Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Real food vs. baby-led weaning?

We are just over a month away from that magical six-month mark when many people introduce solid food. We may wait a little longer, due to all the trouble we've had with food sensitivity, but either way it won't be long before he gets his first bite.

I'm kind of stuck, though. There are two schools of baby-feeding which both really appeal to me.

First is the real food way, as explained by Nourishing Traditions. I've seen similar suggestions online, from a "primal food" blog, for instance. These people suggest that grains, however popular, aren't the best food for a baby whose GI tract is still developing. Babies don't really digest grains very well, and they tend to cause constipation. Rice cereal, oatmeal, cream of wheat, etc. aren't the best thing to start a baby off on. Instead, they recommend egg yolk and pureed meats first -- these animal foods are more digestible, more similar to breast milk, and more nutritious. They are also high in iron -- which is important, as breastmilk is low in iron and a baby's iron stores only last six or eight months.

Second is the baby-led weaning way. This method teaches that babies should feed themselves from the very beginning: no purees at all! You wait until the baby is reaching for food on his own, and then you give him things he is able to pick up and eat. Cheerios and soft vegetables are popular. I remember my little brother would chomp on a great big carrot, scraping off tiny flecks of it with his two teeth. Choking isn't a big danger (though of course you should always supervise a beginning eater) because babies will push food out of their mouths with their tongues at the age when their gag reflex is undeveloped. The pincer grasp appears around the time the tongue-extrusion reflex disappears and the gag reflex develops -- so when the baby is able to feed himself, it is safe to let him have food. Feeding purees with a spoon can force a baby to take food into his mouth before he's ready, and so choking is more likely.

This system really appeals to me because it allows a baby to learn to eat instead of having food ladled into him by someone else. Babies are born with a good sense of appetite -- which is why you can't overfeed a breastfed baby who nurses on demand. I would like to preserve that instinct the best I can. I myself rarely eat when I'm not hungry, but many people are in the habit of just munching away because it's "time to eat" or because the food is there. I think that attitude is encouraged by spoonfeeding, while baby-led weaning encourages an attitude of eating when you're hungry.

Here's the problem: egg yolk and pureed meat are hardly the kinds of things a baby can feed himself. (I'm also not going to introduce egg yolk too early, as eggs seem to be an issue for baby when I eat them. Most likely it's the more allergenic white that is the problem, but I don't want to take chances.) But -- as I know from experience -- vegetables are not easily digested. (If you've ever changed a six-month-old's diaper, I don't think I need to say any more.) Neither are grain foods like Cheerios. Do I give him well-cooked pieces of beef and chicken? Or is it okay to give dairy so young? Or are there are any vegetables that digest more easily than others?

All right, real-food types, baby-led-weaning types, and everyone else: what do I feed baby first? In time, of course, he'll be eating what we eat, but what are good starter foods? I want foods that are digestible (so as close as possible to breast milk), hypoallergenic (for a boy who seems to react to eggs, tomatoes, onions, and cabbage SO FAR), and easy to pick up and gum on. Any ideas? Of course I'm going to make all his food myself, so anything you can think of is a possibility.

Tell me, what should I put into this adorable little mouth?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Back to work

I never thought I'd be saying this...

...but I'm looking forward to going back to work.

After all, you all know I believe in mother-baby inseparability. And you know I love being a stay-at-home mom.

But it's been really wearing lately. Baby's antsy if we stay home all day, so I end up walking around the neighborhood to entertain him only to have him go back to being antsy when we get home. John is busy all the time now that he's started his masters program. Generally I don't have the car, so I just haven't been getting out much.

It kind of came to a head for me when John was down in Alabama doing his grad school orientation. I stayed within these four walls most of the five days, walking in the sweltering heat to the library about once a day. John would call and tell me all about what he was doing: "I had dinner with this eminent professor! It was lasanga with ice cream for dessert! Then we had a seminar! Tomorrow we tour the library!" That kind of thing. And then he would ask, "So what have you been doing today?"

"Um. Uhhhh.... Today I ate some rice. I played with the baby. Then I walked around jiggling the baby because he was cranky. Oooh, and then I got really wild and went to the grocery store! I bought a banana, so exciting!"

These things aren't as dull to experience as they are to describe. So part of it is just the desire to have something to report, something that others will consider worthwhile. And I wonder if I might value what I do all day a little more if I were part of a community that valued the same things. John does value what I do, but I can tell he does not find my rundown of the day exactly fascinating.

Anyway, school starts tomorrow and I feel ready for it. I'm bringing the baby with me each day, which I think is good for both of us. I get to go to work without leaving him, and he gets to see a lot of new people and get a change of scene -- something he's been craving a lot lately. Teaching Latin II is hardly the pinnacle of the intellectual life, but I do enjoy it and find it interesting. Finding the best ways to explain these concepts can be an intellectual challenge. It's not that I don't use my brain at home, but I value the opportunity to exercise different mental muscles than my usual ones.

The biggest thing for me, though, is the community. I love my coworkers; they are a wonderful bunch and have a great network. At my school, you don't just clock in, teach, and go home -- you're always trading life stories and teaching tips with the other teachers. I've missed that. And I don't feel it's really fair for John to be out all day, being so many things to so many people, and then come home and have to be everything for me because I haven't talked to an adult all day. These days he gets home and logs on to his online class, and I have been feeling very jealous because I'm longing for grown-up time, and he gets it and I don't.

I don't think all moms should go back to work. Most don't have such a great situation as I have, where I am teaching one class a day and able to bring my son. And if it weren't for the money, I might find my fulfillment in nonwork activities, like volunteering or clubs. As it is, though, everything is rolling together just right, and I am ready for this new change.

A couple of pictures to make you smile:

We got this crib on Craigslist for $40! Marko likes it so much he likes to play in it in the daytime too.

When did he get so long? At last measure he was 24 inches long! That's five inches taller than when he was born.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

In praise of fat

When I started cutting dairy out of my diet, one of the effects was that I was eating a lot less fat. I joked to John that I would probably lose a lot of weight if I kept it up! It's a joke because I really don't care if I lose weight or not. I'm still about 10 lbs. up from my pre-pregnancy weight, but I'm still a healthy weight so I don't really let it bother me. (I'm more concerned about the flabbiness of my abs -- yikes!)

