Saturday, September 27, 2014

Chicken Rice Soup

Top 8 allergen free, coconut free, corn free

Crisp autumn days and rainy weather stir up my love for the warmth of a big hearty bowl of soup.  As I stood stirring together this deliciousness, I thought I'd be freezing part of it.  With 2 of us coming down with colds, it was scarfed up quickly.


  • 2 TBS olive oil
  • 3 pounds of chicken, cooked & diced
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 cup celery, chopped
  • 1 cup carrots, chopped
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves, chopped
  • 1 tsp dry basil or 2 TBS fresh
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 2 cups zucchini or assorted veggies, diced
  • 12 cups chicken/veggie stock (or water)
  • 1 cup rice, soaked, rinsed and uncooked
  • salt & pepper to taste


In a large pot, heat olive oil on medium.  Sauté onion, carrots, celery, garlic, parsley, basil and bay leaves for 5 minutes.  Add in zucchini or assorted veggies and sauté for a minute.  Add chicken, rice and stock/water.  Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to simmer for about 20 minutes.  Season to taste.


Allergy note:  As always when dealing with allergies, be sure to use safe for you ingredients.  This recipe has the potential to be heavily cross-contaminated with corny ingredients.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Fantastic Fungi

One morning on going out to check on our veggie garden, Ivan discovered a rather unique looking mushroom growing amidst our butternut squash.  We share lots of things with our neighbor, Ms. M and this was no exception.  She's as much of a nature enthusiast as us & has a guidebook for just about anything you can think of from birds to fungi.

Yeah, you keep a straight face with your kid on seeing that!

Alright, alright - minds outta the gutter.  I mean seriously, you've got to be kidding.  That has not been photoshopped.  Nature has quite the sense of humor!  How 'bout this shot straight from Fairy Land!

Ivan could barely contain his excitement to show her his discovery.  She was stumped trying to identify the fungus and pulled out two of her books.  We flipped through them sitting on the front porch shaded by our ginormous pecan tree listening to the squirrels bombing our roof and sidewalk with nut debris and Holly standing on her plastic slide shouting at them to stop messing up our yard!

The NOT upside-down 'shroom

After pouring over the books for awhile, we were able to at least identify the class of 'shroom and that it was poisonous.  Yep, gloves on & that sucker got extracted from the garden.  Since that morning, the kids are obsessed with finding fungi any chance they get (and to be fair, so am I).  I know... we are such geeks!

We've since visited a local state park with the intentions of going for a hike around the lake.  I quickly learned again how very different Ivan & Holly are.  Holly has her own definition of "hike" and it was not mine or Ivan's.  It took us some time to shift our plans into a loose semblance of hike to mesh with each others varying perspectives.

The successful pieces turned out to be Ivan & I snapping pictures of 'shrooms and hoping we could get them before Holly aka the Musher, flattened them into the dirt.

A week later, we set out on a scavenger hunt at a park near home.  Ivan was working on a Fibonacci theme to see what & how many spiral patterns he could find & get photos of.  He's loving learning about photography and has an intense love for patterns.  And Holly's hunt was created by Ivan with some direction from me.  Hers focused on finding different colored items and numbers of things like rocks, one of her loves.

The Mushers are coming!

Our quick scavenger hunt turned into a 2 hour trip and only ended because tummies got grumbly.  The most surprising find was when Holly mushed a 'shroom and it's insides were blue.

Our last find was purely by accident when I was cutting the grass.  This one was easily a foot across in width.  I love how different each and every mushroom is, just like people.  So different and at the same no matter how loosely connected we may seem from one another, the connection is undeniable.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Summer Floats

I haven't posted much this summer.  But, I've got so many posts written in my mind... just too tired to type them out.  Summer used to be a time that the Hubs and I could focus on trying to catch up on things that got neglected during the school year, fully taking advantage of his summer break from his work being a teacher.  This is the first summer that did NOT happen.

