October 5, 2015

Sebastian's Birth Story

He's finally here. Sebastian Thomas Hands was born Saturday, Sept 19 at 10:27 pm. As all of the ultrasounds predicted, he was a big boy - 9 lbs 21 inches. Some days when I sit with him in my arms I cannot actually believe that he was inside of me. It is such a surreal feeling.

As most of you know, I was pretty worried that Sebastian was going to be too large to birth vaginally. Because he was >95%ile, my doctor gave me the option of a scheduled c-section. Before becoming pregnant, I thought the idea of a scheduled c-section sounded amazing. No labor pain, contractions, waiting, unknowns, etc., but a couple of months into my pregnancy, all those freaky hormones started to affect my ability to think rationally and I began to romanticize the whole labor process. In my mind, I was going to go into labor a few days before my scheduled due date. My water would break in a dramatic way, at the mall in front of a crowd of people, just like the movies. I would then rush to the hospital where I would give birth to my baby within 5 hours - pain-free, with an epidural of course. I would push him out with 3 strong pushes, birds would be singing and it would be so beautiful I would cry. I really wanted that vaginal birth experience. If only I had of been able to see into the future. If only someone would have told me what I was in for, what it was like when you are actually in the thick of it, and I probably would have slapped myself in the face and scheduled a c-section.

My doctor really wanted Sebastian to come earlier rather than later due to his expected size, so a week before my due date she performed a cervical sweep - a way to try and bring on labor. She ran her finger around my cervix trying to separate the membranes of the amniotic sac from the cervix - a success rate of 30%. Unfortunately, it was unsuccessful.  The following week, on my due date - Wed Sept 16, I had my second cervical sweep. The next day Thursday, Sept 17 at 10:30 pm I went into labor, or what I thought was labor. That whole day I was experiencing what they call the 'bloody show'. I know, sounds disgusting. I began feeling a little crampy, a little different and more intense than menstrual cramps. They were similar to the feeling I had when my doctor performed the cervical sweep, a stretching of my cervix. The pain was annoying but manageable. Brent and I stayed up that Thursday night until 1:30 am counting contractions, eating sour patch kids, and finishing season 1 of The Leftovers. We were so excited at the possibility of meeting baby Sebastian soon.

At this time, my contractions weren't that close, only 15 minutes apart. In the back of my mind, I knew that I had some serious time to kill before things got real, but I was still really excited that I was making progress. The last thing I wanted was to go two weeks over my due date and possibly give birth to a 10 lb baby. I tried to get some sleep that night, but I only managed to get a couple of hours before the pain started waking me up every hour. My contractions sped up to 7 minutes apart, and I was starting to get really excited. Naive as I was, I called my mom that morning and told her I was in labor and that the baby was probably going to arrive sometime that day. After that, things didn't seem to progress any further, probably because I jinxed myself. After a full day of contractions, I was fed up. Brent and I decided to walk it off because that's what you're supposed to do. Even though that's the last thing I wanted to do. We walked to the park. We walked downtown that Friday evening past the bars and the drunk people. I was a hot mess moaning and groaning, and people were cheering me on like I was running a marathon. We walked around the block what seemed like 50 times and nothing. My contractions stayed at 8 minutes apart.

I was dead exhausted. And nervous. 24 hours with no progress, to me, was not a good sign. Around 10:30 pm that Friday night, I called the on-call doctor and she told me to come to the hospital and they would see me in triage. We drove to the hospital, and I thought, this is it. We could be having this baby anytime now. Boy was I wrong. I was admitted to triage and as I lay on the table waiting for the on-call doctor, crossing my fingers that I was at least 5 cm or better yet 7 cm dilated. The doctor came in and measured my cervix. I was only 3 cm. I thought - if this is the pain that I am experiencing at 3 cm I can't imagine what 10 cm is like. At this point, I was seriously worried. When was this baby going to come? How much longer could I take? As the nurse was writing up my discharge papers, and as I lay on the table just trying to deal with my contractions, all of a sudden I heard a loud pop, and then a gush. My water had broke. It was so dramatic and everything that I hoped for. I kept saying over and over again, oh my god that was amazing, oh my god that was so gross. They then admitted me to labor and delivery. 

