Friday, January 30, 2015

I'm Sorry I Let You Take the FSA

"They don't test us for French or science or art or humanities. They only test us for math and English. I think they want us all to grow up to be accountants, but they don't realize that if we all grew up to be accountants, nobody would be a farmer, and then all the accountants would die."

I mistakenly allowed my son to take the FSA this year. Yes: Mistakenly. I forgot to object.

Every year in BC, students in grade four and seven are given the Foundation Skills Assessment. The BC Ministry of Education says that "The main purpose of the assessment is to help the province, school districts, schools and school planning councils evaluate how well students are achieving basic skills, and make plans to improve student achievement. FSA is designed and developed by British Columbia educators. The skills assessed are linked to the provincial curriculum and provincial performance standards." Seems reasonable, if you're a pencil-pushing administrator who wants to see that all the students conform. Not if you're trying to raise a whole and healthy child or community. And isn't that actually what we're trying to do?

Schools are judged by their students' performance on these tests. Teachers are also evaluated with these results in mind. Schools and teachers, who for the most part got into the job for the opportunity to nurture and inspire children to live to their own beautiful potential, live under the threat of not living up to these imposed standards. Some of them might even think the test is valuable, but even our BC Teacher's Federation advises parents to opt out, stating that "It takes valuable time and much needed resources away from the classroom learning and undermines the ability to provide meaningful learning experiences for all students. The FSA results are misused by a private organization to rank schools based on a very narrow measure. The FSA tests do not result in any additional funding or support for students."

The FSA is a part of the system that attempts to mold our children into good working citizens, but not to value them for their own intrinsic passions and gifts. It's a system that not only insults the intelligence of both teachers and children, but leads to generation upon generation of adults who, having grown up in this system, now feel inadequate when we don't conform, instead of proud to be the brilliant individuals we are. It leads us to shuffle our children off into the same system, terrified that our children might also not conform; might not succeed according to the yard-sticks we were held up against, ourselves. The system feeds on itself, but it's not serving any of us, or the evolution of our species, as a whole.

So, in forgetting to send in my letter of objection, I have furthered these issues. I'm sorry. For my son and for every generation to come whose teachers remain as throttled as ours are, today, I'm dreadfully sorry. I will not make this mistake, again.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Assimilation: Passing the Buck

This week in my community two young deer met their demise and were found gory by the side of the road. A community discussion ensued, as people debated what could have happened to them and who could or should be called to clean them up. Apparently this is normally a job for our municipal staff, as the roads are municipal land. But really? Really, can we not just clean up a couple of deer by ourselves? Yes of course it's a grisly job, and nobody wants to do it (and the longer they lay there waiting, the more grisly it becomes), but if those deer were near my house I would haul them into the woods, dig a hole and bury them. I've done this a few times over the years. If it weren't for the stench of them, I'd just leave them to feed the wildlife that depends on just such fortuitous but gruesome circumstances for food. Actually I like to think that if the deer died of something other than illness and I found it soon enough, I'd take it for food, myself! But this hasn't happened near my house.

CBC reports that in Canada, Stephen Harper is more popular among men, and Justin Trudeau is more popular among women. Oh! Justin! Be still my beating heart! My son came back from school, eagerly reporting that some of the students had met Justin Trudeau in the city and had their picture taken with him! (Swoon.) He thinks most kids at his school now "hope Justin wins". But does he know what Justin's policy direction is? Um. No. But it's probably good because he's nice. He would do nice things for us; better than Stephen Harper. Right? And my son says he would vote green anyway, but he doesn't think the Green Party leader (what is her name?) is doing very much.

As a lifetime Green supporter, I was seriously disturbed by this. Because he's right. Elizabeth May isn't towing the popularity line. She's not offering to do stuff for people; she's not out making headlines every day, vowing to support renewable energy or families. She knows she doesn't have that Hollywood flair that will get Harper and Trudeau their votes. CBC also reports about Stephen Harper's little-known electric guitar collection. Oooooh. Elizabeth May just wrote a book. She talked to people face-to-face in our little community. But she doesn't clean up our dead deer.

