Triple Chocolate Granola

Humility aside, I think this is my best granola yet. And granola is my thing – you know that one dish you are awesome at making pretty much every single time. What makes this a standout is (1) the layered chocolate flavor coming from a triple hit of cacao from the raw cacao powder, cacao nibs and semi-sweet chocolate chunks, and (2) the extra crunchy pop of texture from the quinoa puffs. Sure it’s more dessert than breakfast, but you do get an antioxidant power up from all the cacao, sustained energy from the oats, and the mct benefits of coconut oil – not to mention the joy from enjoying something so delicious. Dive in!

Ingredients:

  1. Rolled oats – 2 cups
  2. Quinoa – 1/3 cup
  3. Coconut sugar – 1/3 cup
  4. Coconut oil – 1/2 cup
  5. Raw cacao powder – 1 tbsp
  6. Sea salt
  7. Cacao nibs – 1 tbsp
  8. Semi-sweet chocolate chunks (I like Enjoy Life brand) – 1/3 cup

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 320 and line a large baking tray with parchment paper
  2. In a large mixing bowl, add the rolled oats, quinoa and coconut sugar
  3. Separately, in a small saucepan, combine the coconut oil and cacao powder and warm over low heat until melted and combined (about 1 minute)
  4. Pour the coconut / cacao mixture into the large bowl with oats, quinoa and coconut sugar and stir well to combine. Add a sprinkle of sea salt. Taste the mixture dry and adjust to your liking – you may want to add a hint more coconut sugar if you want it sweeter.
  5. Bake for 20-25 minutes
  6. Once cool, top with cacao nibs and chocolate chunks and enjoy
Ingredients 1-6 combined and ready to transfer to parchment paper for baking
Enjoy with your fave non-dairy milk or on its own as a delicious snack!

Chocolate Covered Dates

I’ve always loved Medjool dates. Growing up in the Westwood area of Los Angeles where there is a sizable Persian community and many Middle Eastern grocery stores, my dad would always stock our house with the largest, moistest Medjool dates. Medjool dates are sweet enough on their own, but to take their decadence to the next level for an over the top sweet treat, I decided to stuff them w/ nut butter and coat them in chocolate. The result is an indulgent yet healthy(ish) sweet treat that I think is best enjoyed with coffee or espresso as an afternoon pick me up. They’re easy to make, look fancy and would be nice as a homemade gift as well. Enjoy!

Servings: 6 dates

Ingredients:

  1. 6 medjool dates
  2. Almond butter or nut butter of your choice – about 1-2 tbspn
  3. 1/2 cup of chocolate chips/ chunks or bar – I used vegan brand Hu chocolate gems
  4. Optional toppings: Coconut shreds, nuts, cacao nibs, sea salt

Directions:

  1. Open each medjool date and stuff it with nut butter as pictured below
  2. Put the stuffed dates in freezer for 10-15 minutes
  3. In a small saucepan on low heat, heat the chocolate and stir frequently. You should get a delicious melted chocolate in just about 1 minute.
  4. Line a plate or container with parchment paper
  5. With a fork (or with you hand but careful as the chocolate is hot), dip each stuffed date until it’s fully coated in the chocolate and place on parchment paper.
  6. Coat with toppings of your choice such as any nut, coconut shreds, seeds, cacao nibs etc.
  7. Place in fridge for 10-15 minutes for chocolate to set.
First step is to stuff the dates and briefly freeze before dipping in melted chocolate
Get creative with toppings! Add nuts, seeds, coconut shreds, cacao nibs and more!

Birth Story of my daughter Ellie

The Tummy Story Tradition – My mom has a special tradition – dubbed the “tummy story” – of telling each of us 4 kids the birth story on our birthday every year. I never tire of hearing it, and maybe that’s b/c it’s short and sweet and goes like this: “You were almost born in the car! When we got to the hospital and they asked for insurance, your dad said the baby was coming any moment, and lo and behold soon thereafter you were here!” She kept telling me that like in her experience, the second might come fast…Anyways, I’m writing down my dear Ellie’s birth story so I can continue to pass down the tummy story tradition.

Found out I was pregnant on Mother’s Day! Exactly a year ago on mother’s day, I found out I was pregnant with our second child – how sweet is that?! While we celebrated mother’s day with our broader family, I had a special glow not only basking in being a mama to a wonderful 1.5 yr old, but knowing that we now had a special secret that we were blessed w/ a second child on the way.

Mother’s Day 2019 when I learned I was pregnant!

A smooth pregnancy with a couple of third tri bumps – Overall I was blessed with a relatively easy pregnancy like the first time around. I was notably more tired during the first trimester but otherwise had no nausea or other issues until my third trimester. At around 32 weeks pregnant, I had two issues crop up concurrently:

