Monday, February 21, 2011

The Easy Way to Cook Dried Beans

One of the best budget-friendly protein sources that I can think of is dried beans. You can buy dried beans in the packages or bulk bins at the grocery store for next to about $1.99 per lb. You can of course buy cans of beans since they are convenient for quick meals on the fly, but dried stretches your dollars further because dried beans expand to about double in size when cooked and it's much more green friendly because of less packaging and processing.

I have many childhood memories sorting pinto beans and smelling them cooking on the stovetop. My mom added bacon slices, onion and garlic as she cooked them on the stove and it smelled amazing. I've found an easy way for cooking dried beans to fit into my hectic lifestyle without slaving away in the kitchen.

I soaked these pinto beans on Friday overnight, then cooked them in the slower cooker on Saturday during the day. I used the cooked beans on Saturday night for vegetarian chili and Sunday night for homemade refried beans (frijoles). More on the refried beans later...

Why eat beans and legumes? Beans are packed with protein, fiber, and iron. As recent vegetarians, Aaron and I have been eating more beans than ever and they are very filling and tasty. Beans are so versatile and can be made into patties (Falafel), stews, chili, filling for burritos or tacos, or plain on a salad for protein. Beans are great combined with whole grains like brown rice, barley or quinoa. Our favorites are chickpeas (for curries, soups, hummus) and pinto (in the picture) for burritos, chili, and tacos. We also like kidney for soups (minestrone) and black beans for enchiladas, chili and burrito filling. We love Lentil Stew served over brown rice. The possibilities are endless!

Cooking dried beans is super easy. If you plan ahead you can save money and time for future meals. Store your dried beans in a sealed container in the pantry, marking the type of bean and the date that you bought them. The easiest way to cook dried beans is to do it in batches, then use the beans for multiple meals. The slow cooker is energy efficient and easy.

Step 1: Soak Overnight
With dried beans, you need to soak them in water to help the cooking process. You need to soak all beans except for lentils, split peas, and black eyed peas.
  • First, sort the beans and make sure you don't have any debris.
  • Rinse the dried beans in water and drain.
  • Use a mixing bowl to soak beans overnight in water. Fill the bowl a couple inches above the water.
Step 2: Slow Cook
In the morning, the soaked beans will double in size and most of the water will be absorbed.
  • Drain the beans and rinse.
  • Add the beans to slow cooker with fresh water covering the soaked beans a couple inches above.
  • No need in adding any seasoning since you can season later. It's better to cook them plain so they will be more versatile for different dishes.
  • Cook on Low setting for 8-hours, stirring infrequently and making sure to replenish water, if needed.
Step 3: Store
After the beans are cooked, I like to store beans that won't be used that evening for future meals that week.
  • Use cooked beans in any dish, any way you like. Use a slotted spoon to use the beans you need for that night.
  • Keep cooking liquid for some recipes such as refried beans or hummus, according to your recipes.
  • Let beans cool, then store in resealable containers for the refrigerator. I've never tried freezing them.
That's it! It's really easy!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Vegetarian Baked Gnocchi

I made a Baked Gnocchi for dinner tonight. It was hearty and filling even though it was vegetarian. It's a quick dinner that I was able to whip up while Aaron was giving Ava a bath. I got the broccoli cut and Aaron helped me by cooking it while I was nursing Ava and the gnocchi was baking in the oven. It flowed easily and with the tag team action, dinner was done. It turned out great!

Gnocchi, Italian potato dumplings, are a treat. They are tender and when cooked right, are fluffy pillows of goodness! For tonight's baked version, I used Italian soy sausage and vegetables (fennel, fresh tomato, fresh spinach, and garlic) with a bit of chopped kalamata olives. I topped it with ricotta cheese, fresh chopped parsley, breadcrumbs, and shredded Parmesan cheese. Paired with broccoli, it was delicious and very easy to make.

