Thursday, January 26, 2012

Best pancakes ever! (and they are completely grain-free and dairy-free)

 When I first made these, Hugo declared that witchcraft must have been involved in their making!

After being on the GAPS diet for almost a year and a half (and very pancake-deprived during that entire time) I was absolutely THRILLED to discover this recipe, which is from the GAPS cookbook, Internal Bliss.

I use my food processor to first make the nut butter (my favorite in this recipe is cashew butter), and then to make the pancakes. It's a good idea to make a large batch of nut butter and keep it on hand to use in recipes like this, or for snacking. Simply grind the nuts of choice in your food processor until they become flour, and then keep going until they turn into a creamy "butter." (I use organic nuts from Wilderness Family Naturals that have already been soaked and dehydrated, to minimize the anti-nutrients that are present in all nuts.)

If you want to skip that whole process though you can first try the recipe just using peanut butter. (However, since commercial peanut butter, even organic, is not very good for you it will be a smart move to begin making your own nut butters from soaked/dehydrated nuts.)

Here's all you need to do.

Blend the following in a food processor:

-1 very ripe organic banana
-2 TBSP nut butter of choice (I like cashew best!)
-3 pastured eggs
-pinch sea salt

In a hot skillet liberally coated with melted lard, bacon fat, or ghee (butter will smoke and burn very quickly), pour enough batter to make a round pancake no larger than 5" in diameter. Flip the pancake when the bottom is lightly brown. These pancakes don't bubble or turn brown on the edges when they're ready to be turned so you have to be vigilant! As the skillet heats up more and more the pancakes will take only about a minute or two to cook from start to finish, so watch them very carefully! I have found the best results using our big iron skillet and a silicone spatula which works better with these delicate pancakes than a metal one.

Serve with butter and maple syrup if desired. These pancakes are naturally sweet so they don't really need syrup. Their thinness and lightness makes them especially well-suited to rolling--so another great serving option is to fill with berries (or apples fried in coconut oil w/cinnamon, as shown below) and raw whipped cream and serve as crepes!

This recipe makes only about 4 pancakes. They are filling, but if using as a main course you will need to at least double the recipe, depending on how many people you're serving.

Diaper fright! (blood and mucus in stool)

Two weeks ago, when Weston turned 6 weeks old, I was greeted with an unpleasant surprise when I went to change his first diaper of the day. There was mucus in his stool and several spots of bright red blood. This continued throughout the day and got us more and more worried. The on-call pediatrician was absolutely no help (she said I could have blood in my breastmilk that was showing up in his stool--it is beyond me how that even makes any sort of logical digestive sense, assuming I DID have blood in my milk somehow from some painless internal cut inside my breast?!), and since the office was closed she wanted us to just bring him in for a visit the next day.

Hugo and I scoured the Internet for clues from other parents, discovering in the meantime that there is a plethora of frightening information available for susceptible parents! No surprise there. Fortunately Hugo came across a post from a mother who said that her lactation consultant told her the blood and mucus were caused by an excess of lactose in the milk, due to the baby getting mostly foremilk and missing out on the hindmilk. (Foremilk is sweeter --thus more lactose which is milk sugar --- and more watery to satisfy thirst, and hindmilk, which comes after, is creamier and richer to satisfy hunger.)

The solution to this problem is to lie on your back while nursing so that the milk has a better chance of mixing in the breast. I switched immediately to lying-down nursing (not the most convenient thing to do though I must say it is relaxing) and by the next morning Weston's poop was completely normal again. About a week later I also realized that he had stopped grunting or groaning when he had to poop!

At this point I am doing a mix of back-lying, side-lying, and sitting-up feeding, but I have noticed that he is happiest, most relaxed, and most satisfied when I nurse him while lying on my back. He loves being able to fall asleep on me like this.

Of course Oliver wants to join in the cuddling (not the nursing) on occasion which leads to situations like this:

Monday, January 23, 2012

Upcoming childbirth preparation classes

There's still time to register for Shara Frederick's amazing childbirth preparation classes!

Visit Shara's site, or see the flyer below.

Shara was at Weston's birth as Joan's assistant and provided amazing care and a warm environment, especially considering we were perfect strangers! I was immediately comfortable with her. I would highly recommend her doula services and classes.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Is your baby talking to you?

