09 September 2012

Tips for a Decent Gluten-free Pie Crust

I have to say that the thing I miss the most from the wheat/flour/pastry world is pies.  And tarts, which are essentially little pies.  Mmm... pie.

Of course, there are oodles of gluten-free pie crust recipes out there, but they are usually rather involved, and entail one already having a huge variety of different gluten-free flours on hand to whip up one little pie.  Plus, pie crusts are finnicky enough to have to worry about mixing the right proportion of all the ingredients.

I was therefore super-excited when I found a pre-mixed pie crust mix, brought to your local grocery courtesy of the folks at Glutino (aka Gluten-free Pantry):


One caveat to remember is that simply because something is gluten-free doesn't mean that it is good for you.  This mix is loaded with super-refined flours and starches and even sugar (boo), so it is still a dessert BUT when I'm hankering for pie in a pinch, it works!

However, there are some tricks to getting this (and probably any gluten-free) pie crust to behave.  Because it is lacking in gluten - which is the sticky business that keeps most flours together - it needs some help staying cohesive.  The mix calls for an egg (which is an excellent binder) as well as a bunch of butter and shortening (yum) and some apple cider vinegar.  Once mixed, the recipe calls for the entire mix to be wrapped and refrigerated.  And that's essentially where the helpful hints end.

SO - here's a little extra assistance in whipping this pie crust into some pie-reminiscent shape:

1.  Remove from refrigerator.  Split dough into two halves (1 half pictured here).

 2.  Place dough on large sheet of waxed paper.  
Using your hands, smoosh dough into a circleish shape.
  3.  Cover with a second large piece of waxed paper....

 ...making sure that there is enough extra paper to hang over the edge of the counter.
  4.  Lean your hip against the portion of the waxed paper that is hanging over the edge of the counter (this keeps it from slipping and running away while you roll).  
Using a rolling pin, starting from the center, roll over the dough, making a circle-ish shape.

5.  When you're finished, the dough should be a little larger than the pie pan (and it smooshes outside of the waxed paper sometimes, too.

6.  Gently peel off the upper layer. 
*if the dough is too sticky, chuck it into the refrigerator for a few minutes.

 7.  Picking up the bottom layer of waxed paper, flip the dough into your pan and press down.

8.  If you're lacking a bit on the edges, steal some from other parts that are hanging out too far.

9.  Stick the whole thing in the freezer for 5-10 minutes.

10.  Remove from the freezer and slowly peel back the waxed paper.

11.  Your crust should look sort of like this...

 12.  Fill your pie 
(I used eight local golden delicious apples, 1/4 cup maple syrup, lemon juice, and apple pie spices).

13.  Repeat steps 1-6 with the second half of your dough.

14.  Flip the top crust over the top of your pie.

 15.  Peel the waxed paper back slowly...

 ...mending any holes with extra dough.

 16.  Remove the excess dough from the sides and seal your edges.

You can put these back into the refrigerator for your kids to play with later.  Or make a little pie or something, if you don't have any kids.

 17.  I wanted my pie to look normal - I'm tired of trying to make "perfect" things, and equally tired of reading about all the perfect things that everyone else makes.  So here is the non-Photoshopped version of my real pie, complete with mended portions (where I got a little impatient with peeling off the waxed paper).

18.  Prick a few little holes in the top to let any steam escape and stick in the oven for the recommended time (I let mine bake at 350 F for probably an hour, or until the crust is semi-golden and looks "done").  A note on GF crusts - they usually don't brown in the same way as gluten-y ones do, and are usually much lighter.

And, voilá!  A not-so-perfect but perfectly tasty gluten-free pie!  Yum and yum!

21 August 2012

For the Protection of their Spirits

"You may kill me as soon as you like, but you cannot stop the emancipation of women."

These words of the Persian poet Tahirih to her her would-be assasins, were uttered prior to her execution in 1852.  She was an eloquent and erudite scholar, equal to, if not surpassing, many of her contemporaries in debate and learning, and her father's only lament was that she had not been a man, so that she might publicly elevate the family name in Persian society.