I'm busy trying to advertise for our local Nature Club's AGM, where hopefully we'll get people to renew their memberships, support the Federation of BC Naturalists, listen to a great speaker, and then go out inspired in their community to explore, engage with, and protect our wilderness. They have to be members to join us on outings, because their membership form and fee means that we're covered by insurance, in case they are injured. Everybody understands this. Everybody knows that it's not safe to run an organization without insurance; that even if they wouldn't personally sue us in case of an injury, their healthcare provider would. So we're all OK with the insurance situation. We know we need protection. Especially in the woods because, you know, it's a wilderness out there.

I've been assimilating these diverse thoughts: Why is it that we (the rhetorical 'we') are so unwilling to take responsibility for our own welfare; our own policy; our own dead deer? And this morning on the way home from dropping my son off for a field trip, with his bag full of gear carefully prescribed by the ski hill he's going to, and he telling me that he knows he doesn't need the extra pair of gloves or snow pants; rain pants are much better... it hit me: They're training him to seek instruction instead of figuring things out for himself. Of course, I do know why the ski hill sends out the gear-list: They're covering themselves in case of litigation, and furthermore, they want the kids to be comfortable. But if he gets wet and cold (he will), that will be a far better lesson to him.

This morning, as I drove home, got the mail, and decided not to put my seatbelt back on for the remaining two-minute drive home, I realized that our choice to unschool is and always has been more about the future than the present. Yes, I'm aware that an accident is just as likely to happen in that short bit of my journey as it was in the longer part, but I wanted to do something on my terms: Take a small risk and feel the consequences (here I am; no accident, thank goodness). Isn't that what all of us are trying to do from the moment we're born?

Drawing by Taliesin
Unschooling is our choice to allow that risk-taking to happen; to allow ourselves and our children to face our own consequences, and to learn to pick up our own dead deer, instead of passing the buck. (Ha ha ha - couldn't resist.) When we raise our children in what is usually a school or other rule-based environment where they rarely have an opportunity to truly need to look after themselves, their own environment, or their own future, we strip them of the knowledge, wisdom, or skill to do that, and they (like we) become dependent upon other people to look after them. They will look for the most relatable or personable leader instead of the one whose policy makes the most sense. They will look for the leader who promises the most goodies. They will want to live on cruise ships, in master-planned communities, and fantasy communities, where no part of their experience is truly self-determined. They will want to sit back and watch life go by like a reality TV show, where the content is managed, the big moments are sparkly and the sad moments are either sappy or hidden.

But PLO's! But grade-levels! But how will I know my child will survive adulthood?! I don't. But for some of us, it is more important to know that we give them the tools to survive it on their own terms, than that we give them a structure to keep safe. Artists have known this always. In school we even give our children such media to read, like A Wrinkle in Time, and 1984. But then we tell them to pick apart the books and describe them according to somebody else's plan, and the point - the truly terrifying message those books carry - is lost. And our children write book reports about the rise and fall of the plot line and the conclusion and the social ramifications of the books, and they are graded and sent off to the next lesson, and here we are: billions of people following the track, waiting to be handed the next lesson; the next processed food item, without very much compunction to get up and drive ourselves.

We complain that we are being taken advantage of by the one percent, by corporate interests; by our bosses and insurance agencies and the rats who eat our chicken feed. (Somebody must be responsible for having introduced rats to this island, after all...) We fear that we are unable to adequately raise our own children, to defend our freedom, to grow our own food, or to properly dispose of some dead deer. And we pass the buck, preferring to watch crazy people on TV take risks we only dream of. It's time to realize not only our potential but our great beauty and wisdom. Each and every one of us has the capacity to be a sparkling leader in some way; to reach into our dreams and follow our passions. Each of us has the responsibility to pick ourselves up after a stumble or even a really terrible fall, and to clean up our own backyards. We don't have to look for greatness in leadership. We can be great.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

In the Dark in the Cold

Tonight we all sat out on the porch until our fingers froze, trying to look at comet Lovejoy through binoculars, a bird-scope and Tali's telescope. Well, we did look at the comet, but it was basically a ball of fuzz with a slightly bluish bright spot where the actual comet could be seen through its tail. I felt like I should document, but it was, after all, pitch-black, being a prime comet-viewing situation (dark moon on an island), but I have neither devices nor skill to take photos through a telescope, and anyway this is more recognisable. Here is our good friend, Oh! Ryan! as he was ambling up the field of view, this evening.

