Coming to Terms with Gestational Diabetes

When my doctor handed me the lab slip for the one hour Glucose Tolerance Test (GTT) two weeks ago, I barely thought about it.  I listened to my nurse’s advice about what to eat the morning before (peanut butter toast – something with a good mix of carbs and protein) and headed out of the office.  My risk factors were minimal: I wasn’t overweight before I got pregnant, I exercise regularly (even after having to take a few weeks off early on because of morning sickness), and I eat a healthy diet, though I am over thirty and both of my grandmothers developed Type 2 Diabetes later in life.

I followed up with the blood screening on a Monday morning, following a meeting at work, and was, perhaps, a bit too surprised when I called the office Wednesday to find out that I’d failed the GTT.  And not a little fail… a big fail (191) that would jump me right past the three hour exam and into the capable hands of the hospital’s diabetes educator and dietician.

I’ll admit that I went through several of the stages of grief… focusing mainly on anger.  I eat healthily.  I can’t tell you the last time I had a soda or much more than a jellybean or two of processed candy, but I did go a little overboard with this year’s birthday cake…  But more than anything, I felt guilty.  I had continued eating whole, natural foods during this pregnancy, but I’d slipped a little, snacking on a few of Jason’s chips as I packed his lunch in the morning and indulging in a handful of chocolate chips occasionally in the afternoon between lunch and dinner.

I go for my appointment with the diabetes educator tomorrow morning, and I think, for a while, at least, I might be talking about gestational diabetes quite a bit here because it’s hard to find an outlet.  I am in no way a doctor or medical professional, but sometimes I think following other people’s experiences can help us work out what we’re going through almost as much as writing about them, so I’m hoping to post some of my experiences and recipes.

I will note that the baby looks great so far, and I’m hopeful that we can manage this with diet and exercise (especially since our garden is finally starting to come in!).  And on a second positive note, my husband and his father finished hanging trim in the nursery this weekend, so I should have an update with photos for you soon!

Thanks for reading!  If you have had experiences with GD, I would love to hear about them!

Advertisements

Chocolate Zucchini Muffin Recipe

Early this week, I talked about ways to preserve all of those zucchini and summer squash that overtake our late summer gardens, and today, I’m going to share one of my favorite recipes for using that produce.  Chocolate zucchini muffins are moist, delicious and the perfect treat for Sunday brunch.  They are also a favorite with kids!  Best yet, they are easy to make, regardless of the season.

Ingredients:

1 c. Brown Sugar

1 c. White Sugar

3 c. Flour (I often use 2 c. AP and 1 c. whole wheat)

1/2 c. Baking Cocoa

1 T. Baking Soda

1 t. Baking Powder

1 t. Salt

1 T. Cinnamon

3 Eggs

1 T Vanilla

1 c. Vegetable Oil

2.5 c. Grated Zucchini (If you are using frozen zucchini, let it thaw on the counter before mixing it in.  You may need to adjust the flour and/or cocoa if the zucchini is watery.  I do this all the time, and the muffins still come out great!).

1 Bag Milk Chocolate Chips

Instructions:

1. Combine dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.  If your cocoa powder is particularly clumpy, run it through a sifter first. 

2. Beat in eggs, vanilla and oil.

3. Fold in zucchini and then stir in chocolate chips.

4. Bake at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes.

5. Enjoy!

The best part about these muffins is that all you need are the muffins.  They are delightfully moist and the chocolate chips remain soft and gooey, even in the prepared muffins. 

Preserving the Harvest: Putting up Summer Squash and Zucchini

If your garden has been anything like ours, lately, you have been blessed by an onslaught of zucchini, and when I say onslaught, I mean dozens of healthy, beautiful squash.  What do we do with these squash?  We stirfry them with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper; sometimes we add a link or two of chicken sausage to the stir fry, serve it over pasta, and call it dinner; we grill them, sometimes marinated, and sometimes just lightly salted and peppered; but, mostly, when we get way behind, we freeze them.

I freeze summer squash and zucchini primarily for baking, and I often freeze them together.  Working with teenagers who are always hungry, it’s nice to be able to bring in treats that have some (minor) health benefits.  And my favorite of those recipes is chocolate zucchini muffins.  So, you’ll notice in the freezing instructions below,   I freeze our squash in 2.5 c. increments.  It’s all for the recipe, though, so if you have a favorite recipe, freeze in increments that will make your baking/cooking easier!  Squash frozen this way also mixes really well into things like chop suey, shepherd’s pie, and other meat dishes that can really benefit from a vitamin push, especially in the winter!