As summer approached, we started to assemble our catch-up list.  Attempted to prioritize it, knowing that the list was much longer than the summer.  Things like painting the exterior window trim on the house to keep the wood from rotting.  And fencing in the backyard so that we could spend time outside (dare we dream productively) whilst keeping tabs on a curious & super independent toddler.  Or actually doing some yard maintainence with flower beds that are totally overgrown with weeds to the point of choking out actual plants.  Or going through the shed we filled shifting our office to make room for Holly's arrival... 3 years ago.  Or decluttering our bedroom that has become the catch-all for stuff without a place to be (1930s home lacks storage) or toys lost from bad choices, or home office stuff like mail that piles up unopened for months on end because it's swept away into the abyss.

All things that in summers past would have been dealt with.  At least in part.

Not this year.

This year we stayed afloat.

We reveled in the generosity of friends.  Prepping and putting up food while it was abundant to get us through the sparser months of winter.  Learned about canning and fermenting.  Tried our hand at some of it with mixed results.

We encouraged Ivan's entrepreneurial skills with starting his own business.  Sat down to go through a business plan to make sure it wasn't an impulsive interest.  Going into business with a 7 year old is intense, in case you're wondering.  Working it to our advantage, Ivan's pretty much written his curriculum for the school year.  He had about 2 weeks off from school and we dived in without looking back.  And it is work.  Every day.  Every week.  And for the most part he LOVES it.  And I can't tell you how awesome it's been to watch him flourish at the farmers market.  Selling his wares.  Bartering with other vendors.  Pushing his comfort levels with social interactions and anxiety.  Practicing life skills.  Observing others, learning nuances, forming friendships with common interests, growing through challenges and building the self-confidence to be himself.

This summer also continues to push us in remembering to stay open-minded.  To embrace unconditional love above all else and venture into areas that aren't typical as we broaden our understanding of living authentically.  Being true to ourselves and accepting that of each other while we acknowledge gender creativity.  I've never liked gender bias.  I don't agree with things being for boys or girls.  I think people should be able to do what makes their souls sing.  Whose to say certain colors are for boys or girls.  Look at history.  In the past pink was considered a color of royalty for men.  And today, it is typically considered a "girl" color.  Why?  It's such an arbitrary thing.  It really is.

We've pushed the envelope in the past.  Ivan loved Winnie-the-Pooh when he was 3, so we got him a pair of sunglasses with Pooh and Piglet on them.  Stamped in a corner of one lens.  The ear pieces were yellow & green.  I could tell that they were meant to be for "girls".  Checking out with the cashier was rather unpleasant as she tried to inform us that surely he'd want a different pair and that we must not have seen the "boy" sunglasses (even though they were all in the same spot).  Another time when Ivan was 5, he saw a pair that he liked that were red & bedazzled.  His favorite color was & still is red.  The cashier at that store was actually very rude to us & got a piece of my mind.

Why are people so hung up on gender?  I just don't get it.  Anyway, I started reading a book recently that is helping us as a family to evolve.  I love my kids no matter what.  Period.

Ivan discovered nail polish in time for Mother's Day this year.  He loves patterns, colors and being able to create his own colors.  He started blending colors with paint when he was 2 and has been finding new ways to do so ever since.  He likes seeing patterns & colors.  Fabric, paint, clothes, jewelry and now nail polish.  After painting my nails for me on Mother's Day, he asked if he could paint his.  He wanted to do his birthstone color.

His eyes were all aglow with anticipation as he waited for me to answer.  I simply could not say no.  Every part of his being was on edge.  I took a deep breath, living through a lifetime of scenarios in that moment.

Should I let him do this?  What was the harm?  Would Hubs be on board?  What would people think? Not being one to care about what others thought, this gave me pause because Ivan is excruciatingly aware of others and he usually shrinks away at anything perceived as different.

In the end, I said okay.  And we've had many conversations about it.  He understands that nail polish is typically for girls.  He also knows that we love him and want him to be happy.  To be authentic with who he is.  The way I see it and talk with him about it is that if it makes him feel good & makes him happy... it's okay.  As long as it's not harmful to him or anyone else.

And this is how we have arrived at reading about the gender creative community beyond gay & lesbian.  I have no idea where Ivan is on this spectrum and it doesn't matter.  Just like we say with the autism, allergies, etc...  He is who he is.  We love him unconditionally.  All of him.  We will continue to embrace and learn as we go through life.  And our kids will hopefully know without any doubt that home is a safe place and that we constantly strive to build a safe community to be in.

