Friday, August 29, 2014

Butternut Squash Harvest Soup

In honor of autumn next month, here's a delicious and divine soup.

It was a busy day at the NICU, the day I first tried this recipe. After 6 hours on the floor with 6 more to go, my lunch break was an especially treasured time, and that day was a Sunday potluck. Though I'm sure much of the plentiful food was delicious, this orangey soup and the homemade wheat bread paired with it received lots of attention.

Which, of course, was no wonder when I found out it was made by Wendy. Wendy was my coach, my sensei, if you will, to guide me in the ways of the Newborn Intensive Care Unit. As a new nurse, "What would Wendy do?" was my question to every problem; she is one of those people who is exemplary at life (and, consequently, her job). It made sense that the most delicious recipe there belonged to her, and since she graciously shared it with all the nurses who requested it, I shall share it with you. It's super healthy, super easy, and super delicious.

Harvest Soup                    

1 small onion
2 Tbsp. olive oil or ¼ cup butter
2 lbs. (cups) chopped Butternut Squash  (1 large squash) *I usually cheat and get the already cubed butternut squash from Trader Joe's (and I think Wendy did the same at Costco?)
3 cups water
4 chicken bouillon cubes
1 tsp. salt
¼ tsp. fresh ground pepper
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
4-8 oz. Cream Cheese (may use light version) add to your desired consistency

Saute onions in oil or butter until soft.  Add the squash, water, bouillon, salt and pepper. Bring to boil and then simmer until soft (about 30 minutes).  Stir in the cream cheese until combined, taking care not to let the soup come to a boil once the cheese is added. Blend with an immersion blender or in sections in a regular blender.

Enjoy with yummy homemade bread on a chilly fall day... if those ever come to California.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

DIY Le Mobile Nuage (The Cloud Mobile)

Shortly after SourPatch was born, Laurel sent me the link to a DIY site with instructions for making a darling cloud mobile. We thought it would be a great addition to his nursery and give him something to gaze up at while he is lying in his crib. The hitch was that the instructions are all in French. I, unfortunately, do not speak French.

But the mobile was so cute, and the instructions included pictures, so I figured, "Why not give it a try?"

So, here is an Americanized version of "DIY le mobile nuage." (Here is a link to the original site and instruction pages.)

You will need:
3 different sizes of circles for tracing--I used three sizes of plates, a dinner plate, a toddler plate, and a salad plate. (The mobile from the original site is much smaller. Mine ended up being about 10 inches across.)
Pen or pencil for tracing
1/2 to 1 yard fabric, depending on what size you choose to make it
Fiberfill stuffing (available at craft and fabric stores)
Thread to match your fabric--I used quilting thread for added strength.
3 pompoms for the raindrops or origami birds
1 plastic ring
Yarn, ribbon or invisible thread for hanging

It looks like the fabric in the original post is almost a burlap in texture. I chose a soft, white, textured velour. I think you could use just about anything.

Place your fabric on a hard surface and trace 2 large circles, 5 medium circles, and 3 small circles.

Cut them out.

It looks like the original instructions suggested using interfacing to reinforce the fabric. I chose to skip that step; it would not have worked well with my fabric. They also appeared to iron under a narrow edge around each circle. Since my fabric doesn't fray and the edges do not show in the finished product, I skipped that as well. 

Thread a needle with a long piece of thread. Knot the thread and run a long, running stitch around the outside of each circle. When you reach the end, gently begin to tighten the thread to create a ball.

Stuff each ball with fiberfill. You can fill it lightly to make a soft, squishy cloud or really squeeze it in to make the ball stiffer.

Pull your thread tight and stitch the opening shut. I shaped some of the balls into rounds and others into ovals by how I stitched them shut. The variation in size and shape makes the completed mobile more visually interesting and keeps it from looking too symmetrical. Hopefully, the pictures below illustrate what I mean:

An oval

A circle

Using one of the large balls as a base, I started sewing the medium and small balls around the outside by hand. There is nothing tricky about this; just take large, looping stitches and pull tight. Leave the second large ball and one of the medium balls to create the bottom.

I sewed the remaining two balls together at one edge and then started sewing each of the seven outer balls (above) to those two balls--making sure that the ugly openings are all on the inside--to create one large cloud. You can pin them to each other first if that makes it easier for you.

I sewed a small plastic ring to the top of the cloud and looped my hanging thread (you could also use ribbon or invisible thread) through it.

Using invisible thread, I sewed on three blue pompoms, varying the lengths of the thread for visual interest. I bought my pompoms at Hobby Lobby, but you could make your own from yarn. 

Le Mobile Nuage

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Best Fruit Smoothie

Sometimes you have to eat fruit smoothies. They got me through the pregnancy nausea (berry smoothies crammed with spinach, because it was the only way I could get any vegetables in my diet). They get me through Texas heat and humidity. And this one wakes me up in the morning. I call it my Sunshine Smoothie. It is not the healthiest one out there. No spinach or "super" foods. But it tastes really, really good and is the perfect compliment to these delicious and healthy muffins or the best french toast in the entire universe that you can find here.