Click to enlarge.

My Girl Can Cook!

Rhiannon has always been fond of creating beauty: Beautiful spaces, beautiful stories, poems, and music, and - lucky for us - beautiful food.
Thanks to Julie, from Mennonite Girls Can Cook, for the basis of this wonderful recipe. We basically substituted yogurt for the milk, and flax seeds and water for the egg, which Rhiannon blended up thoroughly with the liquid ingredients and let sit while we mixed the flours, etc. It worked very well: voila egg- AND gluten/soy-free perogies!

The recipe-finding and adapting was my job, but, other than a bit of help with perogy-folding (because it's way more fun to do it over a good conversation!), this was Rhiannon's inspiration and effort. She made the dough, created a filling of potatoes, green onions and cheddar cheese, rolled, cut and folded about half of them, and also cooked them for us, for dinner! Delicious! I love that my girl can cook!



The flax gave the perogies a warm, pinkish whole-grain look. Beautiful!

Lughnasa ate with us as usual. But kitten food; not perogies.

Monday, January 19, 2015

What do unschoolers do all day?

...AKA Our Unschooling Schedule!

My kids in their most recent fort... with the grandparents' dog!
I thought it time to post again about our unschooling schedule, since the kids are so much older now, and obviously that means many changes.

The 12-year old:
Of course, if you follow this blog then you know that our son has entered school this year - it's an interesting experiment, and means that his and my life are now governed by an actual daily schedule, imposed by someone else. Basically, we get up every day at 7, I make his lunch while he gets breakfast, dressed, hair brushed, etc. and packs his bag, and then he walks to school at 8. Homework included (and Ultimate two days a week in the autumn and spring), he only has about 1.5 to 2 days free every week, and he spends most of those drawing, or playing outside. The colossal amount of reading he used to do during the years he didn't attend school has all but vanished; he reads for a few minutes every night, now -- except when he's drawing. From the outside, it appears that there's just so much to process from school each day that he gets it out with pens and paper, and doesn't have much energy left for soaking in his beloved books.

The 10-year-old:
Here's where things are still pretty flexible! She has quite a few chosen commitments each week, including assisting at a local daycare/preschool, a weekly mother's helper job, contemporary dance class, a children's choir, our weekly (F)unschool outing, and the various visits with friends that she arranges for herself. Then there's the walking and cycling to get to each of those places, and sometimes picking up friends from school (on foot) on the way. And being a member of the family, she also helps out with gardening, compost, house-tidying, laundry, and firewood-gathering. That leaves her with about 3 half-days and 1 or 2 whole days free each week, which she gleefully fills with whichever of her favourite activities she's currently most passionate about or dedicated to:
  • building forts and other special spaces outside
  • creating magazines, books, games, and other paper-based projects
  • running with Auntie and grandparents' dog in their 2-person-1-dog running club
  • "training" the cat
  • writing her short novel
  • visiting the local library
  • reading in and reorganizing her own library
  • baking, cooking, and creating new recipes
  • posting to her blogs (one personal and one about gift economies)
  • painting, drawing, and various crafts
  • teaching herself to play guitar and piano
  • teaching herself Dutch, using books and Duolingo online
  • completing workbook pages (her brother never did this, but she loves them!)
  • creating workbooks for friends, family, and dolls
  • planning, planting, and tending her own garden
Obviously, there's much more on that list than one could possibly do in a week (and I'm sure I've forgotten a few things), which is why some things are left behind for weeks at a time, and then picked up again, later. The beauty of unschooling is the flexibility and opportunity to follow desires. This is how we're working that out at our house, these days!

Friday, January 16, 2015


The ferry that usually services our island is in for a refit, for accommodation of more vehicles, lounge-to-ramp offloading, and other such amenities. Meanwhile, we have been gifted with the opportunity to use our usual replacement-vessel, the Bowen Queen.

