Friday, September 30, 2016

Barbecue Pot Roast and Cauliflower Mash

Cooler weather has started to flirt with us here in Texas. So much in fact that I've reached the point where I've switched from iced decaf lattes to one hot in a cup. Pumpkins and mums will make their appearance on our porch this weekend. Dinner is becoming influenced by this seasonal change.

So I must tell you, this roast is everything y'all. Truth is, I've been making it nearly every week since February, even on the triple digit heat weeks - this year it hasn't been so seasonal for me due to my beef and mashed cauliflower cravings the past 35 weeks. This recipe made its initial appearance on my previous recipe blog more than three years ago but has changed a bit since then as I've continued to adapt it.

Many people will favor the crock pot version out of ease and I have those directions as well, however, I prefer to use my dutch oven for this. It takes a shorter amount of time, I find the roast to shred better, and it very well could be in my head, but I think the flavor is better. At some point, things made in the crockpot started to taste like "crock pot" - and I don't know how to describe that.

This meal is savory. It's swimming in flavor with a little tang, a little punch and a little heat. It is easily the only recipe you'll need again for making a roast. Give yourself about 30 minutes for prep and 2.5 hours to cook the roast if using a dutch oven, and same prep but 6ish hours with a crock pot. You'll need about 20-30 minutes to make the cauliflower mash, which is the last half hour of the roast cooking away.

I am not a huge fan of leftovers. Depending on what it is, I can reheat a meal one time, usually it has to be the following day for lunch. This gets even better in flavor with time. We made it on Tuesday night, I had it Wednesday for lunch and Thursday night for dinner again.

(Yields 6-8 servings)
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • Garlic powder
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 2 lbs. Beef Chuck Roast, trimmed of fat and cut into 3 smaller sections (this will allow your beef to cook more evenly and shred better, faster)
  • 3/4 cup beef broth
  • 1 cup BBQ sauce of choice (our favorite is Austin's Own, medium)
  • Optional: if you are using a mild BBQ sauce but want to turn up the heat a bit, add 1 tbsp of Sriracha!
  • 1/2 cup sweet red chile sauce
  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup celery, chopped
  • 1 cup carrot, cut into 2 inch sticks
  • 1 onion, chopped 
For cauliflower mash
(Yields 4 servings)
  • 1 large yellow or red potato, peeled and chopped into 1 inch cubes (waxy potatoes have less starch than Russets and they provide a creamier, smoother consistency. I like to use in my mashed cauliflower to help the texture)
  • 2 cups cauliflower florets (don't use frozen, it'll make this very watery)
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • Garlic powder
  • Paprika
  • Salt
If using a dutch oven, set your oven to 325 degrees and allow to pre-heat. If using a crock pot, set to high heat. 

Start by heating the olive oil in the dutch oven on medium-high heat. If using a crock pot for this meal, heat oil in a skillet. Season both sides of the beef with the garlic powder, salt and pepper, then place on the hot surface. Sear until ready to flip - when meat easily comes away from the heat surface. Sear all sides. 

If using a dutch oven, add the beef broth at this time and scrape brown bits from the sear. Keep on medium-high heat. If using a crock pot, transfer the meat into the crock pot and add broth. Add the celery, carrot and onion to the pot. Whisk the other wet ingredients into a bowl and pour over top. 

If using a dutch oven, place in the oven once 325 degrees is reached. Set timer for 2 hours and walk away. If using a crock pot, set time for 6 hours and walk away. 

Once the timer goes off, it's time to make your mash. Set the timer for an additional 30 min, or just know your roast will be done once you finish this next part. If your roast has been in the oven, go ahead and remove to set on the stove, it'll continue to cook on its own. 

For the mash, boil water and add potatoes first. They take a little longer to soften. Let boil for about 5-8 minutes on high, then add the cauliflower. Cook for 10 minutes, or until easily pierced by a fork, then drain. I prefer to use my large food processor to puree the potato and cauliflower but this would also work with an electric hand mixer. Add the butter, then season with garlic, paprika and salt to taste. I give a couple hearty shakes of each. Mix until consistency is smooth. 