A friend sent me the link to this YouTube video on baby language -- it's fantastic! I have found it SO helpful with understanding what Weston needs. The key is to really pay attention to your baby's sounds when they're still mild and calm rather than waiting until he/she is crying hard. Hugo helped me identify which of Weston's sounds correspond to these five categories since he didn't sound exactly like these babies, at least to me.

These are the five categories:

-uncomfortable (hot/cold, diaper)
-need to burp
-trying to poop

If you're pregnant or have a young baby, definitely watch this video. It will likely prove to be incredibly helpful.

P.S. This is a blurry but cute early sample of Weston's new smiling skills -- which he exhibits when NOT feeling something from one of the five categories. :)

Meal planning and preparation

People often say to me, "You must spend all your time cooking!" And while I do spend a lot more time in the kitchen than the average U.S. citizen (partly because of all the dishes I have to wash!), I have many ways of making this style of eating practical and manageable. Let me share some of my tips and recommendations with you:

Rule #1 --> PLAN AHEAD!
This is the cardinal rule of successful meal planning. Get yourself a nice spiral-bound hardcover notebook that's a pleasure to write in (as well as a really good pen!) and start setting aside about an hour each week when you can think about the coming week's meals, and what your schedule is going to be like. I like to make a list of meal components (i.e. soup or muffins), snacks, and treats on one page, with the actual tasks I need to complete on the opposite page. Sometimes I make notes in my iPhone, but it's always nicer when I have time for the notebook method. Then I assign the tasks that need to be done to specific days of the week in my iPhone app (I have one called Put Things Off which works great for this). I keep my shopping list in an iPhone app as well -- but rest assured a notebook works just as well, or a list that you keep posted on the fridge. Be sure to write neatly so you can quickly and easily reference your list -- it's no good if you can't read what you wrote because you dashed it off so quickly!

Here are my lists for this week -- meal components on the left, tasks on the right (notice how detailed the tasks listed are, down to reminders to cook extra bacon over the weekend to use in Hugo's potato salad):

Rule #2 --> PREP AHEAD!
All that great planning won't do you any good if you don't follow it up with some serious meal prep ahead of time. Find a few time slots where you can take a couple of hours (or longer) to really prepare for the week. If possible, this should be a time when you are alone and uninterrupted! I use the time I have to myself on weekends when Hugo takes Oliver to the playground, or out to play in the snow, or for a walk, etc. This usually gives me 2-3 hours once or twice to devote to cooking some things in advance (while wearing Weston in the wrap). The goal is to have snacks, treats, and meal components ready and waiting so you can throw together meals, or pack lunches to go without too much hassle. (I'll show you below what I prep ahead so you can see this in action.)

I don't do everything on the weekend, though. I make chicken broth during the week at least once (8-10 quarts each time) since we go through a LOT of it. [I use it to braise meat, as the base for soup, and just to drink. I like to plan a soup or stew that Hugo will take as part of his work lunches, and I generally make that serve as dinner one night over the weekend or on a Monday night, along with these coconut flour biscuits (I omit the honey and use slightly more coconut flour).] Yogurt and kefir I also make during the week; usually yogurt is made once (4 quarts at a time) and kefir three times (about 3 cups at a time). Most of the other items I make over the weekend.

Rule #3 --> KEEP IT SIMPLE
You may have noticed that I haven't said anything about actually planning out what each and every meal will be. That's because I don't. And once you're adept at planning and prepping ahead, you won't need to either (though at first it would probably be a very good idea).

When we get our delivery of farm-fresh foods (pastured meats, eggs, raw dairy) we stock up for the entire month, which means that #1) our chest freezer really comes in handy!, and #2) we pretty much always have a sizable supply of frozen meats on hand (steaks, pork chops & ribs, stew meat, ground beef, chicken liver, whole roasting chickens, hot dogs, beef tongue, bacon, etc.). Our dinners consist for the most part of meat + vegetable, so each morning I just decide what I feel like making that night and get it out to thaw on the counter (unless it's a chicken, which needs to thaw overnight). The vegetable portion of the meal will generally be baked acorn squash with butter, or frozen veggies (see below), also with butter, or sometimes a salad. I make baked potatoes or yams a few times a week for Hugo when we have steaks or chops (and always bake a few extras to chop up and fry in bacon fat for him for weekend brunch!). By basing meals around a meat and a vegetable (always with fermented veggies, usually sauerkraut or pickles alongside) we keep things very simple. If you only shop for a week's ingredients at a time then you will need to plan things out more carefully so that you are sure to have enough in the freezer.

