ASD Recovery Recipe: Anything Taquitos

It’s been a million years since my last recipe post. I vaguely remember that post being titled “Anything Pasta.” Its point was that, pretty much whatever is in my refrigerator, I can make (GFCF, lentil-based) pasta with those ingredients, and Martin eats. (Exception: mushrooms. The kid can sniff out a mushroom like a truffle hog.)

Today I reveal another secret, the taquito miracle. Martin can tolerate almond flour, and he does well with Siete brand almond-flour tortillas. Occasionally I make tacos at home, with spicy beans, tomato-walnut filling, spinach, tomatoes, onions, salsa. For me, I use corn hard shells. Adrian and Martin prefer gluten-free tortillas. One day I took leftover taco beans, added Miyoko’s cashew mozzarella, rolled them tightly into a Siete tortilla, and pan-fried the concoction, which sealed the tortilla shut and also made an externally crunchy finger food.

Martin acted like he’d found paradise. That first time, he ate four taquitos in a row.

I thought, why stop at leftover taco beans?

Since then I’ve realized I can roll a whole variety of ingredients into a taquito and watch Martin enjoy the creation. Last week, I made gallo pinto. Unfortunately, I rushed the job, and the beans didn’t end up as soft as Martin likes them. Although my brother Eddie, who is here with us in Costa Rica, enjoyed the meal, Martin refused to finish his portion.

Fast forward to the next day, lunchtime. I scooped leftover gallo pinto into a Siete tortilla, rolled, fried. Presto! Martin snarfed the first taquito and requested a second, no hint evident of the previous day’s fussiness. Other leftovers I’ve snuck into taquitos include rice pilaf, lentils, mixed vegetables. In a pinch I’ve combined organic pizza sauce and Miyoko’s mozzarella to blend two cuisines into the “pizza-quito,” a Martin favorite.

I also use the tortillas to make “quesadillas,” i.e., two tortillas like sandwich bread around filling, pan-fried into something resembling an edible frisbee. I make varieties of “breakfast quesadilla,” such as peanut butter and coconut, or cashew butter with banana. (Yes, I also make breakfast taquitos.) Martin currently dislikes leafy green vegetables. Usually I hide them in smoothies. One morning I happened upon another minor miracle. I finely chopped fresh spinach, then tucked it with Kite Hill almond cream cheese and Himalayan salt between two tortillas, and fried. If Martin was concerned about the spinach—which, by the way, was not hidden in the final product—he failed to mention the concern when he asked if he could eat the same quesadilla again later.

We’ve been in Costa Rica a couple weeks already, where (despite a remarkable variety of organic and GFCF products, compared to Nicaragua) items like Siete almond-flour tortillas aren’t so easy to find. The first week, Adrian was with us. He stepped onto the porch one afternoon to find Martin munching contentedly on a peanut-butter-and-strawberry taquito.

“Martin!” Adrian teased. “Did your mother travel to Central America with almond-flour tortillas in her luggage just so you can eat taquitos? Are you that spoiled?”

Yes, I did. Because yes, he is.

Otra vez, aquí estamos. Hasta Septiembre

We are back in Central America. Alas, not in Nicaragua, el país más bonito de mi corazón. We planned to return to Nicaragua this summer, and held fast to that plan as long as we could. During June, however, the political violence reached as far south as where we stayed last year, in the Department of Rivas; north of Rivas city, a young man was killed defending a tranque against pro-government forces. Shortly thereafter, the director of Martin’s day camp (and one of Martin’s Nicaragua-based cheerleaders-in-chief) notified me that they would likely not have enough kids to run camp this year. At that point, we canceled our summer house rental, sent part of the deposit to a trusted friend in Rivas to distribute among local families most in need, and hastily assembled a new summer.

This is of course an autism-recovery blog, not a political blog, and I am no expert on Central American politics. I will limit my comments about the Nicaraguan situation to this: Daniel Ortega is unleashing this violence upon the very families who, a generation ago, fought for the right to elect him. The people of Nicaragua don’t deserve these troubles. Please look for ways to support Nicaraguan self-determination.

