Full Belly Sisters: June 2011

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Homemade Bomb Pops - Happy, Healthy July 4th

Remember those red, white and blue Bomb Pops you used to eat as a kid? I bet you never looked at the ingredient list. And I bet—now that you're all grown up—you don't want your kids consuming the numerous sugars/syrups, gums, and artificial colors and flavors in the packaged pops.

So, I decided to make a homemade version featuring actual fruit, juice, and even a touch of greens. Does it taste the same as the pop you buy from the ice cream truck? Nope. Will you feel good about giving these to your kids? Hell yeah.

I should note that my ingredient list is just a foundation for you to build on: feel free to make them sweeter or icier by adding more juice, creamier by tossing in some banana or yogurt, etc. Play around with them till you find the bomb pop that's right for your family!

yield: 6 pops, using this mold. I didn't use the sticks that came with my mold, opting instead for craft sticks (for authenticity!).
  • 1 1/2c strawberries
  • 1oz + 1oz 100% fruit juice (I used cranberry-raspberry)
  • 1/4c + 1/4c frozen chopped kale
  • 1/2 banana
  • 1/2 c chopped pineapple
  • 1-2oz light coconut milk
  • 1 1/2c blueberries
Put the strawberries, about 1 ounce of juice and 1/4 cup kale into a blender (I actually just used a hand blender). 

Blend until smooth and pourable; if it's too thick, just add a bit more juice. Pour into your molds, filling about 1/3 of the way. Freeze for about 30 minutes, or until it is frozen but not solid (you'll need to be able to push the tip of the pop sticks into it). 

While you're waiting for the red layer to freeze, rinse out your blender well. Then add the banana, pineapple and coconut milk and blend until smooth.

Push the tip of each stick into the red layer. Carefully pour the white layer on top, filling about another 1/3 of your mold.

Again, put in the freezer so that the white layer has a chance to freeze. Then rinse out your blender again before adding your blueberries, juice and kale. Blend until smooth.

Once the white layer is sufficiently frozen, pour in the blue layer and freeze.

The blue is really more of a purple....but that's what happens when you use something from nature instead of from a laboratory.

Happy July 4th to everyone in Full Belly Sisters Land!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Chimichurri: Packed with Nutrients, Not Calories

You may know parsley as a garnish on your plate at a restaurant; you probably don't even eat it. But did you know that it's a nutritional powerhouse? A two-tablespoon serving of raw parsley only has about three calories yet it has 12% of your recommended daily intake of vitamin A in the form of beta carotene, 16% of your Vitamin C, and over 150% of your Vitamin K. All of these - as well as folic acid, calcium and iron, also in parsley - are crucial whether you're pregnant or breastfeeding or just aiming for general good health.

So, how to incorporate this verdant herb into your diet? Certainly you can add it chopped to just about anything. Or you can make chimichurri, a delicious green sauce used traditionally as a marinade or topping for meats (but delicious on lots of other foods, too). It's easy, inexpensive and crazy tasty. Here's my version:

  • one bunch flat-leaf (aka Italian) parsley
  • 4 large cloves garlic
  • juice of one lime
  • 3T red wine vinegar
  • 1/4c extra virgin olive oil
  • 1t salt (or more, to taste)
  • large pinch of red pepper flakes

Immediately before using, wash your parsley well; it can be sandy. Shake off excess water.
Peel cloves of garlic and toss in the food processor. I should note that my cloves were quite large. If they were smaller, I'd use 5-6 cloves. This should be garlicky! (And, of course, garlic offers its own nutritional benefits: it's a great source of manganese, and a good source of vitamin B6, vitamin C, and selenium.)
Chop garlic. It doesn't have to be perfect as we'll be processing it more once the parsley is added.
Pack the food processor with the parsley.
Start chopping.
Process until the garlic and parsley are both finely chopped. Add the juice of one lime,
the red wine vinegar,

and the EVOO.
Toss in the salt and the red pepper flakes.
Pulse until everything is well combined. Adjust seasonings to taste. Let the chimichurri sit for at least 30 minutes (preferably a few hours) in order for the flavors to meld. I made it for my sister's birthday - she requested a steak dinner, a rarity for my family - and everyone raved. Said my husband: "We should have a vat of this in the fridge at all times, so I can put it on everything I eat."
But this nutrient-dense, low-calorie sauce isn't just for meat. Use it as a dip for hot oven fries. Toss it with pasta or brown rice, spoon it over grilled portobellos or zucchini or a baked sweet potato. I did the latter and it was AMAZING. When the raw sauce hits the hot potato, it smells fantastic and is a fabulous balance of savory and sweet.
So, start keeping a vat of chimichurri in your fridge. And start eating that parsley garnish when you're out to dinner, too!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Getting Prepared for the Next Baby: Optimal Birth Spacing

The Full Belly Sisters are 21 months apart in age.
This guest post comes from brilliant doctor, wonderful mama, and decades-long friend to the Full Belly Sisters (she and I met in eighth grade!), Allison Bryant. Many thanks to her for sharing her personal and professional expertise!

