Wednesday, May 30, 2012

I am moving

After posting a couple times in the last day or two, I've decided that I really don't want to stay on Blogger any longer.  You can find the new location over at

No, "learnify" is not a real word.  Yes, I like making up words that should be real.  It also made me giggle.  So head on over and watch me get learnified!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

GF Snack Break

Ah, popcorn.  Glorious, low-calorie, gluten-free popcorn.  It's good to eat for just about any diet or eating plan, unless you're corn-free or trying to avoid GMO's.  But I digress.

For snack this afternoon, I am making two varieties of wonderful popcorn.

Variety 1, for my son Raspberry, is the basic popcorn-with-butter-and-salt combo.  Variety 2, for me and whichever kids are brave enough to taste it, is a little more exciting.

I got this recipe from my mother-in-law, and I love it.  I have no idea where she got it from, but I figure that the more popcorn lovers who find it, the better.  If you know who I should give credit to for one of my favourite snacks, please let me know!

Sweet and Spicy Popcorn Snack Mix

2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp liquid honey
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
pinch of each: ground cloves, cayenne, and salt
8 cups popped popcorn
1/4 cup chopped nuts (today I'm using cashews and pecans, and I put in way more than 1/4 cup)
1/4 cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 300F.  Mix the butter, honey, and spices in a small bowl.  Microwave for a minute, stir, toss over the popcorn, nuts, and berries.  Spread on a lightly greased baking sheet (or two), and bake for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Allow to cool a bit before eating.  Can be stored in an airtight container for up to 5 days.  Makes 8 cups or so.

In case you were wondering, my kids aren't actually named after fruit.  I just didn't want their names to be displayed on the internet overly much, so I gave them horrible nicknames.  Someday, I bet, they'll get me in trouble for that. 

Gluten Deprivation: Life Without Bread

You may be wondering how I convinced my kids to go gluten free.  Here's a secret for you:  I didn't ask them. I told them, "I think I might have figured out why you have tummy aches so often.  I think it's the wheat that's bothering you.  How about we don't eat wheat for two weeks to see if you feel better?"

I was sneaky.  I didn't mention at first that all their favourite foods contained wheat.  (I figured that would become obvious soon enough.)  Raspberry was immediately on board.  He doesn't like stomach aches or headaches, so I think it made sense to him to try to get rid of them.

My kids have also grown up with me.  You may have read my past posts about sugar.  I can't eat sugar without becoming crazy/anxious/depressed/stressed out.  It basically causes a day of meltdowns, impatience, and yelling, following by crying and the thoughts that my life is horrible and I must escape it.  (It's almost like I forget everything good for a day.)

I talk with my kids about why I don't eat sugar; I restrict their sugar intake because I'm pretty sure that even if it doesn't make them crazy, it's bad for them in other ways.  It's bad for everyone.  I just happen to be an extreme case.

So, the idea that food affects how people feel is not a new idea around here.  When I say, "Wheat might be what's making you feel horrible all the time," the kids believe me.  And they're smart.  They don't want to feel sick.

My husband, although smart, is not convinced that life without bread can be better.  He looks to the possibly gluten-free future and sees meetings in which he can't eat donuts, fast-food that doesn't include hamburgers, and mid-day hunger that can't be satisfied by going through a drive-thru.

I look to his gluten-free future and see more energy, less pain, and more peace of mind.  I see it out of my own experience with sugar.  I know that giving up the foods I thought I loved was worth it.  Sometimes, I still look wistfully at caramel, but then I get over it.  I have found ways to make my own ice cream with stevia; I do my baking with honey or agave syrup; I can even pour a bit of maple syrup on my pancakes if I want to.  I have found that whole-food sugars can be acceptable in small quantities.  I have also developed a taste for non-sweet things.  I know that Husband's tastes will change over time.  But, I also realize that there is a grieving process involved in giving up old comfort foods.

A couple years ago, my sister (I think?) gave me a couple books for Christmas or my birthday:  Babycakes by Erin McKenna and Gluten-Free Girl by Shauna James Ahern.  Babycakes is a recipe book that is "Vegan, (Mostly) Gluten-Free, and (Mostly) Sugar-Free" (from front cover), and it has many great recipes in it, including an icing recipe that I can eat.  Through that book and those recipes, I started into the world of coconut oil, alternative flours, and eating cupcakes again.

Reading Gluten-Free Girl, which is more of a memoir/food-discovery story, changed other things in my brain.  I realized then that eating without something -- be it sugar or gluten -- didn't have to feel deprived.  It could be a glorious opportunity to find new loves.  Reading that book changed the way I thought about food, and I think it was a preparation for this day, for this experiment, for success.  I can tell my family with absolute certainty that although we are trying life without gluten, we will not be deprived.  We will still eat delicious food in abundance.

On Saturday, I went to the cupboard and removed all the gluteny food.  There is nothing worse that being hungry and staring into a cupboard full of food you can't eat.  So I decided to make sure the cupboard was full of foods that we like that contain no gluten.  Actually, I was surprised by how much was left on the shelves when I was done.

