organicglory

simple nibbles of natural goodness

Pesto Flatbread

Anyone who has kids (and relatives who watch them) knows that it’s handy to have lots of food in the house for everyone to snack on. I’ve gone from being the type of person who never kept junk food around as a way of watching my weight to buying crackers, cheese, salsa, soda, fruit juice, granola bars and cookies in bulk so the grandparents have something to nibble while babysitting! Boy do I know how that goes: you only have one hand to eat with while chasing after the baby, and the fruit bowl can only get you so full when you’re entertaining a crazy toddler.

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The thing is, I love providing food and drinks that our babysitters and relatives enjoy, because they are doing us a huge favor … but it’s hard not to start snacking on the stuff yourself after a long day at work. Diet coke, wheat thins, tortilla chips and pastries suddenly have a standing place on my shopping list, taking me into aisles I never even would have entered before, and tempting both Mark and I when we are home. Lately, I’ve realized that we also seem to order takeout a lot more often than we intend to, because we get home late and then suddenly it’s Georgia’s bedtime and we are starving on the other side of it, with no energy left to cook. So, I am starting to try out recipes that come together really quickly with extremely few ingredients, ideally the kind you can keep on hand.  It’s a way to avoid the pizza delivery guy and have fresher options than processed foods on hand. That’s how I came to this recipe:

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I love that it has just a few ingredients, and that they are the kind of thing you can keep on hand easily. Plus, it comes together in 10 minutes. I served it with a salad and lime seltzer for lunch when my mom and brother were over, and then we finished it off with some homemade zucchini bread!

Pesto Flatbread

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 packaged pizza round or one large tortilla (any flavor/variety)
  • 1 small refrigerated jar of prepared pesto (I used Trader Joe’s)
  • pecorino or parmesan cheese, shaved
  • optional: fresh basil (I had some lying around from this)
  • extra virgin olive oil

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven per the dough or crust directions. You can also use something like Pillsbury dough and lay it out flat and square). On a pizza stone, cookie sheet or round non-stick pizza pan, assemble the flatbread by layering olive oil on the crust (or tortilla), then spread the pesto in an even layer, then top with as much cheese as you’d like, grating as you go. If you have fresh basil, add it on top, tearing off small pieces and adding to your taste. Cook until the edges of the crust are browned, or about 10 minutes. Slice into individual pieces and serve warm.

We decided to call this a “flatbread” since it’s so thin and snackable, even though you make it like a pizza. Calling it a pesto pizza didn’t seem to capture the experience of eating it, since it’s so light and uncomplicated. One of these easily fed three people the afternoon I made it.

I’ll be on vacation next week, but I will share some photos of our trip to Myrtle Beach and Charleston as soon as I’m back! I can’t believe it’s Labor Day weekend already. At least we all got over the stomach bug just in time to take our trip. 

Skillet Gnocchi with Sausage and Tomatoes

Hi everyone! What a whirlwind couple of weeks. I was off for half of last week planning the Georgia Peach party — photos coming soon! — and having fun in Boston with visiting family. Now, Georgia has had the stomach flu for two days straight, and Mark and I have been alternating staying home with her…and next week we will be flying to Myrtle Beach for vacation with Gramps and Nan! So here’s a quick and easy recipe I tried and loved recently. It’s perfect for using up all those late summer tomatoes and extra basil from the garden. Enjoy!

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This recipe inspiration comes via thekitchn.com.

Skillet Gnocchi with Sausage & Tomatoes

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 lb. gnocchi
  • 1 package chicken sausage, any flavor, sliced into coins
  • 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, sliced in half
  • a handful or two of fresh basil, julienned
  • salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

First, heat a medium size pot of water to boiling and cook the gnocchi for two or three minutes, then drain; toss with olive oil in a room-temp bowl and set aside.

In a large cast-iron skillet (or dutch oven, like my Le Creuset), heat a light drizzle of olive oil over medium. Add the sausage and cook over for a few minutes or until they start to brown. Push the sausage to the side in the skillet and turn the heat up to high.

With the skillet very hot, add the tomatoes face down, cramming if you have to. Cook for a couple of minutes or until they are blistered.

Stir in the sausage. Cook for a few more minutes or until the sausage and tomatoes are both browned. Finally, add in the gnocchi and stir until just combined but before the tomatoes have broken down.