Remove each piece of meat from the roasting pot it has cooked in and shred, adding back to pot when complete. Mix everything around, sometimes I stir in a little extra BBQ sauce to thicken the juices if needed. 

Plate by spooning cauliflower mash first, then topping with roast and veggies. Goes best with a cold glass of milk and Max loves a good batch of crescent rolls to accompany! 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Confessions of an Anxious Mama: Pregnancy After Loss Edition IV

3D/4D sono picture taken at 34w4d - a cheeky smile and a thumbs up, straight in the nose. 

Ever since our umbilical cord scare at the beginning of September, Hadley has continued to be on the up and up. At last week's 34 week appointment, her levels were the best they had looked since August. The modified bed rest has helped, and I also believe our steadfast support network of prayer warriors have added to this outcome as well. Her levels look wonderful, her movements have been great, and she is a growing girl estimating close to 6 lbs.

In my pregnancy with Hudson, I remember the tremendous guilt I later felt for this, but around the beginning of the third trimester I became sad and a bit scared. I was sad that I had "twelvish" weeks left with Max as just the two of us. That for seven years (4.5 years dating, 2.5 years married) it had been just us doing things however, and really whenever, we wanted to. We added George the pup to the mix two years ago and sure that changed things a bit, but not greatly. Now we were talking about a baby. A baby who would become a toddler, who would become a kid, who would become a teenager, who would become an adult. We were talking about a human being that we were responsible for now, forever and always. I was scared of what if we changed? What if we grew apart? What if our marriage wasn't ready for this? What if we resented each other over parenting issues? What if we would never be the same?

I remember talking to a friend about those thoughts, asking if this was normal, to which she assured me she thought all the same things around the same point of her pregnancy. Of course on the forefront of my mind, I couldn't wait to have Hudson with us. I had so much love for that baby already and couldn't wait to be his mama and see my husband as a father. There was just this secondary emotional thought train going on of missing the "us" that we've been because it would inevitably change.

Then, the unthinkable happened. Our son died. Suddenly and without warning we were thrust into a world of grief that included pain, confusion, anger and sadness. There were times we were more connected than ever, other times we were disconnected and needing different things. Within the first week of our loss, we were warned to protect our marriage because grief can tear a couple apart. I remember on one of the nights I couldn't sleep within that first month, I had been watching TV on the couch and I laid my head down with thoughts swirling. I remembered that I had been having those feelings of sadness surrounding the fact that it wouldn't just be the two of us anymore. I got so upset with myself about it, racked with guilt, that I made myself sick. I was so worried about how our life would look with another in it, I never stopped to think about how our life would look without that life anymore. How could I ever have felt that way? How could I have thought so selfishly? Now he's gone and I'd give anything to have him, to have the three of us, to have everything change because it would have been for the better. The alternative change that we got instead was the absolute worst.

This pregnancy, we have been so caught up in all the emotions surrounding this new life and the anticipation of getting to the point where she is here. Today we are 35 weeks. It was a long afternoon of appointments but they went well and Hadley is just perfect.

On Monday before our sono appointment, Max and I grabbed a quick lunch beforehand at a little cafe near the hospital. As we were sitting there eating, he said you know what I thought of today? We aren't going to have the moment of rush and excitement of "ahh my water broke, let's get to the hospital!" He said it in an upbeat way but I could tell it made him a little glum. That was a thought that occurred to me over a year ago at one of our post-partum follow up appointments after Hudson. At the time, it had made me sad too. My doctor had told us then that going forward, we will be high risk and in any pregnancy we have in the future, she will induce early. I remember feeling robbed of that experience where a husband and wife are frantically, yet excitedly, rushing to the hospital because it's time! However, it's a romanticized idea which we will have in a different way. Now knowing what we've been through and the path we've walked, I'm okay with how it will happen for us because I'd rather be safe than take chances.

