Saturday, June 20, 2009

Old Food

For lunch today, I dolloped kim chi onto egg-roll wrappers, rolled them up and fried them. I made the kim chi myself. This evening, I jarred and refrigerated sauerkraut that I made myself and I pickled some fresh beets. One jar of beets I am pickling with vinegar, sugar, and spices. The other, I am pickling with whey. I "made" the whey myself from yogurt. Typically, I think of whey as a byproduct of cheesemaking, but in this case the cheese was the byproduct--a tangy cream cheese. Before going to bed, I set some black beans to sprouting.

So, what's going on?

Well, for most of my adult life, I have enjoyed cooking and food prep. and I have always felt like the way we buy and prepare food around these parts is pretty disconnected from they way most humanity has and does handle food. I am grateful for the grocery store and that is still where the majority of my food comes from. But I do think that, when the way we approach food is radically different than most of human experience, we have to be somewhat alienated from that experience and the humans who are part of it. As someone who values tradition, I really want to better understand food traditions.

So last year, Skylar and I started a garden. This year it is about double the size but still pretty small. We also got off to a bumpy start with the summer crops, so while dad is Tweeting that he has green tomatoes on the vine, we are thrilled that our plants have cleared eight inches. However we did plant early and late spring crops this year, which is progress.

But the whole preservation and fermenting kick comes from my recent read of Nourishing Traditions (subtitle excised because it is self-contridictory and embarrassing). This is where have learned about fermentation in the history of food culture. So far I have fermented carrots, cabbage, and beets. I look forward to cucs (pickles), tomatoes (ketchup), mushrooms (mushroom ketchup, if you can imagine), and just about every other vegetable I can get my hands on.

Also, we are kombucha-brewin' nuts now. I don't know where I first heard about this fermented tea, but Nourishing Traditions talks about it and I educated myself on the Web. Coincidentally, cousin Zach took a class, so a got a starter culture from him, have multiplied that, and now have three gallons fermenting on staggered schedules.

We bought a dorm fridge at a pawn shop to hold all of my glass jars of fermented/brewed stuff.

Sprouting nuts, seeds, and legumes is apparently another traditional way of getting max nutrients from those foods.

There is a method to my madness. Jaime has a crazy digestive system and it seems that Simon may have inheritted some of it. We have verified via testing by a gastroenterologist that she has an over abundance of some sort of bad flora in her gut. She had begun a regiment of heavy-duty antibiotics to kill this off, but had to stop it due to other health issues. Well, fermented foods are a benifit here in a couple of ways: fermenting using the methods I am learning is pro-biotic. Fermentation increases the growth of the bacteria that are beneficial to your digestive system--some of the same bacteria in live-culture yogurt. Additionally, fermentation is, essentially partially pre-processing food, making it easier for your system to digest.

Anyway, all that stuff is out there on the nets and in various books. Fact is, I love the taste fermented foods like kim chi and kraut and I love making stuff from scratch as much as possible. I am spending scads of time in the kitchen, but I find it very satisfying.

Then of course, there is bread making, which has actually slowed down for me since determining that really great tasting bread requires long rising times. I need to work out the best way to work my schedule with that.

I dream of a life of growing things--vegetables fermenting, kombucha brewing, cheese aging, bread rising, and beer brewing in the house and fruits, vegetables, chicken, rabbits, and whatever else growing outside. Children and grandchildren growing both in and outside (but mostly outside). I have been reading Sharon Astyk's blog and would love to have something similar, but in town. Whether or not I realize that dream, anything I do to grow/make my own food is incredibly satisfying.

I'm hungry now.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Juniper envy

Hey, look! Someone else is living my dreams.

Monday, June 15, 2009


Part of the problem with trying to keep a regular blog (if memory serves) is remembering interesting things to write. I hit on a new idea today. Typically, when something of note happens, I Tweet about it. So my Twitter/Facebook status list becomes a sort of outline for possible blogging.

Thursday, David and I set off for an adventure. We were to spend two days in Wichita at the Parish Life Conference and then two days in Salina at the Smoky Hill River Festival. The Parish Life Conference is the annual gathering of our diocese (Diocese of Wichita and Mid-America--DOWAMA) to conduct business and have fun. This is my third conference and David's first as an attendee (he was at part of one as a PLCCK--Parish Life Conference Chairman's Kid). The Smoky Hill River Festival is an annual festival of music, arts, crafts, and games and a Major Family Event for the Gilberts. David and I have done a bit of long-course traveling together and we always have fun, so I was really looking forward to this one.