Instead, she was a champion for women's rights, and the "trumpet blast" of the new Babi Faith, which, against the wishes of her husband and family, she eagerly espoused and disseminated among her fellow cloistered women, many of whom followed in her footsteps.  This brought her into the line of fire of the clerical government, which labeled as a "heretic."  She challenged the perceived norms of the day by attending a conference of notable Babis and appearing before those assembled without her veil - a scandalous action at the time - to announce that the old standards of the past were no longer salient, and that a new standard of human rights and capacity had been hoisted.  The uproar caused by such an action shook the faith of many of the attendees, and one man even slit his throat in his agonized response.  (At the same time in Seneca Falls, New York, women from the United States and Canada were gathering to author their Declaration of Sentiments, which included an article demanding women's right to vote.  It would be over sixty years before that goal was realized by the United States government.)  Indeed, it could be argued that even though Tahirih's sex prevented her from gaining notoriety in Persian politics, her legacy has endured even to this day due to it.

Interestingly, the government of that country which put Tahirih to death for her outspoken views on equality has taken a step backward this week by denying women's access to higher education.  This action, which follows the current Iranian regime's policy of exclusion and subversion, is simply the latest in a line of actions to disenfranchise its populace and gain a fearful stronghold over its people.

Education is, in the Baha'i teachings, a fundamental human right.  In fact, Baha'i law stipulates the importance of the education of girls, as they are the first teachers of the child, and, in the case when there are only enough resources to educate one child, preference should be given to the girl for this purpose.

These thoughts are all fresh in my mind as I look forward to a new school year.  We have decided to again homeschool our daughters, our eldest entering first grade this year, and not without some reservations from friends and family.  I have begun to plan our schedule for the fall semester, and am looking forward to plumbing the depths of Olivia's interests in dinosaurs and the universe, as well as learning some fundamentals of math and language.  When asked why we choose to homeschool, when there are certainly many resources available in the public school system in Bloomington, my simple answer is that I am not yet ready to send my eager and joyful daughter, who is still amazed by the beauty and intricacy of the world around her, into the crushing melee that is public school.

The answer was harder this year than the last - then, our decision to move was made well after many of the charter and alternative schools were full, and even the Montessori school, to which we would technically be considered transfer students, didn't have room.  The public school in our neighborhood gave me a creepy feeling, which I decided to ignore and try Olivia out first for half-day and then full-day Kindergarten.  When the child that came home had none of her usual spirit, I decided that I should follow my instincts and try homeschooling for a year.  For the skeptics, I could easily say "well, it's only Kindergarten," which would usually appease their criticism.  However, this year, even some of my past supporters offered some suggestions for change.  First grade, after all, is official school.

But I couldn't do it.  I know how my girls work, and I know that my gentle Olivia would bend herself to fit whatever mold she thought was most appealing to all.  I am not worried about the fundamentals - she is eager to read and write and calculate math problems - but what concerns me the most is her spirit, her identity, her awareness of self, and her recognition of her place in society.  I know that of course she will and must be tested, but I feel the need to better train her, for at least a few more months, to meet the challenges of society, which children at younger and younger ages are facing.  When the clothing of the day deems it appropriate for little girls to wear the same styles of clothes as teenagers, and when their choices are limited to pink and purple and sometimes light blue, when the first comment I hear out of strangers' mouths are "aren't you pretty?",  when the toys that are peddled to girls focus primarily on appearance rather than function, and when "looking beautiful" is more important than acting in beauty, there is a greater need than ever to protect the spirits of our girls.

Instead, I will arm my daughters with the truth: that they are noble creations of God, that they were created in perfection, and that it is their duty to find and cultivate their capacity to better serve the world of humanity.  That their purpose in life is greater than their individual desires, even though they must be guided by those innate impulses, and that their calling is to help to build an ever-advancing civilization.  That beauty and joy are present in all of creation, and that they don't need to look outside of themselves to find it.  I will not cater to the whims of a corrupt and materialistic society, which may be no better in its motives than a regime that denies higher education to women, if it continues to perpetuate worthless stereotypes that exploit the true nature of women to serve its own selfish purposes.  We are better than that, and I challenge us to prove our mettle - to rise above the dross of this world and create a more loving and just society.

