Post-Partum Freezer Meals: Split Pea Soup with Ham Hocks

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My crockpot became my best friend during the time I was preparing meals for the freezer. I would prep all of the ingredients during the day and then let everything slow cook over night. In the morning, I would let it cool and then package the contents in mason jars. I focused on lots of soups and stews. Meals that were mostly hands off during cooking, could be packed in mason jars, so I didn’t have to give up any of my glassware to sit in the freezer for weeks and because soups and stews are easy to heat up.

One of our favorites was delicious and hearty split pea soup. In fact I had prepared this to serve to the midwives after the birth, but we were all too tired for food, so we ended up enjoying this later.

The first step, as you will see in many of the recipes in this series, is that I first made bone broth, this time from ham hocks we had in the freezer from our last two pigs. I made the bone broth in the crockpot as well, I added water to cover the bones and added about a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar and a couple of bay leaves – that is the way I make most of my bone broths. Then I let it cook for about 24 hours.

Once the broth was made, I got all the meat off and reserved it. Then I basically made this soup (of course in this case it was not vegan!)

I put all the ingredients in the crockpot with the reserved meat and let it cook over night.

The thing about freezer meals is that you don’t re-invent the wheel, go through blogs, cookbooks etc. and make things you already know how to make, items that freeze well. This isn’t necessarily the time to experiment with difficult recipes. Here are some of the recipes I made or made similar recipes from recipes I already had on my blog.

Sardinian Purcavru in Agru Durci (sweet and sour pork)

Paleo Pumpkin Muffins

Veal and White Bean Stew 

Post-Partum Freezer Meals Series: Homemade Burgers and Meatballs

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The last post I wrote was my daughter’s birth story and it got me thinking about all the things I did to prepare for her birth. So I decided to start a series on easy Postpartum Meals for the blog. These posts will also be of interest to those who are friends or family of a pregnant woman that would benefit greatly from having meals brought to her family in those first two weeks post-birth. Or for people who just want to nutritious and healthy freezable meals.

In this day and age many new moms and dads are isolated or living far from family and friends. One of the best things I did for myself in late pregnancy was spending a week getting various healthy, nutrient packed meals in the freezer for us, so when the baby came we were all set with good things to eat.

All in all, I was able to freeze a month’s worth of breakfasts, and about a month’s worth of lunches or dinners.  We are still eating from this bounty supplemented with some quick and easy fresh meals as well and now that Alba is over a month old, we are also going out for meals sometimes also.

I have read a lot about preparing for the arrival of your baby and most articles would suggest gathering local take-out menus so that during those first few weeks postpartum where you don’t really have the time or energy for cooking, you can let someone else cook for you.

This is good in theory, but the reality is that what you eat those first few weeks is the first nutrition you will be feeding your baby, if you are breastfeeding. So for me I wanted to be sure that what she was getting was super nutrient dense.  You won’t get that from take-out.

I am going to start the series out with two super easy ideas, pre-made burgers and meatballs. I will also link you to my Pinterest board with other Postpartum meal ideas that gave me inspiration when I came up with my own menu. In the posts to come I will share a variety of soups, stews, breads, muffins, etc.

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Burgers:

Who doesn’t love a nice juicy burger? Especially at a time when your body could use more iron? Burgers are the perfect fix! Making burgers for the freezer is easy! I use 100% grass-fed beef as the base and then I like to add smoked salt and a little barbecue sauce to the meat, mix it with my hands and create the patties. The trick to this is then putting the patties on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet in a single layer and popping it in the freezer until frozen. This way you can package your burgers into 2 serving bundles without the patties sticking together. I used 3 lbs. of ground beef and got 12 patties.

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Meatballs:

I made meatballs in the same way. I flavored one batch with Italian seasonings: salt, oregano, basil and thyme and the other with Middle Eastern spices: salt, cumin, coriander, paprika and sumac. I formed the meatballs and then cooked them on cookie sheets in the oven at 350 F for about 15 minutes. After they cooled I put them in a single later on cookie sheets and popped them in the freezer, then bagged them in 2 person serving sizes for the freezer. With the Italian version we had rice pasta with meatballs and with the Middle Eastern meatballs we made Middle East Inspired Meatballs.

Here is my pinterest board with other freezable meals to get your mind and taste buds going.

 

Alba Rose Jenevieve’s Birth Story

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I am taking a bit of a diversion on the blog for this post, as it has nothing at all to do with food. However it does explain my long absence! Many people have asked me if I would share my birth experience and I can’t think of anywhere else to share it, so it will live here. Keep in mind while reading this that some experiences are hard to put into words, even for a writer.

I think most people asked to hear the story because I chose to have Alba Rose at home in the company of midwives, something that is thought of as quite unconventional in this day and age, despite millennia of precedence. During my pregnancy people would tell me I was brave, and sometimes people were concerned for me when I told them my plans to have my baby at home. My response was always that I thought people who had babies in hospitals were the brave ones, surrounded by strangers in a strange place going through one of the most truly awesome experiences in life in the hands of doctors. Not that doctors are bad, just for me they didn’t belong in my vision as a part of my sacred transformation from maiden to mother (unless there was something wrong with me or the baby that made it medically necessary for their expertise).

For me, having a child is one of the most monumental and natural acts in the world. Women have been doing it since the beginning of time, and always at home, attended by midwives. This has been the norm for a very long time. Our culture in modern times has relegated giving birth to the realm of doctors, medicine and medical intervention, sending women the message that giving birth is in the same category as having a disease or a medical problem and that they cannot birth a child on their own. Personally, I never bought into that for myself and was always confident that when the time came, my body would take over and know exactly what needed to be done.

So my birth plan was a simple one, to labor and give birth at home in a birthing tub with very little intervention. I have always loved the water, being an avid competitive swimmer once and the idea of giving birth in water felt comforting. We were all set up a few days ahead of time, I had an intuition that the baby was going to arrive in week 39 and that is what ended up happening.

One night as we were lying in bed, wondering when the wee one was going to arrive we heard something we had never heard before in the 4 years we have lived in this house, an owl on our roof hooting loudly. I will preface this by saying that all during my pregnancy I have been drawn to anything with owls on it, and had bought a few owl themed items for the baby, so when we heard the owl, we wondered if it was a herald of labor beginning soon. I found out later, that my cousin Michelle, who is like a sister to me, had an encounter with an owl on the same night.

The next morning I woke up to some cramping. I was getting these cramps about every half an hour. They didn’t feel at all like the Braxton-Hicks contractions I had been experiencing, so I didn’t pay too much attention to them. We woke leisurely and then decided to go into town and have brunch and take the dogs on a nice long walk. As we enjoyed our day, the time between cramps got shorter and by the time we got home and had prepared a snack for dinner, they were coming about 5 minutes apart. We were just relaxing and watching TV and at 9:40 PM my water broke. It really wasn’t until that moment I realized that this was for real and I was in labor and had been in early labor all day!

We called the midwives and within the hour they were here. For the next two hours the contractions started getting more intense, but I was lucid and in my normal frame of mind, chatting it up with everyone in between contractions and taking a minute or so to concentrate when they came on again. Around 1 am things started to change, the contractions were very strong at this point and I was having a difficult time noticing my surroundings, my attention was drawn inward, into my breath, into the pain. Soon, I was not getting any rest in between contractions and as the contractions came on my stomach muscles began rippling downward on their own. It was time to start pushing. At this point it was hard to find a comfortable position and the birthing tub was not quite up to temperature yet, so I had to make do. Roberto was there the whole time with soothing words and an ice pack that he kept moving to different parts of my body so I could focus on that instead of the pain I was getting with each contraction. I was totally inside myself at this point, not really able to interact with what was happening outside of myself. It was very intense and my memory of that time is still vey foggy even now.

Eventually the tub was ready and everyone helped me walk over to it and get in. The tub was amazing, the warmth of the water slowed the contractions a bit, so I was able to rest in between and regain some reserves of strength. I remember at this point feeling like I couldn’t push hard enough to get the baby out, without ripping in half but the encouragement of Roberto and the midwives helped my mind to get past the fear and give it all I had! After a little while in the tub, I remember feeling like my legs had some strength in them again and I got into a squatting position. It was in this position that I was able to push her head out. I remember Roberto touching her head and saying: “I feel a nose!” The midwives put a hand mirror in the water so I could see what was happening, but I was in a zone and so I was concentrating on pushing, breathing and just existing, everything around me was just a big haze. Soon they told me I only needed to push one more time and the baby would be out. I told them I didn’t believe them, but I pushed as hard as I could, finally giving into the unknown and at 2:50 AM on September 8, 2013 Alba Rose Jenevieve Campus was born! Roberto got to catch her!

My bag of water had broken in the back and so when she came out, she was covered in the amniotic sack. Our midwife, Angela pulled it off of her and they laid her on my chest. She was all clean and pink, just like those fake newborns in the movies, the sack had kept her clean. I wasn’t even aware of any of this, at the time but I heard a little gurgling cry by my ear and I looked over to my right shoulder and there was a tiny little baby! Roberto announced that it was a girl.

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Then I remember turning to Roberto and saying: “she looks like Alba Rose, right?”. We had a few names on the list, but this was the name we were calling her in our hearts the last several months of my pregnancy. We didn’t even “officially” know she was a girl, but we KNEW.

I have also been asked the significance of her name. Alba means “dawn” in Italian. She was conceived on the Winter Solstice, the day when the sun returns, and the days start getting longer. That morning I woke before dawn and greeted the rising sun as I do every solstice, but this year had a special magic to it and we now know why! Alba is also the Gaelic name for Scotland. Rose is for the flower – her little rosebud mouth and also for the sun rising. We also found out recently that there is a rose called the Alba Rose that is an ancient rose variety from the time of the Romans and it is the rose that was adopted as the symbol of the Jacobites (Scottish nationalists) and this rose variety is also known as “The Jacobite Rose”. I have some Jacobite ancestors in my lineage, so it really fits! Jenevieve is the French version of my name and since she was conceived in Quebec City, it is a nod to that bit of her personal history.

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Birthing this baby is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life and also the most gratifying. I am so thankful that we were able to have her the way we wanted, in the comfort of our own home, surrounded by trusted midwives who had been with us through the whole pregnancy. I am so grateful to have a healthy baby girl who has quickly become the biggest joy in our lives!