  1. Gestational diabetes – yes even a vegan half marathoner can get it! I tested just above the threshold of the 1 hour glucose test (that horribly disgusting tasting sugary drink) so they had me come back for the more diagnostic three hour glucose test which is fasting and they draw blood exactly on the hour every three hours after the glucola drink. Lo and behold, two of my results were just above threshold and they diagnosed me with gestational diabetes. I was super upset and surprised since I didn’t have too many risk factors (though I am over 35 and my maternal grandfather had diabetes). When reading about the risks to both mom and baby, which include higher chance of developing type 2 diabetes, macrosmoia (very large babies), babies with low blood sugar at birth and more, I was very anxious. Not to mention, I was hardly excited about the need to now check my blood sugars 4x/ day. Thankfully though I was able to adjust my diet slightly to (1) be more protein rich (to do so I did choose to temporarily become vegetarian vs. vegan to integrate eggs and cheese) and (2) cut out sweets altogether, and I was able to be diet controlled (so did not need insulin) the whole time and have normal blood sugar readings almost 100% of the time. I also found the book Real Food for Gestational Diabetes helpful as were some Facebook forums for moms with GD. Given I was able to stay diet controlled, they allowed me to go past 40 weeks pregnant (vs. on insulin often they induce at 39 wks). Additionally, they checked Ellie’s blood sugars at birth and 4 times in 24 hours post birth and thankfully hers were normal too.
  2. Belly was “measuring small” : Starting at 30 weeks they measure your belly and the number in centimerters should correlate to weeks pregnant . At 30 weeks I was right on track but at 34 weeks I was still measuring to 30 weeks and I had stopped gaining weight so they did a growth ultrasound. While my OBGYN reinforced that the ruler measurements are often imprecise, I was pretty freaked out awaiting the ultrasound results, but thankfully the growth ultrasound showed she was right on track. At 38 weeks, for the same reasons, they ordered another growth ultrasound and thankfully it also showed she was right on track and in fact was projected to be ~8 lbs. Ultimately she was an 8 lb 3 oz. baby so not small at all and I have a theory that while I stopped gaining weight due to my diet adjustments from GD (especially no sweets), thankfully she kept growing just fine. In all I gained ~20 lbs vs. the recommended 25-35 lbs for me but there were no issues b/c of this.
38 weeks pregnant

The second comes fast they say… Like with my mom’s experience with me (I’m the second of four children), a lot of my friends who are moms of 2+ kids warned me that the second often comes after much shorter labor so not to delay with going to the hospital once labor started (especially with Los Angeles traffic).

In active labor but didn’t know it! My son Luca came at 41 weeks and I had no early labor signs with Ellie and sensed she would also “go long”. In line with my intuition, my due date came and went uneventfully. At 41 weeks, consistent with Kaiser policy, they brought me in for a non stress test (where they hook you up for fetal monitoring). Lo and behold, during the monitoring, the screen was showing I was having contractions and they weren’t sporadic. In fact, every 3 minutes I was having contractions that were a minute in duration. Now all new parents know the “5-1-1” rule as the signal to head to labor & delivery (=contractions every 5 minutes that are 1 minute each for 1 hour). So according to the NST I was in active labor but didn’t even know it- maybe I was too distracted chasing around my toddler or maybe it was just still very early labor. They recommended I get checked by OBGYN, and she took one look at me and how I was still smiling and relaxed and even though I was 41 wks with contractions and 4 cm dilated, she recommended I go home and come back when contractions were more painful (and specifically said at Kaiser “6 cm is the new 4 cm” meaning they generally want you to be 6 cm dilated before they admit you, especially if you’re not in pain yet). This was Jan. 23 the night before my birthday so we heeded her advice and went for a sunset beach walk (albeit a slow one) and even went out to a birthday dinner at my favorite vegan spot Seabirds. I was convinced this would be the final meal before she arrived, but boy was I wrong!

Some anxiety about labor given traumatic first delivery – Our son Luca had a major emergency at birth where he suddenly stopped breathing and needed to be resuscitated and intubated despite being a full term baby with no signs of distress during pregnancy or labor. He then spent a week in the NICU for an infection of the lungs so I was definitely nervous about labor base on our first experience (see his full birth story here).

My birth affirmations – art credit goes to my husband Marcus 🙂

3 days later she arrived! After Jan. 23td non stress test, I suspected we would share a birthday on Jan 24th but that too came and passed uneventfully. On Saturday morning Jan. 25th at 3 am I observed what I was thought was water leaking but not full bag of water breaking since there was no gush but just a slight trickle. I called labor and delivery and they recommended I come in and they checked me and confirmed it was just a trickle of fluid. At this point they did offer to admit me but I chose to go home to rest since I still wasn’t feeling painful contractions. That afternoon I finally did feel the painful contractions – the kind you don’t want to talk through and need to pause to breathe and went back in (again!) knowing she was coming soon. I knew I wanted an epidural (had a dreamy epidural experience the first time) but held off until I felt I really needed it to try to have labor progress as much as possible first. Ultimately I did opt for pitocin since I was still at 4 cm even after days (!) of laboring – the pitocin got me to 5-7 cm after about 6 hours and then the doctor offered to break my bag of waters; while I had abstained from this with Luca w/ the desire to minimize intervention, I decided I was ready for her to come and it was low risk from what the OBGYN explained. After my water broke, I was ready to push about 10 minutes later! Now I hated the pushing part with Luca and again with Ellie. The ability to release and relax the pelvic floor was not natural to me at all (and I read that sometimes for runners and those who do bar method it can be more natural to have a tight pelvic floor and more challenging in turn to learn to relax- more on that in this great book The Fourth Trimester). I even recall saying “I f*cking hate this part.” But with some coaching from the nurse and the steady support of Marcus, about 50 minutes later at 12:51 am on January 26th our beautiful daughter Ellie Golda Rosenthal was born with a very full head of wild dark hair and a loud healthy cry. I held her skin to skin, and in the miracle of the moment remember an utter joy, deep exhaustion and anxiety about whether she would keep breathing (which thankfully she did). We were blessed beyond measure with another beautiful healthy child.

