Sunday, December 30, 2007

Connect the dots

As I have said to Trillian a couple times in the past few days, there has been a part of me that wished the gluten-free diet wouldn't work, that we could just call it quits and go back to eating all our usual old stuff. It would certainly be easier. Wouldn't solve anything, but everything would be easier.

But I can't ignore that there's been a difference. After years of being a low weight for his height, Scooter has been gaining weight. He's filling out and I can no longer count his ribs easily. If his gut is anything like mine, he must be feeling better too.

To add to all of this, Trillian was doing some research today that further supports at least the "gluten-free" part of the gfcf diet. Our internet research takes us to information on celiac disease, and Trillian found that there are some potential connections between some odd health issues I've long had and gluten.

The most interesting one is paresthesia. My extremities fall asleep very easily. Like I cross my legs and get pins and needles in my foot and lower leg within minutes. I cannot do anything above my head for more than about a minute at a time. Almost four years ago, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, though I only barely fit the criteria based on tender points. The neurologist, however, felt that my paresthesia was much more severe than would make sense, given the level of my other symptoms. I had various scans, even allowed them to stick pins in me and run electrical currents through my body to see if there was anything impeding my nerve impulses. Absolutely no reason was found. No explanation. Just figure out how to live with it.

Turns out that there are people with celiac disease whose symptoms include paresthesia. So I'm waiting to see if this gets better if I stick to the gluten-free diet for several months. And then maybe that will be one way Scooter doesn't have to take after his mother.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Getting back to the kitchen

Wow, the Kitchen's gotten a bit dusty. This combination of moving and the holidays has meant a lot of time away from the stove, seeking out allowable restaurant foods and meals at relatives' homes.

Since Trillian and Scooter got to her parents', he's been pretty much wheat-free. We have not been quite as successful on the casein front. I discovered when I got here that the rice cheese they've been using may be lactose-free, but it has casein specially added. Unfortunately, there's very little available out here without casein, and the casein-free cheese just doesn't melt well, regardless of what the packaging insists.

I did a pretty good job of eating gluten-free while I was on my own, but gave in to temptation my last week and got a delicious wood-fired pizza from the cafe near us. The crust bakes up wonderfully, with those little bubbles around the edge and a thin bottom. My favorite version adds cheese, mushrooms, and truffle oil on top. Definitely not on my diet, but I couldn't help myself. And then had all the proof I needed that I should not be eating any wheat and should probably avoid dairy too.

For Christmas, Trillian and I received a bread-maker from her parents. The idea is that it will be dedicated to gluten-free baking. The Bob's Red Mill bread mix that we use can be baked up in it, and I'll soon be experimenting with regular recipes that I adjust for gluten-free flours.

In Scooter's case, we're still generally looking for substitutions. This is part of why we're allowing the cheese with casein right now--he'll eat grilled cheese sandwiches on the special bread we bake up. We haven't found an acceptable chicken nugget yet (I've got the next candidate baking right now). We're also searching for burritos and pasta that he'll eat. He had started wolfing them down at preschool. The burritos had been a favorite for a long time, though he has never liked the version we make at home, even when he was still getting wheat and dairy and even though we followed the cook's directions.

For me, this has been an experience of re-envisioning what I eat. I am not so enamored of the available breads or other baked goods that I've made a direct substitution. Instead, I am eating differently. With the leftover ham and turkey (from two holiday dinners), I've been eating the meat on its own, not in sandwiches. I've had acorn squash and baked sweet potatoes in the place of the usual casseroles; despite those casseroles calling to me (the sweet potatoes are beyond decadent!), I have found the more basic versions quite satisfying. Instead of holiday cookies--and boy are there good ones here--I've focused on the candy canes and dark chocolate. OK, so I plan on cutting way back on the sugar once the holidays are truly past.

Once we're settled into our new house, I'll be making a few more changes and experimenting more. In the meantime, I'm going to try to share some of the recipes I've been enjoying.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

An experiment

Observation: On some days, Scooter has a noticeably harder time controlling himself than on others. We have not been able to trace this to specific activities.

Hypothesis: Since he is still consuming some gluten and casein at school, maybe his out-of-control days coincide with the days when he eats the most wheat and dairy there.

