Thursday, December 30, 2010

Lentil Soup for Health and Wealth

It is an Italian tradition to eat lentils on New Year's Eve.  The shape of the lentils are reminiscent of Roman coins, and they represent the wealth (in all areas of life) that the new year will bring.

 It's a nice tradition, and it gives me an excuse to make some lentil soup!  Since it's an Italian tradition, I thought that a simple Italian style soup is in order.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

New Year's Resolutions

This week's writer's workshop blog post.  I'm going to try and complete the challenge each Tuesday in 2011.  Let's see how this goes....

I have to admit, I completely buy into the notion of new beginnings for a new year.  More specifically, I look at it as the opportunity to take stock of where I am and make sure that I'm still on the path that's the best for me and my family, and to make corrections where needed.  One of my favourite things to do each year around this time is to sit down with my husband, review the goals we had set the year before to see how we fared, and set new goals for the year to come.  It may just be me, but the word goal is preferable to the more ominous sounding "resolution".  I don't want to feel like a failure if something happens and I can't keep my resolution.  A goal is something to strive towards, something that can be adjusted or changed according to circumstances.

 Sounds crazy, but it's really been helpful in keeping us in sync and being aware of the others' hopes and dreams.  It also ensures that we're clear about our priorities as a family.

This is how we do it:
Notebooks in hand, we first take some time individually to write down a few goals in the following categories:

These categories change from year to year a little depending on our circumstances, but this seems to cover most of the bases.  We try to limit our individual goals in each category to no more than five.

Next, we go through each category and share our thoughts.  Aside from the personal category, we each have input into what gets written down as our joint goals for each area of our lives.  This is where the negotiation takes place and we fine tune our expectations based on what we learn from each other, and we create a joint list of our goals for the year to come.

A few of our goals for 2011:
Family: Having a monthly date night, a weekly family outing with our son and a family story night (usually we alternate who puts our son to bed and reads him his story)
Personal: One of my personal goals is to finish my thesis and graduate from the Masters program in Education.  My husband would like to finally enroll in a Mandarin conversation course, a dream he's had for a long time.
House: Expand our vegetable garden in the backyard and get our roof redone
Miscellaneous: Finish (ok start) the scrapbook of my son's first year.  Now that he's almost two.  And perhaps put together a proper wedding album before our 5th anniversary this summer.  I think that both of those were on last year's goal list too.  Ah well.

The important thing for us is not to be slaves to the list, but rather to have a blueprint of those things that matter to us at the point we're at in our lives right now, and keep us focused on where we want to end up.  It takes a little time, but it's become one of our favourite things to do as a couple, and it's made a huge difference in our relationship.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas Traditions

December has truly flown by this year, with all of the medical appointments, days home sick with my son, working on my thesis, cooking gluten free Christmas goodies, gift shopping.......oh, and remembering to give thanks that I'm healthy and blessed enough to have a life so full of people and activities that mean so much to me.  I sometimes get so caught up in my own petty issues that I forget how lucky I am.
My little bonhomme!

The night before Christmas Eve, my husband and I started talking about which family traditions we want to create for our son.  My husband and I were raised in different countries, and the traditions around Christmas are very different.  His experience was to keep vigil on the night of the 24th, with festivities culminating at midnight.  Growing up, my husband remembers fireworks being lit in the streets as a way of rejoicing in the spirit of Christmas.  This idea is foreign to me, although I am looking forward to experiencing it with his family one day.
My Christmas flowers. 

For me, the 24th was when we went to mass, ate a meal that for some reason that no one could ever explain satisfactorily to me could not contain meat, watched A Christmas Carol or some other holiday classic with my cousins, and then went to bed before midnight to wake up early on Christmas morning.  Our large celebration was held on the 25th.  Since my family lives in Canada and my husband's family doesn't, we want to make sure that some of my husband's traditions are kept even though his family is far away.  We still haven't quite decided which ones to include, particularly since keeping our toddler up to midnight just to get him back up early the next day is not exactly a recipe for success.
The place settings for the children, our Beatrix Potter plates from childhood

Last year was our son's first Christmas, so he was largely oblivious to the whole thing, and this year he was so sick leading up to Christmas that we barely had time to prepare properly before it arrived.  Next year though, he'll be old enough to start remembering how we spent the holidays as a family, and I want to make sure that it includes something special, with meaning, that we can recreate each year as our special family tradition.  Something that can grow with him, and include any potential future siblings.  Perhaps it will have to do with food, or a craft, or volunteering our time during the holiday season.  I'm open to suggestions.

