Homemade ricotta

I’ve always admired people who cook even their kitchen basics from scratch. I make homemade bread on a weekly basis, but we also purchase loaves, burger buns, tortillas, etc regularly. There are people who make their own cereal, granola bars, yeast, and cream cheese! I admit some of these sound more appealing to me than others, but I love the idea of homemade wholesome foods without preservatives.

At the same time, I wouldn’t make everything from scratch even if I had no kids. You have to draw the line somewhere, and there are products that are significantly more time- and cost-efficient at the supermarket without a significant decrease in quality. But I want to try to increase the number of things I make from scratch.

I decided to try my hand at making homemade ricotta today, since everyone claims it’s incredibly simple. We’re having stuffed shells on Saturday, and it seemed like a fun way to improve the recipe.

What a disaster!

The basic steps are as such:
1. Line a medium colander with four layers of cheesecloth.
2. Bring a half-gallon of whole milk and one teaspoon salt to a simmer over medium-high heat.
3. Stir in three tablespoons of white vinegar. Simmer the milk until curds form, about one minute.
4. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the curds to the colander. Let them drain for a minute.
5. Transfer the ricotta to a bowl.

Sounds easy? Well, I got partway through step 2 before Pumpkin freaked out and started shrieking. She was in the Pack’n’Play in the kitchen next to me so I turned my back to the steaming milk on the stove to comfort her. She start to quiet down when I hear, from behind me, a quiet hissssss….. SIZZLE. Yup, the milk had boiled over. I rushed over to move it and tried to mop up the milk that had spilled on the stove before it all burned on, while Pumpkin resumed screaming with vigor. What a moment!

I let her scream for a few minutes while I tried to clean up a bit, which might not have been the best idea because the next thirty minutes were spent rocking her to calm her down and reassure her that mommy would indeed come when she cried. Not my best moment.😦 We worry about making sure she develops secure attachments with us, since the first month in the NICU could have really disrupted her ability to bond. We try really had to avoid letting her cry on her own, because she becomes inconsolable very quickly if we’re not there to comfort her.

Eventually she fell asleep, and I returned to the kitchen to see if I could give it a second try. More cautious, now, I turned a new burner onto medium-low and then stood there, frustrated but afraid to leave it, as nothing happened.

Eight or ten minutes later, I gave in and turned the heat back to medium-high. Voila! A minute later, the milk was simmering. I added the vinegar and watched the curds form. It was like magic.

The whole thing was over maybe a minute later, and despite my difficulties with it I could understand how people might say it was quick and easy. But, looking now at the pros and cons…

Pros:
1. If done right and given undivided attention for maybe ten minutes, it is quick and easy.
2. It’s homemade, so I can make it organic and with no added preservatives. I haven’t been able to find an organic ricotta that doesn’t have preservatives – seems like I have to choose between organic or no preservatives when I buy it.

Cons:
1. It’s hard to find ten minutes of undivided attention with a baby around! Maybe if I only attempted this again when hubby was home…
2. It’s expensive! The cheesecloth was about a dollar, the milk was $3.69, and so I ended up spending almost five dollars for (here’s the kicker) 1 1/2 cups of ricotta! Store-bought organic ricotta costs about $5 for 2 1/2 cups, so it’s not even cheaper than buying from the store!
3. Even if it’s quick and easy, the yield is so small it’s really barely worth the work.
4. Cleanup. Ugh. If the milk hadn’t boiled over, I would still have to wash a pot, a spoon, a slotted spoon, and the colander. Since it did, there’s also all the burnt-on-milk on the outside of the pot and on the stovetop. Thank god it’s a glass stovetop, at least!
5. The final texture turned out kind of gummy and looks pretty unappealing. I tried it warm and thought it tasted pretty mediocre, too – we will see how it is once it’s been refrigerated.

In summary: not worth it. If the taste was exceptionally fresh and creamy, if it cost significantly less, if it didn’t require unbroken, undivided attention – then I would happily do it again. Given the amount of cleanup, though, it just doesn’t seem worth it. I think I will try again sometime to see if it comes out better if I do everything right the first time, but my suspicion is that this recipe is not a keeper for us.

