Any food that promises to prepare itself to perfection when left alone for the day -- or, even better, overnight -- is a sure winner in my book. Yogurt was my first foray into this realm of (seemingly) magical cooking, and my slow-cooker's gotten lots of use ever since, rockin' not only raw milk yogurt for the little dude, but also many a vegan dinner for our family this fall, and thus allowing me a clean kitchen and plenty of fully-focused kiddo time in the evenings before dinner. I do love to cook, but -- like work, marriage stuff and everything else in my life -- having a kiddo in the mix has inspired some creativity and shifting around, if not in terms of priorities than certainly in terms of timing. Night hours are often best for working, date "nights" are sometimes most doable at midday, and cooking dinner -- thanks to my slow cooker and this book -- is sometimes most viable (and enjoyable) first thing in the morning. Aaron takes Kaspar off to school, and I pull up Pandora (Cat Power station) on the iPod and get to making a happy, meditative mess in the kitchen. By 10 a.m., dinner's doing its thing, the mess is cleaned up, and I'm punching in at the office.
Besides the timing tricks slow cooking allows, I'm fascinated with foods that co-create themselves by way of natural processes (yogurt's one of them, since its cultured); they have a certain allure and mystery. I've made simple pickles in the past, and plan to experiment further with fermented foods (kombucha and sauerkraut, here I come) in the near future. And for some time now -- despite various failed attempts -- I've also been determined to turn out a good loaf of yeasted bread.
I've wanted to make a 100% whole wheat bread, but my loaves always ended up with the consistency of dense bricks, and tasting of cardboard. Aaron -- a seasoned bread-baker himself, although he hasn't made any in a while -- suggested I start with a simple white bread recipe, which would be more forgiving, and then take my new skills up a notch by introducing heartier grains. Too stubborn to compromise, I did study up on the subject a bit, by way of The Tassajara Bread Book and The Complete Tassajara Cookbook, by the now-famous zen chef Edward Espe Brown. (I also recommend this documentary about Brown. Good stuff.) I realized that my past attempts have failed because I used water that was too warm, and thus killed the yeast at step one. I also used recipes that called partially for white flour, but used whole wheat instead; these recipes weren't designed to make a good loaf of 100% whole wheat.
Brown's basic bread-baking tips corrected my too-warm water mistake -- easy enough to fix going forward -- and his (very basic and easy) recipe for Overnight Whole Wheat Bread -- made of just whole wheat flour, yeast and water -- promised a semi-sourdough taste without the trouble of a sourdough starter. And its title offered the instant appeal of bread-making while we slept.
As it turned out, although there is an overnight component to this bread's creation, a substantial part of my Sunday was also spent attending to its subsequent steps. Like most yeasted breads, the hands-on time wasn't all that intense, but I had to be around for several rises and to put the bread in -- and take it out (ahhhh) -- of the oven. This might have been tricky on a week day, since I'm in and out of the house, but it was fine for a Sunday. We were kind of just kicking around anyway, relaxing after the eventful week before (my birthday was last Monday -- woot! -- and Thanksgiving of course quickly followed), and it was nice to attend to bread baking at the same lazy pace, and likewise to do our down-time thing against an olfactory backdrop of hot bread in the oven. (That Kaspar couldn't eat the results, due to his wheat and gluten allergies, was not really a big deal. I do plan to bake some bread with the same flour blend I use for his chocolate chip cookies, though, now that I'm getting the hang of this thing.) As for the actual results, the bread was substantial without being brick-like in the least, and it tasted amazing. Mission accomplished!
I used substantially more flour than Brown's recipe called for, since my dough was super sticky. I've modified the proportions below to reflect this, but when you do this at home, add about a half a cup of flour at a time as you're kneading, and stop adding the flour when your dough forms a smooth and pliable ball, instead of caking itself in sticky globs onto your hands and work surface.
