1.29.2014

Lactation Cookies

The year of 2014 is destined to be the year of baby BOOM, at least at the Land. Non, pas moi, non plus, but eight, count eight family and friends expecting babies this year. All before June. So, what to give these eight new/second-time moms? Lactation cookies, of course!


Lactation cookies may sound like some forbidden, magical goodies for those who wish to have dripping mammary glands, perhaps in the same category with pot-laced brownies, magic mushrooms omelette and such. But lactation cookies are none other than your favorite cookies infused with galactagogue ingredients such as oats, fenugreek, flax seed, and brewer's yeast (yes, it is not a myth that women who just given birth are encouraged to drink Guinness, it's the yeast, baby!). It makes a great gift for new moms: it's tasty, it is one-handed food (for those who are breastfeeding/have breastfed their babies, you know what I mean) and of course, it is also good for the dads and the big brothers/sisters.

A little word about fenugreek: its fragrant seeds are utterly useful not only as galactagogue but also to ward off cold. I'd often infuse a teaspoonful of fenugreek seeds in boiling water for 5-10 minutes and the resulting elixir is good for thinning out that pesky productive cough. Fenugreek seed itself taste quite bitter, and in the same manner of anise seeds, it is an acquired taste. Too much fenugreek can cause upset tummy, both for mama and baby, so use caution. The recipe below yield very little amount of fenugreek per cookies, with the assumption that mama does not consume the whole batch in one sitting.

Chewy Lactation Cookies

(adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Best Chocolate Chip Cookies)

Makes about 4 dozen cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
3/4 tsp baking soda

2-4 Tbs brewer's yeast (Not baker's yeast. Usually available in the bulk food section of health food store, or in a big jar in cooking/canning supply aisle. Many lactation cookie recipes mentioned not to substitute brewer's yeast for anything else and I found this to be true, especially if you are not using fenugreek below.)
1 Tbs fenugreek seeds (or less, to taste)
2 Tbs flax seed, milled into flax flour (You can find flax meal in grocery store, in the refrigerator section, but they are expensive. Flax seeds are easier to find and cheaper, I just use clean coffee grinder to grind it into coarse meal.)

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 Tbs pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, room temperature

1 cup semisweet chocolate chip
1 cup oats (quick cooking or rolled, don't use steel cut)
1 cup chopped nuts (walnuts, pecan, etc.)

Coarse sea salt for sprinkling the cookies (I use Maldon; readily available and doesn't cost a fortune).

  • Preheat oven 375 F. Place racks in the middle 2 of the oven. Prepare two cookie sheets each with parchment/silpat.
  • Sift the first 3 ingredients, set aside. Mix the galactagogues (brewer's yeast, fenugreek seeds and flax meal) in a small bowl.
  • Cream butter, sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract at least 3 minutes with electric mixer, or until pale in color. Add egg one by one, mixing well with each addition (at least a minute or two). Pour in the galactagogue ingredients, mix well into the creamed butter/egg mixture.
  • Add the sifted dry ingredients in batches, mixing each time until just thoroughly incorporated. Finally, add chocolate chip, oats and nuts, mix just a bit more (don't overmix or otherwise cookie can turn tough).
  • Place a rounded tablespoonful of batter onto cookie sheets, about 1-2 inches apart. Bake 10-12 minutes, rotating half-way and switching position (top-bottom rack), or until cookies are just brown on the edges and somewhat golden in the middle. Transfer to rack to cool.


Of course, if you are not lactating at the first place, this cookie won't make you lactate instantly. You can just omit the galactagogues and this recipe will still make very tasty cookies. Some other combo that I've tried in the past (in lieu of chocolate and nuts) are: cranberry + oat, coconut + marshmallow + oat, dried apricots + oat + bittersweet chocolate chip, pistachio + cranberry + oat, etc. etc. There are so many permutations, you get the idea.

1.25.2014

MIA

We are continued to be battered by the bouts of cold and other engagements at the Land. The lack of health, sleep, childcare and everything else stretch our resources really thin. We shall be back again, hopefully soon!

Wishing you a save, healthy, cozy winter.

1.15.2014

Surviving Winter

Call us wimps but winter does not bode well at the Land. Between the dreary wet weather (dunno how folks who brave the blizzard do it seasons after seasons), the germs, the constant heater/fireplace dry heat, we cave in, one by one, to the maladie. My particular one of the season is a massive sore throat and flaring eczemas.