Sunshine Smoothie

* 6-8 strawberries, halved and frozen
* 2 medium bananas, peeled and halved and frozen
* 1 small container (6-8 oz) of mixed berry yogurt (I use yoplait for this but feel free to use a greek yogurt. Try to get a berry flavor other than strawberry though- like raspberry or blackberry or a little bit of both)
* 1 - 2 cups orange juice (depending on how thick you like your smoothies)

Throw everything in a blender and blend it!
Makes 2-4 servings

Believe it or not, I don't have a tall, glass cup to beautifully display the smoothie. So this is going to have to suffice.

Monday, August 4, 2014

My Six Best, Non-Essential Baby Buys

I already documented in this post my quest to get as many baby items as I could for free or really cheap, and I am so glad I took the time to find so many bargains before my baby came! Now that Sour Patch is over 4 months old, here's my retrospective list of the best baby items that I believe are worth buying if you have money. You don't need them in the same way you need onesies or wipes, but they certainly have made motherhood a whole lot easier for me!

1. SwaddleMe Infant Wrap: Okay, keep in mind that I worked the better part of a year as a nurse in Newborn Intensive Care. Therefore, I consider myself fairly adept as far as swaddling babies goes (and I definitely believe in swaddling! In my experience, it helps babies sleep so much better, particularly until that troublesome startle reflex goes away after a few months). So though I knew that these wraps existed, I continued to wrap our wiggly son old-school-style until my friend Marie gave me an extra SwaddleMe she didn't need. Boy howdy, these things are the best! So easy to use, much less fuss, and my sweet baby slept like a, well, baby in them. There was no going back, and although we had to stop swaddling Sour Patch fairly early (he learned to roll back-to-front before he hit 3 months old), it was completely worth investing in a few of these wonders. A 2 pack from costs $16.22.

2. Summer Infant Deluxe Baby Bather: Again, my nursing experience taught me how to bathe a baby in those giant plastic tubs you put over the sink. They were great in the hospital... granted I generally used 5 baby blankets as padding and several towels which were then thrown into the hospital hamper for someone else to wash. Plus, the gigantic thing was stored at the hospital and not in my tiny apartment. So imagine my delight when my mother's good friend Marsha gave me this wonder at my baby shower. It fits great in our kitchen sink and folds up small when not in use. I was worried that Sour Patch might feel cold since he is never immersed in water, but he loves it! And after a 10 day vacation without it, so do I; it is not easy to bathe a baby who can't sit up on his own in a sink. I know it can be done, but this sling makes it so much easier. $17.99 from Target.

3. D-Link Day/Night Surveillance Camera: Knowing that a video monitor is a luxury and that we are poor graduate students, Jeffrey and I weren't going to splurge on one of these. Yet when our now swaddle-free baby started rolling all over his crib and getting limbs stuck in the bars, I really did want one. So I was tickled when this camera was on sale for $40 on amazon. I love the convenience! We just access the camera feed on either our phones or laptops. It is also password protected so neighbors can't look in on our little one. How wonderful to be able to quietly check on Patches without trying to sneak unseen into his room.

4. Aden+Anais Swaddle Blankets: Yes, I realize I just admitted that I prefer the velcro swaddlers to real swaddle blankets. Yet these blankets are wonderful staples nonetheless. They do make great swaddle blankets, especially if you need something light for warm summer nights. Yet they're also great to throw over your baby on a walk to protect him from the sun, to use as a car seat cover, or to keep rolled up in the diaper baby bag for any unforeseen blanket need (Jeffrey forbade the use of "diaper bag" in our house, by the way). I actually feel a little silly putting them on my list since apparently every other mother on the planet knew about them except for me; I see them everywhere! They have a 5-star rating on, and a 4 pack costs $34.95.

5. Nursing Tops: First, I ought to apologize to everyone who has had to endure my diatribes about how the world needs to make it more convenient to be a breastfeeding mother. I'll try to resist protesting for more mother's lounges and more inexpensive, diverse clothing options by instead saying how much I like the two nursing shirts I ordered from Milan Maternity. After using my first-time ordering discount code, they weren't too expensive, and they make it much easier when I need to breastfeed in public. I always use a nursing cover, but with such a precocious baby, I appreciate that shirts help make nursing more convenient and discreet.

6. Paperwhite Kindle: Alright, this last one really was quite the splurge. For my birthday, Jeffrey bought me a Kindle so I could  read during my late-night feeding sessions with Sour Patch. At the time, I didn't appreciate how brilliant this idea is. I love my kindle; it has the wonderful side-lighting that allows me to read in the dark with one hand without straining my eyes. It was an inspired gift, and really helped me get through those 45 minute nursing sessions. $119 on

Here's my list! If you have any other great gems for the first four months of motherhood, you should share!