Autism Mum – Flour free fudgey chocolate brownies

Healthy Hearts Chocolate Fudge Brownie

Healthy Hearts Chocolate Fudge Brownie Free from dairy, gluten, and soy.

I spend a lot of time thinking about food. It’s a consequence of having an autistic daughter with multiple food allergies, intolerances, and self-restricted eating. At the moment beige and crunchy is popular; meat of any kind is not and calcium is also problematic. I decided that sardine cookies would probably not go down well and decided to turn my attention to lentils instead. Lentils contain a wide range of nutrients and are made up of over 25% protein.

I wanted to make something that tasted decadently chocolatey but without a lot of added sugar and minimizing ingredients that are common allergies. It can easily be adjusted to make it suitable for any food restrictions in the family, daycare, or school.

Healthy heart Chocolate Fudge Brownies

Ingredients

  • 2 x 400g tin lentils (approx. 2 cups of drained lentils)
  • 1 cup chopped dates
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup rice bran oil
  • 1/2 cup almond meal + 1/2 cup fine rice flour
    • (or substitute 1 cup plain flour)
  • 1 cup dutch cocoa
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp Baking Powder
  • 2 Tbsp chia seeds
  • Optional: 90g pureed green vegetables (spinach, peas, courgette)

Allergies: gluten free, dairy free, soy free, peanut free.

What type of lentils to use?

There are many types of lentils and many online recipes suggest using red lentils. This is probably because they are split, skinless, and can have a sweet nutty flavour. To be honest, I went with what what was affordable and convenient – tins of brown lentils!

How can I replace egg?

I used egg as I wanted the protein but for an egg free alternative, you could pre-soak the chia seeds in 6 Tbsp boiling water for 15-20 minutes or use something like Orgran’s Egg Replacer.

Directions

  1. Put oven on to pre-heat to 180’C / 375’F. Grease your brownie tray (I use rice bran oil).
  2. Rinse lentils thoroughly. The lentils will need to be cooked and their cooking time is going to depend on what form you’re using (i.e. dried lentils will need to be simmered for 15-20 minutes).
  3. Put the kettle on to boil while you chop up the dates (the measurement of 1 cup is after they’ve been cut up).
  4. The dates need to be soaked in boiling water until soft. Personally, I took a big pyrex dish, put in my (rinsed) soft brown tinned lentils + my roughly chopped dates + a small amount of water. I then put it in the microwave on High for 2 minutes, stirred, and then put back in the microwave for another 2 minutes.
  5. Pour the hot date / lentil mix into a food processor and blend till smooth.
    • A metal blade is ideal for smoothness but then you’ll need to change to a plastic blade (or wooden spoon) for combining the rest; if you’re not worried about a perfect puree then you can just use a plastic blade throughout.
  6. Mix in sugar and maple syrup. Taste test for sweetness.
    • Note: instead of sugar, you could just use 1/3 cup maple syrup. The dates will also add natural sweetness.
  7. Mix in egg and oil.
  8. Mix in almond meal, rice flour, dutch cocoa, salt, baking powder, chia seeds, and any optional ingredients. (I went for green veggies, someone else might go for chopped walnuts).
  9. Bake for 30-35 mins.

The gluten free version comes out as a soft, fudgey, chocolate slice; with normal flour it will probably be higher and a bit firmer. Blind taste testing by neighbour was successful both for approval rating and not guessing the lentils.

Recommended topping: a spoonful of Nature’s Charm Coconut Chocolate Fudge Sauce. It tastes amazing while also being vegan, dairy free, and soy free.

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How do I make my bread light and fluffy?

Musings on baking bread

Musings on baking bread

I’ve written previously about ‘Everything you wanted to know about baking bread‘ and it occurred to me today that it’s a little more process driven than ingredient focused. My journey making bread began because my daughter’s allergies precluded me buying bread (unless I wanted to pay $10 a loaf!). For a long time, I was making all our bread by hand which I found restrictive and time consuming (combined with the level of special needs care she required). I later moved, very happily so, to a Panasonic Bread Maker. That allowed me a little more time to experiment with ingredients and research.

I gave serious contemplation to buying a sourdough starter (sourdough is much easier to digest than commercial bread) but my daughter doesn’t like the tangy taste. I researched ways to make the bread I was feeding my daughter more nutritious. I also made myself more aware of the chemistry involved and how different ingredients impact hydration ratios and rising.

