Let Us All Gather at the Table. How?

Sorry to be posting so much about food lately. Recipes. GAPS. Quinoa. Goldfish. Goldfish. Food and diet are what people ask me about the most. And now Thanksgiving is here, hands-down my favorite holiday. Like we did last year—since we have a house in the suburbs, we might as well use it for something—Adrian and I are hosting Thanksgiving in our home. At the table, along with me and Adrian and Martin, will be my mother, my stepfather, my brother Rudy, and a friend of Rudy.

The dietary breakdown—

Rudy’s friend: eats all foods.

Adrian and my parents: pescatarians, i.e., eat dairy, eggs, and fish, but no fowl or red meat.

Rudy and I: vegans, i.e., avoid all animal products, including eggs and dairy.

Martin: GAPS and casein-free, i.e., eats fish, meat, and eggs, but no dairy, grains (except for a smidgen of quinoa), refined sugar, or starchy foods like yams or potatoes.

Also, Rudy is allergic to most tree nuts. He can eat almonds and hazelnuts.

Try menu planning for this crowd. Go on, try! After much contemplation, I have decided that I will, for Thanksgiving, eat recipes that contain eggs. Rudy has agreed to do the same. With that, I think I have come up with a decent, if non-traditional, menu. Some of the recipes came from The Heal Your Gut Cookbook. Others I found on-line, on “paleo” or “no grain” websites, and modified the ingredients as necessary. The lentil-nut loaf calls for a special shout-out to The Simple Veganista and Oh She Glows. Finally, a couple recipes (mashed cauliflower and roast Brussels sprouts) are favorite old creations of mine.

My aim was to ensure (1) that everyone was happy and satisfied, and (2) that Martin could partake in every food on the table. Without further ado, here are the dishes I plan to serve, with ingredients:

Breads

almond flour zucchini bread

ingredients: almond flour, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, eggs, honey, banana, shredded zucchini.

coconut butter bread

ingredients: coconut butter, eggs, coconut oil, sea salt, baking soda.

pumpkin poppers (mini-muffins)

ingredients: coconut flour, sea salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, ginger, eggs, cooked pumpkin, cooked carrots, coconut oil, honey, vanilla.

Main Courses

fish (for the non-vegans)

ingredients: not yet known; what fish I buy, and how we prepare it, will depend on which Martin-safe(r) fish is freshest and available.

lentil-hazelnut loaf (for the vegans, and anyone else who wants some)

ingredients: brown lentils, vegetable broth (I make my own), flax meal, olive oil, fresh garlic, onion, red bell pepper, carrot, celery, gluten-free oats (not GAPS-compliant, so I may look for a substitute), hazelnut meal, thyme, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper.

Side Dishes

quinoa stuffing

ingredients: quinoa, squash, onion, celery, bay leave, fresh garlic, fresh rosemary, fresh thyme, fresh sage, apple, raisins or dried cranberries, chopped toasted hazelnuts, apple cider vinegar, fresh parsley, cumin, olive oil.

garlic mashed cauliflower

ingredients: cauliflower, olive oil, salt and pepper, garlic.

raw kale salad

ingredients: curly kale, olive oil, lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, pumpkin seeds, red onion, avocado, salt and pepper.

roast Brussels sprouts

ingredients: Brussels sprouts, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper, garlic.

Desserts

carrot cake with vanilla ice cream

ingredients: coconut manna, honey, carrots, cinnamon, shredded coconut, sea salt, baking soda, vanilla, eggs

ice cream: Raw Ice Cream (this has some raw agave and so does not comply entirely with GAPS; also, Rudy can’t eat it because it contains cashews).

chocolate pudding pie

crust ingredients: hazelnut meal, salt, baking soda, palm-coconut shortening, honey, vanilla

filling ingredients: avocado, honey, cocoa, apple cider vinegar.