I'd better get on it, there's less than a year 'till Christmas!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Gluten Free Gift Giving

I'm not yet all that comfortable creating gluten free baked goods from scratch, but now that we're gluten free, I wanted the Christmas cookies that I planned to bake as gifts for my son's daycare providers and our neighbours  to be GF as well.  So I whipped up a batch of gluten free cookies from a mix and packaged them with some coffee in lovely gift boxes and I must say, they looked much fancier than I could have hoped.  My goal for next year is to bake them from scratch!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Leek and Potato Soup

Last night I felt like eating something warm and soothing, to take the edge off the chilly weather we've been experiencing.  There's nothing like a hearty soup or stew on a cold winter's night to warm the bones.  Here's my version of leek and potato soup that doesn't require any flour or cream for thickening.

Leek and Potato Soup

2 leeks, cleaned and sliced thinly
2 medium-large potatoes, cubed
**I use white or yellow potatoes with a thin skin so that I don't have to peel them
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups vegetable or chicken broth (1 box of broth)
1 tsp. dried, mixed herbs (or 1/2 tsp. rosemary and 1/2 tsp. thyme)
olive oil
salt and pepper

6 mushrooms (button or cremini), diced
1/2 zucchini, diced
1/2 orange or red bell pepper, diced
1/2 onion, diced
salt and pepper

1- In a large pot, pour enough olive oil to lightly coat the bottom.  Over medium heat, sauté the garlic and leeks until soft, approx. 5 minutes.
2- Add cubed potatoes and stir to coat.  Add herbs, and season with salt and pepper.  Cook another 5 minutes.
3- Pour in broth, bring to a boil and then lower heat.  Let simmer 15 minutes, or until potatoes are cooked through and soft.
4- While soup is cooking, pour 1 tbsp. oil in a pan and cook garlic, onion, mushrooms, pepper and zucchini until just cooked through.  Lightly salt and pepper.  Remove from heat.
5- When soup is ready,  blend with an immersion blender or in a blender until desired smoothness is reached.  If soup is too thick, add a little more water or broth.  Ladle into warm bowls and top with some of the sauteed vegetables.  Adjust seasonings and serve.

Friday, December 17, 2010

To biopsy or not to biopsy

Today we paid a visit to the gastroenterologist at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. We've kept Etienne on a strict gluten-free diet since the end of October because he had lost 1/5 of his body weight in less than 2 months and had severe diarrhea whenever he consumed any gluten at all.  This, however, poses a problem for strict scientific diagnosis of celiac disease.  In order for blood tests or a biopsy to be accurate, the patient needs to be consuming gluten on a daily basis for several months prior to the tests.  We knew this going in to the hospital, but went mainly for the advice and direction we hoped to get from the doctor.  Unless a biopsy is performed, there cannot be a strict scientific diagnosis of celiac.  However, even on a gluten diet, there is much scientific evidence that shows that tests are not always reliable in children under the age of three.

So what's a parent to do?  The only treatment for celiac is a strict gluten-free diet, which we have him on.  We submitted to some blood work to see if anything could be detected through the blood, but again, his age and the fact that he's been gluten free for almost 2 months can affect the results.  We are scheduled to return for a follow up appointment in six months.  While unable to confirm a diagnosis of celiac at today's appointment, the doctor did agree that there are two aspects to diagnosis; one being the scientific tests, and the other the lived experience of the patient.  Etienne's chronic diarrhea, irritability and weight loss, coupled with his complete turnaround once the gluten was removed are signs that cannot be ignored.  He suggested we keep him on a gluten free diet until the follow up appointment, at which time we can discuss whether we want to put him on the gluten challenge, where he will consume gluten each day for a few months and then submit to a biopsy.

