Resting up for the weekend! (Thanks to a little help from my *new* friends!)

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That’s Gabriel and Daniel, lying on my pillow yesterday morning looking super cute and fun, which is what they are. 🙂

Sitting here with my feet up in our newly halfway-unpacked living room….ahhhhhhh!!! Every evening since last Monday night I’ve been on my feet til about 1am unpacking and organizing, with the exception of when I’ve had to nurse to baby.  Even most of my eating has been done standing up while I buzz around the kitchen, and NOW I am giving myself permission to sit. And then sit some more. And then nap. And then maybe sit again.  (This really did happen because before and after the nap today I was sitting to nurse Daniel :))  With the marathon only 5 days away, I am trying to take everyone’s advice to rest my legs and to hydrate.  But let me tell you, my relaxation time this evening was made even more enjoyable possible at all by my two new friends who came over to help unpack today.  They weren’t even really my friends until we chatted while unpacking, since I have only just met them both through the homeschool support email group and the homeschool cooperative.  So basically, these two total strangers came in and started going through all my things while their children, whom I had also never really met, played with mine all over the house and out in the cul-de-sac, almost completely unsupervised, except by one of their older children.  Yes, I feel blessed to have met some wonderful strangers who are no longer quite as strange! 🙂  Sarah came over last Friday and then again today, and with her today came Joell.  Both are teachers at the co-op, and Sarah has a son in class with Patience and Gabriel – in the class that Joell teaches (zoology.)  Needless to say, the children had a great time today with their new little friends and enjoyed the unpacking much more than they would have if I had been on my own occasionally snapping at them for getting in my way. 🙂  Today we made it through several more boxes in the kitchen and most of the book boxes in the living room, enough to enable us to better arrange the living room and really start to “live” in it. 🙂 Double smile face. 🙂  After they left I nursed Daniel again and then was able to nap because John was home a bit early.  I slept from 3:45-6pm.  Seriously.  I know you are jealous now. (Sorry to incite envy in my readers…)  When I finally tore myself out of bed, I was greeted by a cheerful Greer who had – get this – woken up from her nap, pulled down her pants, taken off her nappy, pooped in the little potty, wiped herself, pulled her pants back up, and then come to report to me on her accomplishment.   Folks, if you need a better advertisement for infant potty training, I can’t come up with one.  She turned two on August 30.  Yes, she still wears nappies, but she poops and pees in them just about…well, almost never.  I went through the whole “changing poopy diapers until they’re almost three” thing with Liesl and Gabriel, so I feel your pain if that’s what is going on with you right now.  And PLEASE, don’t feel like an underachiever if your child isn’t trained by two in the conventional way.  (But if your child was trained by age 1 in the conventional way, I give you my permission to certainly feel like an overachiever — I hardly had it done by age 3!)  Infant potty training is such a different animal, that trying to compare a child trained from birth to one who begins training as a toddler is like comparing apples to oranges.  Anyway, I digress….I nursed Daniel again and then made porkchops and garlicky green beans for dinner.  Then John fixed us all some BlueBell Rocky Road ice cream.  And now I’m chilling out with my laptop in my new comfy chair spot (that’s what you call the place where all your things are staged for your comfort — the seat that reclines, the table for your drink, the basket of things necessary for nursing a baby, the lapdesk for your laptop, etc.)  while the children and John fill the room with laughter as they watch “America’s Funniest Videos” on Netflix.  Heaven. 🙂

An update on the last few days since I have been remiss…I DID get in that last 8 mile run this weekend.  It was tough at points since my tummy was a bit upset after my pizza for lunch and naptime (I ran around 6:30pm), but that annoyance came and went, so parts of the run still were enjoyable.  It ended up being around a 10:00 min/mile average pace, and I’m happy to say I only have two more runs before the big day.  Don’t get me wrong – I really do love running – but training for something this involved adds a little more to the mix, causing me to worry about sustaining an injury or getting sick or a myriad of other things that just don’t regularly occur to me.  There is so much money already committed – besides just the race fees, there’s the hotel for three nights, the trip up there (about 12 hours in the van with the kids) and back, the food for three days (also going to a special dinner for Run to Honor), and the fact that Christine (aka supernanny) is flying down from New York to spend the weekend with us.  Add to this that all my fans on facebook and the blog – you know, the cheering masses who follow my life online (all three of you) – will be pulling for me, and there is a lot “riding” on this weekend.  I will be glad when it has come and gone (even though I feel that it is sure to be one of the most memorable experiences of my life) so that I can get back to reality for a bit. 🙂  Let me just tell you about the BEST PART of my 8 mile run this weekend — the protein recovery shake. Oh yes.  It was amazing.  I call it my “Eggnog Latte Frappucino Protein Shake.”  Want to know how to make your own?  Curious about it’s nutritional content? Well read on, my friend….

Here’s what I put into this beauty:

Also, I used about this much ice:

Specific things to know:

1 cup Eggnog

1/2 cup Almond Milk

1/2 tsp cinnamon coffee syrup

2 tsp decaf instant coffee

1 scoop protein powder

about 2 cups crushed ice

Even Greer loved it:

Nutritional information:

Calories: 430

Fat (from the eggnog and protein powder): 10g

Sodium: 375 mg

Potassium: 680 mg

Carbs (mostly all sugars, a little fiber in the Almond milk): 50

Protein: 31 – 1/2  g

Talk about a recovery shake!! It was my whole dinner that night. Yum!