Here's what you'll need:
1/4 tsp. active dry yeast
3 cups whole wheat flour
3 cups warm water (just barely above body temperature will be perfect)
1/2 cup warm water (again, just barely warm to the touch)
1 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast
2 teaspoons salt
5-ish cups whole wheat flour
What you'll do:
Evening: Dissolve the yeast in the water, and stir together (in a large bowl) with the flour, about 100 times. Cover with a clean, dry dish towel and set it aside until morning.
1. Dissolve the yeast in the water, and add -- with the salt and additional flour, beginning with 2 1/2 cups and slowly adding more as you go -- to your mixture from the night before.
2. Turn out onto a floured work surface, and knead your dough, adding more flour as necessary so it isn't sticking to everything (see note above).
3. Knead your dough about 300 times (no need to count). Place the kneaded ball into an oiled bowl, and let rise for 3 to 4 hours.
4. Shape dough into 2 loaves, and place them either in oiled loaf pans, or on an oiled baking sheet. Brush the tops of the loaves with water, and let rise for another hour.
5. About 15 minutes before baking (so 45 minutes after step 4), preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
6. Brush the tops of the loaves with water again -- I actually used a bit of coconut oil, and next time may add some garlic and herbs to olive oil and use that -- and bake for 45 minutes to an hour, until the loaves are browned on bottom and top. (I went for the full hour, and they were perfect.)
7. Remove from oven, slice, top with coconut butter (current addiction), and enjoy!
I sometimes go for months (okay, maybe weeks) without thinking much at all about Kaspar's food allergies. Considering that we spent his entire babyhood desperately trying to decipher his situation, and sufferings its affects, this is saying a lot. Although we did decipher his situation to the extent possible -- and we've made incredible progress in addressing it, and easing his symptoms so we all suffer less -- our lives are still very much affected by his allergies; Kaspar's diet remains quite limited, by any normal person's standards (no wheat, gluten, eggs, soy, nuts, sesame, annatto, etc. etc.), and the possibility that one of these items might somehow make its way into him remains a looming threat. I make all of Kaspar's food at home, and he brings his own food everywhere he goes. And we work hard to ensure this never means he's left behind. He can go to school, and we can travel together as a family. (Cooking can be a challenge, in transit, but we improvise.) As for Kaspar's school, his teachers are up to speed, equipped with Epi pens, and part of our team. In the event of an emergency, everyone knows what to do. And everyone in Kaspar's life is working to prevent any such emergency from happening. This is threat management: doing what it takes to keep the little dude safe, and rockin' it so life is fun, instead of scary. Life is supposed to be fun.
Still, the world is full of wild cards, and while I try to focus (in everyday life, and on this blog) on the victories, with threat management comes some fear, and tough, personal mommy stuff. I think there's probably value in writing about that, too. Full disclosure and all. When we travel, for example, we encounter cooperative airlines -- and passengers -- and... uncooperative airlines... and passengers. Kaspar does not, as of yet, react to nuts in his proximity (as opposed to ingesting them, which would definitely elicit a life-threatening reaction), but we don't want to put this to the test while hurtling through the air at however many hundreds of miles per hour, however many hundreds of feet above the ground. So I always let the airlines know we have a child with a nut (all nuts) allergy before we fly. Delta goes so far as to refrain from serving nuts on their flights, and even to ask -- over the loudspeaker -- that passengers don't eat any nut snacks they may have carried aboard. Other airlines (American Airlines) simply shrug, and tell us we're on our own. I then have to tell the people around us -- right in front of Kaspar, of course -- that my son has a life-threatening nut allergy, and ask that they don't eat any nuts during the flight. Do some of these people resent that I'm 'telling them what to do'? Yes. Do some people whine about it? Yes. Do I care? I care that Kaspar has to overhear all of this, but... I don't care enough not to ask, because I care more (more than I do about my own self-image, inconveniencing others in a minor way, and more, even, than repeating something kind of scary in front of my son) about keeping him safe. And, on the upside, I guess it's good for him to watch and learn, so he can keep himself safe, too. I try to model my tone, my approach -- everything -- in a way that will serve him when he takes all of this on, himself. (In fact, he did hold his hand up to deflect the offer of a graham cracker from a buddy the other day, saying, "I can't eat that. Thank you, though." It filled me with hope.) Deep down, I hope and hope and hope he won't have to take it on. I hope these allergies will all go away. And I focus on the victories.