Materials:

Glad Press & Seal

Freezer Bags

Food Processor or Cheese Grater

Fresh Squash (zucchini, summer squash, or a mixture of both!)

1. I usually pick my squash from the garden the day I’m going to process them.  I do it early before they’ve baked in the sun all day.  I try to aim for medium sized squash, but if you have a baseball bat sitting under one of your zucchini plants, shredding and baking it is the way to go!

2. Bring your squash inside and wash it thoroughly under lukewarm water.  Remove the cap and the end where the blossom was (taking only about an 1/8” of the fruit off with the pieces you are removing).

3. Shred in the food processor.  I use the cheese grater attachment.

4. Measure onto sheets of Press & Seal in the proper increments (2.5 cups for Chocolate Zucchini Muffins!).

5. Form a packet around the squash using your press and seal and press firmly to remove as much air as possible.

6. Pack into freezer bags and freeze until needed!

And later today, I’ll give you the recipe you need to make zucchini lovers out of your friends, family, and children!

Putting up the Harvest: Preserving Green Beans

Jason and I plant a garden that seems way too big for two people.  Take a walk through our backyard past our six blueberry plants, herb garden that was once a fire ring and the large garden (50′ x 25′), and when you notice the smaller garden (25’x10′), you might start to wonder what’s going on.  Yesterday’s confession that we grow 5 – 25′ long rows of tomatoes probably only helps reinforce this image.

What is my plan in all of this?  It’s my goal to buy as few grocery store vegetables (frozen, fresh or otherwise) in the winter.  And one of the ways we succeeded at this last year was by putting up a vegetable we both love to eat for dinner: green beans.

The first year I tried this was a raging failure because my original thought process went something like this:

Larger Beans = More Beans = More Food

I waited until the beans were pretty big.  Picked them, processed them, put them up… and they were horrible.  Stringy.  Tough.  Generally gross.  So my first lesson for you is that if you’re putting up produce, put it up young and fresh.  Just because you have more of it does not mean you want to eat it.

Young, fresh beans

Below, please find my guide to preserving green beans.

Materials:

Quart Freezer Bags

Glad Press & Seal

Fresh-picked green beans (you want these in the pot almost immediately after you pull them out of the garden)

Large pot for blanching (with large metal sieve, if possible)

Colander

Bowl or clean sink full of ice water

Cookie Sheets

Clean, absorbent dish towels

Before starting, make sure you have enough space for two cookie sheets in your freezer, as you need to flash freeze beans BEFORE placing them into bags.

Step 1: Pick you beans.  We usually pick tender beans of about 4 inches that have not started to form thick beans inside the pods yet.  This is how we prefer to eat them raw, and we’ve had great luck with them frozen.  Last year, we grew Tenderette and Soleil varieties from Park Seed, and they’ve now grown beautifully two years in a row!

Beans, Fresh-Picked for Processing

Step 2: Immediately after your beans are picked, bring them inside and remove the caps from each bean (the part that attached the bean to the plant).  If your beans are a bit longer, you can break them into segments at this point.  A fresh bean should snap easily.  Discard any beans that look like they’ve been munched on by bugs or spotted by disease.

Cap Removal

While you are removing the caps on the beans, place a large pot of water with a lid over high heat to boil.  We use this crazy old pot that my father in law gave us a few years ago.  I’m not sure what it’s initial purpose was (probably canning!), but it consists of a large pot, a slotted interior pot and a lid that lets off steam.  If you can find one of these at a garage or yard sale, snap it up!  Best. Preserving. Pot. Ever.

Preserving Pot, Disassembled

Step 3: Rinse beans under cold water in a colander until clean.  This step is particularly important if you’re using pesticides in your garden, which we don’t.  That said, it removes dirt, bugs and anything else that might be on your beans.

Rinsing the Beans

Step 4: In batches that fit your pot, blanch beans for 2 minutes.  I use the interior slotted section of my preserving pot for this; however, I’ve also used a large metal sieve before, when preserving peas.  Anything that will let you get the beans into the hot water for two minutes and remove them quickly is perfect.  Note: I would not use a plastic colander for this purpose.

Blanching the Beans

Step 5: As soon as the beans come out of the hot water, place them immediately in ice cold water to halt the cooking process.  Leave in the water 5 – 8 minutes. I don’t usually stress about this time, as long as they’re in there at least five minutes.  A bit longer won’t hurt them!

Cooling the Beans

Step 6: Spread your tea towels out onto your cookie sheets.  You are going to use these to absorb as much water from the beans as you can before freezing. 