So Martin and I find ourselves on the other side of a border, in Guanacaste, Costa Rica (with hopes to cross, later, into Nicaragua at Peñas Blancas and visit our friends there). You may recall that Costa Rica was where I first noticed how well Martin does in the Central American environment. Even as we mourn our time in Nicaragua, I am grateful to be here: grateful that we were able to rent a house on short notice, grateful that I found a community with a day camp, grateful for daily saltwater swims and abundant  sunshine. This area is populated by gringos here temporarily, chasing the pura vida, and I don’t have much hope of finding the same kind of lasting connections we made in Nicaragua, where the gringos tend to be long-term ex-pat residents. No worries, though. Everything else is grand.

Martin started day camp last week. I had corresponded in advance with the camp director about Martin’s food and environmental allergies. (When you’re talking about Central American activities, “allergic to horses” becomes surprisingly relevant.) The tougher conversation, about Martin’s real challenges, I left to have in-person; giving advance notice, in writing, of Martin’s social and attention deficits tends to create an image that can be hard to shake, even after Martin himself appears. I remember still the remark of a German relative, years ago, when she first met Martin: “Als ich das Wort gehört habe—Autismus—habe ich mir was ganz anders vorgestellt”: “When I heard that word—autism—I imagined something else entirely.” We no longer have the A word to fear, but preconceptions nonetheless pose dangers. The first day of camp, I stole the director for a few minutes. I said that Martin had some previous language delays, and because he is still catching up, he struggles with social interactions. He wouldn’t give them any trouble about participating, I explained, but we do worry about bullying and hope they will keep an eye out for that.

“That will be no problem,” the director replied. “We’ve had all kinds of kids at camp. Even kids with autism.”

“Oh!” I said. “If you’ve had kids with autism, you can certainly handle Martin. It’s nothing like that.”

Darling Little Obsessions

At 8:30 Sunday morning, Martin was having a mini-meltdown. He danced awkwardly through the kitchen and family room, yelling, “No alterations! No, never! Mommy, is Daddy right? Can he make alterations? No, it’s thee scoops!”

The morning tantrum was prompted by sorbet. We planned to eat dinner at a restaurant Sunday evening. Nine hours before the event, Martin was already fixated on getting three scoops of sorbet. A sorbet order, he claimed, is three scoops. Last visit to the restaurant Adrian had “altered” the order and asked for Martin to receive just one. When Martin, at Sunday breakfast, demanded to know whether Adrian planned to alter that evening’s order, Adrian replied that Martin could ask for half-scoops of two different flavors, but it was better if he ate only one scoop total. And then Martin freaked.

Martin has two obsessions these days: food and iPad.

The food obsession worries me more, because (1) as opposed to an iPad fixation, food fixation is less common; and (2) its cause, at least in part, is the diet we follow for recovery. Martin is allergic to dairy and to red meat. He hasn’t had gluten in more than seven years. We avoid soy. Other than those restrictions, I currently let just about everything else slide when we are dining out, within reason. Martin is now wise enough to pin me down on these restrictions: “I can have anything but dairy and gluten, right?” “How much sugar can I have?” “Does gluten-free pasta have sugar? How much?” “Are French fries a treat?” He’s developed a give-me-an-inch-and-I-will-take-a-light-year approach to pushing boundaries. I made the mistake, last year, in an effort to harmonize a Sunday dinner, of allowing Martin to order a dish of sorbet for dessert. Martin immediately placed sorbet into his foods-I-can-eat column and fixated on whether sorbet is a “treat,” i.e., something he gets only in limited quantities versus something he can eat whenever. Fast forward to today: Within five minutes of awakening, routinely, he’s asking about whether and when he will get sorbet that day, the first of may food questions.

I overcompensate. I reason that the less Martin feels left out, the less he will fixate. The freezer in the school nurse’s office is stocked with GFCF cupcakes, donuts, and ice cream, in case of classroom party or event. Every Tuesday afternoon Martin shows up to church with a snack more desirable than the pretzels and cookies the others receive. I always keep supplies to conjure a GFCF pizza, on a moment’s notice. Sunday evening, at the restaurant, Adrian ordered key lime pie for dessert. (Adrian and I allow ourselves dessert only if Martin has an equally appealing option. He had his sorbet.) “What’s that? Can I eat that? Does it have gluten or dairy?” Martin asked, when the pie arrived. I replied, “That’s called key lime pie. This one has dairy, but would you like to try key lime pie that you can eat?” He said yes. I promptly rearranged my Monday afternoon schedule so that I could take two hours to prepare GFCF key lime pie. The policy letter I was engaged to write for work would have to wait. Like I said, I overcompensate.

