Wednesday, April 21, 2010

On Feeding My Watermelon With a Small Hole Bored In It Swinging on a String From the Ceiling

Yes, I realize that is a strange title. I read somewhere once that spoon-feeding a squirmy baby is like boring a small hole in a watermelon, hanging it on a string from the ceiling and then having someone swing it back and forth while trying to spoon applesauce through the hole. They weren't kidding. It's a pretty darn accurate comparison, I think.

So, as any of you who are actually reading this thing know, Mr. Ry-man has developmental delays and areas in which he struggles. One of those areas is feeding.

Our pediatrician has never been concerned about his eating, because all he cares about is that Ry is eating a wide variety of healthy foods, which he is. The kid will eat any vegetable, any vegetarian or non-vegetarian protein (that he can eat with his food allergies), any grain (ditto), and any fruit except for pears (really, pears?), so the pediatrician is satisfied. The frazzled and mashed bean and carrot-covered woman who spends almost 2 hours every day spoon-feeding him his meals is not (that would be me).

Rylan is a very particular eater. He will not pick up food and put it in his mouth. He will, however, pick up food, make a face and wipe it on his shirt, his mommy, his mommy's willing and ever-expanding chubby dog, the wall, etc. He will gladly take his spoon, fling the food on it across the room to land on a treasured wedding photo and bang his high chair tray with glee. He will also gladly pick up his bowl and throw it on the floor where it shatters over his mommy's bare feet, and then SMILE. He will do all of these things, but he will NOT, I repeat NOT feed himself. The idea is just preposterous, Mom, come on.

He also will not eat food that is hot...or warm...or cold...or cool. Food must be lukewarm, tepid, neither above nor below room temperature. If food is slightly warm or cold, gagging, flailing, choking, and crying will commence. He hates ice cream and soup for this reason. In addition, he will not eat food that is crunchy, or crispy, or dry, or hard, or firm. Crackers, chips, raw veggies, undercooked veggies, sandwiches, non-squishy cookies and breads all will be met with gagging, flailing, choking, and crying.

Obviously, he has some feeding problems that are being addressed with therapy. I tried to "tough mom" his feeding problems out of existence by refusing to spoon feed him, by giving him rougher textured foods only, and by just putting food on his high chair tray and leaving him to his own devices. Guess what? He never ate a single bite. He also never seemed the slightest bit upset about the whole process. That is because, the root of my inability to encourage him to feed himself or eat rough textures is that he just doesn't care about food.

Those of you who know me well, take a second to absorb that. MY child doesn't care about food. At all. Period. Sure, he'll eat it if you put it in his mouth. He even shows a little bit of pleasure when fed a few select foods, but if he saw, say, a piece of Grandma Joan's clementine cake sitting right in front of him, he would make no move to eat it, nor would he whine to get me to feed it to him. He would either ignore it, or touch it, make a face, and wipe his hand off on any handy surface or slowly-moving mammal.

I might think that his developmental delays were keeping him from being able to express any longing feelings toward solid food if it weren't for his reaction to "milkies".

Soymilk is the great love of my son's life. He loves it more than his security elephant, more than his favorite books, and even more than his Daddy and Miss Lindsay. You can walk into any room in my house and say the word, "milkies" and in two seconds flat, Rylan will have crawled there and be whining for his sippy. He will reach for his sippy if it's in a high place, he will crawl across the room to retrieve a sippy sitting on the floor, he will put any sippy he finds in his path into his mouth immediately in the hopes that it contains his beloved "milkies" (which makes picking up the empties after each "milkies" session really, really important, ew!).

My son would rather drink soymilk than eat any delicacy I can whip up to tempt him. The thing that I find really confusing is that the soymilk isn't even the yummy sugar-packed vanilla kind. It's plain ol' fortified soymilk. Yum. Not!

We, of course, limit his soymilk intake so that he is hungry enough to eat solid food, but for now, getting the little dude to eat solid food means making sure it is exactly the right temperature and texture and spoon-feeding it to him. If his exacting demands are met, he will sigh and dutifully swallow his portion of salmon and mashed potatoes, or blueberry pancakes, or upside-down caramel pear cake, whilst dreaming all the while, or so I imagine, of a lovely plastic sippy filled to the brim with Silk Plain....mmmm...

