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.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Simple Elegance Review & GIVEAWAY!

Simple Elegance. 

The title of Daniella Silver's latest cookbook alone is enough to draw in this Mommy of two toddler boys. Simple? Elegant? Not words you hear around here very often, given that our days are filled to the brim with Paw Patrol, toy cars, cheese sandwiches, bananas and the occasional toddler tantrum… #reallife

I was fortunate to have the chance to preview Daniella’s newest cookbook, Simple Elegance, and from those two glimpses I was hooked! I had the exciting opportunity to test a handful of her recipes while the book was being put together! Then, as luck would have it, the launch party was a couple of blocks away from my home and I was able to attend! You couldn’t help but describe the evening as completely elegant! The simplicity in the stations set up around the room, with different dishes to taste right from the pages of the cookbook, was a fun and wonderful way to not only get the crowd excited about the book, but to also start compiling favourites and dinner menus for the rest of the week! The soups were incredible, but as far as I’m concerned, the Pulled BBQ Beef Nachos were definitely the winner! Similar to the book itself, the details in the d├ęcor elevated the event to another level. Picture a giant tea cup with flowers cascading from it, a variety of spatulas and whisks hidden throughout flower arrangements, streetlights with enlarged photos next to them; making you feel as if your were walking through the pages of the book, able to reach out and try different recipes every few feet! It was a beautiful evening to celebrate a truly elegant book and author! 


Now for the cookbook itself…

If you loved The Silver Platter, then there’s no question that this cookbook is a MUST. There’s a clear continuity throughout the layout, style and types of recipes included. So much so that there are a few recipes that are almost natural progressions from the first book. For instance, the Cranberry Chocolate Chip Cookies in Silver Platter were a huge hit. I honestly don’t know anyone who has the cookbook who hasn’t tried them out! I love my chocolate chip cookies plain and simple, and any additional texture (or fruit?!) is usually a big no-no, but even I made them weekly for a while there! In Simple Elegance, there’s a Cranberry Chocolate Chip cake that captures the same fan-favourite flavour combination, but has been developed into the perfect loaf cake! I made it as both muffins and mini loaves for my son’s nursery school bake sale and everyone loved them! This continuity brings with it a familiarity that encourages you to try out recipes before moving on to completely new ideas! When I saw the Cranberry Chocolate Chip Cake, given the experience with the cookies from the first book, I already trusted it and was willing to try it out immediately! Same with the Ultimate Chewy Chocolate Brownie Cookies! I will admit, I’m a huge fan of the Flourless Fudgy-Wudgy Cookies from the first book and was curious about these. Given that the Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookies in the first book were such a hit here, I trusted their chocolate brownie counterpart would be too! Not only were they fantastic, my husband immediately loved them and they, too, were sent off to the bake sale! These parallel flavours and recipes were a good starting point when diving into this book for the first time! 

The style of Silver Platter is also carried throughout, however it has been updated to provide an elegant and classic base for the theme and recipes found within the pages of the cookbook. The cursive titles are a notable detail that helps to elevate this edition, while the layout maintains its clear, concise and easy-to-follow style. The intro page to each chapter features an elegant place setting maintaining a cohesive and conspicuous theme seamlessly throughout the book. The photos capture the dishes, clearly and crisply. The styling is beautifully done, with the colours and textures of the props showcasing the recipes excellently (i.e. the gold and silver tones of the dinnerware complimenting the Mushroom Cauliflower Soup perfectly). The images are simple and classic, perfectly arranged, and place the ingredients and visible freshness, colour and appeal of the recipes above all else. 

Daniella’s fun, warm, knowledgeable voice is clear throughout all of the anecdotes she shares. You can easily sense the love and commitment she pours into providing meals that are healthy, elegant and easy to prepare for her family, while also serving to meet their dietary restrictions. Any Mom will do whatever it takes for her kids, and I admire how far Daniella has taken that fact and also channelled it into something that she is not only very talented at, but that also speaks to so many other people! The anecdotes she shares are comparable to reading notes from a friend, jotted down in the margins of your cookbook, and helps the overall theme of “elegance” seem more approachable and attainable to, y’know a Mom tripping over toy cars while rushing to confirm that, yes, Netflix we are still watching Paw Patrol, thankyouverymuch.

Norene Gilletz’s contribution and notes add an additional dimension to the cookbook as well. I value her tips and advice, as they always make prep that much easier or teach me how to be more efficient and effective with my time in the kitchen! Her “notes” cover everything from substitutions, simplifying prep work, alternative methods of preparation, variations, and my personal favourite – helpful notes describing what, to some, may be considered unfamiliar ingredients! For instance, for the Watermelon Radish and Cucumber Salad on page 12, Norene goes into detail describing watermelon radishes, their texture, seasonal availability and more! And it doesn’t end with the familiar ingredients either! You’re bound to learn something on each page, from the best type of sweet potato to use in a soup to nutritional information and how to keep ingredients as fresh as possible. The thoughtful, informative and knowledgable “Norene’s Notes” section, provides greater clarity and encourages readers to try out new recipes, rather than simply sticking to those with familiar flavours and ingredients.    

