Thursday, February 4, 2016

Lemon Ginger Meatballs

Another Whole 30 recipe we loved this week! I served these with some roasted yams whipped with ghee and fresh lemon zest (a nice change from the usual coconut oil and cinnamon that I tend to default to). Even Noah inhaled this dinner!

Lemon Ginger Meatballs adapted from Homegrown Paleo
(served 2 adults + 1 toddler for dinner, and leftovers for 1 adult + 1 toddler for lunch)

1 lb ground turkey or pork
4 shitake mushrooms, stemmed and minced (I couldn't find any, so went without this time)
1 tsp dried mint (or 1Tbs fresh)
1 tsp dried basil (or 1Tbs fresh)
1 tsp dried Italian parsley (or 1Tbs fresh)
1 egg white
1 1/2 tsp grated fresh ginger
2 tsp freshly grated lemon zest
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 425. Add all ingredients to a medium bowl, and combine until spices are well-incorporated. Form into 18 meatballs and place them in a glass pie dish. Bake for 12-15 minutes, and dig in!

Sausage and Veggie Roast

This is barely a recipe, but we inhaled it this week, and I'm making it again next week... that's how much we loved it! I'm on day 12 of the Whole 30, and these meals have been a great change from the norm for us. This one was particularly simple, and a perfect winter meal. We couldn't stop picking bites off the baking pan!

Sausage and Veggie Roast (Paleo, gluten free)
makes 3-4 servings

4 bratwurst (we used Gilbert's chicken brats)
1.5lbs fingerling potatoes, rinsed and dried
1 10oz bag frozen green beans
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1-2 Tbs olive or avocado oil
juice of 1/2 of a lemon
1-2 tsp Cajun spice blend, or Italian spice blend
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375. Cut the sausage into bite size pieces. Add sausage, potatoes, garlic, and green beans to a large jelly roll pan (something with sides, as opposed to a cookie sheet). Drizzle with oil and lemon juice, and sprinkle with spices as desired. Mix together and bake for 45-60 minutes, flipping once or twice during cooking, until potatoes are cooked through.

The veggies, sausage, and seasoning are basically endlessly adaptable. I can't wait to try more combinations!




Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Seared Scallops with Wilted Greens

Another Bev Cooks recipe, because hers are easy but GOOD. This one is not a casserole. It's actually kind of fancy, and really only serves 2 adults. But I definitely want to make it again!

Seared Scallops with Wilted Winter Greens from Bev Cooks

Ingredients

* 8 large dry-packed scallops (about a pound)
* 3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
* 4-5 cloves garlic, minced
* 5 oz arugula
* 3 cups chopped kale
* 1/2 cup Chardonnay
* 3 Tbs. butter, divided
* 1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
* salt and pepper

Instructions

1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Add the garlic and sauté for 30 seconds. Add the arugula and kale; toss to wilt. Season with a small pinch of salt. Remove from the skillet.

2. Back in the pan, add another Tbs. oil and 2 Tbs. butter. Once the butter has melted, add the scallops. Sear for a minute and a half; flip and sear another minute. You should see a nice sear-y crust on one side. Remove the scallops and set aside.

3. Back in the pan, add the remaining Tbs. of butter, the wine and lemon juice. Whisk and simmer until reduced by half. Taste and add a tiny pinch of salt, if needed!

4. Serve the scallops over a mound of wilted greens, finished with a good drizzle of the wine sauce. Add lemon zest as a garnish if you want! You should want.

Greek Chicken Casserole

THIS. My new favorite way to cook chicken. So easy! So delicious! So different from what we normally eat (i.e. lots of Mexican and Italian flavors).

Greek Chicken Casserole straight from Bev Cooks

Ingredients

* 1 cup jasmine rice
* 2 cups chicken stock
* 1 1/2 pounds chicken breast (about four)
* 1 tsp salt
* 1 tsp thyme
* 1 tsp dried oregano
* 1 tsp onion powder
* 1 tsp garlic powder
*1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese (optional)
* 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
* 1/2 cup diced cucumber
* 1/3 cup halved Kalamata olives
* fresh parsley leaves
* one lemon, for squeezing

Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. Pour the rice in the bottom of an 8x12 casserole dish.

