Actualización II de Nicaragua: NicarComidaYAgua

Feeding Martin in Nicaragua is both more and less challenging than in the States.

To be sure, Nicaraguans love their packaged foods. Chips, crackers, cereals. Breads. Whatever forms of snacks.

They also love their fresh food. Fruits, vegetables. Fish and shrimp and octopi pulled from the ocean and eaten the same day. (I hate that Martin eats octopi.) By now we’ve been able to locate the stands and trucks with the produce we want. Samara has a favorite fish monger and a carnecería for occasional chicken. Virtually nothing is organic, except some newfangled greens and the occasional imported quinoa. I am comforted by the fact that the food is grown locally, where Nicaragua’s stricter stance (than the U.S.) on genetically modified crops also reduces the presence of especially worrisome contaminants like glyphosate.

Martin’s breakfast is usually grain-free pancakes (say, plantains and peanut butter), or fritters, or eggs with vegetables, plus fruit. Dinner is rice and beans, or coconut-crusted chicken nuggets with vegetables, or quinoa pilaf, or peanut-butter stir-fry, or maybe ceviche. (Samara’s ceviche skills are said to be outstanding.)

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A Nicaraguan breakfast of plantain-and-peanut-butter fritters plus apple. Did you know apples can be grown in Central America? Neither did I.

Weekdays, Martin eats lunch at his camp. That development—eating with the other kids, and mostly what they eat—has been huge for Martin, who’s wanted all year to buy lunch at his school back home, which, of course, would be inconceivable: Have you seen U.S. school lunches? Here, at the camp, lunches are prepared fresh from organic ingredients, many grown on site, with focus on health. I met in advance with one of the camp directors and asked that they respect Martin’s dairy and beef allergies, and that he not be permitted to eat any gluten. No problem, they said. The directors reported that, for the first week, Martin had “lunch worries” and needed to be persuaded each day, anew, that in fact he would be fed. At first, he ate tentatively, mostly Nicaragua’s famous rice-and-beans dish, gallo pinto, or even arroz unadorned.

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The aftermath of Martin’s octopus, rice, and vegetables on the beach.

After the tentative first steps, Martin started taking advantage of everything offered. I mean, everything!, and that’s brought some slip-ups. Even though I pack healthy snacks, he wants the snacks the camp keeps on hand for all kids, which include popcorn, commercial yucca and plantain chips (fried in who knows what sort of refined vegetable oil), French fries, popsicles with food colorings and refined sugar. I don’t like the snacks aspect but am resisting the urge to make the camp pull back; eating at camp, plus the wide availability of fresh seafood and vegetables in Nicaraguan restaurants (not much pizza or pasta getting in the way), seems to be helping to reduce Martin’s food-related anxiety. I hear less, “Can I eat this? Can I eat that?” and more, “Hey, do they have octopus? How about rice?”

We are, however, in something of a popsicle crisis. Now that Martin has tasty a frozen refined-sugar stick, my homemade frozen-fruit popsicles just aren’t cutting it anymore.

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This is a “fancy” breakfast, like we have when guests are eating with us: pancakes and potatoes cooked with shredded vegetables.

The overall picture is that Martin has been eating 93.6% well, and 6.4% sugar and junk food. When I say sugar, I mean those aforementioned popsicles but also potatoes, rice (which also brings arsenic), and fruit. The fruit includes a daily smoothie from our favorite smoothie stand. Martin selects the three fruits he wants (usually pineapple, mango, and lemon), while from behind him I mouth “¡y aguacate!” to the smoothie-maker so that he’ll throw in some avocado, too. Martin professes not to like avocado, so I have to get creative, like sneaking it into a smoothie.

A few weeks ago, I discussed the situation with Martin’s doctor back home. Too much sugar, I confessed. A whole lot of fruit. Smoothies every day.

“You mean fresh, mineral-rich local fruit?” she asked.

“Some of it directly from the fields,” I replied.

“I think he’ll survive.”

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Another breakfast, this time plantain-and-egg pancakes with pineapple and raw energy bars that I made from almonds, dates, limes, and shredded coconut.

Feeding Them Both

Forgive me another post on food. I don’t usually hit food twice in a row—I’ll make this one quick.

Many are the challenges to feeding a three-member family when the child is mostly Paleo/low-sal/meaty, the mother is vegan, and the father is primarily pescatarian and prefers salads.

The vegan, who prepares the food, comes last. I’ll pretty much forage the (vegan) scraps of what the other two eat, so let’s take me out of the equation.

Sometimes I can feed Martin and Adrian the same meal, as with the “anything” pasta. Other times, I make a main course for Martin and repurpose it into a salad dish for Adrian. I’ve got quite adept at this repurposing. Add sliced avocado, maybe some fruit and nuts, and voila!, fancy salad.

