22 April 2018

Lessons from the first week

We made it a whole week on the "everything-free" diet! (Not literally everything; in case you missed it earlier, our whole family is off egg for three weeks and gluten, dairy, soy, citrus, almonds, peanuts, and a couple of other legumes for six weeks.)

And we ate well. Well as in "food that tasted good," but also as in "food that was good for us." When you have to cut all of those things out, it's pretty hard to find junk food, or really much pre-made food at all. I definitely spent a lot more time in the kitchen this past week because I had to make almost everything from scratch. Soy, gluten, and whey and other milk derivatives like to hide in many, many things. I did find, on Friday, a company that makes bread free from everything we can't have (Little Northern Bakehouse, I think it was called?) It was weird to buy sliced bread for the first time in years, but very nice to have bread with our burgers Saturday evening.

A few takeaways from the first week:

Sticking to a menu plan really is possible. When I suddenly could not use pasta, sandwiches, etc as fallbacks, supper actually happened as written on the menu plan every day. There were a couple of minor deviations (lamburgers instead of moose burgers, taco salads when I forgot to buy corn flour for making tortillas), but we pretty much stuck to the plan and there were no last-minute "oops, I wonder what I'm doing about supper" evenings.

Prepping breakfast the night before makes a big difference. Blueberry baked oatmeal, chia pudding, oatmeal apple breakfast bars (which turned out to require forks, but were still a big hit), cinnamon roll baked oatmeal... If I made something good and filling the night before, it helped everyone get off to a good start. Also, apparently we ate a lot of oatmeal last week, but having special baked oatmeal variations was much more popular than multiple days of "look, a bowl of oatmeal" would have been. There's a cranberry vanilla rice pudding in the fridge for tomorrow, but I think we'll be back to oats the next morning.

Note: unless I did something wrong, which is certainly possible, chia pudding does not set up in coconut milk the way it does in almond milk or cow milk.

It's easier to give things up entirely than to find substitutes that make you very aware of what you are missing. That bread was pretty good, but since bringing it home on Friday, suddenly people are talking sadly about other wheat products like cereal and pasta.

Lunches were the hardest meals for me, and I don't entirely have a solution yet. It was okay as long as I made enough supper for there to be plenty of leftovers, though there were a couple of days when the kids weren't interested in having the same thing again. Sandwiches are out, and our normal non-bread quick lunch, hummus, kind of needs the lemon juice so I can't just make a batch without it. Ideas?

Using fruits and vegetables as the main snacks worked pretty well, but at the rate we're going through them they are expensive! I need to find more ways to stretch them. There is something very gratifying, though, about telling the kids that they can have more broccoli for dessert and getting an enthusiastic "okay!" in response.

What we ate this past week (suppers):

Sunday - grilled chicken, green salad, white rice
Monday - pork chops with spiced nectarines, roasted cauliflower, green salad
Tuesday - garlic chicken, brown rice
Wednesday - chicken taco salads
Thursday - grilled rosemary-dijon moose steak, garlic masked potatoes, grilled zucchini
Friday - honey-balsamic salmon, leftover mashed potatoes & zucchini
Saturday - BLT lamburgers on "everything-free" bread, grilled sweet onions, sweet potato fries

Week two, here we come! I know that the next two days' suppers will be a chicken-rice casserole and something made from ground moose, but that's as far as I've gotten on the new menu. Time for me to get to work!

18 April 2018

Sleep Cycle

Lately it's seemed like Otter has fallen into a pattern: good night, rough night, good night, rough night, repeat. On Sunday, he and I spent midnight—7am on the couch so he wouldn't wake everyone up; I did get several hours of watching the northern lights out of it, but was very grateful for a good night's sleep on Monday night. Last night wasn't nearly as rough as Sunday, but Otter and I were still upstairs hours before anyone else. Now he's peacefully snoring on my lap as I sit here figuring out breakfast for the rest of the family.

I've come to the conclusion that sensible people do not voluntarily take on elimination diets with a newborn in the house: being so tired has made it difficult for me to make the transition to the new diet easy for the rest of the family. Lunch and snacks are definitely the hardest—supper is easy, breakfast is manageable especially with gluten-free oats, but the kids are not thrilled about eating leftovers every day for lunch and being told "fruit or vegetables" for snacks.

