Instead of Making

To the outside observer, I gather, it seems like I do everything for Martin. Food-wise, at least. I prepare three meals a day from scratch. I buy eggs and meat from farms. In the summer I grow vegetables and herbs. I simmer broth, I pre-sprout beans, I soak and dehydrate nuts, I bake magical allergen-free snacks to send to school.

Let me assure my readers, however, that there are foody activities that I forego. That is, as a general rule, if I can buy a food from a source I trust, I do. I could save money—the grocery bill of a biomed family is out-of-control huge—by actually making everything at home, but there just aren’t enough hours in the day. Examples:

  • Kombucha. I brew my own kombucha. I have a countertop canister and a strong SCOBY, and each time I harvest, I feed the baby SCOBY to my compost bin. So what’s the problem? Well, I drink a lot of kombucha, Martin drinks kombucha, I don’t harvest my brew as often as I should, and what I make never tastes as good as GT’s or Health-Ade. So I brew kombucha and I also buy kombucha. Bottles and bottles of kombucha.
  • Nut cheese. Cultured cashew cheese isn’t hard to make. Here’s a recipe. And another. And another. You know what’s even easier than making cultured cashew cheese? Buying it. Here’s a good brand. And another. And another. (Don’t confuse cultured nut cheese, which is probiotic and healthy, with simple “non-dairy cheese,” which is often starchy junk food that, in my opinion, tastes awful.)
  • Fermented vegetables. I went through a phase of fermenting my own vegetables, in jars in my basement, especially because I wanted more choices than just cabbage sauerkraut. Now there are so many organic brands with non-sauerkraut ferments. BAO makes fermented kale and dandelion greens, beets, and mixed vegetables. Hawthorne Valley Farm, a local brand, has tasty ginger carrots. WildBrine makes smoky fermented kale and red beet sauerkraut, although not all its varieties are organic (I believe they follow the “dirty dozen” list and make those organic) and the Brussels sprout kraut contains soy, making it unacceptable for Martin.
  • Snacks. Martin prefers commercial snacks. He likes to open colorful wrappers, and he likes eating “store food” like his friends and classmates do. His favorite are Lärabars. I have a tortured relationship with Martin’s Lärabars. First, they are not organic, so I fear pesticide residue. Second, their GMO status is unclear. Third, they are high in sugar, even if the particular sugar is sucrose from dates. Fourth, they contain nuts, so I am not allowed to send them to Martin’s school. Still, Martin loves them, and these days it’s not easy to find a snack he loves. (He has long-since rejected previous choices like Go Raw! seed bars, raw macadamias, and jerky.) I would prefer that Martin pick Simple Squares over Lärabars. Martin picks Lärabars.
  • Pre-sprouted nuts and legumes. These can be found in the bulk aisles of health-food stores and Whole Foods Markets, and also packaged. My favorite brand is Living Intentions, which supplies a lot of those bulk aisles; I’ve had the opportunity to meet with representatives of the company, and they seem to be producing honest goods for the right reasons. Buying pre-sprouted saves me the trouble of soaking nut and legumes in FIJI Water and then drying them in my dehydrator. I wish more varieties would become commercially available, like navy and cannellini beans, or macadamia nuts and filberts.

As I said above, our grocery bill, for a family of three, is outrageous already; pounds of organic produce for juicing, meat from free-range animals, eggs laid in a yard, sustainably caught seafood, and raw-milk cheese (for when Adrian craves a bit) do not come cheap. Adding these commercial products feels like tacking a custom stereo to the cost of a luxury care—you stop and think, “Have I just gone overboard?” On the other hand, allowing myself the convenience of some prepared foods enables me to work outside the home, some, gets me more sleep, and helps preserve my sanity for the long, long haul that is autism recovery.

I would love to find more time to harvest my kombucha brew and to culture cashew cheese. I’d have to give something up to make that happen, and the thing I would give up would probably be—blogging.

And then what would we do?

