My Breastfeeding Journey

img_0624This week is #WorldBreastfeedingWeek and I thought it was the perfect opportunity to share my journey and celebrate the achievement that I’ve made it 6 months and counting. It’s a long one, but I needed to write it all down, if not just for me to process.

I did everything I could to prepare for breastfeeding.  I had heard from so many friends who struggled with it, how painful it was, and some who switched to formula because it was just too much.  I really wanted to give my daughter the benefits of breast milk and was determined to make it work. During pregnancy, I read the book The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding and several blogs about nursing, read the KellyMom website, started following La Leche League on Facebook and took a breastfeeding class from a IBCLC (Lactation Specialist).  Even with all that, nothing could have prepared me for how hard this breastfeeding journey would be, both physically and emotionally.

When my baby girl was born, we did skin to skin immediately and for the first few hours of her life.  She breastfeed for the first time about 45 minutes after birth.  It did not feel comfortable, but according to the nurse and midwife, her latch looked great. I noticed immediately when she cried that her tongue was connected to the very front and the midwife confirmed it did look like she had a “tie.”  She said that it could cause problems, and that if it did, we should look into getting it fixed.  I fed her a couple more times at the birth center before going home, each time experiencing the same discomfort, but thought I was just sore from the nearly 5 hours of pumping I did during labor to help encourage contractions during the pushing phase. Ugh!! (read my birth story here)

She slept a lot in those first 12ish hours after birth.. I think we were both just exhausted from the labor… and the amount of feedings seemed “normal.”  After that, she started nursing constantly.  When she wasn’t feeding, she was awake and usually quite fussy.

A nurse came to our home the next day to do a check up.  Her weight had only dropped 1% (though I now believe that scale reading was likely incorrect).  By this time, I was in a lot of pain when I was nursing and (TMI!) was already cracked/bleeding.  She observed me breastfeeding and confirmed once again that the latch looked “perfect” and I was doing everything right.  The nurse encouraged me to get a nipple shield to use until I “got used to it,” so I did and continued on.  The teacher in my breastfeeding class did emphasize that it shouldn’t hurt, but that is may be uncomfortable at first; being a first time mom, I wasn’t sure of the difference.

As the awake time and fussiness continued, I began to wonder why I didn’t have a typical sleepy newborn.  You always hear that newborns sleep, eat and poop; we were having a lot of eating, but not a lot of sleep or diapers. After the first 24 hours, she was not meeting the dirty/wet diaper count they tell you to look for.  Something told me something was not right.

As I’ve learned far too often before in my own health journey, we cannot always trust medical professionals to really know what’s going on.  You have to be your own health advocate at all costs. If you ever feel like there is something wrong and you aren’t getting answers, keep asking questions.  I’m also truly a believer in mother’s intuition… we know our children better than anyone, including nurses and doctors.  Trust your gut.  So, I decided to push for more answers and seek further help.

The following day, at 48 hours old, we made a trip to see the midwife for a weight check. She confirmed that Juliette had already lost 7% of her weight and that we should see an ENT to evaluate/fix her tongue tie.  She also prescribed me some triple nipple cream to help with the pain (which slightly helped). We were able to get in with a pediatric ENT the next morning.  He immediately confirmed her tongue tie and clipped it with scissors right then and there in the office. The procedure was super quick and she didn’t cry long, but it’s certainly heartbreaking to watch your newborn held down while someone cuts their mouth with scissors! He said it would immediately help.

It didn’t.  I continued having to use a nipple shield. It was still painful. And she was still nursing constantly.  My milk came in on Day 4 and I thought that would help, but it didn’t.  I would nurse her for a total of 30-50 minutes each time (both sides). Most times, she would fall asleep for a few minutes at the end of the session and sleep in my arms for a bit.  In between nursing sessions, we might take a break for 15-30 minutes to change diaper and play a bit.  The longest break I ever got in between was 1 hour, except for one 4-5 hour stretch at night before the schedule returned.  Evenings were the worst- she would nurse constantly from 4 or 5 pm to 10 pm at night.  Any breaks were filled with crying.

