Monthly Archives: November 2013

Special Occasion Food and Elimination Diets

Lets face it, special occasions are all about the food. For some events the food is the highlight of the day, such as Birthday cakes, Thanksgiving turkeys, and Easter eggs. Sometimes it is small things you may not even realize you associate with events, like a cold beer after a day of yard work. It might be something unique to you. My husband likes to go to the gym, because he knows he will stop for a raspberry turkey flat bread afterwards. I specifically remember drinking a NA beer with teammates after a big mission in Iraq thinking, we are drinking this beer not out of taste, and certainly not for a buzz, but out of custom. This sort of food custom brings comfort. We share meals together to strengthen our bonds. Food is a huge part of our culture.

When we learned that my son, Andrew, was allergic to 16 foods, to include wheat, rice, oats, milk, cheese, eggs, soy, coconut. bananas, yeast, and more, I didn’t know what I would cook for him. I had mastered those kid friendly meals such as macaroni and cheese and chicken nuggets, but during the elimination diet phase of his treatment I couldn’t give him most normal kid food. For breakfast is was apple slices and sunflower butter. Lunch could be a chicken breast and broccoli. Snack was a big wedge of watermelon. Dinner an ear of corn and bunch of grapes. All in all very little cooking for me and pretty healthy for him, but I longed to give Andrew those  special occasion meals. Sunday morning waffles were a treat he looked forward to all week. In our house Fridays were pizza nights.

This replaced Sunday morning waffles and scrambled eggs

This replaced Sunday morning waffles and scrambled eggs

In the beginning I called every dinner I made “dinner miracle.” Below is a picture of a “pizza” I made from spouted corn tortillas, tomato sauce, and chopped cauliflower. Andrew loved this. School lunches were the hardest because they had to travel via Andrew’s swinging back pack.

Fake pizza, featured here with a warm quinoa salad and turkey

Fake pizza, featured here with a warm quinoa salad and turkey

It was easy to stay focused on the diet for us. After three days Andrew’s eczema had cleared 100%.  After a week he stopped complaining of tummy aches. He was having an easier time sleeping and staying focused. Even a plantar wart on his foot that had been bothering him for a year went away on its own. After three months we began adding food back in to Andrews diet to see if there were foods he tested reactive to that he could actually tolerate now that his gut was healing. Our Naturopathic Doctor said it was up to us which to try first. We started with those foods that would allow us to bring back some of our family traditions. As of today, we have added rice, coconut, and yeast back into his diet. This was huge over the summer because it meant I could buy him almond milk ice cream, which contains rice syrup and coconut oil. It also means he can eat Daiya almond milk cheese. I can make quinoa pasta with Daiya cheese and call it Fake mac’n’cheese.

Recently I posted a blog about making an allergen free pumpkin pie. It was important to me do make this seasonal treat. It would often be easier for me to have Andrew eat before we go out, but I recognize that this would deprive him of the fellowship of eating with others. Depending on where we are going there may be no menu options for Andrew. Below is a picture I took of Andrew at a local restaurant patio where we were celebrating the end of my husband’s soccer season. I had packed him almond butter truffles. They totally melted and had lost their shape, but as you can see Andrew didn’t mind. He was happy to be at the table.

20130621_200733

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. It will be the first Thanksgiving where we are allergen conscious, and also the first thanksgiving where I am not cooking. I am not packing any food as we head to Philly to see my in laws, but rather I am leaving it up to my father-in-law. Worst case scenario…I know for a fact my boy eats turkey legs.

20130607_180144

Antibiotics, if you love them leave them alone

I frequently share my concerns with the way our culture handles antibiotics. I personally think that antibiotics were the most important invention of the last century. They ease pain and suffering. They save lives. But we have over used them and mis-used them, and are now facing the serious threat of antibiotic resistant super bugs like MRSA. The video below shows a little girl who developed an antibiotic resistant infection requiring surgery.

I’m writing this as I am on day five of a ten day antibiotic regimen. Already I am forgetting just how miserable I was a few days ago. Friday night my son said he had a sore throat. We went to bed and at 2am I woke to a sensation like a knife being stabbed in my throat. I knew immediately it was strep. I thought about waking my son and taking us both to the 24/7 place right then, but I had to be at work in four hours. I looked online for natural remedies for strep. I found a recipe of honey, garlic, and cayenne. That would be hard to swallow. I read testimonies by natural health bloggers who opined that by letting your body heal itself without antibiotics you would be better off in the long run. One writer claimed that she has never had strep throat since she suffered through it for two weeks as a child. I am definitely aware of the health side effects of antibiotic use such as digestions problems and yeast infections. When my alarm went off a few hours later my throat hurt so bad I had to spit into a cloth because I literally could not swallow my own saliva. I woke my husband and asked him to take Andrew to the 24/7 place as soon as everyone was up. At 10 am Steve texted me to say the test was positive for strep, Andrew already started the antibiotics, and was feeling better. Meanwhile I was in so much pain that at one point in time I went into a bathroom stall and cried. There was so much puss on my tonsils I had a horrible taste in my mouth.