Photos from Ellie’s first 10 days
Ellie now at 3.5 months – wide eyed, curious and playful

Ellie’s name – Ellie Golda Rosenthal:

  • Ellie – We chose Ellie because we loved the name, which means “God of mine” in Hebrew and “Shining light” in Greek so taken together invokes a divine light
  • Golda – Golda was my grandma Hana’s oldest sister, who herself was a young mother pictured below, and sadly both she and her baby perished in Auschwitz along with all of my grandma’s siblings and her parents. We honor and carry on her memory through our daughter.
Golda- Ellie’s middle name honors my grandma Hana’s sister

So this mother’s day, in these uniquely isolating and stressful times, I hold Ellie (and Luca) tight knowing these moments are fleeting as she is already changing so much so fast. And a special prayer for all the mamas and mamas-to-be and those trying for continued health (physical and mental) during these challenging times.

Sending love and prayers to all the mamas and mamas to be – art by the talented Spirit y Sol

Matcha Chocolate Chunk Granola

I’ve been making batches of this granola every day for the past week and it’s addictive. The naturally slight bitter taste of the matcha is balanced by the delicious sweet mix of maple syrup, coconut sugar and some chocolate chunks. It’s quick & easy to make and is great on its own as a snack, in a big bowl with non-dairy milk of your choice and it’s also delicious over vanilla ice cream (especially coconut dream).

Prep time: 10 minutes

Total time: 35 minutes

Ingredients:

  1. Rolled Oats (not instant, GF if needed) – 2 cups
  2. Coconut sugar – 1/4 cup
  3. Virgin Coconut oil – 1/3 cup
  4. Maple syrup – 1/4 cup
  5. Matcha powder (recommend culinary grade since ceremonial is often a lot more expensive and not needed for baking -it’s easy to find on Amazon such as this one) – 1 tbpsn
  6. Chocolate chunks (recommend Enjoy Life mega chunks) – 1/3 cup
  7. Optional: 1/3 cup raw nuts of your choice – I’ve tried with both almonds and walnuts and both have been great, Pecans would likely be delicious too.

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 340 and line a baking tray with parchment paper or foil
  2. In a large mixing bowl, place the dry ingredients: rolled oats and coconut sugar. If you are adding optional nuts, add them to this bowl too.
  3. In a small saucepan, add the coconut oil, maple syrup, and matcha and warm over low-medium heat until the coconut oil is fully melted and matcha is fully mixed in too (about 2 min). Stir a few times while it’s warming. Once warm, pour this mixture over the dry ingredients in the mixing bowl. Stir well so the oats are evenly coated in this sweet coconut oily matcha mixture.
  4. Transfer the coated oats to parchment paper and spread oats evenly in one layer.
  5. Bake for 20-25 minutes
  6. Remove from oven and let cool. Add chocolate chunks once cool.

Notes:

  1. 1 tbspn of matcha powder may seem like a little but it’s a lot b/c it’s a concentrated tea powder – this will allow the matcha green tea flavor to shine through even after baking. If you want a subtler green tea flavor, try less
  2. If you add the chocolate too soon it will melt into the hot granola, but that’s okay and in fact even tasty as once it cools down these will form delicious chocolatey granola clusters

Vegan travel – Big Island, Hawaii

Sunset with the ohana at beautiful Manini beach in Captain Cook

Last we week, Marcus, Luca and I traveled to the Big Island for the first time, and we spent a few days on the Kona side of the island. We both had been to Hawaii, but it was our first time on the Big Island and our first time traveling to Hawaii with baby Luca (and my incredibly generous mother-in-law who helped babysit). Since the Big Island is huge, we didn’t get to go to all the vegan hot spots that I had scoped out on Yelp, but sharing a few of our favorites from the Kona side:

1.Pure Green Kona International Farmer’s Market – a MUST! Sundays 9-2 with amazing local fare — fruits, veggies, meals, sweets, kona coffee, artisanal gifts and more! My favorite were these amazing sweets made with carob and macadamia nuts; we also tried some delicious spring rolls, and stocked up on affordable macadamia nuts and kona coffee to bring home. There was live music too. Overall great vibes and delicious food!

Pure Kona farmers market – get the carob clusters!!!

2.Herbivore – This quirky, tiny vegan restaurant isn’t in the most picturesque location. In fact, it’s right in the middle of a parking lot. BUT they do have a creative vegan menu, a fun step stool up to the extra tall counter where you order, and we tried a good taro burger (which we took to go to eat on the beach — not just any beach – Kua Bay which is stunningly beautiful!).

Taro burger from Herbivore hole-in-the-wall (or parking lot) vegan shack

3.Kaya’s cafe – A sweet, hippie-esque artsy cafe with delicious kona lattes and every kind of alternative milk you might want. Lots of vegan options too w/ sandwiches, sweets and more.

Kaya’s kona almond latte with Big Island Bees’ raw organic honey

4.The Coffee Shack – a heads up that their menu is decidedly NOT vegan friendly, but they do have amazing views so you can just go get a coffee and some fruit and enjoy the sweeping views of the island from their incredible location.

The Coffee Shack’s prized location!

5.Island Naturals Market & Deli – I was told this was THE health food market on the island, and it did not dissapoint. While a bit pricey (like all supermarkets in Hawaii) and I thought the salad bar was only okay, overall this is a great stock up spot for all your vegan staples and treats alike. We got some great lillikoi (passionfruit) cake too, one of the many vegan desserts they had.

Island Naturals – THE health food store

And it goes without saying that tropical fruits should be a mainstay for any vegan (or anyone!) traveling to Hawaii. Whether at farmers markets, side of the road stands or regular supermarkets, the bananas, papayas, avocados, lychee and other tropical fruit are all delicious!