Here are a few other "rules" to follow and things to keep in mind:

1) Decide it's worthwhile --> because it is! Eating home-cooked food made using the best nutrient-dense ingredients from local grass-based organic farms is the single most important step in keeping your family healthy. To state this very simplistically, you can either spend time cooking good food, or you can spend time being sick and taking care of sick kids. In the distant past people spent probably the majority of their time hunting, growing, skinning, cleaning, cooking, preserving, harvesting, and storing their food -- we have the luxury of just having to cook it!

2) Make it enjoyable --> for me this means having public radio or music to listen to easily in the kitchen. It also means buying the best ingredients, using only glass jars for storing items in the pantry, having the kitchen equipment and pots I need, and taking the time I need to do things right.

3) Consider increasing your food budget --> we spend a large percentage of our disposable income on food, and I consider it money well spent! If it's an option for your family, see where you can make some adjustments in other areas so you can get really good meats, eggs, dairy, and locally-sourced or organic produce. In my experience, you can either spend money on good food or on health care -- and I much prefer the former!

4) Take some shortcuts --> One of my favorite shortcuts is using organic frozen veggies. I keep a stock of spinach, broccoli florets, petite peas, and chopped green beans in my freezer so I can pull some out at any time and cook it up in a few minutes in a small pot with butter, salt, pepper, and sometimes a little water. I don't worry too much about whether these veggies are less nutritious because frozen; after all, the bulk of our nutrition is coming from high-quality animal foods (meats, eggs, raw dairy) which are all produced organically and from animals raised on grass grown in fertile soil, which is the best way to get the most easily-absorbed forms of all the nutrients your body needs (and no, this doesn't mean we don't eat fruits and veggies and nuts, but with the quality of soil declining dramatically on the large commercial organic farms, most produce just isn't as nutritious as it used to be). Mainly frozen peas (or baked acorn squash) are what I choose for a quick meal accompaniment because my diet is very low in carbs overall and I need some carbs with dinner.

My other favorite shortcut is ordering from Fresh Direct which I do every other week or sometimes weekly when our local farmers' market isn't on, mainly for organic produce and some seafood. Yes, this means spending about $10.00 on delivery charges and tip, but if it saves me hauling two young children to the grocery store, then hauling them plus groceries home again it's worth it! If it makes sense where you live to take advantage of a service like this so you can spend more time cooking then do it. Your time is valuable and you need to spend it wisely.

Now to show you how this all plays out in a given week.

This week I have planned the following meal components:

For Hugo to take to work (Oliver and I will share the starred* foods)
-breakfast quiche* (egg & cheese, no crust)
-banana muffins* (made with coconut flour--will be trying this recipe this time)
-yogurt with bananas or blueberries (frozen) & granola
-leftover cashew-crusted chicken patties with homemade BBQ sauce
-potato salad with green peppers, olive oil & bacon
-hard-cooked eggs with mustard-mayo
-baked ham slices*
-refried beans with homemade creme fraiche (left over from weekend brunch--kept hot in a good thermos)
-chicken soup* (kept hot in a thermos)

For our lunches at home (Oliver and me)
-leftover beef tongue from this past week
-frozen tiny shrimp with lemon & butter (already peeled, these cook up in just a few minutes)
-leftover chicken soup
-baked ham slices
-cashew crackers with leftover pate from this past week
-cashew crackers with salmon salad

For snacks
-raw cottage cheese with oranges
-fresh pineapple
-beef summer sausage
-a variety of raw hard cheeses
-organic apples
-salted pistachios
-chicken broth (I have a big mug of this with chopped scallions and cilantro before bed)

For desserts after meals (mainly for Oliver)
-leftover butternut squash custard
-leftover raisin cake (I make this using sunflower seeds)
-bananas with raw cream
-blueberries with creme fraiche
-chocolate cookies made with coconut flour (mainly for Hugo; I don't bother with the cookie press)

-lettuce, for salads
-salad dressing
-chopped scallions & tomatoes to saute in butter and serve with scrambled eggs (for me)