But less than a day in, I was already suffering. I ate and ate and ate -- carbs. I wanted fat. The thing about carbs is that an hour or two after you eat them, you're already starving again! (Particularly for me, since I have a very fast metabolism.) Rice milk is sweet, so it seems like it's hitting the spot, but pretty soon you have to go drink more because it doesn't really satisfy. I craved sugary food. I was eating much more than I usually do, feeling hungry all the time, and getting headaches.

Once I added dairy back in, I felt better almost instantly. There are so many different dairy products that you can eat, in so many different combinations. But I also found I was satisfied much more easily. A half cup of rice with sour cream and cheese is so much more satisfying than a half cup of rice with sugar and cinnamon, or with just salt. I ate less frequently. I made a batch of shortbread -- just flour, butter, and sugar -- and really enjoyed it, but after eating a few pieces, I found I didn't want to eat any more. I was satisfied. This is pretty amazing coming out of a person who has been known to polish off a whole box of cookies in a sitting. (Not a proud moment. John's comment: "It was like a wheat harvester.") I have a very hard time stopping eating sweets. But that shortbread, rich as it was, was satisfying even though it was comparatively low in sugar.

All this makes sense if you understand a bit about fat. Fat contains 9 calories per gram, whereas protein and sugar both contain 4 calories per gram. So, if you're eating fat, it's true that you should eat half as much. However, it also is slower to digest and sits heavier in your stomach, making you feel more satisfied with less.

Fat also carries flavors throughout the food. Have you ever added curry to a chicken dish that contains a little fat? The curry gravitates toward the fat, turning it bright yellow. The same holds true for most spices. Everyone knows that the cure for a burning mouth after eating a jalapeno pepper is a drink of whole milk. The fat in the milk carries the spicy oils away from your tongue.

This is why low-fat foods can often be very deceptive. In order to make them palatable while removing all the fat, the manufacturers usually add sugars. Why are we finding sugar in spaghetti sauce, in lasagna, in crackers? Because sugar tastes good, so it makes the food palatable despite the lack of flavor-enhancing fat. Next time you want to buy a low-fat substitute for a high-fat food, read the ingredient label and see what they've added to make up for the fat. Chances are, the grams of sugar will be much higher even though there are fewer grams of fat. Other commonly added ingredients are carrageenan, a thickener; MSG; and extra salt.

Dieters often cut out fat in the assumption that dietary fat produces belly fat. But that's not necessarily true. High blood sugar often produces belly fat, as the body tries to dump unwanted glucose by converting into fat. And high blood sugar often comes from the rush-and-crash cycle we get when eating too many carbs -- something dieters often do in the urge to quell their feelings of starvation and deprivation. A mix of carbs (particularly complex carbohydrates), protein, and fat will help stabilize the blood sugar, as carbs enter the bloodstream first, protein enters later, and fat enters last.

I read recently that some tribes of North American Indians knew of a disease called "rabbit starvation," wherein a person could eat all the (lean) rabbit meat he wanted and yet still feel constantly hungry and eventually starve. This is anecdotal, of course, but it jives with my experience of eating almost no fat and being hungry all the time.

If fat is to blame for all the obesity and high blood pressure and heart disease in this country, why is it that those disorders are rampant now and were rare 100 years ago, when people 100 years ago were eating much more fat? I don't have an answer, but I have a feeling that a more balanced diet, low in refined sugar and other artificial foods, is probably much healthier than a diet composed of modern, low-fat health foods.

This would also explain why the French and the Italians are so healthy, despite eating loads of foods our American sensibilities suggest are "bad for you." There are whole diet books to help us "eat like the French." But it isn't hard: eat real butter and enjoy it, and you won't feel the need to keep eating and eating. Enjoy bitter, sour, and savory flavors, and you won't crave sugar all the time.

Which fats should we be eating? Probably a varied sampling. Some, but not excessive, saturated (solid) fat; and some unsaturated (liquid) fat, balanced between omega-3's (found in fish and flax oils) and omega-6's (found in most other vegetable oils). The one fat no one should be eating is "trans" fat, which is unsaturated fat made into a solid by artificial means. The body doesn't recognize it, and it seems to cause all kinds of harm. Luckily it is going out of style now that we know how harmful it is. Still, it's best to avoid margarine and other highly processed fats. Peanut butter is another place where hydrogenated fats are found, and I'm afraid it's a habit I have trouble kicking. I was raised on it, and all-natural peanut butter just isn't the same!

One last benefit to fat: it carries the fat-soluble vitamins, such as A, D, E, and K. These can be found in fish oils, butter, vegetable oils, or the fat in wheat germ, but they can't be obtained in the diet without at least some fat. (However, vitamin D is also produced by the skin, and vitamin K by intestinal bacteria.)

I'm not saying you should be going out and eating spoonfuls of lard as a health food. But a reasonable amount of fat -- for instance, the amount that occurs naturally in food -- is part of a good diet for a normal, healthy person. Vegetables go down well with butter, which also aids in the absorption of its vitamins. Meat tastes better when not patted completely dry. A little olive oil is delicious on a salad, and complements its nutrition. Whole milk tastes better than skim, and it provides more vitamins.

Bon appetit!

Edited to add these links, suggested by Ryan:

The New York Times: What if it's all been a big fat lie?
Mark's Daily Apple: Fats
Four Hour Work Week: The science of fat loss: why a calorie isn't always a calorie

The first one, in particular, I highly recommend. Lots of information I hadn't heard before.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Elimination diet results

My last post was about cutting out dairy in the hopes of helping the baby like nursing again. With no idea what the problem was (reflux? stomachache? behavior issue? funny taste?) I had no idea where to start, but I have heard that people have had good effects with cutting out dairy, so I decided to go with that.

A few days later, I decided the smart thing would be to go a step further and go on a total elimination diet, cutting out anything that could possibly cause a problem. Elimination diets have three levels of severity.

1. Cut out common allergens and irritants. The most common problem foods for babies are milk, wheat, corn, peanuts, cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli and cauliflower), onions, garlic, spicy foods, tomatoes, chocolate, citrus, caffeine, and soy. The last two weren't really an issue for me because I don't like them anyway.

2. Cut out anything you've ever heard of anyone being allergic to.

3. Cut out everything except for a few well-tolerated foods. This is what I did, when I started this diet. It's important to note that you can't do this for an extended period of time -- variety is the spice of life as well as being important for your health. So you wait for the symptoms to subside and then add foods back in, one at a time. It takes 2-24 hours for a food to affect the baby, so I could only reintroduce one food a day if I wanted to be sure I knew what the problems were.

