Sunday, November 25, 2012

Quick n easy turkey n dumplings

I have a confession to make. A big, shameful secret. I will deny it like crazy in mixed company, or in San Francisco. Ready? Here it is. As much as I love whole foods and hippie food, and local organic food, and greens from the garden, and brown rice and brown bread,  I love processed food nearly as much. Oreos, Cheeze-its, hot dogs, mac n cheese from a box, McDonald's... it must be the msg that makes me go crazy sometimes. (I remember learning in 7th grade home ec. that MSG is a psychoactive white powder, just like cocaine, only you can buy MSG in the spice aisle. So don't blame me! The Twinkies made me do it!)

 This is the best thing you can make with food from packages, and it tastes especially good on a day when you're under the weather. The magic ingredients are: cream of chicken soup, a rotisserie chicken, frozen peas and carrots, and a roll of refrigerated biscuit dough. Dump it all in a pot, walk away and watch an episode of Gossip Girl, (affiliate link) and when you come back, voila! lots of delicious, creamy, doughy, salty, tender chicken and dumplings. Or, if it happens to be 3 days after Thanksgiving, turkey and dumplings.

After all the busyness and excitement of the last 2 weeks or so, my honey and I are both fighting off bugs. He sent me to the market for supplies and a powerful urge hit for some yummy, processed comfort food. This is a good way to use up some of that leftover turkey in the fridge, anyway, and this was an awesome meal for our budget since the soup was on sale for $.99, the veggies for $1.50, and the biscuits for $1.50. Makes 4 hearty servings.

Quick and Easy Turkey and Dumplings
1/2 onion, chopped fine
1 rib celery, chopped fine
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 can whole milk
1 can water
1/2 bag frozen peas and carrots
2 cups cooked turkey meat, chopped
1/2 a roll refrigerated biscuit dough
salt and black pepper

If you have an onion and some leftover celery like I did, and are not too under the weather, go ahead and chop them up and soften in some butter in your favorite sauce pan or dutch oven. Or you may omit this step.

Pour in the can of cream of chicken soup, fill the can with milk and add to the pan, fill the can with water and add. Stir to combine and bring to a simmer. Add half the bag of frozen veggies and the turkey meat. Allow to heat through. Taste and adjust for salt and pepper.

Drop dumpling-size pieces of biscuit dough on top of the soup, cover, reduce heat to low and let simmer until the dumplings are cooked through, 20-30 minutes. Taste and adjust for salt and pepper again. I think this dish needs quite a bit of fresh black pepper and a hot toddy to wash it down.

I hope you feel better soon.

Thanksgiving notes

We got really busy getting ready for Thanksgiving and I totally bombed Nablopowrimo! Oh well, there's always next year.

We had a whole big Thanksgiving to-do over here, and for the most part it went pretty darn well. We used several recipes from our new indispensable cookbook, The Science of Cooking, and our roast turkey was pretty awesome. I wish I had pictures, but the person I delegated photography to was probably busy playing with the baby.

Things got tense in the kitchen a few times. Here are some things I learned for next year:
Keeping the mashed potatoes warm in the crock pot will work, just be sure to get them in there hot!
Wash and set aside enough place settings beforehand
Start the dinner rolls and the turkey 2 days before the big day
Learn to carve the turkey

And the most important thing: Relax! As long as there's enough wine, good cheer, and good gravy, no one cares if the turkey is dry or the mashed potatoes are gluey.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The best chocolate chip cookie EVAR

I know chocolate chip cookies. I've made many times my share of chocolate chip cookies. In high school, my brother and I liked to make them in the middle of the night. Then when I went off to college, on visits home my brother and his friends begged for chocolate chip cookies. The recipe is in my head like a chant: sugar, brown sugar, butter, eggs, vanilla. The start of so many wonderful things.

The cookies we made last night were seriously the best cookies EVAR. I was teaching my honey how to make them, and he must've taken more care than I do anymore. These cookies are dense, chewy with a sugary, crispy edge, chocolaty, salty, delicious. 

