Recipe – Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread

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I’ve had this recipe tagged as “experimental” in my recipe file for months but it’s time to post it. I get consistently raving feedback whenever I make it for parties and gatherings. I hope you enjoy it as well if you try making it.

Like most quick breads, this works best if you have one bowl for dry stuff and a separate bowl for wet stuff. Freshly milled whole wheat gives my bread a really nice texture but any wheat or white flour should give good results.

Preheat oven to 325F

Yield: 2 loaves (8-9″ pans) or 1 8×8 or 9×9 pan.

Dry Stuff

  • 3 cups whole wheat flour (if grinding from fresh wheat berries like I do, it’s 450g of berries and you want a relatively fine grind).
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg (if old, use 1/2 tsp as nutmeg loses potency quickly)
  • 1/4 tsp cloves
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
Wet Stuff
  • 1/2 cup honey or sugar
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) melted butter or neutral-flavor oil
  • 1/2 cup applesauce
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 cups “pumpkin” puree (butternut, buttercup, and other winter squash often have more flavor than pie pumpkins)
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
Add-In
  • 1 cup chocolate chips (my favorite are Guittard Extra Dark 63% Cocoa, pricey but well worth it in my book)
  1. Whisk dry stuff together
  2. Whisk wet stuff together
  3. Add dry to wet, whisk until just combined.
  4. Add chocolate chips and gently mix or fold with a spatula to thoroughly combine.
  5. Grease pans and scoop batter into them.
  6. Bake at 325 for about an hour for loaves. Check for doneness with a cake tester of choice, it should remove cleanly. Allow to cool on wire racks for 15 before trying to remove from loaf pans.

If there’s anything unclear, please ask in the comments. Enjoy!


Sacred Magic and Finding the Divine

I’m writing this to work a few things out. I’ve changed tremendously over the past few years. What’s amazing is that with all that change, my relationship with Maria has only gotten deeper, more wonderful, and showers me with gratitude our lives are linked on this journey.

For some reason, religion has been coming up a lot in conversation lately, so it’s prompted me to pull a few mental programs out and re-examine them. I’m comfortably settling in to my post-Catholic belief in some form of the divine even at the same time Maria attends church and our children are being raised in the faith we both grew up in. At the time I wrote this post, my position was still relatively new. If you’re a newer reader, most of what I wrote there is relevant to the beliefs I have two years later but I’m not going to rehash the same points. I’d read that and then come back here.

Humanity’s knowledge of the world has progressed very far since the founding of the major world religions. Dismissing religion as something needed only to explain what has not yet been explained is not something I see as correct. If anything, as science has progressed from early reductionism, we’ve discovered more mystery. Soil-food webs, ecology, the microbiome, epigenetics and more are fields that are revealing incredibly complex networks. The interconnectedness of all life is mind-boggling. I’m okay if they never get explained. Mysteries, to my mind, provoke more respect than positive knowledge.

I diverged from the Catholic tradition in a lot of small ways over time. Looking back with the perspective of a few years’ distance, the division was forced by two wedges.

Wedge #1. The sacred is absolutely a thing. The author of Meditations on the Tarot is absolutely correct when he refers to the sacraments of the Church as sacred magic. While I’ve experienced mystical peace in several settings, my two most powerful experiences were in churches. The sacred energy in the shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and, even more so, in the crypt churches of the National Basilica practically bowled me over. When I was a believer, the sacred energy in the Eucharist was incredibly powerful, nor do I look back on it all and see it as a figment of imagination.

The Church, and in truth probably all faiths that have not twisted themselves to the dominion of others (e.g. fundamentalist currents or other perverted currents like the prosperity gospel), possess conduits of immense power. This is going to sound relativistic, but if those religions work for their believers, all power to them. The divine is like pure white light, and each religion a prism that breaks the infinite oneness into slightly different discrete, but understandable, spectrums comprehendable by our finite minds. Humans tune in to the energy around them.

But despite my respect for the sacred magic in the possession of the Catholic Church, I had to leave. My experience of the sacred power in the Basilica’s crypts was 2 years after leaving the Church. I know the sacred energy is there, but I can’t tap into it in the form its active believers do. There are just too many differences between me and the stated teachings of the Church. The principle three are as follows.

I’m bi-sexual. I believe this is the first time I’ve “come out” to many of the readers here, so it may shock some. I realized my dual sexuality only somewhat recently and in fact I used to be an outspoken anti-gay person in my youth. Looking back with new clarity, in hindsight a variety of small experiences growing up make a lot more sense. I’m obviously happily married straight, so this really doesn’t change my life, but it is who I am. Moreover, I don’t see anything wrong with homosexuality. Embracing it creates a lot of good. Oppressing it through legal force, stigma or by ‘curing’ people creates a lot of tortured souls.

I think the Catholic position on reproduction is wrong, or at least is not universally workable. If science could develop a 100% effective birth control method that wasn’t permanent, I think it would be a major coup to human well-being. Sex is an incredibly important bonding experience. Having been through three surprise pregnancies, even though we did want to keep them, was a trying emotional experience for me – and I can only barely comprehend what they were like for Maria. Seeing the intense emotion of a partner is a shadow of experiencing it for yourself.