At this point, I'm not inclined to submit to the biopsy.  I'm not against the testing, I just think that we might wait until Etienne is old enough to understand the process and also help vocalize what he's feeling when he consumes foods with gluten.  Right now, we only see the diarrhea, but he's too young to explain any other symptoms he might be feeling.  Ultimately, whether he gets categorized as someone with a gluten intolerance or as someone officially with celiac disease, the treatment is the same: a strict gluten-free diet.  We've committed to the diet, so I'm comfortable waiting until my son can be an active part of the process before moving to the next step in the diagnostic process.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Clearing out the cabinets

Yesterday night my husband and I finally completely rid our kitchen of all food items containing gluten in its many forms.  We had been meaning to do this for a bit, but life got in the way and we procrastinated.  Cross-contamination can happen so easily that even a few crumbs left on the counter or some flour settling on something that my son eats can make him sick, so we knew we had to get rid of it all.

The kitchen cabinets held the biggest offenders.  Flour, canned soup, dried soup, cereal, flavoured rice cakes, pasta.... the list went on, and now there are two packed grocery bags at the front door full of unopened items to be given away.  I didn't have to throw much away because I was giving it to someone I know, but I was still struck by just HOW MUCH of what I kept in my kitchen was full of gluten.  I have to admit, it hurt a little bit to give away some of my favourite items, but I felt lighter once they were all packed and by the front door.  I completely wiped down and disinfected the shelves before putting anything back on them, and even put some non-gluten items that I couldn't be certain had not been contaminated in the bags to give away.

The fridge was not a problem because it had been cleaned out when we first suspected this issue.  Everything came out, I threw away all open jars of jam, peanut butter, lunch meats and anything else that had potentially been cross-contaminated.  I then wiped down all the shelves and allocated one specific drawer for the cheese that we continue to keep.  All other dairy has been eliminated and replaced with substitutes, like the rice milk we've all grown to love.

I'm not yet finished my purge.  Tonight I plan to tackle the cold room in the basement and the large freezer.  There's no point in keeping anything around that might make my son sick.  After that, I'm going to go through my utensils and throw away anything porous, like my wooden spoons and cutting boards and replace them with new ones.  My parents have put aside dedicated pots, pans and utensils for him at their place.  The importance of that was reinforced Monday night when my son took a sip from my niece's cup after she had eaten a cupcake and he proceeded to break out into a full body rash less than ten minutes later.  A new toaster is on the horizon, and replacement versions of anything previously used to prepare gluten filled goodies will follow shortly.  Maybe I'll take advantage of all the Christmas sales to restock my kitchen!

To someone not dealing with this issue these measures may seem extreme, but not to me.  It doesn't take a large amount of gluten to make someone sick, and damage can occur internally even if no external symptoms are detected.  I'm not taking any chances with my son's health.  I would rather feel safe knowing that my home is a place free from potentially harmful contaminants than continuously be trying to avoid cross contamination every time I'm in the kitchen.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Monday, Monday

What a weekend.  Ear infection seems to be under control, but I kept the little one home today for his doctor's appointment.  I hope he gets better soon, because I love him, but he's (understandably) an irritable little boy when he's sick.  And isn't it always inevitable that these things happen at the worst times?  Tonight I have a presentation at the university to present my thesis proposal and answer questions about it from my peers.  I didn't really have much time this weekend, so when my son finally went down for his nap today I threw together a quick PowerPoint.  Even though I'm not a huge fan of using PowerPoint.  I have the feeling I'm going to need the visual reminder of exactly what my thesis is about after a weekend of fevers, rashes and crankiness.

I have also realized just how close Christmas is, and just how little shopping I've finished.  The next two weeks are going to fly by with everything I need to get done!  Our photos need to be rescheduled, we have a Christmas party, gifts to buy and wrap..... I'm starting to hyperventilate just thinking about it!