Although Tahirih died 150 years ago, her legacy remains - and the emancipation of women will continue.

12 June 2012

Building Community - I want it now!

When I was younger (read: two months ago), I held tightly to the belief that any sort of personal transformation is best served instantly.  For example, I once asked God to, essentially, make me awesome, over a period of nine days during Baha'i Pilgrimage.  I wanted to go to the Holy Land, have this amazing transformative experience, and come back perfect.  My lesson was lovingly shared with me in a dream (I had actually fallen asleep in one of the holiest places for Baha'is on earth, the Shrine of Baha'u'llah - argh!), where, through the medium of a pancake dream, I understood that practice is required for growth.  It's a silly dream, and I can tell you about it sometime, if you ask.

That was almost nine years ago, and is only now sinking in, which is sort of a testament to the truth of the lesson in the first place, no?

Not that there isn't any room for wonderful and complete transformation.  There are oodles of stories in world history of individuals who, once they hear of a new lesson or message, become immediately reborn, so to speak, as new and wonderful servants of humanity.  That is the power of the human spirit, and it is infinite.  Way to go for them.

But, for many of us, the reality is that we will go through life, learning and growing little by little, day by day, and, eventually work things out to a point where they are no longer an issue.  And then, we get a new challenge.

Looking at nature, there is very little to support instantaneosity as the standard way of being.  Growth, in its essence, is a series of very small changes - look at the stages of development from caterpillar to butterfly.  It is not an overnight process - just ask any schoolchild who has done this as a project - and takes many days, even weeks (which, if you think about it, is a REALLY long time for something that lives for only about a month).  From caterpillar to pupa/chrysalis to emergence to adulthood, each step is gradual, and each step is essential.  If you try to "help" a butterfly out of its cocoon, you will inhibit that butterfly's ability to function - it could even die.  The necessary steps required for healthy development involve laboring to free itself - it is simply the nature of the process.

My most recent lesson of this has been in building community.  Before our recent move, we had lived in the Chicago area for over five years.  It didn't seem like a lot at the time, but it was the most that Nathan and I had lived anywhere together for one time, and it was the entirety of our two daughters' experience.  We had, over the years, built up a little network of mamas and friends, all of whom we loved dearly, and all of whom we were reluctant to leave.  Our move wasn't over an ocean, but it was over the cornfields and monocultures on Indiana, and for city kids, that's a big leap.  When Nathan and I were planning our move, we estimated it would take about two weeks to "settle in" to our new place - get our boxes unpacked, things in order, and be prepared to sally forth into the new community.


The actual experience went more like this:  I get ridiculously sick en route to the new place, and am essentially out-of-commission for the two whole weeks we had planned to "set-up."  Nate starts school, and so I'm doing all of the work of unpacking, which now is prolonged due to working with the girls.  I miss my friends, I don't know where the grocery store is, and I don't have any friends.  Plus, it's hot.  I recede into a bit of a personal depression, and spend the autumn and winter trying to figure out exactly the way things work in our new environment.  I make one good friend, who is a lifesaver, but I don't want to be too clingy, and so I try to figure out where else to meet people who I might like.

*Sidenote here - moms need support, and once they find a good crew, they usually aren't looking for more people.  It seemed like all the mamas I met here in Bloomington already had "people."

**Another sidenote - finding a family of mom and kids that meet several criteria (a. you like the parents, b. you like the kids, and c. they like you back) is as complicated as dating.  Often only one of the criterion is met, and so there is usually some disconnect and awkwardness in the beginning.  There are a few possible end results, including complete neglect of the relationship, but the general trend is to find a family with two out of the three going for them, and then work on the last one concertedly.  A real boon is to find all three!

With spring came renewed energy, and as I involved myself and the girls ever more into the greater community, I found those hidden gems of friendships.  I struck up conversations with people I saw repeatedly, and, as the season wore on, met and really talked with more of my neighbors.  I learned that our town is seasonal - once the students leave university at the end of April, the real local people come out of hiding.  I got involved in local interest groups (for me, that meant organic gardening and urban farming workshops), and I started volunteering at the community orchard and local food pantry.  I enrolled the girls in classes at the local YMCA, and, from there have made a few more mama/kid connections.

