Chicken Sausage Stir-Fry

Mike calls this a concoction. I say it’s delicious and you can concoct any number of combinations (usually whatever is in the veggie drawer), but my last “concoction” was so good that it should be a recipe. This is also pretty easy when I use frozen organic veggies. Perfect for a weeknight dinner.

photo-3Chicken Sausage Stir-Fry

4 Sweet Italian Chicken sausages (Sprouts have these in the case, they are nitrate-free, sugar and msg free, and made with decent free range chicken- not organic. If you are using packaged sausage you may need more)
1 medium yellow/brown onion – diced
2 bell peppers, yellow & red – diced
8-10 cherry tomatoes cut in half
1 package frozen california blend veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, carrots)
1 package organic mushrooms – sliced
1 tbsp ghee/coconut oil
Salt and pepper

(Feel free to mix and match veggies. I’ve used zucchini and peas before. I don’t recommend using butternut squash. I think you could also switch the meat, but I love the flavor the fennel and italian seasoning adds.)

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Remove the casing from the sausage. (This is where fresh sausage comes in handy as it’s easier to squish it out)
  2. Saute onion in a large skillet in fat of your choice until translucent.
  3. Add meat and brown until fully cooked. There will be some liquid in the pan. Do not drain.
  4. While meat is browning, cook frozen vegetables separately following package directions.
  5. When meat is fully cooked, add remaining fresh vegetables. (If you are using a delicate veggie like tomatoes or zucchini add it last. If you are using fresh carrots or broccoli steam them first).
  6. Drain frozen vegetables when finished and add to mixture.
  7. Salt and pepper to taste.
  8. **Optional** Top with fried egg. (This adds to the overall deliciousness and gives you a extra boost of nutrients if you leave your yolk runny).
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Barbara Manatee

There are a couple of tell-tale indicators for Cullen’s stress level. During the part of the year when he wears socks, the number of socks he tries on in the morning usually will tell me what level his sensory overload is. 1-2 pairs he is good to go, 3-4 and he is going to have a rough day, 5+ and I deliberate calling in sick to work and school to stay holed up in our Batcave.

Another one is his attachment to Barbara. His love affair with manatees started early. He was just barely talking, 3-years-old, and he discovered the manatees at Sea World. He stood nose pressed to the glass for well over an hour. Watching them float and eat their lettuce… they don’t do a whole lot of anything else. On our next visit we exited the manatee exhibit to the inevitable gift shop. He spied a giant stuffed manatee that was literally as tall as he was. He ran over to it, picked it up and turned to me with a face full of joy, “Mama, Barbara Manatee wants to come home with us.” The fact that he asked for something blew me away because he NEVER asked for anything, he was more content playing with notepads and high-lighters than toys. He also had never shown any interest in any of the stuffed animals he had at home, (I think he was even frightened of the monkey I had gotten him at Build-a-Bear). But here he was holding a 3 foot manatee that he had named… Barbara?!? I convinced him that a more manageable size would be better for taking home, and we left with Cullen clutching a brand new (12″) Barbara. He did not put her down for 3 days. And then the unthinkable happened. Barbara was stolen. Yes. Stolen. Who steals a stuffed manatee you say? A despicable, black-hearted person that’s who. Cullen was heart-broken.

Not being able to afford another trip to Sea World just to buy a stuffed animal we had to wait almost a year before a kind soul we knew planned a trip and graciously brought back the exact same manatee. I still don’t think I have ever seen Cullen as happy as he was to be reunited with Barbara. He would dance and sing the Barbara Manatee song with her, but she wasn’t allowed out of his room often.. and never out of the house. (Unless he was going to Grandma’s house for more than a couple days). Every precaution was taken to keep her safe this time. She had a special place on his bed, and he rarely went to sleep without her.

When we moved to our house we live in now, Cullen was careful to keep his “moving buddy” in sight at all times during the packing of the truck and when we reached the new house he safely stowed her behind his mattress in his new room. I’ve noticed over the past few weeks that he is carrying her around the house with him in the mornings before school or after his shower at night. I feel like lately with the supplements he is taking for his behavior that he is feeling more vulnerable because his emotions are clearer to him. He can now clearly define how he feels when he is sad, frustrated, confused, happy or angry. Where before every emotion registered as the same.. something foreign that he could not grasp. Barbara anchors him and makes him feel secure.

