Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Baked Butter-Pecan French Toast with Blueberry Syrup (Page 662)


  • Date: Sunday, September 30, 2012 -- 9am
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen Our House:
  • Book: Gourmet Today
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Dave, and Karen H
  • Recipe Rating: B

I like baked French toast because it is so convenient. You can start soaking the bread the night before and then just throw it in the oven in the morning. That's what I did with this recipe, which I made when my in-laws were visiting last fall. This was a simple French toast, made with baguette slices, and topped with a sugary, buttery pecan mixture before baking. The recipe also included a simple blueberry maple syrup. I liked this dish. The French toast was rich and flavorful and had a nice texture. The blueberry maple syrup was fine but not great. Whenever we have berries that are about to go bad I make berry syrup with them by cooking the berries with some sugar and then straining it. I think I prefer that to this recipe, where the blueberries were cooked in maple syrup and the syrup was unstrained. The French toast was pretty good though, and an easy way to prepare a nice breakfast for company. I didn't like it as much as the baked French toast from the original Gourmet Cookbook though.

The recipe in The Book is almost the same as this one.

48 recipes down, 1058 to go!

When I was pregnant people often asked me if I was going to breast feed the twins. I was very noncommittal in my response: "I am going to try!" Doctors have always been a little bit unsure about whether or not it would be a good idea for me to breast feed. For one thing, I can't take my medication for my brain tumor while I breast feed. Also, the type of tumor that I have doesn't always play nice with breast feeding. But I got the go ahead to give it a try, as long as I watch for symptoms of tumor growth (headaches, loss of vision) and get checked out if anything seems off.

I got the very wise advice to set a short term goal for myself. Breast feeding twins would be tough, I was told, and people who set a goal of breast feeding for a year often quit in the first few weeks. People tend to have more success if they start with a more achievable goal. For me, that first goal was 6 weeks.  I figured I would power through for 6 weeks and then reevaluate.

Here's the honest truth: breast feeding premature twins is horrible. Absolutely, completely horrible. There was nothing pleasant or enjoyable about it those first 6 weeks. Teaching the girls to breast feed was totally, completely miserable. I think it's important to be honest about that. It was horrible. BUT, it got better. I want to record my experience before I forget in case it is ever useful to a mother of multiples down the road. If you aren't interested in this sort of thing, just stop reading now!

With twins, supply can be a big issue, so I started pumping 8 times a day from the time the girls were born to establish my supply. Neither of them was well enough to be held right away, let alone breast fed, so I pumped milk and brought it to the NICU. Pumping 8 times a day worked for me, although one lactation consultant told me that really I should be pumping 12 times a day. Oy.

Emmy and I started working on breast feeding when she was still in the NICU. I would weigh her before breast feeding her, then weigh her afterwards to see how many milliliters she had consumed from the breast. She had a certain amount she was required to eat at every feeding. She couldn't do a whole feeding from the breast, so I would give her a bottle of pumped milk with the remainder of her required milliliters in it. It was a slow process teaching her to eat. Several times she "breast fed" for 20 minutes, but consumed only 5 milliliters. She had trouble latching, so I worked with a lactation consultant in the NICU and used a nipple shield. She made slow but steady progress.

Eloise never really breast fed in the NICU. We practiced a few times, but she had a hard enough time eating from the bottle. She didn't have the strength or persistence to eat from the breast.

Two and a half weeks after they were born we had both girls at home with us. The doctors had them on a 3 hour eating schedule which meant that they ate at 6am, 9am, noon, 3pm, 6pm, 9pm, midnight, and 3am every day. Each feeding took almost an hour and a half, then we started it all again an hour and a half later. It was brutal. Here's how a typical feeding went:

- I practiced breast feeding for 20-30 minutes with one of the girls or both of the girls at the same time.
- Since neither of them could do a full feeding from the breast, both girls then got a bottle.
- I then pumped for 20-30 minutes so there would be milk for the next feedings.

Late at night and early in the morning I cut out the practice breast feeding and just gave them bottles to make the whole process a little shorter. And for a brief period my special gentleman bottle fed both girls at 3am by himself so I could sleep a little bit. I still have no idea how he did this, but I do recall that it involved a lot of screaming! My mother-in-law got up every morning to help me with the 6am feeding so my special gentleman could sleep through that one. The schedule was rough, but we survived it. We did that for weeks, during which time my nipples were pretty much constantly cracked and bleeding, the counters were covered with bottles (since we used 16 a day), I could never find my nipple shields (damn things are transparent!), and the pump parts were chronically needing to be washed. I was forever trying to keep track of which bottle needed which vitamin supplements or supplemental calories added (for Eloise). I developed a bottle labeling system. I rarely slept. It was rough. During that period I was flipping through a parenting magazine that was discussing the benefits of breast feeding. They listed "convenience" as a reason to breast feed. I almost threw the magazine across the room. Convenience my ass.

