Stuffed sweet potato with broccoli and feta

Ah, sweet potatoes, the state vegetable of North Carolina and a great Thanksgiving side dish. But wait, there’s more. The beauty of sweet potatoes is their richness in complex carbohydrates, so the good kind of carb that gives our body something to work with. Its high nutritional value is complemented by lots of fiber and beta-carotene. Since a sweet potato all by itself would be a biiiit boring, this recipe loads them with broccoli and feta. While this dish might sound complex, it is actually a quick and easy way to have a tasty lunch or dinner. Preparation time is 15 minutes, plus 50 minutes baking time in the oven. This recipe makes two servings as a main course and four servings as a side dish (for steak, for instance).

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Ingredients

  • 2 medium-sized sweet potatoes
  • 2 handfuls of broccoli (or 8-10 florets)
  • 4 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 5 ounces (100 grams) of feta
  • 1 teaspoon of a freshly squeezed lemon
  • 1 teaspoon of ground pepper
  • 1 teaspoon of salt

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit / 200 degrees Celsius and start by washing your sweet potatoes (but don’t peel them). Drizzle the olive oil in a glass or ceramic (no metal) casserole dish and place the sweet potatoes in it with the cut side facing down. Let them bake for 40 minutes.

Turn the sweet potatoes around and use a spoon to scoop out the flesh. Make sure you allow for a generous remaining layer of potato to let the skin keep its form, since we need to be able to fill it. Place the sweet potato flesh in a bowl. On a board, cut the raw (non-frozen) broccoli into tiny bits and mix them into the bowl. Add the lemon, salt and pepper. Take the feta and crumble it into the bowl as well. Toss everything until it is well mixed. Then use a teaspoon to generously fill the sweet potato skins and place the casserole back in the oven for another 10 minutes.

This dish is suitable for meal preparation. In this case, simply leave out the last step of the additional 10 minutes in the oven.

 


Oh baby, baby: Hospital bag for the birth

One definite lesson learned revolves around the hospital bag. Typically, you would want to have that packed 4-6 weeks before your scheduled due date, since some babies decide they are too eager to meet mom and dad and cannot possibly stay in their cozy womb any longer. Birth is exciting and stressful enough. So when it happens a couple of weeks earlier than scheduled, you really won’t need additional things on your to-do list other than the big event itself. Certainly no “quick, let’s pack a bag” action.

What is most important though is that despite hospital bag preparation being a somewhat important task, you will always need less than you packed. A lot of women, myself included, check into the hospital for the birth giving the impression they plan to permanently live there and have thus seemingly brought all their belongings. Don’t worry too much about forgetting something, because you will not be there all that long if everything goes the optimal way, so a couple of nights at most, and anything that you did forget and can’t live without can be brought by your partner or a relative/friend.

Btw: ask if it is possible for your partner to stay with you and the baby overnight in a family room. The first 24 hours are very precious moments and allow you to bond as a family.

So here is my hospital bag list based on my personal experience (anticipating you stay in the hospital 2-3 extra nights):

Clothing for mom

  • 3 extra-large t-shirts (more if you stored a lot of water, as a substantial amount will be sweated out in the first couple of days after the birth).
  • 2 pairs of very comfy PJ pants.
  • 2 nursing bras.
  • 3-5 panties that are one size larger than your normal ones (to fit the hospital pads).
  • 1 cardigan.
  • 1 set of clothes that fit you 5 months into the pregnancy (opt for comfort over style, since you are most likely not a celebrity who is at the risk of being photographed by a lifestyle magazine while leaving the hospital, meaning a pair of sweat pants is probably making you feel better than jeans).
  • A couple of extra comfy socks.
  • Slippers or any type of shoe that is easy to get on without too much bending over or tying.
  • Optional but surprisingly handy: bring an older buttoned down shirt from your partner (assuming his frame is larger than yours), as it is comfy like a PJ shirt and can be easily opened to breastfeed. Plus – but this might be a personal Mareike thing – I love wearing my partner’s buttoned-down shirts.

Optional: Clothing for dad (you know, since a birth can be long and if he can stay overnight)

  • 1 set of clothing to change.
  • PJs (if dad stays overnight in a family room).
  • Personal care items to freshen up after the birth or in case the dad can stay overnight.