Remove from the skillet and stir in the basil strips. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

TIPS

  • You can use a non-stick or other type of skillet, but you won’t achieve the same browning effect as cast iron.
  • You can use any type of sausage you like, including spicier varieties or even imitation sausage links to make this vegetarian-friendly. Both Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s carry great options for meat-free “sausage” links.
  • I love making this as colorful as possible by grabbing orange and yellow tomatoes, if you can find them.
  • Don’t let the tomatoes cook too long or you’ll very quickly find that you have a sauce instead! You want to take them off the heat just before this happens.
  • Be careful not to heat the cast iron skillet too high at the outset. The cardinal rule of cast iron is that it heats up VERY fast, and is very difficult to cool down from there. ‘Medium’ on cast iron is probably going to feel like ‘high heat’ on nonstick.
  • I wouldn’t personally add cheese to this, but you can if you want!
  • Heats up well as leftovers, and tastes great with Pinot Grigio on a hot night :)

PSST — speaking of pasta, tomatoes and basil! — a new book I’m excited about just got released for pre-order. I already love Chloe’s Kitchen, so why wouldn’t I race to grab Chloe’s Vegan Italian Kitchen? She’s the inspiration for my creamy Vegan Pesto, Vegan Spinach and Artichoke Dip, and more. Even if you aren’t vegan, her recipes are always simple and fun, and great for adapting your favorite guilty recipes to be lower calorie as well as safe for friends with lactose intolerance.

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Have a great weekend, everyone!

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Georgia boogies to her favorite song

Nothing too serious today ~ just a cute video of Georgia breaking it down to Pharrell’s “Happy.” She’s the only person alive who isn’t sick of the song already! Check out her moves:

I’ll be back after the craziness of G’s birthday party this weekend. Can you believe she’s going to be one?? It’s like she was just born.

Tips on Pumping

Yes, I know: strange coming from me, who hated pumping (then again who doesn’t) and stopped breastfeeding when Georgia was 9 months old. But I’ve found myself in the odd position of helping others who’ve struggled with pumping and low supply a lot recently, even though I myself tried everything and had pretty spotty success. So I decided to write it all down, in case you can benefit, too.

At least I had a constant companion in Tasha to cheer me up.

At least I had a constant companion in Tasha to cheer me up.

I’m certainly not encouraging anyone to skip breastfeeding. By all means, do it and pray for an easy time — I want that for you. But let me be the one to explicitly tell you: it IS possible to try everything the lactation consultant, pediatrician and mom blogs tell you, and still not make it to a year (or longer) nursing. I don’t know who set that deadline, but I can’t tell you the hours of undue stress it caused me (and my husband) when I felt I was “falling short.” And trying isn’t just OK, it’s downright heroic. Because you grew a child in your body, and you are continuing to give it life today, whether that’s with breast milk or formula.

Nursing 24/7 and having the doctor tell you your baby isn't growing properly: devastating.

Nursing 24/7 and having the doctor tell you your baby isn’t growing: I’m not sure there’s a worse feeling.

Formula, though not ideal when compared to Mother Nature, is quite literally life-saving for some babies. I’m aware of all the things people don’t like about it, and I am definitely troubled by statistics showing that only 16% of women nationwide are able to continue exclusively breastfeeding by the time their babies are 6 months old. But I think the solution will come via national change at the policy level, when this country decides to support all mothers’ and  babies’ health by providing high-quality prenatal, postnatal & pediatric care (plus lactation consultants and dual-phase, double electric breast pumps), at least 6 months of paid maternity leave for all parents, and access to high-quality, affordable child care. It’s shameful that one’s race, finances or address have anything to do with breastfeeding outcomes, but this chart has the latest data and it’s pretty damning:

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Personally? As a mom to a baby labelled with “failure to thrive” just two weeks home from the hospital, I feel like a freakin’ champion to have lasted 9 months. I know breast is best, but I won’t apologize to everyone I meet for not being able to “EBF” (exclusively breast feed, for those of you with better things to do than follow internet mom jargon). My breastfeeding experience is not the totality of who I am as a woman. Plus, where does this debate leave adoptive parents? Or gay dads? I could go on. But I won’t; I’ll just cut to the chase and give you my tips.

Tips on Pumping

Tools of the trade

First, you’ll need (ahem) a pump. Call your insurance to see what Obamacare will provide to you for free, then order it from an approved vendor. Or, ditch that route and do what I did — get the one you want on Amazon. In my case, that was a hands-free, double electric, hospital quality pump from Medela (affiliate link). I used and loved the Freestyle, but the Pump In Style is another great option (key difference is that the Freestyle clips to your clothing so you can walk around, whereas the Pump In Style is built into a tote that you carry and sit with. Both have multiple speeds and shield sizes and are relatively quiet and fast).

Second, you’ll need a hands-free breastpump bra. I tried and returned a lot of these. Thanks to friends, I finally settled on this one by Simple Wishes. Women of literally any size can wear this thing, because it’s so adjustable, which helps as your boobs change size gradually; it’s also extremely easy to put on and to fit the pump flanges into, and the seal is really secure.

For a basic introduction to setting up and using a breast pump, check out this step-by-step video by FitPregnancy.

