Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Efteling: land of magic and fairy tales

 Last weekend was amazing! My mother in law has a very important birthday coming up and we have been celebrating the whole weekend, starting by a delicious Thai dinner on Saturday night (where baby Y. socialized and then proceeded to fall asleep in dad's lap) and following up on Sunday by a surprise visit to De Efteling, what used to be the largest amusement park of Europe (now it's second to Euro Disney).

The place is amazing. It is themed around fantasy, myths, legends, fairy tales, fables and folklore. Right up my alley.

"De Efteling is one of the oldest theme parks in the world, located in the town of Kaatsheuvel, in the municipality of Loon op Zand.  Since its opening in 1952, Efteling has evolved from a nature park with a playground and a Fairy Tale Forest into a full-sized theme park.  It is twice as large as the original Disneyland park in California and predates it by three years."

 Yu was allowed to go on her first-ever amusement-park ride, the "Dreamflight", where you  float and glide through a dream world full of castles, elves, fairies, trolls, woodland spirits, fauns and King Oberon. It was amazing. She is mesmerized by light and lamps, we were a bit afraid that she would get scared and freak out, but she was calm and happy. It was so nice to see her enjoy. I wonder what kind of memories this will create in her! 

The Sproojkjesbos must be my favorite part of the park. As you walk through the woods you encounter creatures (an ent!) (a dragon!) (Rapunzel!) (The little mermaid!) and places that bring classic Fairy tales from Hans Christian Andersen, The Grimm brothers and Perrault among others come to life. You will find Hansel and Gretel's House, the red Dancing shoes, the house of the 7 goats... 

Definitely a place to visit for young and old alike (there are more than a few rollercoasters, water rides... ). A magic place for sure!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The ridiculous dance of nap time

 Babies change all the time, it's a known fact. We have gone through a couple of phases where Y. has modified her behaviour,  with us trying to adapt fast to her new ways and needs. We thought we had it all figured out in such a way that there was some sort of a flexible routine to our days together. 

There was a time when making her sleep was as easy as rocking her to a couple of Natalia Lafourcade songs while dancing with her and that was that.  There was the very beginning when she would eat and sleep, then wake up, eat and sleep. There were those two glorious months when she slept through the night (only to stop after we came back from Mexico and decide that waking up to feed is fun! Aren't parents supposed to survive on very little sleep?)

A couple of months ago we started using a baby sleeping bag, and we invented a routine that consisted in darkening her room, putting her in the bag, getting her lovey, her pacifier and a musical light-show and she would "understand" that it was sleepy time, calm down, and fall asleep (many times with the help of us rocking her at the very end)  At night, after nursing, she gets a nappy change, a bath and her pijama. Then she goes on the rocking chair with dad. All of this was working.

There was a time when I would put her in the stroller and we would enjoy long walks around the city, to the center, to parks, to the beach, to meet friends... The movement would make her sleep and she would nap beautifully.

Lately, it's a fight between her and me. I want to ensure there is some kind of (flexible, open) routine to her day, some cycles that get repeated: sleep, nappy, food, play... But, she refuses to sleep with all her might and nothing that used to work seems to work anymore. Our city hikes have turned into a crazy act where I walk really fast while swinging the stroller to the sides while she spits the pacifier away and complains that she wants to see the world. It got to a ridiculous point last Sunday, when we all went for a walk to get groceries. She wouldn't sleep and I wouldn't calm down until she would. I was almost running, seeing how she was tired and almost reaching the point where she sleeps, but wouldn't get there. Mark is a more go-with-the-flow and let-her-be kind of guy, so he was annoyed at my trying to force her to sleep when she clearly didn't want to. Also, because he knows it is driving me crazy, making the half an hour before she does fall asleep a period where I am very close to losing my mind. His philosophy is, if she wants to be awake, just let her.

I am sad that this is happening because I used to enjoy our long walks so, so much.

For the last couple of days the only way she'll sleep is if I put her in the kangaroo and walk around. But she is already almost 7.5 kg and that is just not doable if I want to also carry other stuff besides her. The idea of carrying her and a backpack makes me sweat just from thinking of it .