By the end of this weekend I will have accomplished the following:
-made potato salad
-made quiche
-chopped tomatoes, scallions, and oranges
-thawed milk for making yogurt and kefir, and for Hugo to drink this week
-made refried beans (from beans soaked on Friday and cooked on Saturday)
-made salad dressing
-thawed blueberries
-made banana muffins (we easily go through 12 weekly)

I have lots of things already made and left over from this past week (many of these things were made/done late in the week, on Thursday or Friday -- I love getting a hard start!):
-lettuce leaves, washed and chopped
-cilantro, washed and dried, roots discarded
-cashew crackers
-cut up pineapple
-chicken patties from Friday night
-butternut squash custard
-raisin cake (a tiny bit left)
-beef tongue (one serving left)
-chicken broth
-coconut-olive mayo
-chocolate cookies (made with coconut flour)

Later this week I will bake a small pastured ham and boil some eggs for Hugo's Thursday and Friday lunches. Monday I will make chicken soup and salmon salad, and Tuesday I will make yogurt and a batch of kefir.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Monday, January 9, 2012

My pregnancy diet checklist

Towards the end of my pregnancy I decided to keep a checklist so I would remember all the various foods and supplements I was trying to eat or take on a daily basis. As you can see, the list was quite long and could be difficult to keep track of. I am still more or less eating the same way, though I'm not drinking the teas anymore or taking all of the supplements.

This checklist (the food portion at least) was developed with the Weston A. Price Foundation pregnancy diet in mind, which is designed for ensuring the developing baby (and its mother!) obtain all the nutrients they need on a daily basis. Here are the other things I added, as well as a few that I tweaked to suit me better:

1) first, I don't tolerate plain raw milk very well so instead of having 1 quart daily (recommended by the Foundation) I aimed for 1 cup kefir, 1 cup yogurt, and 1-2 servings of cheese (cottage cheese, or aged raw cheeses). All raw of course. The kefir and yogurt I made myself. I felt this was actually a better way of consuming dairy since it was much more highly digestible and provided probiotic benefits. Also, raw cheeses provide highly concentrated nutrients and if they are aged they are a good source of vitamin K which plain milk is not.

2) 2 tsp. of fermented cod liver oil is recommended for pregnancy and breastfeeding to supply natural (not synthetic) vitamins A and D. It also helps to either consume high-vitamin butter oil or plenty of raw grass-fed butter alongside the cod liver oil; they work synergistically to provide the best results.

3) 4 tbsp. daily of raw grass-fed butter was difficult for me since I don't eat the butter "vehicles" that I used to before the GAPS diet (like oatmeal, potatoes, toast, etc.). I increased my consumption of raw Jersey cream in conjunction with butter; butter is 4 times more concentrated than cream, which means that 1/4 cup of cream (4 tbsp.) is equivalent to 1 tbsp. of butter. There were times earlier in my pregnancy that I was eating over a cup of raw cream a day, and it helped tremendously with cravings!

4) clay -- I took 1 tsp. of Bentonite clay (Redmond brand) daily for iron and its great digestion-regulating benefits

5) thyroid capsules -- 2-4 of these daily from Dr. Ron's line of organ and gland supplements. Consuming animals' organs and glands is a traditional practice that provides essential nutrients to our own corresponding organs and glands. I wanted a little extra insurance for my thyroid and liked using these capsules since these days it is virtually impossible to obtain actual thyroid gland from an animal -- not to mention that it probably wouldn't be very fun to eat!

6) my vitamin D level was low (27) in the summer, so I grudgingly added in a D3 supplement. I consider this a synthetic supplement since it is made by exposing lanolin from sheep's wool to ultraviolet light, but it was something I had to do since cod liver oil alone wasn't cutting it. I have since observed that many (if not most) people living in NYC are low in vitamin D, including those eating a healthy traditional-foods diet that contains foods high in vitamin D like pastured pork lard and fermented cod liver oil. The lack of exposure to quality sunlight seems to be the main issue since in summer we don't spend much time outside exposing lots of our skin, and for 6 months out of the year we have what is termed a "vitamin D winter" which means we can't synthesize vitamin D in our skin even with sun exposure, due to the latitude at which we live. Pollution contributes to dimming of the sun's rays as well, which makes things still more difficult. I still don't like taking a D3 supplement, but unless I can eventually afford to fly off to sunnier climates every few months to soak up some rays this is going to have to be it -- along with plenty of cod liver oil and lard of course!