Supermarket bread is essentially refined white flour (so basic starch) with a token amount of other ingredients potentially added; Julian Lee wrote an excellent article in 2018 revealing commercial bread-making processes in New Zealand. At home, you can start with high grade (or strong) white flour but add extra nutrition into the mix.

Whole Wheat

If you can afford to buy stone-ground whole wheat flour then you can make some pretty fine bread. If you’re shopping at the supermarket then it’s sufficient to be aware that the wheat kernel is made up of bran (fiber), the germ (protein and nutrition), and the endosperm (a starchy tissue). You can probably guess which part white flour is made from!

At the supermarket you can buy strong white flour and also buy bags of wheat bran and wheat germ. Not only do these have different nutritional profiles but these also have different impacts on the properties of your bread. Wheat bran has a drying quality and may require additional hydration. Wheat germ will naturally make your bread moister and fluffier.

Keep in mind that you don’t need to make a loaf entirely of white flour. When baking, I usually have 70-80% of my ‘flour’ made up of white flour and then use a range of dry ingredients to make up the weight. This equates to 350-400g of white flour and 50-100g of other flours and seeds.

Wholemeal Spelt Flour

Wholemeal spelt flour has a high nutritional profile and is easier to digest. It also has less gluten so will produce a denser loaf and may require guar gum to help it bind.

Wholegrain Kamut Flour

Like spelt, kamut flour is lower in gluten and easier to digest. It’s a brand name for khorasan wheat and is an older variety of wheat. There have been small studies performed which suggest that kamut flour has health benefits (over standard flour) and may help to reduce certain inflammation markers. It’s important to remember that one of it’s other benefits is that it is an organic wholegrain flour (as opposed to highly refined bleached white flour).

Ground Linseed – Sunflower – Almond (LSA)

Whole seeds can make a loaf dense and the texture doesn’t appeal to everyone. It’s not necessary to pour heaps of whole seeds into your bread dough. You can add plenty of protein, fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids just by adding 2 Tablespoons of ground seeds to your bread dough.

Popular powerhouses of nutrition include linseed (flaxseed), sunflower seeds, almonds, and chia seeds. Quinoa is another but I found even small amounts of quinoa flour to have a noticeable taste in the bread.

You might like to rotate different seeds in order to vary your nutritional profile. The cheapest and easiest option is to alternate between ground LSA and ground chia seeds.

Gluten Free Grains

One of my favourite ways of making multi-grain bread is to use Red Mill Gluten Free Mighty Tasty Hot Cereal. If you’re picturing a cereal box with some puzzlement, it’s actually a mix of freshly milled whole grain brown rice, corn, buckwheat and sorghum. It’s a handy way of adding a broader nutritional profile to the loaf and is so finely milled that it doesn’t overwhelm the loaf. It’s weight-dense so you only need a small amount; it still produces a fluffy loaf and is incorporated into the texture without being obtrusive.

 

 

 

Stories still to come

I was so thrilled to have two of my seasonal pieces published by Spinoff Parenting in the lead up to Christmas. They were about tips and strategies to help ease the pressure and navigate the challenges of Christmas  for kids with autism and kids in general. I’m aware the website has been fairly quiet since (although the Facebook page is still ticking along) and it’s not due to a lack of ideas when it comes to writing. If I could have some telepathic decoder capture the articles I write while driving the car that would be brilliant!

During the school term I have 3-6 hours per week away from Miss 3 (who has a variety of special needs) and although that time is mainly spent running errands or undertaking domestic tasks that cause her sensory distress, sometimes I can squeeze in some writing as well. Those precious hours are also a much needed pressure valve to release some of the tension from being constantly with a little person who studies my every facial expression,  who is incredibly sensitive to emotional undercurrents and needs me to project happy calm 16 hours per day, and requires enormous amounts of support for everything from emotional self-regulation, to being comfortable in her body, OT work, communication, self-care, and play.

During the school holidays this turns into no hours per week and her anxiety being hugely escalated by the disruption to our routines. The summer holidays mean that not only is kindy on holiday but so are all of our other support staff (from occupational therapist to doctors). Events like severe summer storms can cause massive sensory distress and trigger several days of almost constant dysregulation that is exhausting for both of us. She sleeps in my bed because it gives her a sense of stability and security.  We use a lot of social stories and visual communication to talk about our plans for the day. There’s an increase in alternative communication: selective mutism, echolalia, and needing repetitive (and repeatable) scripted dialogue exchanges.