Oh, well………

Update: still tastes pretty mediocre, but cleanup was a lot easier than expected! The milk scrubbed right off the pot after I soaked it for an hour or so, and the stove wasn’t bad either. Like I said, I’d be willing to give it another shot.

Hematology update

My hematologist called back today with results from the bloodwork two weeks ago. It turns out that I tested positive for a mutation called prothrombin G20210A – also known as the Factor II mutation. It is a relatively common one that affects 2% of Caucasians and makes for a increased risk of clotting (deep vein thrombosis).

As he said at the appointment, it’s not really surprising that I should test positive for something, and this isn’t a big deal to test positive for and isn’t really treated or intervened on in any way. The only thing that changes with this knowledge is that I should never take oral birth control that contains estrogen, as that can increase clotting risk. I guess it’s also relevant to my sisters for the same reason, so he suggested that they get tested for Factor II as well.

In terms of future pregnancies, he is still completely positive that having tested positive for this has little to do with what went wrong last time. But now we have an action plan – given that one thought in the past was for me to take heparin shots throughout the pregnancy to see if that could make a difference with the placenta, now that there’s evidence that there is some potential clotting trouble both my OBs and the hematologist feel sure that they want me to try that with future pregnancies. So, we have an official action plan and everyone is on board.

I’m not excited about self-injecting throughout the entire pregnancy (starting 6-8 weeks in and continuing through a month postpartum), and everything I’ve read about it says it is quite painful, but if there’s a chance that will help ensure healthy pregnancies then that is what we’ll do.

I told my mom that I would call her as soon as there was news, but I’m going to put it off for a little while. I’ve had a lot of trouble and frustration lately with my relationship with my mom, who is worried about what’s been going on and very strongly opinionated about everything. She constantly comes up with more suggestions, questions to ask doctors, requests to see further doctors, etc.

If the advice was in moderate amounts or less opinionated, I would mind it less, but constantly being bombarded with usually irrelevant advice gets really frustrating. I know that she is just trying to look out for me, but I really need her to understand that I have fantastic doctors that I trust and they know better than she does. I need to figure out how to communicate that with her but want a slight break in the meantime… We spoke this morning and it was more aggravating than usual.

On second thought, it’s really passive aggressive to withhold information just to “punish” her. I guess I should just call her, and finally tell her straight out (I’ve mentioned it plenty, and complained to her more than once when it happened, but never had a serious conversation about it out of context) that I appreciate her concern but she’s been overdoing the advice and I’m having a really hard time enjoying my conversations with her. Ugh.

Signing off for now!

Nursing with a preemie

It’s funny – it happened so suddenly, I’m startled to report that Pumpkin and I are nipple shield free! It seems like we’ve been trying on-and-off for ages.

Pumpkin never got a chance to try without the nipple shield in the NICU – she was just so small and weak, it would have been way too much work for her to get milk from the breast. At the time, I second-guessed everything about it – what about nipple confusion, what if she never agreed to take to the breast afterward – but now I feel confident in that decision and would comfortably choose to do the same thing next time.

Worrying about nipple confusion is irrelevant in the NICU – they need a paci to keep their sucking reflex going until they’re allowed to try bottles or nursing, and they need to drink bottles well to go home. Even more than that, I firmly believe that the best thing I can do for my preemie is to get him or her home as soon as possible. The faster they master nursing, the better, and if a nipple shield helps then that’s wonderful.

We brought Pumpkin home at minus 2.5 weeks (just over two weeks before her due date). The fantastic lactation consultants at the NICU said to wait two weeks after her due date to try to wean her of the nipple shield, to give her time to grow and adjust to being at home before changing things up too much.

Around the middle of December, I started trying to offer her the breast without the shield at the beginning of each feeding. That was a total failure and really upset her. We’d take a break for a few days, try again, take a break, try again… It became a sort of circus act to see if I could take it off at any point in the feeding without her noticing. She always noticed.

At some point in early January, I offered her the breast and she latched on! She seemed content but (silly me) I got so shocked and nervous that she wasn’t doing it right that I pulled her off and went back to the nipple shield. As we both got more comfortable, though, we started using the shield less. She still wasn’t very good at latching on, and it sometimes really hurt to nurse her, so we would frequently switch halfway through.