Here are a few necessities that we have around the house to arm ourselves for the season:

  1. Humidifier.
    We run ours all-night-long. There are two types, the warm or the cool mist (aka ultrasonic). We chose the warm mist simply for safety & health reason: I know it is counter-intuitive to have a toddler and a warm mist humidifier, but we put our humidifier out of reach. The health reason is: with warm mist humidifier, you must change the water daily and clean up the mineral build-up periodically, or the humidifier quits working, forcing you to pay attention to the cleanliness of the humidifier that can easily harbor many germs and fungi. Warm mist humidifier is recommended by many physicians for those build-in safety reasons.
    Humidifier is a godsend for the skin, esp eczema sufferer like mine. No amount of creams, potions, lotions would help if the air humidity is close to zero due to artificial heat. Which lead us to necessity numero deux..
  2. Aquaphor.
    Great for everything, I really don't know why this humble ingredient must deserve such a bad rep. This bad boy has been touted as useless, even harmful product yet it is a true life-saver. I put it on the Toddler's nicks and cuts (the ones that scabs again and again since he keeps picking on it), on my eczema patches (after the first layer of strongest rx cortisone cream), itchy elbows/knees, cracked lips, anything you name it. 
  3. Zinc cold remedy.
    There are many controversies regarding this supplement but it works for us thus far. My favorite is Zicam since 1. the zinc can be sprayed away from the tastebuds and 2. the amount of zinc is the lowest of any other zinc preparation that I saw thus far and still works effectively for us. Don't discount this but do your own homework, too.
  4. Tea/Chai.
    Need I say more? I'm right now into the Blue Lotus Chai Powder: steeping is not required (so I can drink it pronto). Add a splash of almond milk, a little scoop of almond butter, or even rice protein powder and I have a delicious, hot breakfast drink that gets me ready for the day.
  5. Vitamin D.
    We don't get a lot of it here in the Pacific Northwest and supplement is the best substitute to the real sun. Do check your docs for dosages, etc.
  6. Eucalyptus essential oil.
    A staple, I use a few drops of this (and a few of lavender for fancier option) on a washcloth and drop the cloth on the shower floor/hang it from my shower caddy. It instantly transforms a mundane shower into an invigorating, luxurious, nose-clearing one.
In my ideal world, there will be an express delivery service of hot chicken soup, but for now, these will do. Do you have any necessities that help you survive winter?

1.09.2014

Clay Cleansers


What?
Clay-containing cleanser or clay mask used as cleanser. One of the product actually contains calamine (a mixture of zinc oxide, ferric oxide, and other minerals -- not technically clay), but

How?
I use it as a second cleanse after balm/oil cleanser and as a quick cleanse in the morning when I want to get rid of gunks that build up overnight,.

Why?
Although my skin is dry, it is a bit prone to inflammation. I found clay and calamine help calm things a bit, albeit temporarily. Also, I need a type of cleanser that is not balm/oily base, that rinses off easy, but without stripping my skin further. Clay cleanser/mask seems to fit the bill.

Which ones?


LUSH Aquamarina ($58/lbs - about $3.62/oz)

I never actually use any LUSH's skincare until this one. I feel the whole idea of freshness + parabens-laced products is just a bit oxymoron. But, Aquamarina came highly recommended by a personal friend, so I have to check it out. It looks like a big soft roll of sushi, wrapped in nori (hopefully unseasoned nori). You suppose to pinch a pea-size worth of product and mix it with a little bit of water on your palm to make a spreadable paste (see Lush's own video here). Easier said than done. The concoction is a sticky wicket, and it takes a while to mix it into a paste without some lumpiness. Plus, all the seaweed disintegrate and gets everywhere, including the hairline, under the jaw, etc. (did I also tell you that the seaweed is not just the outer wrapping, but also mixed in inside the paste?). Considered yourself warned.

Ingredients: Glycerine , Calamine Powder , Kaolin , Irish Moss Infusion (Chondrus crispus) , Aloe Vera Gel (Aloe barbadensis) , Sea Salt (Sodium Chloride) , Nori Seaweed (Fucus vesiculosus), Sweet Orange Oil (Citrus dulcis) , Patchouli Oil (Pogostemon cablin), Carrageenan , Perfume

Pros: you can buy a little at a time, so that minimizes the chance of product going unused. It rinses well (apart from the seaweed). Although it contains sea salt, it feels only mildly drying. 

Cons: It is not the most sanitary product, it gets man-handled so many ways by customers and shop keepers alike. I saw some high-schoolers poking and prodding the log in the store. If you don't like typical LUSH scents (i.e. lots of Patchouli) good luck with this one as this is heavily patchouli-scented, and it lingeeerrrrrsss. Perfume + sensitive skin rarely mix together so the idea of calming the skin is by using products laced heavily with perfume is yet another oxymoron. 

Sure enough, a few welts emerged right after I rinsed it off the first try around. I guess all the calamine in this cleanser did not even help with that. It's not cheap either, so I suggest you ask for a small sample if you are interested.




