and hiked the half a mile or so to the ruins that used to be a thriving health spa run by Mr and Mrs. Langford pre-Pancho Villa. One has to pass the ruins of an old Post Office and store, a few palm trees, some old cabins made of adobe. And then, with a creek on one side and canyon walls on the other, a cane brake to the right, if you are lucky you will notice the petroglyphs, rusty red, thousands of years old, leaving us all to wonder and guess the meaning of the ancient graffiti.

Another bend, past some illegal contraband, I mean trinkets, left by enterprising neighbors from across the knee high river, you will see a foundation made of cement, filled with clear, hot water and sand and probably half a dozen people or more, sitting in 105 degree water up to their chest, watching the cold Rio flow to the side, and rocks and riffles and bats and a brilliant starry sky.

I was so happy to relax in my favorite spa, I strolled right in, cut offs and tshirt, and sat down in the bath. And jumped right up, curse words flying out of my mouth. Can you guess why?

My brand new smart phone, which I recently bought to replace my other broken smart phone, was in my back pocket.

For a few hours I was quite disappointed.

Then all of a sudden I realized I had been given a gift! No texting, no easy email checking, no messages to urgently return. And our friends delighted in the magic and we were so happy to share.

My mom, a professional artist, had a camera glitch. Which meant a trip to the national park in a historical wildflower display with no photos!

Darn. She had to come back a few days later and darn, I had to take the day off to drive down and chauffeur her as she took pictures for painting research.

How much can a person exclaim over wild flowers? For as far as the eye could see we saw blankets of blues and yellows and purples and pinks and yellows and whites and lavenders and more.

Over and over again I felt so blessed. So rich. So thankful to share this moment with my mom. So aware that my life is good.

Old timers are saying that it is the best wild flower display they have seen in their lives.

All those seeds, tucked in the sand and rocks and cactus. Waiting. Resting. Just being.

And then the rains came. All at the right time. And the temperatures were just right. And all of a sudden, there is a feast, an impressionistic wonder, a banquet. And we were able to enjoy it because we didn't do something else, but instead decided to go for delight.


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Seize the Day

The girls and I worked most of our spring break. They ran and studied. I worked a couple of moonlight jobs and the bakery. Nora went on a trip with one of her BFF's. You already know how divine my silent retreat was, down in Big Bend National Park. Saturday morning chores not quite done, we loaded up the camp stove, some amazing food, sleeping bags and a full tank of gas and headed toward our mini vacation. Most of the drive Maggie and I exclaimed, over and over and over again about the breath-taking wildflower display.

It must have been getting ridiculous, as Rose rolled her eyes at our exuberant outbursts every five miles along the road, sighing, ooh and aahing over yet another patchwork quilt of wildflowers blanketing the desert floor.

Pinks, purples, oranges, whites, yellows, blues and reds. Silvery green, blue green. Yellow green. Mountains that usually rise up tan and khaki were washed in burgundy and green. Blue skies were loaded with massive clouds, whirling and floating, casting shadows on the hills in the distance. Landmarks as familiar to us as our own backyard, after a lifetime of camping trips to Big Bend, were now strange and new. Exotic and foreign, these desert pavement stretches now covered in colorful vegetation.

We drove down Old Maverick Road, a bit past the Ernst Tinaja turnoff. Roads were fairly rough, but the old pickup bounced along with no effort at all. Instead of 70's music, we sang along with all the contemporary pop artists. As we approached our camp site, Maggie exclaimed that it looked like we were in a scene from Lord of the Rings! The soft, rounded hills were like a bosomy embrace. Truck doors opened up to a crushing wave of perfume. Wow.

I set my sleeping mat and bag up on top of the knoll, with an iconic view of the Chisos Mountains. Maggie tucked her bag at the bottom of the knoll. Rose made a nest in the back end of the pickup.

We cooked up a feast, watched magnificent display of stars, tucked in to sleep and then were nearly blown from the face of the earth by 45 mile per hour gusts of winds! It was pretty awesome, and not in an entirely lovely sort of way. Wow. At one point I raised my head to investigate and the wind blew my pillow far from me!