Some other things that help:

  • Extra bottles. I got another set of the Medela bottles that came with my pump, so it wouldn’t be as problematic if I left full bottles at work or clean bottles at home accidentally, but they are small. So you may have to transfer the milk to a larger bottles for feedings, or get extras in a bigger size if your supply is really high and you fill these really quickly (alas, not my personal case, but I suppose I have other talents). You can also use special freezer bags if you’re pumping enough to put some away for later. These store flat and can be marked by date so you don’t let them expire, and are great if you travel for work or go away for the weekend. Most day cares will take either bottles or bags, as long as they’re clearly labelled.
  • Bigger nipples as baby gets older. You can get faster flowing nipples for the Medela bottles (or whatever brand your pump requires) so that your baby doesn’t get frustrated trying to drink from a tiny newborn opening. This helped Georgia a lot. We couldn’t seem to overcome nipple collapse, however, because Medela bottles (as well as Dr. Brown’s) share a nipple design that just didn’t work for her (and in my opinion, looks nothing like an actual boob!) To work around this, I only used breast milk straight from the Medela bottles at bedtime, when she wasn’t as ravenous and thus didn’t drink so forcefully, which caused the nipples to flatten or cave into the bottle.
  • At least one ice pack. My pump came with a reusable cooler pack and a contoured ice pack (meaning it could fit in between four round bottles) but it couldn’t hurt to have a spare in case you lose or forget it. There was a point, before I realized I just wasn’t going to be one of those women who could pump enough to replace three 8-oz. bottles during the workday, that I considered getting a mini fridge or an extra freezer for our basement, since the fridges we have at home and at work are pretty tiny.
  • Cleaning supplies. You can use any number of products to clean your pump in a hurry, but I always found that it performed best when I took everything apart and washed it with good old fashioned warm water. Then you just dry it with some paper towels and pack it up for next time. Other options: wipes and steam bags. I had access to a microwave and a sink near my pumping room at work, so I tried all three methods.
  • A nursing cover. This comes in handy if you have to share a nursing room with someone else at work, or pump in your own cubicle/office discreetly, or in the car. It’s good to have on hand if you’re headed to a meeting or conference where you don’t know what pumping accommodations can be made (it never hurts to call ahead). I have one by Bebe Au Lait but I’ve heard good things about Udder Covers as well.
  • You might also find hand sanitizer, extra makeup for touchups, spare napkins for spills, and nursing tea plus a mug to be helpful items to keep around. I also found that breastfeeding made me really thirsty with very dry skin and lips, so I stashed lip balm, hand cream and bottled water in my diaper bag and pumping tote.

Getting set up at work

I was very fortunate. My company set up a privacy room for nursing mothers to use two years ago, and then expanded it when we had a bit of a baby boom. With a solid computer terminal, a full-length mirror, a rocking chair, fridge and plenty of locked cabinet storage, it had essentially everything you needed to pump while working or resting. The only thing it lacks is a private sink to wash the pump parts, but with a bathroom and kitchen down the hall, those resources were in close proximity. What companies are obligated to provide varies by state and workplace size, but it can never hurt to ask for more. That’s how we got an improved setup at my place!

I was also lucky that my workplace offers nursing mothers extra breaks or unbilled time in the day during which to pump, which is crucial to being successful at breastfeeding, no matter how much supplementing you’re doing at home. The main challenges I encountered? Rescheduling meetings around my pumping time, without extending my workday beyond 9 to 5; people texting me questions while I was pumping, so as not to “bother me” by phone; having to eat lunch while pumping because I had no other time to fit it in; eating and drinking enough before pumping so my supply didn’t drop; and keeping the stress of work problems at bay so they wouldn’t affect my letdown or my yield. While the pumping room was awesome, fitting in the actual pumping in a workplace that values long hours, no lunch breaks and tight deadlines was beyond tense.

What to wear

At home, this was easy: leggings or a stretchy skirt plus a nursing tank top. Drop the front panel, attach pump, and go! At work, this was harder to figure out. Some days, I simply made a nursing camisole my base layer under a blazer, sweater or cardigan, and then took off the top item to pump; other days, I wore a dress that unzipped in the back instead of going over my head, and that was equally comfortable. It turns out that dresses make great wardrobe staples for busy mornings with crazy toddlers, too, since you don’t have to think about matching separates. Thus, I continue to build my professional wardrobe around them, and hardly ever wear pants anymore at all. I found it helpful to keep a pashmina or other soft scarf in my office in case it got cool in the nursing room at work.