I kept a careful journal of everything I ate and everything the baby did. I kept track of when he was nursing, how many diapers he was using, how fussy he was, how much he slept, and any other notable symptoms like spitup and diaper rash. I tried to connect problems we had with foods that we ate. John was out of town doing his grad school orientation, so I really had the freedom to eat whatever, whenever, and do nothing but watch the baby. I didn't even have the computer to distract me, since John brought it with him.

Here's a brief summary:

Monday: I ate what I usually do but cut out dairy. Marko was grouchy in the morning, happy in the middle of the day, and horrible in the afternoon. I noticed that the screaming started a short time after I had had a bean burrito with salsa. He'd been nursing fine, but that time I tried to feed him, he seemed to be interested, but then he spit out the milk and screamed. So, no more salsa. I put onions, spicy foods, and tomatoes on the blacklist along with dairy.

Tuesday: I ate what I usually do, but without dairy, onions, spicy foods, or tomatoes. This meant I ate a lot of eggs and pbj's. Eggs and peanut butter are the two foods that give me acid reflux. I have no idea why. In any event, I had reflux and the baby was as grouchy as ever. Every nursing session was a struggle. So, either the diet wasn't helping, or it hadn't had time to work yet. I decided to go to level 3 the next day and cut out almost everything. I really wanted to know if food was a contributing factor or not.

Wednesday: The breakthrough day. I ate oatmeal, rice, rice milk, potatoes, and chicken. I was starving and fighting food cravings all day. But it worked. Marko was much happier, though he had three shortish screamy periods. All of them were after eating chicken, but he was also tired for all of them. So I wasn't sure about the correlation, especially as chicken is supposed to be very mild. I did cut it out though.

His diaper rash was absolutely gone when I changed his diaper Wednesday morning -- which was a huge success sign for me! However, it was back by late afternoon. I'm not sure what that means, because I don't know how long it takes a food to cause a diaper rash. There could be a lag of hours or days -- I just don't know (and I had no internet, so I couldn't look it up either). But another physical sign was spitup: he barely had any -- a huge improvement, as he'd been getting very spitty lately.

Thursday: After a lot of pondering, I decide to add dairy back in. I do know that it can take much longer than that to rid dairy from the system, but looking back, I remembered that the one day where he was so good, the day I thought I was cutting out dairy, I actually ate a ton of cream cheese because I forgot that it was a dairy product. Yep, I'm oblivious. So I decided to add it in, particularly so I could have a protein and fat source instead of living completely on starches. The cheese was delicious, and I felt much better (more on that in another post!).

The effects on the baby remained good. He hardly cried at all the whole day -- a VAST improvement. On Thursday morning, I read through the record of the previous day and realized that we'd had one really good nurse every two hours or so. So I stopped offering nursing so often and tried only every two hours. That helped a ton -- he nursed happily each time. Once I offered five minutes too early and he turned away screaming, but five minutes later he was all for it!

(Note: The every-two-hours schedule is working great now, but it didn't work at all a month ago. Then, he wanted to nurse every 45 minutes. I think my milk supply was down back then (it was right after we'd gotten back from our trip) and he was building it back up. Now, the milk supply is finally restored a bit and so every two hours is working fine. I also wonder about the reflux issue -- babies with reflux tend to eat very frequently. So if that was a problem before and is better now, no wonder he can go longer.)

Friday: I added back in bananas and apples -- because I can't go forever with no fruits and veggies -- and Marko was great again. No spitup, rash fading again, no trouble nursing, and happy almost all the time.

Saturday: Reintroduced peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I know that's a lot of ingredients, but I almost always eat them together, so I figured it was worthwhile to try them together. If there was a problem, I could cut the pbj's out and add each ingredient back in, one at a time. But there was no problem. Marko was great, we enjoyed our day, and his diaper rash was pretty much gone again. A couple times he was a little reluctant to nurse, but I took him out on the back porch and nursed him in the fresh air (he loves to be outside) and he was fine.

Sunday: A lot was going on, since John came back home, bringing his brother along for dinner, so I ended up eating a number of different things. At lunchtime I had eggs. By about four o'clock he had spit up a number of times, although he wasn't upset. So I decided to cut the eggs out again. After all, they do give me reflux. I'm not sure why eggs would be an issue, but why push it? I cut them out again, and won't be reintroducing them (except in bread, which seems to be fine) for at least another week or so. For dinner, I had hamburgers, with lettuce and a tiny bit of mustard. Those didn't seem to cause any ill effects that I could tell. Again, Marko was great. He was delighted to see Daddy and quite willing to make friends with his Uncle Thomas. I was so glad to see him so easy to please!

On Monday I stopped keeping the journal. I had a really busy day, driving my brother-in-law to Christendom and picking up a crib I got on Craigslist. But Marko was a little trooper. He slept in his carseat, ate a ton at more-or-less two-hour intervals, and didn't cry a bit! A lot of people at Christendom asked how he was doing, because they've been following his issues on Facebook, and I was proud to report how well he's been feeling and acting!

I'm reintroducing one food a day, and keeping a record of which food I introduced on each day so I am able to retrace any problems. But so far, we're doing great! I still don't know for sure whether food was an issue (though I think it must have been, seeing how quickly I saw results) or what the food might have been (though eggs do seem implicated). But we're plugging along, and as long as I have a happy baby, I'm not worried!

Now I only have to worry about the sleep he's getting. Now that he's rolling over, he's always waking himself up. Ah well, a mother's work is never done!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Non-dairy ideas?

Marko had a wonderful day Friday. He nursed like a champ, smiled pretty much the whole day, and hardly even fussed. From Thursday afternoon to the middle of Saturday morning, he was just perfect. I had tried a number of things those couple of days, from cutting out all dairy to eating oatmeal (supposed to increase milk supply) to working on our latch. Since the change was so instant and dramatic, I credited the techniques I'd been using to bring him to the breast. I went back to having cereal and milk for breakfast and didn't worry about anything else.