I found this article the other day and couldn't help but laugh:

"Think of it this way, babies are constantly changing, so anything you do today can all go out the window tomorrow.  Some people think of this as a negative: “You better be careful when he starts teething because you’ll lose all of that sleep training progress.” Whereas, I think we should think of it as a positive: “Who gives a crap if she sleeps in the swing all night? Next week she may have it totally figured out because she isn’t going to be 22 at college sleeping in her Rock n’ Sway.”

Do what works now and pat yourself on the back for knowing what that is. Mine was strapping him to my chest and bouncing on an exercise ball while humming during the day and co-sleeping at night. My friend’s baby would only go to sleep if the Gypsy Kings were playing while she drove her around the block. My other friend’s baby would only sleep in his rocker in the downstairs shower stall because the echo seemed to soothe him. Sure, you always want to move in the direction of the goal – whether it be a Pampers ad* or just sleeping without a soother – but don’t sweat it in the meantime and if you don’t push the peanut today, well tomorrow’s a new day, another night and possibly a totally different kid."

When do babies stop needing to nap? When can we play all day without having to play this game that's driving both of us crazy? (Not dad, no, he is such a patient guy that this does not affect him).

*Speaking of Pampers ads, have you seen this Japanese one? I really don't consider myself emotional and it got me all teary eyed.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The kraampakket and Stichting Baby Hope

 One of the most shocking things for me, as a Mexican, was to find out how, culturally, giving birth at home is the norm in The Netherlands. The whole midwifery system in Holland is based on a low-intervention, conservative approach to birth, when possible. But, when an emergency situation arises, the system does not hesitate to provide the best care that modern science can provide nowadays, as we attested personally. I was a bit afraid of all of this, as I find comfort in being surrounded by nurses, doctors and machines. But, it all went well. And yes, if it is not your wish, no one forces you to give birth at home, you can still choose to give birth at a hospital, where most labor wards are led by midwives, but gynaecologists, neonatologists and other specialists are always very close.

 Well, when you find yourself pregnant in The Netherlands, your insurance company will send you a "kraampakket", a box filled with goodies in preparation for the baby's arrival. I was very curious of the contents of this box. As it turns out, it comes with everything you need for a birth at home: a plastic mattress protector, sterile gloves, alcohol, gauze, a clamp for the umbilical cord, a teddy bear seal, pads for the glamorous post-partum period, mesh panties, puppy-pads... It was quite the surprise, how deeply ingrained home-births are. I just can' get my head around that fact, but that is just because modern medicine makes me feel safe.

An important piece of information is that if you give birth at a hospital in The Netherlands, you can choose to donate your 'kraampakket' to Baby Hope, a foundation that collects and delivers medical material for birth in sanitary conditions in different countries. Childbirth is still a matter of life and death in countries where access to universal health care and hygienic conditions are not a given, and so, this organization collects unused material to send it to their projects supporting mothers and their children in countries like Gambia, Guatemala, Senegal, Birma, India, Albania, Ukrania or Tanzania.

 On a related note, did you know that Finland's government also has the tradition of gifting pregnant women with a box?

Except the Finnish's box is full of pretty much everything your baby will need on those immediate first months:  things like a mattress, mattress cover, undersheet, duvet cover, blanket, sleeping bag/quilt, a snowsuit, hat, insulated mittens and booties, light hooded suit and knitted overalls, socks and mittens,a knitted hat, bodysuits, leggings, a hooded bath towel, nail scissors, hairbrush, toothbrush, bath thermometer, nappy cream, wash clothes, cloth diaper set and muslin squares, a picture book and teething toy, bra pads and condoms.

Moreover, the box itself is often used as a crib for the baby too? Amazing! I wouldn't mind a box like that one!

Last two images via this BBC article.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Tiempo de Amigo Invisible Gastronómico

 This post will be mostly in Spanish, with a short translation at the end. If you like snail mail, food, cooking and worldwide post going back and forth, this might interest you.
Como todos los años, llega Septiembre, y con él, el regreso a clases (eso, para los que van a clases, que envidia me dan. Nunca pensé que diría eso, aunque, a quien pretendo engañar, siempre me gustó estudiar). Y, con Septiembre, llega también, el periodo de inscripciones al AIG, o Amigo Invisible Gastrónomico, que ya es tradición en nuestra casa. Si lo recuerdan, participé el año pasado, y también hace dos años.