Food Porn: Vaguely Asian Green-Bean Peanut Stuff

FullSizeRender-7

Three apologies.

First, I apologize that this is a peanut recipe; I know peanuts are trouble for a large portion of my readership. Miraculously, Martin has no peanut sensitivity. I reintroduced peanuts to his diet two years ago, with no indications of negative reaction. That being said, if peanuts are banned for your child but almonds are permissible, you can substitute almond butter for peanut butter in this recipe. I know, because I used to do that before I let Martin back on peanuts.

Second, sorry for the picture quality, and the fact that half the dish has been emptied. By the time I thought to snap a picture, Adrian and Martin had scooped servings into their bowls.

Third, I need to imply a vulgarity. Here it is: I serve rice once or twice a month, and when I do, Martin goes absolutely bat-s&*t berserk. He loves rice. I’m not sure whether he craves the carbs or the little sugar high or what, but Martin will do anything for rice.

(Tidbit: My law-school roommate, who is from Japan and ate white rice almost daily, once told me, “Just think of it as brown rice with the nutrition washed off.”)

By the standards of what I usually prepare for family dinner, this recipe is quick and easy. I made it this Monday evening. Martin and I get home late on Mondays, because he has personal training after school, so unless I’ve prepared an advance meal, I have to scramble. Some Mondays that means fermented cashew cheese on seed crackers. This week, however, a blizzard had bungled the roads and train lines, and Adrian decided to work from home in case the Monday commute was messy—which meant I needed a family dinner. I had a big bag of organic green beans from Costco, so I dug out an old peanut-sauce recipe from Smucker’s (from my pre-biomed days!) and adapted it to this:

  1. Set rice to cooked. I used Lundberg organic basmati, which needs only 15 minutes to cook, plus 10 minutes to set.
  1. Slice (I went with one-inch pieces) and steam green beans. I also tossed in three cloves fresh garlic, sliced.
  1. While the rice is cooking/setting and the beans are steaming, prepare the peanut sauce:

Ÿ         Ÿ1/3 cup peanut butter

          1 teaspoon garlic powder (or 2-3 teaspoons crushed fresh garlic)

Ÿ          juice of one small lemon

Ÿ          2 tablespoons coconut aminos

Ÿ          1 teaspoon coconut crystals (omit if you’re super-sugar-restricted)

Ÿ          1/3 cup water

Ÿ          dash of cayenne pepper (optional).

Heat the sauce ingredients over medium-low heat, whisking two or three times until well combined.

  1. In large mixing bowling, combine steamed beans (and garlic cloves, if using) with peanut sauce. I also added a handful of cashews, for extra protein. I wanted to add a handful of peanuts, which would have made the recipe even better, but the natural foods market where Martin and I stopped before his personal training inexplicably doesn’t carry peanuts.
  1. Scoop the rice into a serving bowl and top with green beans.

Quick, easy, and a big hit with both Adrian and Martin.

Food Porn: Weekend Breakfast

Depending on how much time I have, weekend breakfasts can be extravagant and, because on the volume of organic vegetables involved, expensive. I photographed my way through a recent weekend breakfast, prepared when we were all awake around 7:00 am but no one had to be anywhere before 11:00 am.

Dish No. 1 was sweet potato hash, and Dish No. 2 was vegetable scrambled eggs. First, I diced/processed my veggies and arranged them for those two dishes.

IMG_1196

In this photo, the middle mixing bowl contains the veggies for the scrambled eggs: carrots, garlic, red bell pepper, Jerusalem artichoke, and several sorts of mushrooms. Martin has declared that he doesn’t like mushrooms, so I sneak them in wherever I can; in this instance, the pre-cooked mushrooms will reduce enough that he doesn’t notice them in the scrambled eggs.