We survived, and by morning the air was calm and still. The girls and I feasted, drank coffee for a long time, sharing conversation about books, like, friendships, God. We hiked. Lazed around. Ate picnic feasts, exclaimed more over wildflowers, and then shared what might have felt like the most peaceful sleep ever, with no harsh winds, just a simple, friendly little breeze that tucked us each into our beds that night.

Only two nights out, as work beckoned. I really didn't have the time for that quick camping trip. But so glad we went anyway.

How I treasure those moments with the kids. Maggie is about to graduate and I am grieving her departure already. Happy to make the time to share with my daughters and sons when opportunity presents. I am so blessed.

Grace

Our yard is filled with an abundance of flowers. Many roses that have not bloomed once in the four years we have lived here. Wild flowers. Bluebonnets that I seeded a year or two ago in faith. A big stand of delphinium? How the heck did that happen? I didn't plant them. I almost pulled them out a month ago when I was reclaiming a grassy, weed filled bed to be used for edibles. Something caused me to pause. A distraction? A guardian angel?

Another plant with silvery green pointy foliage was also about to be yanked. I left it to hit the kitchen or work on church emails or something after only tossing a couple or three. Next day I returned to the bed and found the "weed" with a weird head appearing on subtle stem. Curiosity caused me to leave it be, since there were plenty of other weeds I clearly recognized, like wild mustard and ragweed, that could be attacked in my ten minutes of outdoor, backyard meditation.

A couple of days later I went outside to be greeted by the most whimsical, gaudy, salmon pink pom-pom flower you have every seen! A poppy! I never planted poppies. Several places in the yard, scattered here and there, those silvery green, sharp-toothed leaves popped up, unexpectedly, with no effort on my part, bringing fluorescent delight to parts of my yard I never noticed!

Volunteer tomato plants are emerging around the perimeter of the chicken yard fence, which is sturdy enough to hold onto pine needles, leaf debris and soil, mixed together with a little free fertilizer, thank you, lady hens.

Sometimes life is so hard, so demanding, I feel alone and afraid.

Then these crazy flowers and veggies throw themselves before my face as if to say, "Look! Look! We know how much you needed a smile and a reminder! Hang in there! You are NOT alone! Get It? I mean, really? What more do we need to do?"

And then a friend will call. A hug will be given at just the right time. Kids will offer me the gift of themselves and all of a sudden, courage wells up, and once again, there is enough.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Perfume

Sometime last month I ran away from home.

Well, it was a calculated run away, with kid care and animal care arrangements made ahead of time. I felt frazzled and hungry and near desperate for some alone.

Don't get me wrong! I love my family and home deeply and thoroughly. But life is full of stress and concerns and medicine to me is alone time.

I took care of church business, took care of kid stuff, loaded up a sleeping bag, camp stove and ice chest, a few books, journals, hiking boots and plenty of coffee and cream, of course, and drove down south to Big Bend National Park, my favorite retreat. The goal was a two night, day and a half silent retreat.

With permit in hand, I drove through the park, turned left at Panther Junction Visitor Center, a few miles down the paved road I made a right turn onto a fairly smooth Glenn Springs Road. I sang with the 70's station, feeling free at last! No cell service, no email, no bills, no worries. Dusk descended and the Chisos Mountains, a sky island with peaks almost 8000 ft high, silhouetted in the darkening sky. Many songs later, I reached Juniper Canyon turn. A dead end road that leads to two significant hikes, but not much else. Besides solitude, big skies, mountain views and peace.

As soon as I turned onto the rutted, 4wd road, my nose was surprised by the most amazing gift! The richest of perfumes, a blend of bi-colored mustard and moist creosote came in and filled the truck cab. It was magical! As if the land was spreading itself out in a welcome to me! "We knew you were coming! Delighted to have you! Come on in, come on in. We were waiting. Do we ever have a feast prepared for you!"

I turned off the radio. Let the sounds of the mountainous desert begin to soak into my bones.