I am just overjoyed that we have (or will have soon) three new members of the Get Rylan Dittrich-Reed to Feed Himself and Enjoy It club: Sabrina, his therapist from the Pediatric Language Clinic, a speech therapist from the ETCH Rehab Center, and an occupational therapist from the ETCH Rehab Center. I wish them all well. May they have better luck than his parents. I have a feeling it's going to be a bumpy ride for them, too, as Ry may not have inherited my love of food, but he sure as heck inherited my stubbornness!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Yeah, I'm Saying It!

I have long wanted to address what in my opinion is a burning question just begging to be answered, but have held back for fear of offending my readership. However, a recent episode (well an episode I saw recently anyway) of "The Katie Brown Workshop" brought this question to my mind again, and I decided I'm just going to say it:

Why on God's green earth do we need baking mixes?

Well, it's out, you can all hate on me now, if you want.

I just don't understand them. Is it really that hard to measure out flour, baking powder or soda, and salt? Really? That's all some of these baking mixes are. I'm trying to picture the scenario in which one thinks, "Hmm...I'd like to bake about a coffee cake? Okay here's a recipe! Let's see flour, baking powder, salt, vegetable oil, sugar, milk, eggs...oh dear, no, that's far too much work! Let's try this Bisquick recipe instead. Let's see, it calls for Bisquick, vegetable oil, sugar, milk, and eggs. So much simpler! How did I ever live without Bisquick?"

Really? By using the Bisquick version, this theoretical person has saved, what, 30 seconds by not having to measure out the leavening agents? I will agree that more complex baked goods, like cakes can be a little more tricky, but honestly, if you can follow the directions on the back of the Betty Crocker box, you can follow a basic yellow cake recipe. I swear on my son's security elephant it's not that difficult (some kids have a blankie, my kid has an elephant; told you he was cool).

Okay, back to the Katie Brown episode. For those of you who have never seen it, "The Katie Brown Workshop" is a show on PBS in which Katie Brown, a former caterer, does segments on cooking, decorating, and gardening...or rather flower my opinion, she's sort of like the poor man's Rachael Ray (which shows you what I think of her if you know how I feel about Rachael Ray...), or the very poor man's Martha Stewart. she was demonstrating her special recipe for festive, fancy carrot corn muffins. Her daughter and her little friends love them, she says, they can't get enough! Are you ready for her special, festive fancy carrot corn muffin recipe? Get a pen...okay here it is:

Take one box of Jiffy corn muffin mix. Prepare according to instructions. Add some shredded carrot. Bake.

Make a glaze of maple syrup and powdered sugar. Pour over muffins. Ta-da!

Bet you didn't need a pen for that one, huh? I'm sorry, but I don't think you should be allowed to call a dish your special recipe if all you did was add 2 things to a boxed mix! That's like adding a dash of cayenne pepper to a jar of Ragu and calling it your super special secret spicy sauce (oooh...I think I'm going to patent that name, so alliterative!)Would it really have been that much more difficult for her to measure out some flour, cornmeal, baking soda, and salt and make an actual corn muffin recipe? I guess it would have taken away from her time pulling the heads off of roses and skewering them on willow branches (no kidding, I couldn't make this stuff up, people).

I don't mean to hate on Katie Brown, or anyone else who uses boxed mixes, I just really don't see the point. Now, if you could get an entire cake in a box, well then they'd have something...oh wait you can. In fact, here's a good place to do that: All I'm saying is if you're going to bake, bake, if you want a cake out of a box, buy one from professionals.

Throw that Bisquick away, people! Better yet, donate it to a homeless shelter, write it off as a tax deduction and use the money you saved to buy a bag of flour, a can of baking powder, and a box of baking soda. Call your grandma and ask for her coffee cake recipe, or if your grandma's a Bisquick lover, call me! I have at least four simple and delicious coffee cake recipes including a vegan one.

