Monday, June 25, 2012

Feeding Honey

Honey is a cat, one of our (currently 11) barn cats. Life on our acreage has taught us a lot about cats. Cats are fiercely loyal to feline family members. Cats develop complex social networks, and genuinely feel superior to dogs. Cats can be born with disabilities, just like children.

Over the past 16 years, we have had a deaf cat, a mute cat,and a male calico cat.  We had a cat with seasonal allergies so severe that she would shed ALL of her fur each spring.  And we have Honey.

Honey was born last summer with severe neurological deficits. Her third eyelids cannot retract, so she is functionally blind. Her claws also cannot retract, so she cannot climb. Her jaw is underdeveloped, so she has difficulty eating. At 10 months old,she weighs less than three pounds, and her collar wraps around her tiny neck twice. Her vestibular issues prevent her from cuddling.  I have never heard her meow.

But you should see her in person. Like many people with severe disabilities, Honey sounds like a hopeless case on paper. Her medical history and black-and-white fact sheet make her life appear to be dreadful. Yet, she is a bright, happy, fully-accepted member of our society of cats. She has even been “adopted” (and thus guided and protected) by a pair of brothers from another mother. Honey, who shouldn't have survived her first few weeks, is just one of the miracles we’ve witnessed on our acreage. And I believe she owes my daughter, Kyra, her miraculous life.

You see, I hate to waste food. Whenever I prepare a meal for Kyra, there is always a bit of food that does not pass through the strainer, and cannot be fed through the g-tube. Dumping this nutrient-rich mash into the garbage felt like washing gold dust down the drain. So, I started feeding the mash to Honey. And Honey survived, and thrived, and purrs at the sound of the blender.

We recently returned home from a visit to the Cerebral Palsy Center at Children’s Hospital in St. Louis. Dr. Brunstrom-Hernandez, the director of the center, believes in real food. She supports feeding real food through Kyra’s g-tube, and encouraged us to develop a process that makes real food accessible to any family with a g-tube.

While I love my 14-speed all-metal drive Osterizer blender for big jobs, the Cuisinart Compact Portable SmartPower Blender with single-serving travel cups that Dr. Brunstrom recommended is even better at preparing a g-tube meal in one minute or less. The two drawbacks I have found to the Cuisinart are the placement of the gasket, which is more difficult to remove and clean than my Osterizer, and the Cuisinart’s too-thorough blending: There is not enough left in the strainer to satisfy Honey’s appetite.

I guess I’ll just have to start making another blended meal especially for Honey. After all, it only takes a minute to feed a miracle.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A Snip of Taste

When you take the time to cook for your family, you want your efforts to be rewarded with a fresh, tasty, and healthy meal.  An easy way to brighten up any dish is to snip an herb or two into the skillet.

Herbs added to your meal add up to more than a great-smelling kitchen and great-tasting food:  Great nutrition also bursts from every leaf.  Common herbs such as basil, oregano, and thyme contain a bunch of vitamins (such as A, C, E, K, and B-Complex), minerals (such as potassium, manganese, and iron), antioxidants, essential oils, and fiber.  And they add practically no calories.

We grow basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, mint, and lemon balm in big pots on our back deck. Besides providing a cool, aromatic playground for our cats, they are just an arm’s reach from our kitchen door.  Snip! Snip! Toss a few basil and oregano leaves into the salad.  Snip!  Snip!  Rub rosemary and thyme onto a roast.  Snip! Snip!  Brew refreshing mint into iced tea.  Snip! Snip! Steam leaves of lemon balm with your cruciferous veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussel sprouts & kale).  And, a home-cooked stew containing herbs blends easily for feeding through a g-tube, and is much tastier than a can of formula.

“So what?” you scoff, “you can’t taste anything when you have a g-tube.”  Oh, really?  After feeding Kyra with a g-tube for twelve years, I am convinced that she indeed tastes her meals.  I renewed this belief recently when another daughter, who went to the emergency room for an extremely painful medical event, told me that she could “taste” the saline and pain medicine dripping through the IV and into her arm.  (Yuck!) If you can taste fluids being pumped into you as you struggle to hang onto consciousness, I’m betting that you can taste lovingly prepared g-tube meals, too.  So tell me, what do you want your family, including that precious g-tube tummy, to taste?

Here’s a “2-speed” recipe that calls for my favorite herbs.  (“2-speed” recipes can be tossed into your slow cooker in the morning so everyone’s taste buds water when they walk in your door for dinner, or stir-fried in a hurry for a hungry crowd.)
2-Speed Herbed Chicken
Chop all ingredients into bite-sized pieces. Then toss into your slow-cooker or skillet, whichever speed works for you today! Don’t worry if you don’t have all the veggies listed below: Use whatever you have in your garden or your fridge. (You DO have fresh veggies in your home, right?) 
·         About 2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts and/or thighs.
·         4 tomatoes (or a can of diced tomatoes).
·         1 zucchini or summer squash (if it’s small enough, don’t bother to peel it.  The skin will cook up tender enough to eat & to blend).
·         1 onion.
·         1 avocado (an avocado should be slightly soft when you buy it).
·         1 bell pepper (red, orange, or yellow if at all possible).
·         1/2 package mushrooms (about 1 cup or so).
·         1 - 2 Tablespoons basil.
·         1 - 2 teaspoons oregano.
·         ½ - 1 teaspoon thyme.
·         Salt & pepper to taste.
·         Chicken broth to “soup” it up, if you like.
Serve topped with mozzarella or parmesan cheese, or a dollop of plain yogurt or humus, with raw broccoli and cauliflower florets on the side (steam them a bit before blending for a g-tube meal).  Yummy for everybody’s tummy!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Tube-Fed Tummy Buddies

Each spring, a hummingbird trio returns to our yard.  At the first sighting of these tube-fed buddies, Kyra and I are quick to clean up our feeder and whip up a batch of hummingbird food.  Then we sit on the deck.  And wait.

If we’re still enough, and patient enough, the hummingbirds will greet us with a quick fly-by.  First we hear a warm buzzing.  Then, if we’re lucky, we catch sight of a shimmer as the tiny birds dart around us and toward the feeder.

As I watch a hummingbird’s tube-like beak slurping nectar, it occurs to me that the general attitude toward feeding hummingbirds is remarkably similar to the general attitude toward feeding through a g-tube.  During the spring and summer, grocery and garden stores stock special “Hummingbird Nectar” in ready-to-feed bottles or instant-mix packets.  Seriously?  Do they really expect me to purchase a tiny packet of sugar for twice the price of an entire bag of sugar?  We know from experience that hummingbirds fill their tummies quite happily with our less expensive homemade mixture.  Similarly, medical supply stores sell sugar-laden, artificially-flavored, preservative-packed g-tube formula in powdered and canned forms for prices that far exceed the cost of fresh meats, veggies, nuts, and fruits.  Which, do you believe, is a better buy?  What do you choose to feed your tube-fed tummy?

If you’re interested in attracting hummingbirds to your yard, try this recipe:
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup sugar
Heat the water and sugar in a saucepan until it begins to boil. Stir to dissolve the sugar.  Allow the mixture to cool, then fill your hummingbird feeder. You can use a purchased feeder, or make your own out of soda or water bottles.  One of my favorite youtube videos shows you how:

To increase your chances of hummingbird visits, add a bit of red near the site.  Tie a red ribbon nearby, or plant a few red flowers near your feeder.  Nothing special.  Nothing fancy.  Nothing artificial.

Finally, sit quietly near your feeder in the early morning and late afternoon, and wait patiently.  If the hummingbirds choose not to visit you, perhaps peace will.