Also in the photo are—

a small glass of yellow “base,” which comprised onion, garlic, and turmeric root (there’s that turmeric again!), processed into a paste, which I put first into the pan, along with cooking oil (usually coconut);

IMG_1202

the diced sweet potatoes, which require the longest cooking time, so I added them as soon as the base became fragrant;

IMG_1203

onions and red bell pepper, which I add until well after the sweet potatoes, because they would have burnt before the sweet potatoes were cooked;

IMG_1204

and a glass of minced herbs, which on this occasion were parsley and sage, which went in last, just enough to heat them.

IMG_1211

When the sweet potato hash was about half done, I set the egg veggies to cook in coconut oil, separately.

IMG_1209

While both the sweet potato hash and the egg veggies were cooking, I prepped the vegetables for juice. I am very into juicing right now. Juice does have “all the sugar without the insoluble fiber,” which is not great vis-à-vis Martin’s yeast troubles. On the other hand, juicing is GAPS-approved and makes vitamins, minerals, and even enzymes rapidly available, which is terrific for those times when Martin is not so into eating vegetables. (Yes, even super-healthy-diet Martin behaves sometimes like an American seven-year-old.) On this morning, I made “green lemonade”: collard greens, celery, cucumber, kiwifruit, green and red apples, lemon, and turmeric. (Again with the turmeric!)

IMG_1208

Finally I juiced, added eggs and sea salt to the egg veggies, and served. For Adrian’s breakfast, I added a slice of toast, made from Canyon Bakehouse gluten-free bread.

FullSizeRender-5

I think the Canyon Bakehouse product is good-quality, but it’s still too starchy and processed for Martin. So when Martin insisted that he too wanted toast, I substituted a couple Lundberg Family Farms Red Rice & Quinoa Stackers. Not perfect. Still a grain. Still processed to some degree. But these “toast crackers” made Martin happy and brought peace to breakfast.

FullSizeRender-6

I don’t eat eggs. For my breakfast, I ate the sweet potato hash and drank the juice, and substituted the eggs with Fakin’ Bacon, which is spiced organic tempeh. I try not to eat too much soy; when I do consume soy, organic and fermented is the best way to go.

And I almost forgot: There was one more item that brought peace, and for me and Adrian, a lot of joy, to the morning kitchen—

IMG_1210

Food Porn: Pasta and Broccoli With “Cheese” Sauce

I’ve been lax about posting recipes and cooking tips, which is strange because the No. 1 recovery-process question I get remains, “What does Martin eat?” Many people still find it hard to fathom, in this day, a diet of minimally processed foods; focused on fresh and organic; free from gluten, dairy, corn, soy, refined sugar, and most grains or starchy vegetables; that includes daily bone broth and probiotic/fermented foods; with meat (other than broth) limited to one serving daily; and that is prepared 90% from scratch. I don’t blame them. Before I started this journey, I wouldn’t have known how to manage it at all.

Time to post a few examples of how breakfast, lunch, and dinner look for Martin. Exhibit One shall be this relatively simple vegetarian dinner, which our whole family, including pescatarian Adrian and vegan me, can enjoy: pasta with broccoli and “cheese” sauce:

FullSizeRender-4

The “cheese” sauce—you won’t believe me until you try it—is delicious. The recipe does call for potato, which we generally try to avoid; fortunately, the overall potato content ends up being low, on a per-serving basis. I happened upon the “cheese” sauce recipe when a friend posted the link on her Facebook page.

Of course, I make alterations. I generally try to soak and dehydrate the cashews before I use them, though I may not always manage. I like to replace the garlic powder with a clove or two of raw garlic. I also usually add an inch or two of peeled, fresh turmeric, throwing that root into the cooking water at the same time as the potato. (If you read several of these posts, you’re going to uncover a sort of turmeric leitmotif. I add fresh turmeric to almost everything—including (some) desserts and snacks.)

The pasta is Tolerant brand penne, which lists, as its only ingredient, red lentils. I love the idea of one-ingredient pasta, especially when the ingredient is organic red lentils. That being said, I do have questions about Tolerant, especially how exactly the lentils are processed into pasta, i.e., what the lentils undergo and how they eventually stick together. My friend Stacey and I once found Tolerant’s representatives at a food trade show and peppered them with questions about their processing methods; citing trade secrets, they wouldn’t reveal anything, so I still have concerns. Sometimes the best you’ve got is the best you’ve got, and right now, for pasta, I think Tolerant is the best I’ve got.

