The Mysteries of Allergies

The web of small red bumps draped around the left side of Logan’s mouth is stubbornly staying put. It emerged more than a month ago, and ever since, we’ve been trying to pinpoint its mysterious cause.

“We better cut out dairy,” we’d said.

That initially seemed to help. The bumps faded and seemed to be healing—but they never disappeared completely, and then returned, just as strong.

“It could be impetigo,” his doctor had said. “You better start Bacitraicin.”

That, too, initially seemed to help. But just like before, the red bumps started to diminish but then came right back.

Or maybe they never faded at all—by now, it’s been so long, I’m struggling to remember. Did I only think the bumps were fading because I was hoping they would, because I was sure they would?

Cranberry gummies

Cranberry gummies

What new foods had he eaten?  Jason and I struggled to list them. By now, we were in Stage 3 of GAPS and had introduced the Halloween pancakes I wrote about here. “But he’s had pumpkin before,” I frowned. “And I can’t remember anymore if the rash started before we added pumpkin or not–I think it was before.”

Even more frustrating is the fact that following the GAPS protocol is supposed to help isolate these things – the diet calls for adding new foods one at a time and waiting to see if there is a reaction before moving on. And that’s what we were doing—and still, here we are, with a mysterious rash we couldn’t puzzle out.

“Could it be honey?” Jason asked.

But no, I was positive the rash had started before we’d started allowing small bites of honey.

“Then we’re back to the pumpkin,” I sighed. 

“Or the can the pumpkin comes in—“ Jason said, and as he did, I heard echoes of our nephews.

My son gets a rash around his mouth from tapping the eraser-end of a pencil on his face, Jason’s sister had once told me. It’s the nickel in the pencil’s metal.

My dad could never wear a belt, she’d also said. The metal buckle would give him a rash.

“I think you’re right,” I told Jason.

We immediately stopped making his favorite pumpkin pancakes, which broke my heart. Basically his one gastronomic pleasure was gone once again. But Logan actually took it in stride, as long as he could have sunny-side eggs—NOT poached in broth like he’d had to have in Stage 2—instead.

We’ll try pumpkin pancakes again, I promised my sad boy. We’ll buy some fresh pumpkin this week.

Of course, this threw my pattern suddenly far of course. Pumpkin pancakes weren’t the easiest thing to make, but I’d gotten it down. Now that I was using fresh squash instead of canned pumpkin, my pancakes were pathetic. Instead of smooth, cohesive batter that could be poured into small drops in the pan, mine plopped disjointed off the ladle, landing in clumps that refused to stick together. Flipping them was impossible.

Failed pumpkin pancakes

Failed pumpkin pancakes

Jason suggested I microwave the squash first and mash it in the food processor. He even did it for me once, and this batch turned out acceptable though the batter was extremely runny and the pancakes were paper-thin.

When I tried this method, the batter was horribly runny—so much like water it’d be impossible to make anything from it. I thought I’d be clever and add a bit of hazelnut flour to get them to stick together, since we’d decided to move to Stage 4, where nut flours are acceptable, but that made things worse. Now instead of spilling out all across the pan, the batter turned crumbly and fell apart at the slightest touch from the spatula. Again it was impossible to flip; they cooked instead in a pile ad turned into breaded squash pudding instead of fluffy pancakes.

God, I hate cooking. I really, really do.

Then suddenly, his rash worsened. But he hadn’t had pumpkin pancakes in a few days!

The basil in the pesto I made? The olive oil, also new? The cranberry gummies?

Or the can the coconut milk for the cranberry gummies came in?

This version of our gummy treats had a great tart taste.

“He hasn’t really ever had canned food before,” Jason said slowly. “Except for a time or two—maybe it’s the accumulation of suddenly having it every day, from the pumpkin or the coconut milk.”

Two things support this could be true. One, a study from the Journal of American Medical Association found that BPA levels in people who ate one serving of canned food every day for a week increased 1,221 percent because almost all canned goods are sprayed with this chemical. And two, canned goods contain nickel, and when we ingest it, it accumulates in the body. It builds and builds in the body until the body begins to react.

Without canned goods, Logan’s rash is definitely fading this time. This weekend I found organic, puréed pumpkin in a box and decided to try it instead of the maddening fresh version. I also wanted to see if the rash returned in full (mystery solved: a reaction to pumpkin) or not (mystery solved: canned goods). Logan was thrilled to get pumpkin again, and together, we made pumpkin cookies.

A few hours later, he threw up.

“He could be just sick,” Jason pointed out.

What are the odds he’d get sick at the same time as battling an allergic reaction? Instead of solving the mystery, I only deepened it.