I spread my sleeping bag onto the ground. Well...okay, onto my thermarest pad! and watched the constellations make their appearance. I watched the clouds scurry across the sky. I decided that instead of spending hours working on important stuff, I would spend hours being still, watching the clouds, the mountains, the sun and moon. I would be quiet and explore and dally, and sit and walk and try to just be.

And I did!

I wish everyone had the opportunity, or made the opportunity to experience a little quiet in their life sometime. Quiet, but with background orchestra of perfume, stars and evening bird song. Plenty of effort to get there, but worth the price paid!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Seasons.

Track meets are in full swing. The fig trees are covered with little green buds and tiny leaves that look hopeful to me. The oak tree in the backyard is covered with tiny little leaves, the size of a squirrel's ear? Tiny threads of baby leeks look a bit more erect. Sunflowers are sprouting up everywhere. The zinnia seeds are just now sprouting. Green washes over trees down the street. Eggs galore come from the clucking hens.

Makes me want to find a cherry blossom tree, take a bento box, and spread a picnic and write silly haiku.

Makes me think matzoh ball soup is in our near future. And Easter vigil. And lamb cake.

Makes me think girls will be dressing in pretty pastels and whatever cold, bitter vestiges of winter that remain will be blown away by powerful winds, sweeping through the region, carrying us into summer and sunburns and short-sleeves.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Buckwheat Crepes with Garden Greens and Mornay sauce


Winter blasts may get in another couple of icy blows the next few weeks. But have faith! Spring is upon us! Just check out the bluebonnets and other wild flowers down south. Take a gander at the lovely pale green emerging in the cottonwood groves. Wild mustard and other weeds are growing like crazy, thanks to all the snow and rain. If you are feeling adventurous, harvest some for a quick saute or salad. Foraging is all the rage these days, and you might feel quite lucky to have organic greens growing care-free in your backyard.

The cool temperatures and moisture that help our weeds grow are also quite helpful for the organic gardeners. Arugula, chard, lettuces, radishes, spinach, turnips and cilantro are growing strong this month. If you are an early riser, or subscribe to a local farmer’s produce offerings, you can find plenty of good stuff at the farmer’s markets this month. The longer hours of daylight make for happy hens. Finally! After long, dark winter, we are back in eggs. Springtime is the season for quiche, omelets, frittatas and crepes. With a fresh tossed salad on the side, what more do we need?

Don’t forget, there are many other offerings at the several markets available in our region. Cheeses crafted from happy cows and goats, specialty baked goods, a variety of locally grown organic seedlings to encourage you in your gardening, jams, soaps, candles, greeting cards, jewelry, pottery, and many other cool things. Plus the added benefit of visiting with your neighbors! People who shop locally and support local businesses are really awesome folks. You will enjoy getting to know your community.

My kids have been clamoring for crepes, so I have a feeling we will be having spelt or buckwheat crepes at our house for supper. You might think of crepes as a sweet treat, covered in fake red strawberry-like syrup and fluffy white stuff. Try to imagine a paper thin pancake, made with savory, organic buckwheat flour, redolent with aroma of fields, baking in the sun, of forests and nuts. The crepe folded around a mixture of barely sautéed spring greens, with some mushrooms thrown in for good measure, a spoonful of locally crafted chevre, and I could be feeling quite transcendent! Mmmm. They taste quite fancy, but aren’t so difficult to make. Be adventurous! The French version of the enchilada. Give them a try. I hope you enjoy. I prefer the savory taste of buckwheat, but spelt flour is a great option, still nutty tasting, but a bit sweeter. I mill both grains in my bakery and am happy to sell you a pound or two of stone-ground flour.

Buckwheat Crepes

1/3 c melted butter
1 ½ c freshly milled buckwheat flour ( or other type of whole grain flour, keeping in mind that each grain absorbs moisture differently, so you may have to adjust amount to achieve best results)
1 ¾ c milk, I prefer whole milk from Z-Bar ranch over in Marathon.
3 farm fresh eggs
½ tsp Redmond’s Real Salt

Place ingredients in blender and mix until flour is fully incorporated into batter. Let batter rest for at least two hours. If you wish to have crepes for supper, blend the ingredients before you head to work in the morning and stash the blender in the fridge. This allows the flour to absorb moisture. Take it out an hour or so before you plan on cooking to allow the batter come to room temp.

