Wednesday, July 19, 2017

It All Begins with Food {Cookbook Review!}

This cookbook was kindly provided by Appetite Random House. The review and opinions expressed below, are completely my own.

Leah Garrad-Cole’s, It All Begins with Food, is so much more than a cookbook! Personally speaking, it has been a wonderful reference guide and source of support (and inspiration!) when it comes to creating our weekly menus. When I was kindly offered this book to review a couple of weeks into our recent endeavours to eat better, I was hoping it would be exactly what I needed to give us some sort of direction. Not only are the recipes fantastic, but the method, steps and information are all presented in an approachable manner - not demanding diets be this way or that, or instilling any guilt. Too often the conversation around what we feed our family (and young children in particular!) takes heated and controversial tones. It seems everyone’s paediatrician or doctor has a different opinion and, in my perspective at least, it feels like the guidelines change month to month! My boys are 15 months apart, and when it came time to discuss starting our youngest on solids the advice was completely different from that of our oldest (only a year earlier!). Searching the terms “Baby cereal” and “baby lead weaning” spark threads that go on for pages with countless different views. And I’m not even going near the formula vs breastfeeding debate. Feeding your family is stressful from so many different angles. From the amount of criticism and opinions openly offered, to the ingredients available, time with which to prepare meals and throw in allergies and picky eaters and you’ve got a recipe for disaster!


Looking back on it now, I didn’t appreciate nearly enough how well Y ate as a baby. Anything we’d give him he’d eat. By the time he was one and a half, he had tried foods that even I hadn’t tried before (hello liver?!). Fruits, cheese, cut up veggies, chicken, you name it the kid ate it! While we did endure colic and sleeping issues, at least mealtime was the one area where everything flowed easily. And then we welcomed N. So many people told me about how their second child was completely opposite to their first from birth. I didn’t know what to expect with N, but I can tell you I have never met two people as opposite as my boys! While N had his own slew of health issues, he was a fantastic sleeper from day one and regardless of all of the medical issues we faced his first year, he had the happiest disposition ever (and I’m not being biased – nurses, doctors and specialists all remarked on it!) . But when it came time to eat. Oh my…

Initially, in the NICU N started out with an NG tube. That was followed by a specialized high-calorie formula to help our tiny little guy grow! We must have switched formula brands over 5 times (with countless different varieties within in each brand attempted as well). Then came the months of OT for feeding issues. And today? Getting him to eat more than a couple of bites of anything is my mission at every mealtime.

It isn’t only N whose meals could use some tweaking. I will admit, my meals throughout the day are rarely ever planned and function more around convenience and what I can grab between cleaning up, nap time, trying to get some work done, organizing our schedule and school/camp pickup. More often than not that means a quick bowl of cereal or whatever is left over from the kids' meals. Pretty glamorous for a supposed food blogger right? At the end of April, with the encouragement of my husband, we decided to change that. We wanted healthier meals throughout the week, and options that were easy enough to prepare that we wouldn’t feel discouraged and jump back into our diets of bagels and cereal.

This book literally arrived within three days of this new adventure. I love that Leah chose a direction for the book that is so approachable and warm while still being informative and unwavering from her intention to help those looking for a route to clean eating and healthy living. She understands that life is busy and hectic, and that sometimes it’s easier to just grab something and go (she actually started Love Child Organics, which makes organic, nutritious purees among other products, that are free from preservatives, fillers, refined sugars, pesticides, GMOs and anything artificial!). She understands that making (and feeding our kids!) tasty, healthy food isn’t always easy. This cookbook is now my textbook. It’s what I refer to when I find other recipes to see how I can make them healthier, or what Leah has swapped in or out of her recipes and how I can apply that elsewhere as well! Leah has the experience from a wide breadth of areas, from coming from a family of women who love cooking to being a teacher and administrator with children who often dealt with issues of food security, as well as having worked in a respite school. Having kids of her own now, it’s clear that this book is the result of firsthand knowledge and experience. Too often I’ve felt books of this genre are unattainable and flipping through them has left me discouraged. As I flipped through the beginning of this book however, one quote was highlighted that made me feel right away that this was going to be different. Just nine pages into the book, Leah openly spoke about the pressure to cook homemade food and make one meal for everyone to eat together every night, how we don’t have 48 hours in a day to get everything done, and sometimes we need to rely on prepared food. Above all, it’s written for parents – and from one parent to another. 

The key is easy to understand, and provides insight into which recipes can be frozen, which are gluten free, plant based, dairy free, egg free and more! There's also a chart for basic substitutions to help make recipes healthier or conform to certain diets (i.e. substitutions for egg replacement). I love that Leah encourages creativity and adapting recipes to suit personal tastes, rather than sticking to what’s laid out in front of you regardless of whether one simple addition or substitution would make it work better for your family! 


For those who are looking for more information and details specifically concerning organic food, there’s an entire chapter including definitions and comprehensive information. There are also sections on stocking a “clean” kitchen and pantry (prettily colour coded, which caught my attention right away and helped ease some of the overwhelmed feelings when looking at all of the alternatives and information provided!). There is so much information that this really serves as the only guide you need to not only start you on your way to healthy eating, but also help you maintain your goals and expand on them once you achieve a level of comfort and familiarity with the ingredients and options available to you!

The information portion of the book concludes with meal planning tips as well as tips on nurturing adventurous eaters and finally a guide on starting your baby on solid food! There are countless guides, troubleshooting information, allergy guidelines and help, tips and an abundance of support to get you started on this exciting chapter! I cannot do justice to the amount of information and resources the book provides parents with, other than to say that the first full recipe doesn’t arrive until page 84! Everything before that is getting you set up to approach this journey with the utmost knowledge, confidence and support possible!

I love that the book begins with baby’s first foods and takes you straight into family meals. It's the book you NEED when beginning solids, but one which will also carry you well into the future of everyone around the table for family dinner! The recipes are straightforward, the directions are clear and concise, and they are all approachable and not intimidating. For the most part, the beginner recipes have a handful of ingredients, all clean, healthy and readily available. Recipes progress to finger foods (which honestly make great snacks for any age – who doesn’t love sweet potato fries?!) and I love that they’re freezable! The smoothie section is fantastic with a whole chart on how to create your own combinations while ensuring the most nutritious outcome. The “Superhero Breakfasts” and lunch sections provide endless meal inspiration, basing recipes on familiar dishes with healthier ingredients (lasagnas, quesadillas, soups and dips!). Yes, the ingredients are healthier, but they’re incorporated into familiar dishes, not asking you to leap too far our of your comfort zone. 


The family dinner section has to be my favourite! One-pan roast chicken, tacos, shepherds pie and ALL HEALTHY! My absolute favourite is the “Best Ever Turkey Chili Soup”. Yes, it has kale. Yes, it is the middle of the summer. Yes, we have it weekly! I make one batch, freeze half and two dinners are taken care of! And it is soooo good! Honestly, one of my favourite dinners now! I love that it’s not only easy to prepare, and so healthy, but it’s actually really, really delicious!


Like I said at the beginning, feeding your family can be a very challenging experience. Add in allergies, or any other complications and the stress level sky rockets. Try to make it all healthy and homemade on top of that and you’re rapidly approaching territory which feels absolutely impossible. I hope this review has helped to show you that it isn’t and that there is a guidebook out there for people like us who have for too long relied on breakfast for dinner, bagels and cereal while maintaining that tomorrow will be different. All those times I’ve bought lettuce and vegetables only to throw out before heading to the grocery store the following week. All those misguided attempts at eating healthy without having a true understanding of what that even means. Pick up this book. You’ll get so much more than recipes from it (although, seriously, try the turkey chili soup!). The knowledge and support within its pages will carry you though the beginning of your path to clean eating and healthy living, and well beyond that!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Perfect for Pesach Review!

There is so much to say about Naomi Nachman’s new cookbook, Perfect for Pesach. SO MUCH. Given that we’re in the midst of Pesach preparations, if you want to save some time (although, there is a surprise coming up!) I can summarize my review for you in one line:

Go and buy this book ASAP! 

Now for all the details… 

I love this holiday! I can’t help but feel, when you put your maximum effort into something, and work so hard, the rewards reaped are so much greater. And what better example than Pesach? Our home is cleaned and prepared meticulously, and menus and grocery lists are made with the greatest attention to detail, culminating in the seder to begin the yuntif - the most elaborate meal of the year! I’m not going to sit here and pretend that the entire process is a completely stress-free event – yes, turning over the kitchen is difficult, as is clearing the apartment of chametz when you have two kids under three who are rarely without animal crackers, cereal or cookies in their little hands. This will be my FIFTH year making Pesach and each year I’ve learned more and more to help make everything come together smoothly. I’ll forever be grateful to all of the families that opened their doors and seder tables to me, year after year, despite having family in town and all of the additional expenses this holiday brings. I was thrilled to be able to bring Y to their houses for his first two Passovers, and as we now host our own meals, their recipes, stories and traditions have seamlessly blended into ours - forever a part of our story.

When it comes to cooking for Pesach, the pressure is on. I’m always hesitant to try new things given that if it’s a fail, the expense put into the ingredients is tougher to bear than a mishap the rest of the year. At the same time, rotating the same potato kugel, butternut squash kugel or chicken dishes becomes tiresome. I want Pesach to be something my husband and kids also look forward to. I don’t want it to be associated with the stress of cleaning or bland food. I do my best to keep as calm and organized as possible, to keep stress at a minimum and anticipation high. All this to say that encouraging me to step out of my comfort zone with recipes for Pesach is not an easy feat.

Until now.


If you want an authority on Pesach cooking, Naomi is about as close as it gets. Her family ran a Pesach hotel program for 28 years. TWENTY EIGHT. This is coupled with her extensive catering and teaching resume. Her knowledge, experience and expertise makes this a stand out cookbook and not one that you’ll only invest in to refer to for eight days a year. The tag line, “Passover recipes you’ll want to make all year,” is more than just a fun idea, it’s a fact. I tested this out by making Shabbos using a handful of recipes from this book - a month before Pesach - and it was a success! I didn’t once hear, “pesachdik” in reference to any of the dishes! We’ve already made four recipes from the book and my Pesach menu is filled with another six, everything ranging from soup to salads, appetizers to mains. 


The ingredients listed are generally found in your local supermarket – something that is super important to me! I try to keep my grocery list filled with as many fruits and vegetables as possible and limit my spending on kosher l’pesach items to necessities – potato starch, oil etc. This book is completely in line with that! The majority of the recipes feature ingredients you’d find year-round! And if you do invest in a certain sauce or vinegar for one dish, you can find others in the book to make use of it as well! The whole goal of this cookbook is to avoid complicating matters. You’re set up for success with a very clear introductory section, outlining everything from which salt, eggs and more to use, as well as information about the variety of oil available, basic kitchen equipment, and freezer tips – especially handy if you’re looking to begin preparations early! There’s also a how-to section which details preparing basics such as crepes and zoodles that can then be incorporated into a variety of different recipes.

The layout is crisp and clean, and organized efficiently and effectively. Recipes are often accompanied by a, “Cook's Tip” gleaned from her years of professional experience. These tips cover topics such as making a recipe pareve, alternate methods of preparation, complimentary sides or how to approach preparation overall, among other matters. There are also “Prepare Ahead” boxes with information to help you begin cooking as early as possible, and “Year-Round,” providing options to adapt the recipe to one that can incorporate chametz (pretty much the opposite of my other cookbooks!). The instructions are concise and broken down into steps to make putting everything together as straightforward as possible.


The photos in the book (photographed by the awesome Miriam Pascal) capture each dish clearly and pleasantly, providing the final little push, if needed, to try it out.  

As for the food itself, there are so many new flavourful, affordable options that don’t require a thousand ingredients and that are sure to elevate your menu this year. We’ve already tried:

Zucchini Mushroom Soup
Coke Chicken
Roasted Root Vegetables with Spiced Pecan Crunch
Vanilla Cupcakes


Yes. Cupcakes. Non-Gebrokts, gluten-free, cupcakes! Everything was fresh, delicious and almost more importantly, easy to prepare!


This year we’ll have ten meals, (two Sedarim, two dinners, four lunches and Shabbos) and that’s not taking into account Chol HaMoed. With all of that on our plate (haha!) standing in the kitchen cooking for days on end isn’t how I’d like to spend my yuntif and with this cookbook, I won’t have to! On our menu as of now, from this cookbook specifically: 

Ultimate Pesach Chulent
Bobby's Stuffed Cabbage
Eggplant Parmesan
Mum's Marinated Eggplant
Guacamole
South Western Chicken Egg Rolls
Shepherd's Pie Potato Skins

None of these recipes drew the word, “pesachdik” from my husband. None of these recipes require me having to run to speciality stores to find ingredients. Not one of these recipes require me to set aside a large portion of time to prepare and assemble dishes. They’re innovative, creative, delicious and encourage me to add new flavours to our menu. 

I'm so excited to try out the chulent, and the South Western Chicken Egg Rolls are the perfect creative way to use up whatever leftovers we'll have from the Roast Chicken I have on our menu. The Shepherd's Pie Potato Skins sound so great, I just know they'll be a year-round staple as well! 

Honestly, when I wrote out the recipes that I knew I'd both be willing to make and would be well received here, upon a quick glance, my list had over 21 titles! The more time I spent flipping through the pages, the longer the list grew. The Roasted Tomato Soup will be added to my weekday dinner rotation, while the Zucchini Ravoli looks too awesome not to try out right away too! There are more than 125 recipes in this book, and I know this will be an important consideration to many - 120 of them are non-gebrokts and gluten-free (If you're gluten free than this cookbook is a definite must!). It really is fantastic and a cookbook you'll be referring to for meals outside of Pesach as well. It's a worthwhile investment and will not only elevate your menu, introducing new flavours and creative dishes, you also won't have to spend weeks in the kitchen to work it all out! 

Whether you’re making Pesach for the first time or twenty-ninth, whether you have your go-to recipes or are trying to compile fresh ideas, this cookbook has something for everyone. It will take the guesswork and stress out of planning your menu and cooking, and give you a safe and flavourful base to stand on. 


I’m so excited to share a recipe with you today (with permission). The Zucchini Potato Soup really has it all. It’s rich and creamy, perfect for all year round, healthy, relatively low in calories and you won’t have to run around looking for a ton of ingredients! As Naomi suggests in the “Cook's Tip” section, you can garnish with fried mushrooms for an extra special touch! 

And while I’m excited to share this recipe with you, I’m even more excited to share this BOOK with you!! Artscroll has generously provided one (1) copy of Naomi Nachman's Perfect for Pesach to give away! Head over to my Instagram account to enter, and for a bonus entry you can leave a comment here telling me what your favourite Pesach memory is! There always seems to be so much stress around cleaning, cooking and budgeting, let's put it all into perspective and remember the moments that made it even more worthwhile! 

The contest is open to US entrants (the cookbook will only be shipped to a US address). The contest will run from Sunday, March 26th, 2017 to Wednesday, March 29th, 2017 at 8pm EST, when 1 (one) winner will be chosen. No purchase necessary. Naomi Nachman's Perfect for Pesach will be shipped directly to the US address, Itsy Bitsy Balebusta assumes no responsibility for shipping. The winner will have 24 hours to respond before there is a re-draw for the prize. Good luck!

Here’s wishing you the smoothest of preparations, beautiful memories to make it all even more worthwhile and a Chag Kasher v’Sameach! 

This cookbook was provided as a review copy from the publisher. All opinions and ideas expressed in my review, are solely my own. 

Zucchini Mushroom Soup 
Pareve - Yields 10-12 servings - Freezer Friendly
(Naomi Nachman, Perfect for Pesach, p. 72, Artscroll 2017). 

1 large onion, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
5-6 cups cremini or baby bella mushrooms, sliced
4-6 medium zucchini, washed with peel, cut into chunks
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut in chunks
Water or vegetable stock
1 tablespoon kosher salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon white pepper or to taste

1. In a large (10-quart) soup pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add onions; sauté for a few minutes until they begin to soften.

2. Add mushrooms; sauté for a few more minutes. Add zucchini and potatoes. 

3. Add enough water to fill pot to just under vegetables. Don't add too much liquid, or soup will be too watery. Bring soup to a boil; reduce heat. Simmer until vegetables are soft, approximately 45 minutes.

4. Use an immersion blender to process soup for a full 3 minutes, until smooth. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. 

Monday, March 13, 2017

IUGR Awareness Day 2017

Today is IUGR Awareness Day. 

I cannot believe it's been an entire year since I stepped out of my comfort zone and shared our experience with IUGR! The response from our series last year, was so overwhelming and has provided such a community on this journey, that I want to share where we are now, another year later!

I don't even know where to begin or how to describe the past twelve months. Sometimes I look at N, (who is now only two and a half months away from his second birthday!) and even though the memory of the NICU is still fresh - trying to reconcile the baby whose incubator I sat next to, whose preemie diaper covered his entire torso, and the little hurricane of love and chaos that's running around my living room - well, I just can't believe it could possibly be the same kid!


Where once his photos were marked by the glare of an incubator, they're now just one giant blur of a little boy running around, trying to take in and discover as much as possible before his Mommy catches him.

Where I once sat sobbing, wondering how I'd be able to protect this frail, tiny, 3-pound bundle, I now sit holding my breath watching him go down the "big kids" slide laughing hysterically, calling out for me to watch his escapades!

N is wild and full of energy, love and life. He lives to make us laugh, and walking into his room first thing in the morning to the most enthusiastic "HIIIIIIII MOMMY!" anyone could ever muster at 6am, makes the early wake time bearable. He's hilarious and a hurricane. He knows what he wants and if he doesn't get it immediately... well watch out! He's so social that the librarian at the library we visit a few times a week knows him so well that she has Paw Patrol colouring sheets lined up and Nick Bland books on display.