Yesterday I made the promised white-bean skordalia. (Remember? The cannellini beans I forgot to soak?) For Martin, I scooped a heap of skordalia onto a plate and inserted two dozen raw carrot sticks, which poked out in all directions. I called this creation (which I forgot to photograph) a “moon flower.” Martin removed and ate the carrot sticks, then finished the skordalia with a spoon.

For Adrian, I made the skordalia the major protein in a salad, with pine nuts for flair. I added mixed greens with his favorite dressing—olive oil mixed with chickpea miso—and macadamia nuts and diced cucumber on top. I had fresh strawberries, so I finished dressing the plate with fresh strawberries.

Happy kid. Happy husband.

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ASD Recovery Recipe: Anything Pasta

So I’ve discovered that I can make a decent pasta meal out of anything “vegetable” in my refrigerator. Like, virtually anything.

Last night I planned to make white bean skordalia. By the time I discovered that I forgot to advance-soak the cannellini beans, I had only minutes to devise another dinner. I surveyed the kitchen and assembled these ingredients:

->Carrots, with their green tops. I always cook the carrot greens. Once when I was checking out, the supermarket cashier casually snapped off the carrot greens and tossed them in a garbage bin. I promptly commenced a lengthy oration on the benefits of carrot greens.

->Red onions.

->Garlic.

->Celery.

->Toasted onion salt. With Martin’s current low-salicylate diet limiting spices so much, I’ve been trying to get creative with salt.

->Pine nuts. I avoid the pine nuts from China. I’m not anti-China, but I am concerned with shortcomings in China’s food-safety schema.

->Green lentil pasta.

I prepped the carrots (greens and all) and celery in a vinegar bath, then cut them into pieces and put them in my food processor. October 13, 2011, I wrote a post titled, “Kitchen News: An Update on the Hunt for a Food Processor With Glass Bowl,” which (based on total unique views) is the most popular post ever to grace this blog. Five-and-a-half years later, I am still without a glass food processor. I processed the carrots and celery almost to a paste. Then I chopped the onions and garlic roughly and added them to the food processor.

While the pasta was cooking, I heated a generous amount of oil and fried the finely minced vegetables. When they were almost done, I added onion salt and a scoop of pine nuts.

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Finally I drenched the cooked pasta in cold water to prevent mushiness and added it to the veggie pan.

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The resulting dinner was pasta coated in lovely crunchy-garlicky bits. Martin said, “Oh yes, this is delicious!” and Adrian ate every last bit from the pan.

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Must remember—“night in a pinch” will henceforth be known as “garlic pasta dinner.”

Daily Meatballs

Most school days, I pack meatballs for Martin’s lunch. Specifically, spicy buffalo meatballs, which I make by combining bison chorizo with minced vegetables. I send spicy buffalo meatballs for four reasons. First, Martin finishes them. I don’t have to worry about lunch coming home half-uneaten. Second, they are easy, insofar as one package bison chorizo, plus vegetables, makes a three-day supply, which I prepare in advance, leaving only the cooking for the morning before school. Third, they keep well and are not a food that becomes soggy or unattractive in the hours before lunch break. Fourth, they fit well within the cycle of Martin’s diet. He eats meat no more than once per day; tucking the meat meal into the school day frees me to prepare a vegan dinner for the whole family.

Yesterday evening, I made sweet-potato-and-lentil shepherd’s pie, which was a triumph, unlike last week’s disastrous attempt at vegetable-and-white-potato shepherd’s pie. The triumph went quickly:

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In sum: spicy buffalo meatballs. Lots of spicy buffalo meatballs.

Last night at dinner—the aforementioned shepherd’s pie—Martin said, “Mommy, would you stop sending meatballs to school all the time? Sometimes I want something different.”

Readers, what a moment! How much do I love that my son has the functional language to express his preferences and advocate for himself? How much do I love that he wants variation? Immediately I recalled a news piece I once about a young adult on the spectrum, living independently, who was anxious to date but impeded by, for example, the fact that he refused to eat anything but canned tuna for dinner.

“What would you like instead of meatballs?” I asked Martin.

“Rice,” he answered. Of course. I limit rice in Martin’s diet, and he schemes for any opportunity to get those little grains into his mouth.

I said, “Your point is well-taken. I’ll see what I can do.”

This morning we were late for the school bus. We were late because I needed some extra time to make Martin’s lunch:

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Addendum on the topic of last week’s disastrous attempt at vegetable-and-white-potato shepherd’s pie. That recipe didn’t work at all, turned out bland, and my last-minute efforts were insufficient to inject any pizzazz. Plus, the recipe made too little potato topping and too much inside filling. I was, however, able to salvage a small victory. I removed the extra filling and processed it into a paste. The next morning, I spiced the vegetable paste, combined it with an egg, and fried the batter into savory pancakes. Martin loved the makeshift breakfast.