Typing this now, it seems SO obvious that things were not right.  And, I knew that in the moment, but of all the people I talked to and internet research I did, everyone would just say “well, she’s just cluster feeding before bedtime.”  Let me tell you, cluster feeding is NOT that.

At her two week check up at the pediatrician, she wasn’t yet back to her birth weight as they like babies to be.  But, the amount of her dry and dirty diapers were okay, so they weren’t too concerned.  NOTE: I now know that diaper count can only go so far in telling you that things are okay.  If a baby is feeding that frequently, the amount of diapers they produce may be high, but the amount in the diaper is important too.

We kept going.  I continued sitting in my recliner watching Netflix, nursing her constantly.  I was in pain and exhausted. She was constantly fussy. I am forever grateful for the friends who came to visit and bring us meals.  And for my incredibly supportive husband and parents who encouraged me and prayed over us.

When she was a month old, she had just barely reached her birth weight.  Nothing had changed for us and I decided it was finally time to see an IBCLC.  When she visited us, we did a weighted feed to confirm that only 1-2 oz of milk was getting transferred during a feed, where it should have been more like 3-4 oz.  She immediately noticed that her tongue still looked tied and recommended that we see a pediatric dentist to be evaluated.  She also said that while the latch looked okay from the outside, it was obvious from the amount of milk she was getting / lack of weight gain, and my pain, that it couldn’t be right.  She suggested trying to pump after each feeding and give her a bottle of that milk to supplement.

We made an appointment that afternoon with a pediatric dentist who diagnosed her with a thick posterior tongue tie, which cannot be treated with scissors, only with a laser frenectomy.  A laser is more effective to cut thicker tissue back further, because it cauterizes the wound immediately and with minimal pain.  There is no need to put them under anesthesia for surgery either. We did it right there (again, absolute torture to watch even though it was fast) and I was told, again, that we would see immediate help from the procedure with her latch.

Things slightly improved.  She still wasn’t able to latch without the nipple shield, but seemed less.  She started sleeping a little longer during her first nighttime stretch, and would have longer content times during the day. But the nursing sessions were not all that different: she would still nurse for almost an hour, was nursing very frequently, and would get fussy at the breast.

Days after her procedure, we got thrush.  Thrush is a yeast infection in the mouth of a baby (can spread to the diaper area, but didn’t for us!) and on the nipple of the mom.  In addition to the pain I was already experiencing, this just added to it.  I got an anti-fungal pill prescription for myself and Nyastin (an anti-fungal liquid) for baby.  We used that for the 10 days with zero relief.  Finally, I got some gentian violet, a natural remedy and used that on her – it turned her mouth purple, but the thrush was gone in 4 days!

After the thrush was gone, I was still experiencing pain that would keep me awake at night when I desperately needed sleep.  And even though I was trying to pump to supplement with bottles like the lactation consultant had suggested, my daughter would NOT take a bottle at all.  Most dirty diapers were green, which indicates that she was getting more foremilk than hindmilk (the fatty kind), so I knew she really needed those bottles.  She seemed to be getting more milk, but was still not getting enough.

In addition to the above, I still felt I needed help with spacing out her continued frequent nursing schedule and trying to wean off the nipple shield.  I invited the IBCLC back out for another consultation.  My daughter had quite possibly her worst nursing session ever while she was there, which maybe exaggerated some problems and pushed others under the rug. Unfortunately, I ended up more confused and discouraged.

The lactation consultant felt that her not-tied-but-still-tight tongue, low weight gain, fussiness nursing, painful-sounding swallows and gas indicated one of two problems: possible torticollis/hypertonia or reflux.  We made an appointment to see the pediatrician the next day. The pediatrician prescribed reflux medication to see if it helped (it didn’t) and recommended we visit a craniosacral therapist for body work to loosen the tight neck/face/shoulder/tongue muscles created by months of incorrect nursing.  Unfortunately, insurance doesn’t cover this expensive therapy and having already spent hundreds trying to save breastfeeding, I had to draw a line somewhere.  I took her to a chiropractor for an adjustment and did some light massage I read about online and prayed for the best.

