Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Convenient comfort

As the weather turns colder and baby's once tentative flutters evolve to full-on forty yard field goal kicks, I have found myself in need of some culinary comfort.
At the same time, I want to lay by the fireplace with my feet up for as long as possible. So, I take shortcuts.

The greatest gift the modern supermarket has provided the sometimes lazy home cook is, in my opinion, the rotisserie chicken. Hours of cook time are slashed, there's no handling of raw chicken, and one bird can provide for several make ahead meals--very important for those "I need food, NOW" moments of pregnancy.
I like to remove the breasts to slice on top of greens for a lunch with some nice, lean protein, or to shred and make chicken salad or quesadilla filler. Then, I pick the carcass clean. All the meat I pull off goes into one of my favorite, wholesome comfort food meals: chicken corn chowder.

Chicken Corn Chowder
serves 6

2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, diced small
1 red bell pepper, diced small
1 1/2 cups medium diced carrots
2 Tbs cold butter
3 Tbs all purpose flour
1 quart low sodium chicken stock
3 cups large diced Yukon Gold potatoes
2-3 cups shredded chicken
1 can whole kernel corn, drained
1/2 cup heavy cream
dash hot pepper sauce (Tabasco, Texas Pete's...whatever you like)
dash Worcestershire sauce
salt and black pepper to taste

In a large soup pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion, red bell pepper, and carrots and saute until softened, 5 minutes. Add the butter to the pan and stir until melted. Add the flour and stir vigorously to coat vegetables, stir and cook 2 minutes. Add stock, scraping the bottom of the pot to release any of the flour mixture which may have stuck. Bring to a boil.
Add potatoes, chicken and corn. Return to a boil and then reduce heat to simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Stir in heavy cream. Season to taste with hot sauce, Worcestershire, salt and pepper. Thin with additional stock or water if necessary.
Serve with hot biscuits or crusty bread.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Feeding the kid in me

Lately I have been craving foods that I would normally eschew for the ten and under set: fish sticks, boxed mac and cheese, applesauce...

I'm not sure of the biological relevance of such a craving; maybe there is something my growing baby finds useful in bright orange dehydrated cheese. Most likely not. I like to think it has something to do with revisiting my own childhood in preparation for creating a new one for my little peanut: a kind of culinary nostalgia akin to unpacking and cooing over your own outmoded baby clothes.

So while I'm revisiting my developing years, and attempting to keep my developing baby well nourished, I'll try to sneak in as much wholesomeness as my juvenile self will tolerate.

Dinner tonight will be Tomato Soup (actually, Bisque, but don't tell the kids) and Grilled Cheese (on multi-grain bread.)

Tomato Bisque
serves 4

2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
2 28 oz cans whole peeled tomatoes, drained with liquid reserved
1 Tbs dried basil leaves
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 cup heavy cream
salt and black pepper to taste

Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large pot. Add onion and garlic, stirring often until softened and fragrant. Add tomato liquid.

In a large bowl, use hands to crush tomatoes and release juices. Add tomatoes and juices to pot.
Turn heat to high and add basil, red pepper and 1 tsp salt. Bring to a boil and immediately reduce heat to low. Simmer 30 minutes to 1 hour (the longer the simmer, the more concentrated the tomato flavor.)
Remove from heat and blend with an immersion or stick blender until smooth.
Alternatively, you can blend in batches in a tabletop blender, making sure to do so carefully and vent for steam release.
Return to low heat and stir in heavy cream. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. If it's too thick for your liking, slowly stir in warm water until it's the proper consistency--it should be hearty, but not 'eat with a fork' hearty.

Serve with crusty bread or grilled cheese sandwiches.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Candy, candy, candy, candy!!!

Here's a weight control tip I picked up recently:

To avoid spontaneous overindulgence, put a few pieces of candy you like or crave in your purse or jacket pocket.

I find that when I'm out and about, I often get hit with a craving for something sweet. If I set foot in the mall, I want a cinnamon-sugar pretzel. If I'm within a thousand yards of an ice cream shop, I want a triple dip waffle know the feeling.

Rather than spending the cash and consuming the hundreds of calories to indulge my every whim, I treat myself to a piece of candy from my stash. I don't feel like I'm denying myself and it's helped keep me from packing on the pounds (there's ice cream everywhere!)