I have come to the realization that I am, in fact, a mother of two.  And that two is, as a rule, more than one.  As obvious as this sounds, it’s taken more time than I’d thought for these messages to sink in.  So far, it’s been amazing and fun and breathtaking. And difficult.  My 3-month-old son is a little higher maintenance than my 2 ½-year old ever was.  All in all, I think we’re doing pretty well, though I listen with interest to other parents who warn that the roughest days still lie ahead of us and that the “promised land” won’t come until they’re about 4 and 6.

All of this has led me to rethink a subject I thought I knew inside and out: birth spacing.  In my work life, I am a high-risk obstetrician – in addition to seeing patients, I spend a part of my time doing research on birth outcomes like prematurity and pregnancy complications.  One of the areas I’ve been most interested in lately is how the amount of time a woman waits between pregnancies affects the outcomes of those pregnancies.  More and more evidence is mounting to suggest that there may be such thing as “too short” or “too long” between pregnancies.  

It turns out that the interval of time with the lowest risk of problems like early deliveries, stillbirths and small babies is around 18-24 months between the birth of one baby and the conception of the next pregnancy.  However, having talked to lots of new moms about this (and now as a mother of two myself) it always seems more natural to talk about how far apart in age your kids are – it’s awkward cocktail party talk to discuss when #2 was conceived.   

So, the oft-talked about ideal spacing of births two years apart is probably a tad short, though not by much. The problem with short intervals may have to do with not being able to replenish important micronutrients like folic acid, lost in the normal process of pregnancy, delivery and lactation.  It’s not as obvious why waiting longer periods of time might be associated with poorer outcomes, aside from the fact that women are older (which most studies already account for).

I’ve been singing the praises of the “ideal” interpregnancy interval from the mountaintop (or at least, from my office), advising postpartum families to think about waiting 1 ½ - 2 years before trying to conceive again.  And I took my own advice: I got pregnant almost exactly 18 months after my first delivery.  Yet, as I am now actually living it, I understand better than ever that no matter what the medical data say, no interval is perfect.  Had we waited longer, we might have given our older son more time to be our one and only, and might have saved him a little jealousy and angst.  Had we tried sooner, the boys would be closer in age and maybe would've had some advantages of that tight relationship.  We’d also be rid of the Diaper Genie that much faster, a milestone I look forward to with great anticipation.  

As with everything, there are pros and cons to any birth spacing strategy.  So, armed with my newfound respect for mothering more than one child, my advice to those contemplating pregnancy would be:

Have a plan! The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that all women of reproductive age have a “Reproductive Life Plan.” Sounds complicated, but it's really just a well-thought-out collection of ideas for one’s family: Do you want any/more kids?  How would you ideally like them spaced?  What steps will you take to make sure your goals are met?  Of course, not all of the plans we make will work out exactly as we intended; the RLP is meant to be a flexible roadmap that is updated over time.

Before you try to get pregnant (a first time or any time), make sure you are medically, emotionally, and financially ready.  If you’re able, see a health care provider for a preconception visit to make sure all the i’s are dotted and the t’s crossed – things like making sure your immunizations are up-to-date, any chronic medical issues are in check and that you’re taking care of any preventative health measures (like weight loss or oral hygiene).

Keep in mind that the lowest-risk time to conceive again after the birth of one baby is probably around 18-24 months later. But understand that this is not the right timing for everyone.  Some families may wish or need to wait much longer for a host of great reasons.  Plus, the information we have doesn’t take into account well the competing concern of getting older – for some women, waiting 18 months in between pregnancies is just not the right strategy to reach their ideal family structure.  For any questions about this, checking in with a health care provider is always a good idea.

No matter what your plans are, keep yourself as healthy as possible. Pursue a well-balanced diet, rich in those vital nutrients that will help to support you during a pregnancy and lactation.  I also recommend continuing to take some kind of multivitamin (prenatal or otherwise) with folic acid, both to protect against birth defects as well as to promote overall pregnancy and postpartum health.