For my own pain, it was suggested that I get my milk cultured for a deep breast infection. I decided to try essential oils before resorting to an antibiotic and thankfully, again, the natural remedy worked!  I started putting Melrose on and taking oregano oil in capsules and the pain was gone in just a few days.

At 10 weeks, we were still struggling.  And she wouldn’t take a bottle so I felt stuck.  We tried 5 different bottles and 5 different people.  One day, my friend Emily was over for a playdate and offered to try- she stood up, rocking her in front of the tv and she finally took the bottle!  Nursing was still very difficult and I began, reluctantly, considering formula.  I am team #fedisbest, but I had worked SO hard, that I was struggling with feelings of failure.  One night, during a late night nursing session, I saw a mom on a mom’s Facebook group I’m in offer up her extra milk bank donor milk she no longer needed. I arranged to pick it up the next morning and was shocked to receive over 200 ounces of donor milk for free. I was so thankful I cried!

That was a turning point.  Once I was able to start supplementing her with a few bottles each day, she finally started to gain weight and get the fatty hindmilk she needed to keep her satisfied longer in between feedings.  And having the donor milk to use allowed me to keep what I pumped and start building a freezer stash.

When I first started adding in bottles, I was tending towards exclusive pumping. Having each nursing session be such a struggle and never being confident in how much she was getting, I thought it would be the best option.  But my daughter had a really strong emotional reaction to what was essentially weaning, and it was heartbreaking. So, I continued to nurse and just use a couple bottles a day as a supplement to that nursing.  Eventually, over time, the nursing became less of a struggle. Maybe because she wasn’t so hungry all the time or her mouth was big enough to be more effective. I’ll never really know.

Then it was time for me to go back to work at 12 weeks… My maternity leave had been, if I’m being honest, horrible.  Then, when we were finally getting into somewhat of a groove, I had to leave her. Thankfully, I was able to work from home two days a week to continue breastfeeding as much as possible.  While I was at work, I would pump 3 times each day, but couldn’t get enough for the bottles she drank while I was gone. I had to pump each morning after her 3-4am feed to get the extra milk for bottles during the day.  I was working full time, barely sleeping and exhausted.  Two months in, I decided to cut that morning pumping session to get some more sleep (even though I was waking to nurse her, pumping woke me up so much more so it was hard to fall back asleep). I hoped my supply had stabilized enough to get that milk in later pumps, but I quickly learned that wasn’t the case.

A couple weeks after I stopped that early morning pumping session, I started to notice that it was, unfortunately, causing my overall supply to decrease. Then, I got sick and my supply tanked even more.  So, I added that early morning pump back in.  I don’t get anywhere near the amount of milk I used to at that time, so I am thankful for my freezer stash that I have to dig into each work day. But, it has helped keep my supply up for the rest of the day to keep her satisfied while nursing.

On keeping up a milk supply: I’ve found that drinking lots of water and having a diet high in protein and good fats (like olive oil, coconut oil, avocado, red meat) is absolutely crucial.  Early morning pumping sessions (your hormones produce more milk at the 3am hour) and frequent nursing on-demand throughout the day.  And I have recently tried a few supplements that have helped a lot: Moringa, Legendairy Milk’s Liquid Gold and Pump Princess.

So here I am, 6.5 months in.  I’m still breastfeeding and it feels like a miracle.  I can’t believe what we have both overcome to make it here and I’m thankful for how the Lord has provided.  In the end, the tear-inducing pain with nursing lasted 2.5 months for me.  I’ve had some pain on and off since then because she still has a narrow latch, but nothing consistent. She’s still hungry every 1.5-2 hours, so we will likely never follow that ideal 3 hour schedule everyone recommends. I still stress about my supply and worry my freezer stash won’t last.  I’m still using the shield, which is annoying, but ultimately I’m okay with it because it saved breastfeeding for us. And while we are saving money by not using formula, there is a certainly a cost to breastfeeding.