To compare:
1 bite sized Snickers or Dove Chocolate Promise contains 42 calories.
A cinnamon sugar pretzel from Auntie Anne's packs a whopping 470.
A single Jolly Rancher (which helped me get through several months of over-salivation...just another one of those quirks of pregnancy no one tells you about) is 23 calories, a Starburst fruit chew, 15.
A half cup serving (hah) of Haagen-Dazs contains roughly 270 calories, depending on the flavor, and without a cone or toppings.

As preggos, our doctors recommend consuming only 300 more calories daily than we usually would. I'm trying my best to make sure that I'm eating those calories as wholesome, nutritious foods for me and my little peanut. I've found a piece of candy or two won't set me back too far, and goes a long way to keeping my junk food cravings in line.

Thursday, September 20, 2012


At about 18 weeks, I started to wake up in the morning with some funny feelings in my belly. These first movements are often described romantically as "flutterings."  I though it felt more like baby was popping popcorn in utero.
Which got me thinking, naturally, about popcorn:

What a fabulous preggo snack.  It's a low calorie, low fat whole grain with antioxidants, B vitamins, and trace minerals like iron, calcium, and magnesium. It's a great source of fiber, which us Preggos can never seem to get enough of (and is way more fun than eating those wafers that threaten to suffocate you or drinking lumpy, psyllium filled orange juice.)

The healthiest way to eat it, at 30 calories and a gram of fiber per cup, is air-popped and plain.  Cooking the kernels in oil and buttering, even lightly, adds a significant amount of calories and fat.

If, like me, you like to eat food that has flavor, we can compromise. Air-pop the popcorn, and sprinkle it with grated low-fat cheese, or garlic powder, or onion powder, or cinnamon and sugar. Raid your spice cabinet for flavoring ideas--you're pregnant, you can get away with almost anything (like spritzing it with vinegar...hey, it's better than drinking pickle juice!)

Here's an easy way to air-pop. You'll need:

a paper lunch sack
3 Tbs popcorn kernels
a microwave

Place the kernels in the sack and fold the top of the sack over about 3/4 of an inch. Fold it over a second time. Place the sack on it's bottom in the microwave, and microwave on full power 1-3 minutes, depending on the strength of your microwave. The tried and true method of stopping the microwave when there are 3 seconds between pops works well here. Without any oil it can burn quickly so pay close attention. Sprinkle your seasonings right in the bag and give it a shake. Makes about 4 cups popcorn.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Mocktail hour

As a pregnant lady in the beginning of my second trimester, I tend to get slightly overwhelmed by the negative. For instance, my abdomen is being stretched at an alarming and painful rate and I haven't slept through the night in months. Instead of focusing on the miracle of life, bundle of joy and all that jazz, I wind up crying (literally, crying) over the fact that none of my tops cover my belly (which at this point doesn't look pregnant, but rather like I ate a dozen Krispy Kreme for breakfast...every day...for a month.)

In these moments, when I've passed over the border into crazy-town-Preggo land, I like to mix myself a drink.

The ritual of making myself a delicious beverage and sitting down to enjoy it calms and satisfies me, even though said beverage doesn't contain two shots of bourbon, which is my traditional pre-Preggo means of relaxation. I keep the fridge stocked with mixers--orange, pineapple, cranberry and grapefruit juice, club soda, ginger ale and various other fruit sodas or drink mixes that catch my fancy. My fridge is half full of assorted beverages.

I usually have one 'mocktail' a day: measuring the ingredients, mixing, pouring it into a fancy glass and garnishing make it a special indulgence (any more than one and I'll start to feel guilty about the sugar.) I savor my 'mocktail' hour; I want it to be a time during the day when I can put my feet up and just enjoy.

If I relax enough, I can forget about my Krispy Kreme belly and look forward to meeting the little peanut inside.

Simulated Sangria

1/4 cup orange Juice
1/4 cup pineapple Juice
1/2 cup Sparkling Pomegranate Juice
(available at Trader Joe's or Whole Foods-- can be substituted with 1/4 cup pomegranate juice and 1/4 cup seltzer.)
Fruit slices (lemon, orange, lime)

Mix juices in a measuring cup. Fill a large goblet or wine glass with ice and pour mixture over. Garnish with fruit slices.

Ginger Punch

1/2 cup ginger beer or good quality ginger ale
2 Tbs real maple syrup
2 Tbs pineapple juice
2 Tbs fresh lime juice
lime wedge
candied ginger (optional)

Vigorously shake liquid ingredients and pour over ice in a rocks glass. Garnish with a lime wedge and candied ginger.