Part of the appeal of the conference for me is seeing people that I hear and read on the Net or only know through email. I have previously met Fr. Joseph Huneycutt, but haven't gotten to speak with him much. This year I had a couple of conversations with him, which was weird. He produces the goofiest Orthodox Podcast on the Net--always trying to be funny. Part of the humor is his thick Dixie accent, which he plays up on the podcast. When listening to it, I picture him being highly animated and goofy at the mike. So it is incongruous to hear that same voice, with that same accent, while discussing the St. Phillip's Prayer Discipline, with someone who is, in fact, not animated at all, and who is wearing a long black cassock. I pestered him enough for information about the prayer discipline that he gave me a pile of materials and deputized me to recruit others. I look forward to getting a group started. Other notables connections included my old boss, Fr. Justin Matthews, my hopefully future Chancellor, Fr. Chad Hatfield, all the various officers and organizers of the conferences and it committees and, most important of all (though he would say least of all) our beloved Bishop BASIL. These are all our elder uncles and cousins in the family of the faith and it is nice to see them, if only briefly.

I think the highlight of the trip for David was the Motel 6, where we stayed because it is cheap. it is cheap because it is smaller than my bedroom and smells like feet. But he did not care. He had two beds to jump on and he wanted to skip the conference and spend the entire time in that room. But I insisted that he go with me and actually participate. He did all the kids stuff, which involved games, coloring, a magic show, a trip to the zoo, and lots of running around. As I predicted, he quickly made fast friends with a number of boys and girls. At various times during the event, we would see the youth being shuttled from one place to another. David was always in the middle chatting and gesticulating wildly with other kids. But whenever he saw me, he wanted to know when we could go back to the motel.

On both days, the kids stuff ended right before Vespers. In both cases, we had to sit next to a new friend of his. I realized at some point, that this was the most important aspect of the trip for me. I really wanted David to have a good time with other kids from the Diocese. Church is simply too often drudgery for a five-year-old-boy. It is important to me that he have many reasonably positive experiences without giving him the impression that Jesus is simply his playground buddy. Thursday night, when he suggested that we pray before going to bed, I nearly exploded with joy.

One of the highlights of the conference, if you like this kind of thing, is the "Bible Bowl." It basically "Hi-Q" for bible geeks. This year was on the Gospel of John. I forgot to study except for the day of the bowl. There are adult teams and teen teams. Out of a dozen adult teams, our team came in forth--six points behind the winning team. I personally cost us three points on questions that I had reviewed in the one study session--questions that I would have known if I had studied. Me and my teammate even had a conversation about the 153 fish caught in chapter 21, but I could not remember the quantity at the crucial moment. Still, with very little studying on our parts, we came in forth. I see no reason why we cannot dominate next year in Oklahoma City.

Another highlight--Western Rite Matins. This is matins chanted according to the Western Rite (looks and feels like Roman Catholic or Anglican rites) using English Plainchant that Anglicans would be familiar with. I love this. Byzantine Chant is lovely, but will always sound foreign to me--especially in English. Plainsong, on the other hand, is the English Language at its most perfect. It is the way God intended English to be heard. I hope that as Orthodox Christianity takes root in American and England, that the chant will be allowed to naturally drift in that direction--some sort of Plainchant with Byzantine tonal references perhaps, I don't know. I know what you are thinking--"why not just become a Western Rite Orthodox?" Well, too many issues there.

The Business Meeting is hardly worth mentioning, thank God. These are very informal. Substantial business is truly conducted, but it is done quickly, with humor, without rancor, easily. I've been in staff meetings at work that are more onerous (and longer).

Then, David and I headed back to Topeka, met up with Simon, Skylar, Brooke, and Isabelle, dropped of the car for Jaime, and took Grandpa's van to Salina for the River Festival. I think we took all of the pillows that we collectively own.

It seems that the music was particularly good this year. Of course I am going through a blue/folk/country/roots phase right now, so that could have something to do with really enjoying all of the acts I saw. At first the kids seemed to get into the music as well, but that didn't last long and I am not sure why. So they did crafts, got their faces painted (well, Simon and Izzy did), won free* fish, and begged for expensive fried food.

Dad lives just a few blocks from the festival, so we walk back and forth between the park and his house quite a bit. One time, Brooke noted that a lot of people in Salina use blankets as window coverings. I suggested that we open a "Blankets for your Windows" store and tap into this market.

