Sunday, October 25, 2009

Rhinestone Shades and Cheap Sunglasses

As you may know, I started this site as a catalogue of my dietary adventures, or occasionally misadventures, as I learned to cook for my son, heretofore known as the Maestro. We started with a diagnosis of Sensory Integration Dysfunction (SDI) and a potential connection between Gluten & Casein and altered sensation. By following the diet strictly, and comparing what happened when we missed something, I have concluded that for us the GFCF diet doesn’t directly make a difference with SDI. The both of us get a headache -or worse- when we eat gluten. A headache makes any condition more difficult to deal with. Over the years, we have seen diet make a huge difference in the Maestro’s behaviour, to the point that eating the wrong thing can turn him into someone else for days. Since we prefer the standard version of him, there is now a long list of foods that he has to avoid if any of us are going to be happy.

He is now in grade one, and for a boy with his mental acumen he has had a surprisingly difficult time learning to read. Partly this is due to what turns out to be a fairly severe case of ADHD, and partly (or so we hoped) it was due to Irlen, or scotopic sensitivity syndrome. I wrote about Irlen Syndrome a few years ago, but it turns out it was on my now-closed chemistry blog. This is what I said:

I have several relatives who have what is called Irlen syndrome in the United States , or Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome (SSS). The basic gist is that certain wavelengths of light interfere with the brain's processing of visual stimuli. Wikipedia has a good sample of what written text may look like to someone with SSS; in talking to some of my cousins about it, they say that things appear differently to each of them. A few of my siblings have it, but not nearly to the extent that my cousins do. My siblings all seem to feel better when they wear colour-tinted glasses, and they had trouble at math. Looking at the sample text below, which I think is supposed to be Times New Roman font, you might expect a problem keeping track of a negative sign in an equation.

Do I think I have Irlen Syndrome? No, I don't think so. Everything is looking the same as it used to, it just hurts my eyes hurt to look at white things. I suppose that if I get some more sleep this weekend, and it doesn't go away, I may need new glasses. This is just one of those issues in my family that you have to consider, like to eat or not to eat wheat. When half your siblings wear coloured lenses on a regular basis, and your cousins ALWAYS wear glasses and a sun-visor, light sensitivity is going to make you consider Irlen Syndrome. ”

In the spring, we took the Maestro for an Irlen screening, and were told that he had it. They gave us some coloured plastic sheets that are supposed to help when you put them over text you are trying to read, but they didn’t really seem to make a difference. The next step is to spend one million dollars on a full diagnosis of the helpful and harmful wavelengths of light. Then you send away for a pair of glasses that filter the light you see reflecting off everything, not just pages of text. Luckily, the lenses are included in the one million dollars, and you just need to find a pair of Ray Bans, out of which you can pop the lenses.

Even though we hadn’t seen a noticeable difference with the overlays, we felt like a full diagnosis and glasses was the thing to do. This summer, we spent three days in another city so the Maestro could spend time each day looking through colour filters. We spent several weeks combing the city to find glasses that block peripheral light and that the Maestro would wear. We finally mailed them off and spent 4-6 weeks waiting, trying not to get our hopes up that lightly tinted glasses would solve all of our problems.

What problems? Well, the Maestro is at a great school that is really dedicated to working with students on what they need, but it was clear that reading was becoming a big problem. It didn’t seem to matter how much we worked with him, sight-word recognition was not getting much better, nor was his ability to differentiate things like p and d or b, or m and w. Then there was his attention deficit and his hyperactivity, which makes it tough to concentrate on something long enough to make progress, whether you can see the letters or not. His impulsiveness and his noise offends people, who then tell us that we just need to be harder on him more consistently so that he will decide that misbehaving isn’t worth the consequences. Or worse, people get offended and instead of telling us what we need to do better, they complain to our neighbours about our bad parenting.

