Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Recipe of the Moment: Butternut Squash and Spinach Gratin

I had to modify this recipe a bit because I used part of the butternut squash on something else, but definitely worth making, especially with more butternut squash.

Note: I sliced the Parmesan cheese instead of crumbling and it was perfect to bite into a fork full of food and find a large amount of cheese in there.

Bf's review: When you told me what you were making, I thought I was going to have to force it down and smile anyway, but this is actually amazing! I love it! I'm getting more.

Original recipe: here 

about 3 cups butternut squash, sliced
about 3 cups spinach
5 tbsp butter
1 small yellow onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup heavy cream
about 1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp nutmeg

Preheat oven to 400.

Boil spinach about 3-5 minutes. Drain.

Melt 3 tbsp butter over medium heat. Add garlic and onions and stir until soft, about 5 minutes.

In a separate bowl, combine onion and garlic with spinach. Add in salt, pepper, nutmeg, and cream. Stir.

Beginning and ending with squash, layer squash and spinach mixture in buttered pan. Sprinkle cheese on top.

Bake until squash is tender and filling is bubbling, about 20-30 minutes.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Review of the LadyComp

After my horrifying Mirena experience, I did not want to get on any kind of prescription medication. Because birth control is necessary, I opted for Fertility Awareness Method. You can read more about FAM here if you're unfamiliar with it, but basically it's knowing when you can get pregnant and when you can't and having sex accordingly. So yes, sex is put on a bit of a schedule, or at least, unprotected sex is put on a schedule, but I'd take that any day over the horrors of the side effects of medication.

FAM uses charting and basal body temperature readings, as well as secondary signs (and sometimes third signs!) such as your cervical fluid, and it can be very straight forward. But sometimes it isn't. When I was researching FAM to find out if it was right for me, I came across many forum postings from women who were nervous: "I had unprotected sex on this day, but I'm not sure when I ovulated. Could I be PREGNANT?!" 

I can't speak to the skill level of these women in using FAM. I just knew I didn't want to be one of them. In almost every forum, women suggested the LadyComp, BabyComp, or the Pearly to those who could afford it. While it wasn't easily affordable for me (though they do have payment plans), I coughed up the money and I am so happy I did.

What is it? 
The LadyComp is natural, hormonal free birth control. It's part thermometer, which you need to take your temperature, and part computer, which stores your temperature (and height, weight, age, etc) and compares it to hundreds of thousands of other women to determine if you're fertile or not.

Which one should I get?
The BabyComp is a device for women who are trying to get pregnant. It can even help you choose a sex, though it's not 100% reliable. It takes your temperature and tells you the best days to have sex in order to have a little bundle of joy.

The LadyComp is a birth control device. It takes your temperature and tells you which days not to have sex. The Pearly is a cheaper version of the LadyComp. The display isn't as large, and it doesn't keep as much of your information in it's database, but it essentially does the same thing.

If you get the LadyComp and decide you do want a baby (at some point), you can pay a fee and upgrade the software so your LadyComp because a BabyComp. Or you don't have to. Just have sex on the red days and a baby should appear 9 months later. ;-)

How much?
So I spent a lot of money on the LadyComp, and it made me a little sick to my stomach, even a month or so afterwards. Yes, it's an investment. Yes, I'll save money long term. Yes, I could have bought a used one on eBay or Craigslist to save money, but when you're unemployed, spending money at all seems like a bad idea.

If you can't come up with the money and you're interested, I encourage you to look into their payment plan or look around on the internet for a used one.

I bought a new one because I wanted the warranty. (No point in spending all that money if it breaks!)

How does it work?
A red light means don't have sex. Green means go for it. The first few months, I got a lot of yellow lights. And yellow means that the machine is still learning my body, and it's best to treat it as a red day. I wasn't totally pleased with the yellow lights (nor was my boyfriend), but because I was tracking my chart alongside the machine, I had a little better of an idea about when I could have sex (and also if the machine was working properly).

I found that the machine is very conservative (hence all the yellow lights) in figuring out my ovulation days. It's much better now - I rarely, if ever, get a yellow day. Currently, my red days start the day before my cervical fluid shows up, so it's exactly on point with that. It's also great at determining the day I'm ovulating and when I can start having sex again.

In fact, now I only track my charts for my doctors to reference.