Being a parent is nothing how I imagined it would be. The emotion, fear and love it has drawn out of me is astronomically greater than I could have ever imagined it'd be. There are days where diagnoses, lack there of, appointments and doctors/ specialists/ therapists, become so normal and routine, that when I stop to think about what our schedule and life would look like without them all, I just can't picture it. Months relate to appointments. I know July means a yearly follow-up at one hospital. I know that every three months there are follow-up appointments at another hospital. I know more doctors and specialists than I ever had an interest in knowing.

But now I also know resilience. I know gratitude. I know hope and strength and appreciating things that people take for granted. I watch N amaze not just family and friends, but doctors who have been practicing for a very long time. I watch therapists stand back and say, "Wow," in complete awe, when my little boy, the same little boy whose bones were so fragile a year ago, climbs to the top of the structure in the therapeutic gym, calls out and waves at us from the top, slides down the slide and then happily says, "again!" and is off before anyone can stop him! I watch him light up rooms, waving at and befriending the children with special needs around him, so easily, full of sensitivity and understanding that is well beyond his years. I've seen him figure out how to reach his goals despite his tiny stature. In the twenty two months I've been Mommy to this superhero, I have watched first-hand what it means to let nothing, NOTHING, hold you back. Not your size, your health, even your well-meaning Mommy.

I'm learning to give N his space. I spent a pregnancy worrying about delivery, delivery worrying about the NICU, the NICU worrying about the world and then the first year of his life worrying about all the ways he could hurt himself or compromise his health. Everything from a fever to someone holding him incorrectly. I have watched this boy overcome so much in so short a time.

Today N is as healthy and rambunctious a toddler as any you've seen. While his size does set him apart - below the third percentile (to put that in to perspective, imagine an almost two year old in 9 month old clothing) it does not stop him.

If you've just received your diagnosis, or have just met your (very) little one, I want to give you something not too many people gave me. I want to give you a little bit of hope. Not every story is written the same way, and thank Gd, because I wouldn't have N if they all were. But I can offer you our story. I can offer you the fact that this little boy who started at three pounds, endured two surgeries his first year, who now in his second year has been discharged from a few specialists but still has an endocrinologist, paediatric orthopaedic surgeon, paediatric developmentalist and neonatologist, that THIS boy is thriving. This boy is meeting and tearing down milestones on his mission to make "Tiny but Mighty" more than just a catch phrase. This amazing, exhausting little boy is going to change the world.

You can do this. You can go to the appointments. You can hear the skeptics and then you can look at your baby and know that for every question mark your left with, your baby has an answer. Their very own answer. One full of life and a strength that is greater than their size. They are feisty, they are strong and they are capable. And they are this way because they're a reflection of their greatest advocate - you.

They'll hear percentiles and diagnoses and endless jargon from their doctors, but they'll hear the encouragement and the knowledge that none of that is written in stone from you.

The next time we attend our routine hospital appointments there will be a new set of foot steps running down the halls. N will, for the first time, be able to walk up to doctors and to his NICU nurses. He'll be able to speak to them. He'll be able to show them that Mommy's no longer carrying him around, but that he is now the one doing the carrying. He's carrying a lifetime of hope and lessons that he's instilled in everyone that's ever met him. He's carrying so much life and love and energy that I just want to go back to the first NICU nurses with horrible images of his future, and say LOOK. Don't think, don't worry, don't tell me what "usually" or "statistically" is likely to happen but to just stay quiet and look.

Look at my tiny, little boy who's making everyone around him smile.

Look at my little boy who's pointing out things in the room no one would otherwise notice.

Look at my little boy who looks up to his brother with all his heart, who loves Paw Patrol, bears, cookies and milk, and making everyone laugh.

Look at my little boy who continues to spend his days conquering his size, the stares and questions, and the path lined up for him in the limited knowledge and information available on IUGR.

Look at my little boy whose only restriction he wasn't able to tear down was that of the intrauterine variety.

IUGR. NICU. It's amazing the weight of guilt, trepidation and anxiety those four letter combinations can induce. But what's also amazing is what those four letters produce as well - namely the little, feisty bundles of strength and courage.  


Take their little hand in yours (when you can catch them!) and give yourself the gift of stepping away from all the charts and skeptics and fear, and immerse yourself in their adventure and wonder instead. They may be small, but the difference they're going to make in this world is anything but.