So how can Irlen glasses help? Well, if you look here (and you really should. I’d put the figure here, but it’s an animation and won’t copy) you can see samples the several different ways that Irlen syndrome can distort what you are trying to read. Scroll down to the distortion effect box, and try out the various options. If getting rid of those visual effects doesn’t make recognizing the, them, and they, easier, I would be surprised.

Then there is the simple overwhelming nature of seeing the world this way. Here is a great picture of a Brain scan, done on a person with Irlen Syndrome. Areas with brain activity are shown in white. The set on the left are done without glasses on. Compare the same brain on the right, when the person puts their glasses back on. With a brain that active, focused on nothing in particular, concentrating on the task at hand is going to be difficult.

Does Irlen syndrome cause ADHD? Can putting on a pair of glasses make it go away? This is the sort of thing we were trying not to get too hopeful about, but the hope was the reason we were getting the glasses in the first place.

He’s been wearing the glasses consistently now for three weeks. In that time, we’ve seen leaping improvements in his reading. He recognizes and remembers words by sight, rather than trying to chant the letter combinations that he has trouble seeing. We got an email from his teacher last week, saying that she could tell that our hard work was finally paying off and that he is making great gains. We’d been working hard the whole time, and it is only now that he has his glasses that the time and effort invested is paying any dividends.

Interestingly, he has also become much calmer. We haven’t had to talk to him once since he put on his glasses about getting in someone’s personal space, which was one of the things that required consistent consequences to curb. (The preceding sentence brought to you by the letter c.) We asked him this morning why he wasn’t invading people’s space anymore, and he said that he forgot all about doing it. I’m not sure exactly what that means, but whatever had driven him to try to talk to people an inch from their noses is no longer there. Reward, punishment, reminders, nothing we have ever come up with for the past five years has ever made a difference for this behaviour, and it simply disappeared.

Not all problems have disappeared. Now that the letters stopped moving, he still has to learn to read. Now he can learn, though, which is a huge improvement. He still has to pay attention to the task at hand, and that may or may not be solved by glasses. When people ask me what difference the glasses make, I tell them that he has gone from having ADHD to just having ADD.

Those of you who have never met us, who only know me through this blog, may wonder why we haven’t just put him on medication. It would be sooo much easier than all the diet restrictions and baking, which haven’t completely worked anyway. Now there are these glasses, which are just weird. Just put him on drugs, already! Many others consider medication a crime against children, and would never consider it. This is almost 1500 words, and medication is too big a topic to sandwich in here. It must suffice to say, for now, that ADHD medication can’t fix moving letters or gluten sensitivity.

Others might figure that the concept of "fixing" a kid like the Maestro is the problem, and he is who he is. Today, the Maestro got himself dressed for church, packed his activity bag and put on his socks and shoes without being reminded. We were on time, and he ended up with the things he wanted in his bag, which then kept him occupied through the meeting. The things he packed, well... those are uniquely him. If he can focus on being the himself that he wants to be, that's progress.

P.S. The child formerly known as The Maestro now wants to be known as Obi-Wan Kenobi. I think I'll call him Ben.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Treats? Treats

Evan appreciates having treats. I don't mean that he enjoys treats, though he certainly does. He appreciates them, kind of the same way Ben Gunn, the maroon on Treasure Island, appreciates cheese.

A couple of weeks ago we were at a family gathering; desert was pie and ice cream. Evan can eat neither of these so he had a piece of gum. Yesterday he went to a birthday party. While everyone else was eating cake, he munched on a few pieces of what may be the only gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free*, corn-free, grape-free, coconut-free non-gum candy in the world. He routinely watches other kids have fruit snacks, potato chips and juice boxes that are off-limits because they have some trigger food on the ingredient list.

Today we had company for dinner, and there was wheat-flour carrot cake with cream cheese frosting for dessert. Knowing this ahead of time, I made a rice-flour carrot cake for us. With the lemon glaze from the freezer, It was one of the rare times Evan had it just as good as everyone else. As he finished his second helping, he gave me a big grin and said, nodding, "This is great, Dad. Yeah. Really great!"