Our catch-up list didn't happen this summer.  But so much more did.  I'm so happy that we've been present for it.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Nighttime Encounters

I sit here on my couch processing today in a crystal sharp blur.  Today started early.  Way, way too early.

Hubs and I went to bed around midnight after trying to unwind from yesterday.  Shortly after, Holly crawled in with us to sleep fitfully (practicing her Ninja moves as only she can during sleep).  Settled and strategically positioned to block random kicks and punches, I had just drifted back to sleep when Ivan crawled in, on, over and around making a spot for himself.  All settled again and me resigned that sleep was most likely done for the night a shy 2 hours in, curled into a spoon for Holly to buffer her Ninja moves from who knows what type of distress and my mind kicked into "let's analyze the crap out of this to try figuring this out" mode.  I actually started to drift off again when Holly started pummeling Ivan in her sleep and in a sleepy daze, he failed to retreat to safety.

I slide ever closer to the edge of our king bed, barked at Hubs to slide over on his side, making more room and hoping to create a buffer zone. Unfortunately, I was closer to the edge than I realized and conked my head on the corner of my nightstand.

OH. MY. GOD it hurt!  I was seeing stars.  As I laid there, desperate for sleep, I forced myself more awake to analyze my hit.  I've had 3 concussions, so I started running down the symptoms, wanting nothing more than to close my eyes and sleep.  Closing my eyes brought out the stars.

Crap, crap, crap!  It took a mighty force to sit up, peel away from Holly and stealthily place a pillow hoping she wouldn't detect the change.  Then I tried to climb around the foot of the bed to avoid the slumbering kids and let Hubs know why I was getting up.

Then I headed to the bathroom to assess the damage of the nightstand hit.  Gawd almighty... the last thing I wanted to do was turn on that freaking light to look at my pupils.  And the wild imagination scenarios running through my head were just ridiculous!

Light on, eyes fighting to stay open, I peered into the mirror to see that my pupils looked fine.  Phew... but damn did my head hurt.  And I was nauseous.  So, I grabbed a blanket and curled into the end of the couch with my laptop.  Trying to stay awake at 4 am is NOT easy.  I wanted to try staying up for 2 hours to monitor myself for a concussion.  I know... crazy right?!

Yeah, knowing my history  -  not so much.  I've had 3 concussions and the last one was from bumping into the corner of the couch trying to avoid a direct, head-on collision with Holly.  So yeah, concussion was totally feasible.

I managed to stay awake for an hour and a half before calling it quits and sinking into sleep.  And then I woke to both kids piled on top of me smothering me with hugs and kisses at the crack of dawn.  Not nearly enough time to sleep.

I got up slowly, trying to reassess my head.  I'd love to say all was well, but I've spent the rest of the day monitoring myself and making sure Hubs was taking notes.  I've continued to be dizzy, nauseous and had a headache that won't let up.  My thought processes seem slow and I'm feeling stuck at times.  At one point, Hubs asked me to help him with something in the kitchen.  I got up and went there and stood in the middle of the room in a daze, looking around trying to remember what on earth he'd just asked me to do.

I've felt like I've been wading through vaseline today.  Most of my symptoms could be attributed to the fact that I got almost no sleep and I'm hoping for that.  Something about having 4 concussions before the age of 40 just doesn't sit well with me.  And yet, I know there's nothing to do at this point besides updating my doctor and monitoring myself.  Hopefully a good night's sleep will recharge and replenish and all this will be written off as sleep deprivation.  Only time will tell.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Oregano & Mustard Salted Pickles

Top 8 allergen free, corn free, gluten free, sugar free, vinegar free

A friend of ours is having a bunker crop of cucumbers this year.  So much that he's giving them away to keep them from rotting in his field.  Knowing that we could go far with cucumbers, we were more than happy to take some of his hands.  Ivan loves visiting his farm, especially since he's going to be apprenticing with him in the winter in preparation for next year's farmers market.

We've been making pear vinegar, so we thought it'd be really neat to play with flavor profiles.  As I tend to have a tendency of not being able to visualize, Ivan & I brought home way more cucumbers than we had vinegar ready to handle.  We quickly dove into researching alternative approaches for pickling and found ourselves entering a brand-new world (to us) - fermentation.

The deeper we get into, the more we want to learn and do!  The one benefit that sold me, hands down...