Yes. I am going to try to prepare that menu. My mother and stepfather have already arrived from Texas, so I will get help from them. Still, if by chance I fail to blog any day next week, you will know why. When I ran the menu by Adrian, three nights ago, he said, “That sounds fantastic! You know what I think?”

“What?”

“I think if you’re going to pull that off, you’d better start cooking now.”

Journey

When we first started recovering Martin, I envisioned an end date. I’ve written on the topic, that is, “How will I know when we’re done?” Four years ago I thought we might be “there” by kindergarten or first grade; the mother who got me started on this journey pretty much recovered her son by age six. That seemed doable. (Martin is six now, in first grade, and far along but nowhere near typical.)

This year, in conversation with parents whose kids are, for all intents and purposes, recovered or very nearly indistinguishable from typically developing peers, my understanding of this path has changed. I don’t think there will be an end date.

This is not to say that I don’t think Martin will recover. I do. This year Martin’s language and social skills have come so far—almost daily, neurotypicality feels achievable.

I foresee a time when Martin will leave self-contained special education for a mainstream classroom. I foresee a time when physical therapy and occupational therapy and speech therapy will no longer be offered to him. I foresee a time when he will make friends without a parent-engineered play group. Little by little, these needs that Martin has will fall away.

Yet there will be more to do. Martin has lost a significant portion of childhood to autism, and he will always need to catch up in some regard. Moreover, the damage to Martin’s immune system is likely to affect his health even after the biggest strikes are resolved. What I do for Martin may naturally shift behind the scenes as he ages and heals. That doesn’t mean I won’t stop working.

As of today, I see recovering Martin as a permanent part of my parenting journey. It’s like dividing a number half by half by half. You never reach zero, but you get infinitesimally close. Even when Martin is 0.0000000001% away from typical (and therefore more “typical” than most any kid?), I’ll still be lurking around, trying to keep him healthy, giving him what he needs to become the man he was born to be.

Every parent’s adventure is different, and I guess this is mine.

A Bold Move in the GAPS

In one online forum in which I participate, mothers like to end their posts with “TIA”: for example, “My daughter can’t stop itching her arms. Doesn’t seem to be a yeast rash. Her nose is running, too. Anyone else seeing something similar? Allergies? TIA.”

For my first several months in this particular forum, I thought TIA meant, “This is autism,” like in the movie Blood Diamond, how the characters said “TIA” to mean, “This is Africa.” My interpretation made sense, right? This is all autism we’re talking about. All these weird genetic, health, and behavior issues? This is autism. It was only when one mother ended a post by writing out “thanks in advance” did it occur to me what everyone really was abbreviating with TIA.

As you know, for eight months Martin has been on the GAPS diet. Moving from his already clean diet to GAPS was no big leap. I pulled the non-gluten grains (rice, buckwheat, millet, amaranth) and starchy vegetables (occasional sweet potato) he was eating, along with stray thickeners like arrowroot and tapioca. I made sure nuts were raw instead of roasted. I increased, a lot, the amount of bone broth he takes each day.

Overall, GAPS has been helping Martin. Based on bathroom activity, his digestion is chugging along better than ever. Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, the author of the GAPS diet, recommends that it be followed for at least two years. That has been my plan for Martin: two years GAPS, and then a gradual return to an organic diet free from gluten, casein, corn, soy, refined sugar, and additives.

Martin is a “mito kid.” He has mitochondrial processing disorder, which affects the way his cells process, store, and use energy. Mitochondria are energy-converting organelles that produce ATP, the chemical “energy currency” of cells. When the mitochondria can’t do their job correctly, the long-term effects are low muscle tone, lethargy, and floppiness. I don’t have a better word than floppiness, by which I refer to clumsiness, and the tendency to lean on whatever is at hand, to drag one shoulder along a wall while walking, to collapse to the ground, to sit with the legs in a W formation. We’ve had some luck treating mito issues with a combination of MitoSpectra and additional levocarnatine. Nevertheless, I think we could be doing more.