Feeling: Baffled

No-Bake Pumpkin Cookies*

  • 1/3 cup coconut oil
  • 1/3 cup honey (or less)
  • 1/3 cup almond butter
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin
  • 1 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spices
  • 2 cups unsweetened, shredded coconut

Mix everything except the shredded coconut in a big glass bowl and microwave for 20 seconds to meld the flavors. Stir in coconut. Spoon small dollops onto a cookie sheet or plates and refrigerate for two hours.

*I love these, and Logan initially liked them, too–but since he was sick, he won’t touch them.

 

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Yup, Still The Worst Cook in Cybersapce

If ever I get too confident that I’m actually learning how to cook an feel comfortable in the kitchen, a day like today comes along to remind me I will likely always be an epic failure.

I bought a Spiral Slicer; a funky device that slices zucchinis into long, thin strands that look just like noodles. Since we’ve finally moved to Stage 4 of GAPS and can now have cold-pressed oils, I thought I’d make a recipe for pesto sauce that I found from the Home Health Happiness blog and something akin to pasta for the first time in God knows how long (because before the past 42 days on GAPS, we were following the Body Ecology diet, which also outlaws carbs). Zucchini Noodle Pesto – I was beside myself.

Zucchini noodles

Zucchini noodles

Normally, I’d never try a learn new, fancy dish like this during the week, and certainly never in the evening when we’re all just getting home. With Sadie tugging on my arm to play dolls with her, Logan incessantly asking me to play video games with him, the dog jumping up and down for me to walk her, and my husband eagerly chattering about something (today it was election results), it’s impossible for me to focus. I’d describe it like trying to learn Greek while walking on a tightrope over a shark tank.

But I’d taken today off work to catch up on writing (I decided to do NaNoWriMo this year and of course am already 6,000 words behind), clean, and grocery shop, so I had the sort of calm, capable feeling that comes after a day of accomplishments (I’d written almost 7,000 words, bought groceries and did the dishes!). I knew I could do this.

I picked up the spiral slicer and fumbled with it in my hands. “How does this thing work?” I asked Jason.

“Well, you use this piece to stab the end of the zucchini, and then you twist it through this piece.”

It felt foreign and awkward in my hand, even more so when I stabbed the zucchini and tried to twist it. Thin, dark green slices fell into my glass bowl.

“Oh,” I said, stopping. “Am I supposed to peel these first?”

I decided I should. That made the slices look like noodles, but I still couldn’t get them to slice into long strands. The tool just felt wrong, completely unlike a pen, which feels comforting in my hands — in fact, I even hold one while delivering a class lecture just to feel at ease. Maybe I should try holding one while I cook, too.

I sliced through most of my two pounds of zucchini, then decided I’d probably done enough. Jason was, thankfully, manning the food processor—another kitchen tool that never failed to baffle me- for the pesto sauce.

“Do we just drop all the basil in, or do we have to trim the ends first?”

“Is that all the garlic we have? I don’t think that’ll be enough.”

“The recipe calls for what? ‘A quart of oil olive, or as much as will fit’? What the hell is that?”

In the end, we did trim the basil stems, we had no choice but to only use six cloves of garlic (the recipe called for 2-10, which seems like an incredibly big range), and we only added maybe a cup of olive oil. All the ingredients swirled around with the high-pitched whine of the food processors, transforming into a bright green paste.

I dipped my finger in. It tasted lovely, like satin and velevet.

My zucchini noodles, on the other hand, were not faring so well. We didn’t really have a recipe for how to make them, but Jason guessed that, based on another recipe in Against All Grain, they’d need maybe five to eight minutes in boiling water. I did that, but when I drained them through the wire colander, they instantly turned to mush.

"Noodles"

“Noodles” Note how they were supposed to look in the picture behind.

I plopped the gob of zucchini into a glass bowl and sighed. It looked like pale green pudding – far, far from anything resembling noodles.

But—maybe because I’d spent all day writing, maybe because Logan’s had two rock star days in a row, maybe because Sadie was at the moment happily distracted—I was not deterred. I simply mixed in a few spoonfuls of pesto sauce and retrieved the now-cooked chicken from the stock Jason had been making. I spread the sauce over it and declared the meal a victory anyway.

The kids even ate it, though Logan had to be coaxed to do so. In fact, he had to be coaxed to eat everything, including his chicken, cabbage and carrots. Despite my satisfied attitude while cooking, I soon fell apart.

“Logan! EAT!” I cried as the night wore on and Logan babbled baby talk, pushed his fork through the air and pressed it to his face, then traced the faint circles around and around on his plate.. “Please take one bite!”