Items for your baby

  • 2 onesies.
  • 2 pajamas.
  • 1 jacket or outdoor piece for the trip home (unless the baby is born on a hot summer day).
  • Baby hat.
  • Baby car seat (only bring that on the day you actually take the baby home, ideally simply leave it in your car) (optional: light blanket to tuck your baby in if s/he’s born in a colder month for the journey home).

Cosmetics and personal care for mom

  • Lip balm (for the time in the delivery room).
  • Hairband (for the time in the delivery room).
  • Wash cloth.
  • Towel (although some hospitals do provide them, so ask first).
  • Tooth brush and tooth paste.
  • Hair brush.
  • Facial care items.
  • Shower gel and shampoo.
  • Dry shampoo (that might sound weird at first and I never saw it on any hospital bag checklist, but in case you are unable to take a shower (for instance if you end up needing a cesarean or are simply too sore to feel capable of standing in a shower), but want to freshen your hair up, I definitely recommend it).
  • Wet wipes (as everything will be veeery sore and they do not provide these in hospitals and the first bathroom visit is terrifying enough as it is).

Documents

  • Large envelope or folder to hold all documents listed here.
  • Maternity log (will be needed by the hospital team handling your birth to know the history of your pregnancy).
  • Health insurance card/documents.
  • ID card.
  • A bit of cash (in case you want to visit the hospital cafeteria).
  • Varies by country: documents to register the birth in the hospital (if applicable).

Items to support you during birth

  • Energy bar and a couple of snacks (a birth can be a long process and you don’t want the dad-to-be wandering around the hospital at 4am to find a vending machine).
  • Water bottle (they do have water in hospitals, but it’s sometimes helpful to have some right there with you, without having to call a nurse first, as you will be alone in the delivery room for the majority of the time with your partner until the action truly starts).

Various

  • Camera or smartphone (fully charged and either equipped with enough storage space for all the gazillions of pictures you will take or with an app to an online database).
  • Phone charger.

 

What you do not need to bring in 99% of cases:

Just to be certain, check in with your hospital of choice to see if these apply in their case

  • Baby sleeping bag (provided by the hospital).
  • Baby diapers (provided by the hospital).
  • Nursing pillow (provided by the hospital).
  • Hygienic pads for the mother (provided by the hospital).
  • Night gown (while it’s a nice idea in theory, in reality you will not sit or walk around in a night gown, more handy is a cardigan as it will also allow you to feel a bit more “dressed”. After all, you are not in the hospital because you are ill, you “just” gave birth).
  • Books (a lot of checklists contain books, but let’s get real. These are the first moments you get to spend with your little munchkin outside of the womb. It’s a crazy emotional rollercoaster ride and fascinating to no end. I doubt you will need to read a thriller or a romantic novel to entertain yourself. Baby watching, baby cuddling, baby everything is usually all you will feel like doing).

Oh baby, baby: How to find the perfect stroller for your family

20180419_1651061896374897-e1524150238238.jpgThere are about as many stroller models available as there are people roaming this planet. Or so it seems when you are out and about hunting for the ONE for your wonderful new family member. In a previous blog post (click here), I talked about tips for selecting a stroller and how to save while so doing. So the article was pretty general and not down to selecting the right model. This time I want to be more specific about how parents can approach the selection of the exact stroller that fits to them. It is easy to get lost in this endeavor, as there are so many types, brands and options. More often than not, however, this prompts people to choose on the basis of design, as we often learned that this is a safe bet to make when it comes to other aspects of our lives. As in: we choose one that we like the look of. While design is certainly important, I compiled a checklist for your family to help you navigate through the process of selecting the perfect stroller – no matter if you get it new or second hand. Keep in mind that it might be that none of the strollers will be able to tick ALL your boxes. Thus you might end up having to rank your priorities. We traded a light weight for good suspension, maneuverability and ruggedness, for instance, as we realized that while we wanted it to be light for potentially being able to carry it up and down stairs to get to the subway in our city, we would find ourselves far more often in the situation of going on long walks in the countryside, so the latter three characteristics far outweighed (excuse the pun) the weight concern. It proved to be the right decision.