Preheat a 6-8in stainless steel skillet or omelet pan over medium high heat. Turn on soothing music. Breathe deeply. Say a couple of positive affirmations, like, “I am adventurous.” Or “I enjoy stretching my horizons, trying new things!” Listen to a Brene Brown TED talk on shame so you don’t become emotionally crippled when the first couple of crepes don’t turn out as you wish.

Place a bit of butter into the hot pan and let it melt. Right when the butter begins to smoke, lift up the pan with your right hand, if you are a righty. With your left hand pour approximately ¼ cup of the batter into the middle of the pan. Quickly tilt the pan around so the batter covers the entire bottom of the pan. This is kind of tricky, but after a couple of tries, you will be delighted to find the crepe making process going a bit more easily. The batter should be the consistency of heavy cream. Any thicker and you will have pancakes. If the batter seems a bit thick, just add a bit of milk or water, one tablespoon at a time, until it is the right consistency.

It shouldn’t take more than a couple of seconds to spread the batter, then place the pan back onto the stove. In a minute or a minute and a half, the crepe should be ready to turn. Using a spatula, loosen the edge of the crepe and carefully grasp it with your fingers, if you have tough fingers, and toss the crepe upside down. If tender-fingered, use the spatula, very carefully as to not tear the crepe. Brown for another half a minute, then set the crepe onto a rack. Keep in mind that most everyone messes up the first couple of crepes. Just keep those positive affirmations flowing. Let the crepe cool a bit while you make the next one, then you can stack the cooled crepes onto a plate or a piece of parchment paper. You might wish to wrap the crepes in a clean dishcloth or large piece of parchment paper, and keep warm in a 300 degree oven.

Depending on the size of pan you use, this recipe should make close to two dozen crepes. Once well cooled, you can wrap them up in aluminum foil or plastic wrap and freeze for up to two months.

Now that you have your crepes ready to go, it is time to think about fillings! Sometimes we like to stack the crepes, with filling in between each layer, cover the whole thing with a sauce and bake in the oven. This is called a “gateau de crepes.” About half an hour before serving, place the gateau into a 350 oven and heat thoroughly, until the creamy, cheesy top is beginning to brown. Serve by cutting into pie shaped wedges. We also like to roll the crepes around the filling, sauce and then pop the whole thing into the oven just long enough to heat it up. You can see what a wonderful meal to prepare partially in advance, ready to be warmed up for your quick supper. A crusty loaf of bread, a giant leafy salad with a vinaigrette and all is well with the world.

Spinach with Mornay Sauce

Several handfuls of washed and coarsely chopped spinach. Any nice green will work here. In fact, the hearty flavor of the buckwheat would be nicely paired with arugula, chard, kale or beet greens.
2 TBSP olive oil or butter
1 TBSP minced green onion
1 clove minced garlic
¼ tsp salt

Cook the green onion in a small saute pan for a moment, then add the garlic. In a few seconds, add the spinach and salt and stir over medium high heat for a couple of minutes as the greens wilt and release some of their moisture. Place greens on crepe, add a tablespoon or so of chevre, or cheese of your choice, roll or stack, then top with mornay sauce, recipe to follow.

Fried Egg Crepe

Spread a bit of goat cheese, try a garlicky herb variety, on a crepe. Fry an egg, sunny side up, and slide that warm, barely done egg, lightly salted and peppered, onto the crepe. Top with minced chives and radishes. Fold the crepe into a square, letting the egg yolk peek out!