This is exactly what we did.

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookie EVAR

1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs at room temperature
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
3 cups white flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 cups chocolate chips
extra salt

In a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. This takes a few minutes.
Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until smooth. Add the vanilla and mix.
In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, and salt.
Slowly add the flour to the butter mixture in 3 parts. Do not beat the dough too hard.
Stir in the chocolate chips.
Drop cookies by teaspoonfuls on a cookie sheet. Sprinkle with kosher salt.
Bake at 350F for 12 minutes, until golden.
Cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes before removing to wire racks.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

learning to cook

People say "if you can read, you can cook," which is true if you just want to reproduce someone else's recipe. But where's the fun in that? Cooking is like writing, or anything else really. It takes a lot of practice and a lot of experience to develop your own style. I like to read about cooking and food. I like Saveur magazine because the writing tells a story about food, culture, family, travel. It's so much more than a recipe mag. I like Elizabeth David; she has such a sense of propriety and such humor! and a deep appreciation of local, seasonal, simple food done well.

But I have learned the most about basic techniques that work from Cook's Illustrated magazine. I heard an interview on NPR with some folks from the test kitchen about their new book, The Science of Cooking, and in an effort to get me to cook more, my honey immediately ordered a copy. This book is essential! I'm really looking forward to picking up new tips and tricks--which aren't even tricks, just Science! --and sharing them here.

Things I'd like to understand better: pastry, roast chicken, fish & shellfish, fussy sauces, characteristics of different wines, fat content of dairy and what it means for cooking. 

Super naughty garlic bread

Do you ever have one of those days where you wake up and you're in the mood to cook some Italian-American food? Something like baked rigatoni, with a heavy sauce and lots of cheese? And if you're going to all that trouble, you might as well go all out, right? So you pop a bottle of red, put some silly Italian music from Dean Martin on, and get out the sauce pan.

Don't forget the garlic bread. You should make it before you make the salad. You will be very popular with your friends. And it's such a simple secret.

Super Naughty Garlic Bread

1 loaf good bread
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
several cloves minced garlic
1-2 tablespoons honey
salt generously

Preheat oven to 400F.
Slice the bread, but don't cut all the way through.
Mix the butter, garlic, honey, and salt in a small bowl. Adjust seasonings to taste. I like it quite sweet and garlicky.
Tuck the butter mixture into the sliced loaf. Be generous.
Wrap in tinfoil and place in the oven at the same time you put your pasta in the water. When it's time to eat the garlic bread will be crusty on the outside, soft and buttery on the inside, and the garlic will have lost its raw bite.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Whole foods for baby

As much as it pains me, I'm getting ready to give up breastfeeding.

I really wanted to nurse as much and as long as we both wanted to. I guess that time has come sooner than I anticipated, and that saddens me. I worked so hard to maintain my supply through our multiple hospitalizations and weeks of tube-feeding, hoping we would resume our breastfeeding relationship as before. It was such simple, sweet thing. The babe prefers the bottle now. He got two teeth in the time he was tube-fed, and then he was biting me and I was back at work, so we transitioned to the bottle. We nurse a bit in the morning now, and sometimes in the evening, and he's mostly stopped biting me. But he's gotten lazy and if he's hungry he gets frustrated at the breast. I don't really have time to pump at work and my supply is causing worry again.

Babe is 7 months old now, and we have just begun to introduce solid foods. I still intend to pump/nurse for as long as we can, but if we need to supplement with something, I want to supplement with homemade "breastmilk" --I really don't want to call it formula. There are many reasons I don't want to give him grocery store formula: he doesn't like it, I have health concerns about it, and I don't want to financially support these companies and their (I think) questionable business practices.