Then there’s the iPad. Weekdays, Martin gets 30 minutes of iPad time, after homework is complete, and dammit, he’s going to make sure he gets that time. Weekends are tougher still. I try to limit the iPad to 60 minutes, but that means occupying him the remaining 12 hours he’s awake. Yes, of course I know that I’m supposed to let him be bored so that he’ll find creative ways to occupy himself. Thus far, however, the only way he’s found to occupy himself is to beg for the iPad and stage a tantrum if his wish goes unfulfilled.

I admire parents who draw the line and curb obsessive behavior by getting rid of the iPad altogether. I’m unwilling to follow their example, for two reasons. First, admittedly, I fear the weeks of meltdown and the impact on my life, which already lacks enough hours to accomplish my goals. There could be no trial period in an action like iPad removal; if we said we were getting the rid of the iPad but eventually relented and returned the device, Martin would never respect a parental decision again. Second, paradoxically, screen time is one way that Martin is able to connect to other kids. He’s made a couple school friends through Minecraft, and other games like Subway Surfers give him ready conversation topics when he finds a fellow player. He also uses the iPad to send messages to his cousin and to his uncle. I’ve decided I am okay with him having the device, with time limits. I do wish the iPad weren’t always on his mind whenever it’s not in his hands.

Martin got his three scoops of sorbet, Sunday evening. While Martin was visiting the bathroom, Adrian asked our server please to tell Martin that an order of sorbet comprises one scoop only. The server did that. Then he added: “And you, young man, may have as many orders as you’d like!” At that point, our dilemma was three scoops sorbet, or an in-restaurant meltdown (which would have been highly unusual, but Martin was having one heckuva bad day). We went with three scoops.

Then Martin accidentally broke a glass, and melted down anyway.

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The Remains of the D…essert. The recipe called for coconut cream, which I didn’t have. I substituted coconut butter, and the topping came out less smooth and more chunky. Nevertheless, my GFCF key lime pie was a hit.

Fish. It’s What’s for Breakfast

Fellow parents who do biomed, or are familiar with Martin’s diet, like to ask me what Martin eats for breakfast. Deep in our psyche sits a notion that breakfast, especially a kid’s breakfast, must involve cereal, porridge, toast, muffin, eggs, and milk or yogurt, and we seem to have trouble fathoming breakfast for a kid who eats none of those except eggs, which he really doesn’t like.

My idea of “breakfast foods” has expanded in our seven years of biomed. I decided to snap pictures—I know I’m not much of a food photographer, especially when I have only five-to-seven seconds before Martin sits and starts eating—and assemble a breakfast post.

Without further ado, I present seven samples of Martin’s breakfast:

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Fritters are always a popular choice. These were made with leftover spiced red beans, flattened and fried. The fritters are joined by pineapple and a green smoothie of cashew milk, coconut yogurt, dates, banana, peanut butter, and spinach.

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Weekend extravaganza. In order, bottom to top: rice toast, fried potato slices, egg over-easy, turkey bacon, avocado, and porcini mushroom salt. I love my fancy salt infusions. This meal was too complicated. Adrian loved the concoction. Martin was kind of—meh.

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Simple weekday breakfast. Leftover Mexican-style beans wrapped in almond-flour tortillas and fried. The smoothie is cashew milk, cashew yogurt, matcha green tea powder, and a handful of salad greens.

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More fritters, this time zucchini and egg with carrot greens. The smoothie is coconut milk, dates, spinach, and moringa powder.

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Hands down, Martin’s favorite breakfast food is smoked salmon. Now that I’ve learned that freezing below -10 degrees Fahrenheit for a few days renders the fish safe (in terms of parasites), I’ve allowed salmon back on the menu. Here is is served with sweet potato hash browns. The smoothie is cashew milk, coconut yogurt, banana, almond butter, and spinach.

