Saturday, July 26, 2014

GFCF Baking

I absolutely love to bake. Cookies, bread, muffins, pancakes, biscuits, popovers, anything and everything. So at the prospect of going GFCF it was only a matter of when, not if, I would figure out how to adjust making my favorites.

I knew from browsing Pinterest that the internet was a great source for ideas and recipes of various and unknown quality, but when the Gaffer found The How Can it Be Gluten Free Cookbook from America's Test Kitchen it was the key to cracking the code. I fell in love with the Best Recipe series from ATK several years ago because of their analytical, scientific approach to kitchen alchemy, and sure enough their GF cookbook is exactly what you need for a strong start in GFCF baking.

The first section provides the basic science of baking with gluten, the challenges presented in removing it from traditional recipes, and their solutions. There's tips for adjusting your existing recipes, analysis and reviews of commercial GF flour blends, and because ATK thought they could do better than any of them, a recipe for blending your own mix. Then there's reviews of various GF sandwich bread, pastas and an overview of the various ingredients you might need on hand for GF cooking and baking.  What's with all the different flours? And what in the world are xantham gum and pysllium husk? Your answers are here.

Then they get into the recipes. I've had excellent results with their peanut butter cookies and banana bread so far, just substituting coconut oil for butter to make them caesin free as well.

It is important to note that it's not a GFCF cookbook, and dairy ingredients are present in most recipes. The authors dedicate one page to suggestions for other dietary restrictions including dairy, but they fail to mention substituting coconut oil for butter, which has worked really well for me. Almond and coconut milk have worked so far, but I haven't even tried to work out a cheese substitute yet. Kind of suspect there isn't a good one, unfortunately.

This weekend I had slightly less success with their chocolate chip cookies and blueberry muffins. Both were tasty, but not quite excellent. I've been using a different flour blend and had to experiment with non-dairy yogurt, so I suspect one or two more tries will give better results.

Overall, I highly recommend The How Can it Be Gluten Free Cookbook. I'll try to post occasionally with which recipes work and which ones require a little more tweaking.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Half a Year!

Pippin is 6 months now, and I'm floored by how quickly the time has flown. Merry's first six months seemed to creep by in a happy baby daze, but although the joy has been no less intense, the time has gone so much faster! Now that this thought is actually verbalized, I can see how obvious a revelation it is, (more kids to care for = time moving faster) but it's a side effect of kid #2 that I hadn't considered before.

Also like every other parent in the history of forever, I spend too much time comparing my second child with my first. But in any family with a kid on the spectrum, the analysis of that new baby has a sharper, more desperate and anxious note. The statistics are scary, and siblings of kids with ASD have a higher chance of being on the spectrum; I've seen as high as 1 in 5. 

From the very beginning, Pippin has been a reassuring baby. He smiled and laughed much earlier than Merry, who hit those milestones a bit later but not quite in the "talk to your doctor" range. Pip makes excellent eye contact, and although he isn't babbling yet, he's plenty talkative in early baby coos, ahhhs, and shrieks. Shrieks are a fun learning phase, aren't they? Baby's all "Ohhh, what a fun sound I've discovered, and look how everyone jumps when I make it!"

So I was feeling much better about the ASD cloud over our heads when this article came out. It's an excellent, moving piece on autism, about a boy and his family who learned how to connect and communicate through Disney movies. But it was also the first time I'd heard of regressive autism, how normally developing children can lose the ability to talk or make eye contact, changing from a bright, talkative toddler to become withdrawn, anxious, and uncommunicative. 

The return of the fear was a punch to the gut. Not out of the woods after all! Three years of watching, comparing, knowing that the sword is hanging over our heads.

Merry never went through a period of regression, his social and communication skills simply stopped following the normal development. And the fear that lurks in the background isn't so much that Pip will follow Merry's development. It's the deeper more ancient fear of the changeling, of autism spiriting away this beautiful happy baby and replacing him with a stranger.

For now I try not to focus on it, not to dwell. There's too much to enjoy, too many happy baby giggles, sweet smiles and chubby legs to kiss. Too many adorable brother hugs, shared laughter and peekaboos to let future troubles cast shadows that may never be. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014


Even though ASD wasn't on our radar yet, I heard about the combination of Asperger's and autism into a single diagnosis. It made a lot of sense--the spectrum designation is a great way to describe the various forms and severity of autistic symptoms. But now that terms like autism and ASD are on my mind and in my mouth on a daily basis, I see the limitations of combining so many different forms of autism without subdivision.

I haven't found any kind of official scale for autism severity, but the mental one I've developed so far looks like this:

Sensory processing disorder
On the spectrum
High functioning autism
Non-verbal autistic
Severely Autistic

Not a very good scale, inaccurate and overlapping and whatever, but it's what I have at the moment. And I feel like its important to have words that describe the differences on the spectrum, because it's hard enough to talk about autism issues without having to use confusing or obscure terminology. Or insulting someone; I've read at least one article from a parent who considered the term "autistic" to be offensive.

Is there a scale that the professionals use? Has one not been developed because it's just too difficult, or am I an insensitive twat for thinking that it would be more helpful than hurtful?

I've read several articles like this one about coming to terms with autism in your child. The general theme is that autism is not just a disability, a burden or a curse, but different way of experiencing the world that has its advantages as well as its disadvantages. I love this attitude, and for many families this is a beautiful and accurate way of approaching the challenges their children face. But every time I read such an article, the nagging thought in the back of my mind is "easy for me to say."

When you think of the full range of symptoms and severity that the autism spectrum covers, it seems at best naive and at worst a gross misrepresentation of the trials and obstacles that many families and individuals deal with. Love and acceptance is definitely the right path and it's available to everyone. But it seems a bit rich to say "this is the way your child is meant to be, think of it as a gift, why would you want it to be different?" when some parents aren't sure when or if their child will talk, potty train, or be able to live independently. And I'm sure that's not what any of the authors of these articles are trying to say, but that's the problem with writing and sharing about a condition that varies so widely.

We're still waiting on a diagnosis, but we're fairly hopeful that Merry will fall into the "high functioning" range of the spectrum, what would have been called Asperger's before the two were combined. Or do we still use the Asperger's term anyway because it's so darn useful? Either way, our experience is worlds different from many kids on the spectrum, and it seems like just saying "he's autistic" is going under too big of an umbrella.