3. In a small bowl, combine the salt, thyme, oregano, onion powder and garlic powder. Rub all over the chicken breasts.

4. Place the chicken on top of the dried rice. Evenly pour the stock over the chicken and rice.

5. Cover and bake for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the rice is cooked through, but not mushy.

6. Once out of the oven, evenly sprinkle over the casserole the feta, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, olives and parsley leaves. Give the entire thing a good squeeze of lemon, and serve with extra lemon slices. YUM.


Spaghetti Squash Pizza Casserole

I'm really trying to get out of a cooking rut. For a long time after having a baby, it was an achievement to get ANY sort of dinner on the table. It's still a monumental task some days, but other days, Noah helps out and we make dinner without meltdowns (from either one of us-- ha!). I'm a huge fan of casseroles because they are often easier, they warm up the house, and they're usually even better as leftovers! So forgive me while I share a few of them here, for easy access to make again later.

Spaghetti Squash Pizza Casserole modified from PaleOMG

Ingredients
  • 1 large spaghetti squash (about 600 grams)
  • 1 pound Italian sausage
  • ½ yellow onion, diced
  • 1 cup pizza sauce
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 eggs, whisked
  • (you can add anything else you like with pizza: veggies, cheese, etc)
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Cut spaghetti squash in half lengthwise and scoop the seeds out. Place spaghetti squash cut side down in agreased 8x8 dish and bake for 20-25 minutes or until the skin of the squash gives when you press on it. 
  3. Remove squash from over and reduce oven heat to 350 degrees.
  4. Scoop the threads out of the squash, squeeze over the sink to remove excess juices, and put the threads into the 8x8 greased baking dish. (Discard the squash skin.)
  5. Place a large pan over medium heat on the stovetop. Cook onions with some oil until they are soft. Add onions to squash.
  6.  Cook sausage in the large pan until pink no longer remains in the sausage and it is broken up into pieces.
  7. Add dried basil, salt, pepper, and eggs to the squash and onion, and mix well. Drizzle the pizza sauce over the top of the mixture, and top with sausage crumbles.
  8. Place in oven and bake for 1 hour or until the top of the mixture forms a slight crust that doesn't give when you press on it in the middle of the dish.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Brownie Muffins

So... these are not flaky, fudgy brownies. They're more like a brownie/cupcake hybrid, based off of Brownies Done Better by the Suja Juice Solution. But good nonetheless, and filling. Also delicious baked with some strawberry jam plopped in the middle of each muffin.

Brownie Muffins

Ingredients

1 cup almond butter
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup almond milk
2 Tbs butter
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 Tbs instant coffee powder
1/2 tsp coarse sea salt

Instructions

Preheat oven to 325.

In a large bowl, mix the almond butter, syrup, almond milk, butter, egg, coffee powder, and vanilla. Then stir in the cocoa powder, baking soda, coffee, and sea salt. Divide batter between 12 lined muffin tins.

Optional: Swirl 1 tsp strawberry jam into the top of each muffin before baking.

Bake 20 minutes, and allow to cool before removing from pan.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Postpartum Anxiety


The fool says in his heart, "There is no God." 
They never call on God. 
But there they were overwhelmed with dread, 
where there was nothing to dread. 
Oh that salvation for Israel would come! 
Psalm 53 


"What does an unused prayer link look like? Anxiety. Instead of connecting with God, 
our spirits fly around like severed power lines, destroying everything they touch. 
A godlike stance without godlike character and ability is pure tension." Paul Miller


Allow me to start by saying that I'm hesitant to share this. The very last thing I want is for Noah to read this one day and feel like my postpartum anxiety/depression is somehow his fault, because it's not. Never for a second would I blame him! My inability to cope with the realities of motherhood, however, was a problem. No, scratch that. It was my reaction to my perceived inability. Mom-guilt and insecurity quickly turned into a fundamental shame in who I was as a person. That I was too much and not enough all at once. The shame was the straw that broke the camel's back. It was the tipping point in the perfect storm that had been brewing for, well, years according to my therapist. I went from extremely stressed, to anxious to the point of dread on a daily basis.