REN Clearcalm 3 Clarifying Clay Cleanser ($32/5.1 fl oz - $6.27/oz)

I'm normally super cheapo when it comes to cleanser. I don't believe in spending lots of $$ on something that will be rinsed off in a few minutes. This one is definitely the most I've spent on a cleanser. Again, comes highly recommended, so I just had to try this out. The ingredient list is quite interesting: a mixture of kaolin clay, oils and thickener, suspended in water. This one inspires me to make a DIY at home (minus the bulk-former/emollients such as cetearyls and triglycerides).

Ingredients: Anthemis Nobilis (Chamomile) Flower Water, Kaolin, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Cetearyl Alcohol, Sesamum Indicum (Sesame) Seed Oil, Cetearyl Glucoside, Glycerin, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil, Salix Nigra (Willow) Bark Extract, Benzyl Alcohol, Oryzanol, Salvia Officinalis (Sage) Oil, Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavender) Oil, Leptospermum Scoparium Oil, Anthemis Nobilis (Chamomile) Flower Oil, Linalool, Limonene, Zinc Gluconate, Bisabolol, Calendula Officinalis Flower Extract, Dehydroacetic Acid, Crataegus Oxyacantha Stem Extract, Glucose, Xanthan Gum, Lactic Acid, Tocopherol.

Pros: love the pump bottle: super hygienic, least amount of wastage, and efficiently pump just the right amount of product (one pump is enough for face & neck, and I use half-pump for face & neck in the morning). The product spreads quite nicely with just damp hand and face. I use a flannel/washcloth to wipe off the products before rinsing it thoroughly with water. My face is left fresh and not stripped at all.

Cons: contains benzyl alcohol (a solvent), but I didn't feel the product all that drying. It also contains perfume but not to the same potency as LUSH product above. Expensive -- although I love it, I'm really not sure if I'd shell out this much again.



Boots Botanics Conditioning Clay Mask ($9.39/4.2 oz - $2.23/oz)

The dark horse of the bunch (pardon the pun), I got this on sale for $6 during Black Friday sale. The most liquid of the trio, this mud needs to be shaken well before poured onto your palm. It has the grittiest texture among the three, so it can be mildly exfoliating as well (think about super fine grains of sands rub against your skin). Boots skin care products have slowly grown on me, I really think they hit the nail with the simplicity of the ingredients and the products actually deliver.

Ingredients: Natural oceanic clay, Aqua (Water), Glycerin, Butylene glycol, Arctium lappa (Burdock Root Extract), Sodium hydroxymethylglycinate.

Pros: It does the job well both as cleanser and as mask. My skin feels fresh and not stripped. No fragrance, no irritation whatsoever. In case you notice, the tube in the above picture is full because this is my second one already. I love it that much!

Cons: The texture is really thin, it is not the most user-friendly "cleanser." It is really meant to be mask that gets smeared on your face with a fan brush or such contraptions. I use about a quarter-size dollop to cover the whole face and neck and while smearing, I keep adding drops of water on my hands to help spread the products before it dries. The dark greenish-grey color temporarily will stain your flannel/washcloth temporarily and can become a slight annoyance. All in all, these are little inconveniences that are easily eclipsed by the benefit and the price!
(Note to self: for DIY cleanser, can easily mix this with triglycerides/cetearyl alcohol to turn it into similar consistency as the REN's).


THM: I'd certainly repurchase the Boots No.7 (at less than $10, why not?), and maybe the REN but definitely trash the LUSH.

Have you tried any clay cleansers? Any other clay cleanser that I should try?

1.07.2014

Thankful Tuesday

Vandy, one of my orchid, in her glory days.
Over the holiday, we didn't get much of a break at all. In fact, I feel more depleted than ever, so much so I managed to buy a new pair of swimsuit just for the thought of lovely summer to come (my old one is.. God-knows-where). The adage of parents can't wait for their children to go to school again rang true to me: it was hard to spend time alone at home with the toddler while everyone else around us was enjoying festivities.

This is perhaps the time when I need to be reminded of the bounty around me the most. Things may look gloomy within, but all I can do is just look a bit outside to affirm that the world, is indeed, full of goodness and abundance.

This week, I'm especially grateful for:

  • New and old friends at the school
  • Free activities for toddlers at the local public library
  • Time to do something that I like doing each day 
  • A simple cup of tea 
  • Time to read a book
  • A new flower spike on Vandy (I thought it was root spike instead, no wonder it keeps growing above ground, duh!)
  • Playing with the Toddler at home, giggling silly over nothing and pretending to roll around in dirt until our heads were spinning
  • The goodness of cheddar bunny (aka "healthier" version of goldfish cracker snack, aka ToddlerLorp's gratitude list for the entire week!)
Abundance are only multiplied when shared, so please kindly share yours with us!