After my water broke the contractions came on strong. I mean really strong. I had no idea that that type of pain existed. My contractions went from every 8 min to every 60 seconds lasting 90 seconds. The on-call doctor could see my pain and suggested that I get into the jacuzzi tub before opting for an epidural because I was concerned about mobility. When I got to the room I took off all my clothes in front of a bunch of strangers because I really didn't care at that point. I got into the tub and was surprised at how disgusting the water felt, which is weird coming from me because I love hot tubs. The water was luke warm and made me feel nauseous. I tried to get out of the tub, but I was in so much pain I just laid there shaking. And then I started screaming where is the epidural? Everyone was like - you never asked for an epidural? I was pissed that nobody could read my mind. Five minutes later the anesthesiologist (bless that man) arrived, which was perfect because I probably would have killed someone pretty soon, and it likely would have been Brent. I thought that I was going to be really nervous about getting a giant needle into my back, but by that point I really couldn't give a shit. He numbed my back, inserted the needle, and the next thing I felt a cold flow of water down my back and then the pain disappeared. I was in absolute heaven. I can't even imagine what it would have been like if I didn't have that pain relief.

For a good while my contractions stayed strong, but eventually they became weak and further apart. In retrospect, I blame it on the epidural and the fact that I was immobile, but seriously, I wouldn't have changed a thing. The doctor came to check me around 5 pm that Saturday evening and I was only 4 cm dilated. We decided to start the Pitocin. At first the Pitocin worked like a charm. I had dilated 4 - 7 cm in a few short hours, but then my contractions slowed down and got weak. At this point, the baby was becoming stressed. At every contraction, his heart rate dipped lower and lower. By this point, he had pooped and it had been close to 24 hours since my water had broke. Things were not looking good. For some reason, I was not dilating and this baby was not coming anytime soon. My doctor increased the Pitocin and gave me 1 hour to get to 10 cm. My doctor checked me at 10:00 pm and no change. At this point, the baby had turned so that we were both back to back (sunny side up they call it), and unfortunately, epidurals are not that effective at blocking the pain of back labor. I was beginning to lose it.  The baby was getting more and more stressed each time I had a contraction. There were multiple nurses coming in and out of my room, and everyone started to get pretty serious. My doctor told me that the safest thing for me and the baby was to get him out via c-section. I was so delusional by that point, I was like, ok. let's do it. I had 5 nurses prepping me at once, which made me think that things were more serious than I thought. Five nurses, 2 doctors, 1 anesthesiologist, 3 NICU nurses, and 1 husband all in the room at once. Before they started the procedure, the anesthesiologist performed an ice test to check if I had adequate pain relief. My epidural wasn't quite cutting it, so the anesthesiologist performed a spinal tap, which I thought was working fine until I felt the doctor cutting into me. The anesthesiologist asked me if I could take the pain, and I was like - seriously, are you f-ing kidding me? The next thing I knew they were rushing Brent out of the room, I had an oxygen mask on and they started me on an IV of propofol. I was out.

The whole thing was really surreal. Like a dream. A really long 48-hour dream. Brent tried to document as much as he could with the camera on my phone so that I could at least feel like I was present when Sebastian entered this world. I'd also like to note that I'm really glad that he didn't get any pictures of me lying on the operating table because that would have been seriously creepy. Once they pulled little Sebastian out, he was wrapped twice with the umbilical cord. The doctor said there was no way he was ever coming out vaginally, and it was good that we decided to do the c-section when we did because it would have been an emergency otherwise. The poor little guy needed resuscitation once delivered, and a lot of attention from the NICU. Neither Brent nor I got to do that initial skin to skin which is so important, and that really bummed me out. Although, as soon as they could, they put Sebastian on me and the first thing he did was latch onto my chin and start to feed. Brent said I was only out for 30 minutes, but I didn't start processing memories for an hour or two. When I finally came to, I had some weird looking nipple shield on my breast and Sebastian was trying to feed. It was so bizarre. I think that deep down I'm a little sad that I didn't get the labor experience that I had planned, but it seems so selfish to say that, because the most important thing is that Sebastian is safe and healthy.

After the procedure, they wheeled my up to post-partum, where we spent the next 3 days being pampered. The nurses took such great care of us. The automatic bed was amazing, the room service was incredible. We had an amazing view of Elliott Bay, Brent had his own bed, and I had 24-hour nursing care. We even had someone come in and give Sebastian his first bath. I really didn't want to leave. They day after the c-section, they had me get out of bed. I'm not going to lie, it was intense. But every day seems to be getting better,  and I am now walking up to a mile per day. The hardest part about the whole recovery is the willingness to ask for help and letting others do things for me. I am one of those 'I can do this by myself' types of person, so learning to just sit back and relax hasn't been easy. We are so lucky that Sebastian is healthy and such a well-behaved baby. He is pretty chill most of time, except between the hours of 12 - 3 am when he thinks it's 'let's drink all night' party time. He has such a personality already - the most intense facial expressions. Everything is serious business all the time. Becoming a mom has changed me in a way I never knew possible. My love for Sebastian is so deep and so strong sometimes I just feel like crying from pure happiness, and pregnancy hormones.