Then one day, right around their due date (so 4+ weeks into it), Emmy finally got it! One day, she just understood how to breast feed. I dropped her bottle feedings one by one and within days she ate entirely from the breast! No bottles! I started pumping only 4 times a day instead of the 7-8 I had been doing! It was amazing. That was my first moment of sheer delight and amazement at the skills of one of my children. She could breast feed! Eloise, sadly, could not.

I met with a lactation consultant to discuss Eloise. She watched Eloise do her "breast feeding" and declared that she just needed more time to get stronger before she would really be able to do it. The girls were down to about 7 feedings a day, and we were no longer required to wake them to eat if they were sleeping. So I was getting a little more rest. It was hard to be patient with Eloise though. She has had eating problems from the start, and reflux that got worse over time. So she was prone to screaming through each feeding and then spitting up many times after eating. We were working so hard to get her to eat and then she would spit up 5+ times during one feeding. It wasn't pleasant. And it felt to me like she wasn't making any progress. But eventually, she started to catch on. I slowly weaned her off the bottle, one feeding at a time. Right around 7 weeks, she decided she actually preferred the breast. One night, she refused to drink from the bottle. And that was that! She was breast feeding. Because of issues with oversupply and overactive let down I had to stop pumping. I was delighted!

Unfortunately Eloise's breast feeding victory was poorly timed to coincide with a dramatic increase in her reflux, so her other eating/digestion issues (a topic for a different post) prevented me from appropriately celebrating her breast feeding triumph. But now I can truly appreciate what an achievement this was for the both of us. Go Eloise!

Now the girls are almost 10 weeks old and I have to agree with the magazine: breast feeding is pretty convenient. I still feed the girls one at a time rather than tandem feeding them (which I practiced and practiced, but hated so much that I decided it just wasn't for me). But feeding times have gone way down. Now instead of it taking an hour and a half to feed them, I can feed them both in 30-40 minutes. It still helps to have a second person around as it is hard to take care of one while the other is eating, especially in this period when they are pretty fussy.

My one piece of advice for anyone who ever considers breast feeding twins is this: if you want to try to breast feed, don't quit before it gets good. With premature twins, the first part will be horrible. But, it truly does get better! If I could do it all again, I would do the same thing I did, but perhaps with more faith that someday they would figure it out and it would get easier. I am well past my original goal of 6 weeks. My new goal is 4 months, although I wouldn't be surprised if I continue much longer. I hesitate to say this, but at this point I actually enjoy feeding them (except, of course, in the middle of the night!).

Because it's funny, here's a video of the girls from when they were about a month old. It demonstrates how their different attitudes about eating resulted in two very different size babies:

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Grilled Indian-Spiced Chicken (Page 526)

  • Date: Saturday, September 29, 2012 -- 7pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Book: Gourmet Today
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Dave and Karen H
  • Recipe Rating: B+

We made this chicken as part of our Indian feast when my in-laws came to visit last fall. I quartered a chicken, then marinated it overnight in a mixture of onion, garlic, ginger, serrano chile, salt, white vinegar, Greek yogurt, coriander, vegetable oil, turmeric, and cayenne. Then my special gentleman made some Indian clarified butter (ghee) by boiling butter and separating out the milk solids and discarding them. My special gentleman drizzled the chicken with ghee and then grilled it until it was cooked through. This chicken was pretty good. The marinade had a nice flavor to it but the flavor wasn't very strong, so the dish came out a little blander than you might hope for with in Indian-spiced chicken. The marinade certainly could have been significantly spicier, for instance, without being too spicy. If I made this again I would tweak the marinade a bit to give it a more intense flavor.

The recipe is here.

47 down, 1059 to go!

After 8 days in the NICU, we were able to bring Emmy home! Here she is the day she came home, looking pretty tiny in her car seat:

As I mentioned in an earlier post, it was heart-breaking bringing Emmy home and leaving Eloise in the NICU. But by then Eloise was doing so well that I was confident she would be home in 2 or 3 more days. It turned out that it would be quite a bit longer than that, but I didn't know it at the time. 