Grapefruit Mock-tini

1/4 cup cranberry juice
1/4 cup grapefruit soda
1/2 cup ruby red grapefruit juice
1 tsp maraschino cherry juice
maraschino cherry

In a cocktail shaker, shake liquid ingredients with ice. Pour over a maraschino cherry in a chilled martini glass.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The freezer is my friend...

Frozen Fruit Smoothie

6 oz vanilla greek yogurt
1 heaping cup frozen fruit (bananas, berries, peaches, pineapple...)
1/2 cup juice or milk (I like orange or apple juice)

Puree all ingredients in a blender until smooth. Serve in a chilled glass.

 I hate wasting food. My least favorite chore is cleaning out the refrigerator because it's inevitable that I find some spoiled food item that was purchased or prepared with the best intentions, and promptly forgotten about.
Fresh fruits and vegetables are the worst. I painstakingly troll the grocery store or farmer's market, picking out the freshest, most beautiful, usually organic produce. I come home with my gastronomic booty and put it in the crisper--the drawer where vegetables go to die.
Best case scenario I use anything perishable within a couple of days, but with my new unpredictable Preggo appetites, there's no telling when I might feel like kale again.

Enter the freezer.

My generation seems to have eschewed the stand-alone and chest freezers of our elders for the notion that the only good produce is fresh produce. (There is a growing resurgence in the canning and pickling department, but that's irrelevant here, as there's no way I'm going to spend all day canning tomatoes--maybe when I get that second trimester burst of energy I keep hearing about.) However beneficial fresh produce is, it's worthless when it's wilted, rotten, or moldy. With the proper preparation, frozen fruits and vegetables can retain much of their nutritional value, while drastically increasing their shelf-life.

In On Food and Cooking, Harold McGee recommends blanching vegetables before freezing to limit "the enzymatic breakdown of vitamins and pigments (p 278.)" This is a quick process of immersing the vegetables in boiling water for one or two minutes, draining, and placing in an ice water bath to stop any further cooking. I've personally used this method to freeze green beans, kale, corn (I cut the kernels from the cob after blanching,) broccoli, cauliflower and peas.

There is no need to blanch fruit before freezing. For delicate fruits prone to browning like peaches and plums, you might think about covering them with sugar syrup or making freezer jam--which is generally fruit cooked with sugar syrup, then frozen.
When I have berries that have seen better days (not moldy--just starting to get slightly battered looking) I wash and trim them, cutting any large berries into smaller pieces. Then I dry them briefly with paper towels and drop them in a freezer bag to be frozen. Overripe bananas I simply peel and freeze--blend frozen bananas up with some milk for a creamy confection to rival a milkshake!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Powerhouse pancakes

These tasty little cakes combine pregnancy 'superfoods' oatmeal and cottage cheese in an easy to prepare, home cooked, comfort breakfast.

1/2 cup old fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup cottage cheese
3 egg whites
1 whole egg
1 tsp vanilla extract

Mix all ingredients in a blender until smooth.
In a preheated, greased skillet or griddle (over medium heat: hot but not smoking, a few droplets of water should 'dance' on the surface for several seconds before evaporating if the temperature is correct) pour batter into 3 inch cakes, making sure not to over-crowd.
When edges look dry, flip and brown the opposite side. Repeat with remaining batter.
Serves 2.

These aren't your fluffy, buttermilk style pancakes (they also aren't full of refined flour and sugar.) They have a pleasingly dense, somewhat chewy texture...think Asian style scallion pancakes.

I ate mine with maple syrup and raspberry jam for breakfast.  You could just as easily omit the vanilla and stir in some salt and black pepper, minced onion or sesame seeds for a savory snack dipped in soy sauce or sriracha (depending on how well you're tolerating any of the above items these days.)

Powerhouse pancakes freeze well, so you can make a whole mess of these whole grain, protein and calcium rich beauties ahead of time. Wrap the individual portions tightly in plastic wrap and you've got yourself a super quick and nutritious meal or snack ready to reheat in seconds.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Snacks, naps, and salt

As I approach the end of my first trimester, I am eagerly anticipating the nausea-free zone. I am constantly being assured that it's coming, that somewhere around thirteen or fourteen weeks I will miraculously start feeling like a million bucks. I'm ready.
In the meantime, I have been relying on a few foods to see me through the minefield that is the "iffy" stomach, and safely satisfy my preggo cravings.

Apples-- Honeycrisp, Fuji, or Pink Lady as they have thinner skins, thus eliminating the need for excessive chewing, which gets the saliva going...and we know how that ends. I've been cutting them into slices and, if I need an extra protein boost, spreading them with all natural peanut butter.