Experiment #1: We've been able to keep Scooter gfcf on weekends. But a weekend ago, I broke down and ordered pizza when Trillian did. And then we gave in and let Scooter have some too. For the rest of the afternoon, he was bouncing around in ways we haven't seen for several weekends.

Experiment #2: We went to a birthday party yesterday and, because I just couldn't get myself organized enough beforehand, we threw caution to the wind and let him have whatever. Fast food chicken nuggets on the way out, a few bites of cheese pizza and cake and ice cream at the party. Today, not only has he been bouncing off the walls, he also had several accidents--forgot to go to the potty when he needed to, couldn't quite make it there when he did remember. This is something that hasn't happened for a while now.

Conclusion: I have not been quite as willing as Trillian to attribute recent changes in Scooter's behavior to the gfcf diet, but I think maybe I've been swayed to her way of thinking. Particularly convincing were the multiple accidents today; he has been so good about this, even in the face of a varying schedule, that the previous day's change in diet seems like the most obvious explanation.

Possible further experiments: Once we move, we'll be able to complete the switch to an entirely gfcf diet. One thing I am particularly interested to see is if we can determine whether the gluten or casein has a worse effect on him. If, as Trillian and I suspect, the gluten is the main culprit, we might actually be able to create pizza and grilled cheese sandwiches that he is eager to eat.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Muzzy el grande

When we go and stay with Trillian's parents, Scooter likes to watch Sprout, prefers it now over Noggin, which is what he used to watch. While I like the programming on Sprout (for the most part), I don't like that there are commercials. Not a lot, not as much as most channels, and they're mostly aimed at parents.

But this is how Scooter found out about Muzzy. The funny thing is that he didn't ask for it right away. Instead, a couple weeks after we got back home from our August visit, he announced that we needed to go to the store to get Muzzy. He was not happy with our explanation that it wasn't available at just any old store. In fact, one has to order it special. Plus, it's a bit more than we would want to just shell out. Level I costs $199. And that's before you consider adding on the interactive CD-ROMs and Level II.

Somehow Muzzy came up when talking with a friend--a friend who happens to have the Spanish DVDs for Level I. Since Spanish is the de facto second language in the US and we're moving to an area with a decent-sized Spanish-speaking population, we have borrowed them. Scooter loves the program. And now, after a handful of viewings, he will announce every once in a while, "X is Spanish. It means Y."

Now Scooter has had some exposure to the idea that there are different languages. We have a number of French children's books around--most of them I purchased for myself many years ago--and he had picked up snippets of French and Spanish from books and television. And he went through a period when he would have me read Where the Wild Things Are in both French and English before bed. But I haven't wanted to push second-language learning since he has had some language issues.

On the other hand, he has been very receptive lately, coinciding with a sudden upsurge in English language skills. In addition, I think that listening to the new sounds has been helping him improve his ability to process sound and figure out how to mimic. I'm sure that there is some explanation of how this is exactly what he needed, I could probably even find it if I so desired right now.

I'm still not entirely sure if we'll go the route of purchasing an entire Muzzy set, though the fact that he's watching it repeatedly--and understanding--makes me think I need to consider it much more thoroughly than I did before.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Cobbling together cobbler

Trillian and I are throwing a dinner party in just under two weeks. I've invited my two best friends from the department and my friend from the school where we both used to teach, along with their significant others, to have dinner at my house. It'll be one of our last chances to socialize before Trillian and Scooter head down to the grandparents' for the holidays (I'll follow along a few weeks later), and we also want to introduce my former colleague and her husband around.

I have been debating the food for this party, particularly whether or not I will stick with a totally gfcf menu. In addition, one guest has a nut allergy and one is a vegetarian.

I've already decided to make dinner-proper vegetarian, offering meat along with cheeses as an appetizer. I will add some rice crackers to the other crackers on the platter and can just not have any cheese, so that course is fine.

This evening, I thought that maybe I'd try a cobbler, substituting gfcf ingredients in the biscuit part. I improvised even more, in that I have a gfcf baking mix, not a separate flour. So I simply didn't add the baking soda or powder. Then I used my dairy-free butter substitute and rice milk and proceeded per the recipe.

The result? Hmmm...

I've noticed that gfcf baked goods tend to be a little grainier than those made with wheat flour. With the mixes we use, the flavor tends to fall within the expected range for such items. But definitely grainier. And that was definitely the case with the cobbler topping. I could also taste that the flour was different. Not awful, but not something I want to have huge servings of.