After dinner, one of the other husbands asked me what I do for fun. Pretty much the only thing I do is bake, but I don't usually think of this as "for fun"anymore. It doesn't really count as leisure since I have to do it for us to live.

Ben Gunn spent three years on Treasure Island before Jim Hawkins and crew arrived. For three years he lived on salted goat meat and fruit. When he met Jim, one of the first things Gunn did was ask for a piece of cheese. He said that he would dream he was eating cheese, only to awaken and find himself in a cave, with nothing but salted goat for breakfast. When he finally got his cheese, you can imagine that he enjoyed it, but he probably appreciated it in a way that most of us never will. Tonight as Evan thanked me for making him a good cake, it seemed like he appreciated it,

Carrot Cake
3 cups shredded carrot
3 eggs (or equivalent flegg)
1 cup oil
2 cups brown rice flour
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp xanthan gum
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

Mix everything together well, and put in cake pan. One of the joys of GF baking is that you don't have to worry about mixing order so much. Bake at 350 F, until it looks done. Voila!

* gum always contains soy lecithin. I think it is the soy oil that bothers him and soy lecithin seems to be fine, at least in the amounts they put in gum.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Red Lentil Soup (Plz I can haz sum?)

Years ago, when I was a sophomore organic chemistry student, I was eating my lunch before class when the cute girl I had recently started sitting next to asked what I was eating. What I was eating was Red Lentil soup, which I love. I love this soup, and expect that everyone else will, too, so I asked her to taste it.

Afterward, she confessed that she thought "Not only is this guy willing to share his lunch, but he can make very tasty lentil soup. I should date him!" So, she did. It has been 11 1/2 years since she tasted my soup before class, and 10 years since we got married.

Not only does this soup have great lentils, and rich spices, but it doesn't call for additional salt. Be sure to rinse the lentils well, until they stop foaming.


Heat 2 TBSP olive oil
Saute, about 5 minutes :
2 large onions, diced
3 carrots, diced
3 cloves Garlic, minced

Add, saute 1 minute more:
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp marjoram
1/2 tsp coriander

6 cups stock
1/4 cup fresh or 1 TBSP dried parsley
29 oz can tomatoes, pureed
2 cups well-rinsed lentils

Simmer until lentils are tender, adding more water if needed.

Add 2 TBSP red wine vinegar.

If desired to make the soup thicker, take some out and blend it. Return blended soup to the pot.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Lentil Paste

I recently went to a workshop on eating legumes. It was mostly on things I knew (how to soak beans so you can cook them) and things I didn't care to know (how to make your own tofu). I did pick up one new tip -- Lentil Paste.

The way the story goes is that you can replace half of your oil with legumes, which seemed a little strange at first, since a bean and a measure of oil aren't really that similar. It turns out that if you have some cooked lentils, you can put them in your food processer with enough water that they process well, until you end up with a paste, like thin peanut butter. THIS replaces half the oil in your recipe.

Since I have recently started using Flegg for baking instead of egg, the amount of protein per muffin has gone down considerably. Lentil paste in a Flegg muffin is the perfect solution, at least every five days when lentils are up in the rotation. I've made a couple of different things with lentil paste, and so far everything has turned out fine.

Here is my original recipe for pumpkin muffins, as provided by my friend Sharon, for the second annual pumpkin fest.

1 1/2 c sugar
1 c pumpkin puree
1/2 c oil
1/2 c water
1 eggs

Mix together well, then add:

1 2/3 c all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves
3/4 tsp salt

Put in muffin pan, and bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

However, since then, I have learned to modify recipes slightly. OK, more than slightly these days. Here is my new and improved, hypo-allergenic Pumpkin Muffin Recipe:

1 c sugar
1 c pumpkin puree
1/4 c oil
1/4 c lentil paste
1/2 c water
4 TBSP half strength Flegg

Mix together well, then add:

1 2/3 c GF flour (Rice, sorghum, millet, whatever is up in the rotation)
1 tsp xanthan gum (muffins do well with 1/2 tsp per c of flour)
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves (omitted, because the Maestro doesn't dig it)
3/4 tsp salt

Put in muffin pan, and bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Sweet and Sour Lentils

When Riley and I started dating, this one was her favourite. It was the Red Lentil soup that first got her attention, but this one kept her coming back.