However, by mid-morning on Saturday, the good times were over. And by Sunday evening, we were back in the "absolutely no nursing" zone. I noticed a few things, including a slow let-down on my part (but only sometimes, and it might be triggered by the stress of him screaming at me ... hard to tell cause and effect) and a lot of spitting up on his part. When he was a newborn, he almost never spit up, but the amount he spits up has been slowly increasing for awhile. On Sunday he spit up quite a bit. I figured it might be because he is rolling around so much, but on the other hand, it does bring up the reflux question again.

Today I was thinking about all this while deciding what to have for breakfast: raisin bran with milk (which was what I wanted) or oatmeal (which I am not crazy about)? I remember hearing that 50% of reflux cases are improved by the mother cutting out casein, the protein in cows' milk. So I chose oatmeal, and furthermore have decided to do a few days' trial where I cut out cows' milk and see how I do.

So far, here's what I've got:

Baby has nursed fine the past couple of times and seems happy at the moment. Not much to go on, but it's a start. If I don't see improvement in a week or so, I'll probably give it up.

Because here's the thing: I love dairy. A lot. My favorite foods are ice cream, butter, sour cream, yogurt, and chocolate milk. Oh, and cheese ... all cheese ... all the time. If milk were alcohol, I would definitely I have to admit that I have a problem. When I make chocolate chip cookies, it's all I can do not to eat them once I get to the butter-and-sugar stage, and leave the rest of the ingredients out. When I make roux for a soup, I always just want to eat the roux. It's bad. At the moment I eat a lot of fat, because baby needs fat and so I crave it inordinately, but the only fat I really like is butterfat. I could eat butter straight, but who ever ate beef tallow straight? Olive oil is okay, but it doesn't really hit the spot the same way.

So I'm looking for ideas. I'm making rice milk at the moment, although I'm quite aware it's lowfat and not going to satisfy my butter craving. To start you off, I offer one milk-substitution recipe, which I am quite proud of having invented when John was on an elimination diet.

Cream-free cream sauce for soup & pasta

1 tablespoon fat, preferably a solid fat: chicken fat, beef tallow, lard, shortening, coconut oil, or ghee (clarified butter -- contains no lactose or casein)
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup liquid: stock, wine, or a mixture of both -- it should be strongly flavored to match your soup

Melt the fat over medium heat. I used chicken fat when I invented it, and haven't tried anything else (though I may try ghee). Mix in flour to make a roux. Make sure the flour is totally incorporated. I sometimes brown the roux a bit; if you do this you will have a darker sauce. Then add the liquid, a little at a time, whisking after each addition and cooking a bit until you see no lumps before you add more. Stop when it's the consistency you like -- it thickens a little as it cooks.

Add this to soups calling for cream, or use as a base for a cream sauce over pasta. (My award-winning (i.e. both John and I like it) sauce for noodles is this cream sauce with onions, garlic, and chicken.)

Any other ideas? I would like recipes that contain some fat if possible. I don't generally eat soy; I don't care for it and I don't think it's all that healthy. But I'm not vegetarian or vegan, so meat is fine. So are eggs, which will probably be my salvation as I try to get by on this budget. However, I would love to hear your favorite nondairy recipe, whatever it is!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Intellectual life of a stay-at-home mom

I have always heard about stay-at-home moms feeling stuck, trapped, stagnating, or what-have-you. That they wish they could go back to work or get out of the house just to get some adult conversation -- to feed their intellectual life. But this just isn't a problem I have -- not yet anyway.

First off, there's the internet. Savior of stay-at-home moms everywhere. We can debate the Big Issues or write poetry while listening for the baby to wake up from his nap. I recently joined Twitter and have a fun time keeping up with all the conversations. (Though at times I do have to step away from me... I feel like I'm getting ADD just trying to absorb it all.) Then there's this blog, Enchiridion, and the many blogs I read -- mom blogs, cooking blogs, political blogs, religious blogs. And, of course, Facebook.

Through the internet, I've been able to research many issues that are dear to my heart. Breastfeeding is big these days, perhaps because I spend such a large percentage of every day nursing! There are so many issues within that -- the politics, the unethical practices of formula companies, the roadblocks that keep women who want to nurse from being successful. Childbirth is another -- I get very worked up when I hear of various situations where women are denied their rights when it comes to the medical care they receive. I think a lot about women's rights and what, exactly, that means and should mean. I think about food: what constitutes nutrition and what the political pressures are that make our food system the way it is instead of the way it should be.

I also can be part of a community with many other mothers. I watch babies a little older than mine to see what I can expect. I watch babies a little younger than mine so I can reminisce. I trade advice with others. It is amazing how much help I receive when I ask for it.

I get to practice my writing skills, do research, and analyze different opinion pieces to form my own opinion. I am way more educated about many parenting issues than I was a year ago.

And yet, even aside from the internet, my intellectual life is alive and kicking. I'm not just counting wet diapers and timing naps -- I'm also trying to see through the eyes of my baby and figure out why he cries or what bothers him so much about nursing. I'm weighing various parenting decisions and choosing the best for our situation. I'm figuring out ways to make ground beef stretch for more meals, or new recipes using the same five ingredients I used the night before. I'm keeping a constant finger on the pulse of our laundry hamper and working out when I need to do each kind of load. I'm trying to make our tiny apartment look nice without spending any money. I'm finding ways to make a two-week grocery supply cost under $70. I'm price-comparing powdered detergent with liquid. I'm a cook, laundress, maid, nanny, pediatrician, nurse, lactation consultant, child psychologist, interior decorator, gardener, and mathematician.

But my favorite part of my intellectual life is my husband. I'm lucky enough to have found a very intelligent man who comes home from a 12-hour day with enough energy to expound on the news or the sermon. When I was pregnant, we were both too exhausted to talk much, a lot of the time. I came home from work and just wanted to put my feet up and surf the internet on my laptop. John got home and opened up his laptop and we would spend time together, but only in a parallel sense. Sometimes we'd get really far out and watch a movie.

But now, every evening around eight o'clock, baby, Daddy, and I take a walk around the apartment complex. We watch the sun set and baby kicks in our arms and starts to feel sleepy as he watches the trees go by. As we walk, we discuss all kinds of things. Recent topics have ranged from the taxonomy of insects to Calvinism. Last night we stayed up till midnight figuring out that many of society's problems come from a false dichotomy between the soul and body. But another evening we might spend making parodies of song lyrics and trying not to wake the baby with our laughter.