Se trata de un intercambio prenavideño en el que se te asigna un (blog) amigo secreto, al cual le debes enviar 3 regalos, al menos uno hecho por tí, que tengan algo que ver con la gastronomía, las tradiciones locales del lugar en el que vives y lo que más te nazca compartir. Para inscribirse hay que llenar este formulario antes del 30 de Septiembre a las 23:00 (GMT + 1).

Yo estoy super emocionada de participar, está abierto mundialmente y siempre me hace mucha ilusión enviar y recibir correo! Los requisitos de participación son los siguientes: 
  1. Necesitas tener un blog de cocina, de gastronomía, de "estilo de vida" o de cualquier tema relacionado con este mundillo donde al menos haya una entrada mensual de media que muestre una receta (Si el blog no es sólo de recetas). Se entiende que en verano podéis haber estado de vacaciones.  
  2. El blog debe haber abierto hace como mínimo 6 meses con al menos 1-2 entradas mensuales si sólo tiene seis meses de vida.  Eso quiere decir que se aceptarán sólo los blogs abiertos antes del 30 de marzo. 
El AIG constará de (al menos) tres regalos, con un gasto mínimo de 20 euros (quien pueda y quiera más, es libre!)

1.    Algo hecho por nosotros mismos:  galletas, mermelada, conservas, una agenda, un libro de recetas DIY, algo típico de nuestra localidad... o lo que buenamente se os ocurra a los que tenéis ideas DIY! Recordad que tiene que ser gastronómico
2.    Un regalo propiamente dicho:  puede ser un libro o utensilio de cocina, algo que sepas que es difícil de encontrar donde vive la persona a la que regalas... cualquier cosilla le hará ilusión seguro.
3.    Y por último: algo más personal que tiene o no nada que ver con la cocina pero que salga de vosotros. Puede ser una postal, una tarjeta navideña, una carta presentándote y desvelando tu identidad y deseándole unas felices fiestas.....

Os animo a participar, entre más seamos, más divertida la cadena! 

Y ahora, esto va para mi AIG, como se darán cuenta al chismosear por el blog, me encanta cocinar y viajar. En Enero nació nuestra muy esperada hija, la más nueva integrante de nuestra familia.  Adoro hornear: pasteles, pan y galletas, sobretodo. Descubrir nuevos platillos del mundo es algo que nos encanta, cuando viajamos solemos visitar mercados y supermercados y tratar de probar las "delicatessen" y especialidades locales. También me encanta leer, caminar, los animales, la naturaleza, la literatura, la medicina, la fotografía, la pintura, la fantasía,.... 

Diseño creado por Freepik y adaptado por Delia Carballo.
Now for the short English summary, every year, come September, a worldwide snail mail exchange is organized, the "Gastronomic Invisible Friend". To participate, you simply have to fill in this form  before September 30 (23:00, GMT + 1). Another blog will be assigned to you, to whom you will have to send 3 gifts, one of which has to be made by you, another one has to be something to do with gastronomy: homemade jam, a local treat, a cookbook, and thirdly something more personal, here you can go creative. The only requisite is that your blog has to  have been open for at least 6 months and that you should occasionally post recipes or food-related entries. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

4 years

4 years ago today, on a sunny September Saturday morning I started getting ready for a very special day.

It has been 4 years of adventures, of annoying each other, of taking walks, of travelling together, of choosing each other every morning, of being there, of pushing each other to be the best selves we can be, of holding each other accountable, of hoping and praying and wishing... and having our prayers answered. Of being so absolutely happy even-though there have been hard moments and there are times when all we want to do is sigh loudly and scream at other in the face because I left cabinet doors open again or there are socks laying everywhere or I got lost because I got the wrong advice.

This morning I was surprised with breakfast at the door, M had to act like he didn't know anything while I was busy preparing the kid's steamed pear and cereal and our usual chamomile tea and toast with butter and jam (which reminds me of a silly saying we used to say in high-school: "we love our bread, we love our butter, but most of all we love each other").

A week ago we finally got to a notary and signed a will. I don't think I ever felt so grown-up in my life, a small signature implying so much. We really are doing this together, and we have to think of all kinds of morbid scenarios and take care of each other, of the wee one.