I don't go into the city often, but yesterday I had an opportunity to take the kids for a town-adventure, and after we drove onto the ferry, my kids went running upstairs to remind themselves of the many delights they look forward to every time we get this ship: three passenger lounges, four outside decks for exploring in the wind and rain - and the view. The view is the reason I stayed on the car deck.

This boat has been our replacement vessel every year or two throughout most of my life. When I was a child, and our regular boat was smaller, I was always so disappointed that the sides of this replacement were taller at the front and back, and blocked the view. Now, by comparison to the behemoth ship we usually have, I'm just so thrilled to have the mostly lower sides of the Bowen Queen. I'm happy to actually feel the sway of the boat on the water, to see the salt spray over the sides, the engine-room doors left open by the crew and the feeling that, because the boat is smaller, the crew pay more attention to fitting cars snugly and carefully. I love this boat.

I turn off the radio, sick of hearing about what makes us different from Islamists; what makes the French different from Canadians; why our racism is better than their racism or why religion is the salvation or destruction of us all. From the vehicle deck I can look straight out across the sound, reach my arms into the wind, and step sideways with the pull of the rocking boat.

It's been foggy, lately. Gulls, seals, and small boats dip and disappear in the infinite grey between water and wind. This is a time when defining lines are blurry, and maybe there are no real boundaries at all.

On our late afternoon return, the fog has lifted to catch the setting sun in the distance; the wake of a burdenless tugboat separates fast, sending waves out in either direction to hook up and lap at the receding clouds. A guy in his rowboat, still a long way from his destination, seems to sit still on the moving drink that fills the pockets of our earth. We're all going home.

Unschooling to School: Packing Lunches

Well, here were are, four months into being a schooling family, and I am still working out the concept of packed lunches. Of course I did make packed lunches before, on the odd occasion, but they were often for a whole family, and the whole idea was a novelty. It happened a maximum of twice a week, and more often it only happened about once a month.

Now... I pack a lunch five days a week. For a son who is not only allergic to gluten, soy, eggs, beans, and various other grains, but who is also PICKY. And who is as skinny as a rake, and not particularly interested in eating.

From conversations with other parents, I know I'm not alone in this. We go through the good times, like when I discovered that he simply loved plain canned wild salmon, and would happily eat a can of it with some veggies and crackers for lunch twice a week. Then the not-so-good times when he decided he was tired of the canned salmon (even in various enticing incarnations), or any fish for that matter, or bread of any kind, or pasta, popcorn, cookies, anything with coconut, nuts, spicy food, or fruit. There were a few weeks back there where my lovely dear son was only willing to consume pre-cooked, thermosed instant Biryani, changed up only with an occasional Paneer Tikka Masala, by the same company. But only if I added peas. Oh and sausages. He is always willing to eat sausages.

There is a kitchen at school, so I asked him if he'd like to cook it for himself (you know - independent-like...). He delightedly said 'yes', did it once, but then the next time I sent him with a microwavable meal including cheesy pasta and sausages, he was busy at lunch and didn't eat anything until he got home... and ate it cold.

Then I decided if he packed his lunches himself, maybe he would eat them. I took him shopping and bought him all kinds of foods he wanted. His lunches were about one third the size of the lunches I'd been packing! We're talking 12 rice crackers, 1/4 cup of hummus, and a chocolate Larabar. For 6 hours of school plus Ultimate practice. I tried adding foods, but he resisted, and it wasn't until he became tired of making his own lunches (only a few days later) that I was able to start packing again.

So, variety seems to be the spice of lunch, no matter how much he tells me he wants the same thing every day. If I let him have it, he'll get sick of it, and then I'll be stuck with the remaining portions until a month or two later when he's willing eat it again (after 2 months, he's still off the canned salmon...).

At this point, our standbys are the following:

Main meals:
cheese and lettuce sandwiches (he still loves lettuce to a maximum of 2ce/week)
meat, mustard and lettuce sandwiches
veggie quesedillas
prepared Gits Indian meals
cut veggies, crackers, and hummus (but it's still hit and miss, although he requests it)
rice, lentil or corn pasta with salt, nutritional yeast and cheese or herbs
leftover dinner, if he loved it
sausages added to anything.