Fermenting produces awesome healing benefits for gut health/digestion, like probiotics.  This is like tripping into a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow for us.  The majority of Ivan & Holly's food challenges present in the gut due to what we speculate is an enzyme deficiency.  To learn more about that, check out the PST tab at the top of the page.

I'd heard a teeny bit about fermenting - knew it existed.  But didn't know the first thing about it and steered clear of the unknown.  Just seemed like too much energy to learn yet another new thing about food.  Had I known how easy it is and the health benefits, I wouldn't have avoided it for so long.

In this instance, my inability to visualize quantity of product and what to do with it worked out in our favor.  We got so many cucumbers that we did a 5 gallon batch of these pickles and still had cucumbers left over to share with 2 other families!


  • 4 large cucumbers
  • 1 quart salt water (2 TBS salt per quart water)
  • 4 leaves of: oak, grape, horseradish, black tea or blackberry
  • 1 tsp dried oregano or equivalent of fresh
  • 1 tsp dried mustard


Add salt to water and mix up until salt is dissolved.  Set aside.

Cut up cucumbers.  Our cucumbers were large and suited well to doing spears.

Layer spices & 2 leaves in bottom of 1/2 gallon jar.

Stack cucumber spears tightly & vertical.  Top with 2 more leaves and fill jar with salt water.  Be sure cucumbers are completely submerged.  You may have some leftover water.  Put weight on top and close jar.

Store jar in cool place.  We made due with our counter top.

Burp jar twice a day for 2 days.  Let jar rest on counter until achieving desired flavor.  At 8 days we moved ours into the fridge.  Timing will vary depending on temperature.  Hotter speeds up and cooler slows down fermenting process.  Part of the fermenting process makes the water fizzy.  Fizz is good, means things are doing what they're supposed to.

Letting the kids listen to the fizz is really cool.  Watching their faces as they hear it is just priceless (and lends well to spontaneous science lessons).  When Holly chows down on them, she says they make her tummy feel good!

Notes:  This was our first attempt at salted (fermented) pickles.  While we're pleased with how they turned out, next time we'll be trying it in a crock.

Be sure to use sterilized jars.  Many recipes recommend doing an ice bath with cucumbers to help maintain crispness of pickles.  We skipped this step because we had freshly picked cucumbers, but will also try adding the ice bath on our next batch to see how much difference it might make.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Blueberry Zucchini Bread

Free of: Milk, Gluten, Nuts, Soy, Corn, Coconut, Refined Sugar

We did a veggie swap with a friend the other day and she gave us some monster zucchinis.  We've been busy in the kitchen processing and just got to these zucs today.  The kids LOVE when I make bread, so we thought we'd make some zucchini bread.  Not sure that Holly's toddler taste buds would care for it, so we threw in her all-time fav, blueberries.  And we're sneaking in a new food trial!  Shhh, mum's the word.

You want me to eat this?!

This bread is the bomb!  Smells divine while baking, moist and simply delectable right off the cutting board.  I can't even taste the zucchini in it, but Ivan swears he can.  Maybe he's just got a more refined palate.  And Holly has scarfed down 3 pieces already.  She'd probably get down a whole loaf solo if we let her!  As for the monster zucs - we used 1/2 of one for this recipe.  Our friend gave us enough that we could make 10 more loaves.  We're short on time & energy, so the rest is getting blanched & frozen to save for another time.

Yield: 2 loaves

  • 3 cups flour mix (using the variation)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder (corn-free)
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup oil (extra light olive oil for us)
  • 3 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 1 cup pure maple syrup or honey
  • 2 cups shredded zucchini
  • 1 pint fresh blueberries


Preheat oven to 350°F.  Oil loaf pans.  Line bottoms with parchment paper if tolerated.  The paper eases the transition from pan to cooling rack.

Stir together dry ingredients.  Mix wet ingredients in a separate bowl, combine with dry and stir in.  Gently fold in zucchini and blueberries.  Pour into loaf pans.

Bake 50-60 minutes or until tops start to brown and are springy to touch.  Let cool in pans for a few minutes and transfer to cooling rack.

Slice & enjoy!