Taking care of you

Not getting adequate sleep (ha, HA!), drinking too much caffeine and too little water, stress, and exhaustion can all drastically reduce your supply. Same goes for waiting too long to eat lunch, or not eating the right things. Sound like anyone else’s typical day at work with a newborn at home?? Right. Do the best you can not to guzzle an XL coffee or engage in a tense discussion with your boss before pumping, and block out enough time for the full phase of expression on your pump to get what you need (for me, this was the full 30 minute cycle just to get 2-3 ounces per side, so the whole affair took a solid hour after setting up the pump, disrobing, cleaning the pump in another room, rearranging myself and storing the milk). If you have to pump more than once per day, which is very possible, then I suggest doing one when you first get in and another in the late afternoon so you’ve eaten a meal before each session and you don’t go so long between nursing that you get engorged on the way home. Other moms I know had better luck pumping at home while they were getting ready for work, or just before bed, in addition to once during the workday. It all depends on your supply and your baby’s appetite!

Eating right

Good foods to eat: oatmeal, soup, lactation cookies (seriously!), granola bars, good fats like nuts, olives and avocados, and cold-water fish rich in DHA such as salmon, shrimp, catfish and crab. Fenugreek is a supplement that several lactation consultants suggested I take to boost my supply. Keep a reusable water bottle at work wherever you pump, so you can’t forget to fill it every time. As a general rule, have healthy snacks on you at all times. And keep taking your prenatal vitamin.

Bad foods to eat: salad, unless topped with any of the foods mentioned above to round out the meal; too much alcohol, which enters your breast milk and can affect your let down; excessive caffeine, in the form of coffee, tea or energy drinks; any soda; and anything that may irritate your baby via the bottle, such as garlic, beans, onions, peppers and broccoli, all of which can cause gas and fussiness. The last thing you want to do is pump all that milk and have baby refuse it (been there — Thai takeout, we cannot be friends until baby is weaned).

Here are two helpful charts to help you meal plan while pumping:

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Overcoming hurdles

You know, I wish that all women were as supportive as some of my friends and family. At one point, when I really felt like a failure for all of this nursing business not going the way I had planned (so what else is new with babies), Mark just turned to me and said “where are you feeling all this pressure from? It’s not me. It’s not our parents. It isn’t even Georgia’s doctor. So what is it?” And I didn’t know what to tell him, except that I spent my entire pregnancy being indoctrinated that breast is best so intensely that I never even considered the possibility it wouldn’t turn out to be so simple. I know I was lucky to give birth at a hospital that didn’t give formula in the nursery after birth, and that made so many lactation consultants available in the first few days. That coaching was invaluable. If you’re running into problems with nursing, pumping, or both, I would highly encourage you to reach back out to your OB, or your child’s pediatrician — that’s who connected me with my local LCs, when Georgia was a few weeks old and we were really struggling — or search online using the International Lactation Consultant Association’s web tool. Insurance is obligated to cover these services now. And, please, never hesitate to reach out to me directly. When I confessed how much trouble I was having nursing over social media, loads of women reached out….but what killed me was how many said I could never tell anyone  about it, because they had lied to their own families and friends about supplementing!

This madness has got to stop. Surely there are better things women can be doing than judging one another for this crap. Do you know what’s actually important? This.

Georgia and Dad

Now on to a few reasons you might pump (other than to make bottles). Even after I stopped pumping at work, I used my Freestyle to “pump and dump” after I’d had migraines that required medication Georgia couldn’t safely ingest through my milk. Because I continued to nurse her before and after work and on the weekends, I had to pump off any contaminated milk that resulted from taking my migraine medication. The same would go for having drank too much alcohol (generally one glass of wine or beer is considered safe while nursing) or for any other non-nursing-safe meds. Of course, you could also keep a simple hand pump around for times like these.

You might also want to pump just to “take the edge off” when your baby first sleeps a good long stretch at night, until your body gets used to going 6+ hours without nursing. Within a couple days, your body should regulate, just like it will as you gradually wean (whenever that happens). I’ll never forget pumping for 10 minutes while blow-drying my hair on the way out the door just to make sure I wouldn’t leak during the opening night of my husband’s show last fall. The things we do.

If all else fails

I practiced pumping between feedings in the weeks before I returned to work, so I’d get used to it, and so my supply would ramp up. I pumped twice a day when I got back to work full time. My supply fell bit by bit every month until eventually, no matter how many times I pumped or what I ate and drank, I was only getting an ounce or two total — and my baby was drinking three (!!) 8-ounce bottles while I was away. So, I made the decision to stop pumping when she was 6 months old, right after we went to Florida, and then two months later she started to refuse nursing at the two remaining times I offered every day (6:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.) I continued to offer her the breast until it became clear, between 8 and 9 months, that we were done. Apart from nursing her for comfort when she had two bouts of the flu at the end of May, that’s been that.