1.01.2014

Vertically-Integrated Nabe

Heavenly food of Osechi Ryori (from wikimedia commons)
One of my bucket list is to cook my own Osechi Ryori (お節料), the whole thing - by myself. It is quite odd as I have no Japanese blood running in my body, but yet the Japanese sensibility (or Eastern sensibilities, in general) appeals to me tremendously.

For now, I will be satisfied preparing simple nabes for my family to devour during the week. The boys love nabe and I love cooking them. What's not to love, nabemono is basically a Japanese version of one-pot dish, simmered in this case. I usually make enough to last us a few days, sometimes a week if I cook some other dishes mid-week.

When one cook a nabe, in this case Sukiyaki, the ingredients are often spread out thoughtfully, like this:

image from wikimedia commons

or this

image from wikimedia commons

Notice how each food items are carefully grouped and beautifully arranged around the pan. The problem with this in home cooking is that: 1. we don't eat straight from burning table stove and 2. we are all hungry and can't wait to dig in right now rather than contemplating while each ingredients simmer to cooked perfection. Thus born the vertically-integrated nabe: the same concept of cooking each ingredients to perfection, except doing it in layer rather than in batches radially.

A little disclaimer: this is not the original, traditional Japanese nabe, but like any other dishes, there are many variations as there are households/cooks.

Vertically-Integrated Sukiyaki
Make 4-6 servings of hungry Lorps

1 lb beef cut of your choice, sliced paper thin (we like top sirloin or anything relatively well-marbled)
2-3 medium carrots, cut rangiri-style (see here)
2-3 celery, rangiri cut
1 medium leek, sliced
1 bunch green onion, sliced, separate the white part with the green part
3-4 large or 4-6 small shiitake mushrooms, cut into wedges
1 block firm silken tofu (about 12-16 oz), drained and cubed
1 package shirataki noodle (about 6-8 oz), drained, blanched and rinsed (very important step to get rid of the sliminess & the smell)
1 big bunch leafy greens of your choice (napa cabbage, spinach, or here we use bok choy, cut into wedges)

For warashita/sauce:
1 to 1 1/2 cup water (to taste, just eye-ball it)
1/4 cup mirin
1/4 cup sake
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup tsuyu

1/4 cup sugar  *I normally cook the beef Kansai-style, where the beef is browned in its own fat and sugar is added while the beef is sauteeing to allow caramelization. If you like, you can mix the sugar with warashita ingredients and make it part of the sauce.

First, get your ingredients all cut and prepared, mise en place. Notice how I group the ingredients based on how I'd layer them in the pan: group your root veggies together with onions (carrot + celery + leek + white part of green onion), then group the second layer which are shirataki, mushrooms and tofu, then the last would be the leafy greens and the green-part of green onion. Normally, shirataki is added last to sukiyaki after all the other ingredients have been eaten. This is a way to soak up all the flavorful broth and eat them at the end. Not in our case because remember, we can't wait!

Heat the pan/pot in medium-high heat and sautee beef. If the beef has plenty of fat, no need extra fat to render it, but sometimes I have to get it going by adding a touch of oil in the pan. Brown them in single layer and sprinkle some sugar on top. When the layer is browned and caramelized, set them aside and lay another layer. Repeat until all the beef is browned.



Next, add the leek and the white part of green onion into the beef. Saute until fragrant.


Pour in your sauce/warashita next and bring to a boil.



Layer the carrots and celery, bring to a boil. Keep bringing the nabe to a boil at each step to speed up the cooking process.

Once boiling, layer shirataki noodle and tofu. Bring to a boil again.


Layer shiitake mushrooms on top of the simmering broth. Layer your leafy greens on top of mushrooms. Cover and steam the greens.
Now, this step is very important: to avoid overcooking leafy greens, take the greens out when they are just wilted and set them aside in a bowl (perhaps even take them a bit before since the greens will continue cooking in the bowl -- see bottom half pictures). Continue doing this step, steaming the leafy greens on top of boiling broth, until all of them are cooked. Make sure you scoop up all the greens so nothing remains in the boiling broth and become a soggy, green gunge (this is why I cut the bok choy in relatively large wedges for easy fishing with chopsticks).


Itadakimasu!

Finally, when all the ingredients are cooked, sprinkle with the green-part of green onion. Serve with steaming bowl of rice.


This method can be applied to any nabe or stew in that matter. It is fast and easy. The whole cooking process takes about 15 minutes once all the ingredients are cut and ready to go. Just remember, the bottom layers are ingredients needing the most cooking time (beef, hardy root veggies like carrots), or ingredients that will soak up the flavorful liquid (such as noodle, tofu, mushrooms). As we layer ingredients toward the top, they should need less and less cooking time. The top most layer are ingredients that need very short amount of cooking time (such as leafy green).

I made three Vine videos here, here, and here, just for fun. Let me know if you decide to give this method a try. I hope your New Year starts warmly and deliciously.