Trail mix-- I carry this around in my bag with me at all times. I'm a trail mix purist. That is, I use the same recipe we used for Gorp when I was in the Girl Scouts some twenty years ago: Equal parts peanuts, raisins, and M&Ms. I have made the small concession of opting for dark chocolate M&Ms since I can make myself believe they are better for me (If I were very good I would use a candy that didn't contain all those artificial colors, but...I'm just not ready to go that far.) There's a reason trail mix exists, ladies. Just a handful gives you a perfect proportion of protein, carbohydrates, and fat to keep you going when your energy's flagging.

Fruit leather, cereal bars and granola bars from Trader Joe's or Whole Foods-- All the convenience of convenience food, without the high fructose corn syrup and weird additives.

Cucumbers and Carrots-- We've got to get our veggies, and lots of them, but most days I just don't want to look at anything green. I dip sliced cucumber and baby carrots in hummus or organic ranch dressing to obtain my veggie benefits. I've also toasted a slice of multi-grain bread, spread it with a little cream cheese and topped it with cucumber slices and capers (you can even throw a tomato slice on there if you're feeling adventurous) for a quick and cool open-faced vegetable sandwich.

Cottage Cheese-- The perfect afternoon snack: loaded with protein and calcium, and incredibly versatile. You can eat it on its own or with blueberries, fresh pineapple, or peaches. You can eat it with sliced beefsteak tomatoes, or my personal favorite: fresh ground black pepper and a dill pickle on the side (what can I say, I'm pregnant.)

Which bring me to salt. In addition to those extra 300 calories a day (yes, only 300) pregnant women are also advised to increase their salt intake. If you were already a sodium lover before you got pregnant (not pointing any fingers) chances are you're getting enough, but it's recommended that you not try to cut back on salt during pregnancy.

A craving for pickles or potato chips may be your body's way of telling you that you need more salt. We lose sodium when we suffer morning sickness, and Progesterone makes us lose more sodium in our urine. At the same time we're increasing our blood volume, and thus, our need for salt.

Opt for whole-wheat pretzels, nuts, string cheese or (yes) pickles to tackle your craving. As with all cravings, it's best to try to obtain some nutritional value from the foods we choose. So, you're craving french fries...your brain may be interpreting your nutritional need for salt as a craving for a food that will deliver plenty of it. That doesn't mean it's the best choice, or that your craving won't be satisfied by, say, a baked potato with low-fat sour cream and a liberal dose of kosher salt.

That being said...some french fries every once in awhile won't kill you. This is a time when we should be mindful of our bodies and kind to ourselves. I believe an occasional indulgence, if it makes you feel good, is necessary for mental health. So too are lots and lots of naps.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The snack machine

They say the best way to eat when you are pregnant is to have 5 or 6 (or 8 if it's twins) small meals a day, rather than your typical breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This way of eating helps to maintain even blood glucose levels, crucial in preventing gestational diabetes.
Eating frequent, small meals also helps to stave off nausea in the first trimester by preventing you from getting too full or too hungry: At nearly 11 weeks now, I am never hungry. If I start to get nauseous, I know it's time to eat. I have become a snacking machine.
The healthier the snack, the better I feel. I do crave milkshakes and pizza rolls, of course, but I usually don't feel as good afterwards as when I eat apple slices with peanut butter, or whole wheat crackers with low-fat cheese. When I get that insatiable sweet tooth, I try to have something that has some nutritional value, instead of just empty calories. These easy, no-bake cereal bars fit the bill. With whole grain, fruit, and protein packed peanut butter and nuts, I can occasionally indulge in a decadent treat without alarming my over-active nutrient conscience.

Peanut Butter Cereal Bars

3 cups organic or all-natural whole grain cereal (I used Mom's Best naturals honey nut toasty o's)
1/3 cup honey
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup natural peanut butter
1/2 cup dry-roasted peanuts (or any nut you like)
1/2 cup dried fruit (I used dried blueberries)

Grease a 9x9 or 8x8 baking pan.
In a large pot, bring the honey and brown sugar to a boil. While stirring, allow to boil 1 minute.
Stir in the peanut butter until it is melted and evenly distributed. Remove from heat.
Add cereal, nuts and fruit and stir to coat.
Carefully (it's hot!) press mixture into the greased pan with a piece of waxed paper and allow to cool completely.
Run a knife around the edge of the pan and unmold onto a cutting board. Use a serrated knife to cut into squares.
Store in a tightly covered container, up to 3 days, or wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, frozen for up to one month.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The breakfast blues

I recently, out of nowhere, discovered that I hate eggs. I didn't hate eggs last week. I might not hate eggs in a month. But right now the look, the smell...just the thought of eggs sends me into full-on nose-scrunching queasiness. This is unfortunate, as eggs are protein dense and nutrient rich in addition to being a pretty darn easy breakfast. If you're pregnant and you don't have an aversion, they're pretty much a miracle food.