Do I miss it? Not really. She’s not an infant anymore, and by 9 months she was standing, crawling and investigating her world, not cuddling up to me for hour-long feedings. Also, I got my body back. The last pregnancy pounds dropped off, I had freedom to go running early or take yoga late, and I didn’t physically “belong” to someone else anymore. I could reconnect with the greater world again. No more rushing home to do bedtime or risk my milk drying up, or going into work late on those days Georgia decided she really missed me and needed an extra-long nursing session in the morning, or hiding in someone’s bedroom during a cookout or family gathering. Nor do I miss having to craft my outfits around half-undressing at lunch to put on a pumping bra in a cold office every weekday.

But, not knowing whether or not we’ll have more kids, I am sad that I may never again have the lovely feeling of nursing a tiny baby to sleep, or of smelling that musky scent they get after eating, or have a tiny hand reach up to stroke my cheek when it’s just the two of us in the wee hours. Those things are really, really, profoundly special, and I’m blessed that I got to experience them at all.

My boobs shrank back to their previous size (sigh) and I’ve packed away all my nursing tanks. There are days I can’t believe it’s over, and then there are days when I trip over my pump — still sitting in my office at work — and wonder how the heck I did that for so long. And I know so many with babies Georgia’s age who are still going! It’s an individual journey, ladies, and no two experiences are the same. If I have another baby, I guess I will see how it goes for me next time… for now, I’m simply enjoying my perfect, beautiful, precious joy-filled miracle of a baby.

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‘Later ta-tas, it’s been real.

Psst: If you love data and can’t get enough breastfeeding stats, you can read the CDC’s full 2014 Breastfeeding Report Card right here. Other great web resources for pumping and nursing in general are KellyMom.com and La Leche League. Special thanks to the staff at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Melrose-Wakefield Hospital for critical coaching, literature and support. And, of course, my friends who sent supportive Facebook messages, texted advice, drove me to lactation consultant appointments with a screaming, hungry newborn in back, or recruited me into local breastfeeding support groups. It’s mind-blowing that some women have to go this alone, and I am thankful every day that I don’t.

Trader Joe’s Tag: Chimichurri Rice with Chicken Sausage

Y’all know I love me some Trader Joe’s. So when I discover a new recipe that only uses TJ’s ingredients, I’m doubly excited! We go there for groceries probably every two or three weeks, pick up a few of our favorites plus a couple of new treats, and fill in the regular food haul from Target, the farmer’s market, or (if we have to) Shaw’s or Stop n’ Shop (so expensive!) This one has a slight kick that’s balanced nicely by the sweet sausage. It goes freezer-to-table in a flash.

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This has a moderate level of spice to it, and easily turns from a side dish into a full meal with the addition of sausage links and fresh vegetables. You can use any variety of sausage you prefer. The seasonings in the rice include garlic, ginger, creme fraiche, cilantro and pepper.

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Chimichurri Rice with Chicken-Apple Sausage & Fresh Peas

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 bag Trader Joe’s Peruvian-style Chimichurri Rice (frozen)
  • 1 package chicken sausage, any variety you like (we chose apple)
  • 1/2 pound fresh sugar snap peas, ends trimmed

DIRECTIONS

In a good-sized skillet over medium heat, cook the sausage slices until just starting to brown. Add the veggies (in my case, peas) and cook for just a few minutes. Add the entire bag of frozen chimichurri rice to the pan and cook, stirring, until heated through. Enjoy hot with a glass of crisp white wine!

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I had lots of extra peas left over from the huge farmer’s market bag after eye-balling the amount for this recipe. I eat them raw, dip them in ranch dressing, or steam them, sometimes garnished with lemon zest or mint. And of course, they make the perfect addition to any stir-fry or grain salad. And they’re so plentiful right now!

In baby news, we suddenly have a big girl on our hands — her first birthday party planning is in full swing, she took her first steps this weekend, and she’s moving into the “transition room” (1-2 years) at day care today (SOB!) She’s not shy about exploring our house these days, including the stairs, cat food dishes, DVD player and breakable vases. It’s never a dull moment. Last weekend, she and daddy had a special breakfast date together while mom got her nails done!

In news unrelated to food but very much related to the urban grind, check out this video for the winner of the 2014 Bike Design Project, which sets out to create the perfect commuter bike for all conditions (bad weather, hills, theft resistance, etc.). I don’t care how much it costs, I pretty much already want this thing and it’s not even being produced yet:

Have a great week everyone!

How to reheat Alfredo sauce

I’m probably the only one who wasn’t aware of this trick until recently, but I thought I’d share anyway! Don’t you hate it when you order some awesome fettuccine alfredo at a restaurant, but when you take the leftovers home, the sauce separates into a buttery mess in the microwave? Well, there’s any easy solution: warming it over low heat on the stove top instead. When you reheat in a saute pan instead of the microwave, the ingredients in the sauce don’t separate, and you get to keep your creamy, cheesy Alfredo just as it should be: fattening and delicious.