I don’t love breastfeeding, but I cherish it. I cherish the connection with my sweet baby each moment she is in my arms (especially now that she’s always on the move!), the ability to calm her by nursing when nothing else will, and the fact that I’m able to provide for her health and nutrition- what an incredible thing!

For those of you soon-to-be mamas reading this, I want to say: You can do it! Check out your local La Leche League group in person or on Facebook- tons of very knowledgeable people on there that can provide you with evidence-based support, not just anecdotal. And don’t be concerned about supply now or in the first few days… there is such a stress out there of comparison with how much people can pump and the size of stash they can build, when a big stash is often not necessary. As long as you are feeding on demand, as often as the baby wants, your supply should be just fine.

Work with a lactation consultant from the very beginning to make sure your baby is latching correctly, and if you are in pain, seek out answers.  Don’t let it go too long, like I did. Even though my IBCLC visits didn’t result in a whole lot of answers or help, I still believe they can help with most issues.  I would certainly try to see one before giving up on breastfeeding. Plus, your insurance has to cover it, according to the Affordable Care Act.  My insurance denied the claim (because insurance companies are dumb), but I submitted an appeal that was accepted- I would be happy to share my letter and back up documentation with anyone!

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Controlling Gestational Diabetes Naturally

At my 28 week appointment, I took the dreaded pregnancy glucose test.  Since my pregnancy nausea was still pretty bad at the time, I was most nervous about trying not to throw up for an hour on an empty stomach.  I never would have imagined that I would get a call the next day saying I didn’t pass.  The following day, I had to do it all over again.  This time, I had to drink 2 of the glucose drinks and get my blood drawn 4 times over 3 hours.  I was extremely nauseous and faint, but resting in the fact that if I got through those 3 hours, it would all be over.

On Monday, I got the call that I had failed and was officially diagnosed with gestational diabetes (GDM).  I was shocked.  I didn’t know much about GDM at the time, so I went into full on planning & research mode to figure out how to fix it.  I was also scared; my plans all along had been to deliver at a birth center instead of the hospital and I was nervous this diagnosis would risk me out of that option.  Plus, what did it mean for the baby and for my own health? How did this happen to someone healthy like me?

That week, I got my glucose monitor and started the 4 times/day finger pricks to test my blood sugars.  I researched the gestational diabetes diet recommendations extensively and immediately began following them- mostly adding in more snacks and protein.  Because of my continued pregnancy nausea, my diet had not been great (lots more carbs than my diet pre-pregnancy), but I was committed to try my best.  I was surprised to find that sticking to the GDM diet recommendations, my blood sugar levels continually tested high.  Post-meal levels were okay, but I was only passing around a quarter of my morning fasting levels.

When I went in for my next doctor’s appointment, they were alarmed at my results.  I told them I was following the exact diet recommendations given and didn’t know what else to do.  Besides recommending a 30-45 minute walk every night after dinner, they didn’t have any other ideas for me.  At my pleading, they gave me one week to try to have PERFECT morning fasting levels; if I didn’t, I would be put on medication (glyburide) to control my body’s insulin response.  Getting put on medication would officially label me as high risk and guarantee a hospital birth with continuous monitoring and insulin during labor. Plus, after researching the medication, I wasn’t confident it was safe for my baby either. I was devastated.

Pregnancy is certainly a lesson in loss of control.  Of course, I’m sure God designed it that way to prepare us for parenthood.  I’ve felt out-of-control for my entire pregnancy… nausea I couldn’t fix, diet I didn’t want to be on, hormonal emotions, and now this. I had no idea how emotionally taxing a diagnosis like this could be.  You blame yourself. You worry about what it means for the baby you’ve been trying so hard to protect.  And the constant blood testing and attention to diet is a continual source of stress and anxiety.  And don’t forget, you’re not supposed to be stressed during pregnancy- it’s bad for the baby. Ugh.