Rant over. Let the hate mail commence ;).

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Be Not Afraid, Gentle Reader!

Alas, I imagine many of you have long feared the Kitchen Pirate hath succumbed to smallpox or consumption. Be not afraid, gentle Reader, the Kitchen Pirate still walks the earth!

This entry won't contain much food talk, but I promise I'll get back to that soon. These last two months have been a crazy blur. In case any of you out there don't know, we got the news (or non-news) in January that our little dude, Ry, is a tad bit unusual. I wish I could be more specific, but that's all the info we have right now! The most likely candidates at the moment are autism or sensory processing disorder or a combination of both.

The last two months have been jam-packed with specialist appointments, therapy consultations, and many, many attempts at socializing the little dude all of which he looks upon as varying degrees of torture (Little Gym seems to be akin to the Iron Maiden, whereas playdates fall somewhere under the category of minor water-boarding).

Dylan and I actually have very calm attitudes towards all this madness. We were both pretty stunned at first, but after much reflection (and a much needed change of perspective thanks to the fabulous Kristina, whom I have never met, but who remains, nevertheless, an inspiration - another blog shot-out for you, super-mom!), we realized that Rylan is still Rylan. He is still the beautiful, funny, quirky little guy we've had the privilege and pleasure of being parents to since October 2008. No label can change that.

There is also no reason to suppose that he can't achieve the dreams that we have for him (which, for the record, are merely to be a happy and productive member of society...and a Nobel-prize winning scientist...and genius novelist...but I digress). It occurred to me when reading Good Housekeeping of all things (a relative buys me a subscription...sometimes it's nice to know how I'm supposed to clean things, though I usually still resort to the whole paper towel + vinegar-water + cursing thing followed closely by the stashing dirty item in the closet + forgetting about it thing), that we were never wishing for an "ordinary" child in any case.

GH had a book excerpt from a football player (former football player? GH gets a skim at best) whose son is autistic and he was talking about his massive denial and his incredible grief that his son wasn't interested in stereotypical "man" activities like sports and fishing. Passing these things down to his son was incredibly important to him and not being able to share these interests with his son was completely breaking his heart.

While I can certainly sympathize with his pain...Dylan and I had often groaned about the possibility that we would end up with the star quarterback or the head cheerleader. We have never wanted a son who would follow the stereotypical "man" path and we are certainly ill-equipped to raise one (Mr. I-wore-sweat-pants-to-school-until-I-was-16 and Miss I-re-read-Louisa-May-Alcott-novels-at-lunch-to-avoid-socializing). If we had a child with a passion for football, we would, of course, have done some research (like figuring out what "scrimmage" means), and supported his interest. However, we were both secretly dreaming of having that nerdy, quirky kid who knows every single fact about dinosaurs or who has read all of Jane Austen's novels by the age of 10, the kid who's a little off, the kid who marches to the beat of his own drummer, the kid who is authentically himself regardless of how cool or uncool that makes him.

While I don't want my son to absorb my plans for his life, but rather to make his own plans, that last one is particularly important to me. I want Rylan to be Rylan, a happy version of Rylan, but not anyone else's version of Rylan, not even mine. Whatever diagnosis we eventually end up with will have no effect on Rylan's ability to be Rylan, and so, we have lost nothing from our dreams for his life. We have put him in various forms of therapy to enable him to connect with his world and explore it and be better able to decide how he wants to shape it, but I have no other hopes regarding his therapies. I never wanted him to be the star quarterback and so I have less to get over than a parent with those expectations would.

Now, if he comes to me at 10 and says, "Mom, this Jane Austen chick is boring. I'd much rather read Hemingway,", well then I'll probably need some therapy sessions of a different kind, but until then I remain optimistic for his future and excited to see where he takes us.

And hey, maybe he'll still be that star quarterback, in which case you will find Dylan and I in the Sports section of Barnes and Noble before every game frantically memorizing football terms we can scream out at him while we eat the vegan nachos I've prepared and snuck into the stadium.

Full circle, people, maybe I'll talk about vegan nachos tomorrow.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Pancake Possibilities!