Last, but not least, talk to your peeps!  Much as it’s great to involve your health care provider in your thought process, the people closest to you (partners, kids, extended family, close friends) are some of the most important sounding boards when it comes to figuring out the “best” time to have another baby, if that’s in your plan!

~Allison Bryant, MD, MPH

The author and her family.
As Allison mentions in her post, if you're thinking about getting pregnant, there are many things to think about; nutrition is an important one. For some ideas on eating more folate, try our Asparagus, Potato and Leek Hash, Mama Mujadarrah, Asparagus and Pea Soup, or some delicious avocado (in guacamole form or a salad).

How far apart in age are your kids? How about you and your siblings?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Peach, Goat Cheese and Honey Crostini

One of the best things about summertime is that it seems every week a new fruit comes into its season, which means it tastes delicious and is more affordable, to boot. You may have noticed at your local market that peaches have recently come in. Does anything taste more summer-rific than a bright, sunny peach? Peaches are a good source of vitamins A and C, and also provide potassium and fiber. They're a perfectly portable snack for moms and kids alike.
Another lovely thing about summer is that you tend to crave lighter foods (and less of them). These crostini -- "little toasts" in Italian -- make a nice after-school snack, appetizer, or even dessert. I make these often for playdates. Whereas a platter of cheese and crackers might have you overindulging, these toasts help you better visualize how much you're actually eating. Plus, they look beautiful; I try as much as possible to make my food look nice, even if I'm the only one eating it. Don't you deserve food that feeds your eyes as well as your belly?

(makes 12 crostini)
  • 12 slices of a good, crusty baguette
  • about 2.5 ounces goat cheese, softened to room temperature
  • 1 cup diced peaches (about 1 large peach)
  • 1-2T honey

The bakery was out of whole wheat baguettes when I went, so I just got an organic white loaf. I cut the slices about 1/2" thick. (I actually slice the whole loaf and freeze the extras, so I have them on hand for the next time I want to whip up a batch.)

Put the slices in your oven and toast until crisp and lightly browned. If you're doing some backyard grilling, toast the bread on your barbecue. I just used my toaster oven, so I didn't have to heat up my kitchen on a hot day:

In the meantime, dice your peach. The pieces don't have to be perfect...this is a rustic dish. 
Spread goat cheese on the toasts and top each with a spoonful of peaches. I like to line them all up on a large plate or cutting board and drizzle the honey over the lot of them.

The little bit of honey lends a fabulous sweetness and flavor, as well as a gorgeous glaze. 

 Look how glossy those peaches look!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Asparagus Potato Leek Hash (It's Vegan Until you put an Egg on Top)

I came up with this dish on a super hot, humid summer day. I knew I wanted to make something quick and easy on the stovetop, to limit the heat I'd be adding to my non-air-conditioned home. I got out the sautee pan and some leftover steamed fingerling potatoes (leftover potatoes always come in handy!), as well as fresh asparagus and leeks. In a few minutes, I had a light but satisfying summer meal.

Asparagus is one of my favorite foods and was certainly a favorite during pregnancy. I think of it as a pregnancy superfood: it is a great source of folate, which is crucial in pregnancy for preventing neural tube defects -- serious defects of the brain and spinal cord. Asparagus is also loaded with antioxidants Vitamin C and beta carotene, as well as the minerals zinc, manganese, and selenium. 

I paired this yummy green veggie in a hash with two other vegetables that are complementary in both flavor and nutrition: leeks, another good source of both vitamin C and folate; and potatoes, which provide Vitamin C, B6, copper, potassium, and manganese.

(serves 2-4)
  • 1 leek, white part only
  • about 2 cups diced, cooked potatoes (I used fingerlings, but have also made it with new potatoes)
  • 1 bunch asparagus (about 2.5 cups when chopped)
  • 2-3T extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • red pepper flakes, optional
  • chives, optional (you know I always have to add chives to everything)
Wash your leek well; they are often very sandy and no one wants to hit a piece of sand when they're eating. Slice thinly.

Heat large sautee pan over medium heat with 1-2T EVOO. Add leeks, potatoes, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes (if using).
Stir to combine, but don't overmix: you don't want to end up with mashed potatoes; you do want all the taters to stick to the pan just a bit to get that delicious caramelization. It should take a few minutes for the leeks to become translucent and tender and for the potatoes to get browned.
In the meantime, chop your asparagus and discard the tough, woody ends. I left my tips whole and then cut the rest into approximately 1/2-inch pieces. Once potatoes and leeks are nicely browned, add the asparagus and another 1T of EVOO. 
Toss gently and cover for about five minutes (give or take, depending on the thickness of your spears), until the asparagus is bright green and tender:

Now, this is a perfectly lovely and filling vegan dish as is; it would serve about two people as an entree and would be wonderful next to a big, fresh salad. If you want to add protein, I'd throw in some cooked white beans. 