McClean's nitrite-free pepperoni
a plain carrot!
a banana
home-made muffins with applesauce to dip them in
rice or nut crackers with guacamole
spicy Indian snacks (processed; not so healthy)
nuts with candied ginger (without the candied ginger he won't eat the nuts)

So... that's my son. I imagine school lunches are entirely individual, but this sure has been a long and bumpy journey for us! My daughter, who is still unschooling, nearly never has to have a packed lunch, but when she does she delights in planning and packing it for herself, and usually packs and eats a large healthy meal. As I write this she is eagerly finishing her morning-long project of making lentil-burgers for our family lunch. Yum. Maybe there will be some leftovers for when her brother gets home from school.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Why We Don't Vaccinate

At the risk of losing readership, I'm going to broach a topic I've avoided here, before. And I have asked my son's permission to post this. Please consider him as you share or comment about this. Here goes:

We don't vaccinate. There. I said it. And we're also - GASP! - gluten intolerant.

Over the past few months my feeds have seen a marked increase in intolerance of gluten-free dietary restrictions, vapid rants by servers and restaurateurs, supposed "proof" that non-celiac gluten intolerance is all in our heads, and the ever-interesting "my kids eat gluten and so can yours" ditties.

Don't even get me started on the vaccines. The rants about non-vaxxers are worse: We're putting vaccinated children and the whole global population at risk, we're harming our children, we're selfishly benefiting from the herd-immunity hard-won by generations of parents who had more sense than we do...

Halt. Let me tell you something about us. Because I am not going to offer you a story supporting one side or another on these issues; I am going to tell you the story of my son: How we became non-vaxxers and what it's like.

My son was born in 2002, by emergency c-section, into the hands of my capable midwife and obstetrician. Despite his rocky start (he was strangling in his umbilical cord), he nursed up a storm, and by 9 months was at 99th percentile for height, and off the charts for weight. He hit all his milestones nearly to the day (my Mum was an infant development consultant, so we watched these with great interest). By 9 months he was super engaged with life and loved all sorts of different foods, excluding, of course, those not recommended for introduction at that early age. At the time there was still much talk about Wakefield's study, so we took the precaution of spreading out and delaying his vaccines. He had his first MMR vaccine at 9 months, along with his third Pentacel.

You keep hearing that age: 9 months. That's because it's when everything changed for us, although we didn't realize it, at first. His reaction to the vaccines was pretty typical: he developed a fever, and seemed to have some kind of flu, which we wrote off as coincidence. He seemed to develop an intermittent diarrhea, which we chalked up to flu-season (it was December/January). Then over the next 3 months he appeared longer and thinner, and was tired and cranky all the time, and I thought he was having an extended growth spurt. At his first-year checkup, when we intended for him to receive his second MMR vaccine, the doctor informed us that although he had grown a little in length, it was not nearly enough, and he had in fact lost a full pound in weight. In just a few months, he fell from an off-the-charts weight to 9th percentile. And we had no idea what was wrong. He was still nursing, he ate plenty, but he seemed to be shrinking before our eyes. That was when our doctor suggested we hold off with the vaccines until his health was recovered.

Over the next couple of years we fed him as much whole grain, meat, fat, fruit and vegetables as he would eat. He had a voracious appetite. He was active, happy, and outwardly apparently healthy - except for the pervasive diarrhea. By the time he was 4, he was into what would become a 9-month-long bout of often-bloody diarrhea. He lost more weight. His cheeks were still chubby, but under his shirt, his ribs showed all the way around to his back, and one of our friends said he looked like he'd been in a concentration camp. He endured many medical tests, and all sorts of food-changes, as we attempted to figure out the cause of his problems. He reminds me, as I write this, that we even kept a bottle of special, pure, store-bought water, just for him. Finally, when he was 4 and a half years old, our doctor asked if we had tried taking him off of gluten.

Gluten? What's that?
Wheat? Oh that would be a pain, but just to be sure, we cut it out. Three days later, for the first time in nearly a year, his diarrhea stopped.