I'm two years out of college, and in those two years my intellectual life has never been so alive as it is now that I'm staying home. Instead of frying my brain trying to do the same thing all day, I'm free, as Chesterton put it, to cultivate all my second bests.

Friday, August 13, 2010


A couple things to share:

1. Marko is already doing better, thanks to all the advice I got from around the internet. People from Facebook, Twitter, and the blogosphere all gave me wonderful tips. Someone even retweeted me so that total strangers dropped in on my Twitter feed to help me out! Such kindness. In any event, he has been happier than a clam today, full of smiles and love ... and eating a lot. :)

2. I guest posted on this blog, Diary of a First Child. It's a good blog, why not go there and read it? As for my own post, it's about baby poo, so only read it if you really want to.

3. I am finally posting again at Enchiridion. I'm hoping to lure a few of my old followers back... so if any of you were missing that blog, check back. I'm hoping to manage to post there at least weekly from now on.

4. Marko is reliably rolling over from back to front! He hasn't mastered front to back yet. The problem is, if I'm around, he'd prefer to lie on his back and watch me ... so I had to leave the camera running on the bedside table and watch stealthily to see if he'd roll. After several minutes of film, he actually did.

Traditionally-made sauerkraut

Before the invention of refrigeration, people had a myriad methods of preservation. All winter long, there were no fresh vegetables to be had. They needed to preserve the summer's bounty to enrich their diet in the winter. Some foods, like apples or onions, keep all right as they are. Others need more careful preservation.

Salting was one method -- often used for meat. Food would be so heavily salted that the salt needed to be rinsed off before eating. Salt pork is one example of this.

Other foods were pickled. Today we think of pickles as vegetables that are bathed in a strong vinegar solution before being canned. However, traditional pickling methods -- often called refrigerator pickles, crock pickles, or lacto-fermented foods -- don't use any vinegar at all. Instead, they rely on friendly bacteria to provide the acidic environment that hinders spoilage.

Foods fermented in this way include yogurt, pickles (cucumbers, beets, etc.), and sauerkraut. A salty environment hinders the growth of harmful microorganisms while allowing friendly bacteria to grow, lactobacilli such as acidophilus and bifidus. These bacteria produce lactic acid, which preserves the food and makes the environment much too sour for harmful bacteria to grow.

From what I've read, these bacteria (and the lactic acid they produce) are also excellent for human digestion. The friendly beasties live inside the human GI tract and help digest foods we can't -- like certain kinds of fiber. They keep the environment of the GI tract sour enough to hinder growth of harmful microorganisms, from E. coli to yeast (candida). Sometimes people who have gone on strong antibiotics experience diarrhea, lactose intolerance, and other ills because their friendly bacteria have been killed along with the harmful ones. In these cases, eating probiotic foods like yogurt or lacto-fermented vegetables can be a surefire cure.

I've tried this method before, but without success. I made cucumber pickles, and either something was wrong with them or with me -- they made me throw up! It was probably the morning sickness, but I ended up tossing the jar out all the same.

This time, I decided to follow the directions more carefully. I was going to make sauerkraut!

I decided on sauerkraut because of all that cabbage I bought (yum!). And I chose to lacto-ferment it to make it a bit more digestible (it seemed to be giving the baby a tummy ache) as well as make sure we had enough healthy bacteria in order to prevent yeast infections like thrush. Besides, this is something I've wanted to do for a long time.

The method I used includes whey, in order to introduce friendly bacteria and shorten the fermentation time. Whey isn't sold in stores, but it's easy to obtain: simply line a colander with a damp cheesecloth (or flat-fold baby diaper ;) ) and dump in a quart of yogurt. Set the colander over or inside a bowl, and within several hours, you should have enough whey collected beneath. As an added bonus, your yogurt will now be thicker and less sour, like Greek yogurt. If you leave it longer, you may get cream cheese! (Note: the ends of the cheesecloth must be inside the colander, or the whey will just end up on the counter. Guess how I know this.)

Here's the recipe, which I got from here and cut in half:

1/2 head cabbage
1 carrot
1/2 onion
1/4 cup whey
1 tablespoon salt

Shred the cabbage or chop it finely. I started by doing it in the food processor, but found it quickly turned my cabbage into tiny cabbage crumbs, so I did the rest of the cabbage by hand. The onion and the carrot I did want finely chopped, so I used the processor for those. Everything goes into a big bowl, along with the whey and the salt.

Mix everything well. Then you have to start pounding. I started with this "wooden" spoon and used a potato masher later. The goal is to extract the juices from the vegetables. The salt does some of this job, so you save some effort if you take your time. A couple minutes of pounding, let stand for ten minutes, a couple more minutes of pounding ... overall it took about half an hour. You know you're done when the juice is splashing over all the vegetables when you pound.

Then put the kraut into jars. The recipe makes about a quart, so two pint jars were all I needed. You may need to pound a little more once it's in the jars (the wooden spoon worked well for this) to make sure the juice comes up over the vegetables.

My recipe insisted that my vegetables remain submerged to make an anaerobic (airless) environment for fermentation. That didn't seem necessary to me, since sauerkraut was traditionally made in an open crock, but I decided to trust my recipe. It takes a long time to make sauerkraut and I didn't want to wait all that time only to find it had been ruined! What you do to make sure they stay submerged is nest a small ziplock bag into the top of the jar and pour water into the bag. The bag expands as it fills up and squeezes out all the air pockets. Soon you can see the juice coming up the sides of the bag instead of air. Close the ziplock, pushing out as much air as you can, and fold the bag into the jar. Then put the jar lid on.

Then leave the jars in a warm, dark place. You can see them nestling in my cupboard next to the sourdough.

Leave for three days to get the bacteria going. Then move the to fridge. You can eat it at this point, but it's not very sour ... just salty and kind of funny-tasting. So I recommend exercising patience and waiting a bit longer.

It's been a week now that the kraut's been in the fridge, and it's developed a nice sour taste. However, it's not nearly as sour as storebought (vinegar-pickled) sauerkraut. I'm sure it will get a bit more sour the longer I leave it; however, I hear lacto-fermented foods are never as sour as vinegar-pickled foods. It's a milder flavor, but also a bit more interesting ... not brash and strong, but allowing the original flavors to come through while adding a lot of new flavors.