Place the beans in  a thin layer onto the tea towel, then roll up like a jelly-roll, tucking the edges in over the beans to keep them from slipping out.  If you have a lot of beans, you can place a second towel over the beans before rolling, to soak up excess water.  Remember: too much additional water = freezer burn.

Step 7: Once your beans are dry, remove the towels and leave the beans spread out on you cookie sheet in a thin layer.  You’re now going to flash freeze the beans in your freezer.  Place the trays in the freezer for 8 – 12 hours to ensure a quick and uniform first freeze.

Beans prior to freezing

Step 8: Remove one tray of beans from the freezer.  Loosen them gently with a spatula and arrange a complete dinner serving for your family onto a sheet of Press and Seal.  I usually measure out enough for one meal for Jason and I.    Wrap tightly.  You will want to work quickly because you don’t want the beans to thaw.

Step 9: Place 3 – 4 servings in each freezer bag.  Remove as much air as possible and mark with the date.  As soon as a bag is complete, return it  to the freezer.

To reheat, remove beans directly from the freezer.  Unwrap and place either in a microwavable bowl in the microwave for one minute (or until hot) or in a steamer basket over the stove until they’re hot and ready to eat.

Perfect, garden fresh beans every time!

Preserving Fiddleheads

Fiddleheads are the first vegetable that I preserve every year.  The easiest way to explain fiddleheads to those who have never encountered them before is that they are, basically, baby ferns, still curled and coiled up into small, tightly wound balls.  We’re lucky enough to have a small patch less than 100 yards from our house, but they tend to grow in moist, well-shaded areas in the Northeast (I’ve found them in both Maine and Vermont).  Having a very short season, fiddleheads usually emerge from the ground at just about the time that leaves start to unfurl from their buds.  We’ve found that we have to be particularly careful because there is such a short window between edible fiddleheads and nearly mature ferns (their fronds spreading up toward the sky).

The fiddleheads we eat in Northern Maine come from the Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris).  They are identifiable by a brown, tissue-paper-like membrane that usually covers the tight spiral of the fiddlehead.  They are often found in small clumps, low to the ground.

To cook fresh fiddleheads , I clean them (as described below), steam them for 10 – 12 minutes and serve them with butter (for Jason) or just a bit of salt/vinegar for me.

To preserve fiddleheads, I usually begin by submersing them in cold water for at least an hour.  Once this is complete, I use a wire mesh strainer under the faucet to wash away the papery-liners before separating the clean fiddleheads from those that haven’t been cleaned yet. If I was using them fresh, I would stop at this point and cook them; however, to preserve them, I follow the steps outlined below.

Soaking in the Sink

While I am cleaning the fiddleheads, I heat a large pot of water on the stove (my jam pot).

Once all of the fiddleheads are clean, I submerse them in boiling water for one minute to blanch before placing them immediately into ice cold water (back in the sink).  Once they are cold to the touch (when removed from the water), I place towels on cookie sheets and spread the fiddleheads on the towels, gently rolling the towels into logs and leaving them for about fifteen minutes to absorb the water from the fiddleheads.

Finally, I pack the fiddleheads into freezer bags, removing as much air as I can before placing them in the freezer.

To use the fiddleheads, I simply remove a bag from the freezer, pour the correct amount into a vegetable steamer and steam the fiddleheads until tender (about 10 – 15 minutes).

Prepaing for Incubation: An Exercise in Anxiety

I’m a worrier.  If there’s something in life to wake up at three a.m. and stare and the ceiling in abject fear of, I’m you’re girl!  That said, on Wednesday night, I had a really vivid dream about exploding eggs.  And that folks, that might finally teach me to stop worrying about chickens before bed.

Today, we begin our first journey toward incubation, and as I’ve spent the last several months surrounded (literally) by pregnant women, I have no idea how they all seem so calm and collected when I can’t seem to relax about exploding chicken eggs in the early hours of the morning.

We’re hoping to collect about thirty eggs over the next 7 – 10 days.  After a lot of research, I am fairly confident that storage in our linen closet before setting will probably be ideal since we really are looking at a 10 day set and the temperature in there is a perfect, stable 58 (I’ve been checking regularly).

First Two Eggs

Yesterday, I collected our first two eggs.  I had been really nervous about what to store them in until I remembered a few clear egg boxes that one of my customers gave to me a few months ago.  These provided a great opportunity to record collection date (right above the egg in permanent marker (on the plastic!) and also allowed for some nice written instruction in regard to turning the eggs twice a day (rotating the box side from left to right to prevent the embryo from sticking to the insides of the egg).