This has been on my mind this week because we've been dealt a hand of wild cards right at home in recent days, too. It's been a tough reminder that... others aren't always as careful as we are. That this fear I feel is real and that the threat is, too. The first situation, if you will, occurred after a Buddhist discussion meeting that I offered our living room up for. We have a nice space for these types of things in our living room, and, if they happen there, I can definitely attend, and so can Kaspar (I let him stay up past his bedtime for these things. They're fun). Someone left a jacket behind after the last meeting, however, and it sat around our house for a few days before landing in our laundry pile. I emptied its pockets -- as I do all pockets -- before putting it in the washer, only to discover loose walnuts in them. I then discovered several on our living room rug. Walnuts, again, are a serious danger for Kaspar. I don't think he'd eat one if he found it, but who knows? And I don't want him picking one up and then touching his mouth... you get the idea. I know everyone in attendance has been told about the allergy sitch and asked not to bring any nuts into our home. I'm sure this was an unintentional slip-up, but that doesn't change the fact that it put our kid in harm's way.
Likewise, a very close friend came over for a playdate a couple of days ago, and pulled out a peanut butter snack for her daughter mid-way through. She paused and said she'd thought about it but decided since only her daughter would eat the snack, it should be okay, right? I hesitated, and confessed that we do indeed, occasionally, eat nuts in our home ('we' being Aaron and me), but we are super crazy careful about washing our hands immediately afterward. Peanut butter is sticky, and kids are messy people.... I wasn't feeling very okay about peanut butter snacks on the loose, but her daughter had already seen the thing. I asked that my friend wash her daughter's hands after eating, and said I'd also wipe the area down when she was finished. (Then did.) My friend watched her daughter closely, and washed her hands as I'd requested. She's a really, really good friend, and I know she meant no harm. But, she said she'd thought about it. Why did that snack make the cut? It shouldn't have. I didn't want to make my friend uncomfortable, or emphasize -- again, in front of Kaspar -- that an innocent-looking snack another child was chowing down on could actually kill him, so I left it at risk-management. But part of me felt... unnerved. I know this is not second nature for most people, but we rely on others to take care, around Kaspar, to ensure his safety. Every time someone doesn't, I get an awful feeling.
The third incident happened yesterday. Another good friend, whose child also has food allergies, was making a snack for Kaspar's class, and thoughtfully asked if Kaspar would be able to partake. (He brings his own snack, otherwise.) She was making wheat and gluten-free pumpkin muffins. "But they have almond milk in them," she added. I said nope, almonds are nuts, and Kaspar's allergic, but thank you for thinking of him. Thing is, Kaspar's classroom is nut free. I waited a long time, and debated whether it was appropriate, before asking that they take this measure (another local Montessori school is entirely nut-free, school-wide, which I think is brilliant), and they were happy to comply when I did ask. It just limits the likelihood of a 9-1-1 call, which is in everyone's best interest. But a parent who knows this, and who has a kid with food allergies herself, planned to put almond milk in a snack. I don't know how much of a risk this would pose to Kas if he didn't eat the muffins, but I didn't really want to find out via a wayward crumb, or whatever. Since I know the mom, I called her later and explained, and she was totally understanding. She had coconut milk on hand and made the muffins with that. And I told Kaspar's teacher today, in brief, about the mix-up, and asked her to emphasize when explaining the nut-free thing to new parents in the class that this includes nut milks and butters. Kaspar's teacher understood, as well, and all of these situations resolved without incident, but... three in one week was just... a lot. A lot of reminders.