Now, fruit and vegetables are reasonable snacks—it's hard to get five servings a day!—but I want to be able to give them a good variety of types of foods so everyone isn't completely sick of this diet by the end of the first week. My Sunday attempt at baking biscuits with gluten-free flour was a total failure, and Monday I tried a batch of cookies that... Well, they weren't awful. They just weren't much of anything. My banana bread, though, seems to be working well! Maybe we'll just eat a lot of banana bread for the next two months.

I have high hopes for this morning's breakfast: I made Oatmeal Apple Breakfast Bars from Don't Waste the Crumbs (substituting coconut oil and gluten-free oats/flour), but filled it with close to four cups of apples, sliced thinly and tossed with cinnamon, because I already had them prepped in the freezer. It sure smells good! And what's not to like about having basically a healthy apple pie for breakfast? Hopefully the kids agree and it helps get us off to a good start this morning.

14 April 2018


Best-laid plans, and all that... 

Here's what my ridiculous-elimination-diet-menu-planning process is looking like so far this evening:

Lots of crossing things out and moving stuff around! We're feeling pretty confident about suppers; as you can see, I filled in the easy part first and am now going back to figure out breakfasts and lunches. We're so used to just jotting down "leftovers" in the lunch column for most days and having it not really matter if there are actually leftovers because we can always have sandwiches, egg salad, cheese and crackers... With none of my typical backups as options now, I'm kind of feeling like I ought to have more things actually planned for lunches.

The "shopping list" column got divided to create a spot for "prep work," the idea being that when I look at the plan for Friday's supper, I'll also see that I need to find a recipe for gluten-free hamburger buns and thaw ground moose in order to be prepared for making burgers on Saturday. The biggest problem I run into with meal planning is frequent forgetting to pull meat out of the freezer early enough. It will be a lot more difficult to throw a meal together at the last minute without dairy, gluten or eggs, so hopefully having that extra column of reminders winds up being helpful.

13 April 2018

Seven Quick Takes

"Not quite there yet," "in a few more weeks," "when we get to that point"... all of my caveats and sidestepping are out the window because all of a sudden, our whole crazy gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free, soy-free, etc, diet starts now. No more waiting until I feel ready. I went off dairy and soy for Otter's sake starting yesterday, and ohmygoodness last night was so much better than the past week or two. Kind of a hooray!/aw... feeling; it's what he needs, so I'm glad to know and be able to do it, but now I'm off dairy and soy for a long time again. Matt and LB will formally begin the full elimination diet Sunday morning, but we're tumbling rapidly into it because that is close enough that I can't make anything noncompliant which is likely to leave leftovers.

And just to make it more exciting, I get to go back to the grocery store and return the almond flour and almond butter that I brought home yesterday, because surprise, I missed the line at the top of the page last time I read their results and Matt and LB are both forbidden almonds as well! Do you know how many gluten-free recipes call for almond flour? So many. And I made a double batch of banana bread yesterday, to start us off: no eggs, gluten-free flour, and... almond milk. Oops. At least Kit and I can eat it.

There's a kitchen hack that I tend to think of as common knowledge, but I'm often surprised by people not knowing about it so maybe it isn't actually that common? So in case this is helpful to anyone: in many types of baking, you can substitute bananas for eggs 1:1. I've done it with great success in brownies, cookies, muffins, and quickbreads—I never put any eggs in my banana bread, because it's so much better with the extra bananas. (Granted, this will add banana flavor to whatever you're making, but we like banana so that's not usually an issue in our house.)

Food aside, it's been a lovely week. Today we were enjoying balmy 40-degree weather, and the kids have been spending hours out in the slush and mud. I've kind of reached the point of pretending not to hear when they talk about playing in "the mud waterfall," aka the side of the driveway where all the melting snow is running down... After the long Alaskan winter, they need sunshine more than I need small laundry loads, and as long as the muddy outerwear stays out in the garage, they can get as dirty as they want. LB pulled out his bike the other day, and Kit has been begging for rides in the wagon, but the driveway is still a little too soft... A neighbor just offered us a nice pink trike that her daughter has outgrown, and Kit will be so excited to see it! 

Otter is growing so fast. Did I say that last week? It's definitely still true; he is really filling out, and doesn't have that "newborn look" anymore. I can't believe that he will be four weeks old in a couple of days! My phone refuses to talk to Blogger or my computer at all right now, though, so I can't use any photos this week.