(Monday afternoons, Martin and I visit the organic grocery. He loves to run to the Tolerant aisle and yell, “Mommy, do we have enough pasta?”, then dump four or five boxes of the penne into my cart.)

Sometimes I add slivered almonds or pine nuts to this dish. In the version pictured above, the final ingredient was steamed broccoli. I cooked the broccoli before the pasta, saved the leftover steaming water, which absorbs some broccoli nutrients, and cooked the pasta in that water, hope to transfer those nutrients to the pasta. Long shot? Probably.

A tasty entrée that paired well with salad? Definitely.

New Year!: We Zipped by a Whole Foods Market

There are times when I should trust my instincts.

Remember when I thought Martin was having a yeast flare, but went with the plan of his his doctor, who didn’t think yeast was the issue?

I was right. Yeast was the issue, and by not addressing yeast directly and immediately, I let it get worse. By four days into our Utah trip, Martin’s skin was a mess. That’s his “tell,” for candida. He gets a mild rash on his legs and belly, which spreads to his arms and backside as he scratches and scratches until he’s covered with bloody nicks. It’s awful. December 30, though we rubbed balm from head to toe, Martin could not stop scratching, and I was washing little spots of blood off his sheets and clothes.

I messaged his doctor, attaching photos. She agreed that we needed to take immediate anti-yeast measures and suggested Martin go back on Candex. This time, I supplemented her opinion with my own and decided to kickstart the new treatment with two weeks of Candidase.

. . . Which explains why, New Year’s Eve, after getting up late and skiing and meeting Adrian’s colleague for a drink, I insisted on driving to the Park City Whole Foods Market for Candidase and Candex.

As I wrote this, one week after New Year’s Eve, the situation has improved dramatically. Candidase works best on an empty stomach, so each night after 10:00 pm, I slip into Martin’s room and give him two Candidase capsules, which he swallows without waking. I do the same thing before 6:00 am, and he takes a third dose immediately after school. For the time being, I’ve cut the already sparse grains from his diet, and tried to further limit natural sugars. Last Sunday, just after we returned to New York, I baked semisweet spinach brownies, which are nut-free (appropriate for school snacks) and better than they sound.

FullSizeRender-2

Whenever possible, I’ve been substituting those for the Lärabars Martin loves, which are healthy but, because of the dates, high-sugar, at least by my standards. Instead of a (grain-free but still sweet) baked good like banana bread, Martin has been eating vegetable omelets, sometimes with turkey bacon, for breakfast.

FullSizeRender-3

Martin still scratching, though much less. His belly looks good. His arms and legs are beginning to heal again. He is comfortable.

Honestly, I am disappointed that Martin has had yet another yeast flare. I had hoped that, by this time, his system would be healed enough to keep candida in check.

But who’s got time for wallowing? I’m in battle.

 

New Year!: We Met One of Adrian’s Colleagues for a Drink

New Year’s Eve, for our après ski, we met one of Adrian’s colleagues at a distillery. This particular colleague, like most, doesn’t know our son has autism, and whereas the colleague has typically developing children in the same age range, he would be able to spot any differences. We didn’t want Martin to “stand out.”

One way Martin still stands out is ordering food. When we are in a restaurant, he likes to order by himself. That’s fine, if we are in a restaurant whose menu we already know. When we are in a new restaurant, I have to ask eight million questions. The hamburger—is that just ground beef, or is the beef mixed with bread crumbs? The sweet potato fries—do they have any breading or coating? What kind of oil are they fried in? What else is fried in that oil? The grilled calamari—could we get that without the garlic butter? And the whole time I’m asking, Martin interrupts, usually to yell what he wants: No, no! I can get the calamari! Can I get the calamari? I don’t want salad! Occasionally he also has a mini-meltdown over what’s available (or not available) for him to eat, in which case I take his hand and lead him outside until he calms down.

