You guys… This week I went swimming in my sisters pool.  It was magical.  

According to plan, I was going to drive to LA, leave Ruby with my sis, have a good swim and then meet friends around 1pm at a local cafe.

My body has been pretty beat up over the years working in the food industry. But then getting pregnant and giving birth has been even more pain I’ve gotten to experience daily.  My feet and achilles are always in constant pain but the major add on since birth has been sciatic back pain.  Carrying my little cherub hits the nerves in my lower back and the pain gets so bad I wince trying to turn over in the middle of the night. Currently, my body is a wonderland… in a war torn country.  😉  

It’s crazy how much we can lose our sense of play as adults. When I was little, I was a total fish.  We had an inground pool that I lived in until my hair turned green.  Years later, however, I lost my gills.  We sold the house with the pool and after college I moved to Los Angeles, living in a land locked apartment building. Crazy busy and always working, I never saw water unless I was doing dishes.

Well, due to a ton of traffic and construction, the typical hour and a half drive took two and a half hours. When I arrived, I only had 20 minutes to spare and toyed with the idea of not going in.  

It felt like it was barely enough time to make a difference.  I’d also be meeting my friends at the cafe looking like a wet rat.  I’d be racing in, racing to get out, racing to get to my friends– all while towing around Ruby.  It just didn’t seem worth it.  I was so bummed.  

Well, thankfully– for whatever reason– I stuck to my guns and made myself go in.  The car ride was hot and I had so been looking forward to it all week, I wasn’t going to drive all of this way to wimp out.  And let me tell you, to be immersed in cool water, especially after a long drive with no AC, felt like LIFE.  I still had lower back pain but it felt incredible to move all of my muscles without strain.  I honestly wanted to stay in there all day!

It was amazing the sounds that came back to me from my childhood like not a day had passed– the lapping of the water in the pool, the way the water drops sounded against the hot concrete while getting out, what your shadow looks like while you’re drying off.  I’m not sure why but it felt so special and meaningful. Where you could tell the years had flown by was in my swimming ability.  Ha!  If you don’t use it, you definitely lose it!  😉  

Anyway, all this to say… It was a wonderful reminder that even with limited time, we have choices.  We decide what our priorities are and I’m so glad I chose to take the literal plunge.  Oh!  And the best part?  I was so happy I didn’t even care I showed up like a wet rat to lunch.  

Is there anything you’ve wussed out on when you could have taken the hiccup of time that you had?  Creating art?  Reading a book?  Singing a song?  Dancing to some music?  Going for a swim?  

This is just a friendly reminder from your Captain… DO IT!!!  🙂

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Hey everyone!  How we doin’?  🙂

It is insanely gorgeous up here in the mountains right now.  I know once summer hits, it’s going to get crazy hot.  I’m kinda dreading it.  I’m such a winter girl!  So I’m doing my best to enjoy it while the nice weather lasts.  🙂

And part of the enjoyment of this time of year is making a recipe like this one! Today’s post is a light, fluffy and refreshing dessert called ‘Blueberry Jamboree.’  Have you ever had it?  I used to work as a General Manager at Magnolia Bakery in Chicago and this was one of my favorite desserts that they served there.  I was grateful to find they shared the recipe when I searched online for it years later!  

I’ve tweaked it slightly adding lemon juice and nutmeg to the berries and vanilla to the cream cheese filling for personal preference.  I’ve also used frozen blueberries before in a pinch and it’s turned out beautifully.  (Now if they’d only post a recipe for those pistachio cupcakes!  Gah!!)  

The dessert consists of a pecan shortbread crust with a light, whipped cheesecake filling and a sweet blueberry compote topping.  It has a very mild and refreshing flavor.  It’s one of my favorite summer desserts for sure and because it’s not too sweet, you can eat an entire pan of it!  😉

It’s an incredibly easy dessert to make, too!  You make a blueberry compote out of blueberries, sugar, lemon, lemon zest, nutmeg and a little cornstarch.  While that’s cooling, you make a quickie shortbread crust and press it into a 13×9 pan.  You bake the crust for only 15 minutes which is also great because who wants the oven on that long in the spring & summertime?  

While the crust is cooling, you beat cream cheese and powdered sugar together, and fold in whipped cream.  Pile the light filling onto the crust, top with blueberry compote and keep it in the fridge for an hour to set.  That’s it!

This is a great recipe to try this time of year!  And if you do, be sure to take a picture and tag me on Instagram:  @mandicrockersweets.  If you like what you see, don’t forget to subscribe to MandiCrocker and share this post on Facebook.  In fact, I dare say we just might have  a giveaway coming up… Shhhh!  You won’t want to miss a thing!  