Vegetarian Baked Gnocchi
Serves 4

  • 1 package of gnocchi (find it at Trader Joe's or World Market)
  • 1-14oz can tomato sauce
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 1/2 cup soy Italian sausage
  • 1/2 bulb fennel (chopped small) or substitute onion instead
  • 1 Roma tomato, chopped
  • 3 cups fresh spinach (or 1/2 cup defrosted frozen)
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 5 Kalamata olives, chopped
  • 4oz part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 2 tbs breadcrumbs
  • 2 tbs chopped fresh parsley or basil
  • 3 tbs grated Parmesan cheese
  • Start water for gnocchi pasta.
  • Chop vegetables and preheat medium skillet.
  • Coat pre-heated skillet with olive oil (liberally since soy sausage doesn't have fat like pork). Add fennel and garlic. Saute 2 minutes, then add soy sausage. Cook until sausage in browned and the fennel (or onion is cooked through). Add fresh tomato, spinach, and oregano. Saute until spinach is cooked. Keep warm until gnocchi is cooked.
  • When the water is boiling, add gnocchi carefully. The dumplings are heavier than pasta and will splash. I drop in a few at a time slowly. Cook according to the package directions, until the gnocchi floats to the top (about 5 minutes).
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Drain gnocchi and return to pot. Add can of tomato sauce, and sausage-vegetable mixture. Toss with chopped olives.
  • Coat an 8x8 baking dish with cooking spray. Add gnocchi to the dish, then carefully scoop out small spoonfuls of ricotta cheese on the top of the gnocchi. Sprinkle evenly with parsley, breadcrumbs, and Parmesan cheese.
  • Bake for 25 minutes until bubbly.
  • Cook vegetables while gnocchi is baking.
  • Let gnocchi cool for 5 minutes before serving.
If you try this recipe, feel free to experiment with the vegetables. Other ideas would be zucchini, eggplant, bell peppers, or mushrooms.

Ava Marie at 11-months

Now that we're at 11-months, we're starting to plan Ava's first birthday on March 12. We're planning a birthday party at our house with friends and family. I'm not sure on a theme quite yet, but I have some ideas. Before we start celebrating, we're enjoying this stage of Ava right now! Here's the latest update on what's going on with Ava at 11-months old.

Clothing size: 12 months and 18 months on the top. We have three boxes of hand-me-down clothes from Ava's friend, Violet, in 12-24 month sizes and we're thankful to have them because she's been growing so quickly!

Two more teeth! Ava has two more teeth on the bottom that started popping through about a week ago. Her current count is 6 teeth! When they first come out, those new teeth are sharp and she likes to rub her tongue on the new teeth. Nursing is challenging sometimes because it's uncomfortable for both of us. I use homeopathic teething gel, which really helps.

Loves to stand up...Ava loves standing, though she doesn't pull herself up, she's good at balancing herself by holding on to the furniture or us. She can stand a long time and doesn't seem interested in walking yet, but we're guessing that will come soon enough.

Mobility, we're getting there. No crawling forward, but Ava likes to push backwards either on her tummy or on her bottom. Her arms are strong and she moves in a circle, backgrounds, and rolls all over the place. We give her some help by propping her up on her knees to help her crawl and she puts her head on her arms and snuggles. It's really funny! Ava watches everything that we're doing and how we're moving. Her hands and arms are always moving. Aaron called her "Miss America" because she loves to clap and wave. She likes to play catch! No joke! She throws balls and small objects and when you throw it back, she will return it by throwing. When I unload our weekly produce bin, she goes crazy for a chance to play with the oranges!

Her first words: Ava is talking ALL THE TIME! Daycare says she's talking/babbling constantly and she's saying words now. She says "Dog" when she sees Bena and the deer in our yard. She says "Ball" when she sees an orange, which she thinks is a ball. Her most favorite word is "Dada" and she finally has started to say the "Ma" syllables, which is music to my ears. :)

Very playful! Ava plays hard all day and especially likes to play with her friends at daycare. We were all home together during the ice storm just a week and a half ago. The city was basically shut down, including her daycare. On Friday, when Ava returned to daycare, she was so happy to see her friends after three days at home. She enjoyed being at home with us, though. I worked from home, while we juggled taking care of Ava while working. Aaron and Ava got to bond a lot, which was fantastic! When Ava wakes up for the day, she smiles and starts talking. She really is a playful little baby, who likes to dance, laugh, and sing to music. Her favorite caregiver, Miss Sharon, told me that when she sings "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star," Ava makes the hand movements!