Life has a way of surprising us, it’s true, and I don’t think perfect control is necessarily the ultimate good but no one should have to go through that if they do not want to. Unwanted and unloved children live miserable lives. Yes, there’s adoption, but first the massive social stigma associated with carrying pregnancies to term and then giving them up needs to be fixed. The clusterfuck that is the family court system also needs to be fixed. Seriously, talk to any foster parent.

Abortion is not a good thing in my mind. Like many not-very-good things, however, it’s been with us for nearly all of human history. Wise women of many cultures found and secretly passed the knowledge of natural medicines to terminate pregnancies down. Until unwanted pregnancies can be prevented, abortion is going to be a thing, and taking away access to it before solving the rest of the issues is folly.

It’s a mess no matter how you look at it but the more I compared my inclinations versus the teachings of the Church, it drove me away.

The third issue is my distaste for the intensely hierarchical nature but a lot of this feeds into the second full wedge.

Wedge #2. Jesus said “Wherever two or more are gathering in my name, I am with them.” The central ritual – and most potent sacred magic – co-opted the Jewish blessing before every meal, the breaking of the bread. The central prayer asks God to “give us our daily bread”. The sacred magic is in the gathering, in the food, in the home.

The sacred magic was quickly co-opted by an elite priesthood. The ritual was taken out of the home and put back into temples where believers face the invisible God instead of facing each other and finding God in the connections between us all.

Think of how much wealth and life energy has been tied up in religious structures over time! Monuments to the sacred have their role, something my own experiences can’t deny, but still I wonder what the human landscape would look like if the major religions devoted their energy and money to neighborliness instead of capital-intensive structures. Plain communities, for all their human flaws, give us a glimpse at what might have been and could be.

Joel Salatin and I would disagree over the social issues I highlighted above, but a thing in his Christian faith I absolutely respect is his commitment to ‘home church’. They worship in the house, as I think it was always intended by Jesus himself. They have an intensely personal relationship with God, and the families who share the journey with them. This faith energy is bound up in the home, in the meal, in each other – not an impersonal structure separated from the home. It’s powerful stuff.

In his most recent book, he talks about Jesus’ parable of the wheat, that only if the seed dies can it give life. All life requires death. Every meal, every breath we take is the result of a sacrifice. Our fundamental relationship with creation is drawn to a head around our table. Do we worship with our food? Do we worship with those we share a meal? Do we worship in the home? Food, life energy, is so important. Disconnecting the central ritual of Christianity from this basic truth is a mistake.

I’m not sure how to go about finding partners on this journey. I’m not arrogant enough to say I have truth. I’m no prophet or priest. My beliefs are so different from the norm. They’re also nebulous, wisps of wordless thought I can barely grab onto long enough to force into words. I’m frankly surprised this piece has come out as coherent as it has.

If you have one, what is your faith journey like?

Do you search for the divine outside of a conventional religion? What is your ‘worship’ like?  Have you found others to share it with?


Net Worth – Q3 2016

For now I think I’m still comfortable publicly updating our net worth progress. It’s a high-level look at our progress to our goals.

Assets

  • Home (Estimated Market Value): $70,000
  • 401(k): $65,191
  • tIRA: $18,303
  • Non-Earmarked Cash: $500 (We have much more cash on hand but a lot of it is going to be eaten up by the transmission rebuild that’s currently in progress.)
  • HSA (invested portion): $987
  • Total: 154,981
  • Assets towards FI: $84,981
    • Approximate passive income this would generate annually: $3,399

Liabilities

  • Home Mortgage: $99,579 @6.5% –> PMI makes it effectively ~7.1%
  • Student Loan (Alchemist A): $999 @0.1%
  • Student Loan (Alchemist B): $21,498 @3.9%
  • Total: $122,076

Net Worth: $32,905

Net Worth Last Quarter: $26,991

Net Worth 1 Year Ago: $15,371

Net Worth At the Start (End 2013): -$33,948


Illness two ways

I’ve spent two of the last three weeks sick, depressed, crippled with anxiety, or all three. Both physical illnesses have been things with few symptoms other than overpowering fatigue and some nausea. I’ve spent a lot of time laying down listening to podcasts because I’m too tired to be “up” but not tired enough to fall asleep, my brain requiring stimulation even though my body wasn’t capable of doing much.

With the exception of a few good days scattered about, depression has also been kicking my ass lately. Not sure why, but all of a sudden my mood stability has vanished. I have tools and techniques acquired in my long battle with this that help, but it’s so disconcerting when you go from stable to a mental and emotional wreck in a span of hours.

It’s both easier and harder because I homeschool the kids. Easier because we set our own schedule. Harder because every day I’m sick or otherwise disabled I feel like I’m failing the kids. Which of course feeds the depression monkey in a self-hatred loop. Not exactly helpful.