Happy Tuesday, folks!  xoxox

 

Blueberry Jamboree
A crunchy, pecan shortbread crust filled with a light, whipped cheesecake filling, topped with a sweet blueberry compote. The perfect light and refreshing dessert for Spring!
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Blueberry Compote
  1. 3 1/2 c. fresh blue berries, divided
  2. ¼ cup granulated sugar
  3. 1/8 cup brown sugar
  4. 1 Tbl. + 1 ½ tsp cornstarch, dissolved in 1 Tbl. + 1 ½ tsp water
  5. ¾ tsp of Lemon Zest
  6. 1 tsp lemon juice
  7. 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
For crust
  1. 3/4 cups unsalted butter, melted
  2. 2 c. flour
  3. 1 c. toasted pecans, chopped
For cheesecake filling
  1. 2 cups heavy cream
  2. 1 lb cream cheese, room temperature, cut into chunks
  3. 2 c. sifted confectioner’s sugar
  4. 1 tsp. vanilla
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 325. Butter a 13x9 inch pan or line with parchment paper.
For blueberry compote
  1. In a large pot combine 1 ½ c. blueberries and both sugars over medium high heat.
  2. Stir until sugar is dissolved, and blueberries begin boiling.
  3. In a small dish, mix together cornstarch with water.
  4. Whisk cornstarch into the blueberry mixture, stirring until it begins to thicken. Stir in zest, lemon juice and nutmeg.
  5. Remove compote from the heat and fold in remaining 2 c. of fresh blueberries.
  6. Set aside and refrigerate to cool completely.
For crust
  1. Melt butter and mix with flour and toasted pecans until a crumbly dough forms.
  2. Press mixture into the pan and bake for 15 minutes, or just until beginning to lightly brown.
  3. Set aside and cool to room temperature.
For cheesecake filing
  1. In a mixer, whip the heavy cream until thick. Put into a separate bowl and set aside.
  2. In the same mixer, beat the cream cheese and powdered sugar until light and fluffy. Add vanilla.
  3. Fold whipped cream into cream cheese mixture until combined.
For assembly
  1. Pour cream cheese mixture over cooled pecan crust. Top with blueberry compote.
  2. Let set in the fridge for one hour and then enjoy!
MandiCrocker https://mandicrocker.com/
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While I was living in Chicago, I started a little side business on Etsy.  I sold brownies– all different kinds.  I made Classic Dark Chocolate Brownies, ‘Go Nuts’ Brownies, Grasshopper Mint with big ol’ chunks of Oreos, etc. But my best seller?  Fluffernutter Brownies.  

Fluffernutter Brownies consisted of a dark chocolate brownie, with a peanut butter swirl, peanut butter chips, marshmallow fluff and salted peanuts.  All ingredients which take me to my happy place!  

 

They’re crazy rich and fudge-like!

Definitely lick-your-fingers ooey, gooey.  🙂

A few things about this recipe.  It uses a mixture of melted bittersweet dark chocolate and cocoa powder.  For the bittersweet, I use Ghirardelli chips. I usually stock up when I find them on sale for $2.99.  For the cocoa powder, it’s imperative that you use a non-dutch process cocoa or it will change the texture of the brownie.  I typically use Ghirardelli or Dagoba because that’s what I’ve been able to find where I live.  Typically my local grocery or Target carries these items and aren’t hard to find. 

Once the dark chocolate batter is made, I add 3/4’s of a bag of peanut butter chips and dump it into a 13×9 pan.  Then, I make a peanut butter swirl on top which consists of peanut butter and sweetened condensed milk.  You can typically find sweetened condensed milk in 14 oz. cans and you’ll only need half a can for this recipe.  

But before the other half of the can goes bad and you’ll feel like you’ve wasted your money, can I do you a life flavor?  Make Vietnamese Coffee.  Put a spoonful of condensed milk in your coffee.  In your COFFEE, people!!!  It’s insanely good.  I experienced this for a the first time at a Vietnamese restaurant with my buddy ‘Chef.’  I was all, “What’s Vietnamese Coffee??” And he was like, “Oh, Cupcake, prepare to have your world rocked.”  It was divine.  You guys… this post is like two recipes in one.  You’re welcome.  😉

These will be your FAVORITE brownies for ice cream sundaes. 

You can see why…  😉

So once you’ve got your peanut butter swirl on top, put the pan in the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Half way through, drop globs of fluff onto the tops of the brownies.  Cover with remaining peanut butter chips and salted peanuts and bake for another 20-25 minutes. Mmmmm…  

I mean… LOOK AT THAT THING.  *swoon*

Now if you want your Fluffernutter Brownies really ooey gooey, you can add the fluff at the very end.  Bake your brownies as you typically would but as soon as you take them out of the oven, drop the globs of fluff onto the brownies and it will melt all over the top like a sauce.  Ummm… OKAY.  Also, they last for dayssss…. 🙂

 

I closed up my Etsy shop pretty quickly. Not only has my dream been to own my own baking shop but I was having issues shipping brownies so fudge-like in the summer months.  As a customer having to pay for shipping, you also are looking for wholesale prices.  My baking has never been stripped down and cost effective for nationwide shipping or renting commercial kitchens.  I always load everything up with goodies (whoops!) and it’s hard to make a profit when you don’t have the room or aren’t able to buy your ingredients in bulk. 