I made dinner too late last night, and hungry Cullen brought Barbara into the kitchen with him and was swinging her around. I told him to be careful, not to be too rough with her. Multiple trips through the laundry have left her a bit more floppy than she used to be, and he pointed out the spot between her fins seemed a little empty. He said we should get a backup Barbara, just in case. I explained he should take care of her because the manatees have moved from California Sea World, and it would be almost impossible to get a new Barbara if something happened to her. (Do you know how hard it is to find stuffed manatees?) Then I said something silly.. or stupid. I said I once thought about having a Barbara made that looked just like the one on Veggie Tales……

meltdown.

Weeping and gnashing of teeth over a stuffed animal that doesn’t even exist! He went on and on for 10 minutes about how he had a “fake” Barbara, and how could he go on like that? How could I not get him the real one? Luckily, I finished dinner and satiating the hunger became a priority and the “fake vs. real” dilemma was dropped. At least for now.

Beef. It’s what’s for dinner. Or Fish. Or Chicken.

I get asked a lot for recipes for simple things like steak, chicken or fish. Most weeknights I shoot for a 30-45 minute dinner prep. There is a standard formula for dinner. Protein + 2 veggies + optional salad. I don’t reinvent the wheel here people it’s all pretty basic. What you’ll need is a couple different seasoning blends, butter/ghee/coconut oil or a steamer. When we first started the food plan we had to clean out our pantry of everything that was off limits. This not only included processed foods and grains, but we had to clean out our spice cupboard as well. Many of the rejected items had sugar or msg in them. No thanks! We kept everything that was safe, and we’ve switched or replenished with organic options.

We get the, “So what do you eat?!” question a lot. When we say we eat a lot of salmon we get varied reactions, but almost always someone will say how salmon is too fishy. I LOVE the salmon I cook, but I rarely order it when we are out because it’s either bland or too fishy. Here is the secret: 
Blackened Redfish Magic it is all natural, no preservatives, msg and gluten-free, plus it’s Kosher. This seasoning makes just about everything taste amazing.

Blackened Salmon

Salmon filets cut into individual portions. Leave skin on
Blackened Redfish Magic
Butter/Ghee to cook with

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 430°F
  2. Sprinkle Blackened Redfish Magic onto one side of the fish. Both sides if it is skinless. (This blend can be quite spicy, so you may want to start off with a little and work your way up)
  3. Heat a cast iron or oven-safe skillet over medium to med-high heat.
  4. Add 1-2 tablespoons of butter or ghee to pan
  5. When fat has melted and before it starts to smoke add fish skin side up to pan. (Make sure you have your hood fan on and open a window if you have used a lot of seasoning. It will cause some smoke.)
  6. Cook for 2-3 minutes on this side. Flip over and cook another 2-3 minutes.
  7. Put the whole skillet into the oven until your preferred level of doneness.
  8. If you do not like to eat the skin it will stick a little to the bottom of your skillet making it super easy to insert the spatula right above it and gently lift the fish off.

You can substitute steak or chicken for the fish for the same results. I would definitely use ghee for those options though as it will cause less smoking, and therefore less fire alarms. Usually though I use The Meat House‘s New England Garlic Pepper for steaks, and Kirkland’s Organic No-Salt Seasoning (from Costco) for chicken. This is a great blend for Roasted Chicken. Stuff it with a lemon and a head of garlic, and sprinkle this inside and out. Yum! The Meat House is located in Brea next to Mother’s Market.

These are all seasonings I have found and experimented with on my own. I am not getting paid to talk about them here. The links above will take you to the respective online stores where you can purchase them if you would like.

I then cook 2 different kinds of veggies, steamed broccoli or cauliflower, carrots, butternut squash, green beans, roasted radishes or Brussels sprouts, sautéed asparagus or mushrooms. All quick and easy! Cullen and I like to have salad with dinner, but I’m having a hard time finding a good dressing. Most blends have sugar, and honey has such a distinctive flavor that I worry it will not go well with Italian seasonings. My father-in-law makes a bomb Stinky Salad dressing with olive oil, garlic, vinegar and italian seasoning, but I have failed making it every time I try it. I guess I’ll just have to have him make a gallon of it when he comes to visit.