Box Rotation

I made a nice little checklist for the refrigerator, so I can keep track of what we collect when and how often the eggs are turned (for those busy end of school-year mornings when it’s all I can do to get out of the house).

Last night, I also put up our first veggies of the season: fiddleheads.  Fiddleheads are a local delicacy that you forage for in the spring.  Last year, I preserved some for the first time by blanching them in boiling water for one minute, suspending them in cold water until they were completely cooled, rolling them dry in towels and then freezing them in freezer bags.  We enjoyed them for almost eleven months.

Packaged & Ready for the Freezer!

Hopefully, I’ll be able to provide you with a tutorial later this weekend!  Happy Friday!

Chicken Chores & Whitewash

Over the weekend, we accomplished a pile of chicken chores.  I finished our Ussery Shelter, adding a front door, wire reinforcement and a bunch of latches and accessories to make it more functional and, I dare-say, attractive.  I’m going to wait on that post because there are a few more details I’d like to add that I’m hoping to acquire within the next few days (after a much needed trip south to civilization).

We also relocated our compost pile from the side of the chicken coop to the back field, where the winter’s droppings can compost down to something we can use in the garden this fall.  I was astounded by just how much decomposition had taken place in the chicken coop over the winter!  As soon as we finished cleaning out the coop, we left the floors to dry overnight because this afternoon, I’ll be doing a full whitewash of all surfaces.

Interested in whitewash?  It’s a process farmers have used for years to coat the inside of structures where animals are kept or, more often, milked.  It has mild antibacterial and I’ve noticed that it brightens up our otherwise dark chicken coop, particularly in the winter.

To prepare the coop for whitewashing, we cleared everything out of it, scraped and swept the floors, nest boxes and perches.

Preparing the Space

To make whitewash, you mix the following in a bucket:

Ingredients

12 c. Hydrated Lime
1 lb. of Table Salt (I used un-iodized)
1 or 2 Gallons of Warm Water (roughly – just mix until it forms a thick paint-like consistency)

I always work with a mask and heavy gloves when I’m dealing with hydrated lime, as it is caustic in its powdered form.  When mixing, work with a long piece of scrap wood to avoid any splatter.

Whitewash!

Using a brush, apply a thick coat of whitewash, then let dry.  One thing I didn’t realize when we did this last year was just how long it can take to set.  And old farming book suggests as many as two or three days to harden, so please give yourself plenty of time before you have to return your birds to their home!  Note that it will spread with a greyish tint, but once it dries it turns a brilliant white.

Wet Whitewash

Dry & Truly White Whitewash

Happy whitewashing!

Cheddar Cauliflower Stew

Over the last few days, we’ve had a break in the cold weather, watching temperatures soar almost into the forties most days (that’s March in Northern Maine, for you).  However, Jason and I are both battling colds, and last night we needed something hearty and healthy and, above all else, warm!

The following recipe is adapted from The Simple Art of Eating Well,   my go-to day to day tome when I start to feel that I’m making the same things over and over again.  This soup is filling and delicious and perfect with a hunk of homemade bread and a cold beer (for days when we’re feeling healthier).

Cheddar Cauliflower Stew
Adapted from The Simple Art of Eating Well
Yields 2 servings (easily doubled!)

Ingredients:
2 t olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1.5 c. milk (I use 2% for dietary reasons, but whole would be delicious!)
1 c water
2 c cauliflower, diced
1 bay leaf
1 t salt
1/2 t pepper
1.5 T whole wheat flour (I use white whole wheat)
3/4 c Cabot Seriously Sharp cheese
1 t lemon juice (use real lemon juice – we were out, so I had to use bottled, but it’s not quite as good)

Directions:

  1. In a large sauce pan  (or soup pot if doubling the recipe), warm olive oil over medium heat.  Add onion and saute until almost translucent, then add garlic and cook for two minutes more (do not let the garlic brown!)
  2. Add milk, water, cauliflower, bay leaf, salt and pepper.  Increase the heat to medium high, and stir regularly until ingredients come to a boil.
  3. Drop the heat to low, cover the pot, and cook for eight minutes until the cauliflower is tender.  At this point, you may use an immersion blender; however, I prefer this soup with chunks of cauliflower in it and never blend it.
  4. Remove 1/2 c. of hot liquid from the pot.  Whisk in the flour, using a fork and then combine the flour roux with the soup, stirring vigorously to prevent clumps from forming.
  5. Return heat to medium high and stir while soup thickens to your desired consistency.
  6. Add the cheese, continuing to stir until it is well incorporated.
  7. Remove from heat and add the lemon juice (which brings out the flavors of the cheese, garlic, onions and cauliflower).
  8. Enjoy while hot with a chunk of fresh bread or slice of garlic toast.