Walking around clinically depressed and anxious feels like staggering about, alone, on barren, deserted island. It can make you feel like you have no mooring; no place to throw an anchor; no shelter from the storm that tossed you ashore in the first place.

So in the end, I'm sharing. Because no new mom should feel ashamed when she's on the verge of tears and someone tells her to be grateful that she "only" has one kid and that it only gets harder from here on out. No new mom should be made to feel inadequate when someone tells her that they've never seen anyone else struggle so much with postpartum recovery. No new mom should feel the soul-crushing disappointment in herself when she's surprised by motherhood in all the wrong ways. When she's eating her pre-baby words and struggling to adapt to the role of motherhood, no new mom should feel ALONE.

This is the story of my pain, and maybe you will find in it an echo of your own story or that of someone you love. Consider taking the EPDS or reviewing this symptom checklist if anything henceforth sounds familiar to you.

.......


It all started with an outdoor concert. No, wait, it all started when Noah started sleeping through the night consistently a few weeks after his first birthday. It seemed like suddenly I found myself at the beginning of July, after a month of rain, and I could see the sun for the first time in a LONG time. I had a few weeks of sleep under my belt, seemingly out of nowhere I had a toddler who could walk and talk and play, and life was so different than it had been just one or two months prior. I missed my baby, to be sure, and I still feel a familiar sadness when I think about all the sweet early moments I missed out on due to pain and anxiety, but mobility (and sleep) changed everything this summer and I couldn't deny that Noah was an awfully fun little guy to hang out with. Every stage is bittersweet, but I'm finding that each one is also progressively more fun as I get to know Noah better and better.

With the sun out at last, we could take playdates to the pool! We could take long walks every morning in the beautiful summer light! I had energy again! I could workout if I wanted to! I lost the last bit of baby weight and had a whole closet of clothes accessible to me again that I hadn't worn in almost two years! I could, and did, go to the farmer's market and start eating more vegetables after far too long of a hiatus. It's no secret summer is my favorite season. I felt like a new dawn was rising as I re-entered the land of the living and emerged from babyville. But it didn't take me long to realize I was not okay.

I was functioning. I was having fun! I was no longer having insomnia or heart palpitations, but I couldn't shake the feeling that I wasn't quite living either. At first I thought, okay, this is life as a mom. I will never be the same. And I WILL never be the same (thank God)! But I like to think that's because more has been added to my life and I've changed and grown into this new shape as I adjust. Not because the substance of my old self has been taken away.

This summer, Noah and I took daily morning walks and I started listening to sermon podcasts again. It was refreshing to just let truth wash over me. It's so easy for forget that I'm not the center of my life and that I'm certainly not in charge of it.

This summer, I realized I needed to change jobs. Again. But this time, the decision was not terribly debilitating. Now that I'm getting more settled into it, I'm relieved to find that my instincts were right, and this job is a great fit. But still, because of, or perhaps in spite of this decision, I was anxious. I was fearful. I had a certain peace that I was doing the right thing, that this was the best choice for my family, but I still wasn't okay.

This summer, Ross and I went to an amazing marriage conference once a week for 5 weeks. We started to reconnect and we were shocked and saddened at how far apart we'd grown in such a short time.

But the hardest thing was the thing that wasn't changing: the pain that I'd been having since I was 16 weeks pregnant. Ebbing and flowing with my hormones, but always there, always worse at the end of the day, was the pain. Somewhere in the haze of the early days of motherhood, my pelvic pain went from being a source of frustration to a source of concern to a trigger for hopelessness and despair. I'd been a compliant patient in physical therapy for 9 months by the time summer rolled around, and initially it was a life-saver. But the pain plateaud around March no matter what I did. In fact, certain aspects of it were starting to get worse again. It was so depressing. It was so painful. It was so discouraging. I was starting to feel like it would never ever go away. Like I would never feel normal again. Like I would never feel well enough to have another baby. Like I would never be able to love this baby the way I wanted to, because it hurt to lift him, it hurt to hold him, it hurt to rock him.