I now know that it was unrealistic - at least for me - to expect to jump feet first into my new environment and successfully stay afloat.  I was holding a bit of a Veruca Salt attitude - I wanted it all, and I wanted it now (If you aren't familiar with Roald Dahl's character, she is a pretty piece of work, and you can find her, and other rather pithy characters in an excellent moral tale for parents, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.).  I was a product of a culture obsessed with instant gratification, and I saw no reason why I should expect to not have everything I desired right away.  Now, however, after life served me up a good old-fashioned pile-driver, I know better.  Work is required for growth - it is not a good or bad thing, it is just the nature of things.

If I were a butterfly, I think that where I am now is at the last stage of emergence - adulthood (and subsequent freedom) - are just around the corner.  My winter cocoon helped me to heal some of the injuries I sustained in moving to a new environment, and I was able to make little changes that helped me to better interact with my new place of residence.  There has been a lot of work involved, both personal as well as social - it's hard to put yourself out there.  I am currently allowing my wings to expand, and, from here, I suppose the possibilities are infinite.

I just hope I live longer than a month.

11 June 2012

The Big Deal

I'm avoiding any sort of work today - there are loads of children's class materials piled in my front room, reminders of last week's Indiana Baha'i Summer School, and camping gear stacked in the dining room.  I am loth to put any of them away, partly because I lack any energy and partly because I want to hold on to the sweet feelings that echo from the week.  I shared most of my time with three wonderful women - mamas and educators - working with a group of 6-8 year-old girls.  We learned about the Love of God and about courtesy and prayerfulness and unity and work.  It was lovely to see the little transformations that came about from our time together, and the sweet friendships that blossomed between tender hearts.

BUT, I digress.  The real reason for my avoidance of work is this:  I'm immersing myself in maps.  Maps of National Parks and Scenic Byways.  Maps of waterways and hiking trails.

Because, my dears, I'm planning a vacation.

Not just any vacation, mind you.  We are in no position to fly anywhere, and there will be no palm trees involved.  No, thank you.  We are driving from Indiana to Washington, down the Oregon coast, and back through Colorado.  Nate will visit theatres in Minneapolis, Seattle, and San Francisco, and I will make sure we get to see some real national treasures - the sacred Badlands in the Dakotas, the International Peace Park in Montana, the grandeur of Yosemite, and the beauty of the Rockies.

Man, oh, man.  Am I excited!!

This trip came about through a bit of hemming and hawing in our family.  Nathan's summer break is three and a half months long, but he needs to write two full plays before he goes back to school in August.  And, with all of the distractions of family life, we had to come up with a sustainable plan for our family, so that I could have personal time, Nathan could have writing time, and we could all have family time.  The first deadline for Nathan is at the end of July, when he will be traveling to Washington, D.C. to have his first play workshopped at the Kennedy Center.  There would then be four weeks before school starts again.  How could we work it all in?

Our agreement was this - Nathan would work every day for the next six weeks (while the girls and I traveled to various places: our Baha'i community campout at Turkey Run State Park, Indiana Baha'i Summer School, a trip to visit my family in Ohio, and planning a Virtues Camp for our friends here in Bloomington.).  In exchange, we would get three whole weeks of undivided "Daddy time."  And, feeling especially expansive, we decided to take a road trip.  So, here I am.  Planning.  Six weeks in advance.

Can you tell I can hardly wait?

08 February 2012

The Funnest Day Ever

Today might just be the funnest day ever.  Yes, Gramma, I do know that "funnest" is not a word, but today, being the funnest day ever, it is.

First of all, we are ALL - that means, including Daddy - going to Wonder Lab.  Nathan has never been to Wonder Lab, although the girls and I go every Wednesday, and the other day, Olivia was lamenting that fact that Daddy had to go to school all the time and never got to do anything fun.  Which was evidenced by his having never been to the wonders of wonders, Wonder Lab.

So - being that she is five and had some semi-teary eyes - Nathan agreed to switch his schedule up a bit and go with us today to Wonder Lab.

Fun #1.