I don't want to be overprotective; it's not in my nature, as a person or a parent. I remember handing a pretzel to a puppy-eyed kid at a party once -- before I had a kid of my own -- and, when his mom sprinted across the room and pried it from his mouth, I totally judged her. "Parents these days." Now I'm that mom, and I get it. I so, so get it. My dad, within ten minutes of being in the same room as Kaspar last summer, handed him a "nut crisp" chip. Granted, my dad has dementia, but he's in the early stages and had just been told not to feed Kaspar anything. It was, again, a reminder. We -- Aaron and me -- are responsible for risk-management, and that means riding the shit out of our message sometimes. That means being diligent and, sometimes, being annoying to people. During that same visit, my mom was offended when I asked her, every time she left the house with Kaspar (she was awesomely on board for kiddo watch, which allowed me to get some work done... I love my mom), if she had the Epi pens. What she may not know is that most -- by far-- of kids' allergic reactions, to known allergens, occur when the children are with secondary caregivers. Grandparents definitely included. Double-checking with my mom wasn't a personal affront. It was a vocalization of what I do in my head, now as a habit, before I leave the house with Kaspar myself. Do I have the Epi pens? Check? Good to go. Let's never have to use them again. Not assuming someone else has that habit in place means a bad situation won't turn rapidly worse if we do. This is my job.
Besides the reminders, I've also been thinking about this because we are moving seriously in the direction of bringing another baby into our family. I've been bouncing back and forth (not as decided as I thought) between adoption and pregnancy like a ping pong ball on lady hormones. Aaron respects that we're talking about my body as far as pregnancy is concerned, and he knows I'm pretty traumatized by Kaspar's first year (plus), so he's really open to either option and has left it up to me. He prefers pregnancy, though. Adoption takes a while -- years, sometimes -- and is pretty (very) expensive, but we're starting the process, to account for the taking a while part. We're getting in touch with some agencies, filling out forms and seeing where the path leads. Getting the ball rolling. But I'm also feeling more open to another pregnancy. There's definitely a higher likelihood of allergies for kid #2, since Kaspar has so many. But, there are also lots of families with only one food-allergic kid, out of two or three or four. I would avoid certain foods during pregnancy and while breastfeeding, to try and tip the scales in our favor. And if our second child had eczema, reflux, and allergic reactions like baby-Kaspar did, we'd know what to do. We've done it before. We're doing it. It would be a bummer, but it wouldn't be a crisis, as it was the first time around.
When I think about certain parts of Kaspar's babyhood -- swollen faces, vomit, begging for answers from our pediatrician and being told he was probably fine, peeling his hands from his skin as he clamored to scratch (and scratch and scratch), I get short of breath, even now. I want to go back and help my baby. The thought of being there again with another terrifies me, and that made me feel certain I couldn't take the risk. But I've researched, and reached out to other moms who have kids with multiple, severe food allergies, and I've been encouraged. Many siblings -- most siblings -- of those kids don't have them. And while I've wondered if even considering another child is irresponsible to this first, who needs me to be vigilant and to manage the risks, these moms are clearly very much 'there' for their children, and they've given me confidence. They've also provided another kind of reminder: although everyone is different, we are not the only parents who've lived through the kind of babyhood Kaspar had, and who continue to manage the risks, to approach strangers on airplanes and ask them not to eat their snacks. We are not the only parents who've felt this particular brand of fear when others don't care, or don't remember, to be careful. And these other parents, these other families, are also living well (nod to Heidi from Living Well With Food Allergies -- thank you, so much, for your email). As far as adoption versus pregnancy goes, we're going to start the adoption process, and, if a child hasn't been matched with us by next fall (when I'm going to opt in to health insurance through my work), I'll go ahead and get my IUD removed, and we'll let destiny decide. We definitely won't leave a baby hanging if we get matched up, or knocked up, along the way. Either way, I know our family will grow however it should, and that we will be exactly the parents our next child needs, just as we have been -- and are -- for Kaspar. (When we first found out about his countless allergies, landed in the ER, and hit the bottom of what would be a steep learning curve, friends told me how lucky he is to have me as a mom. I felt I was failing him and didn't believe them. I cried, "I don't want this problem. I don't want us to have this problem." Now, these days, I understand and believe what they said.)