So, unless one day I am actually able to open a brick & mortar place of my own, which–for various reasons– is the only way I think I’d want to sell baked goods again… I thought I’d share the recipe and make some old fans happy.  🙂

If you like what you see, folks, don’t forget to subscribe to MandiCrocker!  You can also follow me on Instagram:  @MandiCrocker for my blog or @MandiCrockerSweets for my baked goods feed.  And if this looks super yummy and delectable to you, don’t forget to share with your friends!  Enjoy!  🙂

Fluffernutter Brownies
Super rich dark chocolate brownies with a peanut butter swirl, peanut butter chips, marshmallow fluff and salted peanuts. Ooey, gooey crazy delicious!
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Prep Time
30 min
Prep Time
30 min
For brownie
  1. 1 c. all purpose flour (about 130 grams)
  2. 1 1/4 c. non-dutch process cocoa (about 70 grams)
  3. 2 c. sugar
  4. 1 tsp instant espresso powder
  5. 3/4 tsp salt
  6. 10 oz. bag of bittersweet chocolate chips (I use Ghirardelli)
  7. 1 & 1/2 c. unsalted butter (3 sticks)
  8. 4 eggs
  9. 2 egg yolks
  10. 10 oz peanut butter chips, divided.
For swirl
  1. 7 oz. sweetened condensed milk
  2. 2/3 cup peanut butter
For toppings
  1. 4 oz. fluff ( half of a small jar)
  2. 1/2 c. salted peanuts
  3. Remaining 1/4 bag of peanut butter chips
Instructions
  1. Line 13x9 inch pan with parchment and preheat oven to 350.
  2. In a bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, sugar, espresso powder and salt. Set aside.
  3. In a double boiler, melt dark chocolate and butter together, mixing until smooth. Dump melted mixture into a large bowl.*
  4. Whisk in the eggs and egg yolk vigorously into the chocolate mixture one at a time.**
  5. Stir in dry ingredients and mix until combined. Stir in 3/4 of a bag of peanut butter chips and dump batter into 13x9 pan.
  6. In a small bowl mix together peanut butter and sweetened condensed milk. It will be thick. Drop spoonfuls of mixture on top of the batter and swirl on the top as best you can. Put in the oven for 20 minutes.
  7. Take brownies out and drop spoonfuls of fluff onto the top of the brownie batter. Sprinkle with remaining peanut butter chips and salted peanuts. Bake for another 20-25 minutes.
  8. Cool completely before cutting or let set overnight.
Notes
  1. *You can also use a microwave to melt the chocolate and butter together. If you go with this method, make sure the butter is on the bottom of our bowl and melt the mixture at 30 second intervals, mixing every time, so as not to burn the chocolate.
  2. **Be sure to whisk quickly or the eggs will bake and curdle in the hot mixture.
MandiCrocker https://mandicrocker.com/
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I had every intention of posting this blog days ago… but alas, with a newborn, my time is not my own.  Actually, that’s a lie. Technically, Ruby is no longer a ‘newborn.’  At over three months, she is considered an ‘infant.’  An ‘infant?’  Sounds so…big…  No, she’s TOTALLY a newborn!!!  *cries real tears*  

But I digress…

Today on the blog I’m sharing a pavlova recipe.  Pavlova, for those that may not know, is a whipped mixture basically of egg whites and sugar that is baked at such a low degree, it doesn’t seem like it’s being baked at all!  The moisture is evaporated out until you have a hard outer shell and an ooey, gooey marshmallow-y (technical term) center.  

And the fun part about pavlovas is that not only is it a GREAT way to use up those egg whites after making pastry cream but it is also super fun to pipe.  I piped mine into a sunshine shape. Or a flower shape.  I can’t decide.  You decide?  

Pavlova can be very sweet (it’s pretty much a cup of sugar to 4 egg whites), so I love to cut it with some tart lemon cream.  In today’s recipe, I’ve adapted a lemon cream recipe from Tartine Bakery, in San Francisco, WHICH!  Visiting their website, I’ve learned they’re opening up some kind of juggernaut ‘manufactory’ in Los Angeles.  Ooohhhhh, exciting!!!