“No, Sadie, do not get up from this table again. If you do, you’re going in your bed. It’s not play time.”

“Logan, EAT.”

Logan stimmed all through the meal, taking bites only after three or four prompts from me. He screamed when I set the timer, telling him he had to clean his plate before it went off or he wouldn’t get a treat before bed. This tactic had worked a few months ago for awhile, but lately, it’s seemed to be more stressful on him than motivating. But on nights like these, it seems to be the only thing that works to get him to eat.

IMG_0079

Instead of eating, Logan is spending most of supper tracing the circles on his plate.

It worked tonight, too, but his distracted/defiant/restless mood continued. He simply could not sit still while I read books to the kids, and a stream of baby talk and extreme silliness seemed to just bubble out of him. He reminded me of a pot of boiling water with the cover rattling on top, barely able to contain the steam struggling to escape.

“Logan, if you can’t have a quiet body, we’ll be done with books and go to bed,” I warned him. I warned him several times, in fact—then finally, I had to follow through with it. “That’s it!” I cried. “You’re not having a quiet body. Get in your bed. Now!”

“I WILL have a quiet body!” he cried. “I WILL!”

“Logan, you’ve said that for the past six times. You will have a quiet body tomorrow. But right now, there have to be consequences!”

He screamed and cried and kicked, his body thrashing all over his mattress. I felt awful, but I felt like I was exploding, too. Why can’t he contain his energy? No matter if he’s angry or excited, he’s always like that boiling water pot, bursting with hot emotions.

“What is going on with him?” I asked Jason when the kids finally fell asleep an hour later.

“Did you see his ears?” he replied. “Fire red.”

Feeling: Irritated

The Five-Skittle Setback

“How was Halloween? Your kids in sugar overload?” asked a coworker on Monday.

I chuckled a little. “Sort of,” I said. “Logan had five Skittles this year.”

My coworker’s eyes went wide. “Five Skittles? That’s it? How’d you manage that?”

What is this food in a box?

What is this food in a box?

I’m always at a loss for what to say when I have to explain our diet. Especially when I’m pretty sure I’ve explained it to this guy before. “Well … those five Skittles are the only sugar he’s had in an entire year.” As I said it, I realized it was true and was also struck by the incredibility of it: Last Halloween was the last time Logan had any candy or anything sweet. “Even fruit, for the most part,” I added.

On one hand, I’m feeling pretty proud of surviving Halloween with only those five Skittles and happy Logan was able to have a bit of a treat. On the other hand, I feel awful I allowed those five Skittles and worry about their effects. (At least it made for a good example of a paradox for my poetry students today.)

And there were effects. I was being truthful when I told my coworker the five Skittles had caused sugar overload. The following day Logan was crabby and defiant, after a rock star week. This morning, too, he seemed to be trying to push buttons, initially refusing to take his supplements and then refusing to walk into the garage and climb into the van to go to daycare. But at least I have an explanation for this recent behavioral setback.

Amazing what five Skittles can do!

And despite the Skittle skirmish, I think we’re seeing good progress. Logan’s IEP meeting was yesterday afternoon, and his teachers and therapists agreed that speech and occupational therapies are no longer needed. In fact, it sounds like Logan is one of the most talkative and brightest kids in his preschool class! Of course, social skills are still lacking and will remain goals on the IEP, but everyone at the meeting felt confident Logan will be ready for a mainstream kindergarten class next year.

As always, the question is, did the diet–GAPS or BED–cause all this progress? Is it the probiotics, the supplements, the vitamins? Or would we be in this exact place even without having gone through (and continuing to go through) this journey? As Jason and I talked last night, he indicated he doesn’t know if he buys it. It’s a hell of a lot of work, he said, for something we’re not able to prove.

And as usual, he’s right–technically. We can’t prove any progress can be attributed to diet. But the Skittles, and the correspondence to a sharp mood swing, suggest a link to me. Those five bursts of color and sugar might have caused a minor setback, but they also helped support my decision to stick with GAPS, as tough as it is.

And it’s getting easier! On Halloween, armed with honey-roasted walnuts, flourless pumpkin muffins and peppermint gummies for Logan, we hit a friend’s Halloween party with the kids. But it turned out our preparations wouldn’t have even been necessary–I can’t tell you how stoked I was when we learned the couple throwing the party follows the Paleo diet. There were actually a few things at the party Logan could eat! (Many thanks to Angi and Fred!)

Here’s to everyone eating healthier these days!

Feeling: Sugar Rushed

Honey-roasted walnut "candy"

Honey-roasted walnut “candy”

Honey Walnut “Candy”

We made these for Logan as an alternative to all the junk food he got trick-or-treating, and he loved them (thank God)!