Sleeping well at night. Ava has always been a good sleeper, waking to nurse and then right back to sleep. She sleeps well in her crib, but there's some nights that she doesn't want to be by herself and she sleeps in our bed. Ava sleeps until 3-4am before she wants to nurse. Sometimes, she will stretch until 5:30am when I wake up for work. I usually nurse her in bed after the alarm goes off and she is sleep nursing in bed. I ease out of bed and get ready for work. The nice thing is that because we're nursing, it's not a big deal when she wakes up because we can both nurse in our sleep. She loves to wake up in the morning and touch her Daddy's face. It's so sweet! Daytime naps are less predictable and short at daycare, especially. Ava is too busy playing to nap. Many times, she falls asleep nursing when we get home and has a cat nap in the evening. It doesn't seem to disrupt her night sleep.

Very affectionate. Ava kisses me when I arrive at daycare to pick her up. It's an open-mouth kiss, which is so funny! Ava will her hand out to touch her baby friends and caregivers when we're leaving. Last week, I let her give her friend, William, a hug. It was so cute! She's as much as a sweet snuggle-loving baby now, just as much as she was a newborn. I guess that's why Ava likes the sling so much because she likes to be close to me, but sit up high to observe the world around her.

Parenthood: We're adjusting to our new role as parents every day. Aaron is very supportive and is fiercely in tuned with Ava. He picked her up from daycare a few nights in the past few weeks and she's been caught off guard since I pick her up and we nurse as soon as I arrive. She has cried for as long as 20 minutes, but Aaron understands that it's a phase she's going through and he tries to distract her with playing with toys at home. We're learning together, which is all I can hope for. Right now, I feel our life stage is so intense because Ava is so young. I intensely love and miss her when we're apart!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Breastfeeding Mom's Guide to Returning from Maternity Leave

Tonight, I got an email from a friend that's preparing to return to work with her first baby in the next few weeks and she's going to continue breastfeeding. She asked me how to you supply milk and prepare for Day 1 of returning to work from maternity leave. It reminded me that there's lots of logistical details that are often left out of most breastfeeding information about returning to work. Here's a compilation of things I've learned along the way from being a breastfeeding and working mom to my almost 11-month babe. I've admired my mom friends who have managed to breastfeed despite work travel and long hours and have asked them for advice before I started. That's what I love about motherhood is having friends help each other.

While you're still home on maternity leave. Your maternity leave should be the time that you're relaxing and enjoying your baby, while taking care of yourself. Here are some ideas....
  • Make sure your baby will accept a bottle. I would let Aaron give Ava a bottle of expressed milk while I was running an errand. She got used to it, but has always preferred nursing.
  • Great time to practice pumping and squirrel away the extra milk that you might have, but don't go overboard. Store milk in small increments such as 2-3oz so it's easily used by your caregiver.
  • Get familiar with the storage guidelines for fresh and frozen milk (see link in the bottom of this post)
  • Set expectations with your caregiver that you'll be nursing your baby when you arrive. By doing that you can take advantage of reconnection with your baby right away and it's practical because it's less pumping/bottle exposure your baby will have. High bottle exposure can encourage early, unintended weaning.
  • Create a short list of care guidelines for your daycare. I included to feed my baby on-demand (like we nurse) and to feed her until she's done. I've been very sensitive to overfeeding, because we prioritize our nursing time rather than bottle feeds to ensure our relationship.
  • According to La Leche League, a breastfed baby in general takes 1oz of human milk for each hour of separation from the mother and generally takes it in 2-4oz increments. My baby drinks 3oz at a time and in general takes 9oz in 10 hours (even at 11-months). NOTE: Some caregivers may be concerned because formula babies take more in in their bottles at a time. You can remind them that formula is very different from human milk and that your baby is content and growing. Some babies hold out at daycare and wait to get the majority of their milk while at home (evenings/mornings) with mom.
  • Check out my post on caregiver tips for a breastfed baby.
Your Work Day Pumping Schedule: It takes me between 15-20 minutes from set-up to tear-down. I have a 30 minutes time block in the mothers room and we book it in our Outlook Calendar like a conference room. It's advisable to pump every 2-3 hours to maintain your milk supply and avoid plugged ducts.