Yesterday the kids and I walked to the library to get books for the kids to read in their free time and materials for a school unit I want to do. By the time we got home I was so tired I just fell in bed until dinner, which thankfully was just leftovers that needed to be reheated. I hate accepting limitations, I’m a very stubborn person, but I have to accept them or things only get worse.

Yesterday we also got confirmation that Maria’s car will need a whole new transmission. The rebuild is estimated at about $2700. I knew this was a very real possibility, and we save aggressively to keep it from being an undue hardship. But it’s still a gut punch. It’s not progress towards our ultimate goals.

Fall is normally my favorite season but it’s sure been shitty this year. I keep doing the work I can and I know I’ll turn the corner.


Why we save aggressively

We save aggressively and live simply. People often associate frugality with austerity or ‘missing out’ but there’s freedom in having solid finances. We’ve had an unusually expensive year this year to date but are powering through what would see many “typical” American families accruing considerable debt.

This post isn’t meant to brag, but hopefully to inspire.

Maria earns good money, which definitely helps. We’re above the median household income but nowhere near six figures. We put enough of that income into tax-advantaged accounts that we have zero federal income tax liability each year.

We did $2,000 in repairs to my car. We bought a car for Maria for a little over $4,000 in cash. That car unfortunately may need a transmission rebuild (we’ll know soon) for $2,500-$2,600, but we can (just barely) pay for that out of what’s left in savings.

We spent several thousand dollars on the homestead this year between constructing the raised beds, bringing in soil, buying perennial plants, and setting up our animals.

We grow some of our own food but still spend an awful lot on what we can’t grow. Food is important to us. To paraphrase Joel Salatin, you are only as healthy as the life energy that you consume. I source as many ingredients as possible from local farms, and with the rest of our food dollars I try to support sustainable practices as best as I can through the veil of the supermarket.

With all this, we were still able to pre-pay a considerable amount of our existing debt. We save aggressively as a way to “spend” on our future selves. We give a gift to our 40, 50, 60 year-old selves that hopefully one day in the not-too-distant future we will be financially independent and able to live the homesteading life we truly desire without a need for Maria’s income.

Do you save aggressively? What difficult situations have made you thankful that you did?


What do we expect?

There’s been a lot of angst over violence, whether it’s rapists getting off on very light sentences, the civil war in Syria, the Dakota pipeline, and racially charged riots in my own city of Milwaukee. Should this surprise us? I don’t think so.

What do we honestly expect? Our society is founded on violence.

Our much-vaunted “American way of life” depends on the projection of military power far and wide to ensure cheap resources can be pulled out of developing countries, made into cheap goods, and shoved at American citizens consumers who must be psychologically manipulated to buy what they don’t need.

We do incredible violence to ecologies here and abroad. If the whole world lived our way, few if any thinkers agree that the Earth would be able of carrying that load. Even the most basic of ‘modern’ civilization, water-based sewage, does so much violence and costs so much money that developing countries are seeing the wisdom of not even trying to attempt building this infrastructure, instead doing composting toilets of various designs.

We do violence to workers. An incredibly large portion of the economy is predicated on exploiting cheaper labor markets or using automation that provides a livelihood only to the top-level capitalist and a relatively small cadre of assistants. At home, while not specifically violent, an illustration of our messed up priorities is the fact that people who maintain decorative landscapes find it much easier to make a decent wage than the folks who grow our food.

Government is violent. I’m not just thinking about police brutality or overreaching regulatory power. Taxation, the very foundation of government, is violence. To paraphrase Joel Salatin, if you don’t believe taxation is violence, try not paying your taxes and see what happens.

We need to start thinking of ways for free association to bloom. For those free associations to be invested in their ecological nests and think not just of food three days or three years from now, but three hundred years. To stop the violence, we need to shake the very foundations of our society.

Lest I come off as pessimistic, I have seen a very different mindset in those focused on either self-sufficiency or communal sufficiency. People in the regenerative farming and homesteading movements are incredible people, a great hope for the future. But the last gasp of the industrial complex that runs our government has and will continue to fight back against us. They want to keep us dependent on them. We need to focus on helping our fellow neighbors and taking concrete steps to improving our sufficiency. Sufficiency is liberty, and not an American ‘freedom’ founded on violence real and threatened around the world.


An update after pulling back

Making the decision to share significantly less financial details and exiting the MMM forum community has had the effect I wanted. My depression and circle of self-hatred around my perception of our progress has lessened considerably. This was definitely the right decision. I appreciate the kind words many of you wrote here and in my forum journal.

Just today I completed another step and purged a lot of old posts here on the blog. With web archives, nothing ever truly disappears from the web, but I deleted all of the financial detail posts other than net worth, which I plan to continue updating as it’s a nice big-picture look at our journey to financial independence. I also deleted a bunch of old posts that just don’t really fit with the blog anymore, cutting the post numbers by about 25%.

I’ve been doing some structured school with the kids, but for the most part the past three months has been an unplanned experiment with unschooling. I’m building more school back in but the next two months will remain somewhat busy as I am busy preserving the harvest and closing out sections of the garden for winter. I’m also learning the idiosyncracies of our livestock.