I won't be serving that for dessert. I may, since Scooter won't want it anyway and I'm a big girl who can decide for herself about the gluten, go ahead and make the regular recipe; cobbler just seems perfect for the season and I can make most of it ahead of time. But this isn't ready yet for its gfcf debut!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Three dinners

One current drawback of this transition to a gfcf diet is that we're frequently eating three different meals. I know that, with some planning, this doesn't need to be the case. But I'm currently in triage mode with school and the move, so I also know that this won't change until we have a chance to settle into our new house and I can give myself a little freedom to slack on the school work for a month or so.

Nonetheless, I was actually quite pleased with the look of our dinners tonight. Scooter, who is super picky, actually had a balanced meal. I am full enough that I should be able to avoid the worst of the late-night munchies. And Trillian ate something healthy, even if she avoided adding a vegetable side.

Scooter's dinner:
  • A couple fish sticks (shaped like fish). They're gluten-free because they use potato flakes in the breading. He ate these with ketchup.*
  • Half an apple. He may not like veggies, but I can always get the kid to eat apple.
  • A few bites of gfcf toast, spread with an acceptable butter substitute (that is also trans fat free).
  • 2 glasses of orange juice. Ever since this study, I worry less about him drinking juice instead of water. I figure that it ups the number of vitamins and minerals he gets. Not as much fiber as if he ate the actual fruit, but he dislikes the feel of oranges in non-juice form.
  • Some soy ice cream and gfcf chocolate chip cookies for dessert.
My dinner:
  • The other half of Scooter's apple as appetizer.
  • The remainder of the gfcf loaf, toasted, with ham from our local butcher. Their meat is generally organic and minimally, if at all, processed.
  • A medium-sized salad of baby greens, dried cherries, pumpkin seeds, and dijon tarragon dressing.
  • Spearmint tea for my sore throat.
Trillian's dinner:
  • Large glass of milk.
  • A salmon fillet with panko crumbs and pecans.
  • Dark chocolate.
To be fair, Trillian may have had something else that I'm not aware of, but I can pretty much guarantee it wasn't a green vegetable. Both the milk and the panko crumbs are no-gos for me. I actually don't miss the milk since rice milk works fine for me, but I am mighty jealous of the salmon. Scooter, of course, wouldn't have been willing to try even a bite if Trillian had offered.

* The ketchup is suspect; it does not specify what kind of vinegar is in it, and vinegar is sometimes filtered through (if not made from) wheat. I plan on being more careful about this once we're in Springfield, but decided not to mess with it during out transition period.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Switching out carbs

When Trillian and I decided to switch Scooter's diet, we knew that the hardest thing by far was going to be getting him away from his favorite snacks. The boy could survive of of Cheerios and/or Goldfish crackers. Sure we needed to find acceptable substitutes for chicken nuggets and grilled cheese sandwiches, but there were a few protein sources we could turn to until we hit upon child-approved brands. But it was not uncommon for Scooter to snack from bowls of fishies and Cheerios throughout the day. Whenever we left the house, we brought a baggie of snacks along with us.

I could justify this snack since Cheerios are made from oats, and we would sneak in the whole-wheat cheddar Goldfish when we could find them. But both oats and wheat are sources of gluten, so they would have to go.

We actually managed to start getting Scooter off of Cheerios before we'd even made the decision to try the new diet. And that was by accident. One time, as I was shopping at Whole Foods, I remembered that we were almost out of Cheerios. The regular ones were sold out, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to try out an organic version. Not acceptable! And I have to agree with Scooter that the texture was all wrong. They were really rough and sharp.

So he became a little gun-shy about Cheerios. Which was only confirmed for him when I tried PerkyOs, a gluten-free 'equivalent' to Cheerios. While the texture was better, though not the same, as the previous attempt, not even the frosted ones could cover up the difference in taste.

Goldfish crackers have been a bit harder to give up, and I'm not entirely proud of how we helped him forget them. Because we offered sweets. Cookies and brownies made from gluten-free, dairy-free mixes.* That certainly has made it easier for him to forget about the crackers.