The fear of losing one's child is something all parents, I'm guessing, face on at least an abstract level. For me, the ease with which something very bad could happen has been the hardest part of this whole thing. Harder than the eczema, harder than the sleep deprivation. I don't want to walk around afraid the piano will fall. That's not how I want to live. That it could fall,at the drop of a peanut (or an egg, or some bread...), threw me for a loop, for a while. But all of us are susceptible to things that could happen. And sometimes, things do. Some parents have faced the possibility of losing their children even more intimately than I have; I know a mom whose son survived cancer, at four. (Not surprisingly, she's one of the coolest, most 'aware' people I've met.) Many mothers in war-torn, or poverty-stricken countries are powerless to protect their children from violence, disease, hunger. Our world is messy. Motherhood is messy. It is filled with beauty but its depths of love are endless, and we are, consequently, vulnerable, right along with -- and in direct proportion to -- our children. All people are vulnerable, but all people are also strong. We have endless depths of strength, too: this is our birthright. As Aaron reminds me when I worry Kaspar will feel isolated, or fret about the threats, "Everyone has something." This is our something. This is real life. And I accept it. I -- we -- will continue rocking it, and having fun. Risks, reminders, wild cards and all.
Kaspar picked at his food all week, bored with his usual fare. Since his options are limited, I was kind of at a loss. But Aaron came up with a plan: to re-organize some of Kaspar's staple foods into the classic American meal.
Kaspar's friend Tessa is turning two, and her birthday party is this afternoon. She loves books and animals, so Aaron went out this morning to choose a book (about animals) for her at our local bookshop, while Kaspar and I stayed home and created some DIY up-cycled gift wrap.
The inspiration for this project came from Creative Carmella, but, while I think Carmella's painted photo canvases turned out quite chic and modern, we went for a more rustic, free-form (read: made by a two-year-old) look with our gift wrap. Kaspar, for his part, found his zen of toilet paper roll stamping; he became so absorbed in this activity that we busted out a full five "sheets" of gift wrap -- which I'll no doubt use for holiday gifts in December -- before lunch time. When we'd finished, he admired his work and said, "Tessa will love that I made this." I love that he said that. I also love that we found an awesome use for our rather large stash of paper grocery bags. (I always bring a few of these -- and some canvas bags -- to the store with us, but we somehow always return home with more...)
Want to make some gift wrap, too? Cool. You'll need:
For each sheet of wrap, I cut one of the paper bag's corners (where it folds) lengthwise, and then cut out the rectangle bottom (the part that sits on the floor when the bag is full of stuff.) I then trimmed the sheets to what looked like a good size, and lay the bag flat on our kitchen table, print side down. Next, Kaspar simply pressed one end of the toilet paper roll onto the ink pad, and stamped its shape (a circle) onto the bag. Over and over and over again. (Ommmm.)
And here's Tessa's gift!
I love the handmade look! Kaspar's proud of his work, too. Thumbs up all around; this was a cheap and easy project that I can see working well for kids of all ages. (I'll admit I got my toilet paper stamping zen on, too.) Definitely sibling-friendly, and a nice way to save some trees during the holiday season.
What do you think? Love it? Are you digging back through your recycling bin? What are some other green gift wrapping ideas?
Think wonderful thoughts.
Kaspar dressed as Peter Pan for Halloween -- his idea. We have a version of the classic book, and he requests it nighty. He didn't really understand Halloween last year; he rang exactly one doorbell, called it a night, and -- back home -- happily let us trade out his treat for some blueberries. This year, he took notice of decorations around the neighborhood, weeks before the big day arrived, and we've spent many walks since admiring ghosts, giant spiders, and jack-o-lanterns as they appeared on our neighbors porches and lawns.
I'm really into holidays now that I'm a mom. (Also now that there's Pinterest -- follow me!) And although I was surprised Kaspar had such a definitive answer at the ready when asked what he wanted to dress as for Halloween, I shouldn't have been. He knows what's up. Which is why instead of planning to trade him something for his loot this year -- because even a cool toy doesn't make up for having your trick-or-teating stash confiscated, when you're two -- I pre-distributed Kaspar-friendly treats among our neighbors so he could have his cake (so to speak) and eat it, too. It worked like a charm. He just thinks everyone's really into applesauce. I'm not sure this plan will work as well in coming years, but I'll take it a step at a time. Last year he couldn't even eat applesauce, so who knows what lies ahead... (I'm optimistic!)