I was determined to not let this diagnosis get the best of me.  I continued my research. Google-ing “natural ways to lower blood sugar” or similar searches came up with nothing.  No one online seems to want to try this; they all just assume that you will end up on medication or insulin and recommend you simply try your best to eat healthy for baby.  Finally, I pieced together some different ideas and resources to make a plan.

By a complete miracle, I was able to have perfect blood sugar levels that next week and return to the doctor with confidence that I could continue without medication.  But the next week, Thanksgiving came along… I splurged and enjoyed just one holiday meal & dessert and my fasting levels couldn’t recover from it; my levels became unpredictable again.  I was defeated as I walked into the doctor’s office the next week, certain they would put me on medication this time.  But my midwife was gracious and knew how hard I was working- she said it was probably due to a lack of routine, and once again I was given one last week to try.

Since that visit, I’ve been able to keep my blood sugar levels totally under control.  Even the morning fasting ones. Praise God! So, for those of you pregnant mamas diagnosed with gestational diabetes who are looking to stay off medication/insulin and want to control it naturally, I want to share what’s worked for me in hopes that you can have the same success.  I can’t point to one particular thing that made the difference; it wasn’t until I did all of these together that I was finally able to bring my levels under control.

  • Prayer – I’m listing this first because I truly believe God is the only one who has the power over all of this. I consider it a miracle that He’s kept my levels low when they were SO high and unpredictable to start with.  Pray before each meal and each finger prick- that dependence on Him will help calm you and help relieve the never-ending cycle of stress that only causes higher levels.
  • Minimal Carbs – Aim to eliminate carbs completely from your diet.  Everyone processes carbohydrates differently, so there’s not really an exact amount that’s “safe.” The nutritionists who write diets for GDM will give guidelines like 25 carbs for breakfast & lunch, 35 for dinner and 15 at two snacks.  And they’ll say that as long as you balance with a protein and fat, those carbs will not convert to glucose.  If I followed this ridiculous protocol, I would be on medication today. The only thing that worked was when I basically eliminated carbs from my diet; that means no bread (not even multi-grain), no rice, no potatoes, no corn, no oats.  It even means avoiding high glycemic produce, like fruit (some can tolerate berries, but I haven’t really been able to).
  • Eat High Protein, High Fat & Veggies – Focusing your diet around these items is the best way to avoid blood sugar spikes.  Healthy fats are especially great at keeping blood sugars stable and keeping you full.  I can’t stomach it with my nausea, but I’ve seen several recommendations that a teaspoon of coconut oil before each meal can help a great deal.  I just try to include it in what I make instead.  Search ketogenic recipes for meal ideas that fit this diet; I also have quite a few here on my blog – veggie noodles with lemon cream sauce being my fave.  My favorite snacks have been: cashews, cheese sticks, Greek yogurt and Graze meat sticks. Breakfast is the hardest on rushed mornings, but I try to alternate between hard-boiled eggs with breakfast sausage links, scrambled eggs with avocado and Greek yogurt with nuts.
  • Satisfy Sugar Cravings Safely – I know, pregnancy cravings are real and having gestational diabetes, especially over the holidays, is just the worst. Of course you have to eliminate sugar (and always avoid unsafe sugar-free products), but I’ve found a couple ways to satisfy my intense cravings for sweets: Stevia leaf naturally helps to lower blood sugar, so I’ve been using that in the tea that I drink or to sweeten Greek yogurt a bit.  And dark chocolate is also helpful to lower blood sugar- make sure to get a bar that is 75%+ cocoa and soy-free.  My go-to nightly snack has been whipped coconut cream (high in good fat!) sweetened with a bit of stevia and topped with a few dark chocolate chips – here’s the super easy recipe.
  • Walk After DinnerEvery single day. For at least 30 minutes. This is one of the hardest from a scheduling perspective and because it is uncomfortable when you are hugely pregnant and tired.  The first week is the hardest, but I promise your body will start to crave it.  It will help with digestion, relieve indigestion/heartburn and is also great at getting your body ready for labor.
  • Herbal Supplements – I talked with both my naturopath and the herbalist at my local pharmacy to see if there were any supplements to help with blood sugars that would be safe for pregnancy; they recommended two that I’ve been using these past months.  I take Diaplex before meals (started with 2 pills before each meal, but I’ve gone down to just two before lunch now) and Glukokine once in the evening right before bed.  Since I had done my research and talked with the right people, my doctor’s office was fine with me taking these; as always, you should check with your doctor before taking any medication or supplements during pregnancy.
  • Drink Lots of Water – If you are diabetic, one of the most common symptoms is frequent thirst, so this shouldn’t be a hard one to implement.  Hydration is one of the best ways to control insulin response, so you should be drinking around 2 gallons per day.  I know you are already peeing every 30 minutes, but this is crucial to stabilizing your levels.  Add some fresh lemon slices to your water for even further blood sugar stabilizing benefits. And, more importantly, drink water every time you wake up at night – it’s crucial to not let yourself get dehydrated overnight and I really think this made a huge difference with my fasting levels upon waking.
  • Consistency – Ultimately, I’ve found that a consistent routine is key to predictable levels, especially the morning fasting ones.  Schedule your meals and snacks to be at similar times each day.  Keep a food journal to track what you are eating to see if anything affects your levels.  This is not a typical diet where the occasional splurge is okay; you have to stick with it. Wake up at the same time every morning and go to bed at the same time each night. A strict schedule is the last thing I wanted to implement before a baby entered my life, but it’s certainly been worth it.