It all adds up to is me investing my energies into my daughter and storing story ideas (like nuts for the winter) for when I have more time. What I want to write about this year is the importance of embracing the new year with a growth mindset, how to encourage and develop character (rather than content) in our young children, how the Danish / Scandanavian parenting and schooling model compares to the NZ / UK / USA model and why we should consider adopting it. I also want to write more gardening and cooking pieces. I’m particularly interested this summer in the exploring the economies of a kitchen garden as well as taking a look at making use of vegetable parts that sometimes end up on the compost (like carrot greens, radish leaves, and squash blossoms).

Make your own doll clothes

Make your own doll clothes

Kimono inspired ‘Frozen’ look

How to inspire your child’s imagination

Miss 3 (ASD) used to hate her dolls wearing clothes; I simply wasn’t allowed to dress them. I think it’s because she has a sensory processing disorder and I guess she assumed the dolls would find clothing as uncomfortable as she does. Then we read This is my dollhouse by Giselle Potter; it’s a great picture book that values imagination and creativity over money. It’s also a good reminder to parents that children don’t inherently need store bought items to be happy in their play (and for those with special needs, commercially made dolls clothes may cause anxiety of failure due to being too fiddly).

How to make your own dolls clothes (cheaply and easily)!

Consider buying some short pieces of colourful ribbon from a local crafts emporium (and let your child help pick), some scraps of fabric (handkerchiefs will also work), and some colourful tape – Kmart is great for this.

You can also make your own necklaces and headpieces for the dolls using simple elastic and beads, again from somewhere like Kmart or a crafts store, like Davids Emporium.

Making clothes this way means that you can change outfits cheaply and easily each day! Having a doll fashion show is also a calming activity for filling a rainy afternoon.

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The Ultimate List of Gifts for Sensory Seekers

Check out the link for a beautifully put together list of toys and equipment that can be used at home for kids with sensory processing disorder; it has tons of photos and is conveniently sorted by sensory systems (vestibular, proprioceptive, oral, tactile, visual, auditory).

Source: The Ultimate List of Gifts for Sensory Seekers

Mass Consumerism and the Endless Quest for the New

Mass Consumerism: New and Shiny!

New and Shiny!

I’m drafting this at 3.30am in the morning. I’m sitting in pyjamas with my daughter curled up next to me, laptop on my knees, lamplight casting a low glow to contrast the light of the tv; ‘Magic School Bus‘ is teaching us about viral invaders. It sounds all warm and cosy; it is…. except it’s 3.30am in the morning!

Don’t get me wrong, Miss 3 is a crap sleeper but tonight (and the night before) isn’t because of her health concerns. We’re awake because yet another nappy company decided to get on the train of ‘New and Improved!’, ‘All New Look!’, ‘Amazing New Technology!’. I could give two shakes of a rat’s tail for their heavy use of the word ‘new’; what I want in nappies is a reliable steadfast product that works. I have enough sleep deprivation in my life without needing to spend time in the supermarket re-evaluating nappy brands.

It’s not that long since popular nappy company Treasures changed their design causing an uproar amongst parents that eventually moved from social media parenting platforms to the mainstream news. I watched with interest (and respect) as one determined mother took our concerns to the news outlets and with our permission shared our crappy experiences (pun intended).

Now another nappy company, Kiddicare, has decided to follow suit and change their design to a dramatically new look that is eerily similar in look to the new design Treasures nappies. Their website claims “Our new five layer ultra-thin absorbent inner core made from hi-tech fibre makes for a better performing nappy.” Their ‘breakthrough technology’ and ‘non traditional materials’ are presumably meant to attract additional customers and justify a price increase.

The reality is that their old nappies worked. They were well priced and effective which is all I actually want in a nappy. I have had countless leaks from the new ultra-thin nappies during both day and night. Tonight I tried double layering the nappies and her pants; they still leaked (despite her only having a few sips of water before bed!) and I was woken yet again by her feeling cold and chilled in the middle of the night. I’ve already complained to the company (firing off an email at 2.30am yesterday) but that still leaves me having paid for a large box of nappies that have no functional purpose.

I’m frustrated and tired (and regretting that mug of coffee now) by lack of sleep and needing to strip bed sheets in the middle of the night. My ASD daughter does not sleep easily and is very routine focused. To her wake up time means a bottle of formula and cartoons; I know from experience that she will be awake for several hours before I have a chance of easing her into a nap. If I’m super lucky I can sometimes get her back to sleep when she wakes during the night but not once I’ve had to change clothes and sheets.