Marriage is beautiful, and marriage can be hard, but it is so worth it. And I feel so lucky, blessed and beyond grateful that I get to share and live life with Mark, that we get to do this huge thing together.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Crusty bread in a Dutch oven (or Pyrex)

 Ever since I learnt how to make Ratatouille, as a teenager, I wanted to own a Le Creuset cast-iron pan. They last a lifetime and are so, very versatile. It wasn't until we got married that we could finally "afford" one, or, more precisely, that we got one as a present. 

 I knew you could bake bread in such a pan, but it wasn't until a few months ago that we tried, following this recipe by Simply So Good. (That post is great, it has step-by-step photos and a detailed description of the process). It was so easy, and so satisfying that we vowed to repeat it (and haven't since, but here's to good intentions).

 Bread is one of those food items that are so basic and yet so magic. You start with flour (3 cups), yeast (1/2 teaspoon, dried), salt (1-2 teaspoons) and water (1 1/2 cups) and end up with a fluffy, crusty, delicious base for any meal.

The first step is to mix the flour, salt and yeast. Then add the water until a messy, sticky mixture forms; cover the bowl with plastic film or a wet cloth and leave to rest, overnight is great because you are aiming for 12 to 18 hours. When you wake up the next day, preheat the oven to 230ºC (450ºF). That is when you take your beloved cast iron pan or pyrex and let it heat in the oven for 30 minutes.

  In the meantime, flour a work surface, pour your dough and make a ball with it (fore ease of maneuvering I floured some baking paper over a tea-towel as this dough is particularly sticky) . Then transfer the ball to a recipient, cover, and let rest while the pan is in the oven. After the half an hour has passed, put your dough-ball in the pan and return the whole thing to the oven for a further 30 minutes, with the lid. Then take off the lid and bake for an extra 15 min. Voilà, you are ready to take the bread out of the oven and let cool. 
What have been your latest adventures in the kitchen? I have been cooking rather simple meals lately, but I miss baking and I will try to make sure I make time for it. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

I am Dory. I am the mad hatter. I am a headless chicken.

I am breastfeeding.

There were many things I didn't know about breastfeeding.  I thought I was prepared. I had read everything I could on the subject, I had watched videos on what a proper latch looked like. I had learnt the advice of the breastfeeding evangelists by heart. So when Yu was born 6 weeks early, without having yet developed the ability to suck and swallow, our start was rough. Not so much as in difficult, but as in a long, slow, learning process* where I cried in desperation many, many times. Where I was -almost- ready to give up, but wouldn't, because I wanted to try as hard as I could. Even in the hardest moments I could still find the force to go on, so I did. There were tears of tiredness, tears of sadness, tears of disappointment at a dream that I might have to let go, after trying it all.

As soon as baby Y. was born I started pumping. 7 times per day, every 3 hours, to correspond with her feeding times, while she was still at the hospital. When they explained this to us, I, confused, asked Mark how I was going to do this. Schrodinger's equation had already well established the uncertainty principle stated by Heisenberg: no particle can be in two places at the same time, so how the hell was I going to be pumping at her feeding times while having her laying on my chest/ learning to latch as well.

It took a while for my tired self to understand that the timing did not have to be so precise. But I knew from my time working with dairy cows that if you skip a milking session or are late, the production diminishes.  There were many things I didn't know about breastfeeding and one of them was that breastfeeding makes you very, very tired (or maybe that was just the intense pumping schedule I was on). I can only compare the feeling to a 10-hour jet lag that just wouldn't get better.

 I would wake up at 5:45 to set everything ready, then be pumping by 6:00 a.m., then eat something, drink all the tea, oatmeal or rice milk, chicken broth, water, that I could. Schedule naps and snacks while at the same time trying to do a million things a day, to process the birth, to (not) understand. By 15:30 p.m. I was so exhausted that I would have to force myself to sleep, even-though my brain was still on. I got cranky and grumpy and anxious and irritable from such extreme tiredness. I was not a nice person.