September 22, 2015

Broccoli Rabe Arancini with Marinara Sauce

The first time I experienced a truly exceptional risotto was in Italy. After a heavy day of travel, from Venice to Milan, Brent and I were lacking the energy needed to find a cute little sit down restaurant, the kind that we were familiar with - situated on a tiny cobblestone street reminiscent of our preceding Italian encounters. Not wanting to veer too far from our hostel, we walked for what we thought would be 10 minutes but turned out to be an hour. Hungry and frustrated, eventually realizing that we were just circumnavigating the Duomo de Milano over and over, Brent made the executive decision that our best option was to step foot through the large wide doors across the street into the mall. Clearly we weren't excited about spending our last day in Italy dining at a mall, but we had run out of ideas. Thinking that we were entering a typical North American mall fitted with a food court, trendy shops, and possibly a few massage chairs, within seconds, we realized that we were wildly incorrect. We ended up walking into the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, which turns out is one of the world's oldest, and in my opinion, most beautiful malls to exist. We walked around with our mouths wide open, admiring the architecture - the arching glass and cast iron roof, the dome, and the mosaics. Eventually, we realized that yes indeed we were still starving, so we found the nearest little sit-down restaurant. We chose a table that had been enclosed within the hallway of the mall. I felt like we were in a scene from Lady in the Tramp, sharing meals on a small circular table covered with a red checkered table cloth, breadsticks in a canister, and a white candle snuggly fitted into an old wine bottle, dripping wax down the sides. Brent ordered the saffron risotto, and I ordered the gnocchi. When his risotto came to the table, it was so delicious, I couldn't stop myself from helping him to finish it all, leaving the gnocchi behind. That evening in Milan, I realized the true potential of a risotto done right. Up until that point, my experiences had been nothing but sub-par.

Since that evening in Milan, I vowed to learn how to make a risotto as good as the one we shared. In the beginning, I started off by making small servings. Not confident in my ability to pull it off, I figured that I wouldn't feel as bad if it didn't turn out and I only made enough for two. Now when I'm making risotto, I'll make enough for a family of 8 - I can't help myself. We'll usually eat leftovers for a day or two, and then once we're tired of that, I transform the risotto into a completely new dish - arancini. Arancini are Sicilian rice balls stuffed with cheese, coated with breadcrumbs and then fried. Leftover risotto is the perfect medium for these balls, as it is soft and creamy in texture which allows it to be easily formed into a round shape. Broccoli rabe is a lovely cruciferous vegetable, similar in appearance to broccoli, minus the large florets. It has a slightly bitter and nutty taste which when combined with the creaminess from this risotto and Parmesan cheese can make for an excellent combination. Served warm, and then dipped into the marinara sauce, your first bite of the crispy panko exterior crust, soft chewy center, and melty mozzarella cheese will leave you feeling utter joy.

A big thanks to the folks over at Andy Boy Broccoli Rabe for sponsoring this post. All thoughts and opinions expressed here are my own. For more broccoli rabe recipe ideas be sure to check out their website and Facebook page. They have some pretty delicious looking recipes on their site, including this green ricotta skillet pizza and roasted broccoli rabe, avocado and egg tostada with chimichurri I've been eyeing.



September 18, 2015

Sweet Crepes, Creamy Yogurt, and Fresh Fruit

When Brent and I first met, he was just finishing up his masters degree and I was starting my 4th year of undergrad. He had just accepted a job in Seattle, so we both were pretty aware that we only had a few weeks to spend together (although in complete denial). We spent those few weeks trying to figure out everything about one another - food likes/dislikes, hopes, dreams, aspirations etc. After he moved to Seattle I was completely devastated. I spent every waking hour thinking about him, and what our life would be like when we finally crossed paths again.

Life moved on, as it does, and I eventually finished my degree. I moved west to Alberta (much closer to Seattle) to start a very arduous 12-month internship. Once I finished, after a very long time apart (filled with a lot of emotions and crying and wine drinking), we both decided to move to Victoria, BC. We rented the most adorable little apartment right across the street from the ferry terminal. The decor was somewhat reminiscent of my grandmother's era - blush pink carpet, blush pink walls, floral drapery, and wallpaper. We slowly, and with the approval of our landlords, made the place our home. Things seemed to move rather quickly in our tiny apartment on Quebec St. We got a puppy late November, and then by Christmas Eve we were engaged. I couldn’t have been happier. That Christmas morning, our first Christmas together, Brent got me a gift that little did I know at the time, would be a gift that would time and time again, remind me of those years spent in Victoria. Some of the best years of my life. A crepe pan!!!