Have you ever been to the place this dish was invented — the original Alfredo in Rome? If you’re planning to visit Italy any time soon, it’s a must-see. They make the dish right at your table and serve it piping hot. And then you die and go to heaven. No really, it’s that good! And interestingly, in Italy the recipe doesn’t include cream. Same goes for carbonara, in case you were wondering! (Adding cream to pasta is a very American invention).

Hope you all have a lovely week, and that you’re making the most of these waning summer days :) It goes so fast…

Why don’t doctors talk to pregnant women about toxic chemicals?

I recently read something that I think most mamas would find disturbing.

Boston Globe via iStock

Acoording to the Boston Globe, reducing pregnant women’s exposure to environmental toxins was recently deemed ‘critical’ by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists to prevent birth defects and other fetal health problems. But a recent survey of more than 2,500 physician members of that group found that fewer than one in five ask pregnant patients about any exposure they have had to unsafe levels of toxic chemicals.

“It’s not surprising that they’re avoiding these discussions,” said Dr. Alan Woolf, director of the pediatric environmental health center at Boston Children’s Hospital, who was not involved with the study. “Very few doctors feel comfortable in their knowledge of this issue to discuss it.”

A 2011 study found that pregnant women are exposed to at least 43 chemicals known to affect fetal development including pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs), and phthalates that interfere with hormones.

For this reason, ACOG recommended last year that its physicians “identify specific types of exposure that may be harmful to a developing fetus” during the first prenatal visit. Doctors should be asking about workplace exposures — such as chemicals used in a lab or factory — and whether a patient lives in an older home, which could contain harmful lead paint, or has undertaken do-it-yourself home renovation that involves toxic agents. (And a Huffington Post story about this study pointed out that many women are at increased risk for exposure during pregnancy precisely because it’s a time when many families move or undertake renovation projects to prepare for baby’s arrival.

Yet half of the obstetricians-gynecologists surveyed in the new study said they rarely take this kind of environmental health history.

“Doctors told us they have so many more pressing issues to talk about,” said study leader Naomi Stotland, an associate professor of obstetrics-gynecology at the University of California, San Francisco. “Their patients may be cigarette smokers, drink alcohol, or eat fast food every day, which they need to deal with first.”

But those who serve highly educated populations often find themselves flummoxed by questions from pregnant patients about which cosmetics, cleaners, and sunscreens to use.

You can read the rest of the article here. In it, doctors went on to say that they don’t want to “stress their patients out” by mentioning environmental exposure issues, and that there are other concerns they’d rather focus on — such as getting more women to eat the “good” kinds of fish that are free of mercury. But some of the things that should be no-brainers during pregnancy, like avoiding aerosol room fresheners or antibacterial soaps and products containing triclosan, just aren’t on most women’s radars.

Here’s a helpful guide to avoiding environmental toxins at home. You can also visit the Environmental Working Group website for more resources.

On one hand, I can see the doctor’s point of view on this. Americans do seem to be riddled with so much extra anxiety around pregnancy and childbirth, and to be seen as adding to that — especially when so many patients deal with poor working conditions, food choices and home lives that are beyond their control — must be stressful for OBs. But I think lots of people aren’t worried about the issue of environmental toxins because they assume the government is protecting us from harmful ingredients, when the reality is quite the opposite. As consumers and as parents we have to be so careful about what we bring into our homes and bodies, and our income level shouldn’t preclude us from being empowered to make educated choices. It sounds to me like the doctors in this study who suggested enhanced training to equip OBGYN’s to discuss toxic exposure are right on the money.

How about you — did your doctor ever discuss this with you? What do you do to avoid contaminants in your food, cleaning products, home life or workplace?

Feeding toddlers

I’m back to feeling human again now that Georgia has resumed her status as a Baby Who Sleeps Through the Night. She even had a sitter Saturday night (Hi, Marty! a.k.a Grammy) and went down great for her. Hallelujah! Mom and Dad can go out on dates together again!

Now that we’ve gotten over that hump, it’s time to tackle the other stress of moving from infancy to toddlerhood: what the heck do you feed these kiddos? Well, a high school classmate of mine hit on a genius way to figure this out. Take pictures of their lunches every day, share online, and create a viral community to inspire other parents.

5 layer dip (Wholly Guacamole, tomatoes, smashed black beans, plain Greek yogurt, shredded cheddar cheese), vegetables to dip (yellow pepper, red pepper, partially steamed broccoli, carrots, cucumber), whole wheat pasta salad, blackberries, raspberries and strawberry heart, and 1% milk.