  • ¼ cup honey (or less)
  • ½ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 Tbsp ghee
  • 2 cups raw walnuts
  1. Melt together honey, ghee and spices
  2. Spread walnuts over wax paper in a cake pan, and drizzle melted honey mixture over them
  3. Toss until coated
  4. We simply put the pan in the oven and left it on as low as it would go (250 degrees F), for a couple hours.

Easy!

 

 

Starting a Sea of Supplements

Drops of blood spurted out as I sliced my finger with the knife. Red drops dotted the bottom of the stainless steel sink and the bright orange carrot I’d been trying to cut in mid-air.

I sighed. How long is this going to take to clean up, I muttered. I tried wrapping my finger in a paper towel to stop the bleeding, but a puddle of red seeped through. I cursed; I was going to have to take the time to run upstairs, clean the cut and find a Band-Aid.

Logan’s favorite breakfast, pumpkin pancakes

It was already 5:35 a.m., and I still had to mix Logan’s pumpkin pancakes, cook them, and get the roast in the crock pot for supper that night. I still had to spoon his CocoYo yogurt into a thermos to bring as a snack. And, of course, I hadn’t packed a lunch for myself yet.

This was Monday morning. The rest of the week went much the same–without the finger slicing but with the addition of Logan and Sadie standing in the kitchen, wanting to play, from about 5:40 on. Both cases mean less time to put together lunch, breakfast, two snacks for Logan and a lunch for myself for the day.

But other than crazy mornings, we’ve been plugging along steadily with GAPS. We’ve gotten to add some delicious new foods, like fermented vegetables and pumpkin pancakes, which we told Logan are special Halloween pancakes. We’ve also started making our own coconut milk.

I barely stomach dry, boiled chicken anymore, but with boiled carrots and fermented red cabbage, it’s suddenly delicious.

The pancakes have lead to a little more wiggle room with breakfasts, though snacks are still pretty boring. We have two options: the CocoYo yogurt (that I’m not entirely sure is legal in this stage) and the Peppermint Gummies I wrote about last time.

Results are also back from Logan’s blood and urine analysis tests, and we met with his MAPS doctor to discuss any abnormalities. Little surprise, there are quite a few.

“His thiamine levels are low, and his B-vitamin levels are low, and he has a high need for glutathione.” The doctor dived right in. “His need for a few B-vitamins is a potential indication of some methylation needs.”

I’ve been reading about nutritional supplements, the methylation process and other biomedical treatments for autism for the past year — basically nonstop, in fact. I have piles of articles and studies I’ve printed out with highlights and summary notes, where I’ve translated the scientific jargon into my own words. I thought I understood it all fairly well. Yet, sitting in that insanely hot exam room, I felt like I was drowning in it all. Magnesium glycinate what? Orthomolecular intestinal huh?

11 supplements (some twice a day) ... is this too much of an overload?

11 supplements (some twice a day) … is this too much of an overload?

When it was all over, the doctor had given us recommendations to begin seven new supplements — on top of the four Logan already takes – and had ordered four additional tests. On my drive home, I couldn’t help but think about all the other articles I’d read, the ones on gullible parents spending a fortune on worthless “cures” for autism when of course everyone knows there isn’t one.

But isn’t there? I then think about Joanna, the woman I met from White Bear Lake, whose two sons are no longer on the spectrum due to dietary changes and supplements. And all the stories, like Quinn’s and Darren’s, from Talking About Curing Autism Now, that offer evidence some children do recover from autism from diet and therapy.

Even as I flip-flop between feeling gullible and progressive, Logan’s new pills now pile on our kitchen counter, and looking at them, I’m filled with either dread or hope, depending on my mood. We’ve separated them into a pill box to keep a week’s worth all organized. But still. Not only are they expensive – yet another recurring cost each month, this one about $200 – there’s just so many of them. I can’t fathom having to swallow that many pills every day for the rest of my life. Right now, Logan’s really excited about them – Jason’s been telling him the’re super pills. Will the novelty wear off once Logan realizes these are for the long haul?

At least the diet has an end date. We’re still lingering in Stage 3, but soon we’ll move into Stage 4. We simply have to. I admit I’m filled with dread more often than hope lately, and that part of me that wants to quit seems to grow bigger every day. This diet is hard. The supplements seem insurmountable. And my chest feels gripped by a tight fist that’s making it harder and harder to breath. Some days, I simply can’t tell if this a better alternative to junk food and meltdowns.