So, we brought Emmy home and tried to settle into a routine. The babies ate on a three hour schedule in the NICU (6am, 9am, noon, 3pm, 6pm, 9pm, midnight, 3am, repeat), and the doctors recommended that we keep Emmy on her 3 hour schedule for a while until she was a bit bigger. It was sad to have to wake her up every 3 hours to eat, especially in the middle of the night, but we did it. The feedings themselves took about an hour. I would breastfeed her, followed by a bottle of breast milk (because she wasn't strong enough to breast feed for a full feeding), followed by pumping milk for both Emmy's bottles and to bring to Eloise in the NICU. By the time I finished feeding Emmy it was only about 2 hours (or less) until it started again. Needless to say, we weren't getting much sleep. In those days my special gentleman did the 3am feeding by himself though, so I could sleep from about 1:30am until 6am, which was quite a luxury. 

The feeding schedule made it hard to spend as much time at the NICU with Eloise as we would have liked. My special gentleman would do some of the daytime feedings using a bottle of pumped breast milk so that I could spend some time with Eloise. Then he would go visit Eloise later in the day while I stayed with Emmy. The situation was further complicated by the fact that I was still recovering from surgery, so physically getting myself to the NICU was no easy task. It was a long walk once inside the hospital, and I wasn't supposed to drive, so someone needed to go with me. Luckily my in-laws were in town to help and my mother-in-law transported me to the NICU every day. 

Eloise's health was steadily improving and we could hold her as much as we wanted by that point. Here's my special gentleman with her: 

Eloise was off all breathing support by then, and even moved out of an isolette into an open crib, where she had to regulate her own body temperature. She was doing great! Except... she wouldn't eat. I was pumping breast milk 8 times a day from the time the girls were born, and shortly after birth Emmy started taking breast milk from a bottle in the NICU. It took her a while before she could actually breast feed, but she was always pretty good with the bottle. Eloise was so sick when she was born that they didn't give her food at all. She was too sick to have the energy to drink from a bottle, but they also couldn't give her breast milk through a feeding tube. Apparently when a baby is really sick like that, their body doesn't have the energy to digest food. So if you put breast milk into their stomach using a feeding tube, the milk can go rancid before it is digested. Crazy. So she was on IV nutrition only for many days. 

Eventually she was well enough that she could digest food, but not strong enough to take a bottle. So they put a feeding tube in and pumped my breast milk directly into her stomach. That went well and she continued to get stronger. So they started giving her bottles. But, as it turned out, she didn't want them. She still had her feeding tube in, and when she didn't finish her bottle the nurses would put the rest of it down her feeding tube. I think my smart little girl figured out that it was way easier to have food put down your feeding tube than it was to go to all the energy to eat it yourself. Sometimes she would eat from the bottle and sometimes she refused. Eating is a required skill before being discharged from the NICU. She needed to be able to finish at least 40-50 ml at every feeding for at least 48 hours before she could go home. And she didn't want to do it. 

She often ate better for us than she would for the nurses, so my special gentleman and I tried to be there for as many feedings as possible while also caring for a newborn at home. Some days we would alternate. I would feed Eloise at noon, he'd feed her at 3pm, I would feed her at 6pm, he would feed her at 9pm. It was a lot of back and forth to the hospital. We didn't go in for the late night feedings. We were just too exhausted at that point. 

They moved Eloise into a little isolation room so that we could bring Emmy in with us (in general, other children aren't allowed in the NICU). We did that for a couple days, but it was hard to care for Emmy in the NICU, which isn't really set up for baby visitors. Plus, I didn't like carting my tiny premature baby through the hospital -- I didn't want her to catch something and end up back in the NICU herself. So mostly we divided up and one of us stayed home with Emmy while one of us was in the NICU. Here's a picture though of a day when we brought Emmy in to visit her sister:

Eventually Eloise figured out how to eat from the bottle well enough that they took out her feeding tube, and for the first time since the operating room, we got to see her face without anything attached to it:

And once she did her 48 hours of eating from the bottle, she was ready to come home! Eloise spent a total of 16 days in the NICU, which at the time felt like an eternity, but at this point I remember so little of it (sleep deprivation!) that it seems like it flew by. It was absolutely wonderful to bring her home and have the whole family under one roof. Here are the girls shortly after they came home, hanging out:

And me (still very swollen at that point), holding them both:

I would like to say that Eloise came home perfectly healthy and caught right up to her sister, but that hasn't really been the case. Her eating problems in the NICU were foreshadowing of continued challenges with eating. And although she was an ounce and a half bigger than Emmy at birth, Emmy is now about a pound and a half bigger than her sister. Eloise has had a rougher time from the start, and she has certainly been a challenge for us. But that's a topic for another post.