My first reaction, with any health issue, is to ask whether I can treat it through diet. I do believe that food offers solutions to most health problems we’ve brought on ourselves, and something found in nature is usually safer than something synthesized in a laboratory. For mitochondrial processing, electrons move through membrane along electron carriers, in a process that releases free energy. Where do those electrons come from? Carbohydrate food molecules, as they degrade to carbon dioxide. (If you happen to be science-minded, here’s a paper that describes the process in more detail than I can grasp.) The GAPS diet is designed to heal the gut, for any variety of gut-related ailments. The carbohydrates that it allows are specific, for example, the sugars found in fruits. But I have to keep Martin’s sugars in check, because of his yeast flares. Lately I’ve been wondering if he might not benefit from the addition of another carbohydrate. (Carbohydrates differ in their complexity. Not all have the same mito effects.) With Martin’s gut doing so well, I’m willing to risk a try at . . . quinoa.

Yes, that’s right. I am boldly straying from GAPS enough to offer Martin a quarter-cup of quinoa incorporated into his food. He still isn’t having any grains; technically, quinoa is not a grain but a seed within the goosefoot family. (Differing interpretations on the grain/seed divide—specifically, whether quinoa is a kind of kitniyot, and therefore similar to the forbidden grains—is why, as I understand it, Ashkenazi Jews were historically reluctant to accept quinoa as kosher for Passover while Sephardic Jews were not, a debate that may have been settled a year ago, when the Orthodox Union began certifying quinoa as kosher for Passover. Fascinating.) In any event, quinoa is certainly not GAPS-legal, and I’m going to try it anyway and see what happens with Martin’s mito processing. Last night, I put together a sort of quinoa tabouli, with parsley, lemon, and carrots. The quinoa was cooked in bone broth, of course. We’re not going hog-wild or anything. Tonight I am planning to make “imitaters,” which are like tater tots except with white beans, seeds, and quinoa instead of potatoes.

Every so often I try to step back and look at the world I’m occupying. Adding a quarter-cup of organic quinoa to my son’s diet is now something I classify as a “bold move.” What person have I become? What is this life?

TIA.

This is autism.

Imitaters are a-fryin' in coconut oil!

Imitaters are a-fryin’ in coconut oil!

ASD Recovery Recipe: Goldfish Crackers, Even More Complicated

When you read my exciting recipe for goldfish crackers, did you think I was crazy? Did you think, “This blogger spent two hours to make a couple trays of goldfish crackers. I’m going to do that, too. That fits right into my life.”

Guess what? I made more goldfish crackers, and I made them even more complicated still.

Nuts are GAPS-legal, provided they start raw (you can brown them yourself). The best way to eat nuts GAPS-style is to soak/sprout the nuts and then low-temperature dehydrate them, for digestibility.

Last time I made goldfish crackers, I used store-bought almond flour. This time, I thought: I’ve got raw macadamias. I’ve got a sprouting jar. I’ve got a dehydrator. Let’s party.

I used the same recipe (doubled). Instead of using commercial almond flour, I soaked several cups of raw macadamias in Fiji water overnight.

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The next day, I drained and rinsed the nuts and transferred them to my dehydrator.

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They took forever to dry at 115 degrees. I had to leave them in the dehydrator more than 24 hours.

That brings us to day three. I removed the soaked and dried macadamias and started grinding them in my Vitamix . . .

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. . . which didn’t work out so well. The stuff at the bottom turned into pasty nut butter before I could pack down enough of the sides to become flour. After a quarter-hour of arguing with the Vitamix, I decided to finish the job with my trusted coffee/nut/seed grinder. I could grind only, like, ten nuts at a time, but the easier access to the blades and bowl made the job manageable.

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When the process was finished, I had about three cups of macadamia flour. It was still kind of creamy, and not powdery at all; if I hadn’t been using it immediately, I would have refrigerated the product and not kept it more than a week. In order to make a double recipe of goldfish, I needed four cups of flour, so I supplemented with Bob’s Red Mill natural almond meal, which is a good product but neither organic nor sprouted. (Hint, hint, Bob Moore.)