Happy (and emergency-free) Halloweening complete, I put Kaspar to bed on Wednesday night and settled down on the couch to watch a scary movie with Aaron. Almost as soon as we sat down, however, we heard Kaspar cough a few times, so I went to his room to check on him. It's been a tough pollen season around here -- tougher than usual, even, and Austin's always bad -- and we've had to give Kaspar nebulizer treatments every other week or so this fall, in addition to utilizing Ayurvedic and TCM prevention methods. (They've worked, too, but when the asthma's really under way, we have no choice but to rock the alburteral. Aaron's been taking his inhaler, too... and I think he only needed it once when we lived in New York.)
Kaspar's breathing sounded fine, but he had a fever of 101.4. Over the next five or six hours, he had two extreme coughing episodes, two nebulizer treatments, two vomiting episodes and, needless to say, got very little sleep. We debated whether to bring him to the ER, and were pretty confused by his symptoms (some of which were side effects from the nebulizer itself...), but we made it through the night without having to go. I brought him in to the pediatrician the next day and confirmed my budding suspicion that Kaspar had a bad case of croup. He's had it once before, but it previously only featured one coughing episode, and we didn't have asthma on our minds at the time, so we hadn't hopped him up on other meds and complicated things. I also brought him to our local, amazing TCM doctor on Thursday afternoon, and she checked him out and modified his herbal prescription to address his asthma. (As for the croup, she administered some gentle acupressure and advised us to lay low and ride it out.)
It's been a few days, and while Kas is still a little sick, he's feeling MUCH better. Phew. And he keeps asking to have Halloween again. So cute.
In other news, I'm five days in to a ten day Ayruvedic cleanse, led by an amazing practitioner here in Austin, Ivy Ingram. (If you're local, go see her. She's great.) In addition to certain dietary restrictions, breathing exercises and other, um, cleansing protocol (there's an enema coming up that I'm not exactly thrilled for... but hey, if the sages say jump...), I'm supposed to be laying low, too, and getting lots of rest. I've realized, one the one hand, that when I can go to bed by 10 pm, I don't. As in never. Even when strongly encouraged to do so as part of a structured cleanse, and even when I'm following all of the other protocol to a T, I don't go to bed at 10 pm. I know it would benefit me enormously. I know that two and a half years of hardcore sleep deprivation took it's toll, and that I signed up for this cleanse as a way to mark the wonderful shift Kaspar's made in recent months (Wednesday night notwithstanding) -- wherein he sleeps soundly, through the night, every night -- and to re-boot my own system in the wake of the sleep dep marathon. But still, I can't bring myself to go to bed at 10 pm, even a few nights a week. I'm working on it.
The other thing I'm realizing is that sometimes life stuff -- like kiddos with croup, and sleepless nights -- simply comes up, and our intentions for self-care get back-burnered. Rest wasn't in the cards on Wednesday night, or on Thursday, really, but I did scale things back a bit on Friday -- when Kaspar returned to school -- to give myself a chance to catch my breath. And I stuck with the other cleanse protocol throughout. I initially signed up for this cleanse on an impulse. I'd planned to take a long weekend away, alone, sometime this fall, to sleep and to process and to disengage for a bit. But I signed up for this cleanse instead, when I received an email about it. Already sold on Ayurveda as a profoundly powerful system of medicine, I sensed that the cleanse will ultimately be more grounding, and more beneficial, than checking out of my life for a few days would have been. (I might still go ahead and do that, though.) Remaining engaged with the many things I have going and, meanwhile, going through the cleansing process is more challenging, but it's also more relevant to my life right now, and it's exactly what I needed.
Anyway, here's to Halloween, to healthy kids, to clean starts and to November. My birthday month. (The big 2-8 is just a few weeks away, y'all. I'm ready!)
I'll finish with some additional, gratuitous cuteness:
How was your Halloween? If you have kids with special dietary needs or food allergies, how do you handle the candy sitch?