To be sure, we're also pushing fruit a little harder and have been experimenting with other options. He'll sometimes eat the "Corn Balls" (similar to Kix cereal) I brought home, though not with the same love as Cheerios. He has rejected the rice crackers I love so dearly. Recently, I tried baking a loaf of bread from a mix,* and it turned out much better than the ready-made loaves of rice bread we've had before. But he has also upped his protein intake, rediscovering his enjoyment of bacon and eggs--and the kid is so skinny that we're not too worried about the increased fat right now.

I don't think I would necessarily recommend our method (or even consider it an organized approach). We had no intention of getting him to think that Cheerios had suddenly gone bad, but that does seem to be his thought. And cookies, cake, and (soy) ice cream can't be the answer to everything. But so far--knock on wood--we seem to be headed in a promising direction.

* I've mainly used Bob's Red Mill gluten-free mixes so far. They also don't contain dairy and are designed so that you can use dairy substitutes in place of milk and butter.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The tipping point

Not that I'll get to everything tonight, but here's a little background to how Trillian and I finally decided to give the gluten-free, casein-free diet a try.

The GFCF diet is one of those things we keep coming across in our readings and discussions. And intuitively, the reasoning behind it makes sense to me--and also explain why it works for some people but not others. I'll do a fully researched and linked post at some point, but the short version is that some people who are especially sensitive to certain components of wheat and dairy (ie, gluten and casein) crave it more than just about anything else. Yet, they cannot process the food efficiently--it even causes them general digestive problems--and they end up with a bit of a brain fog.

I have long suspected that I should cut back on wheat and dairy. I have been aware that it affects my stomach. But, when I eat based on my cravings, I almost always go after carbs and cheese or milk. So once I read about this sort of sensitivity and also noticed that Scooter follows a similar pattern in food choices, I realized that he might have some similar issues.

Scooter has suffered from eczema pretty much since he was born. Some of the things I read suggested a link between (cow's) milk allergies and eczema, although this was dismissed by our pediatrician. A couple years ago, we tried to go wheat and dairy free as part of an elimination diet to figure out these allergy/sensitivity issues. But it was too hard for us to stick to for the time required to make the determination.

GFCF keeps coming up in the various things we're reading. And then there are the other parents I've talked to who have tried it, generally with some sort of anecdotal success. So we've hemmed and hawed over it, always pulling away because of how hard it would be to implement. Then Trillian spoke with an acquaintance of her parents who has two autistic sons. She's very no-nonsense and believes that a lot of treatments that are out there are worthless and benefit only the people who have come up with them. She researches things extensively and will only do those things that have a solid scientific basis. And she had done the GFCF diet with (I think--Trillian can correct my details) her second son. Who began speaking in sentences within 48 hours of their start. He made many great strides in the 2 years she had him on it, and now he also eats moderate amounts of wheat and dairy again.

So we're making the switch. Gradually. At home, we've got him entirely off gluten and are switching over to rice milk (currently at about 50% milk, 50% substitute). We're learning to bring snacks with us to those places where he'll expect them and have started to find substitutes that keep him from begging for his old standbys.

I am also trying to follow along on this diet, though I gave myself far more passes in the early days than we gave to Scooter. This is not so much an instance of providing Scooter with company--he's used to eating different things than we do anyway. Rather, this is also my recognition that I am likely to benefit in the same way he does from some changes.

As for any changes? It's hard to quantify improvement. And it's also hard to know when something is the result of a change and when it was just time for it to happen. Plus, we haven't made a complete switch yet. But, Trillian and I do think we're seeing improvements. Little things, like increasing complexity of sentences and conversation (though I also wonder if the omega-3s have anything to do with that). He's also been pushing boundaries, intently and unrelentingly. It feels like he's making up for lost time, covering all of those behaviors and developments that got shoved to the side before.

And so our plan is to continue and, once we move to Springfield, to complete the switch over to an entirely GFCF diet.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Welcome to my kitchen

The Nest was feeling a little crowded, so I knocked out a wall and added on.

I have written about food on occasion over at the nest, but it usually feels just a little out of place for me. I sense that I'll be writing more about food-issues too, given that Trillian and I are transitioning Scooter over to a gluten-free, casein-free diet. And so this space will serve as a place where I can document some of my experiments in adapting recipes to those requirements. Think "test kitchen."

And in that vein, I will also use this space to review any products I feel deserve a write up.

I probably won't update here as often as I do over at the Nest, but feel free to drop by for a cup of coffee or a slice of cake (wheat and dairy free, of course).