I have ALWAYS loved pancakes (my mother can vouch for this). One of my earlier memories of my childhood was an instance when we had breakfast for dinner. My mom told my sister, Grace, that if she finished the pancake she had, she could have the last one on the plate. I, being the chubmeister that I was, had probably already eaten 5...or 12...but I crammed the remaining pancake on my plate into my mouth and held out my plate for the last pancake. Imagine my surprise when my mother said, "No, this one is for Gracie. You've had enough." She was right, of course, but the fact that I remember this mundane event so clearly illustrates how deep my love for the pancake goes.

Fast forward to the present day. When I found out that my son had allergies to dairy and wheat, one of my first thoughts after, "No more cheese?????" was, "No more pancakes?" followed quickly by, "Oh no, will Rylan ever be able to eat pancakes?" Over the next few months, I began to experiment with dairy and wheat free baking and cooking, and I was SO excited to find a wheat-free, dairy-free pancake mix at the Co-op. I saved it for our "Christmas" morning celebration. They looked so pretty browning up on the griddle. I was so excited to take that first sweet bite, drenched in Mrs. Butterworth's. They tasted like gritty paste. Ick.

Then began my quest to create the perfect vegan, wheat-free pancake. I began with the pancake recipe from my Christina Pirello cookbook and since then have ventured far afield. I discovered that a mixture of half oat flour and half rice flour turns out pancakes that are so crumbly you can barely flip them, but a mixture of only oat flour creates gummy, sticky pancakes. I eventually settled on a ratio of roughly 3/4 oat to 1/4 rice. I also discovered that you have to decrease the amount of liquid if you're modifying a wheat pancake recipe because oat and rice flours don't absorb as much liquid, so you end up with one runny pancake overflowing the griddle and spilling onto the floor (much to the dog's delight). Once I perfected the basic vegan, wheat-free pancake, I began experimenting and a tradition began.

Now, every Saturday or Sunday morning, I try to come up with a new pancake. I've done apple cinnamon, cornmeal/molasses, sweet potato ginger, pumpkin pie, several variations on blueberry, oat and honey, and this week it was sweet potato coconut with a touch of molasses, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg. In my humble opinion, they were the best yet!

The best part about pancakes, other than their quick prep and cook time, is that Rylan loves them! Ry isn't a picky eater, but he doesn't get excited about very many foods. He generally approaches eating like a chore he knows he has to do. He eats methodically and rarely "asks" (read: yells impatiently) for more. Therefore, I know a pancake recipe is successful if it gets the RyRy yell of approval, and that's what drives my creativity. Every weekend, I just hope to create a new pancake that will make my child throw a temper tantrum and that will be my gauge of pancake greatness - at least until he has a sibling he can try to cheat out of the last pancake.

Monday, November 23, 2009

On a Day Nicknamed Turkey Day, What's a Vegan to Do?

So, this Thursday being Thanksgiving and all, I started thinking this past weekend about what I would serve. We'll be a small party of Pilgrims and Indians: me, Dyl, Ry, and our friend Megan, so a turkey seemed a bit much anyway.

When I became a vegan, I thought I would probably make exceptions for holidays. Then, I made the colossal mistake of reading Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals. Oops. Honestly, it's a great book but full of lots of terrifying, disgusting, and depressing facts about factory farming and its widespread deleterious effects on not only the animals, but our health, and the environment. After I read the portion on poultry slaughterhouses, I knew I could never eat Thanksgiving turkey (two words: fecal soup...that's all I'm going to say...).

However, being a reasonable person who can look both ways down the animal product street, I knew Dylan and Megan (our friend Megan, not confusing!) might not be as keen on Tofurkey as I am, so I told Dylan he was in charge of the meat dish. He chose Cornish game hens instead of turkey, since there are only 2 1/2 meat eaters attending our little shindig. I also ordered a small pumpkin cheesecake for the dairy consumers. The rest of the feast will be vegan.

It turned out to be surprisingly easy to transform traditional Thanksgiving dishes into vegan Thanksgiving dishes. Our menu will include: mashed potatoes, mushroom gravy, sweet potato casserole, brussels sprouts, mushroom stuffing, and a vegan pumpkin cheesecake in addition to the Cornish game hens and Tofurkey and traditional pumpkin cheesecake.