Mornay Sauce

5 tbsp whole grain flour
4 tbsp butter
2 ¼ c milk, warmed
½ tsp salt
Pepper to taste
Pinch of nutmeg
¼ c cream
1 c grated cheese, gruyere is classic, but any hard cheese that will melt will do

Cook the flour and butter in a medium sauce pan over medium heat for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly. Beat in the milk and seasonings, stirring constantly until the mixture comes to a boil. Boil for one minute. Lower the heat and stir in the cream, bit by bit. The sauce should have thickened by now, able to coat a spoon. Remove the pan from the heat and taste for seasoning. Add the cheese to the sauce and stir well. If you wish to have a latino flair, skip the nutmeg, add ½ tsp cumin, a few drops of tabasco sauce, and use Monterey jack cheese or a cheddar, and try serving over crepes filled with grilled poblano peppers or slices of avocado.

Use your imagination, depending on what you happen to find in your garden or at the local farmer’s markets. Roasted butternut squash and fresh sage? A medley of sautéed mushrooms, stirred into cottage cheese with fresh rosemary? Don’t forget to treat your inner child with a couple of crepes filled with FRESH berries and whipped cream, the real kind! Or how about spread some Nutella and top with sliced strawberries? Yum.

Here is a bit of trivia! Buckwheat is related to garden sorrel or rhubarb. It is loaded with nutrition, filled with magnesium and fiber. Studies indicate that products made with whole buckwheat as opposed to white flour, are helpful in lowering blood sugar! And it is naturally gluten-free for those who are trying to avoid consuming grains. It is in the fruit seed family, not a grain!
Enjoy!

hungry?

The sun is shining! I have written the column for March's Big Bend Gazette. I highlight the offerings at our local farmer's markets and devise recipes that will use the seasonal veggies. February featured soups that could be cooked over one's woodstove. This month is buckwheat crepes with spinach or other greens as filling with locally crafted goat cheese and topped by a mornay sauce. Perhaps I will get back to posting recipes for you guys. Spring time makes me inspired, especially as the hens are back to laying and green stuff is coming out of the garden. Keep you posted. I can't figure out how to get cut and paste to format in this blog, but will do my best.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Medicine?

The branches, cactus, yucca, weeds are all covered by hoar frost. The temperatures hover in the high twenties. As I wish to sink into self pity my bff calls from West Virginia and tells me the bitter temperatures over there and I regain a sense of perspective! Hands plunged into hot soapy water tackling dirty dishes was always my dad's prescription for a cold, bitter day. Since I have piles of bakery pots and pans waiting on my, I think I know just what to do with today's cold!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Grains

I discovered the nutritional benefits of freshly milled grains about 18 years ago. I had three little ones, lived in Ft. Worth, and was a stay at home mom who wanted to give her kids the most nutritious foods possible. I grew up with hot biscuits for breakfast, cinnamon rolls made from scratch and yeast breads. Not to mention the pancakes, waffles, pie crusts and plenty of homemade upside down cakes.

Mom and dad are amazing cooks and I credit them for putting me on the culinary track. Even though everyone at that point used white all purpose flour, Mom knew whole grains were best, and made a point of adding Kretschmer's Wheat Germ to just about everything to add nutrients and fiber. I can still see that jar, sitting in our fridge!

Some gal in Ft. Worth invited me to a lecture on the benefits of freshly milled whole grains. She was a former chemist who worked in the milling industry. She told us all about oxidation, and rancidity of oil. She told us that prior to the industrial revolution, every little village had its own mill, folks got their flour fresh from the mill, enough for their daily or weekly needs. And that after that revolution, the "peasants" discovered how easy it was to eat fancy white breads and cakes just like the rich people, and all the nasty fibrous wheat germ that would go rancid when left in the whole wheat flour on the grocer's shelves was better off tossed to the cattle.

Lucky cattle.

And the human population began to be plagued by world record levels of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and many other maladies.

She showed us the numbers on nutrients in flour after so many hours post milling. It was absolutely shocking! But made perfectly good sense when I thought about the difference in green beans straight out of the garden compared to the shriveled ones on the grocery store shelf. Then several of my friends jumped on the bandwagon and started to tell about their poor husbands with chronic digestive problems too embarrassing for us to mention here on the blog, and how the simple change to freshly milled grains made those issues disappear. Meanwhile, I kept thinking about my kids' diet, that consisted of sandwiches made from store bought bread or homemade white bread with a little wheat germ thrown in for good measure, pancakes, cookies, waffles, pasta. Seemed like switching over to a home kitchen mill would be one simple way of adding lots and lots of vitamins and minerals and fiber to our regular diet.