What to Pack in your Bag:
  • Your Pump with all the parts (flanges/tubes/battery pack if needed)
  • Cooler bag and cool pack
  • 4 Bottles with caps (Pump in bottles 1 and 2, pour in bottle 1 and store, session 2: pump in bottles 2 and 3, pour off and repeat for session 3 with bottles 3 and 4). For high supply moms, you can use larger 8oz bottles or a mix of Pump and Save Bags.
  • Medela Pump and Save Bags - in case you ever forget bottles (they're sterile and you can pump directly in them and store them)
  • Extra flanges - good to have, a friend of mine forgot hers and had to hand express
  • Medela steam bag - in case you had to sterilize. 2 oz of clean water in the bag and about 3 minutes in the microwave.
  • Pumping bra to give you hands-free pumping (see my review post) so you can work while pumping! Brilliant!
  • Permanent marker to write the date on your storage bags.
  • Antibacterial wipes in case you need to sanitize the table you're using, etc.
  • Clean plastic bag to store your used flanges for the next pumping sessions. The flanges arrive clean, but for the next 2 pumping sessions you don't have to wash them. You can store your used flanges up to 6-8 hours in room temperature because human milk is antibacterial or you can store them with your milk in the refrigerator or cooler bag. This saves you a ton of time.
  • Picture of your baby: Aaron had an idea to take a picture of me nursing Ava the night before I went back to work so I could see it when I was apart from her. Many moms find looking at pictures of their baby helps with let down.
Supplying milk for Day 1 and beyond: Since you're going to work, you're going to nurse your baby overnight and before you leave for daycare. It's likely that you'll have extra milk since mornings are typically the time that moms have abundant milk. Breastmilk changes throughout the day so you have more milk in the morning and it's thinner and thirst quenching for the baby who's waking up for the day. As the day progresses, you have thicker milk with more cream and less volume. The evening milk is fatty which helps the baby sleep at night.

It's always a good idea to keep enough frozen milk for 1 day in case you forget your milk one day to work. It will save you time and then you'd never worry that your baby has enough breastmilk at daycare.
  • Morning of Day 1: Nurse your baby before work to get a good feeding and stimulate production when you're apart. I find it works best to nurse her in bed when my alarm goes off at 5:30am and she's still sleeping. Then I nurse her again just before 7am before we're about to leave for daycare. It's an easier way for her to wake up gradually, too! I pump extra milk from both breasts (I have an oversupply), which supplies her first 3-oz bottle for daycare (and then I save the rest for freezing). Many moms find the morning before work nurse the baby off one side and pump the other.
  • Daycare Dropoff: bring any milk you pumped fresh that morning and frozen milk (for Day 1 only).
  • At work: Pump 3 sessions and store this milk for Day 2 and so on. I pump at 9am, 12pm, and 3pm. Remember that you'll likely pump more quantity in the morning session than the afternoon.
  • Daycare Pickup: nurse your baby when you arrive.
  • At home: Take the pumped milk from the day and make up your bottles for the following day and freeze any extra milk. Some moms freeze only on Friday's when they know there is milk that they won't need. When you get into a routine, you'll figure out the best way to do this.
TIP: Friday's milk is for Monday the following week. The fresh milk contains the best antibodies (some is lost during freezing/defrosting). Plus, when you baby comes into contact with a bug, you will make the antibody to fight that bug in real time! That's why I minimize leftover milk and give the baby fresh milk.
  • Alternative or part-time: If you don't work Mon-Fri, you might have to figure out the best way to supply your milk. You might find that freezing will help.
Great resources: