Thursday, September 27, 2012

Chicken Tagine with Sweet Potato and Fresh Figs

Apologize to my mule

Over the last year kiddo's taste in foods has expanded much to my delight. I have clung to the words of the therapists from the feeding clinics who told me that it can take 15-20 times for a kid to be exposed to a certain taste and texture before they will be accepting of it. 

With that in mind, I give you sweet potatoes. I have been pushing sweet potatoes in front of kiddo for ten years. TEN YEARS people! About two months ago I made a dish that became part of our dinner menu cycle because kiddo just raved about it so much, he even asked for seconds. 

Bear in mind, when I started to plate this meal I took MacLeod aside and told him that this meal was going to be rough and to expect the worst because there were about a million textures going on in this middle eastern style dish I was about to put down in front of the kids. 

Fist Full of Dollars 1964, Clint Eastwood's Stranger
I put the plate down. Kiddo looked at his plate. His nose twitched, he looked up at me. He had a Lego flag post in the corner of his mouth, gnawing on it, one eye cocked slightly. Kiddo, the ever present Stranger eyed us as if we were two Mexican banditos, as we tried to maintain dinner control he sniffed the plate and took a small bite. He didn't spit it out, but finished the rest of the bite on the spoon. We sat down cautiously, he watched us settle into our chairs. We ate our food and watched as he ate each and every bite of food on his plate. When he finished he asked for more chicken, the Stranger gets what the Stranger wants. 

When figs became available I modified the recipe a bit and made it pretty delectable, to the Stranger's dismay, he hates figs. Alas, the rest of the dish he loves, especially the sweet potatoes. 

Chicken Tagine with Sweet Potato and Fresh Figs

3 lbs. boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into cubes
2 Tbs. Olive Oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
2 lbs. sweet potatoes
2 lbs. russet potatoes
1 Tbs toasted cumin
2 tsp. sea salt, divided
1 tsp. fresh ground pepper, divided
2 tsp. tumeric
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp. fresh ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground cayenne pepper
4 C chicken stock
6-8 fresh figs, cut from stem to base in quarters
1- 14 oz. can tomato sauce (you can use whole or diced, kiddo HATES tomatoes though!)
1/2 C raisins

1. Sprinkle chicken with 1/2 tsp. of sea salt and 1/4 tsp of ground pepper.

 2. In a dutch oven over medium high heat, add oil and chicken. Cook the chicken until it is golden on all sides and remove from the pan. 

3. Add onion, garlic, sweet potato and potato and cook on medium heat until onions are translucent. 

4. Return chicken back to the pan and add following 9 ingredients (all spices) and cook another 2 minutes. 

5. Add chicken stock, fig, tomato sauce and raisins, cover and simmer for about 1 hour. Try not to open the pan while the tagine is simmering, its worth the wait!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Sensory Integration and Food: Progress

I recently read a blog post from another amazing autism blogger ( directed towards a well meaning individual and it reminded me ever so much of so many people in my own life of parenting my kiddo especially in my food battles with Sensory Integration as I mentioned in my last post. Reading the blog and talking with a good friend about her own kiddo and his food struggles got me thinking about our own timeline and where we have been and where we are now.

It occurred to me that five years ago I was sitting with kiddo at the University of Virginia's Kluge Feeding and Rehabilitation Clinic in Charlottesville, Virginia watching as the amazing therapists worked magic to try to get kiddo to eat and respond to their wonders. I thought that within that weeks time I would go home with a kid who would eat food, real food. We went home and he was still using the feeding tube, just ever so slightly less. He was still getting sick and repeating trips to the ER and would have to go back on the feeding tube 100% and then the oral aversions would take over. It was one step forward and two steps back. I spent my nights working and days getting him to pre-school then to Occupational Therapy and Speech Therapy and sometimes I even slept a little. I would beg him to eat. His diet consisted of Tyson's chicken nuggets (only Tysons, they were the right texture), frozen corn kernels heated in the microwave, hotdogs cut into disks, pancakes, goldfish crackers, saltines and canned mandarin oranges. Other than that it was pretty limited. 