We are "two-ish" weeks away from her arrival. This morning, I got up and walked into her room. I turned on the little lamp by her bed and just look at everything, taking it all in. Her books filled with special messages from friends sitting on shelves. Her crib now all dressed and put together. The little nightstand next to it with her swaddles, pacifiers and blankies. Her chest of drawers with pretty trinkets and Hudson's shadow box of special things. The rocker we will spend hours upon hours in and the antique lace and peach ribbon hanging from the dream catcher on the wall above it. Her changing table area with everything neatly sorted and waiting. I run my feet along the soft rug that someday she'll play on. I look in her toy basket at the sensory books, stuffed animals and other toys collected. I open her closet to see a full array of clothes hanging, her shoes, the many cases of diapers in all sizes, and various other items like the bumbo and boppy lounger, in position ready for use. The peach and ivory crepe paper flowers are the last thing to do and are waiting to be hung above the crib as soon as the rest arrive.

Time has surprisingly passed by quickly to me and I feel like these next two-ish weeks will fly by and then it'll be time. I want to exhale with relief but I'm still holding my breath. We are ready for her, we see life with her in it, we just need to get through the actual day of that happening. This week, I had the feeling for the first time that oh my goodness, it's almost here. Our lives as we know them will change again - but in the best way. It won't be just the two of us, doing whatever we want to do at any time. It will be about her, it will be about the three of us and Hudson watching over. This time, it doesn't scare me. This time there is a piece of me that wants to skip past the hospital part, because we've had that part before. Though I know this time will be so different and of course the moment I've been waiting for is to hear her and see her for the first time, I just want to get to the part when we are walking through our front door with her, home at last as a family, and starting that life together.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

231 Days

32 weeks

Today is day 230 of this pregnancy. That's 32 weeks and 6 days.

Day 230 was the last day of my pregnancy with Hudson and day 231 was the day we delivered and said goodbye. As we entered 32 weeks, there has been an ominous weight I've felt, a presence of sadness. The scare we had with Hadley's umbilical cord two weeks ago seems to have curbed the anxious feelings and fear during this tough milestone week of loss, but the sadness remains. The modified rest has kept my stress levels low and the twice a week appointments have helped me feel more at ease knowing she is doing well. Reaching this day is something I've anticipated since before I knew we were pregnant again. The time of loss. You try to keep it out of your mind but it is always in there, looming. I am so thankful to have this day sandwiched between appointments, giving me peace of mind and comfort in my heart to get through it. Yesterday we got to see Hadley, her levels were not elevated, she was doing wonderfully. They measured her and estimated 4 lb, 11 oz. Today I woke up in a funk but as soon as I started moving, so did she, providing immediate comfort entering this day. Before I left for the office, I listened to her heart beat which was strong and steady, the additional little push I needed.

Over the last week, Hudson has weighed so heavily on my heart. I find myself trying to remember everything I can about that last week I carried him, unknowing that it was our last together. I wish we had this chance with him, this chance to make sure his life wasn't in jeopardy. He deserved that, but we didn't know. We went to visit him over the weekend and standing there at 32 weeks with his sister, staring at his name in stone, was both painful and healing. Watching my husband put his hand on Hudson's niche and say we miss you buddy, as I kiss the stone saying we love you with tears falling, holding onto one another through that pain and the release. One day we will bring Hadley and visit him as a family.

Today as I was getting ready, I was looking through the "maternity dress" section of my closet and came upon the dress. The navy maternity dress I wore on day 230 last time. I have avoided it ever since, and haven't worn it again. I always skip right past it on purpose, but today I took it off the hanger and folded it. It's not a dress I want to have anymore.

Tonight we attend the newborn care class at our hospital. A class we had enrolled in previously but never got the chance to take. Tomorrow I go back to my doctor again for the 33 week visit and I enter a new phase of this Pregnancy After Loss, the part I didn't get to last time. At 33 weeks I was delivering our son and saying goodbye, leaving the hospital without my baby and entering our home empty and broken. This time I will wake up on day 1 of 33 weeks and cling to the belief that we will meet our living, breathing daughter within 5 weeks. It will be day 231 of this pregnancy but the first day of a new week we didn't get to experience previously.

We will celebrate it.

We will have faith in it.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Staring Fear in the Face

Image result for sonogram image of umbilical cord doppler reading
This is what the doppler image of a cord scan during a biophysical profile looks like. They measure the cord in various places to get a reading which comes from the peaks and valleys of the imaging at the bottom, indicating the flow of oxygen and blood through the arteries within the umbilical cord. 