It may seem silly, but every time I get out that pan, swirl a little butter, and then batter, I am always reminded of the times we shared in Victoria - getting to know each other and watching our relationship grow and blossom. Since the moment I received that pan, I no longer viewed crepes as something you eat at the summer fair piled high with whipped cream and berries or hunched over a stoop in Paris after a night of heavy champagne drinking and dancing. Crepes now symbolize the love that I have for Brent. The love that we both share for one another. And the love we both have for crepes. I see it in his eyes every time I pull out that pan.

We never rush through a morning with crepes. We both take our time finding our favorite toppings. His, savory apple and cheddar, mine, fresh fruit with yogurt. I make our crepes one at a time, so we can sit and enjoy each one without rushing the meal. Crepes are one of those foods that people often think are harder to make than they actually are. The batter itself is just a simple mixture of eggs, milk, flour, butter, salt, sugar, and vanilla thrown into a blender and pureed into a liquid. And as long as you have the right pan, cooking crepes is easy.

Last week, I decided that it had been too long since we'd enjoyed crepes together. I came down to the kitchen and started preparing the batter. That particular morning, our fridge was lacking the necessary savory ingredients Brent enjoys. I thought this was the perfect opportunity to win him over to my side - sweet crepes with yogurt.

When I first moved to Seattle, it took quite a long time to find a yogurt that appealed to all of my preferences. I noticed that the grocery aisle was filled yogurt that was low to no fat and loaded with artificial sweeteners, promoting itself as a healthy weight-loss/diet food. Thin, watery, bitter, and overly sweet, I was discouraged by the lack of European-style Greek yogurt. The deliciously rich and creamy yogurt that you can eat on its own, or with some granola and fresh fruit, a little honey, or some mixed nuts.

After sampling a wide variety of yogurts, and even attempting to make my own in the bathroom tub, I finally found a yogurt that appealed to all of my needs - noosa yoghurt. I was initially drawn to the brand by the creative and colorful packaging, but I was soon won over by the velvety and smooth texture, the richness, the creaminess, the slightly sweet and sour taste, and the assortment of amazing flavors. Most of the time I eat noosa yoghurt on its own (it’s that good), but sometimes I'll pair it with crepes, pancakes, waffles - really any type of pastry. It's also perfect for dipping fruit - bananas, apples, stone fruit, berries. My absolute three favorite flavors are pumpkin, raspberry, and coconut, but I also really love the strawberry rhubarb, lemon, and tart cherry. I’m pretty lucky that this stuff is only a few blocks from my front door. A girl’s gotta have her yogurt. If you’re interested in trying a few flavors and not sure where to look, on their website they have a location tracker so hopefully you can find some close to you. Also, the folks at noosa have provided a coupon for first-time taste testers. Click here to redeem. #noosafresh

Thanks to noosa yoghurt and SocialMoms for sponsoring this post. All thoughts and opinions expressed here are my own.



September 15, 2015

Crispy Za'atar Fries with a Garlic Scallion Dipping Sauce

Alot of you may be wondering if I've had this baby yet, and I have not. My due date is today. I thought he was going to punctual and arrive early, but I guess he is going to show up fashionably late - like his dad. I'm not sure why I was under the impression that he was going to come early, or that my labor is going to be quick and painless and last at most 5 hours. I think every new mom tells herself that her baby is going to come early, but in actual fact, most babies usually come late. I had a doctos appointment last Friday and I was 90% effaced and 1.5 cm dilated. She performed a bizarre technique called a cervical sweeping, hoping that it would put me into labor, and it did not. Since then, every ache and pain, twinge and twerk, feels like labor is about to begin but then again, I am pretty inexperinced at this whole thing, so clearly I don't know what I'm talking about. I packed my hospital bag last week, which was really weird. I was trying to pack as if I was going on a luxurious spa weekend, but lets be real. All I'm going to need is a whole lot of strength. People seemed really anxious about me getting this bag packed. Everyone kept asking - have you packed your bag? Don't forget to bring this, this, and this? I live a 5 minute drive from the hospital, which is probably why I am not that concrened. The babies car seat is installed, the bottle of champagne is ready to be packed in the cooler on ice, and Brent knows that while I'm in labor, positive words are encouraged, but gentle caressing is way out of the picture. I need him to be supportive from at least an arms reach away.