That kind of pain... I wouldn't wish it on anyone. By the end of most days, it was debilitating physically. I couldn't find it in me to stand and make dinner or tidy up. But emotionally? The pain was devastating. I felt like I was missing out on those "pay off" moments of parenting. Sure, having a toddler is chaotic. But people say, oh, when they snuggle up on your lap or fall asleep in your arms, it's so worth it. I felt like I didn't have that. I'd never been able to hold my crying or sleeping baby without my body screaming in pain. So I went back to my Midwife and thus began two months of constant appointments in August and September. Back to the pain management OB, back to get another ultrasound, back to acupuncture, ramp up the physical therapy visits. Meanwhile, onto all of Noah's one-year appointments: pediatrician, shots, ENT, audiology... And then, I'm not sure if this was a cause or effect of additional stress and anxiety, but my abdominal pain started waking me up at night. So I had an endoscopy. I had more labs drawn. More ultrasounds. More appointments. And more medical bills. And more hopelessness. Feeling like I was getting nowhere, and just spinning pointlessly in a cycle of pain and debt.

After Noah was born, I spent a very long time focusing on Noah's needs and putting him at the center of my life. This summer, I started to feel stifled by those expectations, and started feeling like it wasn't fair that I never got a break. Like I was physically worn out. Like I needed a spa day or a vacation or... something. Every time something else spun out of control, I thought: I'm terrible at this. I'm terrible at being a mother. I cannot balance this. I cannot manage this. Those were the sermons I preached to myself: I can't. I just can't.

And maybe I wasn't sharing enough, or maybe I cry wolf too much, or maybe it's simply that no one in my life was able to speak into that for me, to point out Satan's lies, to look me in the eye and remind that me that God CAN. To say, "Remember every other time you've reached the end of yourself and God drew you out of the muck and mire? He's still there. He's always there, but how gracious would it be for you to invite Him to partake in this moment with you? Into this embarrassing season of feeling hopeless as a mother and desperate for physical relief."

But it took me months to get to that realization. Until then, I was just in endless dialogue with myself: It wasn't supposed to be like this! I wanted kids! We prayed and planned. I take care of babies for a living! I loved Noah more than life, and I COULD NOT HANDLE the feeling that I was failing him day in and day out. In the isolation borne out of a long, dark, cold, anxiety-ridden, sleep-deprived winter, I had no one to bounce these thoughts off of, nor the mental clarity or inner confidence to do so. I had no barometer of 'normal.' Just occasional and seemingly benign comments here and there from people who didn't-- couldn't-- understand. Those words hurt. And made me feel more inadequate. And more abnormal.

Then, blessedly shortly before Noah's birthday, something clicked and I thought: what if this doesn't have to be normal? What if it's pain AND ... ? What if I'm depressed? What if my hormones are so out of whack that even though I'm a year out, I have postpartum depression?

I truly don't know where this thought came from, but some freedom came with it, immediately. What if it's not my fault!? What if it's not just because I'm not trying hard enough or balancing well enough or doing things just the right way? So I got a referral and filled out the counselor's paperwork, and I was shocked. Shocked. At how many boxes I checked. How many symptoms I had.

Like many new moms, I was given a postpartum depression quiz shortly after Noah was born, when I was tired and sore, but also still riding the endorphin train. It's supposed to be hard at that point! I totally expected that! I did not expect to feel almost exactly the same, physically and mentally, a year later. I have no idea why I didn't think to take the survey again in the middle of December, when I dreaded going to bed only to be woken up every hour. When family obligations felt like a physical weight in my sleep-deprived state. When the long days started at 4am and I truly didn't know how I'd get through them in our drafty, unfinished house. (I don't know how I did, actually. I don't even remember.)

So in August, when the counselor tallied up my postpartum depression score, looked right at me, and said, "how did you get to this side of winter? How were alarm bells not going off everywhere?" I felt the weight start to lift. She said, "of course, the Scale is just a tool, and not necessarily diagnostic, but these scores suggest that you were terribly, frighteningly depressed. How did you get to the other side?!"