Questions you should ask yourself:

Weight

  • How do you live?
  • Where will you go with your stroller?

If you live in an apartment that is not on ground level and has no elevator, it is essential that the stroller be light, as you will end up having to carry it upstairs (and most likely with a baby in the carrycot that is continuously getting larger and heavier). A great brand would be Britax in that case. However if you live in a house or have an elevator, weight is less of a concern. Ask yourself where you might go with the stroller. Are you living in a city with a subway system that is not offering an elevator or escalator at the stops you need to use most frequently? If so, you might end up having to carry the stroller up and down staircases. Yes, as a rule of thumb you can count on people being willing to help you with that (at least in my experience), but the lighter the stroller, the better. If you are quite an outdoorsy person however who likes to go to parks and expose your mini-me to the wonders of nature on countryside walks, then a sturdier option might work better for you. More rugged or robust generally also means heavier though.

Height

  • Are both you and your partner of relatively similar height, or is there a significant difference?
  • Are you and your partner more on the smaller or taller side?

This matters, as there are some strollers that come with very low frame structures, so if you and/or your partner are tall, you might need to bend down quite low to pick up or lay down your baby and that wouldn’t be very back-friendly. Whereas some brands position the carrycot a bit higher, like the models by Joolz and are thus ideal for couples who are on the taller side. If there is quite a notable height difference between the parents, it is essential that the stroller be the necessary height for each of you. Don’t forget that you don’t only walk yourself when you are out and about with the stroller. You also have the weight of the stroller to push, so if the height of the handlebars doesn’t match your physique, you may soon find yourself with neck and/or back problems to deal with.

Flexibility

  • What’s your average daily lifestyle?
  • City or countryside? Or both?
  • Will you take the stroller off paved roads or paths frequently?
  • Will you go running with your stroller?

Does the stroller need to be easily foldable, a.k.a., travel-friendly, since you will have to load it into and out of your car frequently? Do you have to carry the stroller upstairs to get to your apartment, or into a basement? Then, make sure it accommodates for that by being able to easily detach the stroller base and carrycot. Do you live in a city and need to use the subway elevators frequently and thus need a highly maneuverable solution (like ABC or Teutonia) to squeeze the stroller into a small elevator or a packed subway train? If you live in the countryside and mainly go for walks there, this is less of a concern.

Will you take the stroller on walks on non-paved paths? If so, a three-wheeler is superior to a four-wheeler and air-filled tires are superior to hard-rubber ones, for instance. If you are a runner and want to follow your jogging routine AND bring your baby in his/her stroller along, a three-wheel solution is also superior to the classic model. Also, all-wheel suspension of the stroller system is more important for off-road endeavors to protect your baby’s back. This also means that you want to pay attention to the type of fabric of the stroller. White and hard to wipe down might not be a good choice for you in that case. Thus, machine-washable or easy to wipe down and more forgiving fabrics are the ones you should be looking for.

Taking the stroller along on your morning run or going off-road on your walk would call for a brake system that you can activate mid-running if you need to stop suddenly. Don’t forget that a stroller with a baby has significant weight and if you are running, it requires quite a bit of effort to make a sudden stop. So a brake system that works similar to a bike brake comes in handy. If you use public transport a lot, however, you want a stroller brake that you can easily activate and release by tapping it with your food or by turning a switch.

If you are predominantly on paved roads, a four-wheeler might give you more stability, especially if you need to enter and exit busses or the subway frequently and need to make sure the stroller doesn’t tip over while doing so. Or if you do both – going off-road and into the city – then you are most likely in the market for an all-purpose stroller.

Another lifestyle-related aspect is whether or not you will have your baby in a stroller when running errands. This is not so relevant if you do your shopping with a car anyways, but if the store is within walking distance and you plan on going there with your stroller, the size and ruggedness of the stroller basket underneath the carrycot matter.

Your baby

  • Is your mini-me a smaller or larger baby?