A few final thoughts before I feed Daniel again and get myself to bed…I was reading Hungry Runner Girl’s blog today, and she posted some quotes from a book by Kristin Armstrong called Mile Markers.  I haven’t read it yet, but now I think I will make a beeline to the bookstore (is that a proper use of the colloquialism “beeline?” Is that even how it’s spelled?)  I won’t quote it here, since Janae did such a good job of posting it on her blog, but I will summarize the sentiments — it was a section about the power of GRATITUDE.  The book describes how being thankful for all the blessings in her life has helped her at mile 26 of a marathon and to push through other tough challenges.  How rephrasing “I have to” into “I get to” can revolutionize the way you feel about something.  I am right there with her!! I guess because I’m so fresh off of running until I was 40+ weeks pregnant, and because I watched some of the Paralympics, and because I’ll be running in honor of those who have given their lives in the service of our country this Saturday, I already feel like every run is a gift.  I GET TO RUN not pregnant (yippee!) And when I was pregnant, I was gifted with the ability (two legs, no injuries or pregnancy-related health issues) to continue running through my delivery date.  Every day, I GET TO SERVE my children and my husband.  I think I shared the other day about the lady on Biggest Loser Season 8 (Abby – you can read her story by clicking on her name.) who lost her family in a tragic accident.  I know we shouldn’t dwell on the bad things in life, but I bring it up again just to say that we need to remember every day how incredibly blessed we are.  Every day, I have a body that functions which I can use to run, to hug, to cook, to clean, to drive people places, to speak, to listen.  So many people in this world don’t have the blessing of health!! And that’s just the beginning!  We are also blessed financially to be able to eat every day and to have a nice place to live, a car to get from place to place, and lots of things that are way beyond our basic “needs.”  Beyond that, I am blessed with a husband who supports me fully (never begrudging me the time to enjoy playing my bagpipes or running) and who counts me as a blessing, too.  So – I think that now I am no longer nervous about running my first marathon this weekend.  I GET to go to DC with my wonderful family to run this amazing race.  Every part of the weekend is just icing on the cake of spending time together as a family with our friend Christine as well (ummm…minus the 4-5 hours when I’m running – that will just be time spent with thousands and thousands of runners and spectators!)  And tonight – I have so enjoyed “getting” to blog again! 🙂

Weekly recipe recommend: salmon salad sandwiches

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That’s Claire keeping Daniel happy on Thursday while we waited in the van during our homeschool co-op. Just now: “Can somebody come help me clean up our room?” asks Claire in her sweet little voice…”Yes Claire; I would love to!” answered Liesl. Man. Some days these kids just blow me away. 🙂 Now Claire has come down crying because Parience apparently took over the cleaning project and won’t let Claire help. Sheez!

Anyway I do have a quick and yummy recipe for you but though I’d give you a brief snapshot of our Thursdays first since we sit in the car a lot trying to entertain the baby and toddler and occasionally other kids as they come and go from classes. We left on time for co-op with sausage biscuits from the microwave and dropped off Liesl and Patience in their Little House on the Prairie class (Liesl just joined it this week-good thing, too, bc they watched a movie and had pumpkin pie!) and Gabriel at KNex. Greer, Claire, Daniel and I goofed off (after I fed Daniel) in the van:

20121005-134317.jpg. Love Daniel’s matching expression in the next one:

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After that, Patience walked Liesl to art class and I dragged the babies along to bring Claire into art class; Patience continued on to science, and Greer, Daniel and I walked over to meet Gabriel. He was glowing from a great class in which he and his team had built a bridge, the teenage boy teacher had told everyone in the class they were all being horrible except Gabriel, and the guy had also told Gabriel he was the smartest kid in the class-probably not true, but high praise coming from a “cool guy” which is how his teacher seems to him. I took them over to Biggby Coffee a few miles away and drove through for a pumpkin spice decaf frozen latte, a chocolate chip cookie, and a hot chocolate for Greer and Gabriel to share. Normally that time period will be when I run Gabriel to piano, also only a few minutes away. Here they are after the hot cocoa:

20121005-135451.jpgAfter the coffee break we arrived back at the co-op to gather in Claire, Patience, and Liesl. John just happened to be there today to meet us for lunch bc I had forgotten something at home I would need for later in the day and he was bringing it to me. He hopped into the van, and I was able to snap a few of the kids:

20121005-140141.jpgNormally at this point I would have left Gabriel at piano and then just swept in to collect the girls, turned right around and driven back to the piano teacher’s house, but instead we had until 1pm for lunch and errands with Papa. Then we returned once more to the co-op where Patience and Gabriel skipped into zoology (they love that class) and John walked Liesl into ballet while I finished nursing Daniel in the van and wolfing down my sandwich. 🙂 Here’s what we were up to during ballet:

20121005-141705.jpg We always put mats out to run around or sit on…

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20121005-143250.jpgRachel and Andrew Sample were there bc their two daughters are in ballet as well – here’s Andrew with Gideon and also Jude smiling for the camera:

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After class we spent more time than intended at the mall because I had Gymbucks to spend at Gymboree and wanted to pick up some jeans to match their sunflower shirts.

20121005-144317.jpg(Yes, those are tiny sunflowers on their jeans!) After a few more stores I was ready to pass out from needing to eat, so a smoothie with protein powder from Orange Julius was necessary. 🙂 The kids enjoyed a waffle bowl sundae from DQ (the same kiosk as the OJ) and spent their quarters on little ninjas and skittles. 🙂

20121005-143647.jpgI think Greer is a little confused about what “open your eyes” means :). Here she is finishing off my smoothie and covered in stickers at Gymboree:

 

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That’s about it for our day out 🙂 now on to the food! I am constantly amazed at how hungry I am when I’m nursing. You would think I’d remember that from kid to kid, but the intermittent period of being repulsed by most foods or just completely apathetic about eating (aka pregnancy) wipes out any fond memories I have about being able to eat like a horse while losing baby weight (I’m guessing that training to run a marathon is also increasing my appetite…) Usually I have to wait three hours after eating before I can run, and that normally means refraining from drinking as well to keep it from sloshing around in my empty tummy. Now, I can drink nonstop fluids up until and during running and I’m still thirsty. If I were to go three hours without eating I wouldn’t make it five steps down the road before face-planting (I don’t think I’d even have the energy to get on my compression socks if I hadn’t eaten recently!) I went to bed hungry last night, dreaming of a salmon-salad sandwich, becoming quite unhappy when I realized the only bread in the house was cinnamon raisin Ezekial bread. But wait! Genius! It would be sort of like those chicken salad sandwiches with grapes in them!

If you’ve ever thought tuna in a can was healthy, you’re right of course. But what’s even healthier? Canned salmon, my friend! The ingredients in canned chicken are pathetic – about ten in all, none of them monosyllabic. Tuna is a bit better – maybe one preservative, tuna, salt, and either water or oil. But salmon? Just salmon and water! And even better – the salmon is canned with skin and bones giving even greater nutritional value. “Gross!” you may think. But I promise, with a little salt and pepper and something crunchy – I like celery – you hardly notice the bones. I added some curry powder, too, just to spice things up a bit 🙂

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20121005-151128.jpgThat salmon looks pretty icky right out of the can, doesn’t it? I add mayo and seasoning and then the celery, then spread it onto my bread 😉 Yummmmmmy!

20121005-151430.jpgOh, I mentioned running after eating because I’m about to head out for a quick 3-4 miles after nachos at lunchtime. 😉 Come on – I was making them for the kids – how could I resist?? Two days ago I ran 8 miles and my iPod cut off after two miles (so I made it start a new workout) and then it wouldn’t register the other six on the Nike website. It did the exact same thing the day before with my six mile run. They both show up on my iTunes, but they won’t upload to Nike. It wouldn’t matter except that on the iPod nano you can’t see your splits unless you look at the run on the website, although on the iPhone app you simply turn your phone sideways to see your splits. All this is to say that I’m excited to now run exclusively with my phone because I received my new water bottle yesterday with the bigger bag for holding the phone, and I’ll be running with John’s Bluetooth headphones. Check it out.

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The Iron Age and Pregnancy

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One recipe today – which maybe I’ll post in the middle to keep you interested – and lots of talk about nutrition, specifically iron intake and deficiencies in women.  So this might be boring if you’re not a)pregnant or b)a woman 🙂  It does refer to female runners as well, though, and maybe even a teenage male.  But you’ll just have to read on to find out how these are connected…

First, here are a few nice pictures taken from the Iron Age Hill Fort (called Barbury Castle although there are no ruins in sight) 5 minutes from our house (It’s a site that was first occupied about 2500 years ago and is now just a big trench and ridge in a large circle that is a place to hike).  The British Iron Age is considered to be from the first use of iron tools up until the Romanization of the southern part of England (around 800BC – first century AD.)  It’s the only picture I could think of that has anything to do with Iron 🙂

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I have done A LOT of research on Fe — you can even say it goes back to my days at Nuclear Power School studying Ni-Cr-Fe cladding in a pressurized water reactor – and have emailed several friends lots of the details of some of the helpful things I have discovered in my quest to raise my iron levels.  I’m not going to reference web pages in this post but will just say that everything I discovered is on the internet, and I am no expert or doctor.  I just felt like I had compiled enough good information that someone might be interested by a small piece of it 🙂

I’ll try to keep my thoughts organized, but I think this will read more like a mystery novel than a coherent list of things about iron.  I am sure if you are pregnant and reading this, or just a woman, you may have struggled with low iron off and on throughout your life.  My first indication of anemia was as a midshipman during my plebe summer at the Naval Academy.  At that point I just went on iron supplements, along with the Milk of Magnesium doctors always prescribe with iron to combat its negative side effects, and took those for a short time.  I never really gave it another thought other than to avoid giving blood because I had been anemic.  Speaking of the teenage male – apparently low iron strikes a lot of young people in their late teens and early 20s due to dietary changes and such (away at college and in charge of their own food intake for the first time), as one of my friends shared about a young man that she knew.  I was sharing my own low iron issues a few years back and she mentioned a kid who wanted to eat dirt (as I did during the last pregnancy) and who was apathetic, lethargic, and depressed, and who eventually was passing out before they determined he had very low iron levels.  It can really be a dangerous thing and not easy to combat with today’s eating habits.

During my first pregnancy I started to munch on ice when I would finish my iced drinks.  The first time I opened up my iced coffee and started eating the ice was what tipped me off to my second pregnancy, and I constantly had iced drinks with number 3 and 4, enjoying the ice at the end the most.  It was not until my fifth pregnancy, though, that I started fixing myself drinks with ice filled to the top of the cup – just to soften up the ice enough to eat it.  I had one of those Venti Starbucks tumblers and would fill it with ice (and then water or tea or some mixture of juice, etc) at least 10 times a day, no joke.  Eventually my ice maker couldn’t keep up with me, and I started keeping bagged ice in the chest freezer in the garage.  I had run just to 16 weeks with that pregnancy and then had a day of contractions and such and was told by the OB to stop running since I had had a miscarriage at 16 weeks about a year earlier.  Looking back, I think it was probably related to my low iron levels, as I was having other symptoms related to low iron and magnesium – constant leg cramps being the most noticeable.  Some time in the middle of that pregnancy I started feeling absolutely exhausted – I would get up late (we had a mother’s helper living with us because my husband was gone so much on his submarine and gearing up for another six month deployment) make it through to lunch time and nap time, and then I would nap when the 2 year old napped.  After nap time I would come down to the couch and basically not get back up, with the exception of some dinner preparation done sitting at a stool at the kitchen island while having my helper run back and forth to the fridge or cupboard, until I went up to bed in the evening.  I was just SO wiped out, and I couldn’t even do any walking for exercise without contractions kicking in (and this was only at 5-6 months along.)

Finally one day I received a clear indication of the problem.  I was sitting in church in Hawaii – meaning it was an old elementary school cafeteria, windows and doors open for the breeze, and the school field being used by some local team for a softball game – when the dust rising from around the field as runners circled the bases started to make me salivate.  I wanted to eat the dirt.  I wanted to eat lots and lots of it, just gobble it up.  I can remember the sensation so clearly!  I called the OB the next day and went in for a blood test – and of course my iron levels were through the floor.  Wanting to eat non-food items is called pica and is a common sign of iron deficiencies.  The most common desires are for dirt and ice, although other people apparently like to eat paper and other weird things.

I had suspected low iron a month or two earlier, so I started to eat more of everything I thought was full of iron – adding certain nuts and molasses to my oatmeal, lots of spinach, broccoli, etc.  But as I started to research iron intake I discovered that I had basically been shooting myself in the foot with the OTHER healthy things I was eating – like whole grains and tea.  Many foods severely inhibit your body’s absorption of iron, while others can increase your absorption substantially (which is why they often recommend having orange juice with your iron supplement – because Vitamin C is supposed to help absorption rates.)  But what they DON’T tell you is that there are TWO DIFFERENT TYPES OF FOOD SOURCES OF IRON – and this is the most important thing to take away from my post.  More on that in a second…

I did wonder also at this point – why this pregnancy (number 6 at the time if you counted my miscarriage) did I suddenly have such an issue? I wasn’t doing anything differently – or was I?  Well here’s what I discovered — I was running for the 5 months before we conceived, which I had never done before (except when I was at the Naval Academy.)  Runners can apparently crush red blood cells with a heavy heel strike, essentially just losing all that iron as they would have done had they bled it out or given blood.  (I no longer run with a heel strike, but at the time I did.)  So that was one difference.  If you’re a runner, and you’ve struggled with fatigue – I would highly recommend having your iron tested!!  Another thing was that I had had 6 menstrual cycles between pregnancies this time – when previously I there was only one between pregnancies – because my husband left on a 6 month deployment right before I miscarried.  Every time a woman has a cycle, she obviously needs to replenish her blood supply, which takes more iron.  This applies to a miscarriage as well – a major loss of blood.  So that was three strikes against me leading me to enter the pregnancy with diminished iron stores.

From all my reading I also found that once you are pregnant, actually BUILDING iron levels is nearly impossible.  Within the first few weeks, even before you know you are pregnant, your body is manufacturing blood to the point of increasing your body’s volume of blood by 1/3. (This is another reason you should be on prenatals if you think you may become pregnant.)  Our bodies are so amazing that at certain points in the pregnancy when you will need more iron FOR THE BABY, your body’s ability to absorb iron increases!  At other times in the pregnancy, its absorption potential decreases again, so even if you’re taking supplements to up your iron, your body may just be in the part of the pregnancy where you physically cannot absorb the amounts you need.

Here’s where the thing about the different types of iron becomes so important.  There are non-heme sources of iron (related to elemental iron and found in all plant/nut/vegetable/SUPPLEMENT sources) and there are heme sources of iron (iron obtained by eating an animal product.)  By the way – iron-fortified foods do not count as heme sources, even if they are an animal product, because they are fortified with elemental iron.  So what’s the big deal?  Heme sources can be ingested and will lead to an almost complete use of the iron by your body because they are already in the form your body needs (the animal’s body took elemental iron and turned it into useable iron for you!) REGARDLESS OF THE OTHER FOODS YOU EAT.  So you don’t have to worry about helping or hindering your body’s “absorption” of the iron.  Any supplements you take, or however much you eat of “iron-rich” foods, will do you no good if you’re not absorbing much of the iron.  Even if you try to help that absorption along, your body still is pre-programmed, specifically during pregnancy, to absorb at differing rates at particular times.

So as an aside here – you need to work on increasing your iron levels BEFORE YOU GET PREGNANT.  And I don’t mean through supplements – because I am not sure how these affect a nursing baby that could be counting on you for nutrition before you get pregnant with the next baby – I mean through heme sources of iron.  If you’re a vegetarian, then I don’t know what to tell you, but this is important – build up your iron stores because once you’re pregnant you’ll only be using it up and trying to maintain through diet and will not be able to recover from a deficit.

Once I had read these interesting things, I went straight to researching what the best sources of heme iron were.  Liver! Great! I love pate!!! BUT WAIT! I read more about liver and discovered it is universally (nowadays) prohibited for pregnant ladies.  It USED to be recommended by doctors during pregnancy (obviously because it’s one of the highest sources of heme iron) but then they determined that it could possibly contribute to birth defects, since it is SO HIGH IN VITAMIN A.  Apparently a Polar Bear liver has so much Vitamin A in it that it can kill a human who eats it!!! They are not sure how much Vitamin A is too much during a pregnancy, so they just recommend steering clear of it if possible.  Bummer.  So what’s next?  Turns out MUSSELS and cockles are super high in iron.  (Ever heard that song “Molly Malone”?  Being in an Irish band, it was one of our regulars :))  Anyway, in England I have found that doctors and people tell you not to eat ANY SHELLFISH during pregnancy, while in the US it’s RAW SHELLFISH which is on the list of no-nos.  Interesting.  Of course, shellfish, being a bottom dweller and a filter of the ocean, could tend to be high in heavy metals and contaminants I guess, but I always eat farm-raised mussels, and I have never seen a mercury warning against mussels – or any other kind of warning against them.  So I started eating mussels just about every day during my previous pregnancy.  I used to LOVE MUSSELS, but I can tell you now, I am just on  good terms with them and no longer love them (familiarity breeds contempt, right?)  The reason they are so high in iron, though, is because their bodies are simpler than those of other animals  —  they don’t HAVE a liver.  Other animals (like chickens, and like us) have a filter system for their bodies – and it’s the liver.  So you have to eat that animal’s liver to get the iron.  When you eat a mussel, though, you’re eating everything it’s eaten, which includes the iron from the ocean things it consumes.

So here’s the recipe I promised for “halfway through the post” which is really much further along than halfway, but I had to wait til I got to the punchline (mussels.)  They were handing it out at the Guinness Factory in Dublin when we were touring it in May, and I was also able to find it on their website here.

  • 1kg fresh Irish Mussels in their shells
  • 300ml cream
  • 200ml fish stock
  • 330ml GUINNESS® extra stout
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Knob of butter
  • 1 Tablespoon of chopped fresh dill
  • 1 medium onion – diced
  • 1 large carrot – diced
  • 1 large celery – diced
  • Juice of half a lemon

In a saucepan place the butter, onion, carrot and celery and fry for 2-3 minutes, being careful not to overcook. Add the GUINNESS®, fish stock, bay leaf and simmer until reduced by half. Add the cream and reduce by half again. Add the Mussels and cook for 2 – 3 minutes until all the shells have opened, then add the dill and lemon juice.