So I'm researching making my own supplemental baby milk. Have you tried this? There seems to be some information out there, but not a lot and I am surprised that there aren't more parents doing this. I want the best nutrition for my baby and I want to make healthy food choices in general, for my family, community, and planet. 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

the art of nursing

I love this photo. It shows the essence of nursing so well. This nurse is doing the best thing, just by being there with an open heart. The best nurses are fearless; they confront illness or birth with each patient, over and over again. They are not closed off or defensive; to truly advocate for the patient they need to listen and understand with compassion. No veil. They are bodhisattvas.

I know I am a more compassionate nurse now. One thing this terrible/wonderful year has given me is greater compassion. Feeling blessed.

Friday, November 9, 2012


Part of simplicity and mindfulness is living with intention. I've believed for a long time that it's not what we think that matters, but what we do. I want the things I do to reflect my beliefs and values. I want to do fewer things that are incongruous, impulsive, or unkind.

I want to stop purchasing drug-store beauty products that are tested on animals and full of chemicals that probably cause cancer or disrupt the environment.
I want to drink California wines while in California, and Italian wines while in Italy. Same for olive oil.
I want to buy gifts this holiday season from local craftspeople and businesses. I want to support local business in general.
I want to spend more time reading, writing, taking photos, making things, dancing, conversing, and engaging, not mindlessly consuming media.
Eat more vegetarian meals.
Listen to music. 
I'm interested in bringing healthcare back into the home and the very local (microlocal? is that a thing yet? it should be.) community through herbalism, nutrition, midwifery, breastfeeding support, etc.

Some changes I'm making recently:
Switching from mainstream cleaning products to vinegar, baking soda, castile soap, and essential oils.
Menu-planing more, cooking creatively, and wasting less.
Eating what's in the garden.
Eating what's nutritious. Food is medicine. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

A new season

We had one of those summers where the babe took sick, the crops wouldn't grow, and my milk nearly dried up. Very Grapes of Wrath, I thought to myself all summer long. A very humbling, human experience. One of those seasons that takes a lot, but ultimately gives back a lot.

Growing tomatoes here, in California, is effortless. I stick them in the ground or in a big container, water occasionally, feed occasionally, don't overthink, and they they grow like weeds and there are more tomatoes than I can keep up with all summer long. Early Girl and Cherokee Purple are my favorites. The Brandywine yellow variety. Not this year. Nothing wanted to grow. The babe was in the hospital, and when I was there I fretted about him. When I came home for a respite and a shower, I fretted about the stunted tomatoes. I started gardening 5 years ago after a terrible breakup. I've learned a lot and the garden has given a lot of pleasure and satisfaction. But this year, the failed garden was just another source of pain, discontent, and powerlessness.

So something really opened up inside me last weekend when we pulled out the old tomato plants, gave the perennials a haircut, amended the soil, and planted lettuces, radishes, more peas, and carrots. We've already eaten a lot of kale from the garden and a lot of snap peas. See how tall those pea plants are? I repurpose some tomato cages to hold them up.

And this morning we woke up to sprouts! Leetle tiny radish sprouts, all growing and trying and bursting forth. I get a little excited.

I'm relieved. Hopeful. With my birthday and Thanksgiving coming so soon, and then the new year, it feels like we're getting a fresh start. Thank you little sprouts. We needed that.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Celebration Rigatoni with Sausage and Peppers

Maybe we were just happy that the race was called for Obama right as the pasta finished cooking, and the baby was sleeping, and the kitchen was light and cozy, but dinner was really yummy last night. (This confluence of events does not happen often these days.)

The baby had a busy day yesterday: a trip to the polls, then brunch, then he and I went to the market. Maybe I'm weird that I like doing the grocery shopping. I really enjoy it! My schedule allows me to go to a nice store, in the off-peak hours, and I have a sweet baby who loves to be worn in the ergo and look at all the food and people. So when we got home he was tired and hungry, ripe for being nursed down so the grown-ups could have a peaceful dinner. We really need to remember that babies are like puppies and need to be taken out and tired out each day.

This is a recipe I've been doing for years, tweaking it a little each time. Last night it was pretty much perfect. The most important thing is not to rush the onions and peppers. You want to let them carmelize a bit to really develop the sweetness. That tames the tomatoes and gives the whole thing a hearty depth of flavor.

