Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Chocolate Chip Cookies, fresh from the oven. Does it get any better? Is there any more authentic way of proving your mettle, as a home cook, than to produce a perfect chewy chocolate chip cookie for your husband and kids to brag about? I am of the opinion that there is not. So I went on a mission to find that perfect recipe and make myself the most popular mom in the neighborhood. Unfortunately, the 'break and bake' variety and the popular recipes on the back of the Tollhouse Chips package didnt quite 'cut it' for me. I wanted those big ol' chewy cookies that they sell at Christie Cookies or Famous Amous stores, but I wanted them to be better and I wanted them to be my own recipe! Is that too much to ask?
Enter Alton Brown. Most of you know of Alton by his fun and informative 'Food Network' show, 'Good Eats'. He's a 'food scientist' of sorts and his episode entitled 'Three Chips for Sister Sarah' described in detail how to arrive at your perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie, whether you have a pension for crunchy, cake-like, or chewy varieties. After trying 'The Chewy' several times, I made a few alterations based on my own taste, and arrived at the following 'failsafe' recipe:
1 cup unsalted butter (two sticks)
2 1/4 c. bread flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 c. granulated sugar
1 1/4 c. dark brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
1 Tablespoon milk
2 c. chocolate chips (semi sweet)
Melt butter over low heat in heavy bottomed saucepan.
Sift together dry ingredients (including granulated sugar, but not the brown sugar)and set aside.
Pour melted butter into work bowl of your mixer. Add dark brown sugar to butter and mix together well. Add milk, egg yolk, whole egg, and vanilla. Mil well.
Slowly add dry ingredients, in a few additions, until mixture is thick and well combined.
Fold in chocolate Chips. Refrigerate dough until firm.
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Use a medium ice cream scoop to place six large balls of dough onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Only six cookies per sheet, please. Bake 14 minutes, rotating sheet halfway thru baking time. Remove cookies, even if they don't appear finished.
Slide paper w/ cookies off of baking sheet to allow them to cool. Replace with another sheet of parchment paper and six more cookies until all dough is gone.
Makes about 18 large cookies.
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
It's a topic that can cause more heated debate than politics OR religion...*mwa-ha-ha*...wait for it...CHILDBIRTH CHOICES.
There are myriads of books on the subject, thousands of websites offering advice, hundreds of documentaries and tv shows all claiming to be the best in childbearing information. So how do you choose the method that is right for you? Especially if you have never given birth before?? Due to the number of messages I've received asking me about it, I've opted to write this blog post to let you in on why I choose pain over 'procedure', and what my experience has been with this choice. If you don't agree...that's fine. If you feel that you know more than I do about the topic and can make an even more educated decision...you're probably right. Write a blog post for your own audience and please don't junk up my comment window w/ wordy advice. :) However, DO feel free to post your own experiences and birth stories since I feel that can only help my 'cause' here.
First of all:
WHY CHOOSE NATURAL CHILDBIRTH IN THIS DAY AND TIME, WHEN THERE ARE SO MANY MEDICAL ADVANCES THAT MAKE IT UNNECESSARY?
1. Childbirth is not a sickness:
Would I choose to have a tooth out or to have surgery without the help of pain meds/anesthesia? No. But pain in those procedures can only hinder the process, not help it. For instance, pain when you're getting a tooth removed can actually cause the professional MORE problems. The dentist may not be able to remove the tooth completely if you move suddenly as a reactionary result of the pain. Or he might hit a nerve that will leave your face paralyzed forever...eeks! Obviously, surgery of other types could have a similar negative aftermath if you chose not to be deadened to the pain of the procedure. Not so with childbirth.
The pain of childbirth actually TELLS you what is happening. It lets you know exactly where your body is in the labor process and how much longer you (might) have to go. For instance, having gone thru four unmedicated labors of varying lengths (from 3-7 hours in duration), I know exactly whether my body is in 'early, active, or transitional' labor simply by how I feel. If I can talk thru my contractions, I know I'm probably only 3-5 centimeters dilated and I have a while to go. If I can't speak through the pain, and if I feel nauseated, I can almost bet you that I'm at around an 8. If I feel as though the world is caving in on me and am completely unable to cope without help, it's probably about time to push! Yes, I have relatively short labors, but I've heard that these symptoms are roughly the same for longer labors and can also be a good guide for those ladies. Women with shorter labors tend to have a more intense one, while ladies who endure longer labor are typically rewarded with less of an onslaught of pain, but tire more easily.