We would visit Y. twice, sometimes 3 times per day at the hospital, where we would put her on the breast, weigh her before and after each nursing session and then let her take the rest of her meal via a nasogastric tube or a bottle. Sometimes, after having nursed for 25 min, the sucking would make her so tired she'd fall asleep, and when we weighed her she'd have drunk less than 5 mL. I did not want to and was not going to give up on her, but it was discouraging to see her try so hard and not get any measurable results. I remember a particularly dark moment, sobbing hopelessly in Mark's arms, when I thought she would never learn to latch and take enough milk to feed herself and imagining we'd have to be at the hospital until June. Or keep on pumping for as long as I could handle it and have her drink my milk from bottles.

 Now, 7 months and a half later, Y. is still breastfeeding. It's like at some point a switch turned on, and suddenly, she knew. This happened 4 weeks after her birth date, when she would have been almost 38 weeks.

Establishing a breastfeeding relationship is hard and we wouldn't have done it without the amazing support we had from so many people. There were all the nurses at the pediatric department during her hospital stay, always encouraging, telling me "it was going to be fine". There was the lactation expert from the hospital, who had a lot of experience on premature babies, who told us how to use a nursing pillow, which positions were best to try with her being so tiny (the rugby position that is), who told us to ticke her, to rub her cheek or chin or massage my breast to stimulate the sucking (breast compression); who recommended the use of a nipple shield at certain moments and of a Supplemental Nursing System for a couple of times too.  There were the doctors, who not for one second stopped trusting Y. And my mom and my mother-in-law who were there to comfort me when it was needed, to tell me to go-the-f***-to-sleep when no one could stand me, who made soups and tea and made sure I was eating and drinking enough and stayed well nourished. There was Mark, there were friends from high school who had been there before. It was Sol who told me that the rules for preemie babies were different, that even if she got bottle-fed she would still want to come back to the boob. It takes a village and it takes the right words at the right times. I am so grateful for my village.

I've heard stories from moms' who were told on those early days that their milk was "too thin". How can you ever, as a supposed expert, nonetheless, tell that to a woman who wants to breastfeed and is doing all that she can? A woman who is going through the sensitive, vulnerable period that is the puerperium? If vet school taught me one thing is that the composition of milk can change by modifying nutrition, water and food intake... And that caring for infants requires learning, even in some animal species (new gorilla-moms know nothing about baby-care, and so, they rely on culturally taught knowledge passed on by the older gorilla females in the tribe. Or they imitate by watching their older peers).

I survived those early, crazy, chaotic days by making lists. I spent my time with my mind wanting to do all the things at once while my body was simultaneously demanding rest. I was running like a headless chicken. I didn't realize the tiredness, the lack of sleep, the hormones can affect your memory. I used to brag that I always knew which day we were on and what I had to do, no need of writing things down in an agenda, I was just so good.

Image source.

Then I turned into Dory, constantly repeating: "P Sherman, 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney" or else I would forget. I started carrying around a small notepad and constantly scribbling my thoughts, trying to stop them from disappearing forever. Either that, or doing the things right in the moment a thought crossed my mind. There was a time I was making myself a tea and I poured boiling water into the pot of sugar, just like the mad hatter.

There were so many things I didn't know. Believing everything the breastfeeding fundamentalists preach did me no good. There were tears over the decision to start using bottles to stimulate her sucking and swallowing abilities because, they said "you should never give a bottle or a pacifier before 3 months of age, otherwise the baby will get confused and lazy and will prefer those to the breast".  (Eventhough, for premature babies, it is OK to bottle-feed, as part of the learning process, as long as you combine it with lots of skin-to-skin time and practice opportunities at the breast). I didn't know that babies sometimes need to suck on something, even when they are not hungry anymore. My mom would try to use a pacifier to calm her down and I would feel like it was treason to the boob, afraid of the consequences, even when after putting her on the breast she would refuse it after a minute because she wanted the suction but not the milk that came with it.

Image via Tea Party girl

I didn't know that at the beginning breastfeeding can hurt and that pain does not mean you're doing it wrong. But that is what you are led to believe when the pro-breastfeeding evangelists say things like: "if the baby is latched correctly, it shouldn't hurt". It is true, if the baby latches on the nipple, not on the full areola, it will hurt, and the nipples may suffer. But it is also true that the let-down reflex, when the milk is coming down the ducts can be painful, particularly those first few times (weeks?). And, when you're feeding every 2-3 hours, feeling sore can be expected. I am not saying breastfeeding should hurt, or that you shouldn't be alert for signs of mastitis like stabbing pain or a fever, but that the opposite message can be confusing, even damaging. I thank my mom for telling me to toughen up and explaining it would get better, that this was just my body getting used to it. Pure lanolin and breast milk on the nipple after nursing eased the feeling away.