Lastly, a few places I wanted to try (per Yelp) but didn’t make it to on this trip (too far from where I was staying in Captain Cook) are here.

Other tips: Organic farmstay: We stayed on this organic mango farm in Captain Cook w/ a cedar hot tub surrounded by lush plants, and a great layout for a family (plus they have a pack ‘n play and it’s pretty baby-proofed for anyone traveling with little ones).

Outdoor lounging at our organic mango farm Airbnb
On our organic mango farmstay

Kua Bay also called Manini’owali- Simply stunning beach – favorite on the island that we saw (and one of the few we went to that actually has sand as many are more rocky). It’s not too far from the Kona airport so if you are flying into or out of Kona, you can (and should!) easily swing by.

The stunning Kua Bay beach – picture does not do justice!

Hope to do some more travel soon – next up San Miguel de Allende, Mexico in March for a dear friend’s wedding. Any vegan tips for San Miguel? Would love to hear them! Mahalo :).

Truffle beet hummus

I recently hosted my first plant-based potluck of 2019, an event I’m hoping to do once a month with friends and family, and this truffle beet hummus was a hit.   The surprising trick to this hummus is the beet flavor is actually from organic beet powder (vs. roasted beets) so you can make this really quickly.  I’ve been pairing it with Simple Mills crackers – both w/ the Everything flavor and w/ the classic almond flour crackers.  For some added nutrition and flavor, I top it off with some micro-greens for a healthy and somewhat sophisticated snack.  Enjoy!

Ingredients:

  1. One can of organic garbanzo beans
  2. One garlic clove
  3. 1/4 cup olive oil
  4. 1/4 cup organic beetroot powder
  5. 2 tbpsn tahini
  6. A few squeezes of lemon
  7. 1 tbspn of truffle oil
  8. Himalayan sea salt

Directions:  

  1. Drain garbanzo beans and place in food processor.  Add ingredients 2-7 and pulse until you get to creamy consistency.  If it’s thicker than you like it, try adding 1/4 cup of water to get to desired creamy thickness.
  2. Top with a drizzle of truffle oil and sea salt.  Optional: top with some micro-greens for a pop of extra color and flavor.

Creamy Basil Cashew Dip / Sauce

My husband has been growing some fresh basil in whisky barrel planters he made, and the abundant basil that was ready to use inspired this recipe.  I have made raw vegan cashew dips before, but almost always made either a classic garlic or red pepper version and this was my first time experimenting with an herb forward flavor profile.  The creamy cashew base + fresh & herbaceous basil complement each other beautifully.  This dip / sauce is very easy to make and can be used in so many ways — as a dip for veggies/ chips / crackers, as a pasta sauce on classic pasta or zoodles or even just eaten by the spoonful.

Ingredients:

  1. 1 cup of raw cashews
  2. 1 cup of fresh basil
  3. 1-2 garlic cloves (1 if large, 2 if smaller or if you like more garlic flavor in general)
  4. 1/4 cup olive oil
  5. 1/4 cup water
  6. 1/4 cup of nutritional yeast (I used Foods Alive version since it is totally soy free)
  7. Himalayan Sea Salt – adjust amount to your liking.  I add about 5 generous sprinkles to start and then adjust as I taste.

Directions: 

  1. Soak the cashews in a bowl of water for at least 2 hours
  2. Once the cashews are soaked, drain the water and add the cashews to the food processor followed by all the ingredients.  Process until smooth and creamy.  Play around until you get the flavor to your desired liking: If you’d like it to be even more creamy, slowly add a bit more oil and / or water.  If you’d like it to be even more ‘cheesy’ add some more nutritional yeast.
  3. Suggested optional toppings:
    • Sprinkle some hemp seeds
    • Add a swirl of olive oil
    • Add some other chopped fresh herbs on top including basil, cilantro, etc.

      Basil in our garden

      On Zoodles with some sauteed veggies

SoCal Organic farmstay at Morning Song Farms

My husband and I have always loved staying on farms, meeting farmers, enjoying a slower pace and savoring farm fresh food.  We’ve camped at the amazing Full Belly Farm annual Hoes Down, stayed on an incredible family owned Alpaca farm / Airbnb in Paso Robles and most recently had the pleasure of staying at the beautiful and secluded Morning Song Farms near Temecula wine country.  This was our first mini roadtrip since the birth of our son Luca so we were looking for something not too far from LA, baby friendly and very relaxing.  Morning Song turned out to far surpass all our expectations.  It is such a special tucked away gem with a few very private cottages scattered about a stunning organic farm replete with the most abundant avocado, mulberry, orange, macadamia nut, kumquat trees, the cutest alpacas as well as mini goats and chickens.  We stayed in the Romantic Mountain House which was such a charming cottage with expansive nature views and a magical private hot tub and beautiful outdoor mosaic table (the mosaic art is all done by the farmer Donna) enveloped under an olive tree — the perfect spot to enjoy a peaceful morning coffee, family meal, read a book or relish in the sunset views.  The stay also includes a generous breakfast basket with farm fresh eggs from their chickens (being vegan I didn’t eat these but my husband very much enjoyed them), delicious coffee, juicy oranges and tangerines from their trees and more.  They also do a CSA program and leave a menu if you want to order additional items – we ordered some avocados and macadmia nuts and I’m glad we did because they were both delicious.