I remember the first batch of flour I milled. It smelled sweet! And the kids, and my husband, were thrilled by the taste.

We never looked back.

Years later, when settling in on the farm, I began to mill and back for customers. First, just a few extra loaves a week. Then twenty extra loaves. Before you know it, I was carting 100 loaves of bread or more, 50-75 pizza crusts, dozens of brownie mixes, pancake mixes, cookies, cupcakes, all to the farmer's markets, all made from freshly milled whole grains. And I remember the day Philip told me that if I were a start up company, he would invest in me, he was so convinced that I was on to something big. He not only enjoyed the benefits of this nutritional passion I had, he believed that I had a viable business model.

Then he died a year later. And we had the opportunity to test his theory.

I guess most of you kind of know the rest of the story. We sold the farm and moved the bakery equipment to a little hamlet in far remote West Texas, Alpine. A college town near the border of Mexico. Elevation is around 4500 ft, with surrounding mountains over a mile high. A region filled with artists, Border Patrol agents, geologists, writers, historians, cowboys, teachers and professors, coaches and adventurers, all sorts of folks who like to eat good bread and are interested in nutrition.

Gambling is not my thing. I did buy a lotto ticket for my sister once. But coming out here seemed a bit of a gamble. Before you know it, I had a steady stream of regulars who appreciated my baked goods, and our family had a steady stream of VERY modest income.

You might remember that when I was a kid I hoped to be a missionary, to go to some far off country and help people in need. At some point I realized that we all are in need, no matter where we live. And while we each have needs, each of us also has some element, some offering that will help the rest survive. I depend on the milk I get from Sally at ZBar ranch. And the plants I get from Pat that always come accompanied by hugs. The teachers and coaches who equip my kids. The free counseling from my friends as we sit with our tea or coffee or wine. The poetry and music and art. The handy help when broken things and chicken butchering and dirty dishes pile up.

I found that we all have the opportunity to be the true Gospel to one another. The good news in being ourselves. Wow. Being a miller and baker of spelt and golden wheat and einkorn and kamut a ministry! Ministry of nutritious good taste. Offered up with lots of free cookies, hugs, tears and prayers.

That said, imagine the frustration and fear that has been creeping in as I see the price of commodities going up and up and up. I had been trying to ignore the trend, lalalalalala, as I had some extra cash available from the sale of the farm. Most of it had gone into an investment purchase, but there was a tiny cushion. Last month I worked on my quarterly tax report and decided to tackle the end of year, taking the shoe box of receipts and turning it into a list of expenses and sales.

Ouch.

Talk about a harsh draft of reality.

And then I noticed the grain inventory, you know, the bags and bags of grain in my ingredient closet, diminish.

I have been working on the best way to acquire chemically-free grains, and the hard truth is, they are hard to find. For one, the shipping costs for a pallet of grain, that would be 2000 lbs of wheat or spelt or kamut or whatever, runs about $500-$750 dollars. And the costs of spelt has gone from $25 to $35 to $45 to now $88 or more a 50lb bag. And I have made repeated calls trying to locate sources closer to home. Texas grains are sold by trucks, not by the bag. Have called countless farmers. And the protein content is significantly lower. Fine for cookies. Not for breads. At least the kind of breads I craft, sans weird additives that help boost consistent results.

And add the issue of global warming, or whatever you would like to call a very real meteorological issue facing us.