The LadyComp stores information for the last 180 days in its database, but it doesn't organize it like a chart - it's just numbers.

Does it actually work?
The Lady Comp has a Pearl Index rating of .7, which means less than 1 out of 100 women who use this will get pregnant. To compare, the pill has a PI between .1-.9 and diaphragms have a PI of 1-3. So compared to other hormonal alternatives, it's about the same, if not better. Percentage wise, it's 99.3% accurate.

You can compare their devices to other, more standard birth control measures on their website.

I encourage you to poke around their website and give it a shot if you're interested.

Let me know if you have any questions!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Recipe of the Moment: Chai Scones

Scones are not something I think of having all the time. Very rarely in fact. Maybe if I go out for afternoon tea at a restaurant or hotel, which happens less than once a year.

But no more!

I saw this simple recipe for Chai Spiced Scones over at Budget Bytes and decided to make them, and they're pretty tasty. I modified the spices just slightly because this recipe is pretty perfect on its own.

Because I don't typically eat scones, I'm not sure if this is normal or not, so I'm mentioning it anyway. On its own, it's a little dry. If I eat them with tea, my mouth sings. So. Don't forget the tea!

2 cups all purpose flour
3 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
3 tbsp butter
1/4 cup milk
2 eggs

Preheat the oven to 450.

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and cardamom.

Cut butter into chunks and with your hands, combine it with flour.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs and milk. Pour the egg mixture into the flour mixture and stir.

If there is still a bit of dry flour, add water. I added about 2 tbps.

Shape the dough into a circular shape on a flat surface. Using a sharp knife, cut into 8 pieces.

Place the wedge shaped scones on a baking sheet and bake for 15-17 minutes, or until golden brown.

Enjoy with tea!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Fertility Awareness Method: Reliable Birth Control Without Hormones

After my horrendous experience with hormonal birth control on the Mirena IUD, you can imagine I was not eager to get on another type of hormonal birth control. It turns out there aren't many options out there, except for condoms which I'm not a fan of. And except for FAM, Fertility Awareness Method.

FAM is something that not many people know about, even among doctors. A few people are generally familiar with the concept, but only because they used it to get pregnant. Yes, in addition to being birth control, it can also be a great way to conceive.

Very basically: FAM is a way for the woman to know her body and to know when she's ovulating. When you're not ovulating or not about to ovulate, you can have as much sex as you want. If you don't want to get pregnant, then you either abstain or use another method of birth control (i.e. condoms) when you are ovulating.

If you want to get pregnant, you make sure to have sex when you're ovulating since that's the only time you can get pregnant. Many couple erroneously think they're infertile when in fact they're just not having sex at the right time of the month.

FAM is NOT the rhythm method.
The rhythm method presupposes that every woman has a 28 day cycle and every woman ovulates on day 14. This is obviously not the case, as cycles can vary from month to month and especially from woman to woman. FAM looks at each month's cycle to determine when you're ovulating and when you're not.

How safe is this?
The bottom line is that no one's going to use it unless it works. And it does. If used correctly, it has almost the same effectiveness as the pill, 98%. Reasons for pregnancy/not correct use? Having sex during ovulation and not understanding the rules used to determine when you're fertile.

How does this work?
You need to know where you are in your cycle at all times. Luckily, your body lets you know, as long as you know how to read the signs.

First, you need to take your basal body temperature every day, which is your temperature before you get out of bed in the morning. Eventually, you will see a pattern emerge. The first half of your cycle, your temperature is lower. It drops to its lowest point on the day before you ovulate, and then for the rest of your cycle, temperatures are up. The temperature drops down again when you get your period, and the cycle starts over. (So yes, this is a great way to know the day you're going to get your period!)

Example of fertility chart

Secondly, you need to observe your cervical fluid. This confused me greatly at first, but now I'm a whiz at knowing what my cervical fluid means. Without cervical fluid, sperm die a quick and hopefully painless death.  Sperm need cervical fluid to transport them to the egg. So if you're using FAM as birth control, you need to be careful when you start to get fluid.

There are a few different types of fluid, and you only get fluid when you're about to ovulate or when you're ovulating. Some fluid is more "fertile" than others, but I tend to abstain when there's fluid at all because sperm can survive for up to 5 days when there's fluid and I don't want them hanging around, waiting for my "fertile" fluid to appear.