35-week-picNote: Don’t be surprised if you stop gaining weight or even lose weight once you put this protocol into place.  I was a bit alarmed that I’d only gained 12 pounds by 37 weeks, but my midwife assured me that it is completely normal since it’s all being done in a very healthy way.  I’m not crash dieting or exercising too much; it’s safe. Enjoy this one benefit to all your hard work and be excited that you will have less to lose after baby!

Lastly, I want to encourage you mamas not to blame yourself.  The diagnosis isn’t your fault. If you are trying everything and still failing your levels, it is not your fault.  Your placenta is causing this and sometimes it is not something you can control.  Do your best and be at peace with that.  I’m so proud of you for trying.

P.S. A great resource I finally found online was a UK website on gestational diabetes.  I definitely recommend that you check it out for great information, ideas and encouragement.

Natural Product Review: PiperWai Deodorant

PiperWaiEver since I found out how dangerous and toxic regular antiperspirant deodorant is, I have been on a mission to find a safe, natural alternative that actually works.  I’ve tried lots of different kinds and brands and most have worked for awhile but seem to lose their effectiveness over time – you can see all the ones I’ve tried over the years here.

I finally found a local company that made a natural deodorant that I really liked – Primal Pit Paste.  But it didn’t last long enough and I would have to reapply at least once during the day.  After a couple months of using it, my underarms started getting irritated, itchy skin from the baking soda that’s in it, so I continued my search.

While watching Shark Tank last year, I saw a new product – PiperWai Natural Deodorant – featured that seemed to show promise and I had to try it.  I ordered some online and several months later feel comfortable to share with you my new favorite deodorant!  Watch the Shark Tank pitch and follow up episodes here to hear directly from the creators of this awesome product.

The ingredients list is amazingly simple.  Organic coconut oil, shea butter, cocoa butter and vitamin E oil make it easy to apply and perfect for the sensitive underarm skin – it has not caused me any irritation at all and I often apply right after shaving. But the main ingredient that works to deodorize is activated charcoal – it creates a pH balance that neutralizes bacteria that causes odor.  Plus, that same ingredient is super absorbent and wicks away moisture from sweat, leaving you dry without clogging your pores. (source) It also has 11 different essential oils in it that help fight bacteria and make it smell great.

PiperWai is the best natural deodorant and antiperspirant I’ve found that is totally safe to use without compromising how well it works and how comfortable it is. It comes in a small jar and you just use your fingers to apply- it rubs in quickly and doesn’t leave a residue or any staining on clothing.  It seems expensive at first but one jar lasts me over 2 months applying each day.  Buy it now and try for yourself!