Having said all this, in the end, what it really all comes down to is the quality and variety of recipes, and this cookbook definitely lives up to its name. I don’t have a lot of time to cook. I have two boys - a three year old and an (almost) two year old, and my schedule revolves around them, from school drop-off and pickup, to errands, appointments, and balancing everything else at home as well. I’ll be the first to admit that more often than not “breakfast for dinner” is my out, leaving simple, elegant meals pushed down my to list. I’ve tried to make better dinners a priority this year, and while our weekday dinners have definitely improved, I do sometimes feel guilt at the lack of “elegance,” especially when compared to an endless Instagram feed of creative and tasteful #whatsfordinner. This cookbook changes that. I don’t need to stand in the kitchen for hours to create healthy, pretty dishes, nor do I have to go store to store or searching down aisles for new ingredients. To date we have tried:

Squash Leek Soup
Roasted Cauliflower & Chickpea Soup
Maple Cinnamon Chicken
One-Pot Mushroom & Rice
Cauliflower & Chickpeas
Roasted Vegetables with Terra Chips
The Ultimate Chewy Chocolate Brownie Cookies
Orange-Infused Chocolate Chip Muffins
Cranberry Chocolate Chip Cake
Pulled BBQ Beef Nachos
Mushroom Cauliflower Soup

I made the Squash Leek Soup post-surgery you guys. Post-surgery! It was that easy and I had a warm, pretty, healthy meal on the table with barely any effort! The One-Pot Mushroom & Rice is a staple on our Shabbos menu and I’ve also included it as a side in meals to new mommies in the community too! The Cauliflower and Chickpeas were brimming with flavour and another new favourite Shabbos side dish! And you know how sometimes you see recipes for citrus cakes and muffins, and can’t wait for that burst of fresh, tart flavour and then… meh? Well not with the Orange-Infused Chocolate Chip Muffins! Chocolate + orange is my favourite flavour combination and other than my go to cheesecake, this recipe is the only one I’ve tried that does the combination justice! 

The recipes are healthy, gluten-free (and those that aren’t, in the dessert section for instance, have “gluten-free options” included). It’s a cookbook you’ll be able to use year round, from the Light and Fluffy Chiffon Cake at your Pesach table to Crumb Topped Pumpkin Cake in the Sukkah! 

This is definitely the cookbook for you if you’re looking to create simply elegant dishes that are flavourful and filled with fresh and healthy ingredients! 

As a special treat, with permission, I’m so excited to share the recipe for the Orange-Infused Chocolate Chip Muffins with you! These are so versatile - they're great on the go, or as dessert and would make a great addition to misloach manos this week as well!

...And one more surprise!

Our generous friends at Artscroll have provided one copy of Daniella Silver's Simple Elegance to give away! To enter, leave a comment below letting me know what your favourite flavour combination is! You can also head over to @ItsyBitsyBalebusta on Instagram to be entered as well!

The contest is open to US entrants (the cookbook will only be shipped to a US address). The contest will run from Tuesday, March 7th to Sunday, March 12th, 2017 at noon EST, when 1 (one) winner will be chosen (Happy Purim!). No purchase necessary. Daniella Silver's Simple Elegance 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!


Orange-Infused Chocolate Chip Muffins
(Daneilla Silver's Simple Elegance p. 284, Artscroll 2016. Reprinted with permission.)

Pareve | Gluten-Free Option | Freezes Well | Yields ~ 18 Muffins

3 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 tbsp fresh orange zest
6 tbsp orange juice (preferably fresh)
1 1/2 cups of flour (or gluten-free flour with xanthan gum)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line muffin pans with paper liners
2. In a large bowl, combine eggs, oil and sugar. Whisk together until light, about 2 minutes. Stir in orange zest and juice.
3. Add flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; whisk together just until combined. Stir in chocolate chips.
4. Scoop batter into paper-lined muffin pans, filling them 3/4-full. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Our Table Review!

Our table was a place where my siblings, parents and grandparents would gather around on a Sunday afternoon. The menu rarely wavered, but no one complained because the roasted chicken, potatoes, peas and carrots, and fresh bread still warm from the bakery were as much a part of the experience as the stories and laughter shared week after week during the meals. I’d sit directly across from my grandfather and always opted to stay at the table with the grown-ups instead of running to play. 

On alternating Sundays we’d visit my paternal grandparents and spend the afternoon with my grandparents, aunt, uncle, cousins, and even great aunt and uncle! The table would, again, be set with all of our favourites and my grandmother would have her famous carrot cake waiting in the fridge in its Pyrex dish covered with plastic wrap, ensuring no grandchild tasted the incredible cream cheese frosting before it was on the table for dessert.