At last I was able to mix my goldfish dough. Then, sprinkling more almond meal to prevent sticking, I turned my counter into a goldfish factory again.

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This round, however, I did not bother making eyes and mouths on the goldfish. Etching those details with a wooden toothpick consumed so much time, and I’m pretty sure Martin, as he chewed goldfish by the handful, never noticed whether his crackers had faces.

Total prep time: two days, plus three hours grinding, mixing, rolling, and cutting.

Total time goldfish crackers lasted before Martin ate them all: one week.

Next time, if I need to supplement the flour that I make, I will try using Blue Mountain Organics sprouted almond butter instead (there are various sprouted nut butters available commercially; usually I select the one I find first), and maybe decreasing the olive oil to compensate for the oilier product. As healthy as the current batch is, I can always do better.

(Now might be when you revisit the final paragraphs of “My Beef With the GAPS Diet Author,” wherein I asserted that my mental health is strong . . . .)

Bucketful of a Good Thing

It has been 22 months since Martin constructed his first “why” question: “My daddy, why he don’t come home?”

Since then, the why question hasn’t really come up again, much. As I’ve written, Martin’s development bounces that way; a skill emerges, hides, and then—explodes.

Boom! Over the past two weeks, the sky has filled with why questions and they’re raining all over me. Martin is asking both standard, practical questions (“Why can’t I ride in the grocery cart?” “Why do I have to take a bath?”) and the maddening questions I don’t know how to answer (“Why do the months go from January to December?” “Why are the clouds made of water?”).

The ancestral question—“My daddy, why he don’t come home?”—was a “why not” question. Despite the recent onslaught of why questions, I had not heard another “why not” until this morning, when Martin asked, “Why is a softball not soft?” (Here I can’t resist a pun: That question was no softball to answer.) Now that “why not” is back, I’m already anticipating the arrival of “why can’t I…” questions.

As I understand human development, most typical kids pass through a “why” phase around age four. Martin is six. That’s not so far off.

My favorite why question so far? Sunday morning, we were driving to church when Martin asked, “Mommy, why is the man in the garbage?” I looked and saw a maintenance working standing in a trash can, a rake lying nearby. I said, “I thinking the man’s using his weight to pack fallen leaves into the garbage. Isn’t that silly? A man in the garbage!” Then Martin and I shared a good laugh, which if you have a child with autism is an achievement in itself.

Picture Shock

My laptop’s “sleep” mode is set to play a rotating photo montage. We got our first digital camera to take baby pictures (kitten pictures?) of our cat Levi, early in 2004, which was 11 years ago and, you realize, also one million years ago. That was the advent of digital photography in my and Adrian’s life. The thousands of photos stored in my laptop have been taken over the past decade or so, including during Martin’s childhood before autism.

When I take a two-minute break from working and return to find pre-autism Martin on the screen, my first feeling is usually sadness. My son at twelve months, fourteen months, sixteen months, looks directly at the camera and smiles naturally. He shows us what he’s doing. In one beautiful photo, he’s lifted high on Adrian’s right arm as both of them point toward me, the photographer. Within six months of that photo, Martin got lost in himself. His eye contact, pointing, and connectedness disappeared. He stopped meeting milestones for social development. The repetitive behaviors began.

I try to use the sadness from seeing those photos and turn it to resolve. Slowly, Martin is returning. By now he points again. His eye contact is not as sustained as it should be, but it’s there. He wants to connect, not only with me and Adrian, but with peers. We have come a long way.

Yet we still have to far to go. When I think about that, I become angry—angry at all we have to do to reclaim that easygoing little boy, anger at a toxic world that stole him.

Maybe I should change my laptop’s sleep setting. But no. There’s no use in avoiding reality.