That is when I began reading labels. Gluten was in almost everything. I purged every product that had anything even slightly related to gluten from our home. It took a couple of years to figure out the details of his allergies, and we now know them to be gluten, wheat and wheat-relatives, buckwheat, amaranth, millet, beans (including soy), and eggs. As long as there aren't any accidents, he's fine. Small, but healthy.

But there are accidents. Like the time a well-meaning friend let him help make wheat-flour pie-crust, and he endured three days of profuse nose-bleeding from the flour, or the time I took him out for lunch at a restaurant that was reputed to cater to dietary needs, but then discovered black beans throughout his "deconstructed taco". They shrugged and exchanged his dish for mine, which they assured us had no grains other than corn, no beans, and no eggs... and he went home with a miserable few days of intestinal reactions. In the beginning there were also some disbelieving friends and family who secretly slipped him gluten to prove to us that it's no big deal. But it is. And they didn't have to sit with a crying child at night as his guts wrenched with agony and his body kicked into its inflammatory ultra-immune-response mode to get rid of those "few sprinkles of flour". He tested negative for celiac disease, which at first seemed good, but we have now learned that "non-celiac" is (to some people) alternative language for "a-little-wheat-is-OK", and when we're out we just say he's celiac. This means people generally tell us they have nothing for him.

He's small. At 8, he had a bone scan that determined he was on track, size-wise, for a 5-year-old. Not too bad, they said. It could be worse. The various doctors we've seen don't know what's wrong. They don't know how to help him, and they don't know what caused his growth to curb off the way it did. They can't say for sure that the issues began with his vaccines, but considering the time-correspondence and the immune-related issues, they can't rule it out, either. They are very understanding of our decision not to vaccinate our daughter, who came along just after all of this came to light, and is now a very tall, healthy, unvaccinated 10-year old.

Other people are not so understanding. You know those articles being passed around on social media - the articles that demonize non-vaxxers for compromising the safety of everyone due to sheer ignorance? Those affect us a lot. They increase the likelihood that we will be shunned in social groups, that parents will literally turn away and cover their children as we go by, and that my children won't be allowed to participate in group activities if their unvaccinated status is discovered. We will be outcasts. THIS is why it took me so long to write this article. The word "unvaccinated" does not even register with a spell-check on this computer.

And it's not just in our community, either. My daughter once got a very deep splinter, and after I took it out, I brought her to a walk-in clinic to ask about tetanus. Since she wasn't vaccinated, I worried, and wondered what signs of tetanus I should look for, or whether it would be possible to give her just a tetanus vaccine, instead of the cocktail she would have received as a baby. The doctor yelled at me and my young daughter. He told me (wrongly) that there are no visible signs of tetanus, and furthermore that I was reckless, abusive, and irresponsible. He stomped out and slammed the door, leaving the two of us sitting stunned in the little exam room. My daughter laughs at the memory of "the doctor who slammed the door", but I feel haunted by the threat that we can be refused medical care because of ignorance.

We are not ignorant. Our journey probably means we know more about vaccines, adjuvants, and immunity than most people do. And our children are not a danger to vaccinated children. In fact, our children, who don't have the benefit of vaccines, are more at risk than vaccinated children. We are grateful for vaccines, and for the high percentage of our population who is willing to risk their children's future health (as we once did with our son), in an effort to curb harmful diseases for all of us. We benefit from the risk vaxxers are taking, every day. We are not ignorant.

It is ignorant to ignore that reality. It is ignorant to protect vaccinated children from unvaccinated children, and to spread pro-vax rants all over the internet. In doing so, people ignore the welfare of the part of the population who were harmed in the process of protecting the rest. There are at least a few vaccine-injured children in every community, as well as some, like our daughter, whose parents made an informed choice not to vaccinate, for very well-considered reasons.

It's easy to write off vaccine-injured children as unfortunate collateral damage in our culture's battle against disease, but as long as we don't have to look upon these children's faces, we might not work hard enough to prevent such injuries.

This is the face of my vaccine-injured child. This is his laughter, as the sun shone off the ocean and into our car, one recent winter day. We are grateful every day for the herd-immunity that keeps him and our daughter safe.