The question arises why multiple nappy companies are feeling the need to change their design in the first place (and why they haven’t done more product testing before release!). One can only assume it’s because they feel the need to dangle something new and shiny in front of consumers to attract their attention (like we’re nothing more than magpies indiscriminately collecting anything from tinfoil to gold watches) and have forgotten that their core purpose should be deliver something that works. I wish they would instead go with the maxim of ‘If it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it’ and instead focus on aesthetics. Why can’t they just release limited edition runs of new prints with collectible cards inside the packs? Tell me all about the wonders of pandas and leopards with accompanying cute prints but have the nappies actually work!

Adventures with Upcycling: Dining Room Table

Table restoration project

The table after it’s all been cleaned up. The oil, dirt, ink and everything else has been removed. It’s just the drill holes left that really mark it 🙂

So…for the last three years I’ve been eating my meals at an upcycled pink princess table. It’s beautiful, has white wooden legs, and matching white wooden chairs.  It is, as Goldilocks would say, ‘just right’. Of course, things being an issue of perspective, it’s just right if you’re aged 18 months to 4 years. As an adult, it meant sitting on the cold ’70s vinyl flooring which isn’t too bad in summer but was a pain in the arse in winter.

Over time, this requirement to sit on the floor (or perch on a low plastic foot stool) began to understandably pall. This was assisted by the fact that Miss 3 is very tall for her age (currently around 103cm) and prefers to stand / be in movement when eating (depending on what kind of sensory / ASD day she is having). The princess table had suddenly become a bit inadequate for her.

The quest began to try and find a table that would fit into our teeny tiny kitchen on our teeny tiny budget achieved by selling some old gardening stuff out of my parent’s garage. I lament my country’s lack of IKEA as I probably could have found something brilliant there! I scoured websites and secondhand listings for something that couldn’t really be bigger than 75cm square. It looked like I wasn’t going to find anything that would fit the space and our budget.

They say God moves in mysterious ways. Apparently, this includes ancient formica tables who’s retro orange perfectly matches the ’70s lino.  Driving along with Miss 3, I spotted an abandoned table by the side of the road not far from home. It would be exciting to suggest it had been shot up in some kind of Wild West saloon; the reality (based on the dirt and oil) was that it had been based in someone’s garage workshop before being deemed a waste of space.

One’s man’s waste is another man’s treasure (and other such common sayings). By dint of great effort (and demonstrating to Miss 3 the importance of perseverance, grit, and treating the car like a giant jigsaw puzzle), it was eventually carried home. More jigsaw puzzling finally squeezed it into the kitchen.

After the initial wipe down, it’s had multiple cleanings with Jiff, water, fly spray, and antibacterial spray. It looks much improved and the old wooden chair in the bedroom with clothes dumped on it, although a bit rickety, fits it just right. It turns out there’s a matching one, in unknown condition, squirreled away in the back of my parent’s garage; Mum had rung about it only this morning so it’s a happy coincidence to find a table to go with it!

I have to say I’m quite fond already of this dinged up orange table; it’s faced it’s challenges and come through as a survivor – just like us. It also allows me to sit with my laptop and a cup of tea while supervising Miss 3 in our rickety fenced little lawn; I don’t have the words to express what a dramatic improvement this is to sitting in the , doorway with a blanket wrapped around me to avoid shivering in the breeze!

I’m open to suggestions on how to proceed with the table. It’s clearly suffered some water damage underneath and I wonder how best to preserve it. I thought I’d set the dehumidifer running tonight. I wonder whether to get some sort of wood stain or polish to rub over it, or whether I should paint over it?

Thoughts?

Table restoration project

The under side of the table has clearly suffered water damage.

Table restoration project

Hmm, what to do about the underneath?

Rewards for Potty Training

Reward Charts can help potty training.

Reward Charts can help potty training.

When starting potty training it’s a good idea to think about how you’ll keep your toddler motivated. Some toddlers will simply want to be ‘just like my big brother/sister’; others will respond to lots of praise; others need something tangible to work towards and that’s where reward charts can be useful.

Potty Training! It’s something that we all experience as parents as we help our children transition out of nappies. I’ve posted previously on:

Reward Charts

Sometimes toddlers need a little extra positive reinforcement to start (or stick with) potty training. Reward charts can be a great way of helping them to see progress, learn about delayed gratification, and learn about working towards achievable goals at a young age.

There are lots of great ideas online for printing out your own reward chart that you can stick on the fridge (like these free to print charts). The important thing is to choose a theme that will tie in with your toddlers interests. I liked this magnetic one from Kmart because I knew Little Miss would like moving the magnets around.

