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Little Big Kitchen: Pregnancy Challenges, Cravings, and Things That Make Me Go Mmmm

20 Feb

The difficult thing about writing food posts while pregnant is that my relationship with food has become complicated.While I’ve been doing a lot of eating I haven’t regularly been doing a lot of cooking. Anthony has taken up the slack where he can and I think we’ve eaten all our saved provisions out of our freezer. Standing for any length of time isn’t my forte these days, and rarely can I even contemplate the notion of cooking dinner without immediately needing a nap. Cooking smells have also been more than I can tolerate, even if I’m eager to eat the finished product. I’m also taking a new medicine for my Crohn’s (which makes my relationship with food even more complicated) that demands and empty stomach. If you have ever been pregnant or been around someone who has you will know that finding a time where their stomach is empty two hours before or two hours after eating you know that you’d have a better chance of finding a vegan in a meat market. It is a pain in the ass, but not as much as having Crohn’s disease, so I live with it.

In the beginning of my pregnancy I was too nauseated and Crohn’s sick that I usually only managed to eat once a day, and only one thing sounded even remotely edible: a Mango Mantra smoothie from Jamba Juice. It’s a good thing those drinks have the option of including protein powder and enough calories for just about the whole day since that would be all I could eat. I think I survived off one of those per day for at least two weeks until the barfs subsided enough for me to branch out and cautiously try other things. When all was said and done I still lost about 15lbs in the first trimester.

Here are a few of my pregnancy challenges, cravings, and thinks that make me go Mmm:

- Fruit is still a big favorite for me and something I crave on a daily basis. If not fresh I have some frozen, but sometimes I’ll indulge my appetite with dried fruit (especially cranberry-raisins or dried mango), or preserves (I have a wide variety), and juice. I don’t drink fruit juice every day, but I totally could. My favorites in the fruit department have been nectarines, peaches, mangoes, watermelon, strawberries, and blackberries. I’ve been adding citrus to things in moderation. I get terrible heartburn from everything I put in my body – even water – and certain fruits make it much worse, all citrus included.

- Speaking of heartburn, tomatoes are pretty much off the menu at this point, which is sad. At least it’s winter so I’m not having to pass up fresh tomatoes, but my heartburn-induced fear of them is so bad I simply avoid pizza, spaghetti and other tomato-based pasta sauces, and soups that have a heavy tomato base. Salsa has not been an option for quite some time, ditto chile and several other dishes my family loves to eat. I can eat non-spicy authentic Mexican food, but not Tex Mex or Americanized Mexican food because of the generous use of tomatoes.

- I’m always trying to fit as many vegetables into my life as I can. One of my biggest Crohn’s sensitivity is to raw foods, most especially vegetables. The whole raw food movement is ridiculous to me because if I tried to adhere to it I’d be be hospitalized before the week is out. I do far better if the vegetables are lightly steamed (which, in addition to improving flavor and making the food easier to digest, releases more of their nutrients; the reason our ancestors first applied heat to them anyway), roasted or added into a soup. Frozen vegetables are actually really convenient for me right now because they can be heated up very quickly, have plenty of nutrition still intact, and since they’ve been revived from a deep freeze, are generally pretty easy for my body to break down. My specific vegetable cravings have included asparagus, peas, carrots and sweet potato fries. (Mmm, sweet potato fries…)

-I generally have to eat something the moment I wake up. In the summer I indulged my love of fruit by chopping up a nectarine, spritzing it with lime juice wherein it would sit for a few minutes, and dumping the chunks of fruit and remaining juice over plain Greek yogurt drizzled with honey. Another favorite breakfast involves a whole grain so I haven’t been able to eat it lately, but it is so good and healthy, too. I buy a mixture of frozen brown rice and red quinoa at the grocery store so I can just pull some out, heat it up in the fridge, add some seasonings and a chopped hard boiled egg and enjoy.