I already shared with you the recipe for vegan mashed potatoes - just a simple substitute of non-dairy spread for butter and unsweetened soymilk for milk. The sweet potato casserole recipe hardly has to be changed at all. There are 2 T. of butter in it and it's an easy fix to switch that to non-dairy spread. The brussels sprouts just need to be tossed in olive oil, salt, and pepper and oven-roasted, which is exactly as I would have made them if I wasn't a vegan. The original stuffing recipe calls for sausage. I'm substituting shiitake mushrooms drizzled with soy sauce for that umami flavor.

Turns out it's pretty easy to create a vegan Thanksgiving. I worried at first that I would miss the bird, but then I realized that celebrating this way is my way of giving thanks. I am thankful that I live in a country where following an alternative diet is a possibility. I don't have to eat whatever I can find or grow or face starvation. I have the luxury of making food choices based on health, personal convictions, and even something as frivolous as personal taste, and I am very thankful for that.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

New Layout

This is for you, Jaime, for admitting publicly (okay semi-publicly) your love (okay enforced knowledge of) Star Trek: TNG. Hopefully it's kinder to your eyes ;).

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Mole-asses is Dee-licious

Hello faithful readers. I apologize for my absence. Life is nuts in my house, and we have been guilty of subsisting on foods that are completely un-blogworthy these past couple of weeks.

This weekend, I got the itch I get every fall, no not the fall cleaning itch (wish I got that one, my cleaning gene is missing, thanks parentals). I got the incurable, rolling-in-the-grass-type (this may not be an apt comparison for many of you... I only realized once I reached adulthood that not all children get covered in red, itchy bumps when they roll in the grass, but I'm sticking out my tongue at you and using it anyway) itch for molasses.

Mmmmm...molasses...every fall when the air starts to get crisp and the leaves start to turn colors (they actually do that here in Tennessee!), I get the urge to break out that bottle of viscous, black goo and make something chewy and delicious. I have a similar fall reaction to pumpkin, but that one kicked in earlier this year and I seem to be mostly over it already.

This weekend the molasses urge fell upon me without warning and I immediately baked molasses chewies and an Apple Spice Upside-down Coffeecake. While the molasses chewies recipe definitely needs some tweaking (they morphed into one thin pancake that was so chewy it could probably remove loose teeth...I have the recipe if any of you have the type of weeny kid who won't pull out his/her own loose teeth and leave them hanging there by a disgusting thread of bloody gum tissue), and the upside-down coffeecake was not nearly apple-y enough owing to major apple shrinkage, the itch has been definitely and satisfyingly scratched.

For those of you who don't know, there are 3 grades of molasses: mild, dark, and blackstrap. I'm a blackstrap girl myself. Apart from the fact that peering down into the bottle gives me a rush of tingly adrenaline as I imagine the black goo morphing into the tarry monster that killed Tasha Yar (if you don't know, go watch all seasons of Star Trek Next Generation now: we can't be friends until you're finished), it has a deeper, richer flavor, and is a great source of calcium, magnesium, potassium, and iron! Who knew sweeteners could have actual nutritional value? One caveat: the sweetness is mild and the flavor is STUH-RONG, so I would not use it as the sole sweetener in a recipe; a little bit goes a long way. Apart from its use in baking, it's yummy drizzled onto pancakes (extra points if they're cornmeal pancakes), or swirled into hot cereal. Plus, I mean, does it get any cooler than "blackstrap"? What a bad-ass name!

So, go out and buy some molasses. Heck, if you decide the taste is not for you (wuss!), you can always use it to remove rust, as a component of mortar or animal feed, to treat burns, as a soil additive in your garden to promote healthy microbial growth, as an iron supplement if the traditional kind, well, stops you up, or you can stick it in your pipe and smoke it (literally, molasses is often mixed with hookah tobacco).

Three cheers for mole-asses (and yes spelling it that way tickles my juvenile funny-bone).