Last week kiddo ate a chicken drumstick. I was elated. MacLeod sat down for dinner, we had already started and he saw kiddo disassembling the drumstick and MacLeod's face started to contort like he was about to scold kiddo for his actions. I darted a look at him that said "if-you-say-a-word-I-swear-I-will-stab-you-where-you-sit!" and his face melted. When kiddo sat down in his place at the table, he didn't make a disgusted face, he didn't tell me he thought that the food looked horrible he simply said "huh." He sat and dipped his finger into the sauce that I prepared and drizzled over the chicken and said "mom, I don't think I like the sauce." I said that that was ok, but he should try the chicken. So he continued without any argument. I am not sure if he was having a good day if he had just successfully built a Lego armada in his room or if all the stars in the planets had perfectly aligned to create this moment, but he began to eat the chicken ON THE DRUMSTICK, something he has never done before in his life. Ok, on the drumstick is a stretch, he did pull it off, wipe each piece on the napkin and pull the bits of chicken fat off and place them on the napkin as well, BUT, he ate it and that is the point. 

I understand that this pattern of drumstick eating wouldn't hold up in a five-star restaurant, however I don't think they generally serve drumsticks in five-star restaurants and if they did, I certainly wouldn't order one for him. While MacLeod was a little horrified at the pulling apart of the chicken ala caveman-ish style, I did explain to him later the significance of it and he said he figured it out when I glared at him like I was going to murder him. 

The drumstick isn't the only huge leap that kiddo has taken in the area of food, this past year has been full of amazing strides. Kiddo now loves sweet potatoes, though he hates sweet potato fries. He also decided that while watching me eat mixing up some of the foods like rice with beans makes the foods taste so much better, which is amazing because he would have never mixed textures a year ago. We still struggle with things and he definitely has his food preferences, but he has finally begun to maintain his own weight without the need of supplementation and is trying new things pretty regularly. I know that he will always have his preferences and very strong feelings about textures, tastes, smells and temperatures, but hey, don't we all? 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Sensory Integration and Food: The Beginning of The Fight

When kiddo was a toddler I had no idea what a food aversion or sensativity was. Sensory Integration Dysfunction sounded like something that happened when a long lost astronaut returned from isolation in deep space for years on a Russian space station.

When he was two years old and started getting super picky with the things he would and would not eat, I was met with suggestion after suggestion which ranged from healthy little snacks to eliminating everything but the toddler standbys of chicken nuggets and hotdogs. It never occurred to me to even consider the fact that each time he refused to eat something else, it was a new texture, taste or temperature that he was eliminating from his repetoire. 

When kiddo got his feeding tube, not long after his second birthday, I was completely emersed in a world of preemie support. He had been born at 25 weeks gestation and we encountered many issues related to prematurity that many typical parents could not really related to. As he began to grow so did the community of preemie support. Even though we thrived on that support, living on a feeding tube was something that we did get some ridicule for after time had passed. A few friends could not understand how hard it was to get my kid to eat foods. I would hear on a very regular basis that if he would just spend a little time with them that THEY would get some weight on him and he would get rid of that tube in no time. Then one day a good meaning friend would offer to take Kiddo for ice cream and I would skeptically agree to let him go and the friend would return baffled at the only child in the entire world who refused to eat ice cream. It was too brown or too cold, or too crunchy or too blue. There was something wrong with every type of ice cream served and my friend could not possibly understand. By then I did, it was Sensory Processing Disorder or Dyfunction.  

One day my best friend was in town with her newborn and she invited us over for dinner at her dad's home. He was having massive Alaskan crab legs and I was totally game. We sat swapping joyous stories of our first few months of sleepless nights while my kiddos ran around. The house filled with the succulent aroma of the crabs steaming and tummies grumbled, all except kiddo. Kiddo ran gagging and wretching "mom, oh my... *gag*... whaaat....*wretch*.... is.... *gag*...that....*wretch*....smell....*gag*..." and he took off streaming towards the open screen of the door plastering his face to the grate sucking in the air in huge gasps like the room had just been exposed to anthrax.
The Deadliest Catch, Discover Channel King Crab Fishing
Kiddo has come a very long way with the help of MacLeod, his Boomstick (Cuisinart Smartstick), its amazing blending capabilities and knowing how to not stress kiddo simply because sometimes there really is just no reason to. He has Aspergers and he always will. I do challenge him with food though on a regular basis though because I do want him to be able to tolerate first- the appearance of things in front of him (without gagging) and secondly the ability to at least try a new food (again, without gagging). Its really been an amazingly difficult, hair pulling out, crying, screaming and sobbing food journey for him (and me) but we have gotten to a place where I think we are a little more comfortable knowing what is kosher and what is not. 