This is something that you will only be able to answer once the last trimester commences. While there is of course some basis for comparing what’s most typical in both your families, your baby can still be completely off the beaten track; just because everyone in both your families was always on the smaller to medium size, it doesn’t rule out that your baby might be big, .i.e., long. Our baby was measured to be on the smaller side almost throughout the entire pregnancy, even though I had a gigantic belly from month six. When I went for my eight month check-up, it turned out that compared to all previous checks, our munchkin had decided to speed ahead and had grown like crazy. All of a sudden, and much to our surprise, she was way above average. Given that a baby has an average growth of 3 in/12 cm in the first 3-4 month, this means that a smaller carrycot maybe wouldn’t last until your baby is able to sit by itself. Only if your mini-me can already master this (typically around month six) are they ready to upgrade to a stroller seat. This avoids future back problems, as it puts too much strain on a babies spine to sit in a seat without having the muscle mass to independently hold them in that position. So while it might be difficult to hold off from getting a stroller as soon as possible, as it is one of those purchases that makes having a baby extra real, I recommend waiting till the last trimester to buy it to make sure you don’t have a large baby that outgrows the carrycot too fast. That is, unless you opt for one with a long carrycot in any case. Plus, that shouldn’t mean that you can’t already choose your preferred one and merely reassess the choice once you got a better hang on whether you have a tiny or larger mini human at home.

Storage

  • Where will you store your stroller at home?

This is relevant insofar as it determines whether you need to be able to easily fold the stroller and detach the base from the carrycot and also how large and bulky the stroller can be. If you are able to store it in your large garage, size and folding is no issue. If you need to store it in your house or in an apartment, it suddenly becomes extremely relevant. Also the climate you live in is important to take into account. If you are living somewhere where rain and snow are coming and you need to store your stroller inside your place, you will bring quite a bit of dirt and wetness home if you were to wheel in the stroller. In this case, you would want to be able to easily detach and fold the base and place this outside if possible and only bring in the carrycot. If you have a specific nook in your place where you plan on storing the stroller, take the measurements and make sure that whatever solution you get actually fits into the nook and, most importantly, fits in a way that is easy and hassle-free, because if it is not you can count down pretty fast until you stop storing the stroller in the nook.

Long-term family plan

  • What sized family do you aim to have?

Obviously this shouldn’t mean that you need to decide right here and now when you buy the stroller if you plan on having more than one baby or how many siblings your mini-me should have. It is still a valid – albeit maybe more minor at this stage – point to consider as well. If you and your partner plan on having several kids, it pays off to get a stroller that is long-lasting enough so you can also use it for any future offspring This means that the cheapest one might not necessarily be the right choice for you. Check the stroller for its ability to resist wear and tear. If your family mantra is “all good things come in three” and you thus only plan to have one child, it matters less if the stroller is ready for retirement after the carrycot and stroller seat period of your baby’s life are over.

 


Ricotta Zucchini Spinach Dumplings

When I first discovered ricotta, I was in cream cheese heaven. It was mindblowingly tasty. On top of that it is also quite a healthy cream cheese and extremely versatile as it works for savory dishes just as well as for sweet desserts. The wonderful thing about this particular dish is that it is perfectly suited for meal preps, as it can be easily reheated and still tastes awesome. This recipe makes for four servings as a main dish and takes approximately 45 minutes.

Ingredients for the dumplings

  • 2-3 generous handfuls of fresh spinach
  • 1 medium-sized zucchini
  • 1 cup of ricotta
  • ¼ cup of grated parmesan
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup of all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon of cayenne pepper
  • ½ teaspoon of ground pepper
  • 1 teaspoon of salt

Ingredients for the sauce

  • 28 ounces (850 ml) of whole, peeled tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons of tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons of native olive oil
  • 1 handful of fresh basil leaves
  • ½ teaspoon of salt
  • 1 teaspoon of ground pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves

Start off with the sauce. The secret to a perfectly-flavored tomato sauce is the time you allow it to simmer, as this enables the spices to truly infuse. So any minute more is a minute that will work in your favor. For the tomato sauce, use a large pan and on a medium heat. Chop the garlic cloves into tiny dices and add them to the pan with the oil. After approximately one minute, add the peeled tomatoes and tomato paste. Once everything is well blended, add the salt, pepper and basil leaves. Then let it simmer on a low to medium heat.