Adorable Alpacas – Dusty and Silverado

Delicious avocados, oranges and macadamia nuts from the farm

Sunset on the farm

Under the mulberry tree

We went for two days and while there are so many day trip options (Encinitas, Escondido, etc.), we decided to go to the unassuming nearby town of Fallbrook, a short 20 minute drive from the farm and the avocado capital of the world (!!!!!).  We had a delicious brunch at the very charming and yummy Fallbrook coffee co., and then ventured on two beautiful garden walks– one at the very manicured and stately gardens of the Garden Estates and one in the very funky artsy botanical gardens of Myrtle Farm Creek.  If you only have time for one, I would recommend the latter if you are looking for a more unique experience, but both were very beautiful.   The next day we only did a very quick stop in Temecula and thanks to Yelp found the fabulous Press Espresso cafe, which is hands down one of the most beautifully designed cafes I’ve ever seen and the macadamia nut latte was simply perfect. On this trip we didn’t go wine tasting (I’m breastfeeding so not drinking at the moment), but on a future trip we’ll be sure to check out some of the nearby vineyards.  There is even a low key winery called Roadrunner on a farm that is walking distance from Morning Song that we’ll be sure to check out next time.

 

Checking out the goats at Myrtle Creek Botanical Gardens

Fallbrook Coffee Co and Garden Estates

Macadamia Latte at Press Espresso in Temecula

 

 

 

Birth Experience + Life as a New Mom

Incredibly our baby boy Luca is already 6 weeks old!  Will share a bit about my birth story, life as a new mom and some things that have helped me so far in this special adventure, and then get back to some recipes (once I find time!).
Birth Experience
As a first time mom, I was anxious that I wouldn’t know when I was in labor (vs. when it’s a fake-out w/ Braxton Hicks or other early labor signs).  Also at 40 weeks and counting, I was starting to get nervous about having to induce since Kaiser’s policy is they typically will require induction just after 41 weeks, and while I would
have induced if necessary (as my outlook was focused on ‘healthy mom, healthy
baby’ and staying flexible in terms of how and when he would come), I was hoping that baby would come on his own w/ less upfront intervention.  I continued to stay very active walking 4-5 miles a day, doing prenatal yoga and also started drinking raspberry leaf tea a couple times a day (who knows if it really works to speed things along but figured it couldn’t hurt).  The week leading up to labor I also started to get what felt like strong stomach cramps (akin to menstrual cramps), and usually would feel these during my walks, but since the cramping was sustained for a period of 20 minutes or so and didn’t come and go in waves, I knew that they weren’t labor contractions.
Then on Thursday Dec. 7th after a day of doing a great prenatal yoga class, going on a long walk, doing some Costco shopping and more, at around 9 pm I started to feel contractions.  At first I wasn’t totally sure they were labor contractions, but b/w feeling the ‘wrap-around’ sensation that they often describe where the contraction pain wraps from belly to low back, and noticing that they were starting to come and go in waves, we started timing them and sure enough they were definitely labor contractions.  I was then in labor all night and while I definitely couldn’t sleep (I hear that some people can sleep in early labor), I could find some relief in bouncing on an exercise ball, which mitigated the low back pain and taking warm baths (the latter can supposedly slow contractions, but I wanted to use some hydrotherapy before getting to the hospital since Kaiser doesn’t have baths).  I had already had an appointment scheduled for Friday morning at 10 am and knew that especially with first time moms labor can be long and they will often send you home if you aren’t far enough along so tried to stay at home as long as I could and before getting to the ‘5-1-1’.  Surely enough during my 10 am appointment they confirmed that my contractions were every 3-5 minutes but still just shy of 2 cm dilated so they recommended I go home.  I had been in labor for 12+ hours and was already in quite a bit of pain, but did decide to go home for a few hours.  Thankfully when I returned at 3 pm – at this point really hoping to get an epidural ASAP –  they admitted me to labor & delivery.
I got the epidural at 5 pm which for me worked like magic.  Like many women, I was on the fence about the epidural w/ fears that it might increase need for C-section w/ spiral of intervention and wasn’t thrilled that after administering it, your mobility is limited, but I’m so glad I went for it b/c it immediately relieved contraction pains altogether. I was still in labor for another 12 hours or so and from that point on didn’t feel any pain until it came time to push; I even managed to get some rest.   I did ultimately opt for Pitocin as well to speed along contractions given I was at 4 cm dilated for many hours and while they also offered to break my bag of waters when even with Pitocin dilation was slowly progressing, I’m glad I opted against that (I was feeling well post epidural and baby was stable so felt in no need to further speed along).  Soon thereafter I was almost fully dilated and ready to push.  Now came time for the hard part and I honestly was not mentally prepared at all for how hard pushing would be.  I had effective movement, breathing and coping techniques for contractions, but I could not tap into effective breathwork to sustain me throughout the pushing where I would finish one burst of pushing totally breathless.  If I’m blessed to have another baby, I will better prepare breathing techniques for this final phase.  Like many new moms, I reached a point midway through pushing (which took 1.5 hours despite his head being very low) where I thought that I wasn’t going to be able to push my baby out, but thankfully was very close, and right after they called in the OBGYN, he seemed to come out quickly in one fell swoop.  Our sweet baby boy – Luca Andrew Rosenthal- came out on Saturday Dec. 9th at 6:50 am at 8.5 lbs, 22″ long with a healthy cry.
They quickly suctioned him and put him skin-to-skin with me, but then minutes later we had a big scare.  About 10 minutes after birth, my husband Marcus was holding our baby Luca’s finger when he noticed that Luca was starting to go limp.  He then turned to the nurse and said he wasn’t sure if the baby was breathing and I noticed he started turning blue, and at that point they whisked him away to the warming table and called a code blue.  The entire NICU team (~15 doctors and nurses) was rushed in and we thank our lucky stars that they were able to resuscitate him.  And I’m so thankful that despite my natural leanings, we opted for a hospital birth where emergency care arrived super quickly.  While even the doctors were very surprised that a full term (in fact extra full term as he came at 41 weeks) baby with a healthy birth weight and strong cry at birth would suddenly lose consciousness a few minutes later, they did discover that he likely had pneumonia and was thus given antibiotics for the first week.  Thankfully he showed such strong resilience and every day in the NICU was getting healthier and healthier, and was fully healthy by the time we took him home after his first week.  We could not be more grateful to the wonderful Kaiser team and all our family and friends who helped during the challenging first week.  I’ll never forget the moment where I saw the anesthesiologist on her lunch break a couple days after she resuscitated Luca and we hugged teary eyed when I thanked her for saving Luca’s life (and for administering the epidural which helped me so much).  She replied that she was just doing her job and that she was thinking about us on her way home from work.  Overall, we felt very loved and cared for, and it’s during these times of true emergencies that it’s special to note how your community, and even kind strangers (we had friends of friends who we never met before house us in their guesthouse near the hospital for 5 days so we could be close to the NICU after we were discharged), shows up to support you.