Depths of Despair & Progress Report

I loved Anne of Green Gables as a child. I adored Anne’s wild impulsiveness and flair for the dramatic. I secretly wished I could shed my innate shyness and be like her; to my disappointment I was always much more like her quiet, proper friend Diana. My favorite part of the movie was when Anne accidentally turned her hair green instead of black. She flings herself on her bed sobbing that she is in the depths of despair. Even as a child I thought this frenzied reaction was a little over the top, but whenever I make a mountain out of a mole hill I am reminded of this scene and say that I must be in the depths of despair. Putting a 7-year-old boy on the GAPS intro is bound to result in plenty of despairing moments, and quite frankly it is never fun to write about the struggles as it always leaves me feeling a tad like a failure. Of course, I know that I am far from failing.

Since last writing we are 5 weeks into the diet and currently on stage 4 1/2. There is no 4 1/2 you say? Well then I will claim stage 4 with one or 2 items from stage 5. Cullen is now eating soup, well-cooked vegetables, roasted meats, avocados, cold-pressed juices, meat broth, yogurt, creme fraiche (sour cream), squash pancakes, scrambled eggs, GAPS bread, cooked apples and very small amounts of raw veggies. It doesn’t sound like a lot of variety I know. For the most part he will happily eat anything I make for him. The first 4 weeks of the intro we started to see some changes. His mood had improved, he was happier more often and talkative. He was enjoying spending time with the family and didn’t mind going out of the house. And then we hit a wall. After the wall he started to slide ever so slightly backwards, and I could not figure out why. Last Wednesday he came home more amped than I have seen him in a long time. Talking non-stop, not finishing sentences, getting distracted. It was awful! I asked him repeatedly if he had eaten something he shouldn’t have (because he had been caught on Tuesday with graham crackers at the YMCA). His answer was no. He even told me the next day that he had turned down a treat at school, but I should have known better.

It’s school that’s the problem. What little boy wouldn’t have a hard time watching everyone else eating fruit, crackers, cookies and candy?? Not many. And our son is no exception. On Wednesday one of the other students had a birthday and of course their mother brought goody bags for the class full of cookies and chocolate. He couldn’t resist and ate all of them before I picked him up that day. I found the wrappers on Friday stuffed in an unused pocket of his backpack. I was more upset by the lies than the cheating on the food plan. I can understand the cheating. Heck, if we go out to eat and they bring fresh rolls they are gone lickety-split. So I get it. I completely get it. But lying is never good, and like Mike said the other day, “We don’t want him to be so scared of being punished that he is afraid to tell us anything.” He’s right. So, we gave Cullen consequences for the lies. He lost his video game, Netflix, Lego, and (most devastatingly) Minecraft privileges all day Saturday. He helped me clean the house and earned his Legos back the next day. He told the truth twice and earned his Netflix back the following day. We are holding on to Minecraft until we can trust him again (which will most likely be a week). On Sunday, he messed up again, and snuck an Andes mint.. (don’t you just love those! They trump Junior Mints every time!) I had a talk with him, and left him playing with Legos in his room.

Enter the Depths of Despair: I could hear him talking to himself, berating his choices and saying he should be grounded even more, he was crying a little. I went back and cuddled him on my lap and tried to explain again why we are doing all of this for him, and telling him that I understand how hard it is for him. I asked him if he hated me because of the diet, and of course he said no. A little while later I found a little box made of Legos on my nightstand with a tiny note taped to the top. bo not open till tomoro. (He has a hard time with b’s and d’s). I left it there, but he told me later that I could open it. Inside was a note that he had written that broke my heart. In it he explained that he had no choice but to leave. He was going to pack some clothes and snacks, and he needed a map to get to Oma’s house. He told us that he loved us more than we think, but underneath his signature was a post script that read I might not leave based on what happens this week or next week. I spent a long time talking to him about the dangers of running away, and hopefully convinced him that a trip of around 60 miles to Oma’s house on foot was not a good idea. He told me that he had lied about hating me for the diet. I kept him home the next day from school and we built a very charming castle out of Legos, and spent the day playing games and talking. By bedtime, he had forgotten his plans for leaving, but I haven’t.