There was also definitely a lot of the psychological part for me – I was used to the shield, and comfortable and relaxed with it, whereas with nursing “naturally” I was constantly on edge and nervous that she would hurt me. Then hubby and I talked about it a few weeks ago and agreed that while in theory it sounded much nicer and more natural to not rely on the shield, it just wasn’t a big deal if we took our time about weaning her since I was feeling stressed about it. I breathed a sigh of relief.

A few days ago, I reached for the shield to put it on, at which point Pumpkin took advantage of the break to lunge forward and latch on perfectly. Just like that! I was startled but we were both comfortable, so I let her be. And this happened time after time! Once early on I did get the nipple shield on, but she gagged and gave it a disgruntled look and then cried until I offered her the real thing.

Three days later, and we haven’t used it once! I’m still shocked. I don’t know if it was because I stopped pressuring her or because she made up her mind, but it’s still exciting and we are very proud of her.🙂 I’m going to go put the nipple shield away with the other baby things she’s outgrown… What a big girl!

Final rotating menu plan!

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
Week 1 pasta quesadillas something new leftovers burgers quiche “meatballs”
Week 2 pizza stuffed veggies quiche leftovers french toast/bread pudding tofu manicotti/stuffed shells
Week 3 panini/grilled cheese crockpot burritos leftovers something new blintz soufflé/eggplant parmesan quiche
Week 4 pasta pizza lasagna leftovers breakfast tofu quiche

Here are the various recipes/ideas for the categories above.

Pasta options
Tomato cream
Pesto
Alfredo
Baked ziti
Mac and cheese

Quesadillas
Black bean and corn
Farmer’s market
Pizza wraps

Burgers
Black bean
Lentil
Lentil-barley
Butter bean
Chickpea

Quiche
Carrot cashew
Butternut squash
Tomato eggplant
Vidalia onion
Spinach
Broccoli
Tomato and basil

Stuffed veggies
Stuffed peppers
Butternut squash

Burritos
Sweet potato
Black bean
Hummus wraps

Crockpot
Mushroom barley
Lentil soup
Chili
Split pea soup

Breakfast
Pancakes
Eggs
Muffins

Menu planning

I’ve been a pretty serious menu planner since hubby and I first got married. We would sit down together every Sunday, notebooks/computers in hand, and figure out what we were eating for dinner each day that week. Then we would look up the recipes, write down a grocery list, and I would do the shopping – so most weeks we’d get by with going to the store only once.

It was efficient, cost-effective, and good for planning and staying within a budget. The best part of it was not having to figure out what we were going to have for dinner that day – or find that we didn’t have last-minute essential ingredients!

[Those early days, though, we’d plan a unique meal per night – so not only did we have a lot of leftovers (and thus some food waste), but we’d find ourselves cooking every night after long days at work. Granted, life was blissful and we were happy to cook together, but this endeavor frequently took more than an hour and we’d find ourselves not having dinner until 8. Eventually we switched to cooking three to four times a week and eating leftovers other nights, and that was much easier.

Then… I got pregnant and we ate pasta and oatmeal for something like five months.🙂 ]

Back to the point. Menu planning once a week was a great solution. So was not cooking every night. But I want to simplify things further! I’ve always admired people who do I once-a-month cooking (OAMC). I even tried it for a bit in the fall, and spent two weeks cooking double/triple/quadruple portions of every freezeable meal we ate. After that, we had food in the freezer for the next month, which was wonderful, but honestly

1. It was too much work and time to make triple portions of everything (yes, less work than making the same one portion four times, but still a lot of work)

2. We got tired of eating the exact same seven/eight dishes over and over in the course of a month!

3. There just aren’t so many varieties of freezeable vegetarian meals… I’ve seen tons of OAMC monthly menus but very few exist for vegetarians and the ones that do give you recipes for chicken/beef/pork and tell you to substitute tofu – no thanks!)

So I don’t think OAMC is for us.

My latest thought has been to come up with a rotating weekly/monthly menu. The hardest part these days is trying to figure out what to plan for the menu (has it been long enough since I last made this? What kinds of things have we not eaten recently?).

If I could make it so that I knew that, say, Thursday was quiche day – well, that’s easy! I just have to pick a vegetable to put in it and there, menu planning is done! And if there is a specific dish I want to make every week/two weeks, I can put it in exactly as is: chili and cornbread, lasagna, etc. I’m going to head off and work on it now, and publish the complete menu soon!