The day dragged on but by 5 pm I was at the 24/7 place myself. Steve dropped my daughter and baby off. Sophie wasn’t symptomatic but I thought it wise to have her tested. Baby Joseph was pretty safe from infection, as strep throat in infants is rare. Andrew came too. He was laughing and showing off ninja kicks.

Sophie and I both tested positive for strep. The doctor started explaining the “recommended course of treatment.” I didn’t care. “Just give me the antibiotics!” The lady at the front desk explained my insurance wouldn’t cover the medicine unless I went to a pharmacy. I didn’t care. I handed her my credit card, and opened the bottle and finished the first pill before I had all the kids strapped in the car. By morning my throat hurt, but I had the will to live again. By lunch time I was completely normal.

Would I have died if I hadn’t gotten the antibiotics? No. But I was pretty miserable. I was more worried about the kids. Strep throat can lead to scarlet fever in children. The infection can spread too. A little boy at my son’s school lost both his legs to an infection which started as strep.

As much as I love those antibiotics, I will tell you there have been other times when I’ve said, “no thanks,” and stuck to those home remedies. When Joseph was a few months old I had a case of mastitis.  My midwife suggested belladonna instead of antibiotics. It worked great and now I keep it in the house to treat fevers and infections. Antibiotics pass through into breast milk and there are risks associated. At that time I wasn’t *that* miserable. Compare that to last week when I decided to assume the risk.

We also gave up on antibiotics for poor Sophie when she was a baby. Her right ear canal was smaller than her left, and was prone to ear infections. Her ear infections seemed to come one right after the other. Usually I could tell it was coming and saw her regular doctor. One hit her while we were traveling and I took her to the ER. The ER doctor did not prescribe the antibiotics, but suggested we use frequent saline drops to keep her ears flushed and drained. She hasn’t had an ear infection since.

On a completely personal level, I want global action to make sure that antibiotics are around for those times when I really truly need them. November 18th is European Antibiotic Awareness Day .  The purpose is to raise awareness about the threat to public health of antibiotic resistance and prudent antibiotic use.  Fortunately, the European Union has banned the use of antibiotics as growth promoters in animals. Unfortunately, the US still allows this mis-use of antibiotics. According to an article in the medical journal, the Lancet, “Pigs, chickens, cows, fish and other animals consume the majority of the 100,000-200,000 tonnes (110,000-220,000 tons) of antibiotics manufactured each year, as farmers try to keep growing large and healthy animals under unsanitary conditions. The bacterial strains created in these conditions can spread to humans.” I’m a vegetarian, and we only buy eggs, milk, and meat that is certified antibiotic free, but this still affects us because the animal by products get into the system. See my graphic below to see why I care. 

homemade graphic showing how overuse of antibiotics affects us all

We have all heard how important it is to take all the pills given to us, and to dispose of them properly. This is great advice. However we are also getting some bad advice. Turn on the TV for more than a few minutes during flu season and you will see a commercial urging you to use antibacterial cleaners on your counter, or spray antibacterial aerosol on your door knobs. Most public places now a days offer you the opportunity to rub yourself down with antibacterial hand sanitizer. The dangerous ingredient found in many of these products is TRICLOSAN. This is dangerous in two ways. The first is that the FDA is currently researching and some evidence suggests that triclosan is speeding up the evolution of antibiotic resistant superbugs. The other is that children’s immune systems are not being properly developed by exposure to routine germs. For more information see my earlier post Get the Lead Out.

So the kids and I will keep taking our amoxicillin until its gone, and I remain thankful to the doctor who wrote the prescription and to the scientists who discovered it. I will say no thank you to practices that lead to drug resistant super bugs. If better information could spread like germs we would get the word out.

Memoirs of a Military Mom #1- Commandomom

In honor of Veterans Day I am writing a little piece about my service.

I have been in the Army for 14 years. I have been a mother for 6 and 3/4 years. That means that I have been taking care of Soldiers for more than twice as long as I have been taking care of kids. So sometimes my default mode is to go “commandomom.” This has its pro’s and cons.

148115_10150110199466679_503081678_7558842_5085379_n

I started my career as a 71D Paralegal. I commissioned as a 2LT in the Quartermaster Corps and spent several years as a Platoon Leader and later Company Commander. After law school I re-branched and now serve in the JAG Corp as a Command Judge Advocate.