Tip: If you have multiple children, it’s a good idea to instigate reward charts for siblings as well to prevent tantrums, jealousy, and rivalry! If your 2 year old is toilet training, maybe your 5 year old can have a reward chart for homework or chores.

Rewards

These need to be relevant to your child’s interests, realistic for your budget, and appropriate in scale. A trip to the park, a book, a small toy, are more realistic then promising a trip to Disneyland! Also, keep in mind that a reward comes after the action has been successfully taken (and a bribe comes before).

Sit down with your child and be really clear:

  • what they will receive points for (i.e. stickers on their reward chart),
  • what rewards they are working for, and,
  • how many points they need to obtain those rewards.

Encourage your child to brainstorm with you what those rewards are going to be. Possible rewards include:

  • Items (toys / books)
  • Activities (trips to the park, library, the zoo)
  • Food (jellybeans, McDonalds, restaurant)

You may want to start off with reward stickers for:

  1. each wee / poo in the potty (or toilet), and then move towards
  2. stickers for staying dry at home that day,  then,
  3. staying dry at kindy, then,
  4. staying dry overnight.

The important thing is to scaffold your expectations and help your child towards success at a pace that’s realistic to them. Remember that every child is different.

Items

Toys or books can be easily tailored to your child’s interests. It’s a good idea to have a mix of rewards that they can work towards (with larger or more expensive items requiring more points).  If you take them to a store to choose rewards, it’s a good idea to guide their choices by offering them a few options and letting them select one.

It’s also a good idea to guide them towards choosing toys that you were thinking about getting them anyway and which you can afford. Consider items that will encourage open-ended imaginative play and remember that you don’t need to buy ‘branded’ items for your kid to have fun.

We chose a (non-branded) My Little Pony and a wooden pizza – each slice and topping has to be earned so it has a good mix of short and long term gratification.

Activities

Again, these can be easily tailored to your child’s interests. You may want to have activities close to home, or that are free, cost fewer reward points and then have costly activities be something they have to save more points to earn. Not all activities have to be away from home either!

  • At home: build a tent out of sheets & chairs; make a collage; parent play with cars / dolls / animals / trains for 20 mins without distractions; have a tea party with toys; invite a friend over for the afternoon.
  • Free: go to a park; feed ducks; favourite playground; go to a beach; bike ride; art gallery; museum.
  • Paid: go to an indoor attraction (like a playground or trampoline park); go to zoo; go to observatory to see stars; movie.

Food

Food can be a controversial choice because it risks weighting food choices to show that some foods are inherently more desirable than others. In saying that, plenty of parents have chosen to use a jellybean or other small treat as a reward.

For more creative options, why not choose food related activities instead. Reward points could be saved towards things like:

  • doing baking together,
  • helping to make dinner (or choosing from a list of dinner options),
  • buying and planting vegetable seedlings, or micro-greens for the windowsill,
  • going to a cafe for a fluffy or scone,
  • going to a restaurant for lunch / dinner.

Rainy day play: Making a spider

Easy to make spider

Make a simple spider!

Kids love playing with craft materials. Why not spend a rainy afternoon making spiders, insects, or monsters; you could tie it in with a trip to the library to find some books for inspiration!

Materials

  • Pipe cleaners
  • Milk bottle lid
  • Googly eyes
  • Sellotape
  • Craft glue / glue gun
  • Scissors

 

Directions

  1. Cut your pipe cleaners to length and sellotape (or glue gun) them to the base of the milk bottle lid. Bend them to give them knees / feet so that it can stand.
  2. Glue on some googly eyes.
  3. Take the spider exploring!

 

Why not share with them 20 Fun Facts about Spiders for preschoolers or watch a short educational video clip about spiders aimed at preschoolers and kids.

How to make an easy and cheap instrument at playgroup (Musical Maracas)

Making musical maracas

Making musical maracas

Making musical maracas

Making musical maracas

What you need

  • Paper plates (small).
  • Felts, crayons, paint, stickers etc.
  • Wooden beads, sea shells, bells etc.
  • Stapler.

Directions

  1. Help your children to decorate the outside of the plates (don’t forget to write their names on!).
  2. Fold the plate in half (like an empanada) and staple along the edges. Leave a gap at the top.
  3. Hold it upright with the gap at the top. Help your children to drop beads, bells, shells etc. inside their musical instrument; one big toddler sized handful will be about enough.
  4. Staple up the gap, put on some music, and shake!

Note: This is a great activity to do on a rainy day or with a playgroup. For younger toddlers choose larger items to put inside and play with under supervision only; i.e. keep choking hazards in mind.