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Not the prettiest picture! But probably Martin’s second-simplest breakfast entrée (after smoked salmon with olives): banana halved lengthwise, rolled in almond-flour tortilla with peanut butter and cacao nibs, and fried.

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If I want to make sushi for breakfast, I will make sushi for breakfast. Here, I packed the short-grain rice into a silicon “mini-donut” mold, filled the middle with mashed avocado, then wrapped the packet in nori seaweed and sliced salmon, then rolled the still-exposed rice in sesame seeds.

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This was prepared most for Adrian (Saturday morning, pre-gym) and made him much happier than it made Martin. Bacon and vegetables under a shredded sweet potato fritter, topped with fried egg. I absolutely detest cooking pig meat. Few things make Adrian happier than bacon.

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This is unusual, thrown together when we were running late. On the plate are almond-flour English muffins with a thin coating of maple butter. The smoothie is coconut milk, kale, banana, and avocado.

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Pretty self-explanatory, for a change. Turkey bacon accompanied by fried potatoes with carrot greens. The smoothie is coconut water, avocado, raspberry, and lucuma powder.

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That pesky salmon again! This time with a side of garlic broccoli. The smoothie has almond milk, coconut yogurt, leftover white beans (really), matcha green tea powder, frozen banana, and salad greens.

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Salmon. It is a lot of salmon. Fried potato and sweet potato with rosemary. Black-rice toast. The smoothie is coconut water with pineapple, banana, mango, and avocado.

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This was a plate I assembled last week while we were traveling in England. The breakfast comprises cold shrimps, pineapple, and red lentils with vegetables. In the wooden spoon are Martin’s breakfast pills. In the smaller glass is his morning “herx water.”

Quick Improvement

That last post left you hanging!

I actually wrote the post while sitting in the waiting room of Martin’s biomed doctor, three weeks ago. I described symptoms Martin was experiencing; most problematic among them was Martin making disastrously inappropriate utterances that he knew to be provocative. I described the behavior as “almost like Tourette Syndrome (Martin does not have Tourette)”: In addition to calling his classmate a “racist,” Martin was saying odd things like, “I think schools should be segregated again,” or, “Hispanic kids who speak Spanish aren’t as smart as other kids.” (Martin is Hispanic, and speaks Spanish, and our family does not hold views anything like he was expressing.) When asked, Martin seemed unable to provide any explanation for the statements. He said, “Sometimes words come into my head that I know I shouldn’t say, but I can’t stop them before they come out of my mouth.”

After examining Martin and hearing about these and other symptoms, the doctor surmised that parasites were at work. Martin’s doctor in New York had made the same guess, and actually had already prescribed an anti-parasitical drug, Alinia®. Given my hesitation to administer any pharmaceutical to Martin (side effects, unintended consequences, wanting to avoid synthetics for whatever we can address naturally), I held out for a second opinion from his biomed doctor. She agreed that we should consider Alinia, and she added natural measures to Martin’s protocol to keep the parasites at bay, long-term, including diatomaceous earth.

Alinia is administered in a three-day course, followed by a two-week break and another three-day course. We started the first course two days after returning from our visit to the California biomed doctor.

Remarkably, just his second day on the Alinia, Martin’s inappropriate comments virtually ceased.

Within a week of completing the first three-day course, the skin rashes and itching also eased.

Rarely do we hit the nail square on the head when it comes to Martin’s periodic symptoms, but this time I think both doctors were spot-on: Parasites were at work, and Martin needed a strong remedy.

He’s on the second course of Alinia now, after the two-week pause, and he’s also using diatomaceous earth. His reading tutor texted me this evening to say that his focus seemed improved. I’m optimistic.

Now for the tough part: Martin’s biomed doctor recommended that Martin stop eating sushi, at least the kind with raw fish, which can contribute to parasite activity. Martin adores sushi. We eat sushi at least twice per week when we’re not traveling (I get the vegan version), and it’s a go-to food when we are. Martin likes to order six pieces of octopus sushi, one salmon avocado roll, and one steamed shrimp roll. (If that seems like a lot of food, let me mention that he consumes the entire tray in about five minutes and then, often, flags down the waiter to request more octopus sushi.) I did some research and discovered that octopus is virtually always poached when used in sushi (though the animal may be raw in thinly sliced sashimi). So the octopus is cooked, as is the steamed shrimp. So far I haven’t had much luck determining whether poaching or steaming is sufficient to kill all parasites (investigation continues!); still, I get comfort from the fact that the octopus and shrimp are, at least, not raw.