There are a few other methods, but these are the two that I find the most easy to track and the most reliable. Google FAM, or check out Planned Parenthood's page here for more information on other methods.

How much does it cost?
FAM can be very cheap. Really, all you need is a basal body thermometer, which you can pick up at a drugstore for less than $10. There are other options, which I'll discuss in a future post, that cost more, but doing this on the cheap is definitely possible.

Who should not use FAM?

FAM, while perfect for me, may not be for you. You have to have the discipline to take your temperature every day. You have to have the discipline to check your cervical fluid. You have to have the discipline not to have unprotected sex when you're not experiencing a "safe" day.

Beyond that, it's not recommended for non-monogamous couples due to STDs and HIV/AIDS risk. It's also not recommended for those who binge drink regularly, as it raises your basal body temperature and can cause confusion when charting.

While FAM works for those with irregular cycles, if your cycle is very irregular (i.e. more than 40 days or less than 20 days apart), it may not work for you.

Really, how easy is it? It sounds like a lot of work.
When I first started charting, I was confused. For the first week, I wasn't sure I was taking my temperature at the right time, correctly (I know, I know, but I was nervous), or if it was "immediately" after I had woken up. (What if I was awake thinking for a few moments before I realized I was awake?)

I was also a little confused by the cervical fluid and all the various types, but once I read Taking Charge of Your Fertility, I became much more confident on all fronts, and now I think it's breeze. It takes me less than 30 seconds a day to know where I am and what my body will (probably) do that day. I love it and I don't see myself going back on any hormonal birth control any time soon.

Want to learn more?
Generally I recommend talking to your doctor, but make sure your doctor knows about FAM before making an appointment.

Definitely check out the book Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler. Despite appearing like a pregnancy book, this is actually perfect for every woman to learn how her body functions. Despite thinking I knew a lot about my body, I found that my knowledge really only skimmed the surface. Things that always seemed crazy or disgusting suddenly made sense, and I no longer view my body as an unpredictable foreign being that's out to get me.

More importantly, it will teach you how to chart your cycles which will help you know when you're fertile and when you're not. If you are trying to conceive and having difficulties, you will hopefully be able to bypass many of the tests and drugs from the infertility doctor because you'll already know which phase of your cycle is causing the problems. Truly, it should be required reading for every female (and most men, as well!).

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Recipe of the Moment: Quinoa and Cabbage Saute

Not the best picture, but I couldn't figure out how to make this look appetizing... even though it really is!
Continuing on making my way through Martha Stewart Living is this recipe! I have no idea what to call it. Martha calls it Toasted Quinoa Saute with Lemony Cabbage and Dill. She recommends serving it with yogurt, which really confuses me. My boyfriend calls it pasta salad, even though it really isn't, and thinks it would go great with a hamburger. I've settled on the name Quinoa and Cabbage Saute, even though I think that could still use some improvements.

Regardless of the confusion over what to make of this creation, I made some modifications, and it tastes amazing. I serve it warm; you can eat it cold, which my boyfriend does, but I prefer it heated.

1.5 cups of water
1/2 cup quinoa
1 head Savoy cabbage
2 tomatoes
1 cup feta cheese
1 15 ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 cup small green olives, pitted
1 lemon, juiced
olive oil

Bring water to a boil in a medium pot. Stir in quinoa and return to boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 15 minutes.

Uncover, turn heat to high and cook until water evaporates fully, stirring constantly, about 5 minutes.

Heat oil in a large skillet. Chop cabbage into small pieces.

Add half head of cabbage to the skillet and saute until tender and golden, about 8-10 minutes.

When one batch is finished, transfer to a bowl and continue with another batch of the cabbage.

Finally, add all cabbage and quinoa to the skillet and cook on high heat until the quinoa is toasted, about 10-15 minutes. Remove from heat and add to bowl.

In the bowl with the cabbage and quinoa, also add chickpeas, olives, tomatoes, cheese, and lemon juice and toss to combine. Salt and pepper to taste.


Saturday, February 2, 2013

Recipe of the Moment: Winter Soup with Orange and Ginger

I somehow was lucky enough to receive Martha Stewart Living magazine for free for a year. I originally ordered it because I thought it might have a few ideas, but I'm shocked to report that each issue is full of great craft ideas, but more importantly, tasty recipes.