Now it’s time to focus on our dumplings. For this, grate the zucchini into a bowl, add the salt, mix it well and let them rest for ten minutes. During this time, the salt will drain the zucchini of liquid and therefore help the dumplings achieve a good texture. Afterwards, pour the zucchini flakes into the center of a kitchen towel and twist it over the sink to let all the excess liquid run out. Then, chop the spinach leaves into smaller bits and add them to the bowl. Mix the zucchini and spinach and then add the ricotta, parmesan and egg, as well as the cayenne and ground pepper, and whisk it all in until nicely blended. The dough is now ready.

The grand finale, a.k.a. the next step, is bringing a large pot to the boil. Ideally this should have 2.5 inches/6-7 centimeters of water in it. Use 2 tablespoons and scoop out a golf ball-sized portion with one of the tablespoons and solidify the dough a bit by using the second spoon. Let the ball glide into the water. Repeat the process until you have a good quantity of dumplings in the water without them laying on each other. The dumplings are ready when they float onto the surface.

 


Oh baby, baby: Things no one tells you about newborns

As if suddenly holding your own baby in your arms wouldn’t be mind-blowing enough for parents, nature thought it would be really funny to throw in a couple of additional awesome stunts. You will find a lot on the internet with regards to surprising baby facts, like that you will still look pregnant for a while or about baby’s first poop (don’t google unless you are pregnant). So since that’s all covered, I listed the things that no one really tells you prior, but that everyone you will tell about after any of the things listed below will happen as in “Ah, yeah right, ours did that too” like a Monday-night-quarterback. So may this blog post be like a pre-game prep.