I don’t have a nice picture for you, but there’s a lovely one on their website 🙂

If you need to incorporate more heme sources of iron into your diet and hate shellfish, then don’t trust what you’ve always heard — do your research and find out exactly what the high sources of iron are.  (People always think “red meat,” but if you’re not pregnant and can eat liver, chicken liver is much higher in iron than beef liver.)  Anyway, why am I now eating so much ice again, I ask myself?? Well I certainly know the answer and will confess it right here – I have dropped off on my mussel consumption, although I had kept it up pretty well to at least 3 days a week between the last pregnancy and this one.  This time I didn’t have ANY cycles between pregnancies and was pregnant about 3 months after the baby turned one (which is about two months longer between pregnancies than I normally have), so that can’t be the contributing factor to low iron this time.  I definitely did a good job of maintaining a good store of iron, because my initial blood tests showed HIGH iron levels (a first for me.)  I didn’t even want to eat ice! The one time I did it hurt my teeth.  Then in March I had a test showing low iron – right around the time I was occasionally starting to eat a piece of ice here and there.  Not a lot of iced drinks easily available here in England, and if I wanted iced tea in places I’d have to get a glass full of ice and pour hot tea over it – thereby melting most of my ice.  In April I started to be sad when all the ice was melted, and by May (30 weeks) I was really enjoying eating ice at home in my drinks.  By June now, I’m back to eating about 4 cup-fuls of ice a day (the big cups) and buying bagged ice 😦  They prescribed me iron supplements in April, but I didn’t fill the prescription and have just been trying to eat more mussels.  I had dropped down to maybe twice a week when I was in my first few months of pregnancy – since, really, morning sickness and mussels? No thank you.  Then I started back at 3-4 times a week, but it was nothing close to the 7 days a week I had been eating them during the last pregnancy when I discovered I had a serious problem.  Back then I had my mother’s helper to kick me in the shin if I didn’t eat them (and to fix them for me so I would), and now it’s me doing everything by myself most days. Also, it’s hard to find a time of day to eat them because it should be first thing, but I don’t really want them right after a run 😦  Excuses, I know. I’m working on it.

Personally, I usually just steam the mussels which I keep in the freezer (most of the simple ones to buy are already cooked and then frozen, sometimes in their shells and sometimes already shelled).  Often they will end up boiling a bit instead of steaming because they don’t take up much room in my pot, so the small amount of water in a pot with shelled mussels translates to boiled mussels.  I’ll drain off the water and add some butter, cooking wine, and maybe some garlic salt and whatnot.  Then I just toss them around in that a bit and eat them as quickly as possible.  Other days I’ll just make a dish of butter for dipping, with a squirt of lemon juice in it.  When feeling particularly adventurous (or just sick of my normal mussels) I have stuck them into pastas or leftover rice, and once I even baked them in a dish with bloody mary mix from the fridge.  I get really desperate for new and tastier ways to eat them.  Hopefully this information will be useful to someone who has been struggling with an iron deficiency – I know I would have appreciated knowing some of these things years ago!!

My blood was drawn today for routine 36 weeks tests they do here, so we’ll see what my iron is doing now.  In case you read a previous entry and are wondering about my “measuring small” at this week’s appointment, I was referencing my “fundal height” – the measurement of the height of my uterus basically.  I was scheduled for the OB because of this and went in today for a scan, where it was discovered the baby is growing perfectly fine and along the growth curve, and all my pockets of amniotic fluid are there and look great.  I measured 1-1/2 cm LESS today than I did on Wednesday, so I think the measurement must depend on who is doing it.  I had always heard that the cm measurement matches up roughly with how many weeks pregnant you are.  Well I just checked out a chart of fundal heights and discovered my number to be just about average for 36 weeks.  I guess the midwife was just concerned because the measurement hadn’t changed in two weeks.  Also on the chart, however in the 95th percentile from weeks 32-35, the measurement barely changes from 34-34.8cm in those weeks.  So really, it was nothing to get worked up over.  But it was still nice to have the extra ultrasound to have everything checked out.

Do you have an iron deficiency and, if so, any tips on ways to combat it?

Can you give me any good ideas for new ways to eat mussels???

Quiche for the Masses

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Not your boring ordinary quiche, but a super-yummy one that my kids devour – and it freezes really well, so it’s always one of the recipes that makes it into my freezer around baby due dates 🙂  Today is a bit of a rest day from cooking – I made up a brand new recipe which I put into the crockpot before heading out for my appointment with the midwife.  (I’ll blog about it tomorrow – only if it is successful – when I also tell you about the next freezer item – the pulled chicken and rolls.)  After the midwife I went for a 5 mile run in the glorious sunshine, and even though it was only 65-70 degrees out, it was sunny enough to be thankful for the shaded paths I found along the way.  Since I was running from down in town I could branch out farther than I have been able to lately and discovered a new trail right off the main road that lots of business people were using during their lunch hour to take a nice stroll.  They must have wondered what this crazy pregnant lady was doing on their trail 🙂  I am 36 weeks in two days but measured only 34 weeks today at the appointment, as I did two weeks ago, so now we have an ultrasound scheduled to make sure my fluid levels are okay and such.  We have had them checked late in the pregnancy with every baby since the first pregnancy ended with being induced due to low fluids.  The run felt good enough – even causing me to smile at points and get speedy with it – but I’m not going to lie — running at 36 weeks is just plain hard!! I know if I were a smaller pregnant person – or a taller one who’s entire body isn’t taken over by the baby each time – that it might be easier, but for now, I’m just one big belly streaking past you 🙂 Hahaha 🙂  Here’s a picture John snapped of me when I got home from the run, in our lovely backyard by the roses 🙂

Now, on to the good stuff!  I made this quiche yesterday after cleaning up from the day before’s bread-baking and bean-making free-for-all that left the kitchen a bit, well, untidy.  Good thing my helper Stephanie was here on Monday, or it would have been a million times worse! I also had to put away my grocery delivery (I know – poor me – the store DELIVERS my groceries — something I will definitely miss about the UK!) and raise 5 children including feeding them and schooling them….so it was around 2:30pm by the time I got started on the quiche, right after baby was down for a nap.  I had a little help, though – with Gabriel browning the sausage for me while Patience spread the peanut butter and jelly onto the bread for their lunch, all while I did dishes and got ready to go for the quiche.  I make it sound like a huge effort, but from start to finish it was really only about 1 hour and 45 minutes to make 5 quiches – which is probably good for 2 dinners and 2 lunches for us.  Score!

Here’s Gabriel browning the sausage.  I’ll write the recipe out at the end of the post for just one normal-sized quiche (in a deep dish pie pan) but will go ahead and tell you along the way what I used for 5 – three of them in tin-foil pie pans which are pretty small.  We like to use Jimmy Dean sausage, and I used one roll of regular and one roll of hot, mixed, to add a little spice.  Each roll is 1 pound.

This quiche is from a recipe called “Meat and Potato Quiche” in the More With Less Cookbook (I altered it slightly) so you can guess what is in the crust – potato!  I broke out my handy food processor, for which I paid $1 at a yard sale about 14 years ago.  I use the grating attachment to grate the potatoes for the crust, but however you do it, you’re going to need about 3 cups grated potatoes per quiche, along with one cup of grated cheese, so if you’re making a lot I hope you have a quick way to grate things 🙂  You need to preheat the oven and put about 3 Tbsp of oil in the bottom  

of your pie dish so that once you have grated the potatoes you can put them straight into the oil to keep them from turning that ugly brownish-black color.  Mix the potato with the oil with your hands and then press the potato into the edges of the pan and onto the bottom to make a pie crust.  Make sure you use enough potato to completely cover the bottom of the pan!