Or at least, recipes that look tasty because even though I've been subscribed for months, I've only ever bookmarked recipes and projects, but I decided this month I was going to start making my way through everything. After all, what's the point of the subscription if I never use it?

So first up is Martha's Root Vegetables soup, which I've modified a bit to reflect things I have on hand, as well as things I could actually find in stores. For example, there was no rutabaga in my local market, which is a shame because I absolutely love rutabaga. Maybe next time!

1 vidalia/sweet onion
2 parsnips, peeled and chopped
1 celery root, peeled and chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1 small butternut squash, peeled and chopped
2 red potaoes, chopped
1 tsp ground thyme
6 cups of water
1-2 oranges 
freshly grated ginger
olive oil

Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion and cook until softened, about 4-7 minutes.

Add parnsips, celery root, carrot, butternut squash, potatoes, thyme, water, and salt and pepper to taste.

Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat. Simmer until vegetables are tender, 20-40 minutes.

Puree soup in a blender until smooth.

Separate each orange wedge from the other.

In each bowl: Squeeze one orange wedge's juice into the soup and stir. Use additional wedge, ginger, and salt and pepper as garnish. Enjoy!

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Indoor Composting 101: Setting Up Your Compost

Ready for your indoor worm bin? Maybe you read my introduction to composting, and you're ready to start. Maybe you've been interested for awhile and you're ready to make the plunge. Regardless, I'm going to help you set up your indoor compost today.

Worms - Not just any worms will do. Red worms, or red wigglers, are the breed to get, and you can find them online at certain vendors, like Amazon. Because there's always the chance they'll arrive dead (check those reviews!), I find it best to  find a supplier that's local. In NYC, the LES Ecology Center is great, and you can pick up worms several times a week at the Greenmarket in Union Square.

Deciding how many worms to get can be a challenge. What's recommended is this: Save your food scraps for a week, then weigh them. 1 pound of food scraps = 2 pounds of worms.

If you don't want to wait and weigh your food scraps for whatever reason, then I recommend you buy either a half pound or a pound of worms because the worms have a way of sorting themselves out. They will either reproduce if more are needed or they will die off if less are needed.

Storage Bin - There are quite a few different options for setting up your worm bin. If you search online, you'll find quite a few worms bins being sold that are specifically designed for composting. Below are a few different options, but I haven't used any of them, so be sure to check out the reviews.

A simpler and cheaper option would be to go to the dollar store, or whatever store you'd like, and buy a plastic storage bin. I bought one for a few dollars and poked holes in the top with a screwdriver. Et voila, a worm bin for less than $5. 

Make sure the worm bin is deep enough for air to circulate, and make sure it's large enough to hold the worms you purchase. To be precise, allow one square foot for each pound of scrap food per week.

Bedding - Bedding is very important for the worms since they don't like light and being exposed. A few options: shredded newspaper, shredded computer paper, and shredded cardboard.

When starting the compost, I shred the newspaper by hand, then dip it water. I squeeze the excess water out, so it's just damp. Then I set the damp newspaper at the bottom of the worm bin. Easy!

Once you've got your supplies, it's time to put everything together.

If you bought a plastic storage bin, be sure to poke enough holes in the top for the worms to breathe. 

Add worms on top of the damp bedding.
Add damp bedding to the empty plastic bin.

Dump your worms on top of the damp bedding. They will burrow their way underneath the bedding, where they will continue to live.

You can add some food scraps* right away, but usually the stressed worms will not be hungry. To add food scraps, chop the scraps as small as you can get them (I usually process them in a blender**) and bury the food scraps underneath the bedding. Never leave food scraps on top because that attracts flies and other pests.  

*Food scraps to add: fruit and vegetable peels or waste, coffee grounds, tea leaves, bread, egg shells, and spoiled food.
Food scraps to avoid: Dairy, meat, bones, human or animal waste, or anything non-biodegradable. 

**If you don't want to blend your food scraps, it will take much longer for the worms to digest and work through them.

Put the lid (with holes!) on the storage bin and place your indoor compost somewhere dark and moderately warm, between 55-77 degrees Fahrenheit. I usually keep mine in the pantry, but under the sink is also a great option.

That's it! 

Check on your worms periodically because it doesn't take long for them to die out if something happens. I'll have another article on troubleshooting tips soon, but generally it's pretty straightforward.