Fun #2 is that tonight, we will be the gleeful recipients of not one, but TWO guinea pigs.  A good friend in the area recently adopted two sister cats and moved them in with her two guinea pigs.  Not into the same cage, mind you, but the same apartment.  And the cats are being predators and trying to paw (a.k.a. eat) the pigs, and the pigs are being prey and are in fear of their lives.  So she called me up and asked if we wanted the pigs.  With all the accoutrements.  How could I say no?  And so I consulted with Olivia, who almost cried with joy, and then made it contingent upon Nathan's approval.  And again, poor Nathan was greeted with an overly-excited child whose joy in life would be smashed into very tiny bits if he said no.  So he didn't.

Poor Daddy.  He is a little manipulated by his girls.  But he will be okay, I am sure.

Fun #3 is that we are planning a trip to California, prompted by several factors, the most influential being that we are getting a nice little tax return.  We are not ALL going (Nathan has to stay here and be a grad student and teach and learn and work - go figure), but the girls and I are, and we are taking the TRAIN.

I know you are so excited to read that, because you love trains as much as we do, so hold onto your seat when you hear that not only are we taking the TRAIN, but we are also SLEEPING on the train in a little SLEEPER CAR.

Holy cannoli. 

Olivia and Elsie - mostly Olivia - are so excited!  It also helps that good ol' Jim Henson's Dinosaur Train show has provided some positive reinforcement.  No, we won't be traveling through any time tunnels into the Jurassic or Cretaceous periods, but we will be going across the country, and that involves maps and double-decker trains and eating on a train and looking outside at all of the different scenery and all of the fun that happens.  On a TRAIN.

But that is another post.  Or another several posts.  Which will not happen now, because my small people are waking up and clamoring for food.

09 January 2012

School Begins Again

So, for the sake of some sort of continuity, our homeschool began again today.

Which essentially meant that we had one lesson in the morning (on weather) and set up our little weather flannel board.

And then we went to play with our homeschool friends - a wonderful little family whose mama is in a similar boat as I am (i.e. just moved here, just started homeschooling, kind & courteous children, etc.).

A scene from an earlier last visit, involving Ancient Egyptians.
And a cat costume.
Olivia always hates to leave there, and today was no exception - after we erupted a volcano (a baking soda & vinegar one), it was time to get our things on to go out, and she snuck out back to the tree house and hid.  Oh, well.  I am glad that she likes to play with her homeschool friends, right?  I'm sure I felt the same way about leaving places, too, and I know that my homeschool mama friend didn't think that I was a bad parent.  Whew!

Elsie butterfly inspects her friends' toys.
This evening, I was out running a rare childless errand (Nathan had come home early from school today and was home with the girls) when I saw the rising full moon.  I saw another educational opportunity and so I called Nathan to let him know we were going on a full moon walk.  I swept home and picked up the fam-a-lam and then we drove out into somewhere to see if we couldn't find a place to walk around in the woods.  We found a big lake, which was closed (how can that be?  I didn't know lakes had "hours").  Also, the thought of walking around by a lake with two small children in the semi-darkness didn't bode well.  So essentially we drove around in the country looking at the moon.  Not to go home empty-handed, we stopped at our local Bryan Park (at which you could park until 11 PM!  Take that, lake!) and ran around in the open dark-ish area.  Olivia and I found Orion and Taurus and the Pleiades and Cassiopeia (there are a lot of "eia" constellations, aren't there?), but we couldn't see Ursa Major, maybe due to all that full moon light.  We decided that we would go out on the next New Moon and do some star-gazing.

So we went home and looked on the calendar to find that the next New Moon (i.e. No Moon) is in two weeks, and is ALSO Chinese New Year.  Which brought on a whole new discussion about calendars.

So we decided that this week, we would learn about all different types of calendars - Gregorian and Lunar and Baha'i and whatnot - and then next week, we'd work on stars and constellations, to prepare for the following Monday's No Moon Star Seeing.

And we wrote it on the calendar.

I love homeschooling.  Everything is a opportunity to teach and learn, and I think that's what I've learned most so far.  Learning can happen anywhere and at anytime.  Even in the dark.