One nice thing about being a commandomom is my driving skills. I spent significant time driving 8-wheel HEMTT Tankers. I am also licensed to drive Deuce and a half trucks with a trailer. So transitioning from my two door coup to my mom sized SUV was an easy transition. Do I miss my five speed? Sure. But I can pack five full size car seats in my ride.

We have enough room for a disco party in the back seat.

We have enough room for a disco party in the back seat.

Over the years my kids have picked up Close Range Engagement Hand and Eye signals, so even in the library or at church I can silently gesture them to stop wrestling with each other and direct them to an alternative activity.

Another nice thing is that I have taught my kids to sleep anywhere. For me it started in Basic when we used bus rides to training sites to catch up on a few minutes sleep. One particular semester of law school I was burning the candle at both ends, preparing for a mobilization at Ft. Indiantown Gap, PA and taking classes at the University of Baltimore in the evening. I had a 45 minute break between classes. I would lay my head on my desk the minute the first professor stopped talking, and sleep until the next began. I’ve taught my kids these same skills. It is never too hot, cold, dark, bright, quiet, or loud to catch a nap.

Baby JP fell asleep on my desk.

Baby JP fell asleep on my desk.

Sophie slept through dinner.

Sophie slept through dinner.

Andrew seriously can sleep anywhere he lays his head down.

Andrew seriously can sleep anywhere he lays his head down.

The most important positive skill I hope my kids are picking up is team work. In the Army you are only as successful as your team. Which means even if my oldest child is ready with his coat and shoes on, the family is not ready until Little Sophie has her coat and shoes on. To get out the door we need to help each other. 

Our family is a team.

Our family is a team.

When my oldest son was born, I realized I don’t know any lullabies. I started signing cadence to him as an infant, and he still asks for them at night. I’ve taught them to march as well. It gives them focus when we have to cross big parking lots. We sing “up the ladder and down the slide/we’re gonna go on a real fun ride/sound off/one two/sound off/three four.”

One of the draw backs of being commandomom, is sometime I forget myself around my little Soldiers. I can lead troops in battle, so yes, I can direct three little children to get a task done quickly and efficiently, “in a military fashion.” I hear myself barking: “lets go lets go hustle hustle hustle move out!” Kids are slow. That is a good thing. They are constantly exploring. As a commandomom I need to throw my Operational Timeline out the window and let them take the lead more often. When I do, I often discover an amazing objective more valuable than I had planned.

Another skill I need to reign in is acting as a pack mule. I’ve rucked countless miles with 50+ pounds of weight between ruck and armor, so it is habit for me to start putting everyone’s bags, toys, jackets, and eventually their persons in my arms. I have literally carried all three of my kids and all their stuff. My kids need to pull their own weight…and pack less stuff. I’ve been enabling them.

The cool thing is that the skill conversion has gone both ways. I have learned a lot about each from the other. Being around children has taught me valuable leadership skills. Children are honest and transparent. No need for gamesmanship  They tell you what they need so long as you are listening. You need to be involved, lead by example, take care with their pride, and motivate with earned praise. Enforce rules but let them run wild when they can. I’ve taken all this and applied it to my style of military leadership and I have my children to thank for teaching these skills to me. 

The girls in the house loved the pudding.

Frank Stallone Chocolate Pudding

My little brother, Kyle, sent me a recipe for chocolate pudding made with an avocado base. As I looked the ingredients over I thought this could go either way- really good or really bad, but totally have to blog about this recipe.

This past weekend Kyle and his girlfriend, Megan, came to visit and claimed they made the pudding and it was awesome but forgot to bring some for us.  Well tonight we made it and I loved it! So did my daughter. The boys in the house…not so much. I used less sweetener than the recipe called for and my husband wants me to try it again with “more sugar.” He likes the idea that we are eating entire avocados. Avocados are a nutritional powerhouse. They promote heart health, are naturally anti- inflammatory, help prevent cancer, and stabilize blood sugar. They are high in fiber, vitamin K, folate, vitamin C, vitamin B5, potassium, vitamin B6.

Here is how to make it yourself.

Ingredients

2 ripe avocados
2 tablespoons coconut oil (we used sunflower oil because of a coconut allergy)
1/3 cup honey
1/2 cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 almond milk

I started with super ripe avocados. These ones sat on my counter for four days. The best way to open an avacado is to slice it around and open it in half. After you pop out the seed use a spoon to scoop the insides. Get all the way to the skin. The nutrients are concentrated in the dark green outside part.

Slice the avocados in half and don't miss the dark green part.

Slice the avocados in half and don’t miss the dark green part.