Maternal floor infarct

I had a difficult appointment at the hematologist’s yesterday. Some time soon I will write separately about Pumpkin’s birth story, but for now suffice to say that there was some wonky stuff happening with the placenta that resulted in Pumpkin being delivered by emergency C-section almost two months early.

For a long time throughout the pregnancy, my OB (Dr. Y) and high-risk OB (Dr. C) thought this was a one-time occurrence that wouldn’t affect future pregnancies. Once the placenta was delivered and properly examined, though, they found massive fibrin deposits throughout.

Apparently everyone has some amount of fibrin deposit in the placenta and this is caused by regular blood flow through it, but if it clots too much then, as happened with me, it can start to constrict blood flow to the baby.

At this point I was told to schedule an appointment with a hematologist to see if we could figure out what might have caused these excessive deposits.

Fast-forward to yesterday… And I see Dr. Z, who tells me that this is an extremely rare condition – so rare that there have been only a few published articles about it in the last three decades, and nobody really knows what the cause is.

I had some enormous number of vials of blood drawn yesterday so we can check for all the standard blood-clotting disorders and see if I might test positive for any of them, but Dr. Z said testing positive doesn’t necessarily explain what is going on with my pregnancies anyway.

The condition is called maternal floor infarct, and what people know about is that it frequently causes early term miscarriage (like with my first pregnancy), late trimester stillbirth (which THANK GOD we avoided because I have incredible doctors who were really on top of this pregnancy), intrauterine growth restriction (which Pumpkin has), and necessitates premature delivery (which comes with its own potential host of problems).

The worst part is that it has a high recurrence rate – so even though the number of people diagnosed with MFI is very small, now that I have this diagnosis it is very likely that all my future pregnancies will be affected.

AHH! I got anxious and upset and had a really hard time sleeping last night…. Just kept imagining how awful it would be to go through pregnancy only to lose a baby, or have one even earlier with the life-long complications that can come with….

For now we are waiting two weeks for the blood tests to get back, so we have as much information as possible to go forward with. Then hubby and I will sit down with Drs. Z, Y, and C and talk about what the game plan is for future pregnancies. Obviously it will be “high-risk” so I’ll need to be monitored on a regular basis, but there’s also some talk of daily heparin shots that could potentially keep the placenta healthy longer… We will see.

Communication

I read an interesting article today about communication. This article is an excerpt from the author’s book on communication, and you can find the first chapter online. The author is a marriage counselor and makes the point that communication is the single biggest issue couples face.

Just think about it – if you ask couples what their biggest struggle is, what do they say? How to raise kids… How to deal with finances… How to split the chores… But the one thread that ties these issues together is communication.

The author argues that it is not the particular issue that drives couples to conflict, but the way they communicate about the issue at hand. Based on my experience, I couldn’t agree more.

The article lists four things to help improve communication.

1. EXPRESSING NEGATIVE FEELINGS CONSTRUCTIVELY – it’s inevitable that you will have negative feelings toward your spouse at some points in time, but express it in a way that doesn’t generalize or exaggerate, doesn’t try to read the other person’s mind, and consists of “I” statements instead of “You” statements.

2. LISTENING TO NEGATIVE FEELINGS NON-DEFENSIVELY – when you try to defend yourself, you are downplaying your spouse’s feelings. Your spouse will get the impression that his or her feelings don’t count, aren’t important and, as far as you are concerned, are not worthy of consideration. The author makes a really important distinction here:

Hold on there, you are thinking. If my spouse is upset because of something I did or did not do, then he or she needs to know the reasons for my actions immediately. Right?
Wrong. In order to assign blame or to pass judgment on you, your spouse needs to take all of the extenuating circumstances into consideration. But if your spouse needs to vent hurt feelings of frustration or disappointment, the extenuating circumstances are totally irrelevant.

3. EXPRESSING POSITIVE FEELINGS WITHOUT INHIBITION – pretty self-explanatory

4. LISTENING TO POSITIVE FEELINGS WITHOUT AWKWARDNESS – as above

They’re all good points and I’m sure some are more applicable to others, but the first two really struck home for me. Something to work on…. And I find myself tempted to purchase this book now.🙂