Depending on your age, you may or may not remember the episode of Friends where Rachel accidentally combines a shepherd’s pie recipe with, I think, a trifle recipe. The result was a disgusting mess of sweet and savoury and a pretty hilarious episode of television.
Well, I had my own, ‘Rachel’ moment this past semester.
As I shared with you on our other blog, we have been trying some different things for our oldest, Benjamin (age 11 – Grade 6), to try and help him with focus, attention, school work and social situations and one of the main modes of attack has been diet. We have cut out gluten, sugar and dye’s and we started this adventure just about two months ago.
It has been amazing to see the change in Ben and also in all of our other kids as we decided that we would do this as a family or not at all. We allow these items on Friday nights and Saturdays so the kids have something to look forward to but otherwise we stick to the diet and it has been a huge blessing. All of the problems haven’t completely disappeared and there are definitely still some challenges – even just challenges that come with asking a 4, 6, 8 and 11 year old to willingly turn down sugar all week regardless of whether they’re at home, school or a friends house – but we’d do it over and over again because of the amazing improvement we have seen in our kids and especially Ben and the resulting improvement in his sense of self worth and self esteem.
All that preamble to say that, when we first started the diet, just a week later Ben’s birthday rolled around, in the middle of the school week, and we had to decide what to do. Do we scratch the diet and make a delicious sugar full, gluten full dessert or do we stick with the diet and make something considerably less delicious and try to get Ben to be excited about it?
Thankfully, Ben was a good sport about it and agreed that he’d be happy if I made him a gluten free, sugar free cheesecake and a special birthday breakfast. So, I ventured out on the web and found some recipes – some for special breakfast waffles and some for dessert. If we were in Canada, we could just head to the store and grab whatever kinds of gluten free flour blends and other random items would make gluten free cooking and baking far easier, but, in Ukarumpa, you have to improvise. Amazingly, our families have since sent us some care packages complete with various gluten free flours and one of our partner churches, Dunbar Heights Baptist Church, sent us another care package with more gluten free items in it and that was an incredible blessing and encouragement to us and to our kids.
Some gluten free treasures for Ben and the whole family from one of our partner churches, Dunbar Heights Baptist Church.
I can’t tell you how much I try to remind myself to appreciate the ease of acquiring ingredients in Canada because if you can’t find something here (there is no gluten free aisle in our store!) then you just have to wait months for a care package to arrive and got without or find alternatives in the meantime!
Back to Ben’s birthday…..the night before, I decided to make him a gluten free, sugar free cheesecake. In order to fully understand this story, you have to understand that, if we get cream cheese in our store then the cost is approximately $30 CDN for a 1kg of cream cheese. It’s not an ‘everyday’ item, nor do we have it in the store all of the time or even in the country but sometimes we splurge for special occasions or holidays if it’s available. I had purchased some cream cheese in advance, had some almond flour in our cupboard that I had bought in the port city of Lae (almond flour is not normally found in our store and, if it is, it would be very, very expensive) to use for the crust and had purchased some Stevia (I didn’t realize that Stevia has a wicked bitter aftertaste but it’s the only type of those sweeteners that we can get in our store) and was ready to go.
I got ready to make the crust, grabbed some butter from the fridge and needed just a few more grams of butter. I looked on our counter and there was a little bowl with some softened butter in it. I tossed it on the scale to add my few extra grams, melted it and added it to the crust which also had a bit of Stevia in it for sweetener. As I baked it, I thought it smelled a little bit funny but I didn’t think much more of it and continued on to make the cheesecake itself.
I made the filling, put it in the cooled springform pan, waited for it to bake and then chilled it in the fridge overnight. First thing in the morning – using some oat flour, I was able to make gluten free, sugar free waffles complete with a ’no sugar added’ mango jam that I had made for the cheesecake. The first batch was incredibly crumbly and our kids had to eat them as ‘waffle bowls’ but the second batch came out looking sort of like waffles ? A bit of pure maple syrup we still had from a care package from last term for the tiniest bit of natural sweetener and the result was a success.
So, I had sugar free, gluten free cheesecake in the fridge ready for his birthday dessert, yummy gluten free waffles in his belly and was counting two wins for making Ben feel special on his birthday and sticking to the diet.
Things were good until I was asked one question. ‘Where’s Lilian’s medicine?’ Jon called from the kitchen. Immediately my heart sank and I knew instantly where her medicine was. Lillian is our little kitten. We got her from a neighbour a few months back and she has had quite a sought start to her life. Just a month after she was weaned from her mother and came to live with us, she started to manifest signs of something called ’Toxoplasma’ which essentially had her somewhat paralyzed and unable to move.
Amazingly, we got medication from someone here and she started to improve. She was getting really strong and then one night, we think she tried to jump off of a crate near where she was sleeping inside and fell and the result was two broken paws! This poor kitten!
We got little kitten paw splints thanks to another neighbour and friend and she was stationary for weeks until just before Ben’s birthday.
She had stopped wanting to eat or drink and we honestly thought we were going to have to find a way to put down the kitten until our neighbour gave us some antibiotics for the kitten and she started to get better again. Every few days we had to open up a little antibiotics capsule and mix it in with butter. Yep, butter. Softened butter. Like the butter on our counter that I used in our cheesecake crust!
As Jon asked those questions, I immediately knew that I had accidentally used Lillian’s antibiotic-filled butter in the cheesecake crust for Ben’s birthday. The part that comes next will be deeply understood by anyone who’s ever been on a budget or possibly lived overseas with little access to all of the countless grocery items available in the first world. Instead of tossing the whole cheesecake in the trash, we counted the cost of the cream cheese and the fact that we didn’t have another gluten free, sugar free birthday dessert standing by and decided to cut off the antibiotic crust and serve it anyways. Filled with bitter tasting Stevia and a somewhat off-putting smell from baked antibiotics even after cutting off the crust, our kiddos still ate it with the homemade mango sauce and were troopers.
It was a birthday that Ben will likely never forget and potentially never want to repeat and, in the future, I think we’ll just ask for some gluten free, sugar free cake mixes or other ingredients to be sent from Canada in a care package well in advance of kid birthdays ?