Something interesting I noticed is that the sour flavor really resides in the food itself, not the juices. Those are a bit sour, but not as sour as the cabbage. The carrots cut the sourness a bit, as they are sweeter, and the onions add a different tang. All of the vegetables, as you may have noticed, are raw, but with the fermentation they don't quite taste raw. However, they're still crunchy and much more flavorful than cooked vegetables.

I don't really know how to describe the flavor beyond that. It really didn't taste like the sauerkraut I'm used to. Perhaps it would be more familiar if I'd used just cabbage, and left it for longer. I'm not all that patient, but one jar is still unopened, so I'll have to see if that one's more sour.

Sauerkraut is excellent alongside bratwurst. In fact, this traditional combination is very sensible, because the acids and bacteria in sauerkraut spur the digestion, helping your stomach handle the heavy bratwurst. I have a hard time handling bratwurst myself, so I'll have to try it with sauerkraut and see if that goes down better! Sauerkraut is intended to be a condiment or a small side-dish -- it probably wouldn't be a good idea to eat the whole jar in one go. Try it alongside heavy or fatty foods.

All in all, my first lacto-fermentation success was very easy. You don't have to be scrupulously clean and sterilize everything, like you do with canned foods, because the salty environment keeps nasty bugs at bay. I did rinse off the vegetables, but there's no need for boiling. The results do need to be kept cool in a fridge or root cellar, and they don't last forever, but through the winter is all that was really necessary for our pre-refrigeration forebears. In any event, I was pleased with the results that a half-hour's work got me. I definitely recommend making this!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


All right, this is a post that is 100% baby. I am in need of some help. I know a lot of my blog readers aren't parents, but many still know a lot about babies, and others have had lots of babies and might be able to help me out. Feel free to skip if you're not interested.

Here's the problem. Since Marko was about 12 weeks old, he has been very difficult to get to nurse. When he's not hungry, it's not an issue -- he simply turns his head away and I put him down again. But when he is hungry, it's a huge issue. He throws himself backward and screams, seeming to be either in pain or very angry. I know he's hungry because it's often been quite some time since he's eaten, and he also gives some strong cues like biting on my shirt or sucking on my finger. And yet, he won't nurse!

I've mentioned before that he used to nurse with a plastic shield, which was a huge pain. At 10 weeks he weaned himself off of it and nursed just fine ... for two weeks. Then the arching and screaming started cropping up. At first it was just when he was overtired; now it's pretty close to always.

It's not that he'd prefer a bottle, because the first bottle of his life was yesterday. I'd offered them before, but he was never interested and I didn't push it. This time, after a lot of screaming and misery, I offered a bottle of expressed milk and he drank it right down before falling asleep.

Things that help: nursing him every 45 minutes; starting him off on a pacifier or finger and switching; trying to get him to self-attach (sometimes); nursing lying down; nursing the moment he wakes up from a nap. Things that don't help: waiting for him to get hungrier. He will go for 3-4 hours without nursing before screaming himself to sleep (and then I nurse him on awakening). Repeat: it is NOT that he is not hungry!

So I have a few ideas of what it could be, based on some research I've done on nursing strikes and nursing aversion.

Thrush: a yeast overgrowth in baby's mouth. Why he might have it: Thrush can cause nursing to be painful, so a baby will refuse to nurse. Why he might not have it: There are no other symptoms -- no white patches in the mouth, no bad diaper rash, no apparent yeast on me, etc.

Silent reflux: acid gurgling up in baby's throat and hurting him. Why he might have it: Babies with reflux occasionally come to dislike nursing because they know it will make their throat hurt later. He has some symptoms: occasionally a gurgly noise in the throat, frequent hiccups, when I lay him down on his back he rolls onto his side and arches into a banana shape, frequent nursing helps. Why he might not have it: Usually reflux appears very early on, not at 12 weeks. He's not a big spit-upper. He doesn't cry when laid on his back or when his throat makes that gurgly noise. He's a good sleeper.

Teething: teething babies often refuse to nurse because the sucking motion can hurt their gums. Why he might have it: he's drooling, chomping on everything, and these past couple of days he's been very fussy and soothed by a cold pacifier. Why he might not have it: he's been doing this for over a month, and no sign of a tooth. Besides, he likes to suck just fine -- in fact he sucks on everything -- he just doesn't like to nurse.

A behavioral issue: It's possible that using that shield has confused him somehow, so that he doesn't know how to latch well and gets confused about it when he's upset or tired. He also seems to have developed a preference for pacifiers, and doesn't like the real thing as much. I have never yelled at him while nursing or any such thing. The funny thing is, originally he just minded nursing in one single position, and if I switched things up a bit he wouldn't mind. But as he's caught onto my various "tricks," suddenly he gets suspicious and will cry if he's brought even remotely near a breast. It's the strangest thing.

Does ANYONE have anything that might help me? I'm planning to take him to the doctor and see what they can tell me, but he appears healthy other than this one thing, so I'm not sure they will be able to help. I just would like to get my little boy to like nursing again.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A year ago today...

August 5th is a hard day for my husband. Eight years ago today, he lost his father to cancer. He was only 16 years old. Every year on this day, he gets really quiet and uncommunicative and melancholy, and I often feel confused because I don't notice the day. When I see a calendar, I understand. The funny thing is that in August of 2002, I was getting kicked out of boarding school. I know it doesn't compare really, but it's interesting to think that even though we didn't know each other, we were both going through the hardest time of our lives.

Last year, on August 5th, nothing particular was going on. John was working and I wasn't yet, so I didn't really have much to do. When he came home from work, he said, "Hey, you should test and see if you're pregnant!" (I had bought the tests a week before, "just in case.")

"Nah," I said, "I'm probably not pregnant, it's too soon to test, and there's no reason to think I might be pregnant."

He sighed. "Okay," he said, and went on with what he was doing. He looked melancholy.

Then I realized what day it was. So I decided he could have his way.

Five minutes later, I walked into the living room in some agitation, trying to keep from letting on. "It's supposed to sit for five minutes, but you can go in and look at it now if you want." I had already looked at it, but didn't want to "jump to conclusions" since I hadn't waited for the five minutes yet.

John gave me a funny look, probably because my face was switching back and forth between chalky white and scarlet red. But he got up, went into the bathroom, and looked at the test on the counter. Then he came back and started hugging me. We were going to have a baby.

"If it's a boy, we should name him Mark because of your dad," I said. (We had already decided on this a long time before, that the first boy would be named Mark.)