7) I continued cooking with my iron skillet to help boost my iron levels.

8) vitamin K supplement -- I used the Jarrow brand supplement that is derived from natto, a traditional fermented soybean dish and the richest known food source of vitamin K. I decided to add this supplement because I planned to skip the vitamin K shot for Weston, which is given to all babies at birth unless you opt out. Eventually we decided to give the vitamin K drops based on the anecdotes my midwife shared with me on her experience with babies who hadn't received vitamin K, or whose parents had chosen the K drops but hadn't continued with the protocol past the first few weeks (you need to give it over the baby's first 12 weeks of life!). She and all the other NYC homebirth midwives had seen babies with hemorrhagic disease (vitamin K prevents this) in their practices -- despite the international statistics that cite much lower incidences of this disease (is it 1 in 10,000? something like this -- a much lower number than Joan and the other local midwives had observed). When she told me about a baby who had needed a brain shunt I decided I really didn't care what I had read about the incidence being so low, and about the ability to boost K content in breastmilk by taking supplements, eating high-K foods, and drinking nettle tea. It seemed the natural vitamin K drops were the way to go. We ordered them along with our home birth kit from Birth With Love. At $31.00 instead of $13.00 for the pre-filled vitamin K syringe, this seems like a lot more to pay for just a little supplement, and I can see why hospitals don't bother carrying the oral drops. However, when you consider all the bad stuff that is in the vitamin K injections, the drops are definitely the way to go!!

9) teas -- nettle tea to boost vitamin K, and Final Countdown Tea from Divine Daughters Herbal, a line of pregnancy-specific herbal products that is created by Karen Rose, master herbalist of Sacred Vibes Apothecary in Flatbush (Brooklyn). [To order, you can call Sacred Vibes or visit their Etsy store]. This is what is written about the tea: "Our 'Final Countdown' Tea was formulated with the 9th month of pregnancy in mind. We included Squawvine which has been used traditionally by North East native Americans to strengthen the uterus for birth. We blended it with supreme uterine tonic red raspberry leaf tea and cramp bark along with wild yam to ease the tension that sometimes comes along with Braxton Hicks contractions in the final weeks of pregnancy to support efforts to rest. 1 cup a day from week 36 onward offers supreme herbal support for your body and its process." (P.S. I also used their Motherwort analgesic herbal tincture postpartum for cramping and loved it!! I only had to resort to Ibuprofen twice when the cramping was very bad. It was also helpful for some terrible headaches I had in the first week, probably from anemia.)

10) bitters -- an herbal tincture that promotes good digestion of fats by prompting the liver to release bile (you can read more in this great article about the role of bitters in promoting digestion). I took about a dropperful of this before each meal. [Have just ordered the Digestive Tonic from Sacred Vibes and am excited to try it! Note: when ordering, it seems the shipping costs about $4.00 less if you order through the Etsy store -- I wish I had known this.]

11) probiotics -- I continued taking my 2 daily capsules of BioKult, which I've taken since starting the GAPS diet early in 2010 (Note: when starting any probiotic, you should always begin with a very small amount of the powder, released from the capsule, and increase gradually to a therapeutic dose to avoid "die-off," which is detox symptoms from pathogenic microorganisms dying off in the digestive tract.)

12) EPO (evening primrose oil) & EPO suppository -- begun at Jessi's (my doula) suggestion towards the end of pregnancy to support the production of healthy prostaglandins. Jessi also recommended that I insert an EPO gelcap vaginally every night to help my cervix get "ready."

13) yogurt application & probiotic suppository -- will write about this in a subsequent post!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

My secret to successful breastfeeding--an easy tip plus delicious quinoa recipe to increase milk supply

Two weeks after Weston's birth we had a rather scary weekend -- lots and lots of crying and fussing. No matter what we did, he just wasn't happy. This was quite a shock as we were used by then to having a VERY easy baby in the house. He would sleep for nice long stretches without swaddling or any other extreme measures, in the bed, in his swing, on a lap, etc. He would wake to nurse, be changed, and have a look around, and then he would fall asleep again.