But back to me...I hate eggs. So what can I eat for breakfast that's wholesome, hearty, easy to prepare, and won't offend my delicate stomach?
Not the creepy pre-chewed kind with all kinds of additives that comes in the brown paper packets...real, whole grain Oatmeal. Depending on what you're craving, and what you can stomach, there are tons of great add-ins to make your whole grain breakfast, already chock-a-block with fiber, protein, and iron even better.

The basic recipe is per serving:
1/2 cup oats
1 cup water or milk
pinch of salt

Bring the water or milk to a boil (stirring and watching carefully if you're using milk, so as not to boil over or scorch the bottom.)
Throw in a pinch of salt (this may not seem important, and may even seem strange to you, but trust makes a difference, and it's better this way.)
Stir in the oats and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes or until it's as thick as you like it.
Garnish and serve hot.

I like mine with milk, a little brown sugar and blueberries--which are fantastically rich in antioxidants. When I need something crunchy, (I'm sure I'm not the only one with a texture fetish) I throw in a handful of chopped toasted walnuts--high in Omega 3s. You can't go wrong adding any kind of fresh or dried fruit--bananas, strawberries, chopped apple, raisins, dried cranberries... you could even go nuts (pun intended) and sprinkle on some slivered toasted almonds or pecans.

There's a reason why Wilford Brimley was always talking about oatmeal and Diabetes. Since oatmeal is full of soluble fiber, it slows the absorption of glucose in the stomach, thereby reducing one's risk for developing Type 2 Diabetes--and more importantly for us Preggos, Gestational Diabetes. By the by, this benefit is not apparent in the instant variety, so go on and take ten minutes to make yourself a powerhouse breakfast.

One of these days, I'll be able to embrace the egg again, but until I'm ready to chance a whiff of the scrambled stuff, I'll be breakfasting ala Brimley.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Oh, baby.

After several weeks of basically freaking out, I've come to the conclusion that I can't be the only one.

That is: the only neurotic, obsessive, control-freak of a mother-to-be who has been writing down every morsel of food ingested since peeing a plus sign; compiling lists of the recommended intake for every nutrient and scouring the Internet for the best sources of calcium and riboflavin (yogurt and liver, respectively--though yogurt is high on the riboflavin list, as well.) I can't be the only one feeling perilously queasy and staring down a bowl of spinach at 10 pm because I have to fulfill my Folate, Iron and Vitamin E quota--not to mention one of four of my daily recommended servings of vegetables (several sources suggest a staggering 9 servings of whole grain...who can possibly eat this much?)

Quite the demanding little peanut...
So, being that there have to be other Preggos out there who are almost as insane as I am, I figured I might as well write about it. I'll include recipes (which at this point, for me, will be all about avoiding nausea,) tips on obtaining proper nutrition (and maybe not obsessing over it so much) and of course anecdotes of all the hilarious, horrifying, and inappropriate happenings of pregnancy, as recorded by me: first time Preggo, long time food enthusiast who is optimistic that she will one day like food again, and yearns nostalgically for a nice Belgian ale. 

Tip #1: Watermelon

High in Potassium and Vitamin C, this refreshing treat also contains more cancer-preventing lycopene per serving than tomatoes!

I've been eating a ton of it. Really, a ton. It's hot in Durham in July. As in, 100 degrees hot. When I don't want to eat anything hot or even warm, or anything at all, Watermelon does the trick. It's got plenty of water too, to keep your body hydrated while you produce all that extra blood (30-50% more by the end of pregnancy.) If you can't even be bothered to chew, and really, sometimes I can't, you can throw hunks of seedless watermelon in the blender and make yourself a tasty beverage--if you find it's too sweet for your taste, add a few squeezes of fresh lemon juice...perfection!

Though I like to buy organic fruits and veggies, Watermelon is rated as one of the 'cleanest' non-organic fruits if you just can't spring for that $8 melon at the natural food store.