"Well, we don't know it will be a boy," John said.

"It will," I said. "It's too poetic and perfect for it not to be a boy."

It was a boy, and I love him so much.

Mark Sr., I wish I could have known you. May you rest in peace. Mark Jr., I hope you grow up like your namesake, strong in your faith and your character.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Chicken stock

I'm always talking about my chicken stock, how easy it is, how it uses scraps I wouldn't use otherwise, how many dishes I can make from it, and so forth. I may or may not have mentioned how extremely healthy it is, extracting nutrients like calcium and gelatin from the bones and cartilage. I'm a shameless carnivore, but I do believe in using every part of an animal if you're going to kill it, just like you shouldn't cut down a tree and not use the wood. Maybe it's the Native American in me (oh, you didn't know I was part Native American? It's a small part, obviously).

Anyway, as I was making it this time, I figured it was high time to give you guys some pictures. As I know from hard-earned experience, not all chicken stock is created equal! I've made greyish, cloudy, watery, flavorless stocks and I've made stocks that were a flavor explosion. Luckily there is a science to it, so I now make good stock every time.

Step one is the right ingredients. In addition to the carcass, picked mostly clean of meat, I always add half an onion and one carrot, if I have it. It really makes a difference. Any giblets I have (this time I didn't have any) go in too, except the liver. I've found it doesn't matter whether they are raw or cooked, even though the Joy of Cooking warns me my stock will be cloudy if I put them in raw. It never is.

The Jello-like thing in the crockpot is the drippings from roasting the chicken. I poured them into a cup when we took the chicken out to carve. There was about half a cup of fat that separated out, which I scooped out and threw away (chicken fat just isn't that useful, I'm afraid (or at least I haven't found a good use for it yet)). You'll notice it's solid, like an aspic -- this is due to the gelatin in the cartilage, which is very good for you.

I add two quarts of water, plus a little for when it evaporates a bit. I find I really do have to measure the water, because too much makes a watery stock, and too little won't yield enough stock for two soups.

I also pour in about a tablespoon of cider vinegar. This helps leach the minerals out of the bones.

It's supposed to soak with the bones for 30 minutes, but that's about how long it takes the crockpot to heat up, so I just turn the crockpot on once all the ingredients are in.

I turn the pot on low for 8 hours. More doesn't hurt anything either. But high must not be used, because if the stock boils, it gets cloudy and doesn't taste nearly as good. Bleck. Also, my other crockpot, which only has one setting, is also too hot. The stove works fine if you can watch it and make sure it only simmers, not boils, and that it doesn't evaporate too much, but I never have that kind of attention to spare.

When it's done, I pour it into jars, or cool it and pour it into yogurt containers if I don't have jars to spare. (It's important to cool it first if you do this, though; otherwise it takes on a plasticky taste and probably some chemicals as well.)

There it is, golden and delicious! I didn't strain it this time, so it has a little sediment on the bottom. If the carcass comes apart too much, I sometimes do strain it. This recipe made two quarts.

Here's a good recipe to use chicken stock in:

Chicken Curry Pilaf

Melt some butter in a saucepan that has a lid, maybe a tablespoon or so. Add the amount of uncooked rice that you're going to want to eat. (John and I eat about 3/4 cup, uncooked, between the two of us.) Cook the rice in the butter until it is golden and smells heavenly. Then start to pour in chicken stock. Start with twice the amount of rice, and leave it for 15 minutes or so, covered. Once all the stock is absorbed, add a little more and stir the rice. Keep adding and stirring until the stock stops absorbing and the rice is nice and wet. Then add a little shredded chicken, some peas, and a lot of curry powder and salt. Sauteed onions might be nice too. Yum!

Nursing at Mass? An experience

I've read several arguments about whether it is appropriate to nurse in Mass. I do admit that this is a slightly different question than whether it is okay to nurse in public at all. After all, I don't believe in giving Cheerios to older kids in Mass, but I think it's fine to give them Cheerios in the park.

However, I do fall on the side that says it's fine to nurse in Mass. My defense is the passage, "Which of you, if your son or ox falls into a pit, would not pull him out on the Sabbath day?" Necessary service of others does not hinder us from worshiping God. Then there's the passage, "When I was hungry, you gave me food ... Whenever you did it for one of these little ones, you did it for me."

I realized this past weekend, though, that I've internalized these debates too much. I probably shouldn't have read them in the first place, because I already know what I think. I read some really nasty comments from people online, and I couldn't help but feel, as the baby started sucking on my shoulder at Mass last Sunday, that the people around me in church were the same kind of people, thinking the same kind of things. I felt that if I tried to feed my son, those people would judge me. I felt the weight of their judgment even though no one was even looking at me.

I have not come out on this blog to talk about the problems Marko and I have had in our nursing relationship. I'm not really sure why, except that perhaps I felt very ashamed. I had expected things to go so well, and it was very humbling when they didn't. Suffice it to say that Marko was 10 weeks old before he was reliably latching on without the help of a plastic shield. Now we have a different problem. He will only nurse when he's happy and not overly tired or hungry. I've found that nursing him every 45 minutes tends to prevent those huge meltdowns that cause him to refuse to nurse. If I don't do that ... well, you'll see.

So I was in Mass on Sunday. I had last nursed the baby at 9:30, at home. Mass starts at 10:30; we have to leave the house at 10. I offered to let Marko nurse right before we walked out the door, but he wasn't interested. Once we had gotten to Mass, it had been an hour since he'd last nursed, but it seemed a little strange to try to nurse a baby who showed no signs of hunger and was perfectly content, there in a place where I might be disapproved of. (Why do I fear disapproval so intensely?) I wanted to sit in the back row, but there were no kneelers in the back row, so we sat a few rows up. I picked the seat because no one was behind us, but then a family came into the row behind us. A few surreptitious glances told me it was a mom, a dad, and a preteen boy, with the preteen boy right behind me. Great.

But Marko was happy and contented, as he usually is in church, so I tried not to worry. Perhaps he'd last till the end of Mass -- or at least till a convenient moment, like the Offertory, when everyone's sitting down anyway.