The Big Event Saturday night was the Fabulous Thunderbirds--or the one original member who still has rights to the name, and his back-up band. I missed most of it putting the kids to bed, but I arrived in the middle of the World's Longest Harmonica Solo. That guy kills on the harmonica. He is better than me.

By fortunate coincidence, Sunday was the Feast of All Saints, which is always the Sunday after Pentacost, and the Orthodox Church in Salina is All Saints Orthodox Church. Furthermore, the founding pastor of this parish was in town because of the conference down in Wichita, so he served the Liturgy for their feast day.

Sunday afternoon, the kids spent most of there time at the play ground. At one point David and Izzy started playing in the sand pit and so did Simon. Eventually, he got tired of sand in his sandals so he sat on the curb that demarcates the pit, and took them off. This was very close to the main stage and a great band began playing, so I sat on the bench next to the sand pit and watched while keeping one eye on the kids. Long after David and Izzy had run off with other kids, Simon remind sitting on the curb. He made little piles of sand and knocked them down. He piled sand on one his shoes and then pulled the shoe out. He made piles on the curb, and swept them off. For the full 45 minutes of the performance, he sat quietly with the sand. He only then stopped because I stopped him so we could potty.

Brooke likes to eat a lot. The boy is always hungry. During this trip, he was always hungry for Sirloin Stockade and the running joke was that he constantly asked to go there. "Sure" I said as we left Salina, "we can eat there." What I meant was, "I would never set foot in a Sirloin Stockade." I'm pretty sure he understood my meaning. I was interested in taking hwy 24 from Manhattan to Topeka because it is a more pleasant drive than I-70. But I missed the Manhattan exit. I was fine giving up on the idea but Skylar convinced me to just take the next exit--Deep Creek Road. Half way down the exit ramp, the road turned to gravel. Then we drove for miles on this winding gravel road with no idea where it might lead. Finally it lead back to Manhattan so we headed for hwy 24. By this point we were all very hungry, so we decided to stop and eat. What would you guess is at the junction of hwy 24 and Whatever-road-we-were-on? Sirloin Stockade. What a weird place. Pay $9 and just eat as much warm beige food as you can fit inside of your self. I had meatloaf, salad, coleslaw, beets, bread pudding, ice cream, cookies, part of a cupcake, a piece of brownie, root beer, and probably other stuff that I am forgetting. It was bizarre. Deliciously bizarre. Brooke was hungry as soon as we got back in the car.

Home was a welcome sight, as was my wife, who had to miss the whole trip for various reasons. If this weekend is to set the tone for the rest of the summer, then I am going to have a lot to blog about.

How David Got a Free* Fish

So we were at the Smoky Hill River Festival (more on that later) and the boys wanted to play some of the games. First David attempted to pitch the dunk tank, with no success. Next, we spied a game consisting of a table covered with vases of water. There were some small fish in a couple of these vases. The object was to throw a ping-pong ball in the general direction of the vases. If the ball landed in a vase with a fish, you won a free* fish. It seemed fun. It seemed just David's skill level. It seems that I must have been thinking something like, "in the unlikely even that he lands in a vase with a fish, we can all praise his skill and laugh about how he won a hypothetical fish but not really but that is ok because he'll be satisfied with the sense of accomplishment," or something like that. Second ball, free* fish. Turns out it was just a coupon for a free* fish at the local pet store. From that moment on, going to the pet store and getting his free* fish was the only thing that mattered.

Incidentally, I thought Simon could play this game as well. I know he can throw, but that day, he just kind of jerked around spasmodically and then let go of the ball.

So I gave the issue some thought. The coupon is for a free* gold fish but you can't just buy a gold fish and take it home and put it in a bowl. Bettas are the fish for that because they can breathe from the surface and don't need water pumps and all. So I decided I would just go to my local pet store and drop some spare change on a Betta, and put it in a bowl for David. Skylar mentioned that the pet store has a whole Betta kit with bowls and rocks and all for less than $20--way more than I wanted to spend, but I figured it was less than equiping a gold fish. So that was the plan.

Well, then Jaime mentioned that Walmart has inexpensive little fish tanks. They are probably cheaper than the ones at the fish store. Sure enough, just $9.43 with a pump and a light and everything. Everything except rocks, and a plant, and fish food and water conditioner, and a little net, and a free* fish. So we get all that stuff, too, except the free* fish. Turns out that is still less money than just a plastic box with rocks, plants, food, nets, and water conditioner from the pet store where we go to buy the free* fish. As I write, it occurs to me that, since we ended up with a pump, we really didn't need to confine ourselves to a Betta. We could have gotten a gold fish. As a matter of fact, we could have gotten a free gold fish with our coupon, but I don't think that occured to us at the time.