It has the familiar sweet & sour flavor that is a hit with our kids, but lentils instead of meat, of course. This makes it a good choice for Lentil day, especially since lentils are one of the few legumes we can rotate at the moment.

2 c. water

1 c. brown/green lentils

2 buillion cubes

1 bay leaf

½ tsp salt

¼ c. (pine)apple juice

¼ c. cider vinegar (plain vinegar is not as good, but will do in a pinch)

¼ c. brown sugar, packed

1 can pineapple tidbits , drained (optional)

1 T. corn starch or tapioca starch

½ c. cold water

1 med onion, chopped

3 carrots, sliced

1 garlic clove, minced

½ green pepper, chopped

Olive Oil (as necessary )

Appx. 3 cups cooked rice (1 ½ cups uncooked)

1. Rinse lentils in running water until they stop foaming.

2. Combine first 5 ingredients in a large pot. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 30-40 minutes.

3. Combine last 5 ingredients in a deep pan. Saute in just enough oil to lubricate the pan, until the vegetables are as crunchy or tender as you like them.

4. When the vegetables are done, add the juice, vinegar and brown sugar. If your lentils are done, you may add them at this point, or after step 5.

5. Simmer the vegetable/juice/vinegar mix for 10 minutes.

6. Mix 1 T. cornstarch (ir Tapioca) and ½ c cold water in a jar. Shake well and add to mixture. Cook at medium heat until the mixture thickens.

7. Serve over hot rice.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Flegg, the DIY vegi egg

How do you make Flegg?

You take flax seeds, about 1/4 cup, and boil them in a cup of water until the water starts to resemble egg white. About the time that it foams and boils all over the stove, you know it is done. (If you are paying attention, you can skip the boiling over part.) You quick filter it, before it cools too much, and voila! You have vegi egg white. One TBSP replaces about one egg.

It is a pain to work with. I've been making mine about half strength, and doubling the amount I use, and it is still a pain. It is a non-Newtonian fluid, which means that if you try to spoon it out, you get nothing, and if you try to pour it, you get everything. I need to get some ice cube trays so that I can freeze it in one egg portions instead of measuring it every time. I recommend that when you go to the store to buy whole flax seed, you also buy a metal strainer and some ice cube trays.

If you don't pour it into single serving portions while still hot, the best way I have found of measuring it is to dip in a measuring spoon and scoop out a blob. Quickly scrape the top of the spoon with a knife, like you do when measuring out flour. This cuts off the flegg in the spoon from the flegg outside of the spoon.

You have to cut it because flegg is composed of soluble fiber; it is long carbohydrate strands that hold onto water and hold things together. It isn't going to replace your xanthan gum or your gluten. It kind of replaces the structural properties of the egg protein. You will know that you have used too much if your end product feels gooey, like when you use too much xanthan gum.

Flegg is NOT an emulsifier, meaning it won't hold your oil and your water together. I still haven't found a good non-egg-non-soy emulsifier. Mustard does the same job, but I don't' think mustard would help my brownies any. If anyone has any suggestions, let me know.

I have used flegg successfully in GF:
Carrot Cake

It has done a passable job in pancakes (you have to use a metal spatula to flip them, because they are going to stick).

It has failed me spectacularly in:
Waffles (since a metal spatula isn't going to help you here)
Brownies (you REALLY need an emulsifier to keep all the fat in)

When my Dad taught me to make pancakes he told me that if your pancakes are sticking, the solution is to put more oil IN the pancake, not ON the pan. I think the sticking that happens with pancakes and waffles is the emulsification issue again. I don't know the microstructure of waffle batter, but it seems like the oil isn't where it needs to be to allow the waffle to come off.