Most people don't realize our son has health issues. They see him out walking with his sister and some assume he's a healthy 9/10 year old, tagging along with his older sister. Except he's nearly 13, and is there to keep her safe, because she's only 10. He learned to read complicated words very early, so that he could check food labels, because too many friends' parents and ice-cream servers didn't understand the language on packages. He knows what maltodextrin is, and lecithin. He knows what happens when an adjuvant provokes a strong immune reaction. He remembers the taste of eggs, and longs for them even more than cake, but finds ways to satisfy his longing when everybody is eating eggs and he can't: He loves bacon. He loves climbing trees and riding out to hang with friends. He loves babysitting, photography and animation, and none of these as much as he loves theoretical physics. He's a kid in our community who is walking evidence that non-vaxxers are not freaks, not reckless, and not to be feared. We will never know for sure whether his vaccines made his body the way it is, but we are glad that he makes the best of what life gives him, and I hope we all can do the same, with all of our different lives and the choices we make.

Glutenvrije Oliebollen!

I did it! Eindelijk heerlijke oliebollen gemaakt zonder gluten, boekwijt, soja, of eieren!

New Year's Eve has come and gone, and with it our requisite big batch of the traditional Dutch "oliebollen", which literally translates to "oil balls". Yum! Maybe they'd be better described as small, round, apple-citrus-currant fritters, made with a yeast dough and dusted with icing. If you've been gluten free for a while, and especially if you're also allergic to soy, eggs, and buckwheat, as my son is, you know that to mimic the light, elastic texture of yeast-risen wheat bread is difficult. Hence my elation at finally making this work. Since we only eat these once a year, I haven't had much opportunity for experimentation - it's been about 10 years of mediocre experimental oliebollen, so... you can understand our excitement about this. Enjoy!

This recipe makes about 30 or 40 oliebollen (enough for a big party!).

Prepare and set aside:
  • 1 cup dried currants
  • zest of one lemon
  • zest of one orange
  • 1 large or 2 small apples, cut into small cubes

Heat in a small pan, until it's very warm but not too hot to dip a finger in:
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 2 cups milk

Add, and allow to proof while mixing dry ingredients:
  • cut/zested fruit, from above
  • 1½ tbsp yeast

Mix in separate bowl:
  • 2 tbsp xanthan gum
  • 1.25 cup brown rice flour
  • 1 cup sweet or 'glutinous' rice flour
  • ½ cup potato starch
  • ½ cup corn starch
  • 1 cup oat flour
  • 1 tbsp egg replacer (I use Ener-G brand)
  • ¼ cup homemade vanilla sugar (see instructions, below) OR plain sugar; seeds of 1 vanilla bean
  • 2 tbsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp fresh nutmeg
  • ½ tsp salt

Mix proofed yeast mixture into dry mixture and allow to rise for about 10 minutes, as you heat the deep fryer to about 175 or 180 degrees C:
  • vegetable/sunflower oil (2 liters or whatever your deep-fryer or pot requires)

Using two soup spoons, scoop and form balls of batter; drop these into the hot oil. They will float up. Flip the oliebollen to be sure that they brown evenly on both sides, and when they're uniformly brown, lift them onto a large paper- or cloth-lined plate or bowl to cool. When they're all finished, dust with:
  • Powdered sugar

Home-made Vanilla Sugar
Make this ahead, and keep on hand for other recipes - it takes a few weeks to develop good flavour.

Get a glass jar with a lid that holds at least 4 cups. Clean and dry thoroughly.
Slice 1 or 2 vanilla beans lengthwise, place in jar, and fill with unbleached white sugar. Close tightly.
As you use sugar, replenish the jar, stir or shake, and you will always have some vanilla sugar available.
If you use 2 vanilla beans, the sugar will be flavoured sooner, but if you've got a few weeks to wait, one vanilla bean will be enough. After a few months or so you may notice the sugar is slow to take on flavour, and the beans are very dry - you can then slice and add another bean. I often take the dessicated beans out and grind them in my spice-mill to add to baking or to tea blends. They have less flavour than they once did, but it's still enough to benefit when adding the whole bean!