Note:  As always, be sure to use safe for you ingredients.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Beans & Rice - More Than Food

I know it's been said at least a million times, but if I could bottle up just a fraction of Holly's toddler energy, I'd be set!  Constantly trying to stay ahead of her coming up with ideas of quick, simple ways to occupy her curious, busy self is a feat in it's own league.  And some days - well, I'm lucky to survive intact, let alone sane.  As Ivan has plunged into working on his therapy bag business, Holly naturally wants to be right in the thick of the action.

I've been pulling heavily on my experiences with Montessori and trying to find activities that are similar to what Ivan & I are doing so that Holly feels included.  I dug out lacing cards only to realize that I didn't have any "thread".  On a scavenger hunt for a suitable alternative, I found my old & pretty much forgotten about bowling shoes from an era long gone (buried in the back of my closet).  Those shoelaces were an easy-peasy substitute and worked out beautifully.

Now going into week 3 of our sewing frenzy, I'm getting a little bit more comfortable thinking on my feet, which if you know me, is no small matter.  Holly's thoroughly enjoying scooping & pouring (Practical Life skills in Montessori terms).  For awhile, she did this next to Ivan in the same rice bin.  Co-existing.  Working side by side.

Yes, it was a sight to behold.  Beautiful and harmonious.  And the novelty of that is gone.  Today while finishing up my breakfast, Holly dug out our bean pit and a cookie sheet.  She loves hearing the pinging of the beans hitting the sheet.  She also loves to count, so we did that for a bit.  She and Ivan made letters while continuing to count.  Did you know you can make an L with 120 beans!  Then in a blink, Holly switched up the game to be Flying Beans.  All over the kitchen.  Ivan wasn't sticking around for that!

So he moved on to the next room for sewing.  And mumbling under his breath irritably about the commotion.

In an attempt to redirect Holly's energy while she gathered up the spilled beans, I asked if she wanted to make pictures with the beans.  She eagerly said yes and climbed up into my lap while I moved my coffee narrowly missing getting a bath.  As I scooped up a handful of beans, Holly asked me to make a tree.  I started laying out the trunk and she quickly joined in.

As we created the tree, one bean at a time it dawned on me what an awesome sensory activity this was.  And fine motor skills.  And hand-eye coordination.  And imagination.  And memory.  And I'm sure I'm missing even more.

All from a bag of dried beans.

Ivan continued to sew for just a bit more and then couldn't resist.  The pull of bean play was just too strong.  Joining us he watched & brainstormed what to make.  Holly was ready to make a kitty, enthusiastically directing me where to put each piece.

With that Ivan launched into characters from Garfield (his current cartoon love).  Starting with Sheldon.  You know the unhatched chick...

And he took photos of his own to share with much pride!  Next was Booker, the Worm and his hole that he is trying to escape to.  I know - awesome, right!

As Ivan created his story board, Holly moved on to making Mr. Seahorse (from her favorite Eric Carle book).  And this one, she did independently.  Except for accepting Ivan's offered piece of rice cake to visually denote the baby seahorse that wanted to return to the pouch.

Cool beans, right!  And all before 9 am.  Totally spontaneous.

After lunch, we picked up the theme with rice and stones.  Ivan had finished sewing his bags and was trying to fill them with rice.  Holly decided it was time to scoop & pour to Ivan's dismay.  With some time to switch gears and problem-solve, we came up with a much smaller rice bin for Holly and I, thinking on my feet (rare occurrence), grabbed a bunch of blue stones.

Ivan showing Holly how to feel through the rice to help ease her frustration at not being able to see the stones.

Holly discovering her preference for finding stones, not using a pincer grasp.  She didn't like the rice getting under her nails, so she figured out how to side scoop and let the rice run through her fingers.

More counting, digging, burying.  Exploring different ways of doing it.  Sharing, taking turns.  And peace restored!  Ivan was able to fill all his bags with rice, ease Holly's frustration and show her different ways to do things.

Note:  This post was not intended to be about special needs or autism, but as I'm writing it my mind keeps getting drawn to how many amazing things took place today on so many levels.  There were really high highs and some pretty gut-wrenching lows.  But overall, Ivan's ability to soothe Holly's frustration, his empathy, imagination and self-awareness whether during challenges or after was tremendously fabulous!  And Holly's creativity, independence and persistence will take her far.  And keep me on my toes!