Friday, May 11, 2012

Maternity Gear

First off, I know this isn't a mommy blog, but it is My Life on a Plate, so I figured this fits into the "my life" part.  I'm still learning a lot a lot about pregnancy and parenting, but I do think I found out what works for me in terms of maternity wear.  Of course, every woman has a different sense of style, but here's what worked for me:

1.  At 26 weeks (about 6 months) pregnant, I can still wear some regular clothing.  I can still fit maxi dresses, loose tops (especially if they are a size or two larger than my pre-pregnancy size), babydoll-style tops and dresses, and all of my accessories (scarves, jewelry, etc.).  I've turned to maternity wear for pants and some dresses.

2.  Shoes are becoming a situation.  I've heard that your feet can grow up to a full size during pregnancy (and not return to the pre-pregnancy size).  Most of my 8 1/2 shoes still fit, but they aren't comfortable.  Anything with a heel is out.  My peep toe flats cut into my toes.  Fortunately, warm weather is here and I prefer to wear sandals anyway.  I've invested in three new pair of sandals that have good arch support (Cole Haan, Mephisto, and Zealand).  My goal was to not wear "mom shoes", but to have something flat, stylish and comfortable for hot weather.  I'm really pleased with my new sandals and I can see myself wearing them into the fall.

3.  I never thought I'd say this, but most of my new clothing is coming from JC Penney.  Yes, the same place where I used to shop for sheets and curtains is now my go-to spot for maternity wear, especially tees and pants.  I tried Target, but most of their stuff is online only (and more expensive than JCP).  I tried the specialty stores in the mall, but I'm not into paying $90 for a pair of maternity jeans (plus the styles were a bit young for me).  I was able to grab cropped black pants, dark denim, gray slacks, a few dresses, and solid tees for less than $25 a piece at JCP.  Once I accessorize with my own earrings, scarves and shoes the pieces look more professional and up-to-date.

4.  I didn't initially realize that I'd have to invest in new undergarments to accomodate my changing body.  Target has some nice options for maternity underwear.  Nordstrom has worked for me for bras.

5.  Although many people tell me that being pregnant in the summer is hard, I'm happy that I got out of buying a maternity coat and more structured clothing for work due to the timing of my pregnancy.  Summer tends to bring a more relaxed dress code in the workplace, so I can often wear the same clothes at home that I wear to work (with a few adjustments).

The biggest thing I've learned so far is that every woman and every pregnancy is different.  People told me all different tales of woe before and during this pregnancy.  I've experienced some things, but others haven't happened (yet).  I'll admit that I'm finding it difficult to sleep comfortably, but that's part of growing a little human.  I expected to gain a ton of weight, but my weight gain has been modest and my appetite has been light.  As long as the baby is growing well, I'm okay with that.

I'm learning so much and still feeling so blessed to bring this child into the world.  With less than 100 days  until my due date, I'll be meeting him soon!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Tuscan White Bean Soup

Spring isn't exactly soup weather, but since it's rainy this week in Delaware I've decided to share an easy soup recipe.  This soup is relatively healthy, could be vegetarian, affordable and it makes your home smell awesome.  As an added bonus, it's cooked in a slow cooker.

I'm the first one to admit that I don't like everything that comes out of a slow cooker. Some of the recipes require too many processed ingredients for my taste and sometimes the food comes out tasting like mush.  But, some recipes, like this one, lend themselves to great results in the slow cooker.  You only need to spend about 10 minutes of hands on time and you'll have a nice hot pot of soup waiting for you at the end of a long day.

This recipe uses dried beans.  If you've never cooked with dried beans, don't be scared!  You can buy them in the grocery store (I like to buy mine in the Latino foods aisle).  For less than $2 you'll have enough beans to make a huge pot of this soup.  Since they're dried you'll be able to control the sodium and the final texture, which is a big advantage over canned beans.

Dried beans just require a little bit of extra handling, but it's not complicated.  Start the night before you plan to cook this recipe.  First, spread them out onto a flat surface (a cookie sheet works well) and make sure there are no stones, twigs, or other foreign matter mixed in with the beans.  This is rare, but it can happen.  Next, pour the beans into a deep, large bowl and cover them with a few inches of water.  Let them sit overnight.

The next morning, saute onions and garlic in olive oil.  Sprinkle in some crushed red pepper and deglaze the pan with chicken stock...

Pull out your slow cooker.  Place some smoked meat in the slow cooker to flavor your soup (I used a piece of smoked turkey.  You could also use cooked bacon or panchetta.)  Add the beans, onion mixture, chicken stock, and a bay leaf to the slow cooker.

Go on with your day.  When you come home, stir in some chopped fresh rosemary.

Check the soup to make sure the seasonings work for you, then serve!  That's it!

I served mine with freshly baked rosemary bread, but I also think this soup would be great with grilled cheese or any crusty bread from the store.

Some of the beans will break apart and make the soup creamy.  Other beans will stay whole and give the soup some substance.

I really enjoyed this soup.  If I was being really bad, I would have stirred in some cooked italian sausage at the end.  You could always add whatever you like.

At this point I still only have a handful of meals that I'd make in a slow cooker.  This one makes my short list.  It's good for your weekly menu rotation and it makes at least 6-8 servings - enough for lunch the next day!

Tuscan White Bean Soup
adapted from Slow Cooker Revolution

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (plus additional for serving)
6 ounces pancetta, minced (you could use bacon instead)
2 onion, minced (about 1 1/2 cups minced onion)
6 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
3 cups water
1 pound dry Northern or cannellini beans (2 1/2 cups), picked over, salt-soaked, and rinsed
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
salt and pepper
grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

1.  Soak the beans overnight in enough water to cover by 4 inches and a few tablespoons of salt.

2.  The next morning, heat a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat and cook the pancetta (or bacon) until lightly brown and crisp.  Stir in onions, garlic, and red pepper and cook until onions softened and lightly browned (8-10 minutes).  Stir in 1 cup of broth, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.

3.  Transfer mixture to the slow cooker.  Stir in remaining broth, water, soaked beans, and bay leaves.  Cover and cook until beans are tender (9-11 hours on low or 5-7 hours on high).

4.  After beans are cooked, stir in rosemary and cook on high for an additional 15 minutes.  Discard bay leaves.  Check seasoning; add salt and pepper, if desired.  Serve with Parmesan cheese and additional olive oil.

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