I ended up with a huge stash of freezer milk that I was not going to use because I am lucky to still be able to stay with her and I don't intend to wean her now. I am aware us being able to breastfeed is a blessing, and I can only be grateful for everyone who supported us during our delicate start, as well as for many factors that might have helped establishing my supply, such as the hospital-grade pump I used for the first couple of weeks. I was so happy to come full circle, as finally, last week, I was able to donate my milk to a mom of twins who needed it and whose babies' will hopefully enjoy it.

 For the record, I don't think, unlike this author, that breastfeeding is overrated, but, being there right now, I can say that it requires a lot of emotional support, good advice at very crucial moments, and, it goes without saying, good nutrition and hydration.

And while we're at it, here are some articles on the subject that I've found well thought of: 

-Here's an article, in Spanish, that talks about the gritty, sometimes difficult,  reality that breastfeeding can be: "La friega de amamantar a los hijos".

-Here's a great shot of Gwen Stefani breastfeeding and the wise words of acress Jaime King:

"These are the moments a mother lives for. Breastfeeding should not be taboo -- and bottle feeding should not be judged -- it's ALL fun for the whole family:).

"We all feed our children differently, but we are all feeding with love, and in ways that work for our individual circumstances and family dynamics,”

-Why a prejudiced world needs to see our breastfeeding selfies. 

 -And here are some great photos of women breastfeeding through history. 

* (though it was around 25 days)

Monday, September 1, 2014

Loving the Beaba Babycook

Since a couple of months ago we slowly started introducing baby Y. to solid foods. We started with vegetables and fruits, following the most traditional recommendations (which can vary a lot, and in the end, you are left with your gut instinct). Lately we have been mixing up the flavours, yesterday we tried a recipe called "la petite ratatouille" which I honestly wanted to eat myself: potato, tomato, zucchini and herbs.

One of the presents my mom gave to us when Y. was born was the Beaba Babycook. It is an all-in-one steamer / blender / defroster specially conceived for preparing baby's first bites. I love that it takes up little space yet it is big enough to make purée for about 3 days. It is perfect because it saves so much dish-washing, makes cooking simple and saves time in preparations. I am already planning on using it post-baby to make all kinds of sauces and desserts (homemade pesto!).

 I had actually been wanting a food-processor for quite a while but they are all pretty big. And I can imagine using one of those for baby-food could prove tricky as you try to collect the small quantities of purée from a large container. It really is very easy to use: you pour water on the container for it, you put your fruit / vegetables in the steamer - basket, you close it and let it steam. When you are done you take out the basket, pour it in the recipient (which already has the blades attached) add some of the remaining liquid (or not, depending on the food and desired texture) and mix to leave your purée smooth or lumpy. I particularly love that the manufacturers indicate the exact amount of water needed for each type of food, that way you make sure you are not overcooking and that the baby is getting all the nutrients

"Steaming cooks food more gently than almost any other method. Because the liquid never touches the food, it's less likely to jostle, overcook, or absorb too much water. This means food retains its shape, color, and texture. Steaming is a great light cooking technique because it involves no fat. And unlike boiling, which leaches water-soluble nutrients from food, steaming keeps most of the nutrients-as well as the flavor and color-intact."

We got a couple accesories for it: the so-called "boule aux saveurs" where you can add spices to make the food more interesting, but without having the herbs / onion / garlic mix with the baby's food and the rice and pasta cooking-basket. We also got a multi-portion silicone mould for freezing or storing the baby's food in the quantities she'll eat, which is ideal, as you then only unfreeze what you need.

Our Babycook came with "The Family cook book". It is beautifully illustrated and full of original ideas. I always thought purée was bland, boring, almost disgusting food, but I want to try each and every of these recipes. (I think French children don't throw food because food in France is actually delicious).


If you have a baby, what are your / his favourite food combinations? 

This is NOT a sponsored post,  I am just writing about my experience with this product because I like it so much, find it so useful, and I think it could be useful to other families.

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