The pussy willows are out in full force, and while there's still a lot of snow in the yard, I know that Matt is starting to check the birch trees for signs of green. One good thing about the elimination diet: there's a chance that sticking to it will lessen the severity of his birch allergies this year. We were also encouraged to tap some birch trees and collect the first run of sap for him to drink, which would help, but then I had a baby... No sap-collecting occurred this year. Maybe in the future--it would be fun to make birch syrup someday.

I have strong feelings about peanut butter; it may well be my most-often-consumed protein source, at least for breakfasts and lunches. Typically I'm adamant about it not containing anything other than peanuts and salt, but someone recently introduced me to Dark Chocolate Dreams from Peanut Butter & Co... it is incredible! Also dairy-free and soy-free, which other chocolate-nut butters I've seen have not been. A very fun treat.

LB has to give up peanut butter for the elimination diet, but since it's such an inexpensive protein source, Kit and I will keep eating it and I'm hoping to find a not-ridiculously-expensive alternative for LB. Almond butter isn't allowed either, and that's the only other "-butter" that I've had before... what else is out there that a five year old would find appealing?

Have a great weekend, and don't forget to check out This Ain't The Lyceum for more 7QT.

10 April 2018

Drawing up a new food pyramid

We've been working for a while now on sorting out some seemingly diet-related health issues for a couple of members of the family, and a month or so ago we got results back from food sensitivity testing. Going over the results with me, the doctor emphasized that none of this was life-threatening and since I was about to have a baby, it would definitely be fine to wait to address the potential food issues until after I settled into a good routine with the baby. I'm not ready to claim that I'm there quite yet: "Guess what, kids; the Internet says that today is National Sandwich Day. How does that sound for supper?" – me this evening. There were also carrots, so at least everyone ate something healthy? (And it turns out that the Internet was wrong, anyway; Sandwich Day is Nov 3, in honor of the fourth Earl of Sandwich.)

So we aren't attempting a full elimination diet at this point, but we're at least generally trying to keep an eye on what we eat and noticing whether anyone seems to react, and trying to reduce our reliance on the foods that may possibly be causing the issues: gluten, dairy, legumes, eggs and citrus (different things for different people). Hopefully that'll make it a little easier to shift into the elimination diet once we reach that point.

It's unfortunate that wheat and legumes are both staples of a tight grocery budget! It will be a challenge to use less of them (and eventually cut them out completely) while still keeping our grocery bill as low as possible.

We order dry goods in bulk twice a year through a local co-op, so I'm getting some almond flour through them to try my hand at gluten-free baking. And I already know how to go dairy-free, thanks to Kit's year+ of being allergic to it; Otter is showing more and more possible signs of the allergy too, so it's just as well that we won't be eating it. Eggs, though; what do you feed people for breakfast when they can't have gluten, dairy, or eggs? Lots of oatmeal, I guess?

Actually, it just occurred to me that I have a bunch of books with answers to that question... I picked up the Ultimate Meal Planning Bundle back around New Years', and stuck all of the gluten-free and allergy-friendly books in a folder on my computer along with the many other GF/allergy/vegan/other-specific-diet cookbooks that I've picked up in other ultimate bundles over the years but were never applicable to us. Until now, when I am super thankful to have this trove of treasures to begin digging into. I just found a 200-page book in here on gluten-free sourdough baking!

Coincidentally (I promise it's a coincidence! I totally did not begin this post thinking about anything other than figuring out our family's food issues), the 2018 Ultimate Homemaking Bundle goes on sale tomorrow morning. I'm actually not planning to pick it up this year, now that I have a bazillion suddenly-applicable-to-us books that I should be reading through. It feels weird to not order it—I think this is the first ultimate homemaking or healthy living bundle I've skipped since 2015! I always encourage people to take a look through what they're offering, though; every year's bundle is full of valuable resources, and this is certainly not the first time that I've gone back to a whole category of books that had been gathering virtual dust for a year or two because they suddenly became pertinent to us. As long as there are at least a few resources that will fill a need for you, the bundles are generally a great deal!

I always love finding new books, resources, food bloggers to follow, etc, so if you have any good sources for recipes that'll fit into our new diet, I would sure appreciate links! It's a little overwhelming to think about how many things we'll be at least temporarily cutting out, but at the same time, I'm excited to take on the challenge.

