October 23, 2010


Last Saturday, we celebrated Boonie's (my oldest son's) 11th birthday in grand boy fashion--video games, bionicle / lego table, pizza and pinata.  And, as is tradition in our household, a Baskin Robbins ice cream cake.  All twelve guests came in their Halloween costumes.  Soda dressed as Buzz Lightyear (as seen in previous posts), the Horseman dressed as a Knight and Boonie, a pirate.  Now Boonie is a social guy who has friends that are both on and off the autism spectrum.  One of his dear friends, Frank, who happens to be on the spectrum dressed in an amazingly accurate...

Episode IV Darth Vader costume.  We had a ninja, a Luigi (Super Mario Bros.), a sparkle witch, a yoshi, a Mario (both from Super Mario Bros.), a wizard, a ghoul with a pump that made red liquid drip down the mask in a disturbingly realistic way and a USC football player.   So the party progressed.  We played video games, we built bionicles, we had faux Kung Fu battles on the lawn (ie. Luigi v. Ghoul, etc.), we put our hands in bowls of eye balls (peeled grapes) and brains (slimy spaghetti), and we whacked a Frankenstein pinata till the candy fell out and it was around the table...

feasting on Dominoes pepperoni pizza and bat blood (Hawaiian Punch, above), that Grandma Sung arrived.   We announced, "Hey, everyone, this is Grandma Sung!"

Then, from across the room, before Grandmas Sung even had a chance to sit down or sample bat blood or set her purse down, Darth Vader demanded, "Where is your husband?!"

And my eleven-year-old Captain Hook slash Jack Sparrow answered, "He died of a heart attack Frank."  
"Oh," said Darth and the party grooved on right past marriage and death over pepperoni pizza and Hawaiian Punch and onto "Happy Birthday to you" and ice cream cake!  

October 20, 2010

Butternut Squash Soup

I'll just say right up front -- my boys won't eat this.  But it's raining -- sweet rain -- and they want chicken tenders or a hamburger and my over-thirty metabolism would take three months to digest that ground beef patty (not to mention we just had hamburgers last night) and I want something vegetal and fallish?  That's when I'll whip up this simple, fall soup with a crusty baguette and cheese slices, and an arugula salad with chopped pears or apples, pecans, parmigiano reggiano and vinaigrette.  My knight feels like this is not a MAN'S meal--soup and salad--so instead of the baguette, I may do a large man's sandwich aka grilled cheese or I may just remind him about his over-thirty metabolism.

You'll need one of these...

a butternut squash.  Crank the oven on to 400 degrees.  Take out your chef's knife and ...

cut it in half and breathe in that sweet squash aroma.

Scoop out the seeds.  I like to get my hands dirty...but I think you're well within your rights to scoop with a spoon.

Drizzle olive oil on a baking sheet.  Enough to thinly coat.

Lay the squash halves on the baking sheet--halved side down--and slide them into a 400 degree oven.  Now it's time to start the soup base.

Grab an onion, carrot and small russet potato.  Give them a rough chop.

Add about 2 tablespoons of olive oil to a sauce pot or stock pot turn the burner to medium heat.

Add your rough chop and season with salt and pepper.  Turn your burner to medium low, cover and let the veg soften but not brown.  10 -15 minutes.

Soft and easy to poke through with my skewer.  Turn off the heat.

Add a tablespoon of curry - the secret ingredient.  Time to check in with the squash.

My handy dandy skewer pricks the now-soft squash easily.  Flip your halves over...

Beautiful!  But HOT...so to cool a little faster I use...

an ice bath.  It's a quick way to cool if you don't have one of those frozen paddles.  So ice and water in one bowl and the squash goes

in a dry bowl, sized a bit smaller, floating on top of our ice bath.  

When the squash is cool, scrape it from the skin with a large spoon.

Add the squash and three cups of chicken or vegetable stock to the pot and bring to a simmer over medium heat.

I moved it all over to a stock pot--it was one big squash.  I let it simmer about 10 minutes, breaking up the squash towards minute 9 with a wooden spoon.  Then over to the...

blender and push puree.  Then back to the...

pot for seasoning and thinning.  Taste the soup.  Is it too thick?  Thin with milk or stock.  Need more salt or pepper?  Add a few more dashes.  