As to the salmon, which really seems to pose significant risk when raw, Adrian and I, after much consternation, have reached rapprochement with Martin: He can still eat his salmon avocado roll, but we request that the salmon be cooked. Last Sunday, on their usual weekend “boys’ afternoon,” Adrian and Martin went for sushi, and Adrian insisted that the salmon be cooked. Adrian came home and reported that the wait staff were initially befuddled by the request but then, upon discovering that their kitchen had the magic capability to cook salmon, complied. Martin, for his part, arrived home and announced, “Actually my sushi with cooked salmon was pretty good!”

Additional positive news: “[Freezing fish] to an internal temperature of -4°F for at least seven days [kills] any parasites that may be present,” although “[h]ome freezers are usually between 0°F and 10°F and may not be cold enough to kill the parasites.” Immediately upon reading this news, I checked the deep freezer in my basement and found -10°F. The $250 (or so) of cold-smoked salmon—a breakfast favorite of Martin—in that freezer should be safe for him to consume.

This vegan never thought she’d find herself checking freezer temperatures to determine parasite risk in seafood.

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One piece of octopus sushi already gone, but here are the remaining five, plus his salmon avocado roll and steamed shrimp roll.

Current Issues

We are off to visit Martin’s biomed doctor. I made a list of issues to discuss, which includes the following:

  • skin rashes, in the form of blemishes that Martin scratches and picks at until they bleed;
  • itchy skin overall;
  • impulsively calling out words he doesn’t mean, in a manner almost like Tourette Syndrome (Martin does not have Tourette);
  • obsession with foods, allergies, which foods he can or cannot eat, which are treats, and so forth;
  • trying to understand tough situations by putting Minions into those situations, like, “Bob [a Minion] was on the playground and another kid said he couldn’t use the swings. Is that nice?”;
  • constantly apologizing, which has been an ongoing habit.

(There were other issues on the list, too personal for sharing on the blog.)

What are your guesses, readers? Parasites? Metals? Lyme activity because we started using cryptolepis to treat babesia? A different form of the yeast beast? Dry winter air? Noticing differences between himself and other kids?

I’ll fill you in after our appointment with the biomed doctor.

And before you worry that Martin’s recovery is off the rails, I will add the following:

First, Martin’s self-awareness is blossoming. Even his teachers have noticed. After school last week, Martin confessed that he had hurt his friend Nicole’s feelings by calling her “racist.” (In light of Black History Month and Martin’s classroom unit on civil rights, our family has been doing a lot of talking about racism and our country’s legacy of segregation. I think he was angry at Nicole, and “racist” was the first insult he happened upon.) He added, “Sometimes words come into my head that I know I shouldn’t say, but I can’t stop them before they come out of my mouth.”

Second, this morning, by phone, Adrian said, “This past month or so, I’ve been having these awesome moments with him, where he’s just acting like a regular kid, and I can finally think, ‘This is it. This is the way it’s supposed to be. This is the reward’.”

Chances

My approach to Martin’s food continues to evolve.

In the earliest days, I would say, Martin’s diet was one of restriction. No grains, dairy, soy, corn, refined sugar, starchy vegetables, or fruits other than pear and avocado. No colors or sweeteners, no packaged or prepared foods, nothing from a restaurant. My mindset was mired in what he could not eat, and I concocted elaborate replacements for “usual” foods. This was a time of homemade zucchini seed “French fries,” sunflour patties, and duck nuggets; as long as the dish didn’t have any no’s, and seemed vaguely like a familiar food, it was a yes.

As I learned more about Martin’s particular needs, we ventured into specialty diets: GAPS with its endless broths, the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, low-salicylate, which brought us more potatoes and less coconut oil.

At some point, food became easier when I focused on simplicity: fewer replacements and complicated recipes, more limited-ingredient masterpieces.

This summer in Nicaragua, I was able to confirm that fruit doesn’t have to be our enemy anymore—after fruit had been relegated to that role for years by Martin’s tendency to yeast overgrowth. Also, through trial and error, I brought back in some of the higher-salicylate items formerly removed.