With oodles of Occupational Therapy and speech therapy and feeding clinics, kiddo now is very tolerant about newer things being introduced to him. It does not mean that he is going to like a new item because a weird texture to him is going to be just that and nothing is going to change it. But he will give it a try usually without tears and panic attacks and that is a huge change from a few years ago. Just writing this now and thinking back to those days trying to beg him to eat because I knew with every fiber of my being that if he didn't we would be back in the hospital the next day, I am tearing up. I would like to think that all those moments are behind me but I know that Kiddo's sensitivities to things fluctuate and require consistent work, but he tries now as hard as I do and I couldn't be prouder of him. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Sensory Integration and food: the taste of white

Good...Bad....I'm the guy with the gun...err...hand mixer 

              So the other day I was preparing breakfast for the Kiddo and Lil' sis', good ole' scrambled eggs smothered in cheddar cheese (the cheese was there more so to hide any egg whites that I didn't whisk in completely because kiddo has this thing about egg whites) I thought I did a pretty good job in the whisk and cover mission and served up the bowls to the children. "Ugh, I hate egg whites" is the first sentence I was greeted with. The mission was clearly not as successful as I had first believed. "Just eat it, there's  no difference" I replied to him. "They taste white" he shot back." They taste white? I was caught off guard by this, how can egg whites taste like a color? Sensory integration. Kiddo is very sensitive to tastes, textures, and temperatures. I gave that bowl of eggs hell, Serena Williams arms would have been sore if she whisked it like I did....and still the egg whites showed their ugly heads. I swear I could hear the eggs in the fridge laughing at me, calling me crude names, even this morning I heard a "your grandma can whisk better than you...."
                I had gotten comfortable with the notion that my eggs would always show the white, and that I would be left to use the archaic metal whisk or (gasp) fork. I told myself, "I'll just add more cheese, everyone loves cheese."
                Then one day, after our move, Mom opened up a box that I had forgotten about....a box that held a Cuisinart  Smart stick hand mixer. I watched as she put together a fruit shake for us one Monday morning, it quickly and easily blended frozen strawberries and blueberries, so quiet, so quick, so kind of sounded like the saw used in "Hannibal"....but that's  a post for another blog...I digress.  Even then I had not put too much thought into the use of it with eggs, I just saw it as a neat toy, I mean come on, I'm a car guy, I am enamored by air compressors and cylinder hones, not some kitchen tool.
                That all changed the other day. I happen to be on vacation this week (staycation, cause a move into a house brings lots of work) so I let Mom sleep in and I got the kids moving for school. A glance in the fridge returned the conformation of no milk, along with a few verbal jabs from those eggs again. So the fall back bowl of cereal was out of the question. I suck at cooking, I blow no smoke about this, so I told myself eggs- I can do eggs. I cracked 4 of those trash talking bastards into a bowl, then as I was grabbing a few other ingredients I remembered the mixer. Well let's give it a go, shall we. I transferred the contents of the bowl to the neat mixing cup provided, connected the blade end and plunged it into the  unbeaten mixture and pushed the button.

Dear god in heaven.

This is the greatest invention known to man. I felt like Ash from "Army of Darkness", I even held it above my head and yelled, "THIS IS MY BOOM STICK!!" There were no egg whites missed that day. Kiddo ate the whole plate of scrambled eggs and did not once say anything about something tasting white. My mission here is done, now I can go back to working the House wares section of S-Mart. Shop S-Mart.


Monday, September 10, 2012

We're Back!

It is Fall. 

Wait... I did that wrong. 

IT'S FALL!!!!!

Ok, that's better. From September through, oh say about January first, it's like my extended sweet spot. I am a holiday person. Excluding a dismal five or so years of my life, it takes a great deal to get me out of the "holidays" spirit. I start off with the Autumnal stuff, we head out apple picking and apple crisps and pies and bread and then do some canning with apple butter then head long into Halloween. YES!!! I will stop there because frankly I may go on too long.

But to add to all of my holiday joy is the fact that this year we have real reason to celebrate other than the normal happy-to-be-breathing-another-day sort of thing. We are now FINALLY in an actual house, somewhere that we are not going to be moving from in another year (again). The kids and dogs have a real yard to play in and kiddo has a big room to squirrel away all his gajillions of legos in, finally.  

This is also going to offically going to be the first real holiday season that I will be fully baking with gusto competely gluten-free. So I will be in full conversion mode, which is exciting and terrifying all at the same time. Thankfully, my waistline has been kind to me and I have been losing considerable amounts of weight since the move.... I think because of all the work we have been putting into the house. Lets just say it was a fixer-upper. Hopefully, I can maintain the weight and force MacLeod to guinea pig all the baked goodies that I prepare, mwah haha. 

So, anyway, we are officially back, and settling in beautifully and will be back to the bloggling life... I am SO sure you all have missed us :)