Guess what time he picked? Yep. The consecration. As the priest began the Eucharistic Prayer, Marko began rooting around. I have been very attuned to early signs of hunger, and I knew it was time. So I sat down -- or tried to. The family behind me was all kneeling with their elbows on the pew, and didn't make any attempt to scootch to the side or pull their arms back. Normally I wouldn't mind that, but I can't nurse a baby while hanging on the edge of the pew. I considered scootching to a point between the dad's arms and the son's arms, but then embarrassment took hold of me. I can be pretty darn discreet if I try, but I do have to be able to see what I'm doing. I can, however, block the view for everyone at most angles. Breathing down my neck from right over my shoulder, though? There is no way to block that view. Either I do it blind -- a recipe for frustration -- or the kid gets to see everything. Cringe.

Now I know that even trying is risky. There is a possibility that the baby will latch right on and nurse away. But there's a stronger possibility that he will fuss around a bit first, and a very real possibility that he will arch backward and scream bloody murder. I don't know why. But that's what he does. The priest is starting in with the consecration of the bread and I'm frankly terrified of causing a spectacle right then. I don't consider myself responsible for others paying attention, but I would feel pretty bad if, right at the most sacred part of the Mass, I flashed half the congregation as a screaming baby arched away from me.

However, I didn't want to climb over people to get out right then either. I let Marko chomp on my finger while the consecration finished. I will not pretend that I was at all recollected during this point. I breathed a sigh of relief as the priest said, "Let us proclaim the mystery of faith," and as the voices of the congregation replied, I kicked my husband's shin and made him let me out of the pew.

Rushing to the back of the church, I scoped out places to be. The back rows were all filled up -- no help there (and besides, he might cry). The entrance around the side door -- nowhere to sit down. I'm not good at nursing without sitting down. I made tracks for the main vestibule. Why, that place was packed! Toddlers, babies, whole families, everyone was in the vestibule. It has glass doors and a sound system, so it is clearly intended as a cry room, and it is definitely being used. Very busy, very distracting. I have a distractable almost-four-month-old, so that option is out too. The stairwell on the left has the sound of a tantruming toddler issuing forth. I finally reach the right-hand stairwell and sit down on the stairs. I try to nurse.

Ah, but the baby that was calmly sucking my finger five minutes ago is pretty agitated now. He arches away and starts to scream. I try to coax him back, letting him suck on my finger, trying my tricks, but he will have none of it. And I'm acutely aware that this is the stairwell that leads to the choir loft -- it isn't really soundproof. So I scurry back out of the vestibule and try to just bounce the baby and make him forget that he wants to nurse. No way. He isn't really a screamer, but he is making loud fussy noises. So I slink out the side door.

There's no one around outside, and Marko likes the outdoors, so I figure we can try again. No luck. He screams and screams. None of my coaxing methods are doing a lick of good. He is full-on meltdown mode and there just isn't any way he's going to be nursing. At this point I know the drill. There is nothing I can do but soothe him the best I can until I can get him to fall asleep. Once he wakes up again, if I can try again before he's too awake, I might be able to nurse. Maybe. In any event, it's not happening now. It's 11:20, almost two hours since he's nursed, and I feel like a terrible mother. Why didn't I swallow my embarrassment and just feed him when he started looking hungry? Or, better yet, offer before he asked? The sun is beating down on both of us and we are both crying hard. He's hungry and tired and wants comfort. All I want is to give it to him. Yet something is out of alignment between the two of us. I have what he wants, but he won't take it.

Eventually I dry my tears, walk him around a bit, bounce him, and he settles down. I creep back inside and sit down next to John. Uh-oh, I sat down! Bad news! Baby starts to cry again. John takes over, takes him to the back, and I kneel in my place and cry. Why can't I mother my child? I demand of God. Why does he do this? Why won't you help? Mass ends without either an answer or any comfort.

There is no point in trying to nurse the baby again and make him angrier, so John buckles him into his carseat and we head home. He's not as upset anymore, but he makes some fussy noises and I worry that he will cry the whole way home. He falls asleep though. I'm feeling hopeful that he'll stay asleep till we get home, and I can get him right out of his seat, bring him up to my rocking chair, and give him a good nurse. We stop briefly on the way home to get some food at the drive-through, and I eat it guiltily, feeling horrible that I am eating while my baby is still hungry. The food has no flavor.

Baby awakes in the car and his short period of post-nap contentedness passes too quickly. He starts to scream and cry and sob pitifully. I ache with the fullness of milk. He hasn't eaten in three hours, and it wasn't even all that much then. I'm flustered, anxious. I snap at John. He doesn't understand why it is such a torment to me to hear my baby cry. But the nursing relationship is such a close one that we are almost one person; his sobs hurt me almost physically.

We get home and I rush to unbuckle my baby. He's hot and sweaty and teary-eyed. I hold him close and whisper to him as I bring him up to our apartment door, as I wait for John to unlock it. Once inside, I banish John, who was only trying to help, because I know letting John comfort him will only delay things. It's not like he'll sleep again, when he just slept. It's find a way to feed him now, or live with an hour or two of crying.

Rocking doesn't help, pacifier doesn't help, standing and swaying doesn't help, singing doesn't help, finger-sucking doesn't help. I bring out the big guns: the bath. We look at ourselves in the mirror as the tub fills. Marko loves the mirror, he quiets a little. He also likes hearing the water run. He likes being against my skin. Finally, blessedly, he latches on. It's a little after one o' clock.

Of course he marathon nurses then, like he's been starving for days. But when he's finally done, he flashes me a giant smile. Like he's saying, "Thanks, Mom! It was just what I needed!"

The rest of the day was shaky, and I spent much of it taking baby on a walk or bouncing him in my arms. Any semblance of schedule or order was gone. He didn't get much naptime. But at least he wasn't starving.

Why am I sharing this? Partly because it is the biggest cross I'm bearing right now. I love to nurse my baby, and it breaks my heart when there's a disconnect there and it isn't working. I would gladly do the labor all over if it meant I could start him off right with nursing this time -- ignore the pushy lactation consultant, refuse the plastic shield, let him figure out how to nurse in his own time and way.

Another reason is to give you a feel for what it's like. Some people disapprove of moms nursing in Mass, but I think that's because they don't know what it's like. They don't know what moms go through. They say ignorant things like "Just wait till Mass is over" because they never nursed a baby and don't know that a baby can't wait.

I'm not sure what the right course would have been, though I've thought of half a dozen things I wish I'd done differently. In any event, you can imagine I won't be trying to make him wait again.
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