If you’re interested in more delicious recipes, head on over to Easy Natural Food’s Sunday Soup Night!

 

Pumpkin Spice Bread

Disclaimer: This is a recipe that I make all. the. time.  I initially had it posted on an old blog, but as I was digging pumpkin puree out of the fridge this morning to make it, I realized that I had not shared it here yet.  Bake at your own risk, though, this bread (or muffins!) is as delicious as it is healthy!

The first step of making this delicious bread is roasting the fresh pumpkin.  If you want to used canned pumpkin, just skip this step and move onto the bread recipe.

To Roast Pumpkin:

Cut a small pumpkin in half, scoop out the innards, and roast for 1 hour at 325 degrees.  When cooked through (fork tender), puree in a blender or food processor.  Then, it’s ready to use!

Pumpkin Flax-seed Bread

Makes 1 Large Loaf of Bread or 12 Muffins (I almost always make this as muffins!

Ingredients:

1 c. roasted pumpkin, pureed (or 7.5 oz. canned pumpkin)

2 eggs

¼ c. vegetable oil

¼ c. apple sauce (you can use ½ c. oil and omit apple sauce)

1/3 c. apple cider (or water)

1/2 c. white sugar

½ c. brown sugar

1c. whole wheat flour

¾ c. all-purpose flour

1 t baking soda

1 t kosher salt

2 t cinnamon

½ t nutmeg

½ t cloves

1 t ginger

1/4 c. flax-seed

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour one large bread pan, or line 12 muffin cups.

1. In a bowl, blend together pumpkin, eggs, oil, applesauce, cider and sugars.

2. Then mix in remaining dry ingredients.  As I use a KitchenAid stand mixer, I skip the step of pre-combining these ingredients.  If working by hand, combine dry ingredients before adding them to the pumpkin mixture.

3. Bake approximately one hour, until a center-inserted fork comes out clean.

Variation: I’m sure this bread would be just delicious with a cup of milk chocolate chips folded in right before baking.  You could also add 1 c. of walnuts, if you wanted a richer bread.

Mom’s Carrot Cake

To celebrate Jason’s birthday, we had his extended family over to the house on Sunday, and since he requested carrot cake, I thought it would be a great opportunity to share my mother’s carrot cake recipe over here on the blog.

This cake is a family favorite, most often made for Easter, though – honestly –  it’s pretty good any time of the year.  The cake batter is simple and bakes up nicely, though you do have to take care, as it sticks to the pans easily.  We frost this cake with a cream cheese frosting that is delicious!  Bake at your own risk!

Mom’s Carrot Cake
Requires two 9” round cake pans (greased and floured)

Cake Ingredients:
2 c flour
2 c sugar
2 t baking soda
2 t cinnamon
1 t salt
1.5 c vegetable oil
3 c grated carrot
4 eggs
1 c chopped walnuts (optional)

Frosting Ingredients:
8 oz cream cheese
3/4 c butter (soft)
16 oz confectioner’s sugar
2 t vanilla

To Make the Cake:

Cake Ingredients

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and prepare two 9” round cake pans by greasing them (I use butter) and flouring them.
  2. Sift together the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, soda, salt and cinnamon).
  3. Mix in oil.
  4. Beat in eggs, one at a time.
  5. Mix in the grated carrot.
  6. Fold in the walnuts.
  7. Divide evenly between pans and bake for 35 – 40 minutes, until a fork inserted in the center comes out clean.
  8. Fully cool the cakes.  Then, using a butter knife or spreader, loosen the cakes from the pans and transfer them to a wire rack and plate for frosting.

    Wait to transfer the cake to a rack until after it has cooled completely!

To Make the Frosting:

  1. Beat the butter and cream cheese together until creamy.
  2. Add the vanilla.
  3. Beat in the sugar gradually.
  4. Increase the mixing speed and beat the frosting until the desired consistency is achieved (I like mine soft enough to spread but firm enough to give a consistent, almost glossy coat when refrigerated).
  5. Taking the cake on the plate, spread 1/2” layer of frosting evenly across the top. 
  6. Add the second layer and continue frosting the cake.
  7. Refrigerate, if not eating immediately, and enjoy!