After worrying about possible constipation, abdominal pain, or other hard-to-detect phantom problems that can drive a parent nuts, I finally determined into day 2 of this that he was HUNGRY! It seemed my breastmilk supply had dropped off sharply. And of course a hungry baby is a fussy baby. I think it's entirely possible that a fair number of fussy or "difficult" babies out there are just not getting enough milk, making them very cranky and hard to soothe.

Fortunately I remembered an important lesson from when Oliver was a wee one: you have to drink lots of fluids to make lots of breastmilk! [Now of course this is a very simplistic solution to a problem of low milk supply; there can be a myriad of reasons why a new mother would have difficulty breastfeeding or low milk supply, and in some cases this really can't be remedied (this would be a good time to try making a nutrient-dense formula at home). However, the first thing to look at is always diet (more on this coming later), and the second thing is fluid intake.]

I read recently that an average baby might consume 32 oz. of milk in a day! This would vary based on the baby's age, but it's safe to say that a nursing woman is putting out quite a lot of fluid on a daily basis, and in order to make that quantity of breastmilk it is imperative that she be drinking lots and LOTS!

I upped my intake of fluids dramatically by consuming about 14 oz. per hour on Sunday, and by that evening everything was A-OK. My beverages of choice: a 50/50 blend of coconut water and filtered water, chicken bone broth (homemade of course), raw kefir (also homemade), plain water, and herbal tea.

I also ate an extra serving of my special sprouted quinoa pilaf which has the effect of increasing breastmilk supply. Here's how to make it:

1) sprout quinoa (awesome instructions and photos here) -- I use 1 cup of organic whole grain quinoa from Bob's Red Mill, a quart-size glass Mason jar, and a special fine-mesh sprouting lid from Sprout People. (Actually, I do this in triplicate, with 3 jars and 3 cups of quinoa, which yields about 3.5 quarts of finished quinoa pilaf! I eat this every night before bed, so I go through a lot, and it does last very well in the fridge, but you may want to cut the recipe down to 1/3.)

After about 2 days you will have lots and lots of lovely little sprouts -- aren't they cute?

Not only are they fun to look at as they grow, they also are really really good for you! Quinoa sprouts contain all nine essential amino acids which makes them very special in the plant world. Quinoa was considered to be exceptionally nutritious to traditional Incas in Peru (where quinoa comes from), and was deemed especially important for nursing mothers. Quinoa is gluten-free and high in iron, and is actually a seed, not a grain, which is probably why it works great for me health-wise whereas actual grains do not. I also love how sprouting takes away that odd characteristic quinoa flavor that always made me steer clear of quinoa in the past.

2) melt lots of lard (about 1/2 cup if making the full recipe) in the bottom of a large pot.

If you're new to lard you may find the smell off-putting at first, but let me assure you the finished pilaf will be delicious. The lard will only lend a neutral succulence, not a porky taste.

3) saute 2 minced onions, several chopped carrots, and several chopped stalks of celery until they begin to soften. Dump in lots of curry powder, and a few pinches of sea salt.

4) add the quinoa sprouts and stir them around until they are just mixed with the veggies and melted fat. 

5) Pour in 6 cups of homemade chicken broth (2 cups for each cup of dry quinoa you originally sprouted) and mix well. Bring to a boil and turn off the heat, allowing the quinoa to absorb the liquid and become fluffy. If you want your pilaf drier and fluffier, use a little less than 2 cups of liquid per cup of dry quinoa, and be sure to let it sit for a couple of hours undisturbed so it can absorb all the liquid. I don't mind my pilaf a little mushy, personally. Once it's finished to your liking you can add sea salt to taste.

Be sure that you let it cool completely before storing in glass jars in the refrigerator.

My preferred serving method is in a bowl of hot chicken broth, but this pilaf is also delicious warmed in the toaster oven (please, no microwaves!) and topped with either lots of raw butter, or plenty of grated raw cheese (or both!).

It's also wonderful as a filling for stuffed peppers or stuffed cabbage, with crumbled cooked ground beef or sausage added. You may want to experiment with other vegetables as well, such as tomatoes, bell peppers, or winter squash. (And of course, if you do not happen to be a nursing mother you should still feel free to indulge in as much quinoa pilaf as you like -- it's not going to have any undesirable lactation-producing effects. :)