At those words, I wanted to cry tears of relief. Those feelings hadn't been normal! I wasn't inadequate for feeling like I was trapped and unable to talk myself out of it! But also, I saw God's hand. How had my depression score dropped from 24/30 to 11/30 in 4 months? Time helps. Sleep helps. Perspective helps (some of those extra-hard weeks really were just a phase). Sunlight helps. Exercise helps. A balanced diet helps. But really when it comes down to it, it's not hard for me to see that God was gracious and he removed me just far enough from the forest that I could see the trees again. I had been lost in a very dark place, and I couldn't recognize that because all I could see was this sleepless night, or that cranky day, or this extra-painful week. But once I could see the big picture, I could ask for help. More importantly, I could RECEIVE help for what it was, instead of a threat to my sense of capability.

When I think back to that symptom checklist, I think I was most shocked at the reality of the line I checked and starred near the end of the list: This is the worst that I have ever felt. When I saw that truth for what it was, and when I let it sink it, it hurt. Last winter was worse than being 15 and anorexic. It was worse than being depressed senior year of high school when I couldn't get out of bed and couldn't do school and cried about everything. It was worse than freshman year of college when all that unresolved depression left me unmoored and unable to recognize this girl who couldn't just sit down and study like she needed to. Worse than the bad breakups that haunted me. Worse than the hardest days of marriage.

The worst I'd ever felt... not only was that a bold statement in a season that I thought would signify that hard times were behind us, it was a disappointing realization in itself to feel this way during what I'd always envisioned to be one of the happiest times of my life. To be sure, the happiness did come in bits and pieces, slowly, and then all at once. Big love is winning over big heartache. Today, the exhausting is from keeping up with an active toddler and not from sleepless nights. And the joy... it overwhelms me at times. Our child is a delight, and I'm so grateful that he's ours, but there are a lot of things I would be tempted to change about the first year, if I could. (Things about myself, not about Noah.)

But I can't. Instead, this fall I started saying no to some things, but yes to others. No to the old job. No to a semester of Gospel Community. Yes to the support group, yes to MOPS, yes to spending allthemoney on acupuncture in a last-ditch effort to ease my physical pain.  Each of these steps would normally have felt very vulnerable, but for some reason they just weren't. I had nothing left to lose. What I was doing-- surviving-- wasn't working.

It was a breath of fresh air to sit at a table with other moms at my first MOPS meeting, toddlers safely tucked away in the childcare rooms, and to hear that God promises to send his people out in joy and lead them forth in peace (Isaiah 55). I thought, what a perfect way to end this summer. There IS more. There's joy to look forward to. There's peace regardless of circumstances.

Because now I see. Joy is not something to be attained. It's something to be received. A gift freely given, but often turned down in the pursuit of happiness. Here's the thing about reaching the end of yourself: depravity can be fruitful. God can plant the seeds for a harvest of plenty in the most barren soil. In our time of need, he loves to show us that he loves us. As a parent, I've garnered a new appreciation for the way God calls us to seek him for rest, comfort, reassurance, guidance. I can learn to give well as a parent when I, in, turn, receive these gifts as a beloved child.

I'm starting to get excited about motherhood as an opportunity to be enjoyed (as I first envisioned it) and not just an obligation to be feared (as I came to feel it). It's an opportunity to see God work in a new way. An opportunity to make new friends and have new eyes and, most of all, a new heart. A heart of freedom and not of burden.

I'm thankful for those uncomplicated moments this summer when I started to see myself in there again. After being buried for so long, it feels like catching a glimpse of a friend in the mirror when I say yes to the spontaneous outdoor concert, when I reach out to a neighbor and let our kids run around while we talk about everything we have in common, or when I'm running errands alone in the evening listening to CDs of music from high school. In those moments, I find a certain lightness of being, a simplicity, a reassurance, a whisper of hope. All is not lost. God can rebuild the years the locusts have eaten.