But for those of you out there who are not vegan, you might want to try topping it with dabs of goat cheese, shaved parmesan, or shredded cheddar. Or you could do what I did and top it with an egg. As we've mentioned previouslyeggs are a fantastic source of protein and choline, essential for healthy fetal brain development. 

I used the same pan in which I'd cooked the hash (fewer dishes to wash up after dinner!) and fried an egg in a bit of butter: I wanted to get a crispy edge, which adds amazing texture to the dish.

When you break the runny egg, it makes this delish sort-of-sauce for the hash. So good! If you are serving this hash with eggs, you should be able to fit about four eggs on top, so I'd call that four servings.

As I noted in our Heirloom Tomato Sandwich with Goat Cheese and Eggs post, it is recommended that only fully-cooked eggs be consumed during pregnancy. If you're already at the breastfeeding stage, enjoy these runny eggs! If you're pregnant and this post has you drooling, try this as as a side dish to an omelette or some scrambled eggs.

I've been making big batches of this hash and then, every day, I just need to reheat a portion and make a fresh egg. I'm addicted, I tell ya! It's incredibly satisfying and filling and is great for breakfast, lunch, or dinner: I should know, I've tried it at every meal.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Chives, Glorious Chives! (3 Recipes for the Price of One Click)

I recently received an immense bunch of chives from my husband's aunt. As you know, I am a big fan of chives and throw them on everything from sandwiches to soup to dip. Not only do chives make everything taste better, they make everything more nutritious. These tiny green onions provide folate (one of the most important nutrients of early pregnancy), iron, vitamin C, vitamin K, calcium and magnesium. It's true that a serving of chives is small and, therefore, delivers small amounts of these nutrients. It's also true that chives are ridiculously low in calories (one tablespoon is about one calorie); they can be included in a variety of dishes, so you can eat multiple servings throughout each day; adding chives boosts flavor, which can help you cut down on salt.

But as much as I love and utilize chives, I wasn't sure how to tackle an armful of them before they'd go bad. And I had no idea what to do with their blossoms. After some thought -- and some research on using the flowers -- I made a few different easy, chive-centered recipes.

Chive Blossom Vinegar

Fill a glass jar with washed and dried blossoms. I included a bit of the chive stem for a stronger flavor.

Fill the jar with white balsamic vinegar (you can use regular white vinegar, but I personally find it harsh-tasting and only use it for household cleaning).

Cover the jar with some plastic wrap to protect the cap from the vinegar's potentially corrosive acidity. Screw the lid on tightly. Let it steep for a couple of days in darkness, like in a cabinet or pantry; apparently the color will fade if it's not in a dark spot. The vinegar is ready when it is bright pink.

Strain before using. The vinegar has a very lovely, mild onion flavor that I think might get lost in a dressing but was absolute perfection drizzled over some sliced avocado!

Chive Walnut Pesto
This pesto is a great topping for a grilled chicken breast
I filled my small food processor with chives, cut just enough to fit in the bowl. I threw in a handful of walnuts, the juice of one lemon, a couple of garlic cloves, and salt. I added about 1/8 cup of extra virgin olive oil.

Process until you have a paste; I like to make it thicker than a regular pesto sauce, so that I can adjust it with extra oil or pasta water, depending on the dish in which I'm using it. Add some parmesan, if you'd like. It's not necessary, but does taste yummy. 

I used a bunch on a bowl of steamed fingerlings and tossed. When the heat of the taters hits the pesto, it smells fantastic. I froze the rest of the pesto in an ice cube tray to use in the future (in scrambled eggs or to add to greek yogurt for a dip). 

Chive Blossom Butter
Snip a bunch of blossoms and chive greens. Put them in a bowl with a couple of sticks of butter, softened to room temperature, and some freshly-ground sea salt. Mash the whole thing together. 
Place on a piece of plastic wrap and form into a log. 
I don't use butter all that often so I made a few logs and put one in the fridge and two in the freezer for future use. 

You can slice off the butter as you need it, to top veggies, pasta, rice or some crusty, toasted bread.

By the way, you don't need the blossoms for this, but since I had them I threw them in. Regular ol' chive butter is pretty dang fantastic.
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