- For lunch I usually eat a large amount of protein, and my current favorite way to accomplish this is a generous amount of chicken salad eaten on top of a Swedish rye cracker bread, known affectionately to my family as K-bread for the long Swedish name my grandmother and her mother called it. I’ll have to look up the spelling exactly but it’s something like “kanackenbroard” – hence, just K bread. We have a large Swedish population in my town and we can find it in a few grocery stores without problems. I’m sure it can be ordered online and I think I’ve even seen it available at Ikea. Anyway, I don’t seem to have a problem digesting rye hardtack and although I make a far superior chicken salad myself, the kind I buy from the deli at Raley’s is decent enough to where I rely on it often. I usually go for the chicken salad labeled “Californian”, or the in case of Raley’s “Golden State” because I’m addicted to putting dried fruit or chutney, and occasionally slivered almonds in mine.

- Sometimes I just need calories and something soothing for my body. I hate to say it, but if I’m having a Crohn’s-flare the safest thing for me to eat to prevent me from getting sicker is processed carbs. Soft white french breads, non-whole wheat pastas, hulled rice such as white jasmine or arborio, are ideal. If I’m really sick I’ll just eat Goldfish crackers (original, no funky flavorings, not even cheese) because they are essentially a baked paste. Most often I’ll satisfy this urge in the form of homemade macaroni and cheese or  dried mushroom risotto. Costco makes a decent bake-it-yourself mac ‘n cheese which lasts for days and costs less than ten bucks, and when I can’t manage to make it myself I’ll go for that. The Costco stuff, however, is extremely salty an though they use real cheese, is downright greasy. Anthony and Isobel don’t care for it, but when I’m too sick to eat anything else and want some carbs that will go down, stay down, and provide calories, pre-made and cheap, it fits the bill.

- Cheese in general was something I craved heavily in the first and second trimester, which is probably why I featured recipes for some of my favorite cheesy dishes, Simple Baked Brie and Lunchbox Cheese Spread. A cheese plate of any sort with bread and fruit or preserves, is welcome fare for me at any time.

- Other carbs that serve to fill my belly in a soothing manner would include sesame bagels (I make a killer veggie cream cheese and fruited cream cheese spread), croissants (which Isobel knows I love and therefore call “Mama’s bread,” or “Mama’s pan,” in Spanish), and plain Cheerios cereal.

- I drink so much water these days I don’t leave the house without at least one travel cup of water, and I don’t go to sleep at night without two full cups by my bed at night. They are invariably gone by morning, and sometimes I refill them during the night.

- Something new about this pregnancy is that I crave cheeseburgers all the time. Like any typical American, I enjoy a good cheeseburger, but I eat little fast food and when I go to a restaurant I usually prefer something else. I eat them at home in the summer mostly, but this kid in me is like his Dad already and he demands cheeseburger time. Usually I try to hit two cravings with one stone and go to a place that makes a burger I like and serves sweet potato fries.

- Since money is tight I’ve been trying to eat more beans to round out our protein complement, but beans aren’t the easiest thing for my Crohn’s to handle. An exception is Grandma Juani’s Guatemalan black beans which I eat all the time, as often as I possibly can, because they are one of the best foods on the planet. They are refried, which aids digestion a bit, and contain a lot of good nutrients. I’m still working up the nerve to make them myself, but I know they will be nowhere near as good as Grandma Juani’s, and I’m not sure I can handle the disappointment.

- Although there are many types of sweet treats I crave while pregnant, one of the more pronounced is my love of doughnuts. I like doughnuts on a regular day but my thinking about them turns obsessive while pregnant. Missing my window to get the doughnut of my choice is a weepable offense, but it’s not the only dessert item I pine after. Ice cream is a year-round favorite of mine, and a dense, rich, chocolate cake would not last long in my household. In the beginning of my pregnancy I was consumed with lust for raw chocolate chip cookie dough, a food verboten to pregnant ladies, until my buddy Laurel made me an eggless version specifically for eating. I went through two large batches of this magical stuff before my appetite was sated. I’ve moved on to wanting baked chocolate chip cookie dough, in the form of actual cookies, but none of the cookies from local bakeries have lived up to my exacting standards. The cookie shouldn’t just be soft: the center should actually be slightly underdone. The grocery store chain Safeway used to make these to perfection in enormous batches and for five bucks you could eat yourself sick off of the best chocolate chip cookies in the world. They either changed their methods or recipe for cost reasons, or because it’s probably illegal to sell underdone cookies, because now five bucks gets you mediocre cookies that probably share that rubber shoe chemical. I’ve taken to buying Tollhouse dough on my own (not bad for being purchased) and slightly underbaking them myself. When you pull them out of the oven you will notice that they aren’t at all ready, but they will continue to cook as they cool and eventually they will reach their Nirvana of underdone-yet-mostly-done goodness.