The day he was born in the NICU and now
The day he was born in the NICU
My recovery
Immediately after delivery, I was not surprisingly exhausted.  Not only was there the emotional challenge of having a baby whisked away to the NICU, but I had been in labor for over 30 hours without eating or sleeping much, and I was profoundly exhausted the day he was born.  Overall while I was very tired at times throughout the first week, the most intense part of the recoveryprocess for me was being able to sit down for the first few days. As for pregnancy weight, very unexpectedly I lost almost all my pregnancy weight immediately after baby was born and was fully back to within a couple pounds of my pre-pregnancy weight just 1 week after delivery.  I believe this is very atypical and it may be in part genetic as my mom had a similar experience with some of her births, and given a newfound appetite that came with breastfeeding I was eating more than ever.  Now I am starting to progressively get more active (in early weeks was mostly walking 2-3 miles, and I’m just now starting to jog again and do some gentle yoga, and will start some core work soon to strengthen my notably weaker
core).  I’m also continuing to eat very healthy and have been especially craving warm soups, sweet potatoes, fried tofu and/or chickpeas, nutritional yeast on everything, oatmeal/ granola, lots of healthy fats (avocado, nuts and nut butters, coconut oil, etc.), and coconut water.  I’m also very much enjoying herbal lactation teas from Yogi tea that are supposed to help with relaxation and milk supply. I still am drinking
coffee every morning, which many recommend abstaining from during breastfeeding but I love my coffee and it is very much helping me during these first couple months of reduced sleep.

Life as a new mom
 
On my birthday reveling in this beautiful card

I feel very spoiled to have my amazing husband as full time support right now, which I think makes the adjustment to parenting a much more positive experience relative to those who are navigating a lot of the early weeks on their own.  He is a true partner
who changes almost all the diapers (even in the middle of the night), helps soothe and comfort Luca, reads and plays with him and so much more.  He infinite patience and sense of humor is so nourishing to both of us.  And we are able to trade off watching him to allow each other to take some deep naps or go for solo walks / bike rides to get in some rejuvenating adult solo time too.  While I have always been big on self care, during these early weeks of significant sleep reduction and the challenges of developing confidence to care for our baby, it has been so critical to help stay in a positive place and especially to cultivate patience.  On the topic of sleep, during the first couple weeks at home I was sleeping an average 3 hours at night, but had an incredible surge of adrenaline and was doing everything they advise against– namely cleaning the entire house, cooking and more.  As a lifelong 8+ hour sleeper, I was very nervous about surviving on little sleep but the hormones do kick in to sustain round-the-clock feedings.  I did try to slow down a bit, and now thankfully he is starting to sleep in longer ~4 hour stretches (fingers crossed this will stick around) so starting to get a solid 6-7 hours of sleep at night, which these days is great!