 Celebration Rigatoni with Sausage and Peppers
1 pound bulk Italian sausage
1 large onion, sliced in half moons
1 red bell pepper, sliced
1 yellow bell pepper, sliced
1/4 cup red wine
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 bag baby spinach leaves
a few tablespoons heavy cream
1 pound rigatoni
a generous handful grated parmesan

Heat a heavy bottomed saute pan until pretty darn hot, and brown the sausage. Remove and let drain on a paper towel. Before the pan cools, add some olive oil and the onions and heat on medium-high until they just begin to brown. Add the bell peppers, season generously with salt and pepper, and heat until they barely begin to wilt, and turn the heat to low. Let them melt together until very soft, at least 30 minutes. Longer here is better. Use this time to make salad, load the dishwasher, drink wine, mingle with your dinner guest, set the table, or hush a crying baby.

Deglaze the pan with a glug of red wine, scraping up all that yummy browned sausage bits. Add the can of tomatoes and bring to a simmer. Put the pot of pasta water on to boil. Allow the sauce to simmer at least 20 minutes, until very thick and saucy. Taste and adjust seasonings. I contemplated adding some herbs here, but it didn't need it. The sauce should be very tangy and sweet. It should feel full and round on the tongue. If it doesn't, add salt and cook longer.

When the pasta water is boiling, add the rigatoni and cook until al dente. At this time, add the spinach to the sauce and allow to wilt. Add the browned sausage and allow to heat through. Just before the pasta finishes cooking, turn off the heat and add a few tablespoons heavy cream. Taste the sauce and adjust seasonings again.

Reserve some pasta water and then drain the pasta. Return it to the pot. Pour the sauce on top, add the generous handful parmesan, some pasta water to loosen the sauce, and toss.

Dish up. Serve with extra parmesan and/or a drizzle of olive oil.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election day

Our little family walked to our polling place to vote this morning and then had pancakes at our local greasy spoon. The baby is too young to remember, but I hope he will be proud one day that he was there when Obama won a second term. I want him to learn that it's his duty to vote, and I want him to value justice, diversity, and social responsibility. I want to raise a feminist son.

Here in California, we voted for labels on GMO foods. I sure hope this is the start of national right to know campaign.

I am cooking dinner and drinking wine. Feeling celebratory. NPR's on the radio and my good man is putting the baby down. Maybe I'll bake cookies later. It's a good day.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Curried brussels sprouts with pasta and browned butter

These are the last of the carrots and bell peppers from the garden, and the first of the peas. Our summer garden failed miserably this year; over the weekend we pulled out the sad tomato plants, amended the soil with compost, and planted fall crops: more peas and carrots, lettuces, radishes, chard. The peas and kale we planted a month or so ago are thriving; I'm hopeful this winter garden will do better. 

Here is a simple fall dinner for you. We had pasta, but this might be better with brown rice or quinoa. The warm curry spices play off the sweet carrots and bitter brussels sprouts, and the browned butter marries it all together with nutty, fragrant, buttery goodness. I'd like to experiment with curry and brown butter more this fall.

Curried Brussels Sprouts with Pasta and Browned Butter
Preheat the oven to 400F. Clean and halve brussels sprouts and place in a baking dish lined with parchment paper. Coarsely chop carrots and potatoes and add to the dish with the brussels sprouts. Toss the veggies with salt, pepper, olive oil, and a dusting of curry powder and put in the oven for about 40 minutes, until tender. 
Meanwhile, put on the pasta water to boil. We used rotini. Rigatoni, bowties, penne, or any of the bite-size shapes would be good too. While the pasta cooks, put a few tablespoons of butter in a saucepan and carefully heat until brown. You need to keep a close eye on it, or it will burn and you will be sad.
Drain the pasta, put it back in the pot, add the roasted veggies, browned butter, a handful of parmesan and toss. Adjust seasonings to taste.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

What breastfeeding mamas should know when your babe must be hospitalized

Breastfeeding was the obvious choice for my baby and me, and we were lucky that we had an easy time learning to nourish each other in this way. Moms who must exclusively pump from the beginning have their own set of challenges, I'm sure, but since I already had established my supply and my baby knew how to latch, when we were admitted to the hospital our challenges were uncommon and the hospital staff didn't anticipate that we would need help. I think some of our difficulty could've been avoided if I'd know more what to expect going in. I want to write about what I learned about pumping and breastfeeding.