 

Bake the crust for 15-20 minutes at 425, until it starts to crisp up a little and the edges are starting to brown a bit.  After I take mine out of the oven I try to pour a little of the excess oil off so that it won’t be as oily when we eat it.

 

While that’s cooking, you can grate the cheese and make up the filling.  My recipe called for evaporated milk, which I don’t like to use unless I have to, or “rich” milk (part cream), so I opted for the “part cream” and used 2 cups of milk and 2 cups of cream.  I was basically doing four times (instead of five) the recipe in the cookbook for the fillings because I have discovered in the past that the amounts given always seem to overfill my quiches.  I beat my eggs for about 30 seconds first, and then stir in the milk, cream, and salt.  Here we have all the fillings lined up and

ready to go – the egg/milk mixture, the browned sausage, and four cups of grated cheese.  Why yes, that is a Sergeant Pepper pepper mill in the background!! (Along with a bobby-cop salt mill 🙂 )

Here’s a shot of all five crusts out of the oven, ready to be filled with goodness:

Here are the various stages of filling – first you put the cheese in the bottom (picture on the right), then the meat (any kind of cooked meat you like really – and this would be where to add in a vegetable), and finally the egg/milk mixture.  Bake them 30 minutes at 425 again, and then let them sit a while before serving.  Personally, I prefer to make them ahead and then reheat them so that they are firmer for eating.  Here in England, they often serve cold quiche at gatherings (along with cold pork pies – ick), but I always prefer to eat my quiche hot.  When I freeze them, I thaw them in the fridge for about 2 days and then heat them covered with foil at a low temperature – usually about 200-250 – for a few hours in the afternoon before dinner or while we’re at church.  Aren’t they lovely?

I tried to sneak peas in last time, and everyone hated it 😦  As I said yesterday, when I’m cooking for the freezer I normally just do the main courses, and then we add fresh vegetables or salad the night we eat it.  Last night was delicious asparagus, which I decided to saute in the pan I had used for the sausage.  Yum!

Here’s the recipe for you – makes one quiche:

Meat and Potato Quiche

For the crust:

Preheat the oven to 425 F.

3 Tbsp E.V.O.O.

3 cups grated potato

Mix the oil and potato, then press the potato into the pie pan.  Bake the crust for 15-20 minutes at 425 F until starting to brown.

Layer in to the cooked crust:

1 cup grated cheese (I use sharp cheddar.)

1/2 pound cooked meat (I use Jimmy Dean pork sausage.)

Pour this mixture over the fillings:

1 cup rich milk (I use half-and-half or half milk and half cream.)

2 eggs

1 tsp salt

Bake at 425 F for 30 minutes.

Now to spend the afternoon relaxing (recovering really!) on the couch while baby naps and our dinner cooks in the crockpot.  I’ll let you know tomorrow how it turns out!  That’s the tough thing about crockpots – you can’t really “taste-test” along the way very well and just have to use an educated guess on how much of things to add – since you only get to taste the finished product!

What is your favorite type of quiche? Do you like it cold or hot?

Do you cook for the freezer? Do you have a favorite freezer recipe?

A Big Hit with the Clan: Black Beans and Rice

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Tuesday afternoon, now, and I’m about to retire to the kitchen once again – today’s task making 4-5 quiches (which I’ll post about tomorrow) to freeze some and have some for dinner tonight.  This is of course after I finish washing up all the pans from yesterday’s ambitious activities!  I am tired just thinking about my kitchen right now, but at least I won’t have to be cooking so much with a newborn, so I press on…

Now to tell you about the rest of my yummy Monday…

Perhaps you’ve had amazing black beans served to you as a side dish at a Mexican restaurant or a Cuban place, or maybe somewhere else in the Caribbean.  Black beans can have all sorts of flavors thrown in, depending on the area of the world from which your recipe originates, from nutmeg and cinnamon, to cumin and cayenne pepper.  It literally took me YEARS to figure out a way to replicate what I thought were the yummiest black beans I’d ever had (served to me at The Fish Wife – an awesome seafood place in Pacific Grove, CA, right next to Pebble Beach.)  I don’t really think mine can be called “Mexican”, “Cuban”, “Puerto Rican”, “Caribbean”, or “Spanish.”  SO we will just call them “Clan Armstrong Black Beans and Rice” and you can pretend they’re Scottish (that’s our last name – Armstrong.)

I made these on Monday throughout the day because it was something simple I could have going on in the midst of my complicated bread baking day.  I started out by rinsing and soaking two bags of dry black beans overnight (which, interestingly enough, I can’t buy in the UK — I’ve had my parents and a friend stuff them into packages for me from the US).  I’ll write down my complete recipe after the photos finish up.

Here they are soaking – taking up the whole huge pot.  (I probably should have used my big lobster pot,

since I barely had room in this pot later on.  After soaking them, drain and rinse well, then refill the pot and set it on the stove to boil gently all day.  This is where the “secret ingredient” comes into play.  You need to boil something with fat in it along with the beans in order to cause the beans to begin to break down.  I have no idea why this is the case, but there you have it.  Perhaps some wise reader can tell me.  Either way, I USUALLY throw in a smoked ham hock.  I have also in the past used just the leftover bacon grease from cooking a whole package of bacon, and also an entire turkey or chicken carcass (obviously in a bigger pot) – you have to watch out for the tiny bones you might get from turkey or chicken, though, and be vigilant to pick them out of the finished product.  I prefer the ham hock because it’s simple and cheap.  It also yields a tasty amount of ham to throw in at the end.  I ALWAYS make 2 bags at a time because we have a large family, and I like to put half into the freezer for another day.  Often I feed this to guests as a side dish to an amazing fish creation (also copied from The Fish Wife) and I usually make sure it’s a large crowd to optimize the praise I receive, so copious amounts of black beans are necessary 🙂  Here’s a shot of boiling the ham hock with the beans:

In the mean time, I also have my brown rice soaking.  From my reading about whole grains, I feel that it is useless to consume them unless you can render them more nutritious to the human body than they are normally.  For brown rice, neutralizing the phytates can be difficult due to a low concentration of the catalyst for the necessary breakdown of phytic acid.  I read somewhere that in order to have a sufficient soak for brown rice that you should save the water from soaking the rice each time and reuse it (adding to it of course) because this causes whatever is necessary for the reaction to build up and become more efficient at doing its job.  I’m sorry I can’t tell you all the technical terms, but you probably don’t care anyway 🙂  Suffice it to say, I found all my information on the internet, and it’s there waiting for you, too, if you want it 🙂  The night before we have brown rice I bring out the rice water I have saved in the fridge from the previous soak and add it to my measured rice already in the pot of my rice cooker.  Then I add enough water to make it to about 2 inches above the rice level, along with some more lemon juice for good measure (The lemon juice is to make the environment more acidic and is what I use from the first soak onwards.)  The next day when you want to cook your rice, you need to rinse it and refill with pure water.  I always make the full capacity of my rice cooker at once and freeze the extra rice to make fried rice for an easy dinner one night 🙂  So – back to the beans.

Once they have happily boiled away the day, I get two HUGE skillets ready, along with a whole head of minced garlic, two onions, and two bell peppers.  My family doesn’t like the peppers or onions in the black beans, so I cut them into large chunks so I can fish them out afterwards to serve the beans sans onion.  Obviously you can halve this recipe because most people don’t cook a ton at once like I do (but hey – at least I only had to use one ham hock for two bags of beans!! Score!)  Saute the bell pepper in olive oil, adding the onion about two minutes later, and the garlic last (you don’t want the garlic to burn!)

 

Here’s one of my skillets where I’m cooking the garlic and bell peppers – without any onions, though, because I didn’t have any.  In this case I would add onion powder when I add the seasonings, but alas, I used up the rest of that last week.  I do most of my grocery shopping online here in the UK and try to avoid having to run out to the store for each little thing , so I just made it without the onion flavor.  It still was awesome 🙂  Once you reach the point where you think your garlic might start to turn brown, immediately start adding water and beans from your huge bean pot to the skillet.  This will keep the garlic from cooking any further.  You want to fill up your skillets evenly, with not too much liquid, but enough to keep them from sticking to the bottom of the skillet.

At this point, of course, you’ve removed the ham hock so it’s out of your way while you’re doling out beans into each skillet.

This is an instance when I’m glad I’ve used a ham hock, because grabbing a whole chicken carcass out of the pot of boiling beans without having it completely disintegrate between my tongs is quite the challenge, and I have spent a lot of time in the past getting all the bones and gristle out before I can cleanly transfer the beans to my skillet.  Once you’ve got all the beans into the skillets, continue to cook them on medium high heat, having them get a little mushier while the liquid cooks down and thickens up.

Be sure to keep your bean water handy to continue to add it to the skillets as they cook down.  You will especially want to save your bean water if you’re going to be having any of this as leftovers.  Once I serve it onto plates, I’ll add a little to the skillet (when it’s no longer cooking) to keep the leftovers for my fridge moist.  Also, the entire second skillet for me goes right into the freezer.  To those beans I add a lot of extra bean water once the cooking is finished so that there will be plenty there to cook down on the day I reheat them.

 

At this point, you’re pretty much finished cooking, and you need to season the beans.  I used salt, cumin, a blend of black and red pepper and some Goya Adobo seasoning.  It’s definitely a “season to taste” type of thing, but I’ll tell you how much I used.  Then we serve up some rice onto each plate, top it with a scoop of beans, and shred cheddar cheese on top.  If you’re really feeling authentic you can put on some of that Mexican cheese, but of course there’s no chance of finding that over here 🙂 (It’s impossible to find “American” style cheddar cheese as well – the mildest British cheese is still sharper than the sharpest cheese I’ve found in America!  We are thankful to have a US Commissary on an Air Force base about an hour away where we buy the smoked ham hocks and cheddar cheese, assorted seasonings you can’t find here and other packaged meats and things.)

If there’s any left on the plates I store it all together and stick it into a burrito with eggs the next morning for my breakfast. Yum! 🙂

Clan Armstrong Black Beans and Rice

Soak the night before:

1 bag black beans in cold water, with enough water for the beans to expand

brown rice, in water with lemon juice

Boil all day after draining and rinsing:

Black beans

1 smoked ham hock (or other fat source)

Soften in a skillet:

enough E.V.O.O. to saute with

one onion, diced

half a head of garlic, minced

1 bell pepper, diced

Once the beans have cooked all day:

Add beans and some liquid from pot to the skillet with the cooked garlic, etc.  Cook over medium-high heat to cook down the liquid and mash the beans a bit.  Keep adding liquid and cooking until they reach your desired consistency.

Season to taste using approximately:

generous 1/2 tsp salt

a hearty sprinkling of Goya Adobo seasoning over the top of the whole skillet

1/2 tsp “Hot Shot” blended black and red pepper

1 heaping tsp cumin powder

Serve ladled over hot brown rice, topped with grated cheese.

Please let me know if you give this a try! I haven’t really seen a similar recipe, so I am curious as to how this one goes down with other people 🙂

Can you remember the best beans and rice you’ve ever had (red beans, black beans, cajun beans, etc?)

Do you like to try to recreate meals you’ve had at restaurants?

Do you eat dinner leftovers for breakfast often?

I sure do!!

Monday – a great day to start nesting!!

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Normally I would write about musical things on a Monday, a trip on a Tuesday, and then about running most of the rest of the week.  But TODAY is the day when I start cooking to fill my freezer for when the baby comes (not hard to fill since the freezers are small in the UK! But I have an extra freezer from the US Government which gives us a bit more room 🙂 ) Nesting at its best, because it means yummy food for us with very little effort in the future.  I don’t do much preparation for a new baby because there’s too much going on with the other kids to really worry about it, but the one thing I do every time is put food in the freezer that my family and I like so we’re not reliant on fast food, prepackaged meals, or others’ generosity (which sometimes results in food that we normally don’t eat) for the few weeks after I deliver.