We are savoring the moments together with our cute little man and are often in awe that we made him:).  He is a voracious eater, a very observant and alert baby, loves to sleep on his mom and dad, and is even starting to crack some early smiles.  He also will cry at the top of his lungs during almost every diaper change and often will have a couple hours at night when he is fussy and we try our best to soothe him (bouncing on the exercise ball seems to work best right now for us) – sometimes w/ success and sometimes we look at each other helpless as we are still figuring out how best to soothe him (and yes we’ve read The Happiest Baby and try the ‘5 Ss’).  A couple times a week or so I’ll have moments when he is crying for a while and I recognize that I am at the end of my patience and need help, and rely on Marcus or whoever else might be around for some relief.  During this time it’s key to ask for help, and on this note we’ve also been accepting most help offered, especially in terms of food delivery.  We also tried to minimize visitors to immediate family only during the first couple weeks (and max of one set of visitors in any given day) and just started branching out and seeing friends in the past couple weeks.  We’re starting to venture outside more for longer walks which he loves, and he is also starting to vigorously exercise with very active arm and leg stretching sessions so we suspect he will be very active like his mom & dad.
Some things that have helped 
During pregnancy, my husband and I read quite a few books on minimalist parenting and were trying to not buy too much stuff, and to embrace hand-me-downs and whittle down purchases to what we really needed.  Here are some tips and items that have really helped us as well as some things I was evaluating that I’m glad we didn’t get.
1. Hand me down clothes – We literally did not have to purchase a single item of clothing and Luca already has more than he needs.  His grandma (known as Gigi) and my dear colleague Ambra donated so much clothing that he is all set through at least 6 months.  We also got gifted so much clothing so my advice would be to embrace hand-me-downs and hold off on buying any clothing,
2. Used or store display items – While there were some items that I wanted to buy new for safety reasons (especially carseat), we bought some great items used through Craigslist / Nextdoor including:
Uppababy Vista stroller – yes this is the uber premium Cadillac of strollers that retails for $800 new and we managed
to get this for $550 by buying a store display through a local seller that specializes in lightly used or store display baby gear.  We are very happy with this stroller so far as it navigates the cracks in the road well and we are also using the bassinet for him to sleep in sometimes.
Uppababy Vista bassinet stand – there was no way I was going to pay $150 for such a simple piece of furniture but we managed to get this used from Nextdoor for $40.  It is a nice option though we are still finding that our baby prefers to sleep on us or in the Fisher price Rock ‘n play more.
Luca Monte glider + ottoman – given the sheer number of hours that you are breastfeeding in any given day, investing in a good, comfy glider that will help with postural alignment and feeling comfortable is helpful. I was drawn to the Monte gliders after trying one out in a local upscale baby store and learning about its sustainable production, but at $1500, was grateful to find one used in my neighborhood in great condition for significantly less.  It’s extremely comfortable and the model I got happens to be named Luca 🙂
3. Hands free pumping bra – I was naive and did not envision I would be pumping at the hospital while in fact I
needed to stimulate my milk supply, especially with a baby in the NICU who was not able to start breastfeeding until day. This hands free pumping bra made pumping so much easier and should be very useful when going back to work.
4.Halo Sleep Sacks (the easier swaddle) – After reading up a ton on infant soothing and safe sleep measures, swaddling is not surprisingly at the top of the list, but it is not easy! Luca tends to break most of his swaddles with his strong arms and legs and the halo sleep sack has been so helpful as both an easy outfit to get on, velcro swaddle, and
unzip for middle of the night diaper changes.  The only thing to consider is the newborn size seems to run a bit smaller than they say as our baby already outgrew them at 9 lbs and 22″ and we needed to size up to a small.  UPDATE: We since have tried the ‘Love to dream’ swaddle and like it even better!  It doesn’t bunch up near his face and keeps his arms up in the soothing position he likes.
5. Fisher Price Rock ‘N Play – This lightweight bassinet alternative is so helpful to move around to different rooms to
have baby with you throughout the day, and Luca likes to sleep/ nap in it too.
6. Medicine ball – This was absolutely essential for me as pain relief during labor and our baby still loves when we bounce on it, which is one of the top things that soothes him.
7. Moby wrap – My dear friend Britt gifted this to us and Luca loves being in it, especially on his dad.  Given it’s really a long piece of fabric, it’s hard to understand why it is $50, but hey it works!  Since I’m more petite, it’s not enough back support for me to wear throughout the day and will try the Ergo once he’s a bit bigger (right now he’s not liking the Ergo but suspect he might soon).

8. Cushioned lounger – Admittedly this is not really necessary as it’s somewhat duplicative with the Fisher Price Rock ‘N Play as something to have him nap in, but it’s fun to have him right up on the couch or bed with us in it and he likes lounging in it.

9. Books: The First Forty Days– Beautiful read with self care tips for mama

Some things I got or evaluated but didn’t really need:
1. Breastfeeding pillow – I got the ‘my breast friend’ and had tried the boppy in the hospital but ultimately I find that any pillow will work.  It’s important to have quite a few pillows around to get the right support for both mama and baby, but at least for me I didn’t find that a special breastfeeding pillow is necessary
2. Bottle warmer – You can just add warm water to a bowl and let bottle sit for a few minutes to warm up
3. Infant swing – We were lent the 4 moms mamaroo fancy swing but at least for our baby it it too much stimulation at this point and he prefers just chilling in the much simpler Fisher price rock ‘n play.  Like most things, this will vary by baby as for my sister this was the only thing that he would sleep in.
4. Nipple cream – I got a natural vegan version and while it is made of great ingredients, for me the best relief is a hot shower and applying some breast milk, which per the lactation consultant heals the nipple (the human body is amazing and of course has a healing mechanism built in)
5. Diaper Pail (diaper genie): We just use a small regular garbage can and take it outdaily – so far doesn’t stink up the room.
And as I now have just under 3 months left of maternity leave, I am trying to keep in mind the following that I just read in Beautiful, Bountiful, Blissful:
Well I know this was a very long post but hopefully it will be useful to some new moms / new moms-to-be, and I’ll also be sharing some quick and easy recipes that I’ve been making in these early weeks soon.