- Girl Scout cookies have not physically arrived at my house yet, but I have some preordered that I plan to stuff them all in the freezer and enjoy them at a frighting pace.

Little Big Kitchen: Picnic in Daisy Park

4 Feb

Over the weekend Anthony and I decided we’d do one of the craziest things we could possibly do right now and host two of Isobel’s older girl cousins over for their first sleepover. Isobel had been begging to have a sleepover for months, and Anthony’s at the point in his shoulder surgery recovery where he can start the job search back up again. With a baby on the way and life about to change again, we figured it was now or never–or at least, now or not for a very long time.

One of the things Isobel really wanted to do with her cousins was go to a local park and have a picnic under the tree she picked out as being her “magical fairy tree.”  This was a good activity choice because in addition to picnicking and playing fairies under the trees the girls could feed the ducks and geese at the pond and run around on the playground toys. We took separate cars because I knew they’d want to stay longer than was comfortable for me.

As for the picnic, that was all Anthony’s doing. (In fact, this weekend was 90% Anthony’s doing as I lacked the energy to keep up with three rambunctious cousins, but I helped however I can.) Normally I’d like to fix up some special sandwiches or at least a salad for picnics, and maybe some cookies because every picnic has to have a treat but all I could do was locate the picnic blankets, fill some water bottles for  the kids, and pack along the binoculars, which became extra helpful when we wanted to look across the pond to see if the bathroom was locked (it was). I had gotten the binoculars at a thrift store for 8 bucks and although they mostly worked they were pretty junky. They were great for the kids to play with and I wouldn’t have stressed out if they somehow figured out how to break them.

It’s probably just as well I didn’t make anything for the picnic, as the cousins were pickier than Isobel. Anthony made a stack of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and a stack of turkey sandwiches, sliced them in half and doled them out accordingly. The girls ate a surprisingly large amount of them. My Uncle gave us a bunch of tangerines from his garden and the girls ate quite a few of those, too. We brought grapes and strawberries, which disappeared, and before we left Isobel and the girls picked a handful of miner’s lettuce from our yard and brought that to be their salad. Isobel, who regularly chows down on miner’s lettuce when she finds it in winter and early spring, had to convince her cousins that the flowering plant was entirely edible,  and though she munched away I’m not entirely certain her cousins had more than a hesitant bite.

Every picnic deserves a treat and for these girls we brought corn chips, a third of a bag of small, personal-sized Cheetos (leftover from the party) and for a sweet treat, sugar-roasted almonds. They would have preferred cookies but you work with what you got. Besides, we made cookies to eat before the movie at night so they weren’t entirely deprived.

That large bag of cereal you see tucked away in the picnic basket is food we brought to feed the ducks and other resident water fowl at the park. This is something kids have been doing at this park for years and years, and I know Anthony and I did it while growing up. We found that giving the kids cereal worked a lot better than stale bread because they’d usually get so excited they’d toss whole slices of bread instead of taking the time to tear it into smaller pieces. Not only is this extremely hard for the ducks to consume, it always causes a riot of angry beaks and a frenzy of feathers as 15 birds go after the one piece of bread. Cheerios are easier for them to eat, spread out over a larger portion of the animals, and made the duck-feeding last a long time.

I haven’t felt up to cooking that much lately, which is something I always deeply regret every time I get sick. We’ve been eating a lot of interesting meals consisting of things from the freezer. Anthony’s been taking over the lion’s share of the meal-prep work.  Having him home has really made a difficult pregnancy much easier. That said, now that his arm is mostly healed we’re looking forward to him being back at work.

The sleepover made for a long weekend but the girls had an absolute blast and I’d do it all over again.

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