Tomorrow’s Lunch is a blog and Facebook page that shares what Maggie, my high school classmate and a Registered dietitian in Boston, makes for her two kids every day. It’s a model of variety, nutrition and fun, lovingly arranged:

avocado & chicken salad sandwich (yellow, orange & red tomatoes, red onion, a little lemon, cheddar cheese) in the shape of a bear, cucumber cups with edamame hummus and red pepper, grapes, strawberries, blueberries, and nectarine suns, pear/spinach/mango yogurt, 1% milk.

I hope she keeps this up, because it’s genius.

Me? I’m stuck with an almost-one-year-old whose main food groups are cheese, cheese, and more cheese. I leave her with fresh food every day, and she’ll eat it…as long as cheese is served alongside. Some of her other favorites are strawberries, peaches, mangoes, nectarines, bananas, pineapple, zucchini bread, naan, rotisserie chicken, meatloaf, lasagna, cheddar slices, mashed potatoes, sweet potato, avocado (and guacamole!), applesauce, pancakes and bagels with cream cheese.

When she was teeny, we gave her bland things at first — organic whole grain oatmeal, prunes, mashed pears, pureed squash, etc. — and then moved on to letting her sample our “big people” food at dinner and on weekends, while sending her organic packaged food to day care and with the grandparents. We loved Earth’s Best, Ella’s Kitchen, Plum Organics, Happy Baby, and some Gerber organics.

Ella's Kitchen

Some of Georgia’s staples: cereal, curry and fruit/veggie puree.

Let me tell you, that organic baby food ADDS RIGHT UP. But there’s so much crap in some of the brands out there, it’s worth it to hunt for coupons and shop in bulk when things go on sale. You really have to be discerning with nutrition labels, and luckily Mark really took to that, so he weeded through to find the options free of corn syrup, juices, added sugar and salt, GMOs, etc.

Why organic? Because in order to meet that label, the crops can’t be genetically engineered, treated with pesticides, exposed to radiation, or produced with antibiotics. You can read more about this on Consumer Reports, which has a great guide to buying and making organic food for babies, who are at greater risk from exposure to the chemicals, practices and contaminants found in conventional growing methods. We already bought all organic produce for ourselves, so any time Georgia had homemade purees, we knew it was safe.

Around 9-10 months, she got sick of eating mushy food and became very curious about what we were eating. So, even before she could pick things up herself, we started letting her play with shredded chicken, bits of turkey meatballs, pizza crusts, ricotta, ziti, chunky soup, chopped fruit and hummus from the table. Now, she can put bread, cheese and baby cookies into her mouth and gnaw on them, which lets her feel independent and helps her teething as well. If your baby is teething all once like poor Georgia, we highly recommend this fashionable teething jewelry for mom, and putting frozen fruit into one of these fun contraptions for baby to suck on. Cold watermelon slices are working great for us lately, too (and luckily comes out easily in the wash).

(psst: If you bought a bunch of pouches and have a lot left over, Earth’s Best has a quick guide with tips on using up purees creatively — pancake topping? quick-bread filling? — that is adorable and helpful). We managed to only hang on to the pouch purees that she likes holding by herself now, so we didn’t really have to waste any food. Holding the spoon is still a work in progress for Georgia, so I try to give her thick things to practice with — mushy avocado is a favorite — to minimize the mess while still letting her work on mastering a spoon.

So far, she’s still open to trying lots of different foods, although certain things — red meat and anything too spicy — haven’t gone over too well. She also is pretty picky about what type of sippy cup she’ll use, so we have rotated through every option out there to keep giving her a chance to make up her mind. So far, the Ikea cup with handles seems to be the most promising. And pretty soon we’ll be transitioning her from formula to real milk (although by real, I hopefully mean an alternative to cow’s milk, if her pediatrician gives us the green light. I’ll keep you posted).

My baby is growing up! It’s sad, but it’s also exciting, because with new growth comes a new ability to be adventurous, both in food and in exploring the rest of life. Which is pretty awesome.

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Salad-spiration

Gotta tell ya, the heat zaps my appetite. Mark doesn’t like soups, which are my usual go-to for muggy nights when I don’t feel like eating, much less cooking. Things like gazpacho shooters, Sweet Potato Soup, and Fennel-Potato Soup with sour cream on top, Creamy Cauliflower Soup: yum! refreshing! But lately, I’ve been having a few light, creative salads instead. Start with your favorite greens and add a few of my favorite toppings, and you’re good to go. Some of my top combos:

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Greens topped with chopped tomatoes, taco strips, avocado, shredded cheese and cilantro, with creamy dressing such as Newman’s Southwest or Trader Joe’s Cilantro.

Avocado kale salad, shown with Lemon Pappardelle & Sweet Sausage. (Click image for recipe)

Kale, torn by hand and rinsed/dried, mashed with two ripe avocado and drizzled with two organic lemons. Excellent topped with watermelon, chicken, feta, tomatoes, parmesan, or walnuts.