I rediscovered bags of nuts and sunflower seeds, packages of dates and prunes that had been pushed to the back, and jars of home-canned fruit.  (No, I have not tried canning yet.  Maybe someday.)  I pulled out the pasta, but left brown-rice noodles, grains of all kinds, and even a couple gluten-free flours from old experimenting days.  Some of these foods may be past their best-before dates, but it still makes me happy to know they're there.  The cupboards are far from bare.

I have some plans to roast some raw cashews I have in the freezer along with some pecans from the cupboard.  Maybe I'll give them a nice, flavourful coating first.  I wonder what the kids would like best?  I'm imagining a crunchy, maple-y coating on them.

I've also made up some popsicles for the kids.  (Here you go: the easiest popsicle recipe ever:  Pour strawberry yogourt into popsicle molds.  Freeze.  Eat.

You're welcome.)

For dinner tonight, I think we'll barbecue some steaks, potatoes, and carrots.  I love barbecued carrots.  We'll have a veggie tray for the picky youngsters who don't like cooked vegetables, and we'll slather our potatoes in sour cream and butter.  Yum.

Deprived?  Never.

Going Gluten Free

I'm about to use my poor, long-neglected health blog as a daily diary during a family experiment. We are going gluten free for two weeks to see what happens.

What brought this on? Well, I was at the pharmacy the other day picking up a prescription, and while I was waiting for my drugs to be ready and shivering with fever, I decided to browse through the books. (Yes, it was one of those big box pharmacies where you can easily forget you're in a drug store.) One of them caught my eye, and on impulse, I decided to buy it. The title: What's Eating Your Child? by Kelly Dorfman, MS, LND. 

I have one kid (let's call him Strawberry) who's itchy all the time. His skin? It looks normal. Every now and then, it gets dry, but it itches him even when he feels lovely and moisturized. It drives both of us crazy. He's also pretty sensitive and has been having meltdowns way beyond what I believe his self control can do as a six-year-old. He's a smart kid.

I have another kid (whom I'll call Raspberry) who has been complaining about stomach aches a lot, at various times of day and evening. He also mentions having a head ache more than I like. He used to complain about itchy skin as well, but only at bed time; he no longer complains about itching, but he has some nights when he just can't sleep, and by 11pm, he and I are both past our patience. Thankfully, those nights are getting fewer and farther between lately.

The next child, whom I shall nickname Orange, also complains about stomach aches, although it's unclear whether they're merely clean-up-time induced. His legs also hurt quite often for no apparent reason, and I've been told "they're just growing pains. Give him some Advil." I don't really like giving him Advil every night, which is pretty much how often he seems to need it.

Last but not least comes Banana. He, like Orange, his twin, has terrible growing pains in his legs. They sometimes wake him up in the middle of the night. He also consumes way too much Advil. But even more worrisome than that, to this mother at least, is that he isn't growing properly. I'm pretty lucky to have an identical twin to compare him to to see that he's not growing to his genetic potential. He's a full two inches shorter than Orange, and even his legs are skinnier. He's also "clumsy." The poor little guy has a "gross motor delay," according to his doctors. They don't seem worried about it. But I feel bad for him sometimes. He wants to be as fast and as big as his twin, but he just isn't.

Oh, and I suppose I should mention Apple, even though she's little and not showing any signs of troubles yet. I don't want her to feel left out. ;)

Those little people are the reason I picked up that book. I want them to be healthy and happy, and I knew I was feeding them too many bagels and english muffins and toast and wraps... But I wasn't sure if they were causing Raspberry's stomach troubles, or if I was imagining things.

Anyway, it turned out to be an absolutely fascinating read. Kelly (I hope she doesn't mind if I call her Kelly) has so many years of experience, and it's obvious to me that she's great with people as well as with nutrition. She even gives suggestions on getting picky eaters to expand their menus, and the method is so gentle that I wonder why no one else has told me something similar. As I read, I became more and more curious to see what would happen if we, as a family, removed gluten from our diets. Would Raspberry's stomach aches and headaches disappear? Would Banana be able to grow? Would Strawberry's itching go away?

You see, my husband's mom eats gluten free for many health reasons, and my husband is exhibiting symptoms of gluten intolerance, too. (Stomach pains, headaches, fatigue, mood swings, skin rashes that won't clear up no matter what chemical-free cream I try, joint pain, muscle aches.)  He'll deny it up and down, though, because he loves his bread. Good man that he is, he's going along with me for the next two weeks. Although his first reaction may or may not have been, "I will not eat cardboard!"

Our Plan

Starting Friday past, we have been eating gluten free. So that makes this day five today. I'd been meaning to document/diary everyone's reactions so we can measure how well this is helping each person. In a family this big, as you can imagine, it's hard for me to keep track of who had a tummy ache when, and it's especially hard for me to stay on top of who ate what when. For instance, I have a niggling suspicion that Banana isn't eating enough, but I can't directly remember any of his meal consumptions. It's time to start writing things down.