My baby was 7 weeks old when he was hospitalized for the first time, and he was either not nursing, or not nursing well for 2-3 weeks. There were many times when he wasn't allowed oral nutrition at all, and I pumped during those times, and had no trouble keeping up with the demand. The third time he was hospitalized, however, was really difficult. He had surgery and was intubated for a few days, and I was pumping several times a day, just like the last times we had been through this. I got into trouble after he was extubated, when we were trying to transition back to the breast. It wasn't going well. The babe was either sleepy or agitated from the drugs and his ordeal, and not interested in the breast. I was skipping pumping sessions because I was hoping he would nurse, and before I knew it days had gone by and my supply was half what he needed. That is also when we realized that babe was not swallowing and it would be weeks or months before he could nurse again. He would be fed through a feeding tube, and I would be pumping exclusively. This news was devastating.

Our medical team knew I was committed to breastfeeding, and although everyone said supportive things and tried to be encouraging, their eagerness to "supplement" my babe's diet with formula irritated me. I felt that they were just humoring me and waiting for me to fail. They were genuinely happy and surprised when my supply caught up! Showed them! On a side note, when I went to Target to buy a breastpump, they gave me this coupon for $8 off a can of Enfamil. Shame on you, Target. Shame on you, Enfamil. This attitude is pervasive, but don't let it discourage you! Mama's milk is the best food for babies, especially when your baby in hospitalized.

I met with a lactation consultant, and she was very helpful, encouraging, and enthusiastic that we would get my supply back up. She put me on an intense pumping schedule--I was pumping 8-10 times a day--but my supply was still lagging. I was depressed! My breasts missed my baby's mouth and still felt full after 20-30 minutes on the pump. It was impossible to relax and I wasn't getting second and third letdowns in a session.

 Here is what worked for me:
  1. Pump until the flow stops. 
  2. Hand express for a few minutes on each side to empty the milk ducts. (Stanford did a study that showed a significant increase in production in moms who hand expressed after pumping.)  
  3. If breasts still feel heavy, massage-stroke-shake to increase prolactin levels and help move the milk down.
  4. Repeat these steps at least one more time.
  5. Drink a big glass of water and eat a snack.
You only need to wait 40-60 minutes between pumping sessions. It is the frequency, not the length of time you spend pumping, that will stimulate your breasts to increase your supply.  In this way, you can pump three times in the morning (then take a 2-3 hour break), three times in the afternoon (then break for dinner),  three times in the evening (then go to sleep for 4-6 hours) and once in the middle of the night. It is a full time job! and I was very fortunate that I didn't have to work--I would not have been able to do this if I had been working. This crazy schedule isn't forever; it took me about 10 days to get my production up where it needed to be. Now I pump 6 times a day for 20 minutes. 

Pumping this way also became a spiritual practice and a way to deal with my grief. I would sit in the pumping room, plugged in, and meditate. I focused on my breath. I imagined holding my baby and his soft mouth.  I felt my pain. I imagined my babe enveloped in healing light. I thought about happy cows, standing in green pastures. Different things.  Around this time, I read a piece on tonglen from Pema Chodron, and then practiced breathing in the suffering in the PICU, and letting out healthy, healing, nutritious milk for my baby. Learning to relax long enough to let-down is essential.