2. Intervention typically leads to intervention:
I recommend that everyone who is pregnant see the film 'The Business of Being Born'. Yep, the movie's got a major agenda going on, but it also makes a VERY valid point. Childbirth in the United States especially, has become a huge money-making business that typically caters to the convenience of the doctor. In a standard medical practice, most women are encouraged to 'induce' or even to (gasp!) schedule an unnecessary cesarean section, which is major surgery! Doctors advise you that if you're uncomfortable, it isn't necessary to wait for the baby...you can simply check into the hospital, get a little boost of 'contraction cocktails', and check out with a baby. But it might not be that simple.. The labor induction methods most often used by medical facilities are notorious for prolonging labor and making the contractions even more difficult to bear. Which can make a woman who initially didn't want pain medication give in to the pressures of a hospital environment and beg for drugs, or an epidural. These 'synthetic' contractions can also be particularly hard on the baby, causing him/her undue stress. The epidural or medication can actually SLOW labor down, causing the staff to 'up' the dose of medicine that causes the contractions...it also can hinder the urge to push which could result in a very long pushing stage. Many times, a cesarean is finally necessary due to this viscous cycle of intervention...which probably wasn't even needed at all. :(
Again, the research that helped me discover all of this is the main reason I chose to let nature take it's course. In no way am I trying to say that those of you who did not experience the above issues using pain meds or induction options are less of a woman or that you made a bad choice. If your baby is healthy and you are healthy, that's the most important part. But it was definitely worthy of considering, in my eyes.
3. Who says you can't take it?:
While it's true that every one's pain tolerance is different, I don't think doctors give women enough credit! Most women go into labor terrified of the idea of this potential pain, about which they've heard so many horror stories. They don't even give themselves the benefit of the doubt. Don't assume that you can't tolerate the pain just because of what your mother or girlfriends have told you. I've actually seen episodes of 'A Baby Story' where a woman was handling her contractions beautifully and the anesthesiologist or doctor came in and told her she had best 'hurry and get that epidural' before she can't take it any more. Well, I'm sorry doctor but who are you to tell me what I can't handle?? Thanks, but I'll ride this wave as long as I can...
Okay, so now:
IF I DO DECIDE TO TRY THIS 'NATURAL' THING, HOW DO I COPE?
1.Fill out an online birth plan.
If you choose to deliver at a facility (because I'm prone to hemorrhaging, I didn't feel comfortable delivering at home, though I think it's a fabulous idea), fill out a detailed birth plan and give it to your midwife or doctor well in advance of your delivery date. The plan will help guide your physician and will also help you when you are too stressed to think about anything else. If you make it clear in your birth plan, for instance, that you would like to try to deal w/ the pain naturally, it isn't as likely that an anesthesiologist will even appear unless YOU ask for him.
2. Take some childbirth classes.
There are many methods of natural childbirth preparation from hypnosis to The Bradley Method to Lamaze. I actually chose Lamaze, just because I saw it used a lot in movies...haha. The breathing techniques are remarkably easy to use and remember, even for subsequent births. I only took Lamaze with my first child (back in 1999) and used the textbook as a refresher w/ my other three. My coach has been either a friend or my sister in law. My husband just isn't cut out for this type of thing and honestly, I think there are few husbands that really are. :) Many men tend to forget what they've learned when faced with the woman they love in pain...I liked having a solid female to coach me along. My husband was present for the birth of our first son...that was enough for him. Since then, he patiently waits outside the room like those hallway-pacing husbands of yore. I actually prefer it that way.
The pain coping techniques you use for labor can also carry over into the pushing phase. Don't feel you have to deliver in the standard hospital position of partial recline and 'feet in the stirrups'. I gave into pressure for my first three kids and used this position with all of them. I ripped badly, on all three occasions. The truth is, this position is seldom the most practical and doesn't use gravity to help out at all. Do whatever feels best at the time. Last time, I actually laid flat on my back w/ my knees bent, not the most effective but also not giving the baby any 'uphill' climbs. I didn't tear at all, for the first time.
I like to use a stability ball during labor, sitting on it and rocking during the contractions. You can also lean across it to deliver, if you like. But this is just one of many many options.
3.Practice, Research, Exercise, and Rest.
-Practice your coping techniques every chance you get.
-Do plenty of research before making your decision, whatever that may be. Take the ridiculous amount of 'advice' that you'll get, with a grain of salt. Remember that your baby's health and yours is the single most important thing and base all your decisions around that.
-Get regular exercise during your pregnancy. I have no doubt that easier labors result from this as well as a faster recovery time.
-Rest as much as you can before your due date. If you rest often, you will feel better equipped to handle whatever nature tosses your way.
Sincerely and for what it's worth,
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
On January 4th, at 1:28 in the morning, Ruby Lu was born. I couldnt be in a more perfect state of bliss.
As most of you know, I already have three boys and so this time, we decided not to find out the sex. I didnt want to feel disappointed at the time of the ultrasound and I knew that when the baby was born, I wouldnt care either way. But I really wanted a girl!
After a very brief but intense labor, the midwife handed me a squirmy, wriggling little girl. We named her Ruby Lu, an old family name on both mine and my husband's side. Thanks so much for all your well wishes and congratulations...and please pardon this brief hiatus as Ruby and I get to know one another.