Great wheat and spelt are grown in places with pleasant, modest daytime temps in the 70's or so, with cooling nighttime temps that fall below 50 something. The last couple of years have hit Montana with record warm night time temps. You see, it is the stress on the grain that causes the protein content to rise. Sounds like a sermon in that illustration, don't you think? No stress, means wimpy grains. Each of the three major distributors of chemical free grains has been willing to spend a pretty significant time chatting with me, a little baker in the outback of Texas, explaining this phenomenon as I call to ask about the variability in grain I have received. The numbers are dropping significantly below the norm, below what will make decent bread, pizza crusts, tortillas. They are stuck with warehouses full of wonderful, chemical-free grains that are expensive, and won't bake into decent products. With no plans to contract for more crops of certain varieties until this stuff is gone. I could surrender and start adding vital gluten, with its long list of hard to pronounce ingredients, but even if I were to do that, the cost of using this inferior grain would be prohibitive.

So. What to do? First, I said a prayer for those farmers who are trying to do their best and are in a pickle. And for the distributors with their glut of grain that won't sell. And for me and my family, with a calling and a ministry that has looked like freshly milled, chemical-free grains turned into yummy loaves of Milk and Honey bread and Italian Peasant bread.

I got really depressed for a few days. Used up the very last bag of spelt berries. Have one bag of hard white wheat berries that probably won't work for bread. Put on a smile and sent the last loaves of bread out the door last Thursday. Questioned whether I should close the doors of the bakery for good and go get a job that would involve less hours stuck on my feet.

Then somehow, a fresh wind of hope stirred as I realized it would take more than that to make me give up the joy this bakery gives me.

I have several bags of organic khorasan kamut that makes the most delicious pasta you have ever eaten! Not to mention the crispy kamut crackers. And plenty of buckwheat for pancakes and crepes and perhaps brownie mix instead of spelt? Granola keeps flying off my shelves, and I have lots of organic rolled oats and other good stuff to keep that coming. Perhaps I need to start making organic pumpkin doggie treats with venison bone broth? More biscuits?

As soon as I get a pile of money I will order more grain from Montana, or Colorado, or wherever I can get some. And will learn to adapt and hopefully showcase these grains in a way that will nourish mind and body and spirit.

Hope to keep you posted. And offer up recipes and tips that might help some of you other home bakers out there, trying to figure out new ways of using the gifts life brings us.






Navigating the Season

Well, thank goodness for sunny Saturday.

Yesterday I drove to church with the car loaded down with food for our potluck. The air was balmy and moist. Clouds rolling in. After a meaningful worship service, delicious feast, and inspirational annual meeting, I poked my head out the parish hall door and saw that gray winter had come back for a visit.

Most of our guests are welcomed with open arms, hugs, celebratory glasses of wine and feasts.

Yesterday's guest, cold gray winter, was not welcomed warmly. In fact, I shuddered to think of having to settle in with this foe of mine. Wet mist grew icy. Warm house grew cold.

By midnight a layer of ice coated the streets and a thin sheet of snow blanketed the green weeds and grass.

My heart is tempted to despair. Cold this time of year is quite normal. We get lulled into thinking spring has sprung then a blast wakes us up out of our reveries. I remember February five years ago and want to crawl into my warm bed, close my eyes and hope for numbing sleep to take me to warmer places.

Instead, I get up. Drink a few cups of coffee. Make myself venison and eggs. Do some bakery research. Work slowly, but steadily. Plan to schedule some productive solitary meditation. Switch over to herbal tea. Write a couple of emails. Read a poem. Check the weekly forecast a few times to remind myself that this visitor will be moving on by tomorrow, replaced with our sunny dispositioned pre-spring sixty degree normal end of February.

And I will try to allow for some dedicated time to remember Philip, all he brought to our life, all we miss because of his death. And I will spend some time doing some accounting. Accounting of all the amazing blessings that have come our way over the past five years as we have attempted to learn to navigate our new normal that still doesn't feel normal. February 25, 2010, two days short of five years ago, our foe, death, came for a very unwelcome visit. One that delivered Philip from pain, a worn out heart, bad circulation, into the ultimate peace and rest. And us into a very strange plane and realm. We miss him so much sometimes it brings a chill to my bones. To my core. And yet, here we are. Surviving. Thriving. Kids growing tall and wonderful and smart and kind and lovely and witty, despite it all.