Light a candle, dish it up and enjoy this creamy autumn soup!  

*Gluten Free Option / Vegetarian Option

  • 1 butternut squash
  • 3 c. no-msg chicken broth 
  • 1 carrot, peeled
  • 1 white or yellow onion
  • 1 small russet potato, peeled
  • 1 T. curry powder
  • 2 -3 T. olive oil plus drizzle for baking sheet
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Thinly coat a baking sheet with olive oil.  Cut squash in half and lay halved-side down on the baking sheet.  Roast until soft.  40 min. to an hour.
  3. While the squash roasts, heat 2-3 tablespoons olive oil in a stock pot over medium heat.  Roughly chop the carrot, potato and onion (smaller dice, more flavor from the veg).  Add the vegetables to the oil and toss the veg in the pot to coat it with the oil.   Cover and let soften over medium - low heat. 10 - 15 minutes. 
  4. When the veg has softened, add the curry and set aside.  
  5. Remove squash from the oven when ready and let cool.  Scoop squash pulp off of skin and add to the soup base.  Add chicken broth and bring to a low simmer over medium heat.  Let simmer for 10 minutes, breaking up the squash with a wooden spoon.
  6. Pour soup into a blender and puree, blending in batches if need be.  Return the puree to the stock pot.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and thin with milk or broth.  Serve warm.

October 18, 2010


     With the help of Boonie's wonderful speech therapist, I was starting to gain tools that I could use to help my son develop his speech sounds, the most helpful probably being the technique of using play, using things he was interested in, to help facilitate his communication.
     The summer months came and with them, occupational therapy.  It sounds very clinical, but in reality, occupational therapy was a wondrous place, much like a glorified play ground with a ball pit, zip swing, tire swing slides and all sorts of exercise balls, cushions, etc. that the therpist--Gina--would use in play with Boonie.  Remember the old games of rolling someone up in a blanket burrito or making obstacle courses out of cones and the mini trampoline and hula hoops?  All of these activities provide certain kinds of valuable sensory input that help regulate and calm bodies.  It's the deep muscle sense of touch and Boonie, like many kids on the autism spectrum and many kids not on the spectrum, need that deep touch (or proprioceptive input) to help regulate their bodies.  Boonie, they found, was under sensitive to touch, so he often sought out this kind of sensory input by shaking his head a lot, banging cabinet doors, jumping, flapping his arms when he got excited and looking for big hugs.  Interestingly, after a couple weeks of O.T., his words began to come and since part of his speech problem was a motor planning issue, the O.T. helped teach his body and his tongue how to do the gross motor function involved in making sounds and stringing them together (gross motor planning).
     It was in O.T. when our therapist Gina told me about this special diet call gluten and casein free that some parents were trying and had found some success with in helping alleviate some of the behavioral symptoms categorized as "autistic behaviors."  She told me that gluten was the protein in wheat, barley and oats among other grains and casein was the protein in milk.  That's all I remember her saying at that time, but she procured a book for me from the group's nutritionist with gluten and casein free recipes and a list of things that contained gluten.
     Our therapies progressed.  Boonie started a wonderful behavioral therapy called Floor Time.  Our therapist was a wonderful young lady studying for her PsyD in Psychology.  We were lucky to have her for four years.  She came to our home 8 hours a week in the beginning.  She would meet Boonie at what social level he was at that day (one of six social levels) and through activities he was drawn to, she would join him and begin to build on his play making it more meaningful, eliciting communication, holding him accountable to the rules, validating his interests and ideas and then building on them.  It was a very joyful experience--every time.  
     We also were able to place Boonie in a very good social skills group nearby.  Boonie had begun to complain of stomach aches after almost every time we ate a meal.  He would want to go lay down on my bed.  His stool was loose not hardly ever firm.  I didn't put all of this together until two events happened: 1) a conversation with another mom at the social skills group waiting room and 2) an autism conference I attended.