 

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More… Inclusive

Three months ago, I reported that food is easy. Food became easy when I shifted from a “replicate what we used to eat” and “recipe” model to a minimalist model, like “(Brussels sprouts + oil + salt) + (lentils + paste[onion + ginger + garlic + turmeric+spices]) = meal.”

I’ve had another shift when it comes to ingredients. For years I’ve thought of cooking for Martin in terms of what I can’t use. I began with, “What would I like to make?” and proceeded to, “What are the ingredients I will have to substitute?” Example: “I’d like to make muffins,” followed by, “Grain flour. And right now, chicken eggs.”

We’re supposed to be avoiding eggs again.

Now, by contrast, I’m launching meals from a new spot. The ingredients come first. I begin with, “What foods will be healing and provide Martin with the particular nutrition he needs today?” and proceed to, “How can I combine those foods into a meal?” Example: Last night I checked the kitchen. Fresh food I had on hand that Martin could eat included peppers, onions, garlic, butternut squash, apples, romaine lettuce, cauliflower, celery, duck eggs, cashew cheese, bison chorizo, and bone broth. In the pantry I had a variety of nuts, along with rice crackers, LäraBars (Martin’s fave), and cookies I’d baked from almond flour, maple syrup, vanilla, baking powder, raisins, and almond chunks.

Today’s menu for Martin:

Breakfast: duck egg cups with peppers and onions; fresh juice made from romaine lettuce and apple.

School snack: Lära Bar.

School lunch: bison chorizo meatballs with added peppers; homemade cookies for dessert.

After-school snack: rice crackers with cashew cheese.

Dinner: cauliflower “fried rice” (no actual rice) with peanuts added for protein; bone broth. In the cauliflower rice recipe, I substituted celery and squash for peas and carrots (making do with what I had), and coconut aminos for soy sauce, since Martin can’t have soy.

So go the days, now. What do I have? What’s good for Martin? From those, what can I prepare?

Tomorrow’s breakfast forecast is nut butter between two almond-flour tortillas, fried in coconut oil and cut into six wedges. School lunch is shaping up to be vegetable lentils with quinoa. Salmon is defrosting for dinner, to be paired with cultured veggies. It’s a pretty good forecast.

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The cauliflower rice for dinner. Not too pretty, but Martin ate the whole bowl without pausing.

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This is not actually the breakfast I served that day, which I forgot to photograph. This is, however, pretty typical for breakfast: coconut-flour berry muffins with homemade veggie-fruit juice.

Food Porn, Mardi Gras Edition

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, so this must be Fat Tuesday, the culmination of Mardi Gras. Tuesday afternoons Martin attends the kids program at our church. Last week, our pastor announced that he planned to serve king cake today.

When Samara, who had taken Martin to the kids program, informed me of this king cake development, I was weirded out. This isn’t New Orleans, and my church isn’t Roman Catholic. We are stuffy Northeastern Protestants. The last time I ate a king cake, I was a 22-year-old graduate student dating a Louisianan whose mother FedExed us the delicacy. (I recall that a Jewish friend found the Baby Jesus trinket, which subsequently was stolen by PeeWee the cat, who batted poor Baby Jesus mercilessly about the parquet floor.) On the other hand, Samara—who is not only Roman Catholic and of Latin American origin, but unable to see Martin deprived of anything—jumped all over the king cake idea. By the time I returned home Wednesday evening, from a mediation I was attending in Los Angeles, Samara had downloaded a recipe for “Paleo” king cake, invented her own sweetened cashew cream filling, and spent four hours baking this:

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We popped that base in the freezer. Yesterday I moved it to the refrigerator to defrost. This afternoon I created a frosting/glaze. In the Vitamix, I blended 1/4 cup melted coconut oil, 1/4 cup coconut cream, 1/4 cup cashew butter, 1/4 teaspoon sea salt, and 3 tablespoons raw honey. I spread that on the defrosted king cake:

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Next, I used an India Tree decorating set to color four bowls of organic shredded coconut:

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Finally, I sprinkled the dyed coconut onto the frosted king cake to replicate the traditional multi-colored appearance:

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Martin took the cake to church this afternoon and loved the treat. I’m not sure if I have Samara’s patience to make this every year, but a new tradition just might have been born.

Postscript: Apparently the pastor had trouble finding a local bakery in the business of assembling king cakes this year; by the weekend he had changed course and declared today’s kids program “pancake dinner”—the tradition much more associated with us uptight, Shrove Tuesday types. Of course, the pancakes were not Martin-approved, and the homemade king cake was already in my freezer. So while the rest of the kids had pancakes, Martin ate like a king.

At least he shared.

Food Porn: Vaguely Asian Green-Bean Peanut Stuff

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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.