As parents, we want the best for our children. Even when that means taking drastic measures that they dislike. Our first job is to raise them to be responsible adults, they are not going to like it now, but (and I speak from experience) they will thank us for it in the end.

I feel like he needs more play time with us, we tend to get busy and forget that just because he likes to spend most of his time by himself does not mean that he should. So I am starting a Lego challenge a day. I am going to make a list of builds and we will each build our own version. For the first one (the castle) we both worked on it. I instagramed our creation (#aspieventures #legochallengeaday). I will post the list below, feel free to join in and email or hashtag yours!

Lego Challenge a Day

#legochallengeaday #aspieventures

Sept 17: Castle
Sept 18: Mushroom
Sept 19: Pirates! Aargh!
Sept 20: Zombies
Sept 21: Boat
Sept 22: Alien
Sept 23: Pet
Sept 24: House
Sept 25: Superhero
Sept 26: Ninjas
Sept 27: Spaceship
Sept 28: Trains
Sept 29: Dinosaurs
Sept 30: Robots

Progress Report – GAPS Intro

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We started the GAPS Intro almost two weeks ago. Cullen has moved into stage 2 and I feel like we are seeing a difference. A small difference, but any progress is progress, right? I have been trying to set markers or some sort of control for his behavior, but his improvement to this point have been so minor that it takes someone who is not around him every day to tell me that he is getting better. A part of me says that all of the time, energy and mostly the dollars we are spending on eating this way has to be doing something. I fear that my imagination is playing tricks on me; that I think he is behaving better because I want this to work so badly.

For most other parents we know the beginning of the school year is a relief. A relief from bored kids stuck at home and hectic vacation schedules. Not us. Back to school feels like tax day, a trip to the dentist, and being all out of clean underwear all rolled into one. Not fun. The hardest time of the year for us has to be the end of summer. Cullen has a strong desire to make friends. For the most part he enjoys being around other kids (even if he doesn’t understand how to play properly), and he really likes to make friends with adults. Despite this character trait, he has enough of an understanding to realize that he does not have any true friends, but he does not know why. We have many tearful rides home at the end of the day with him telling me variations of the same story. “I was trying to play with so-and-so, but they ran away.” I think his awareness that he somehow doesn’t fit in makes him dread the beginning of a new school year. Which causes him to start stimming more, craving more sensory input, using baby talk, or imitating animal behavior. In and of itself these behaviors are not necessarily unbearable. The other spectrum of stressed Cullen behavior is extreme moodiness, shortness of temper leading to anger, self-inflicted pain, and occasional depression. These behaviors are one that we spend the most time coaching on.

Cullen gets in trouble a lot at school, but his intentions are always good. He thinks he has figured out some facet of the delicate social system that is an elementary classroom, only to find that he only caught a small glimmer and has offended another student or, heaven forbid, the teacher. So we are stuck in a situation where we want to reward the effort, while establishing a consequence (even if it is just a firm talking to) for the poor outcome. Yes, he was trying to exercise his social skills and make a friend, but reading time was not the proper time to choose to do it. I can imagine that parents of neurotypical kids have a clear-cut path to consequences when their child misbehaves. I imagine that because when our other two boys do something wrong (which happens almost never) it’s not tied to any kind of behavior we’ve been trying to strengthen in them.

Now you know a little bit about our Back to School experience. Three weeks before D-day (first day of school) Cullen’s undesirable behaviors started popping up in full force. I had been preparing to start the GAPS intro. I stockpiled bone broth, fermented sauerkraut juice, ordered starter yogurt cultures, and scavenged for soup recipes. (I spend a lot of my free time in my kitchen. Thank goodness for crockpots!) One week later I was ready to start the Intro. Stage 1 includes soup. And that’s about it. We could eat boiled meat (organic, grass-fed or nitrate free) and well cooked gaps-legal stage 1 veggies (broccoli, squash, cauliflower, carrots, onions and leeks). Not a whole lot of variety there. The first 3 days we ate pureed soup, before I started adding back the pieces of meat and then veggies in broth. All the while increasing the dose of probiotic sauerkraut juice in each bowl. We’ve now moved on to egg yolks, yogurt (homemade), and soft-boiled eggs. I can tell you he is getting pretty sick of bland boiled food, but he has been such a trooper. He cleans his plate and complains very little.