     While in the waiting area, I struck up a conversation with another mother.  She said her son had a mild autism diagnosis with an apraxia speech issue.  This was very similar to Boonie.  She said that with the help of a gluten-casien free diet, vitamin supplements and seeing a speech therapist who specialized in apraxia, her son was now at a point in his development where the doctor would no longer give a diagnosis of autism.  The gluten-casien free diet had been nagging my motherly conscience.  We had many allergies on both sides of the family.  Maybe Boonie couldn't handle these foods.  The thought, though, of cutting out bread and cheese from his diet had seemed like it would be very hard.  He was already picky with what he ate.  But the mother said, that after two weeks if he has some tantrums or it seems like he's regressing, then the diet is working.  She said it is like going through withdrawls and then they improve.
     I went shopping directly afterward and made a dinner of boiled chicken breast and rice and peas.  I found gluten free / casein free cereal, soy yogurt and G C free waffles.  I tracked what I fed him and any behavioral changes I saw.  I noticed improvements right away.  First, the spacey fog cleared up.  He seemed much more present and alert and attentive.  He responded to his name right away as opposed to me having to call his name several times to the point of having to get face to face with him before he would respond.  After a week, he started stringing words together.    I experimented with different baking and pancake mixes.  Going on a special diet means you begin to read labels and wow I began to notice somethings!  For instance, high fructose corn syrup was added to a myriad of things--yogurts, breads,  juices, etc.  This didn't seem like a natural ingredient to yogurt, etc. so I  tried to cut it out of  our diet.  I determined to get our food back as close to the farm as possible meaning, no chemicals or added things that wouldn't be in their if we lived on the farm, ie. artificial preservatives, dough conditioners, coloring added, etc.  I began making a lot of things from scratch: gluten-free chicken tenders, g / c free muffins, waffles, pancakes, cookies.  I didn't want Boonie to miss out on great food just because of the diet.  So I experimented with gluten-free flours and almond milk instead of cow's milk.  I found that Boonie really liked tacquitos and so I found out how to soften than corn tortilla in the oil to then be able to roll the chicken up in it and make some chicken tacquitos.  Our family began to develop a taste for more depth of flavor in our baked goods.
     Then I heard about this Autism conference that would be featuring Temple Grandin's mother as the key note speaker and I wanted to hear what she had to say.  I went to the conference and loved hearing her speak.  I had a little time, so I stuck around for the next part.  Two doctors--one of which was Jaquelyn McCandless--spoke.  They delivered some riveting information that began to resonate with my observations of Boonie.  What I understood from their presentation was this: that babies were being exposed to high levels of heavy metal compounds like Mercury in vaccines (ethylmercury preservative used prior to 2006) and other places and that due to genetic factors and other factors could make children  susceptible to developmental problems that were being labeled as autism.  They talked about leaky gut syndrome and my ears really perked up.  They said that one problem caused by this exposure was a messing up of the gut lining.  These children were not able to breaked down the gluten and casein proteins and sometimes soy and corn as well.  That the gluten and casein protein s would be broken down to the peptides and then the peptides would circulate in the blood stream acting like an opiate and that was the "spaciness" we would see in children with the autism diagnosis.  Children with this problem would crave gluten and casein like a drug and have withdrawls after going off.  They talked about leaky stools as a result of messed up gut lining and malabsorption of vitamins and minerals necessary for development.  They talked about deficiencies in calcium and the omegas and what symptoms deficiencies in these and other vitamins could cause in children's development.

     I went and bought Dr. McCandless's book: Children with Starving Brains.  There is a section in it that lists the vitamins and minerals and what symptoms of deficiencies in each are.  I looked for Boonies symptoms and started using those supplements in smoothies for Boonie.  Namely Cod Liver Oil.   I also stared through in Epsom Salts to the bath so he could absorb the Magnesium Sulfate to bind with Mercury in his body so he could flush it naturally.  Then I took notes of what changes I observed and what he ate every day and what vitamins he had everyday.  I cut out apple and grape products (as those can cause candida yeast growth in the gut and further inhibit proper nutrient absorption through the gut lining) and started using pear products instead and frozen berries like blue berries for snacks.  In short, I wanted to help heal his gut.  I began to notice increased eye contact, more fluent speech, more social appropriate interactions, more responding to others and less of the flapping, banging and jumping.  Eating foods that were pure of chemicals, more diverse grains and vitamins was a non-invasive way to help my son give his body what it might be needing.  Keeping notes of his behavior helped me to track what was working.  It wasn't so bad for the rest of the family's health either...

To be cont'd...