My last post talked about cord accidents in general, the research behind them, identifying different types, how this impacted us and how women who have had a cord accident are at an increased risk of having another cord-related incident.

Entering this pregnancy, I knew there was that risk because what I read about them last year. My doctor knows those risks and that is why we have had this increased monitoring and why I am and always will be classified as a high risk pregnancy. I didn't want to believe it could actually happen again but of course it has been a fear which has driven some anxiety lately because of the point of this pregnancy that we have reached - nearing the 32/33 week mark when we lost Hudson. I haven't really been sleeping well, I have been a lot more emotional than usual, and have been feeling rather on edge. We went to our 31 week appointment on September 1 and were confronted with news that made us stare our fears in the face.

At our 31 week sonogram last Thursday, Hadley presented with high blood pressure flow in three places of her umbilical cord. The ultrasound tech checked a few different spots and the levels didn't sit right with her. It was enough of a jump in her scores from previous weeks to warrant concern. We were none the wiser walking out of the ultrasound room and went about our merry way to wait for my doctor. When our doctor came in, she was in good spirits and started by saying that Hadley looks beautiful but that something new has come up and she didn't want us to panic, that we are catching it early and there are things we can do. She started to explain that the blood pressure in her umbilical cord was elevated which can be problematic and we are going to take every precaution there is given our past with Hudson's cord accident. She let us know that best case scenario is that it could go back to normal on its own and it could just be situational. That it could mean bed rest. That it could be the beginning of a developing problem and could mean I'm admitted to the hospital to be monitored more closely. It could mean we deliver that day if needed.

Try hearing that last one and not panicking. Suddenly my baby's life felt like a waiting game and I was back in a position of fear in that doctor's office. I didn't know how much of her approach was in efforts to keep me calm and what I wasn't being told. I didn't know the extent of how serious it was or what it could become. I didn't know what this would mean for Hadley in this very moment and each one after for the next 6 weeks.

I sat there partially processing and the other part stunned, my husband immediately taking on his calm role of support. I blurted out that I felt hiccups yesterday and had a melt down the night about it because what hiccups could mean if they occur too often. Now, I had only felt them one time, but my mind went to the scary place. I felt hiccups with Hudson at this exact time in my pregnancy. I only felt them three times with him over the course of two weeks, which is in no way excessive, but it still haunts me. The fact that I felt his in the two weeks leading up to his passing and now I was feeling hers at that same week mark and there seemed to be some kind of cord related issue again pushed me over the edge. She told me that we are going to get through this, we are being proactive and her nurse was in the process of calling another fetal high risk specialist for a second evaluation. That was our next step and we will determine from there, that we have a plan.

As they worked to get in touch with them and send over my medical records, we were told to go downstairs to the hospital cafeteria and eat, to try to relax and if we don't hear from them, call in an hour. Riddle me this - how could I possibly eat or relax!? My stomach was in knots, I felt sick and the last scenario she mentioned was going through my mind what if we have to deliver today at 31 weeks? We waited nearly two hours before getting the call to head over to the hospital's Fetal Care Center. I was going crazy thinking what if something happens to her in this time, doing kick counts and recording her movements in my phone to monitor her activity. I have to tell you how amazing my husband is in tough situations. He kept us calm, at as much peace as possible, and distracted as best as he could. He knows how to handle my reactive nature and he is the eternal optimist.

The other doctor we saw was phenomenal with us and very compassionate regarding our previous cord accident loss. Before he started, he laid it out there for us though. He said that he will not take any chances and that if she so much as looked at him wrong on the ultrasound, he would admit us or send us over there to deliver via emergency c-section. By the time I got into see him, it was nearly 3 hours after the initial scan. He looked at the cord in depth in several spots and in two of them, the levels had stabilized to normal realm of comfort. In one area, the numbers were still slightly elevated and a little further apart, but not to the point where they felt we needed to monitor her in the hospital or the need to deliver her immediately.

Want to know something interesting he told us? After we talked about Hudson, he said there are more babies that die before birth in the state of Texas than women who die of breast cancer each year. It is a harrowing fact and one we should pay more attention to. That was eye opening for me but it reinstated his passion for what he does and made me feel in very good hands.