Within the first few days I thought I noticed a little calmer demeanor and a definite regression of the baby talk and nervous hyperactivity. However, the sensory input cravings seemed to be worsening. I can’t walk into a room without finding him sprawled out with as much of his body as possible touching the floor, couch or bed. He will not sit still, but his movements are slow. There is more gentle rolling and wiggling than spastic jumping or bouncing. The nutritionist tells me that the deep-seated sensory issues will be the last to go, but that he is making progress. Now at the end of the second week I feel like he is even calmer, and he is rude less often (unless it relates to a misunderstanding or seeing someone eat food that is not allowed for him right now.) He is not sneaking food or taking forbidden items when offered. At the bank last weekend he had a conversation with the teller:

Cullen: What are those?
Teller: Those are chocolates. Would you like one?
Cullen: No, no thank you.
Teller: That’s weird. Most kids always want one.
Cullen: I’m on a very restrictive food plan. It’s not forever, but it’s for now.
(sniffsniff) Proud mom right here!

He started second grade today. This year I tried to keep him as calm as possible. I did not give him long lists of things he should and shouldn’t do. He picked out his first day clothes.. I could tell he was stressed though when we had an issue with which shoes to wear and if he should wear socks or not. He chose his new TOMS sans socks. I walked him to his classroom and he did everything else. Put his lunchbox (with a thermos full of meatball soup) away, hung his backpack up, found his desk and then sat there quietly with his hands folded until the teacher started class.

As I walked away I knew that I would worry about him all day. Some days I feel like he’s alone without a translator to help him communicate to those around him. I feel guilty, like I am not doing enough to teach him. It’s a slow process, but thankfully I am seeing a little relief and the comfort that everything Mike and I are doing is helping make Cullen independent, courteous and a good human.

Grain-free Chicken Fried Steak

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Chicken Fried Steak

2-4 cube steaks, grass- fed. If you want a better cut of beef you can ask your butcher to tenderize any cut you prefer.

1/2 – 1 cup of Honeyville Almond Flour, this is the finest ground almond flour I have found and it makes a big difference.

Sea salt & black pepper

2-6 eggs, organic and free range

1-2 tablespoons bacon fat

DIRECTIONS:

1. I like to use pie tins but any two shallow baking dish will work. In one beat two eggs at a time and season with salt and pepper. In the other cover the bottom with almond flour and mix in salt and pepper to taste.

2. Dip each steak into egg wash and then into almond flour. Repeat egg wash and almond flour for thicker coating.

3. In a large skillet heat bacon fat to melt. Place steaks into pan and cook 5-6 minutes on each side or until cooked through.

I save my bacon fat drippings in a mason jar in the fridge, but if you would rather use another type of fat I recommend ghee, butter or coconut oil, although butter will burn easily and the other two may change the flavor.

Special Needs vs. Special Treatment

 

I hold what is probably an unpopular opinion that men and women have different strengths and weaknesses that logically lead to different skills and roles. When speaking in generalizations; however, there are always exceptions to the rule. In general though if I’m trapped in a burning building I want to see a 6’3″ burly man coming up the ladder to rescue me… not a 125-lbs woman. I do not subscribe to the notion that just because men can do something that women should too. Can she? Sure. But, be required to? No. Before you get all huffy, let me explain. I think most women are more suited to raise children, organize a household, and give a manicure to name a few. Can a man do all of these things? Of course. I think most men are better suited for ambitiously climbing corporate ladders, carrying out military missions, and farting. Can a woman do all of these things? Of course. Can some women do these things better than some men? Without question.