*I have not received a commission or any free products from this post; all opinions are based on my own experience.

Gluten-Free Baby Shower

This weekend I hosted a baby shower for a friend who is allergic to gluten. We wanted her to be able to eat everything at her own shower without worry, so we created a completely gluten-free spread for the event.

Emily's Shower

In case you are hosting for a bride or mama with this same allergy, I thought I would share the menu we put together.  While it certainly wasn’t sugar-free, we had plenty of healthier options to choose from. Plus, it was all super easy to put together so you won’t be in the kitchen prepping all day.

Chicken & Waffle Skewers – My friend thought up this brilliant, easy idea – find gluten-free chicken tenders and gluten-free waffles in the frozen food section. Toast them in the oven then cut into bite-sized pieces and alternate on a mini skewer or toothpick.  Serve with hot syrup or honey.

Veggies & Hummus

Fruit & Dip – For a healthier alternative to the classic cream cheese + marshmallow fluff dip, mix 2 cups vanilla yogurt with 1/2 cup honey and 1 teaspoon cinnamon. Serve with your favorite fresh fruit.

Gluten-Free Mini Oatmeal Raisin Cookies – found in the baked goods section at Whole Foods

and a beautiful “Naked” Cake!

Gluten Free Naked CakeI’m usually not a fan of baking because I don’t have the patience to follow recipes, but this cake was super easy! I used Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Vanilla Cake Mix and prepared according to the directions, baking in 2 9-inch diameter cake pans. I used coconut oil instead of toxic vegetable oil. The cake was super moist and didn’t taste at all gluten-free.

Once the cake cooled, I pulled them out of the pans and placed in the freezer for 30-45 minutes – this makes the cake easier to cut and frost. In the meantime, I made some buttercream frosting. I used this recipe because it calls only for butter and no shortening. I added about double the milk and double the vanilla it called for to make it a bit creamier and more spreadable.

When I pulled the cakes out of the freezer, I cut each in half so that I could have 4 cake layers.  Then, I spread frosting in between each layer. Once I had all four layers stacked, I ran my knife around the outside to smooth out the edges a bit, without covering the cake completely, giving it that “naked” effect.

Drink BarFor drinks, we had yummy sparkling Italian sodas for the mama to drink, served in champagne glasses. And for the guests who weren’t pregnant, we had some local Peach & Grapefruit Deep Eddy Vodka(not gluten-free) to add – if you haven’t tried these yet, they are super delicious!

Happy Hosting!

Christmas Chili

Chili with TamaleIt’s a Texas tradition to enjoy fresh tamales and chili during the holiday season, and I can’t wait to make this for a cozy dinner with family on Christmas Eve.  Today, I’m sharing my super easy, go-to chili recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds of grass-fed, organic ground beef
  • 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 16 oz can organic tomato sauce
  • 1 can organic diced tomatoes
  • 15 oz can organic kidney beans, drained
  • 15 oz can organic pinto beans, drained
  • 1/3 cup organic, non-GMO cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup bone broth (or beer or water)
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon himalayan salt
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Toppings: shredded raw cheddar cheese, chopped red or green onion, tortilla chips (my favorite are Jackson’s Honest brand – the only kind made with coconut oil AND organic, non-GMO corn!)

Preparation:

  1. Put the ground beef and garlic into a large pot and cook on medium heat until the meat is browned.
  2. Drain the excess fat from pot.
  3. Add the tomato sauce, diced tomatoes and all spices. Stir together, then reduce to low heat.
  4. Simmer for about an hour, stirring occasionally. If the mixture starts to look a little dry, I usually add some bone broth (or beer or water) a 1/4 cup at a time.
  5. In separate bowl, mix the cornmeal and 1/2 cup bone broth together.  Then dump into the chili. This will be your thickening agent and add that corn flavor. (Beer works really well here too!)
  6. After this, see what the consistency is and add more liquid based on your preference. Typically, I add about 3/4-1 cup of liquid in.
  7. Add both cans of beans and simmer for 10 minutes.
  8. Now it’s ready to serve with all the yummy toppings!