Actually, the food is what I'll need to start thinking about soon.  The Christmas party next weekend, Christmas eve at a relative's house, boxing day at a friend's house...we've never had to worry about the food before, but I'm going to have to provide safe alternatives for my son and explain to everyone who doesn't already know what his new diet means.  But that can wait until tomorrow.  Today I need to put on an appropriate outfit for standing in front of a group of academically inclined people and try to remember something that doesn't have to do with toddler illness!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Chicken Nuggets and Sweet Potato Fries

My son loves all things ketchup, and while I try not to indulge him all the time, sometimes I like to make a meal that's a natural match while still being healthy.  Both the nuggets and the fries are oven baked, and taste delicious.

Chicken Nuggets
We're a family of three, and I find that 2 chicken breasts works well for us.

  • 2  boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into nuggets or fingers
  • 1 1/2 cups gluten-free bread crumbs.  I use coarsely ground ones because they have a crunchy consistency but any type would do
  • 1 tbsp. dried parsley or basil flakes
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. plain mustard
Preheat oven to 350F
Lightly grease a cookie sheet 

1- In a bowl, beat eggs and mustard until combined.  In a separate bowl, combine bread crumbs, herbs, salt and pepper.
Lay out an assembly line: raw chicken, egg mixture, bread crumbs, cookie sheet.
2- One piece at a time, place the chicken in the egg mixture, covering completely.
3- Remove from egg and place in breadcrumb mixture.  Coat thoroughly, shake off excess and lay on cookie sheet.  Repeat process until all pieces are coated.
4- Place in oven for 15-20 minutes, or until there is no pink left in centre of nuggets.
5- Remove from oven and serve warm with dipping sauce of choice.

Sweet Potato Fries
1 large sweet potato is enough for us, but two is always a good bet.  I find that not peeling the potato helps it to keep a better shape, but they work well peeled too.

  • 1-2 large sweet potatoes, cut into french fry pieces
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil to coat
Preheat oven to 425F  
Cover two cookie sheets with aluminum foil and lightly grease

1- Place fries in a bowl or a zip lock bag.  Salt and pepper to taste, and pour in enough olive oil to lightly coat.  Mix well or shake bag.  Fries should not be drowning in oil, or they will go soggy.
2- Arrange on cookie sheets, allowing space in between fries.
3- Bake for ten minutes, turn and bake for another 5-10, depending on desired level of crispness.
4- Allow to cool slightly before serving.
5- Serve with desired dipping sauce.

Sweet potato fries take spice really well, so if you're feeding older children who like spicy food, try adding some cayenne pepper or some coarse cracked black pepper before cooking.

This is a kid friendly meal, that tastes good but is healthy too.   I cook the chicken first, and then just keep it warm or place it back in the warmed oven for a few minutes while the fries are cooling.  A quick meal with simple ingredients and just a few steps.  Enjoy!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

So much for that theory

Remember yesterday, when I was all "I'll just keep him close to home this weekend"?  Right.  So not 5 minutes after that post, the daycare calls to let me know that my son has a fever, and has had two "loose bowel movements".  I picked him up and the poor little thing was burning up!  After giving him something for his fever, we sat down for dinner.  All of a sudden he starts pulling his socks off and rubbing his feet.  I looked down and there were two huge, red, rash-type lumps where his feet should have been.

We rushed off to the ER where his fever spiked and his rash spread to cover his entire body.  When the doctor saw us she told us the fever was because he was developing an ear infection, but brushed the rash and diarrhea off as "that's what happens at daycare".  If one more doctor says that, I might lose it.  This is why I love my family doctor.  If she had the same attitude, my son would still be suffering every day under the pretense that he was still adjusting to the germs at daycare.  From now on I'm telling any doctor besides my own that I keep him isolated from the rest of the world for fear of contamination.  What quick diagnosis will I get then?

Ultimately, the rash and diarrhea go hand in hand, and it means that his food was somehow cross contaminated at daycare.  Time to bring in another copy of the prep rules to go over with the cook.  Or maybe I'll just take my colleague's advice and bring in all of my own food for him.  Leave nothing to chance.  The more this keeps happening, the angrier I become.  Other allergies and food restrictions seem to be taken more seriously, and it doesn't seem fair.  I fully support the need for nut-free environments, because I understand the consequences of that type of allergy.  My husband has a severe food allergy himself.  But my son's illness deserves the same consideration, because the consequences of ingesting gluten are severe as well.  Besides the rash and threat of dehydration from the diarrhea, ingesting gluten means that he is unable to absorb other vitamins and nutrients, which affects his growth, his neural development, and his bone density, among other things.