This idea is one of the supporting pillars for our successful marriage. For years I have been told by the media, tv, movies, teachers and other assorted women (read man-haters) around me that for me to be happy I needed to be a strong, independent woman who didn’t “need” a man. I should play games. I should play hard to get. I should be the boss. I should be a b-word. The women giving me this advice were not happy.. they were very often miserable so I could not see where following their advice would land me in any better position. I chose my husband carefully, I knew that above all I needed a man I could respect. He needed to share my values, my parenting style and also my view of gender roles. I did not want to feel guilty or inadequate for my desire to stay home with our kids. I am still currently working full-time, but our goal is for me to be able to stay home, run our business and homeschool our Aspie if needed. Does any of this mean I do not get to follow my dreams or do what I want? Unequivocally no.

Perhaps being the mother of boys is also part of the reason. It has in any case made these feelings stronger. I fear the trend that demonizes manly gifts and virtues rather than valuing them. My boys should not have to apologize for being born male any more than a girl should have to feel bad for being born a woman. If we teach our children to follow their dreams, while at the same time setting realistic goals for what they can achieve I believe they will be happier in the long run. And this leads me to the main reason for this post.

I came across this article “Autism awareness: Leading others by example” several weeks ago, and it has been rolling around in my brain since then. The author is recounting an experience she had at a Target. Her autistic son was in full meltdown when another shopper “paused long enough to stare at him with disgust and roll her eyes at him, this ungodly little boy infiltrating her space, her day, her life with his shrill shrieks.” The mother, calmly and politely, asked the woman if she could help her with something. Followed by, “”This is autism. It can be really hard, so please keep your staring and eye rolling to yourself.” The story goes on through the meltdown to the calm down, and it ends with the woman coming back to find the mother to apologize for judging her! This story touched me. Not just because I have been in the mother’s shoes, but because I have been in the other woman’s shoes as well.

I admit that if I make it through a shopping excursion meltdown free that I get irritated when I hear a child screaming relentlessly about not getting some toy. I judge that parent. I judge them when I don’t hear them trying to stop the screaming. I judge them when they give in and buy the toy (thereby enforcing the idea if the kid screams long enough they get what they want). I shouldn’t judge. I should be thankful that even though parenting is a struggle for me, my children know that no means no. I shouldn’t assume that other parents have it easy. When I am on the other end, I try not to look around me or make eye contact with other shoppers. On the other hand I do not just let him scream. I do what this mother did, try to calm my child. If leaving the store is the means for achieving that, then I can always come back another time; or quickly beeline for the checkout. Thankfully, the public meltdowns are happening less frequently.

With our Aspie we have learned that successful learning happens in small steps. Repeated over and over and over again. Being out in public at a restaurant, in a store, at school is stressful and overwhelming for him. Many times it results in angry outbursts, rude behavior, hyperactivity or in the extreme case.. meltdowns. We try to minimize the stress as much as possible. Schedules, lists and clear expectations of behavior all help. When we go out to eat we will sometimes allow Cullen to bring his Kindle Fire and headphones, which he can use to listen to music or watch Netflix. He cannot use it when he is eating; only until the food arrives. Mike and I usually use this time to recap our day and have “grown-up” conversation. One day after a particularly exhausting week of work and fighting with Cullen, Mike took us out to breakfast at Corner Bakery. We were chatting at our table while Cullen was watching something on Netflix. A table full of women nearby started making snarky comments about what was happening at our table. I wanted to tell them why we chose to allow it, but I didn’t. Why bother telling them that allowing him an electronic device helped make their breakfast experience more enjoyable; or that it gave my husband and I much-needed together time. Cullen turned it off when the food arrived and happily ate his breakfast. I couldn’t help throwing a dirty look at the table when we left.

I think this is where my struggle with special needs vs. special treatment comes in. I have a really hard time with giving our Aspie special treatment. Yes, he does have special needs, but that doesn’t mean he gets off the hook for his behavior. It just means he has to work harder, and it means I have to work harder to teach him. We allow him special privileges (like electronics at a restaurant), but he doesn’t get to skip out on consequences or chores or responsibilities just because his brain is wired differently. I expect his teacher to find appropriate consequences for him in class, but I also expect him to be the most distracting kid in the class most days. I have a hard time with letting him slide on things that our other boys don’t get away with. I don’t expect him to grow up “normal,” but I hope he will be able to be on his own, make friends, start his own family and above all follow his dreams.