Feeling: Clueless

The one good thing from this week is we discovered Logan LOVES Halloween pancakes!

  • 6 eggs
  • 1 can of purred pumpkin
  • Dash of cinnamon

Blend ingredients (Jason uses a blender; I just use a fork). Grease skillet with coconut fat (we save the fat that solidifies when we make coconut milk to use). Drop small dollops of batter onto a hot skillet and cook — like regular pancakes, little air bubbles pop up in the center when they’re ready to be flipped.

Starting Stage 3

I cheated.

Somehow, Stage 2 felt harder than Stage 1–the monotony began wearing and wearing on me. So when my husband and I went out to dinner for our date night (which we’d planned months ago, way before we’d decided to start GAPS), I decided a special dinner was worth it.

And oh my god, it was. Mushroom bruschetta! And wine! And pumpkin creme brulee! 

Of course, it made going back even harder.  All week, in fact, I then struggled to get myself back to truly sticking to it. I’d cheated, and it was all too easy now to say, oh, well, some peanut butter on celery sticks or a slice of cheese won’t hurt… My problem was I was hungry, and I had slipped too far from my mantra of more stock or broth to get by.

Worse, I was slipping a little with Logan, too. I didn’t push the broth as hard as I should have this past week, knowing it’d only be a battle I just didn’t feel like fighting every night. His daycare class learned how to make applesauce one day this week, so I let him have some, too (Jason and I premade special fermented applesauce–no sugar–that he took to substitute, but still, he’s not supposed to have apples yet.) Then yesterday he ate almost a whole bag of raw carrots.

Excuse me for whining again, but having a child on a special diet is just so damn hard. We had a five-hour trip on Saturday, and carrots were was pretty much the only thing I could have given him to eat on the road. Fast food is of course out, so I tried packing lunches for everyone. But what? We can’t do sandwiches or lunch meat or baked goods. Anything hot that I could have made ahead of time would have been cold by lunchtime. The only solution I could come up with was peanut butter on celery sticks, carrots and the rest of our fermented applesauce.

And–apologies for more whining–it sucks not being able to just give in every once in awhile. We went to a pumpkin patch on Sunday, and though it was a blast, I hadn’t planned for it to be an all-day event. But suddenly, I realized that breakfast had been three hours ago, and by the time we got home, even if we left right that second, we wouldn’t be home until 2:00, and the kids would be crazy starving. The best Jason and I could come up with was ordering hot dogs sans buns from the orchard’s cafe (it was either that, nachos, Doritos, pie or ice cream) and once again letting Logan have an apple. He’s now had more apples these past two weeks then our whole family’s had in the past year.

(Side note: Does it strike anyone else as ironic that on our trip to the pumpkin patch — whose whole reason for being is to grow a hearty vegetable — we struggled to find healthful food?)

At the pumpkin patch

At the pumpkin patch

But what could we do?  Our lives revolve around food. And in a culture where food is used for decoration and chemicals now pile on our plates, the best we can do is admit we faltered and try to pick up the pieces again. For Logan, daycare has been fairly good this week, and in general, it feels as though the diet is helping us move in the right direction of healing Logan’s gut in hopes of alleviating his emotional meltdowns and assisting him with more focus and interest in others. But clearly, doing our best will always be a struggle. 

We at least had a very successful trip to a Halloween party. The mounds of Skittles, Goldfish crackers and chocolate cookies didn’t even faze Logan. He simply asked for his gelatin treats and fizzy water and was perfectly content. (By the way, a huge thank you to Erin for turning us onto gelatin and the recipe below, and double thanks to my mom for making them for us since I’ve been too busy! Made with plain gelatin, strongly brewed peppermint tea and a drop of honey, the kids and I think they’re delicious–and they’ve saved snack time. Of course, my taste is clearly altered–I tried sharing them with two friends at the Halloween party, and I thought one of them was going to retch in the sink.  Sorry, Lesley and Trisha.)

Feeling: Bland

Peppermint Gummies
(modified from Cara at Home Health Happiness)

  • 1/2 cup coconut milk, full fat or light
  • 1/2 cup strongly brewed peppermint tea (decaf)
  • 6 tablespoons gelatin
  • 2 tablespoons honey

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan, stir until all lumps are gone BEFORE heating. Heat over medium-low to medium heat for 5 minutes or until all the gelatin is dissolved and the mixture is completely liquid. Pour hot mixture in to an ungreased glass, ceramic, or metal 8×8″ pan or dish. Allow to cool for 10 minutes on the countertop, so you don’t shock it by sticking it right in the freezer. Once it’s no longer super hot, transfer to a level place in the freezer to set up for half an hour, or until firm.

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