I went into nesting mode last week, where I cleaned the whole house top to bottom. I no longer give a shit about clean floors or freezer meals, and just want this baby out. We still haven't come up with a middle name, which is something we should probably get on. But, I do have an adorable outfit picked out that I am going to bring him home form the hospital in.

In the mean time, while I wait for this baby, the only productive option to kill time - that doesn't involve a lot of heavy lifting or bending, is cooking. Yesterday I made these za'atar fries, becasue right now, all I want to eat is potatoes. Za'atar is an amazing blend of Middle Eastern spices. I have a large tub in the cupboard, and some would say that I am completelty obsessed. I made a creamy yogurt dipping sauce with garlic, scallions, za'atar, and salt, to accompany these potatoes. My original plan was to make a labneh spread, but I cound't find any in the store. I found a tub of whole milk Mediterannean style yogurt in the cooler, and decided that that would be a very suitable alternative. The combination of flavors in this meal is incredible - salty, tangy, and lemony. I could eat this meal all day every day. Until I get sick of potatoes, that is.


September 1, 2015

Veggie Quesadillas with a Tangy Chipotle Lime Sauce

As someone who grew up in a small rural community, where we always had access to fresh local produce, I can't remember a time when we went without fresh fruit or vegetables, only the times that my mom made us eat all the cabbage and broccoli. During the summer months, we would go to the farmers market on the weekends to buy local corn, peaches, green beans, potatoes, and fresh bread, and if we were lucky we would leave with a fresh pie and ice cream. The produce was easily accessible, fresh, delicious, and affordable.

When I first moved to Seattle I had no idea what the local market scene was like. I made it a priority to live within walking distance to a grocery store, but as for the fresh local produce, I thought that would warrant a trip outside of the city. I soon learned that Seattle was well-known for its pop-up Sunday Markets, scattered throughout various locations around the city. So now every Sunday I grab my reusable grocery bags (the big sturdy kind with the flat bottoms) and my Brent (who can carry much more than me), and we head to the market to fill our bags with the most delicious and unique veggies that we can find. This past Sunday, we went to our local market - the Capitol Hill Broadway Market and discovered the wonderful world of heirloom cucumbers and peppers. We were completely amazed by the different varieties of melons offered, and we couldn't carry enough peaches in both arms to sufficiently tide us over until next Sunday.

I consider ourselves very fortunate to live in an area where we have access to fresh produce. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who live in Seattle who don't have access to affordable and nutritious food like we do. Over 306, 600 people in the King County area and 23 million across the US lack accessibility to fresh produce for reasons such as distance, lack of transportation, lack of funds, or just no availability. The term used to describe these pockets of urban neighborhoods and rural towns is Food Desert. I couldn't imagine what it would be like to walk over an hour to a grocery store just to buy fruits and veggies. Not having a car, or public transit options to get around. Suddenly the 7-11, McDonalds, or the take-out pizza just down the street seems like a much more appealing option. Thus, the cycle of poor diet, obesity, and chronic health issues begins.

A few weeks ago I was approached by the folks over at Naked Juice about an awesome initiative they've started - the Drink Good, Do Good Campaign. After learning a bit more about food desserts and how close the issue is to home, I was immediately on board with their campaign. The Drink Good. Do Good Campaign is a collaboration between Naked Juice (my absolute favorite maker of juices) and Wholesome Wave (a totally awesome non-profit organization involved in creating a whole network of nutrition incentive programs), to help make fresh fruits and vegetables accessible to everyone. During the next month, the awesome folks over at Naked Juice will be donating fresh fruits and vegetables to underserved communities all across the US.

If you are looking for a way to get involved in this great cause and help with the fight against food deserts - all you have to do is take a photo of yourself holding a vegetable or fruit. Tag the photo #DrinkGoodDoGood and post it on Instagram or twitter! Naked Juice will be donating 10lbs of fresh produce per photo to Wholesome Wave to be distributed across the US to underserved communities. Be a part of a good cause and help in donating 500,000 lbs of produce! To learn more about the campaign, visit DrinkGoodDoGood.com

In celebration of summer, markets, eating your veggies, and helping others, I wanted to share a recipe for grilled vegetable quesadillas. After my trip to the market this past Sunday, I actually came home with more produce than I could eat in one week. When this is the case, I like fry up all the veggies I have no plans for and serve them in a warm tortilla with melted sharp cheddar, and a chipotle dipping sauce on the side. It is such an easy and healthy meal to prepare, which is exactly what I am looking for these days.

Thanks to the folks at Naked Juice for partnering with Flourishing Foodie in the DrinkGood. Do Good Campaign.