Now, back in the States with access to an embarrassing range of organic options, my motto has become: “Every meal, a chance to heal.” Martin is still gluten-, dairy-, soy-, and refined-sugar free, and his food is mostly homemade and organic. But I’m focused less on how to replace what Martin can’t eat and more on how I can pack fat, protein, and nutrients onto his plate while still keeping the meals delicious.

For exemplar purposes, I photographed this morning’s breakfast preparations. These were the ingredients, as I prepared them—

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Fritter mixture (sweet potato, onion, garlic, carrot tops), pineapple, strawberries, orange, avocado, egg.

You see orange slices, strawberries, 1/4 avocado, one egg, and a bowl with shredded sweet potatoes and minced onion, garlic, and carrot greens. That’s a lot of vitamin content, plus the healthy fat of avocado and protein of egg. Tell me that you’re asking yourself what kind of lunatic arranges the prepared ingredients in a pattern on her cutting board? Only when I’m operating “for exemplar purposes.” Keep up. Next I whisked the egg in a glass with Himalayan pink salt and stirred it into the sweet potato bowl.

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Fritter mixture, now with egg. Ready to fry!

Then I juiced those orange slices in preparation for Martin’s smoothie. Because it so fibrous, orange is one of the few fruits I won’t add whole to a smoothie. I usually use coconut water as the base of Martin’s breakfast smoothie; this morning, I had oranges to use up and so substituted orange juice. I put the orange juice in the Vitamix with the avocado and strawberries. I add avocado to every smoothie, healthy fat that Martin doesn’t taste. (I’m also finding new ways to disguise spinach and kale.)

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Getting the pulp out of the oranges.

Finally I formed patties from the shredded-sweet-potato mixture and fried them in olive oil. Breakfast looked like this:

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Voilà! Crunchy sweet potato fritters with fruit smoothie. Breakfast is served.

That’s a common weekday breakfast. Here are some other examples:

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Berry smoothie with “egg muffin” (diced vegetables, spices, and egg baked in ramekin) and salted roast potatoes.

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Tropical smoothie with “egg muffin” (diced peppers, parsley, and spices with egg, baked in ramekin) and potatoes with carrot greens.

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Tropical smoothie and squash fritters, made with onions and red palm oil for rich color.

I still tend to put Martin’s meat serving—if he has one, on a given day—into his school lunch. Today, lunch was turkey meatballs, filled with peppers and leeks. For dessert, homemade meringues (egg whites, vanilla, arrowroot, maple sugar). For snack, a Lärabar.

Tonight was a slow-cooker dinner. Late morning, I diced whatever “autumn” vegetables were in my fridge, and added late-season tomatoes and herbs from my garden. That mixture went into the Instant Pot, together with red lentils, spices, and vegetable broth.

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The dinner ingredients. I had such fun laying out the breakfast ingredients for display that I figured I would continue the trend.

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Dinner into the Instant Pot to slow cook.

Of course, not every meal is a vegetable powerhouse. Convenience can play its role. Some mornings, breakfast is a smoothie plus “pizza,” i.e., peanut butter spread between Siete grain-free tortillas and fried in macadamia nut oil.

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Finally! A green smoothie. This one has spinach, cashew milk, coconut yogurt, peanut butter, and frozen banana.

Some evenings, dinner is brown-rice fusilli with “cheese” sauce, in this case served alongside Indian-spiced chickpea fries.

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This is like the ASD-recovery version of mac-‘n’-cheese with chicken fingers, I guess.

Adrian, who refuses to eat breakfast except on weekends, continues to get two Bento boxes of mostly raw food, and one container of lentils, to take to the office for lunch.

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A sample bento box for Adrian. In this one I packed salted avocado, grapes, peanuts, raw-milk cheddar, apple, hummus, and Mary’s Gone Crackers Thins.

Every meal is a chance to heal.

Now, if a child’s system is damaged and not properly absorbing nutrients, all the raw vegetables in the world won’t necessarily get the healing done; the trick is to find the proper food combinations. We are awaiting new test results to learn more about Martin’s gut today and whether we need to tweak his diet yet again.

And we press onward.