Healthy Pregnancy Tips

I have taken a long hiatus from posting during my pregnancy (though I have stayed active on Instagram – check out @vibrant_veg) but as I’m due very soon (this Friday!) with a baby boy, I thought I would share some things/ tips that have helped me through my first pregnancy.  I am grateful that to date I have been blessed with a relatively easy pregnancy – no first trimester nausea / vomiting, no heartburn, no major foot / ankle swelling, still sleeping 8+ hours, etc.  I believe this is likely partly due to genetics (both my sisters had relatively easy pregnancies too), and partly due to maintaining a very healthy vegetarian diet and staying very active (walking 4-5 miles a day and doing bar method / prenatal yoga a few times a week).   Now I doubt any
pregnancy is totally aches and pains free, and I have definitely been experiencing baby kicking my ribs over the past few weeks and did have a scare of what felt like pre-term labor at 26 weeks (in hindsight believe it was dehydration), but overall have thankfully been feeling very well and am sharing some things that have helped me.
Every woman’s body is so unique and different, and every pregnancy
experience will of course be unique, but I am hoping that some of these may help.
Prenatal yoga – cannot recommend this enough for the combination of gentle stretching, relaxation & breathing tips, and the wealth of knowledge and support that is shared by the community.   Most prenatal teachers are also doulas and some pregnant women who come are already moms, and both the teachers and students have shared helpful tips.   In fact when late in my second trimester I started getting some cramps in my calf during the night, a fellow student mentioned to try magnesium lotion and it worked like a miracle (never got the calf cramps again after applying).  I did prenatal yoga both in the Bay Area and LA and my favorite studios / teachers
are:
  • Oakland: Barefoot studio – This was just a few blocks from my work in downtown Oakland and offered daily prenatal yoga classes, which is very rare (most studios offer prenatal 1-2x / week if they offer it at all).  And not only do they offer daily classes but they are the most affordable too with unlimited prenatal for ~$65/ month and a first time student special of $40/ month if you are new to the studio.
  • Los Angeles: Any classes with Keya Nikoni – she teaches at YogaWorks Playa Vista, Moving Joint in Mar Vista and Red Diamond Yoga in Culver City.  Her energy is so grounding and nurturing and you get a great stretch too.  She also offers partner workshops and is a doula.  I also enjoyed Bridgette’s Monday / Wed. mid-day class at YogaWorks Montana in Santa Monica, which has a nice gentle pace.
o  At home online prenatal yoga videos on your own schedule: I subscribe for $15/ month to yogisanonymous.com and they have quite a few prenatal offerings ranging from short meditations to full classes.  My favorite class is a 30 min. shoulder, neck and heart opening sequence by Kate Cariati, which was very helpful for me as I tend to hold tension in my shoulders and neck and always felt better after this class.  If you do choose to do prenatal at home it is worth investing in blocks, a bolster and a strap if you don’t have these already as props are pretty essential for prenatal practice.
·
Sleeping:
o  Pregnancy pillow – This was the very first thing I got and it has been perhaps the single most helpful thing throughout my
pregnancy (okay probably second to prenatal vitamins & iron pills, but this is really high on the list and I am pretty obsessed with it).  My sister, who like me is petite, gifted this to me and mentioned that it is apparently especially great for petite women, and I have absolutely loved it.  Sometimes after I get up my husband will crawl into it and he loves it too.  I love it so much that I bought a second one to keep at my parent’s house for when I visit, and I even recommended this to a non-pregnant friend
who was having sleeping issues and she loves it too.  I started using this towards the end of my first trimester, probably before I needed to, and plan to continue to use it for a while after baby arrives.
o  I also slept on both my left side (most recommended position esp. post 20 weeks), but continued to sleep on my back too
propped up by 1-2 pillows.  Some doctors/ websites/ yoga teachers don’t recommend back sleeping but I am hearing more
and more that the science is coming around to suggest that it can be okay for some women, and since I feel very in touch with my body and baby (he moves a ton and lets me know when he is unhappy for example I cannot sleep on my right side), I think this has been fine for me and my doctor has been okay with it.
·    Preventing backache:  Being petite (I’m 5”2) and slim, the pregnancy weight gain as a % of total body weight can definitely take a toll on
the lower back.  Since my pre-pregnancy weight was 105 lbs and I gained 25 lbs throughout my pregnancy, I gained nearly 25% of my original body weight, which is in a good and healthy range and thankfully baby is measuring well, but I did intermittently feel like I needed
a little extra support for my back. Based on Amazon reviews, I tried this Azmed belly belt and it worked very well for me.  I did not need to use it daily and would only use it when I felt I needed it, which was more towards my third trimester, esp. during work days when I was sitting more often.
·     Staying cool:
Especially toward the end of my third trimester, I have been finding that I am feeling extra hot / flushed, esp. at night.  This is caused by hormones and exacerbated by the California heat waves we had been experiencing, and this little handheld fan has been surprisingly effective to cool me down and I plan to pack this in my hospital bag too for labor.
·     Pregnancy / nursing bras:  I only ordered these when I was 37 weeks and so wish I had gotten them sooner as they are so comfy (and I gained a full cup size in my first trimester so definitely could have gotten them sooner – extenders are a good, affordable interim solution too).  The quality for the price is quite literally unbelievable (they are basically $6 each!) and I have recommended these to all my pregnant friends.

·     Books:  My dear friend Nadine who is also having a baby boy recommended this birth partner book for my husband (who will be my acting doula / labor support as I decided not to go w/ a doula), and we actually both read it and found it very helpful to supplement the childbirth prep classes we took.

Iron Pills: If you are vegan or vegetarian, it is really important to get enough iron during pregnancy.  Given that blood volume increases during pregnancy, iron is so critical and while it is pretty common from what I learned to have slight anemia during pregnancy, this is likely more common among vegetarians even if you are vigilant about eating high iron foods like spinach, nuts & legumes, dried apricots/ figs, etc. I found out that I was slightly anemic early in my second trimester after some blood tests and started taking iron pills with orange juice (vitamin C helps absorption); in hindsight, I would have started taking these in my first trimester.

Well for whenever I do my next post, I will likely be a mama so wish me luck on my labor and birthing journey.  My intention is to try my best to relax, breathe through and surrender to contractions (one of my favorite affirmations is ‘I can do anything for 1 minute’ and another is the simple ‘I am fine; my baby is fine’), and be patient and open to my birth experience as it unfolds (trying not to get attached to any specific vision of how & when my birthing experience will unfold).