My goal is simply to remove everything wheaty and gluteny that we've been eating. No more bagels, English muffins, wraps, wheat pasta, bread, toast, or buns. I won't be looking too closely at hidden ingredients, but I will be reading labels and avoiding what I can.

We won't be adding in any new foods. We'll merely eat more of the other stuff we already know and like. My fridge is fully stocked with all their favourite fruits and vegetables, I have lots of meat in the freezer for dinners, and we have a couple dozen eggs for breakfasts and omelets and whatever else we fancy. I also bought rice cakes, which my kids love, and Tostitos. (I know they're full of bad fats, but I didn't want my husband to think he was dying of deprivation. Also, let's face it: our eating habits have been abysmal lately, and chips are normal around here.) We also have cheese, cheese strings, yogourt, apple juice, and even gluten-free crackers (but only because they're tasty and they've been a family staple for a while now. Not everyone likes them, though).

If, after the two week trial is up and we decide we (or some of us) feel better eating gluten free, then I'll think about introducing new foods to the kids' snacks. Raspberry is a very picky eater, though, so I know the process might be slow. In all of this planning, I have been following Kelly's recommendations for doing a trial, and I will be trying out her E.A.T. program when I start adding new foods, if necessary.

We have also added a kids' multivitamin and strawberry-flavoured cod liver oil for essential fatty acids. For Banana, I have been intrigued by the idea that some kids who are deficient in zinc do not grow to their genetic potential, do not eat as much, and sometimes are even repulsed by normal foods... so I'm giving him 15 mg of zinc, stirred up in his yogourt.

I'm not hiding any of these vitamins, etc, in any of their food. Banana knows he's eating zinc to help him grow, and all of them have been taking supplements for a while now, mostly to maintain good immune function. (A couple years ago, I had been so tired of winter colds and the wheezing that accompanied them for the twins, that I had seen a homeopathic doctor about what to do. She recommended lots of sleep, lots of water, Vitamins C & D, and cod liver oil.) I have found a brand that has good ingredients, no added colours or sugar, and whose taste they like. The little vitamins are even shaped like stars. They get excited to eat them, as if they're candies.

So Far
Well, I'm kicking myself for not having written down my observations every day, but here goes:

Day 1 (Friday): Raspberry & Strawberry had a class in which they made hard tack as part of the history lesson. Hard tack is made out of flour and water, and they both loved it. Oops. I guess this day might not count. Raspberry complained of stomach ache, and so did Orange. Husband complained about dreading not having much of anything to eat, and I decided to prove him wrong by making amazing, easy food that I already knew he liked. Take that! Orange and Banana both had growing pains.

Day 2 (Saturday): Raspberry complained of stomach ache again. *sigh* I reminded myself that the first week would be more about withdrawal from gluten, not about healing. A friend of ours brought "barbecue-able food" over for dinner, and showed up with hot dogs, hamburgers, and buns. He very graciously hid the buns away after I apologized that we couldn't eat wheat, and Husband just about cried when he realized he couldn't eat the buns. But we also made oven-baked potatoes, salad with bacon & apples, and a veggie tray so he wouldn't feel hungry. Orange and Banana had growing pains, and Banana woke up in the middle of the night needing Advil.

Day 3 (Sunday): We had to hurry home from church so the kids and Husband wouldn't gobble up any the cookies after the service. I amazingly had the presence of mind to bring rice cakes for snack in the van instead, but poor Husband is apparently NOT a fan of rice cakes. The kids, although they complained and whined, "No cookies!" were just fine. We came home and had a big lunch, then I went out to our local farmers' market to see what kinds of things I could expect to find this summer. I came home with some local free-roaming pork that had been fed only grasses and clover (which tastes amazing!), some fresh spinach, and some other really cool things like old-fashioned, homemade ginger ale concentrate. How cool is that? I believe there were still stomach complaints from Raspberry that day.

Day 4 (Monday): I can't remember Strawberry asking me to scratch his back at all that day. Hm. No stomach complaints from Raspberry. No growing pains from Orange and Banana. Miss Apple, however, is feeling miserable. She's had a fever since the Sunday afternoon and is being very cranky. She had a big immunization on Thursday and has been out of sorts since then. She's also cutting molars. I'm very hopeful that those are the only things bothering her.

Also of note:  Poor Raspberry was starting to feel deprived.  His main diet had consisted of bagels and English muffins and wraps with cheese, so being told to "eat an apple if you're hungry" just wasn't cutting it.  Although he loves eggs for breakfast, by afternoon snack time, he wanted something familiar.  Unfortunately, I recently bought pogos (before deciding to try gluten-free eating), which he loves.  He asked for one.  I said, "Er, uh.... I'll check the label."  (Maybe they'd be made with just corn flour, right?)  Sure enough, the first ingredient was wheat flour.  The poor guy had a bit of a meltdown, but I don't blame him.  And, to his credit, it didn't last long.  Not to my credit, I gave him the chips I had refused to give him ten minutes earlier. (I guess I figured that most of the meltdown was hunger induced, and that any food was better than none.)