So this week I’ll post recipes every day during the intervals when I need to sit and when my hands aren’t dirty 🙂  Today I’m baking two types of bread and making black beans and rice for dinner.  One of the types of bread is a new dinner roll recipe with which I’m using soaked freshly ground flour – so we’ll see how it turns out! It’s to go with the Honey Bourbon Pulled Chicken I’ll be making in the crockpot one night, so I’ll wait til that day to post the roll recipe.  For today we’ll stick with the sandwich bread (also a new recipe) and the black beans.  First, though, about my run, from which I’m recovering on the couch for a while before shackling myself to the kitchen counter for the next few hours 🙂

Mondays are the days I normally have a mother’s helper from 10am-5pm, so they are always one of my run days, and the days we get caught up on laundry and other projects like floors or bathrooms.  Of course today it is pouring rain.  Oh well, after last week’s commitment to run regardless of the British weather, I knew I was going to run no matter what.  It was one of those runs, though, where the baby was feeling really low, and my breakfast was feeling very high, and my get-up was making me feel short of breath (The raincoat really adds to the weight of everything and makes me feel a bit stuffy.)  So I only did 2.55 miles, at 12:12 pace (wow that’s slow!!) and felt not-so-great the whole time.  At least it let up enough to allow me to pull my hood off at the turn-around point. I have to say one thing for the weather, though — I am SO THANKFUL it’s not hot, because running this far along (36 weeks) would be not only difficult in the heat, but dangerous.

Okay – off to the kitchen!

Today I tried a new bread recipe which I sort of found on the Kitchen Stewardship blog.  I altered it quite a bit to suit our tastes, and she had changed it already to fit her needs, so I will be sure to give my complete recipe at the end of the photos.  At right here is a handful of Hard White Wheat berries which I combined with Hard Red Wheat Berries (in the green cup.)  In total, about a third of my wheat was red.  Both are “whole grain wheat,” and they get their names based on the color of the berries, and the hardness, etc.  Last night I ground up the wheat and soaked it overnight in the liquids to be used in the recipe.  Here’s a picture of my awesome wheat grinder (a Whisper Mill – although when this one goes I’ll be switching to a Nutrimill), doing the work for me 🙂  I soaked it in a combination of the water called for in the recipe, along with some buttermilk, and then the oil and honey for the recipe – all the recipe’s liquids were necessary to get to a 2:1 ratio (almost) of flour to liquid.  I have found through trial and error that I can’t soak flour in a higher ratio or it is too stiff. (Example: 4 cups flour needs 2 cups liquid.)  So basically I had 9 cups of flour soaking in 4-ish cups liquid, which is a little under my ideal ratio.  Some of you may be anti-gluten (not just gluten free, but you perhaps think it’s bad in general and don’t eat the stuff) or anti-whole grain, but from my research I have settled on soaking my whole grain flour in an acidic medium (click on that phrase for a great summary on soaking whole grains) such as buttermilk, lemon juice, whey, or vinegar, in order to neutralize most of the phytic acid in the wheat germ which appears to be the main culprit in making whole grains undesirable.  In this case I used about 2 Tbsp of Buttermilk per cup of water the recipe called for (which meant reducing each cup of water by those 2 Tbsp.)  Generally speaking if I’m using one of the other options I substitute 1 Tbsp of the water with vinegar or lemon juice.  I had to show you a picture of the striated cup of liquids since it turned out so cool 🙂 I poured in the E.V.O.O. first, then the honey, which sunk to the bottom, and then the buttermilk, which settled in the middle.  How cool is that!?! (Note: there are 3 “extra” Tbsp of buttermilk due to a Tbsp of yogurt in the original recipe which I tripled to make three loaves.)
Here’s a picture of “soaking” flour – in case you pictured it swimming in liquid, it’s not.  When you soak it, you need to make sure all the flour is incorporated so that none of it is left dry (freshly ground flour goes bad if left to sit out.)  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave it on the counter overnight.

This morning I put the soaked mixture into my Bosch, along with the Lecithin, gluten, and salt and gave it a stir.

Since the liquids in the recipe are not warm as they would be had you made it all in one day, I always “proof” my yeast with a little warm water and honey.  Here is a picture of what the yeast looks like after it had been sitting on the counter about five minutes while I was getting the rest of the ingredients into the Bosch mixer.  Once the yeast mixture looked like this, I added it to the flour mixture in the Bosch and kneaded it about 15 minutes.  Here’s how it looked after the kneading (at right), ready to go into a slightly warm oven to rise.  Next is a picture of the dough after rising about 25 minutes in the oven.  It definitely doubled in size!! I like to use an oiled metal bowl for the rising, and I always use a glass bowl for the soaking.  A creature of habit.  I don’t have pictures of rolling the dough out on the counter to make it into loaves, but in the photo below you can see the successful results 🙂  Next time I make bread I’ll make sure to get a picture of forming the loaves and will insert it then.  We’ve already eaten half a loaf as a snack 🙂

Here’s the recipe from which I started:  http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/2011/02/15/seeking-the-perfect-homemade-whole-wheat-tammys-100-whole-wheat-bread-no-6/   but as I said, I changed it quite a bit.  Hers is not written for soaking, although she did do a soaked version and blogged about it.  Also, it is for 1 loaf in a bread maker, while mine makes three good-sized loaves.

Soak:  2 1/2 cups water

8 Tbsp Buttermilk

6 Tbsp E.V.O.O.

9 Tbsp Honey

9 cups freshly ground flour

The next day:

Proof the yeast: 1/4-1/3 cup warm water

1/2 tsp honey

2 Tbsp yeast

The rest of the ingredients:

3/4 cup vital wheat gluten (or 1/4 cup gluten and 1/2 cup all-purpose flour)

1 Tbsp salt

2 Tbsp Lecithin

sprinkle of ground ginger

Mix the groups of ingredients together and knead until the dough can pass the windowpane test.  Let rise once to double its size in a bowl (about 25-30 minutes.)  Shape into loaves and allow to rise again to double (about 20 minutes).  Bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes until the loaf sounds hollow when you take it out of the pan and thump the bottom.

My recipe makes three loaves – a strange number I realize, but it worked well for me to essentially triple her recipe.

I also made black beans and rice for dinner, for which I think I will make a separate post, even though it was going on at the same time 🙂  Hope you get to try this recipe — it was declared “the best bread you’ve ever made” by my husband, QUITE the accomplishment!  Of course the kids and I loved it, too 🙂

What is your favorite bread recipe?

Do you run in the rain?