09 April 2018

Back to school

Happy (shifted) Annunciation! We already celebrated it on March 25, but talked about it a little again this morning. Being able to point to, "it's the Annunciation because in exactly nine months it'll be Christmas!" is just easier for our little kids to connect with than, "they moved the Annunciation this year so that it didn't have to be smushed in with Palm Sunday."

Today was our first school day on my own with three kids, and it went better than I expected. Granted, we only have six school subjects these days and one of them is art, but we were finished with everything except painting before 10:30 am. Plus, in that same time span, I baked a loaf of sourdough bread and made a batch of protein balls (bars sounded like too much work... yes, now that I'm more awake I'm aware that it would have been less work to spread the stuff in a pan than to roll individual balls...) And Otter slept and ate and got changed throughout it all, happy to lay in a sunbeam whenever I needed two hands for something. He did sleep better last night, thankfully! He's been very sleepy this evening, though, so I may be up a lot tonight.

We made a library run this past Saturday, which has helped keep the house peaceful: LB spent a couple of hours happily curled up in a couch corner with a pile of books, and he read to his sister for a while this afternoon so that I could kind of pretend to "sleep while the baby sleeps" with Otter.

Oh, the library reminds me; does anyone happen to have experience with the reading lists from The Good and The Beautiful? I already have two language arts curricula picked out for next year, so I'm not letting myself even look at their whole program, but we've had such a time trying to find books that are appropriate for LB both in terms of reading level and content/emotional maturity level. I liked how, in the sample she offered from the reading list, she gives a quick overview of content as well as educational value and literary value. But I'd love to hear from someone who's actually used it before deciding whether to buy it... Or if anyone has another suggestion for a good reading list, that would be helpful too!

I had been feeling like I ought to make myself wait until we finished this school year before making plans for next year, but I gave up because looking at curriculum is just so much fun. I wouldn't say that we have our curricula set in stone yet, but at this point I think I have a pretty good idea of what I'll be using in the fall. I know that there are a lot of good things about getting a comprehensive curriculum all from one source—that's what my mom has always done—and maybe in the future that'll be the right choice for us, but at this point I'm so grateful to be able to pick and choose from many different vendors to find what works best for LB. It's wonderful that there are so many options! Once I have things set for sure, I'll have to write out our list for next year.

08 April 2018

A beautiful "breakup"

breakup, n. The period of early spring in which snow and ice are breaking apart and melting (Alaskan use)

It's so warm outside! Our highs for the foreseeable future are all in the 40s, the sky is clear and blue with blazing sun, and a curtain of waterdrops is falling steadily from the eaves. There are bare patches on the driveway where gravel is showing through the snow, and the stretches of road that get the most sun are a patchwork of dirt and slush. Spring is coming!

How I wish I was a little farther along in recovery and up for a walk in this beautiful weather, but I'm not quite there yet. Otter and I will have to get outside tomorrow for a little bit, at least, to watch the other kids as they run around. They had a blast on the deck this afternoon! We're at a funny point in breakup, since there's still snow piled higher than LB's head (and it's getting soft and punchy now with all the sun, so the kids sink in instead of running on top), but it's warm enough that they want to spend hours out playing in it. It's messy-boot-area season, or messier-than-usual, because the kids need breakup boots for town but snowboots for home and I can't quite reach the floor with Otter in my arms, so I have to keep reminding them to keep all their gear neatly organized themselves and somehow it all just spreads everywhere...

Matt is taking advantage of this warm weather to thoroughly break in his new grill; so far he's made bourbon chicken, moose burgers, grilled chicken to add to a Mediterranean pasta salad, and this evening he made a pork loin stuffed with apples and onions. And tomorrow there's lemon-basil chicken planned; hopefully I'll have it ready in the fridge marinating by midafternoon, so he can throw it on the grill when he gets home from work.

And we know it's sure not winter anymore when it's still broad daylight at 8:30 pm! I'm not sure exactly when the sun rose this morning, but it was some time between 4 and 6 am. We've already had the annual conversations about how "the sun has nothing to do with what time it is" (i.e. whether or not it's bedtime) enough times than Kit and LB believe us. Otter doesn't have any reason to associate light with waking/dark with sleeping, so I can't blame the sun for his keeping me up half the night either. :-) He's been awake for a couple of hours consecutively this evening, though, so maybe there's hope that he'll be tired and sleep most of the night tonight!

Has spring arrived where you live yet? It sure seems like most people are ready to be done with winter!