So, we're back to toast most mornings. Rice with Teff, sorghum and uncontaminated oat, in a rotation, at least until we're ready to try millet again.

Flegg in the rotation.

Flegg, not Frack, though that was kind of what I thought when I first had to try it. Flegg is a do-it-yourself Flax-based egg replacer.

You see, this past year, the Maestro started Kindergarten at a French Immersion school nearby, partly because the gifted school we wanted to get him into was full, and partly because we hoped that having him learn French would keep his brain busy enough that he would enjoy school. It turns out that they spent weeks learning the names of the colours and he was just bored in another language.

By Christmas break things were going so poorly that he was staying in the coat room for most of the morning, and something desperately had to change. I called the gifted school and through the judicious manipulation of conversational pause length, we got him a spot replacing someone who moved. We also started seeing a psychologist, who told us that he is an INTJ, which means, among other things, that he has "an unusual independence of mind, freeing the INTJ from the constraints of authority...for its own sake." This is not generally an appreciated trait within a Kindergarten classroom.

We also found out that he has some pretty serious ADHD, which is also not a generally appreciated trait within a Kindergarten classroom. We knew that he was H, but were actually surprised at the AD part. He focuses so intensely on things that he likes. He got the nom de plume of the Maestro because he knew all the instruments of the orchestra by the time he was three, by sight AND by sound. An english horn and an oboe are pretty tough to distinguish. He has since moved on to submarines, whaling, space, pirates, and now Star Wars. It turns out that that is part of the profile of ADD: intense attention on interesting things. It is the not interesting things that are hard to pay attention to.

The psychologist we have been going to is really good at finding alternative ways to treat ADHD, including changes in diet. The Maestro has been developing food sensitivities other than Gluten and Casein so we have been on a rotation diet the past few months. This is partly to help identify foods that are a problem, and partly to keep other foods from becoming a problem. Scientific studies on rotation diets are generally inconclusive; they tend to find that research subjects are unable to stay on a rotation diet.

I don't disagree. We haven't been nearly precise enough to satisfy control group issues. We've done the best we can, and statistical significance aside, it seems to make a huge difference. Here is a list of foods that have had to leave the rotation.

Beans (especially soy)
Corn, in any form.

Other things we are sceptical of, but haven't been banned completely.

Citrus Fruit

So, Eggs. What do you do without eggs? You don't do much baking if the second thing on the banned list is beans. The thing is, the best egg replacer I have come across is 1 tsp of soy powder and 2 TBSP of water. It works as a great emulsifier, keeping everything together, and it has protein that helps hold your stuff together. But if you can't have soy, then what?

You use Flegg.

Friday, April 03, 2009

A Loooooong Hiatus

You may have noticed that I haven't posted in a while. And by a while, I mean almost a year and a half. A lot has changed in that time, including what we eat.

We have a few new recipes for baked goods, which was really the big challenge initially that started this whole thing off. We don't have a LOT of new recipes for baking, since I figured out how to convert almost any wheat flour recipe into GF on the fly. I haven't seen much point in posting those, since they come straight out of the Purity cookbook or Betty Crocker.

The biggest change in baking is the total absence of sorghum flour. About a year ago I spent several months trying to get back-ordered sorghum flour, to no success. There was this world-wide food shortage thing going on, and I suspect that most of the sorghum ended up being fed to cows instead of to me. We switched to Millet instead, and have enjoyed that as well, if not better.

My standard flour mix now is 1 measure each of brown rice flour, millet flour and tapioca starch. I added the brown rice flour since it has pretty good nutrition, and I can get it pretty cheaply. The reason I can get it pretty cheaply is that I now have a grain mill, which I love. I will have to tell you about it in another post. It has been almost everything I had wanted it to be.

Where does this blog go from here? I felt like I had reached the apotheosis of GF baking when I read the regular brownie recipe right out of the cookbook and converted it to GF as I went along. Riley thinks we should start posting some of our dinner menu, especially since I am now eating low sodium. I'm hoping to post a new dinner idea about once a week, so stay tuned.