Wishing you a healthy and hopeful holiday!

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Tortilla SoupLast Sunday, we finally got some beautiful cool Fall weather here in Austin, so, of course, I had to make one of my favorite super simple soup recipes: Chicken Tortilla Soup.

This recipe is filled with protein, is Paleo compliant and the broth is amazing for supporting your bones, ligaments, joints and skin, as well as providing lots of valuable vitamins and minerals. It’s a perfect quick & healthy meal that your family will love!

Ingredients:

  • 8 cups of bone broth – find my homemade crock-pot bone broth recipe here
  • Meat from whole chicken (shredded) – find my easy crock-pot chicken recipe here
  • 1 can organic diced tomatoes (Mexican style)
  • 1 can organic tomato sauce
  • 1/4 cup diced fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 yellow onion
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 3 tablespoons coconut oil (or grass-fed butter)
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1-2 teaspoon(s) cayenne pepper, depending on spiciness preference
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • Optional: You can also add some chopped veggies – carrots & kale are my favorites in this soup

Preparation:

  1. Dice onion and garlic and put in large soup pot with coconut oil.
  2. Saute garlic & onion on medium heat until onion is soft.
  3. Add all other ingredients and simmer for at least 30 minutes (or cook in crock-pot on low all day for even better flavor!)

Tortilla ChipsGarnish with a squeeze of lime, freshly grated raw cheddar cheese and some salty tortilla chip crumbles.  When it comes to tortilla chips, there is only one brand that I can recommend… I am beyond excited about Jackson’s Honest NEW tortilla chips cooked in coconut oil.  They are the only brand that makes tortilla chips with coconut oil; all the others use super toxic vegetable oils.  Plus, they are organic, made with non-GMO corn and gluten-free. I found them at my local Whole Foods – you must pick up a bag!

Enjoy!!

Game Day Fried Chicken

Fried Chicken & KaleI’m always a little bummed when Labor Day arrives and brings an end to summer, but then I remember the good news – football has finally returned!  Lounging around all weekend, going to tailgates and attending watch parties can make it hard to eat healthy, but I try to take the challenge as an opportunity to create new versions of typically not-so-healthy foods.  Today, I’m sharing an easy twist on fried chicken that will totally satisfy your finger-food cravings.

Ingredients:

  • Approx 1 lb organic chicken (breasts, wings & drumsticks will all work for this!)
  • 2 organic, pasture-raised eggs
  • 1/3 cup coconut flour
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup coconut oil

Preparation:

Rinse the chicken and then pat dry.  If you are using chicken breasts, cut into 1 inch thick strips to make tenders.

Whisk the eggs in one wide, shallow bowl.  In another bowl, mix the coconut flour and spices.

Take each piece of chicken and coat it with egg, let excess drip and then dredge it through the flour mixture until completely coated.  Place these pieces on a new plate, put on your apron and you’re ready to fry ’em up.

Heat the coconut oil over medium-high heat on the stove in a frying pan.  For some extra flavor, I love to add a tablespoon of bacon grease to the oil.  You’ll know the oil is ready when you add a piece and it sizzles. Add 3-4 pieces to the pan and let it sizzle for 3 minutes per side.  Work in batches so the oil stays hot…. once those 3-4 pieces are done, you can add the next round.

Once you remove the chicken from the frying pan, place it on a baking sheet (best to add parchment paper underneath for easy clean-up).  If you made chicken tenders, they are likely ready to eat right-away, but thicker cuts, especially those bone-in, may need some time in the oven to finish cooking.  Use a meat thermometer to test so you don’t overcook.  I usually put drumsticks & wings in a 325 degree oven for just 5-10 minutes.

This fried chicken is crispy, tender and flavorful with just a bit of kick. Plus, it is gluten-free, paleo and full of health benefits from the coconut oil it’s fried in!

Best served with an ice cold kombucha & kale chips… Enjoy!