We will keep him home and quiet (hopefully) for the rest of the weekend, and perhaps I'll spend some of that time preparing single serving portions to bring in to daycare next week.

Thank you for listening to me vent!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Here We Go Again....

Part and parcel with Etienne's gastric issues was a sinus infection and cough that he just couldn't seem to shake.  At first we thought that it was all connected; diarrhea, cough, runny nose, low grade fever, etc.  Then we eliminated the gluten and dairy from his diet and the diarrhea disappeared, along with most of his tempter tantrums and general irritability.  But the sinus issues?  No such luck.

So..... the doctor prescribed an antibiotic to clear out the mucus, and for the 10 days that he was on it, it seemed to work.  Fast forward to two nights ago, the day after the antibiotics were finished.  I picked Etienne up from daycare with runny eyes, a runny nose, and a low grade fever.  The fever has since disappeared, but the thick mucus and sneezing has returned, and the cough, while better, is not entirely gone.  I've got him on mostly liquids and very highly nutritious food to keep him well nourished, but I don't know if he's going to be able to fight this off on his own.  I hate having to put him on antibiotics if they're not necessary.

On the up side, being Friday, I'll just keep him close to home this weekend and out of the cold.  We have a photographer friend stopping by to take some family photos tomorrow, so hopefully we can keep the snot under control long enough to take the pictures!  Ah the joys of having children....

Have a great Friday!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Daycare Dilemmas

Explaining Etienne's dietary restrictions to the daycare providers took some time, and so far there have been a few cross-contamination issues that needed to be resolved.   I must say that the staff has been making a strong effort to support my son's dietary restrictions while not making him feel left out.  I still worry every day, and some days my worrying has been justified.  However, since we haven't even made it through one full rotation of the menu since he's been on his new diet, I'm willing to stick it out a little longer while all the kinks get ironed out.  I am aware that I may have to eventually provide all of his food from home, but hopefully it won't come to that.   

So, in case there's anyone else just starting down the same path and wondering how exactly to explain it all to the daycare, here are some tips to get you started.  Good luck!

Tips for Ensuring a Safe Food Environment at Daycare

1- Go straight to the top: Schedule a meeting with the daycare supervisor.  Inform the supervisor in advance that the meeting will take at least an hour.  Ask to include the person(s) in charge of food preparation if possible, and to have a copy of the recipes and an ingredient list for every item in every meal served ready for the meeting.

2- Bring reference material: Print out or photocopy an explanation of celiac, symptoms, and complications.  Include a food list and food preparation instructions.  Make enough copies for everyone who comes in contact with your child and one additional copy for the centre to keep as reference.  Ask to have your child's name and dietary restrictions added to the list that all child care providers keep of children with allergies.
The Canadian Celiac Association has information at and the website has a printable foods list.

3- Recipe Reference: Go through the ingredient list one item at a time.  Not just the general menu, but each recipe.  I made the mistake of thinking that the chicken drumsticks would be fine, until I learned that they're breaded first.  This takes time, but its worth it in the long run.  Highlight items that are off limits and ensure that the list is posted in the kitchen.  

4- Substitution Solution: Ask that extra portions of foods that your child can consume be packaged and frozen so that they can be served on days when the centre is serving something your child cannot eat.  Agree on which items you will be substituting, and then bring in portions wrapped in single serving sizes.  Ask about any ingredients (such as nuts) that are not allowed into the centre to avoid having food returned unopened.

5- Don't leave anything to chance: Provide the daycare with separate dishware and utensils for your child's meals.  Also provide a cutting board and any other cookware or utensils to be used in the preparation of your child's food.  Cross-contamination can occur simply by toasting gluten-free bread in the same toaster that is used to toast regular bread.  Crumbs are enough to make someone sick.