When I found out I was having twins I prepared myself for the likely event that they would end up spending some time in the NICU. In part because I had thought a lot about it in advance, when it actually happened I felt at peace with them being there. I was confident that they were in good hands, and getting the help that they needed. But it was a difficult few weeks. I remember one night in particular that I sat down at the dinner table and just started sobbing into my food. I was exhausted, and worried, and disappointed. It was hard. But I told myself then the same thing I tell myself now when I get overwhelmed by the challenge of infant twins: we are so, so blessed that the girls weren't born even earlier, or with more serious health challenges. Their entry into the world was a little rough, but they are doing great, and every day getting bigger and stronger. We are very lucky.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Curried Lentil Stew with Vegetables (Page 288)

  • Date: Saturday, September 29, 2012 -- 7pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Dave, and Karen H
  • Recipe Rating: B-

This recipe was part of the Indian feast we prepared when my in-laws came to visit last fall. I started by cooking some onion in oil, then adding pureed ginger and garlic. I then added various spices (cumin, curry powder, turmeric), lentils and water. At various stages through the cooking process I added vegetables (carrots, spinach, peas), and finally cilantro and seasoning. The stew was topped with cumin seeds and red pepper flakes, cooked in vegetable oil. This stew was OK. Of our big Indian feast that day, this was one of the dishes I liked less. The flavor was fine, but not great, and I didn't like the texture of the spinach in it. I also found that the flavored oil on top made the dish seem greasy. It certainly wasn't bad, but it isn't a dish that I would make again. 

The recipe is here.

46 recipes down,  1060 to go!

I have a rare moment right now when the girls are both asleep and I am not. I talked about the birth of our twins in the last post. They went straight from the operating room up to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for some assistance breathing. I went to recovery, where I had to be on magnesium for 15 hours, due to the preeclampsia. This meant that I could not go see the girls in the NICU on Friday night. But my special gentleman went up there several times and took lots of pictures so that I could see them. Here I am, recovering and missing my babies:

Here's a picture of Emmy that first night, screaming. She has been feisty from the start! I would probably be screaming too. That bandage around her IV connection is almost as big as her arm! 

Here's Eloise that first night. She was struggling a bit more than Emmy. So while Emmy was just getting a little oxygen through a cannula, Eloise was on CPAP. It was hard to be away from them that first night, but at the time I believed that they were basically both fine, which I found very comforting. I didn't realize then what a hard time Eloise would have. 

The next afternoon I got to make my first trip up to the NICU. Here I am meeting Emmy for the first time since the operating room!

And meeting Eloise:

Late Saturday night they decided that Emmy was stable enough for me to hold her! Emmy was doing well from the start. As you can see, by Saturday night, less than 24 hours after she was born, she was already off all breathing support. She was what they call a feeder/grower, meaning that they kept her there to get bigger and stronger before discharging her. 

Here's my special gentleman holding Emmy:

In no time she had even graduated to wearing clothes!

While we were celebrating Emmy's good health and rapid improvement, we were meanwhile extremely worried about Eloise. Instead of improving, she was getting worse. She was having a horrible time trying to breath, and the CPAP was not enough support. So they had to intubate her to give her more breathing support, and to give her doses of a drug directly into her lungs. They first diagnosed her with Respiratory Distress Syndrome. Late one night when I was still in the hospital myself recovering from the surgery I googled respiratory distress syndrome. Big mistake. Wikipedia informed me that it is the leading cause of death in preterm infants. Great. That made me so worried that I woke up my special gentleman at 3am to wheel me up to the NICU to visit the babies. I sobbed next to Eloise's isolette for a while and a very nice NICU nurse gave me a lot of encouragement (thanks Michelle!). 

There were a couple very scary days during which Eloise felt so bad that she barely moved or opened her eyes at all. Here she is, not feeling well:

Eventually they figured out that she had an infection: either pneumonia or meningitis. The next day it was confirmed: pneumonia. Of the two choices, pneumonia was a much better outcome, so we cheered when we found out. Never would I have thought I could be so excited to hear that my baby has pneumonia. 

Eventually I was released from the hospital, with both babies still in the NICU. It was hard going home without them, but I came back to the hospital and spent all day every day in the NICU with them. And I pumped milk for them 8 times a day. That was about all I could do for them at that point. 

After about 3 or 4 days, Eloise started to improve, and eventually we were able to hold her! Here's my special gentleman holding Eloise: 

And the first time the girls were reunited since the operating room:

After 8 days in the NICU, Emmy was able to come home! It was bittersweet taking her home. I was so, so happy to have her coming home with us, but it was devastating leaving Eloise behind. In fact, I was much more upset the day we left with Emmy but without Eloise than I was the day I was discharged from the hospital without either of them. I took great comfort in knowing they were together, and I worried a lot about Eloise being in the NICU all alone. But Emmy was definitely well enough to come home and we were anxious to have her home with us. Here she is, ready to leave the hospital:

This post is getting long so I will write more about our second NICU week in my next post. Right now, I should go get some sleep!