Simple Caesar: 1/2 cup olive oil, juice of 1 lemon, 1 tsp mustard, 2 diced garlic cloves, squirt of anchovy paste (optional) and a splash of Worcestershire sauce (also optional). Whisk, and pour over chopped romaine lettuce. Top with freshly grated parmesan and homemade croutons if you’re in the mood.

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My Chipotle knockoff! I take kale, avocado, corn, pico de gallo, black beans, shredded cheese and a light vinagrette and toss it all together. Optional: add grilled chicken. By avoiding the sour cream and fatty dressing (not to mention the side of chips and guacamole) this stays refreshing and healthy.

The last one, I don’t have a good picture of. It’s a strawberry jam salad tossed over spicy arugula, and it is to die for!  I blogged about this when I was first getting started, so my photos are horrendous, but the result was delicious.

You take a green with some bite, like arugula, and match it with something tamer like mesclun mix to cut the sharpness (unless you really love straight arugula). Then you make a dressing out of olive oil (3 TBSP), balsamic vinegar (1 TBSP), and strawberry jam (2 tsp) plus salt & pepper, and mix into the greens, then top with fresh strawberries, goat cheese and almonds. I’ve always wanted to try tossing some mint on there, too! If you do that, let me know.

What’s your go-to salad for summer? Sometimes I just pick up a bagged version from Trader Joe’s or Target and space it over a few days, especially when I’m by myself for dinner while Mark is on nights. Luckily, these days he’s home fairly often in the evenings, and Georgia is over her 10-month sleep regression (as in her age, not the duration!) so we can even spend time together after supper. And you know what’s crazy? Even when she’s sleeping right upstairs, I still miss her. Because she’s awesome, and I can’t believe she’s only been around a little less than a year :)

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My BFFL! (that’s breast friend for life)

Bowties with Kale

I adapted this from the Pioneer Woman’s recent Kale Pasta Salad post. Like hers, mine tastes good cold or warm, as a main meal or as a side; unlike hers, mine adds roasted tomatoes, almonds in place of pine nuts, and kale that cooks a bit longer so it’s not as rough on my tummy. I also use copious Pecorino instead of shaved Parmesan cheese, because I just love that salty flavor! If you like kale, this will be a great addition to your arsenal of recipes featuring the leafy green.

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Bowties with Kale

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 cloves garlic, minced (PW uses more)
  • olive oil for the pan
  • 1 lb. bowtie (aka farfalle) pasta
  • 3 tbsp almonds, chopped (optional)
  • 1 bunch kale
  • 1 can fire-roasted tomatoes (approx. 14 oz.)
  • pecorino cheese, grated (I used a lot)
  • to taste: salt, pepper, balsamic vinegar

DIRECTIONS

Put on the pasta to boil. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil over medium heat and crush both the nuts (if using) and the garlic cloves.

Cook nuts, adding garlic after a few minutes so it doesn’t burn, then add the kale ripped into small pieces and stir, cooking over medium heat until it wilts to the desired level.

Add can of roasted tomatoes to the pan, reduce heat to low, and cook, stirring, until combined (just a few minutes). If desired, add a splash of balsamic to the pan for flavoring, and season with salt and pepper.

Drain the pasta quickly and add to the pan with the kale mixture, reserving a splash of the cooking water if it’s too dry. If it’s really too dry, you can always add a splash or two of almond (or regular) milk to the pan.

Top with tons of shredded cheese — I used pecorino, my favorite — and serve warm OR let cool and have later! This tastes good cold, as a main dish, or as a side. I think if I made it again, I’d add more garlic, but otherwise this came out just right.

I didn’t try giving this to Georgia because it contains nuts and is also just a bit too fiber-filled for her system, but I will when she’s older. Thanks to Georgia’s Nan for sharing all that yummy kale with us from her CSA!!

Baby Milestone Update

Because I know you’re wondering. We can now:

  • Stand, and pull self up to standing
  • Bend down to pick up a toy with one hand
  • Hold mom’s hands and walk around house
  • Cruise from coffee table to couch and back
  • Point with both hands
  • Pick things up pincer-style
  • Feed self with hands (short list of acceptable foods)
  • Crawl. Finally!

Things we refuse to do?

  • Feed self with a spoon
  • Put self back to sleep at 1 a.m. (this is a horrifying new problem)
  • Soothe self while teething without intervention from mom, dad or Tylenol
  • not scream in the grocery store
  • behave properly around the cat’s tail

I think I’m just getting a taste of the toddler years. So far, it’s exhausting!

Did you like this recipe? Share it! And if you just love kale, check out my cheesy kale pasta bake, kale chips and satisfying kale salad with avocado-lemon dressing. I just love that last one because you simply tear up the kale, mash a whole avocado into it by hand, then coat with a couple of fresh-squeezed lemons. Creamy and delicious!

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