So we were glad to arrive twenty minutes before Adrian’s colleague, have a chance to peruse the menu (the colleague suggested the location), and come up with the best option, both nutritionally and in terms of avoiding a meltdown. By the time the colleague joined us, Martin was occupied with my iPhone while happily downing a grass-fed steak and French fries cooked in canola oil.

Wait. Potatoes? Canola oil? Do we allow Martin to eat potatoes and canola oil?

Generally speaking, we do not. Potatoes are an occasional summertime treat, organic and roasted on our outdoor grill. Canola oil almost never works. Most canola oil comes from genetically modified crops, and even non-GMO “Canadian oil” is refined (hexane-processed?), bleached, degummed, deodorized rapeseed oil in which omega-3 fatty acids have been turned into trans fatty acids. Why would I let Martin ingest that?

Well, because we were traveling, and when we travel, and encounter new situations, and have to “perform,” some restrictions loosen. A bit.

Traveling, depending on where we go (for example, I can do more at my parents’ in Texas than I can in a suite in Chicago), alters:

  • Diet, to a modest extent. Martin’s diet is always free of gluten, dairy, soy, corn, and refined sugar. Beyond that, some specifics slip, including the aforementioned potatoes and canola. It can be hard to ensure organic food, or even non-GMO. He might also miss a day or two of broth. We traveled to Utah on a Saturday. He went without bone broth Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. By Monday afternoon I’d got my hands on a marrow bone and simmered a pot of broth.
  • Cookware. Even at home, my cookware isn’t perfect. Stainless steel remains puzzling, in terms of purity, and I’m never sure if my cast iron is seasoned properly or clean. In any event, at home I cook with All-Clad and cast iron, with mostly stainless-steel or wooden utensils. Whenever we travel, we rent accommodations with a kitchen, and unless we are staying long enough to justify a purchase—for example, when we were in Europe for ten days and I bought a fine strainer and a pot, both of which I brought home—I use what comes with the place. That might mean a plastic spatula, or even, egads!, nonstick pans.
  • Detox baths. At home, Martin takes two or three detox baths (two cups Epsom salt and one-half cup baking soda) a week, depending on whether he’s also used the sauna. Epsom salt is heavy to carry, and I don’t always trust other bathtubs. What product was used to cleaned it? Could I rinse it well enough? There is no point in trying to detox Martin in a tub with excessive chemical residue.
  • Exercises. Right now, we don’t have HANDLE exercises to do. Martin does, however, have four short exercises per day for his vision/neuroplasticity. At least, he has four short exercises when we are not on the road.

We do have absolutes, stuff that doesn’t change, regardless of where or when we travel. Martin takes his supplements, always. I’ve handed him pills in rental cars, measured drops at airport gates, mixed powder into restaurant beverages. I also find him fermented foods, daily, wherever we are. Martin no longer takes probiotics, so fermented foods are his probiotics. Plus, it’s easy enough to find sauerkraut or another cultured vegetable these days, if not kombucha.

The last absolutes? Love, and plenty of attention. Martin always gets those.

New Year!: We Skied

Yes! We skied! Martin skied! We all skied together!

Both 2013 and 2014, we spent winter break in the Florida Keys. This year I decided to try something different. Adrian, who grew up skiing the Andes, loves to ski. Apart from working with his personal trainer, skiing is actually the only sport in which he participates. (He watches soccer, football, tennis, and—because I force him to—ice hockey.) I’ve been hoping to get Martin involved in skiing also, to give him and his father a special activity to do together, and us all an activity to enjoy as a family. Until now, I haven’t had the confidence Martin could ski, with his clumsiness, low muscle tone, and tendency to tire easily. Plus, Martin has such a short attention span. I had hesitations about allowing him to participate in a sport in which even a momentary concentration lapse can spell peril.