  1. Sneezing: Babies sneeze. A lot that is. Your initial reaction being: “OMG my baby’s got a cold.” No, it doesn’t. Babies have to sneeze regularly to humidify their nostrils. Being German I came to the only logical conclusion “This baby of mine needs to be dressed waaaay warmer” (see point 3 on this list), while her dad insisted that she is just fine and there is nothing to worry. Turns out she was indeed fine and that sneezing is just part of this whole baby package. After all sneezing is also just really cute if done by a tiny bundle of joy.
  2. Baby girl’s first period: Female babies can actually get their period in the first couple of days and it’s totally normal. They told us about it in the hospital during the first initial check-up right after birth, but my overwhelmed brain didn’t process that info, so I had a mini meltdown when I spotted blood in the diaper. Luckily my partner paid enough attention, so he solved that mystery quickly. Still it was something I never knew about. The reason for the period is (as so often when it comes to pregnancy related things) the hormones your little girl was exposed to while being a womby (a womb inhabitant that is).
  3. Babys are more robust than you think: Chances are they feel a lot less cold than you think and you might overdress them in the beginning. Chances are also that you will experience a lot of anxiety when it comes to going out with your baby for a stroller walk or to a café due to fearing overstimulation. However chances are also that you worry too much and it’s gonna be just fine. Unless a place is really too noisy or too crowded with potentially ill people (like during cold seasons), it actually does your baby a lot of good to go out. However the general advice you will receive, is to exert caution. If you feel like going out for a walk, do so by all means. There is no rule of thumb. You don’t have to keep the baby indoors for a magical 2 weeks or a month, unless it makes YOU feel more comfortable to do so. That being said, babies often face a few circulation challenges while their system gets up to speed, causing them to have cold feet and hands. As long as the rest of your baby’s body is warm and pink and they are not severely underdressed (aka no socks despite the fact that it’s winter), you are on the safe side. There is the saying to always dress your baby with one more layer than yourself. While that might be sensible in winter, it might be overheating the baby when it’s a hot summer day. So make common sense your guideline.
  4. The fussy hours: A lot of newborns go through the daily routine of fussy hours for a couple of weeks until it randomly stops again. Like clockwork your baby will start screaming and crying around the same time and not stop for what feels like a couple of hours, usually in the evening hours. No, they are not in severe pain, no, you didn’t do anything wrong. They are just coping with their day and the fact that really everything is new and crazy. A baby is on a gigantic psychedelic trip, since everything is a first. At this point everyone will point out a list of suuuper helpful tips on how to cope with that and help your baby calm down, often initiated with “This always worked with you ours. Without failure.”. Chances are that it didn’t ALWAYS work. Chances are as well that some trick works one day and completely fails the other. So after having done the general check- up round of feeding, diaper and simply holding your baby to soothe it, you can try additional things like swaddlin, tummy massages or this mindblowingly effective manoever. But there will be days when none of this works and all you can do is simply hold your baby, let it feel your heart beat and let the crying rain over you like a thunder storm that you simply have to endure. This too shall pass. Try to keep your cool and also as a couple, try to not get frustrated with each other. None of you has done anything to cause it.
  5. Every baby is different: Well maybe that is not suuuch a big revelation in theory, but in practice it is hard to hold back from comparing your babies development to others. Truth be told, even the most reasonable people can suddently become competitive when it comes to their offspring. While there is a general guideline when your baby should be able to do X or Y, it really is just that: a general guideline. Everyone develops in their own pace. So yes, there might be babies that hold up their head up really early and others that seem to take unusually long to respond to dangling objects and that’s all fine. Don’t worry. At the end of the day each baby will turn into a normally functioning grown-up, it’s just they each do it in their own unique timeline. So I can only strongly encourage to do yourself a favor and don’t compare too much – neither with checklists, nor with other babies. If anything is off the norm, your doctor will tell you. Just because someone says it’s like this and that, doesn’t make it any more true for your baby. You and only you will know YOUR baby best.
  6. Letting others hold your baby: Some moms experience severe anxiety when someone else holds their baby – and yes, that can include her own partner. Others are completely at ease with others holding the mini-me, even for a longer time period. Both is completely normal. You carried your baby in you for 40 weeks, so being separated can hurt emotionally, even if your baby is just in someone else’s arms and a mere 3 feet away. At the same time, don’t think there is anything wrong with your mommy instinct or love and affection for your baby if you don’t mind someone else holding him or her. The thing is: you cannot possibly know what type you will be before actually being in the situation and this can come as a surprise to you. The toughest woman who thought she lacks motherly instincts can turn into an envious hyena when the baby giggles with joy while grandma cuddles her/him. Others might think they would be such a mommy lion who will want to keep the baby for just themselves and find themselves surprised at how easy they find it to give their munchkin to a babysitter. Unless you shield your baby away from everyone when they’ve got several month on their belt or if you randomly hand your baby to strangers on the street, chances are you are completely within the norm and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
  7. Baby acne: Your baby might get a few pimples in the first couple of weeks. This doesn’t mean there is lack of hygiene in your household (unless we are talking about severe rashes appearing on their face) and it’s simply the results of hormones (yip, here they are again) working in your baby and the fact that there is always a degree of pollution and debris in the air.
  8. Baby eyes – discharge and tears: Some babies have a cream colored discharge out of the tear dugs of their eyes. In fact, sometimes there can be quite a lot flowing out. Unless their eyes are flaming red and swollen or your baby has a fever, this is all quite normal and nothing to worry about. Most of the times it’s harmless mucus. When in doubt, ask your doctor or your midwife. Most of the time all you can do is simply take a clean dry pad, soak it in warm water and wipe it off. Do NOT use black tea or chamomile tea, even though it’s often recommended, because the tiny cut leaf residue might actually irritate the eyes. Sometimes this discharge process can however open another challenging route to travel: baby tears. Nothing rips you apart internally quite like tears flowing down your baby’s cute face.
  9. Baby weight: In the first couple of days your baby will lose weight, because even if you breastfeed them within the regular recommended cycles, it most likely will take a couple of days for the regular breast milk to shoot in (even if your breasts might already feel like it did). So while your baby might get only a few milliliters out on every feeding session and might sometimes feel constantly hungry, don’t worry. They can lose up to 10 percent of their birth weight in those first couple of days and might be unsettled because they are indeed craving food. The good news is: they are most likely not starving. The milk will come, especially if you keep on breastfeeding. If you are worried about it, ask your midwife or a nurse or doctor for advice and a check-up, as of course there are cases where there is a physical challenge present like your babies cheek muscles not being strong enough to properly suck. But mostly it’s just a matter of a few days and nature has prepared for it. However, it can still catch you off guard, despite knowing about it and thus technically being prepared. It makes you inevitably feel anxious when you fear your baby is hungry.