 Here are some other general tips for when your baby can't nurse for any reason:
  • Pump every 2-3 hours for 20 minutes, or however long/often your baby would nurse. Keep up your pumping schedule even if you think your baby will be able to nurse later. Your breasts are never totally empty, and you will make more. 
  • Make sure you eat and drink enough. This is really hard, so get the nurse to help you with gentle reminders and by keeping your water pitcher filled. 
  • Don't skip pumping sessions for any reason. Don't do it!
  • Write down how much you're pumping. Make sure you're making enough in a 24 hour period. It's also helpful to write down things you think might affect your supply, like herbs/supplements you're taking, your menstrual cycle, your mood, diet, etc.
  •  Snuggle your baby as much as possible skin to skin.
  • Get one of those hands-free pumping bras. I love mine from Simple Wishes. (affiliate link)

A note on supplements:
 I took feungreek 3 capsules three times a day with meals, I drank 2-3 quarts of nursing tea (affiliate link) a day (I made it in quart-size mason jars), and I took More Milk Plus (affiliate link) tincture 4-5 times a day. I took a prenatal multivitamin, added a DHA supplement, and made an effort to get more omegas in my diet. It's good to eat lots of oatmeal (I add about a tablespoon each of flax meal, brewers yeast, and coconut oil to mine). I found that lactation cookies really work. They say that when you have enough fenugreek in your system your pee will smell like maple syrup, but mine never did. Maybe fenugreek just isn't a good herb for me, but I definitely noticed a difference within about 24 hours of taking the More Milk Plus tincture. It tastes like medicine, but it works. So do the cookies :)

I suppose I need to remind you that I'm not a lactation consultant, and this is not medical advice. I am just a mama who's been through it wishing you well.

EDIT 12/18/12:  I've had good results using fennel essential oil (affiliate link) topically once a day. Before going to bed, I mix a few drops essential oil with coconut oil in my hands and then massage into my breasts. I am only pumping 3-4 times a day now, but somehow still keeping up with baby.

Saturday, November 3, 2012


It's November. Which means a lot of really cool things. A lot of my favorite things. Thanksgiving, of course. My birthday, and it's a big one this year. Nanowrimo, which I've never actually done, but every year I think how cool it would be, and every year I think, maybe next year. But this year I found out about National Blog Posting Month (how did I not know about this before?) so I might as well do it! I've had a lot on my mind, and a lot of ideas for blog posts, and a lot of half written posts.

I'm doing a good job giving myself the little push I need to do stuff around here. I got a hair cut, and I've gotten through a lot of filing and clutter that's been building up for years. I feel lighter! I feel happier and more competent. And I feel like I have time to do other things, like live with more intention and awareness. So I'm learning how to clean the house with vinegar, use coconut oil in everything, make rosemary-infused oil with herbs from the garden, keep up with the housework for once, cook creatively and use up everything, and generally live more creatively and sanely, with less waste, more good homecooked food, fewer chemicals, and, hopefully, more frugally.

When tomatoes are on sale at the end of the season, I halve, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with herbs and slow roast for 3 hours at 200F. They keep in the fridge in a jar covered in olive oil for weeks and are delicious with eggs, smashed on toast, tossed with pasta, and straight out of the jar! Last week I tossed them with penne, sweet potato, kale, chicken sausage, and lots of fresh parmesan, and it was a total hit at my house. 

We got so bogged down over the summer, dealing with our babe in the hospital so much. I guess it was back in May that our doctor looked at us and said, "You better get in survival mode," and advised us to check into the PICU that day. We've been in survival mode ever since. We are working through our grief, and it's hard and painful and sneaks up on us like a puma sometimes. But there's room for it now. The door is open, it can come and go, this giant cat that lives with us now.

Thanksgiving is coming and we are hosting. There is so much to be thankful for! I am really looking forward to this feast. I am going to savor every moment of the menu-planning, wine-pairing, shopping, prepping, table-setting, all of it. This is the first time since I had my son that I've been looking forward to something so much. This is so sweet.

Time to figure out dinner. There are brussels sprouts, potatoes, and bacon to use up, and carrots from the garden to smash for the baby. This is how it should be.
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