Our tables were places where we grew up, where we spent time with family, where we laughed and made the memories that we share now on Sundays at my parents house – who have themselves graduated to grandparents.

These memories all came rushing back the second I opened Renee Muller’s cookbook, Our Table. It is more than a cookbook. It is a window into the importance of setting aside time to create memories with family. From the day I started this blog, I’ve always believed that there’s no better place to do that than around the table sharing a meal together. When my Dad picks up the bread from the bakery before the meal or my Mom brings the carrot cake to the table on Sundays now, the line drawn from the past to the present is almost tangible. 


First and foremost, this cookbook cannot begin to be discussed without mention of the photography. Absolutely stunning. I can honestly say that the photographs in this cookbook far surpass that of any others I’ve seen (and I love cookbooks). Daniel Lailah’s work is excellent. The images are bold, raw and crisp. The spills, drips and imperfections add the perfect balance to the impeccable dishes serving as the focal point. Having earned a degree in Art History (a.k.a. having spent years studying composition and the finest of details) I couldn’t look at the images without thinking of the countless pieces by Caravaggio I devoted my final year to, and the use of darkness and chiaroscuro. The dark background, raw presentation and use of light to highlight the main dish, are executed perfectly. Renee is not only the author of the cookbook, but also served as the food and prop stylist, and there is no questioning her talent. 

The images draw you in and not only encourage you to attempt the recipes, but serve as snapshots of the table. The cutlery strewed about, the spills and imperfections, the hands slicing fruit or meat or reaching out, you can all but hear the memories being made. The unconventional images are also riveting. Two in particular stand out: the cabbage roll recipe has two full page pictures, one a head of cabbage against a dark background with the page next to it the finished baked rolls, as well as the cabbage salad recipe with the ingredients laid out across the page. This is as much a work of art as it is a kitchen companion. 

This is a cookbook that I would read not only for the content of the recipes, but for Renee’s voice in the notes accompanying each page. The memories and moments shared with her family and children are often casual, as if you’re shopping with them at Costco and coming across the brownie brittle for the first time. The honest, open and comfortable discourse throughout the book is notable. From the intros to each chapter, to the very beginning where she delves into the meaning of a tavola as where, “life and food meet.” Having also grown up in a traditional European family, I can easily relate to the stories and values peppered ever so naturally throughout the book. 

Now, for the food itself! The recipes are not your typical kosher cookbook fare. They are rich in variety and flavours from Creamy Mozzarella Balls with Sugo Della Nonna to Kaas Potjes, each page encourages you to try new, fresh flavours and dishes. We’ve enjoyed the Lemony Dill Salmon, Meat Manicotti, Cabbage Rolls, Tampenade, Brownie Brittle and more! The recipes are accompanied by helpful notes, from which recipes are freezer friendly, to how to prepare that certain dish on Yom Tov to links to videos with further tutorials, and even tips on how to make certain dishes low-carb etc. There’s a Pesach guide at the very beginning, ensuring this is a cookbook able to be used year round, (I was surprised to find a Pesach cake slipped right in to the cake chapter!). On that note, plenty of the recipes bare a gluten-free distinction, appealing to a wider audience! The directions are straight forward and broken down to make the process of preparing each dish as simple as possible. 

This is a wonderful cookbook that you’ll want to keep on your coffee table rather than on the cookbook shelf. Its beauty is matched with its freshness in terms of voice and recipes. If you’re looking for a new dish to shake up your menu look no further! You’ll find endless inspiration from the flavour combinations to the gorgeous images in Our Table.

I’m so excited to share the Brownie Brittle recipe, (reproduced with permission from the copyright holder, Artscroll Publications, October 2016). I can already see this recipe being included with other homemade goodies in Chanukah gift baskets, or as the perfect addition to Mishloach Manos! They’re simple and quick to prepare and can be adapted to your taste! We added chips and white chocolate chips as well as pretzels to our batch!  

Brownie Brittle 
Renee Muller's Our Table p.228
Pareve/ Dairy/ Freezer-Friendly/ 20 Servings

2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla sugar
1 ½ cups flour
¾ cup cocoa
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 1/3 cups oil
4 eggs
2 tablespoons corn syrup
About 1 cup brown salted pretzels OR other topping, such as nuts, chocolate chips, etc., optional

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, on low speed, combine sugars, flour, cocoa, and baking powder. Add oil, eggs, and corn syrup. Mix until just combined, scraping down the sides as needed.

3. Divide the batter between the two baking sheets; using an offset spatula, spread into an even layer. Scatter broken pretzels over the batter. Bake for 35-40 minutes. Let cool completely; then break into pieces. Store in an airtight container or freeze until ready to serve.

Dairy Option:
Use 2 (3.5- ounce bars white almond chocolate, chopped, for the topping (Renee suggests Schmerling’s). 

This cookbook was generously provided by Artscroll. The opinions and perspective provided in this review are my own.