I put the avocados into the baby bullet (a food processor if you have one) along with the other ingredients. I didn’t bother measuring the ingredients and found it to be a forgiving recipe. When it is mixed you have amazing chocolate pudding. It has a really smooth and creamy texture. I scooped it into sundae dishes and looked great.

20131108_170232

This is everything I used

My husband calls this pudding “Frank Stallone” pudding. Frank Stallone is the younger brother of Sylvester Stallone. Frank was not quite as good looking, not quite as successful, and not quite as famous as his big brother Sly. Poor Frank was in Sly’s shadow. To my husband, this pudding is in the shadow of “real” chocolate pudding. It looks like pudding, feels like pudding, but the taste is a little different.

If you are into clean healthy eating definitely make some of this pudding.

 

GMO=Disrupted gut bacteria=Bad health

I droned on to my dad for 45 minutes yesterday about Monsanto. He had heard of GMOs before because he lives in Connecticut, a state that “almost” had a GMO labeling law. But he didn’t know that they were made from splicing the DNA from bacteria or viruses with the original plant. I am not a scientist at all, but it seems clear to me how these GMOs are affecting our health. The video below is even longer than my chat with my dad, but a great piece about GMO foods containing round up disrupting the balance of gut bacteria causing inflamation, malnutrition, allergies, immune disease, among other things. Check out the first five minutes for a helpful explanation of how the gut bacteria are disrupted.

GMO interview

 

Keeping the kids busy with the Post-Halloween pumpkins

No Rest for the Weary

Today was a long rough day, mentally and physically. This morning I took my bi-annual Physical Fitness test for the Army, and after went immediately into important meetings and pending deadlines. Coming home I hit traffic in the city and the beltway. As I pulled in the driveway I thought “easy dinner…use homework pass…movie night.”

The kids had other plans. The kids decided tonight is the night the Halloween pumpkins become pies. As I was starting dinner, I heard banging and thumping as they rolled the Halloween pumpkins from the front porch to the kitchen counter. “We want pumpkin pie!” they said over each other. Ironically I intended to make them a pumpkin pie soon to try an experiment with flax as an egg replacement. “No, I’m sorry, it will have to wait till this weekend,” I told them. My son is dairy/egg/soy/grain free so every baked thing I make is like a little miracle. Steve jumped in to help and offered to help them scoop the seeds out for fun.

Andrew has a baggie of seeds to take to school to show his friends.

Andrew has a baggie of seeds to take to school to show his friends.

As they were pulling the seeds out, Andrew, my first grader, asked for a bag so he can bring the seeds into school for show-n-tell. Steve asked, “Andrew, why do you want to bring seeds to school?” “Because seeds are cool!” he answered.

I loved this, loved loved loved this. I love that my kids know where their food comes from, and how it got to the table, and that they are enthusiastic about it. Forget the relaxing,  I decided to seize the moment as a learning experience and teach the kids more about pumpkins. Waste not want not my grandma use to say. We made the most of our time and our pumpkins.

The kids were working together and keeping busy.

The kids were working together and keeping busy.

While I cooked dinner I let them work on the guts. They used spoons to scrape out all the seeds and slime. Seeds and guts were flying on the counter, stools, floor, and walls but I managed to make a decent dinner while they were entertained. After dinner we cut the pumpkin and steamed it.

Sophie scooped the meat from the skin.

Sophie scooped the meat from the skin.

Sophie used the baby bullet to puree the pie.

Sophie used the baby bullet to puree the pie.

We lost Andrew for a few minutes, although there is evidence on my mouse and keyboard he was in my office, so Sophie helped me scoop the pumpkin meat into a bowl. I showed her how we will use the skin in the compost and put it in the bin. We added almond milk, agave nectar, cinnamon, and a flax mix (one Tblsp flax meal to three tblsp water and let sit for two minutes) then ran the mixture through  JP’s baby bullet. At this point Andrew had wandered back and both kids were licking the pumpkin mix right out of the blender.

20131106_192102

Yup, those are tongue marks.

This crust is wheat free, made from hazelnut meal.

This crust is wheat free, made from hazelnut meal.

At this point I had conceded to a massive kitchen cleaning and I made a quick crust of hazelnut meal, sugar, and butter, poured the mix into the shell, then had forty minutes to get the kids ready for bed. We also used the time to take the seeds and make a tray of sweet (sugar and cinnamon) and savory (salt and old bay) snacks. Pumpkin seeds are high in protein, magnesium, and iron.

Pumpkin seeds are a super food.

Pumpkin seeds are a super food. Don’t look at my oven.

The poor kids were fast asleep by the time the fruit of their labor was done. This mama finished cleaning the kitchen and is now kicking back eating a warm piece of homemade pumpkin pie, with the added bonus of knowing that breakfast is already made. That is 15 more minutes of sleep for me in the morning.