So just shy of *$40 and an hour later, we have a very cute little tank with rocks and a plastic plant, and a pump and a free* Betta. I think we should name him Patrick Henry since he was not free, is not free and will certainly die.

After the Betta has been thoroughly user tested, we'll move to a standard release. Our plans include a real plant and some snails to keep the place tidy. So our household and grown ever so slightly and the boys have a slightly new level of responsibility.

We have decided that we'll remind David to feed it every day for one week. Thereafter, we will not remind him. My initial idea was that, if the fish died, well, he would learn. But I don't like that idea. Fact is, I like the fish as much as he does and I don't want it to die. So I think I'll keep tabs on wether or not he is feeding it. If he does not feed it, I will and if that goes on for a week or so, I'll move the fish to my bedroom for a period and call it mine.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

I had a farm in Africa

Tomorrow, David and I leave for Wichita for the 2009 Parish Life Conference of the Region of Ambiguous Status formerly known as the Diocese of Wichita and Mid-America. I'll spend my day doing grown up things, like listening to annual reports, while David goes to the Zoo. He was feeling nervous about it because he thinks that he is afraid of crowds of people he does not know. Nevermind that you can give him scads of examples where he OWNS crowds of people he doesn't know. I finally pointed out to him that he is just feeling nervous--that his chest is a bit tight and he has a weird feeling in his stomach, but that is not the same thing as fear. I told him that the game is to see how long it takes for that feeling to go away. He was certain it would take ten years. I estimate 10-15 minutes. Plus, I told him he gets to ride a bus, which cheered him right up.

Jaime and Simon, meanwhile are going to Kansas City to drop in on Friends.

Then, David and Head back here Friday night, hook up Simon and the Esteses and head to the Next Annual Smoky Hill River Festival.

I am not taking a computer with me, so beyond what I can Tweet, I will not be updating. I know, what are you going to do without daily updates, right? It'll be like the bad ol' days earlier this week. Instead I am taking a book to pass the down times. The Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library mailed me a copy of "Out of Africa." Apparently, I requested it. I don't recall doing that. But they sent it to me right on the heals of a notice that I have about 15 overdue items. Enabling, that is all I can say.

Also, my camera is broken, so I won't be documenting anything that way, either.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The house smells like chicken and beets

Auntie Skylar started a new blog about her latest project and that got me to thinking, "hey, I have one of those; I should dust it off and see how long it takes before I can prove I know how to use a semicolon correctly."

The Big News around here today is that David woke up from a bad dream to a Buzz Lightyear. The way Jaime tells it, he told her that he had a bad dream this morning and woke up and turned over and there was Buzz and he closed his eyes and opened them again and Buzz was still there. I am the one who put Buzz in bed with him. After years of keeping my finger securely in the hole of the dam holding back the Buzz Lightyear, I was finally overwhelmed by the forces of nature. It happened when the mother of David's bestest friend said that this friend wanted to give David his Buzz Lightyear. She is standing there with it in her hand and I didn't have whatever it might have taken to say, "No, he can keep it." Just the other night, David and I were eating ice cream on the front porch after sunset when he spotted a star. I taught him how to wish on a star and he wished for Buzz Lightyear. So this morning I put it in bed with him before I left for work.

He called me later at work and told me that he really liked the Buzz Lightyear. There was not a shread left in his voice of a little boy or toddler or anything. I was struck by how very grown up he sounded. I have been thinking a lot lately about how little he was when he was born and sighing.

This evening I made chicken stock and pickled beets and eggs. Actually I finished stock that I began several days ago and then ran out of time. I have been reading a couple of books about food and cooking, which inspired the stock: Nourishing Traditions (I'll omit the embarrasing subtitle) and Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking. As a result of both of these, I have been doing a lot of experementing in the kitchen. I've made various things such as Kombucha, cream cheese and whey, Kim Chi, pickled carrots, five shortbread cookies, dumplings, pop-overs, fritters, and, this evening, stock and pickled beets. Not sure what I am going to do with the stock. Tomorrow is a fasting day, I am out of town Thursday through the weekend, and the Apostles' Fast begins Monday. So basically, I will not have the oportunity to do anything with it unil July. But the house smells nice, if you like beets.