He spent a lot of time evaluating various aspects of her development that could indicate any kind of cord restriction issue, like fluid build up in the brain and heart chambers. Both were completely clear and functioning beautifully. Her heart rate was at a strong 151, and she is growing like a weed. He even took the time to point out a fat roll, so sister is getting what she needs, which is a wonderful sign so far. At the conclusion of the scan, he explained to us what the imaging of the cord blood pressure readings meant. To be honest, I can't fully remember all the different medical terms and explanation of what was happening. I was clinging to every word but not completely processing it because I was waiting for bad news. Essentially, what I was able to gather from the little of the conversation that I retained, is that the cord will go through times where it will constrict and get tighter which will drive up the blood pressure in the arteries through it. This can happen due to maternal anxiety, stress, lack of sleep. Even though my blood pressure is not elevated, he said I need to rest because it effects hers. He and my doctor decided that I am to be on bed rest until my next appointment the following Tuesday when we will go back and do another BPP and most importantly, check that cord flow. At that time, we will look at our course of action for keeping her safe and healthy for the next 6 weeks or until we deliver, whichever comes first. With elevated blood pressure flow in the cord, the risk it can pose is not a sudden thing, it is gradual so they were comfortable with me being home over the long weekend and checking again in a few days.

We were told to be prepared that we may not make it to 37 weeks, but there's nothing saying that we won't. I have a perpetual need to understand and be prepared for things that can come my way. Some may call that being a planner. Guilty. We went into that appointment ready to tell our doctor that we had decided on the date we wanted to induce, ha! Throughout the weekend, I had to fight my need to know everything and start googling so that I don't drive my anxiety up more. I started to look it up on my phone in the hospital as we waited, then read a few sentences in an expecting mom's forum and decided not to read anymore. I needed to just listen to what my doctors say and go to their nurse with questions. I practiced some extreme self control for my nature.

So over the last five days, I've rested. I've finished Parenthood, started Narcos season 2 and spent a lot of time browsing online Labor Day sales to get post-partum recovery items ready. I sat in the glider supervising as Max finished some things in her nursery, like chandelier installation. We are trying to finish things in case her arrival comes sooner than planned. That initial 24 hours was not easy, I was a headcase. I had a hard time sleeping because of all the what ifs swimming in my head, however, it tapered off. Throughout those five days, her movement was great, I checked her heart rate daily and it was strong and consistent with the numbers we've been seeing.

We went back to the doctor today. Hadley started moving around this morning at 5 am so I had immediate comfort starting the day. Our sonogram today revealed that her levels are looking good and are in the range we want them to be in. Bed rest did it's job and we want it to stay this way. We will go in twice a week from here til delivery day, and more if needed. By slowing down with my schedule, restricting physical activity and cutting back my work hours, they feel like this should help contain her umbilical cord blood pressure to safe levels and keep her out of additional risk.

Thursday marks 32 weeks, the beginning of a time frame that I have been anxious about because the very end of that week became the end of our pregnancy last time. Our prayer request first and foremost is for Hadley to remain safe and healthy and for my anxiety to decrease to help with that. My doctor said that if we have to deliver her at anytime, she will be a NICU baby but a NICU baby is a living baby and we will be in excellent hands at our hospital to see her through to coming home. Of course, all we want is a living baby and we will do whatever it takes for that to happen. As her parents, we also want an as-healthy-as-possible baby second to that. We would like to be able to keep her cooking as long as we can and to get to that goal mark of 37 weeks, however, if inside the womb becomes more risky than being on the outside, we are becoming prepared for that.

We have confidence in our medical team. We believe them when they say we will get her here safe and sound. Even with that, it's still hard. It's hard for me when I feel like my body is somehow responsible and I want to understand why the umbilical cord is now an issue in both of my pregnancies and what that can mean in the future. That's really difficult to deal with and I've caught myself dwelling on it and making my head spin, but it's not something we can get caught up in, especially right now. Staying calm has never been more important.

We are thankful for the good news received today giving us some much needed relief. We are thankful to have a wonderful team of medical professionals who have the attitude that there is no such thing as too careful as we go forward. We are thankful for our network of those holding our hands through this. Thank you for following us on this road and supporting us in thought, prayer and action!