Nevertheless, as Martin continues the hard slog toward recovery, we owe it to him to offer new experiences as they become manageable. This September, Martin started skating lessons, in (my) hopes that he will be soon ready to play ice hockey. He was able to learn to skate, and so it was time to give skiing a try. To boot (boo! hiss!), one of Adrian’s colleagues graciously offered us his vacation house in Park City, Utah, which happens to be home to the National Ability Center.

Readers, you know that I don’t market my blog to advertisers and rarely make endorsements. What works for one child may not work for another. For this post, I have to make an exception. I cannot say enough about the National Ability Center, an organization dedicated to bringing outdoor sports to everyone, regardless of physical or other challenges—to “empower[] individuals of all abilities by building self-esteem, confidence and lifetime skills through sport, recreation and educational programs.” We booked Martin for a full week of lessons: three morning lessons, and three full-day lessons.

We arrived Saturday evening, the day after Christmas. Sunday morning was the first time Martin ever wore ski boots.

Monday after lunch, Adrian and I watched Martin ride a chair lift with his instructor. Monday evening, Martin informed me that “once to Utah was enough,” that he did not like skiing, and that he desired never to return. I chalked these sentiments up to his discovering that learning to ski takes some work.

Tuesday afternoon, Adrian and I participated in the lesson, skiing right and left of Martin as an instructor coached him to make turns and alternate high-fiving each of us.

Wednesday afternoon, Adrian and I skied alone with Martin for the first time. We were nervous not having an instructor along, and we probably shouted too many directions, but we made it work. We rode a regular chair lift and came down a green-circle “easy” trail, and then Martin, though he was obviously freezing and had fallen several times, insisted that we make a second run.

Thursday morning, we delivered Martin to his morning lesson late, because of his trouble sleeping the night before (see “We Got Up Late Because Martin Had a Tough Night”). It could have been a disaster day, but it turned out great. Thursday afternoon, Adrian and I ascended to mid-mountain with Martin and his instructor, and all four of us skied together. We made two long runs, and the instructor gave me and Adrian pointers on coaching Martin ourselves.

Friday afternoon, Adrian and I took Martin to mid-mountain and skied a still-green-circle yet nevertheless more challenging trail that we had tested that morning. We let Martin go, with minimal coaching. At times I couldn’t believe my eyes. Martin was wedging (snowplowing), to be sure, but I saw the beginnings of parallel turns and even hockey stops. (The instructors opined that Martin’s skating lessons were an asset.) Martin weaved through other skiers with confidence. He fell rarely and, when he did, picked himself up if he was able. Despite difficult conditions, including 9-degree weather and blistering wind, he wanted to make several runs. We left the mountain, over Martin’s protest, when I became too cold to continue.

Each morning, those six days, Martin worked one-on-one with an NAC instructor, sometimes also with a volunteer assistant. He had various instructors; they shared notes with each other, and followed up with us as possible. Had I not witnessed Martin skiing as I did, I might not even have believed the reports I received: Several instructors praised Martin’s strength. (Low muscle tone does not equate with lack of strength.) Two instructors used the word “athletic.” (Whereupon I jokingly promised Adrian a paternity test—Adrian being admittedly un-athletic.) The Thursday and Friday instructors expressed surprise that this was Martin’s first week skiing. Every morning after the first, the staff greeted Martin like an old friend.

At the NAC I saw so many students with challenges, minor or severe, physical or otherwise. Everyone was treated with respect, and without coddling. Lessons through the NAC were expensive. They were, however, less than individual lessons with a regular Park City instructor, and they included additional volunteer support when necessary, a buddy pass if one of us wanted to ski along, a daily cubby, and overnight storage for Martin’s equipment. Best of all, they got Martin skiing with confidence. Adrian has already planned a donation to the NAC in his charitable giving this year.

Friday evening, Martin informed me that he wants to return to Utah next year, and that he intends to keep skiing, forever.

IMG_1303