6- Keep track:  Request a copy of the menu and ingredient list, and keep track of what is served each day.  At least for the first little while, make a quick note of any reactions your child has and what was on the menu that particular day.  It makes it easy to spot trouble ingredients or potential causes of cross-contamination.

Monday, December 6, 2010

What's for Sunday Brunch?

Yesterday a good friend and her daughter dropped in for Sunday Brunch.  What was on the menu? A mushroom, bell pepper and tomato frittata, cornbread, rice paper rolls with mango and carrot accompanied by two dipping sauces, salad and fruit.  And all gluten-free, nut-free and dairy- free!  The cornbread was from a mix, but the rest was prepared from scratch.  A simple and delicious Sunday Brunch!

Frittata Recipe

8 eggs
4 mushrooms, diced
1 orange or yellow bell pepper, diced
1 tomato, seeded and diced
1/2 onion, diced
1 green onion, sliced finely
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp. dried parsley or mixed herbs
1-2 tbsp. olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste


1- Chop all vegetables ahead of time and keep each separated.  In a large bowl, combine eggs, salt and pepper and whisk thoroughly.
2- Heat oil over medium heat in a pan that is the size of frittata you wish to make.  The smaller the pan, the thicker the frittata.
3- Add the garlic, onions and bell pepper to the oil, cooking until softened.  Add mushrooms and cook another 1-2 minutes.
4-   Add tomato and green onion to eggs, stirring to combine and pour over vegetables in pan.
5- Stir mixture until eggs begin to cook through.  Place a lid on the eggs and allow to finish cooking, being careful not to burn the bottom.  My frittata took approximately 20-25 minutes to cook completely.  An alternative to the stove top method is to place the oven proof pan in a 350F oven until cooked through, usually about 20 minutes.
6- Transfer to a plate or serving platter by sliding out of pan.  Cut into wedges and serve warm or cold.

My son likes to eat his with ketchup, but I put out some grated pecorino cheese for my friend who doesn't have the same dietary restrictions. 

Happy cooking!

Friday, December 3, 2010


I started this blog to chronicle the journey my family is taking in regards to my son's digestive health issues, and to connect with others experiencing something similar.  I want this blog to be a positive forum that offers honest feedback about our daily experiences navigating the world of gluten-free, dairy-free living, as well a place to offer tips, recipes, and suggestions for celiac friendly venues in the GTA and beyond. 

Back story:

My son Etienne is 21 months old.  Since infancy, he's always had digestive issues.  We switched him to lactose free formula, but he was always in some sort of discomfort and he occasionally suffered from diarrhea.  When he started daycare at 18 months, the problems got worse.  Starting on the first day, he came home with a rash across his back and chest, and he was experiencing diarrhea.  He had recently been vaccinated, so the doctor told us it was a reaction to the vaccine.  Only it didn't go away.  He began experiencing three to four loose bowel movements per day, he had a chronic runny nose and the rash came and went.  To make a long story short, two months, two stool samples, two urine samples and two blood tests later, we were able to rule out parasites as the cause.  We were extremely worried.  His behaviour had changed and he was irritable and difficult to manage.  He had lost several pounds in a two month period and his pants were falling down. 

My mom mentioned to me that there was a history of celiac on her side of the family, and suggested I look into that as a possibility.  I did some research on the internet and found that his symptoms fit the bill.  After speaking with my doctor, she suggested that we try eliminating all gluten and dairy from his diet for a few days and see what happened.  We did, and his symptoms disappeared almost immediately.  We've had him on a strictly gluten and dairy free diet ever since, and he's regained all the weight he'd previously lost.  We've been referred to a specialist to explore the matter further, but that's a story for another post!

We're just starting our journey, and are learning how to navigate the world outside of our home with a small child who doesn't yet understand the dietary restrictions that are placed on him.  It's only been a month, but already I've experienced the difficulties of circumventing a daycare menu that is gluten heavy, the joys of soy yogurt, and how quickly symptoms can return when my son accidentally ingests something containing gluten.  I look forward to any comments, stories or positive suggestions on anything celiac related.

I'm looking forward to sharing this journey with you!

(It's also my mom's birthday today, so Happy Birthday Mom!)