Anyway, this lemon cream is TO DIE FOR… It’s super tart and creamy.  All that I did in my recipe was remove some of the butter so the flavor would be even more tart to offset the sweetness in the pavlova.  But typically? It’s perfection in lemon cream.  If you’re a lemon lover, I don’t say these things lightly!  The recipe I’ve included makes 2 & 1/2 cups but trust me you’ll be grateful for leftovers it’s that good!

My go to pavlova recipe is Ina’s, OF COURSE.  “Ina, Ina, Ina, Mandi…”  I know.  (I want her to be my next door neighbor or great Aunt or something).  Pavlova was perfect for this weekend as not only can pavlova be decorated to match the spirit of the weekend, but my friend Candy gave me some wonderful lemons from her tree.  A total score!!  So I baked her off and filled the shell with lemon cream… 

 

 

Then I covered her in whipped cream and fresh berries. I was going to buy blueberries– you know– red, white and blue.  But up by us everything is ridonkulously expensive.  Blueberries at our local grocery were $4.99 for a non-organic 6 ounces!!!  I just… I couldn’t. And usually I’ll suck it up for ingredients cause I need them that bad.  For whatever reason, this got my goat.  Ha!  So I settled for our dreamy blackberries from Aldi’s for– ahem– $2.49.  (I want to live with Ina Garten at Aldi’s, by the way). 

So red, white and black it is!  But look, they’re blue star decorations!!!  *cue America the Beautiful*

 

Man, that lemon cream did its’ job and just cut through the sweetness of that pavlova.  Still sweet, for sure, but with the zip of the cream and the tart of the berries?  So refreshing!  Perfect barbecue dessert! 

Even Ruby thought so…  😉

OH MY GOD, LOOK AT THOSE LITTLE TOES ON MY NEWBORN!! I MEAN INFANT!!  I MEAN NEWBORN!!!  *cries again*

Pavlova’s are extremely easy but a little tricky.  🙂

For starters, our oven is pretty old and it’s hard to get it to stay at 180 degrees, so I had to check mine constantly– upping and lowering the temp continuously.   Second, you need to make sure to incorporate the sugar at the right time while whipping your egg whites– very slowly, around the soft peak stage.  This is to make sure the sugar has time enough to dissolve. Otherwise, you’ll have whipped egg whites with sugar granules.  It will deflate when you bake it and all of the sugar will ‘weep’ out.  You also won’t get that lovely glossy and marshmallow-y texture. If you’re not sure you’re quite there, just rub a bit between your fingers.  

And you know?  If it weeps a little… it’s just feeling its feelings, man. 

I’m not a huge meringue fan but watching The Great British Bake-off and all of Mary Berry’s masterclasses on these tall and frosted meringue cakes, it makes me feel all fancy pants to do it.  Ha!  It truly is a light and refreshing dessert for summer.  And be sure to eat it quickly!  It won’t last more than a day or two…

But who are we kidding?  Like that’s a problem?  😉  

Enjoy the rest of your weekend, everybody!  Don’t forget to subscribe to this blog and share with your friends!  And many, many thanks today to our courageous veterans.  Today I’m remembering my grandfather and father in law, who have both served and are no longer with us.  xoxo

Memorial Day Pavlova
A crunchy and marshmallow-y meringue treat filled with tart lemon cream, whipped cream and refreshing berries!
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Prep Time
30 min
Cook Time
3 hr
Prep Time
30 min
Cook Time
3 hr
Lemon Cream
  1. 2 c. fresh squeezed lemon juice (meyer, if possible)
  2. 3 eggs
  3. 1 large egg yolk
  4. 3/4 c. sugar
  5. pinch of salt
  6. 1/2 c. unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
PAVLOVA
  1. 4 egg whites, room temp
  2. pinch of salt
  3. 1 c. sugar
  4. 2 tsp cornstarch
  5. 1 tsp white wine vinegar
  6. 1/2 tsp. vanilla
WHIPPED CREAM
  1. 1 c. heavy cream, cold
  2. 2 T. powdered sugar
  3. 1/2 tsp. vanilla
BERRIES
  1. 1/2 pint of strawberries
  2. 1/2 pint of blackberries or blueberries
LEMON CREAM
  1. On very low heat, combine the lemon juice, whole eggs, yolk, sugar, and salt in a frying pan, whisking constantly until thickened.* Your thermometer should register 180° F. It should take about 8-12 minutes.
  2. Let cool for five minutes and stir in the butter.**
  3. Let set in the fridge for at least two hours but preferably overnight.
PAVLOVA
  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a mixing bowl, beat the egg whites and salt together with a whisk attachment on high for about one minute. Until you just about reach the 'soft peak stage.'
  3. While the mixer is still on high, slowly pour in the sugar and beat for about two minutes. The meringue should be glossy and look like marshmallow. There should be no sugar granules when rubbed between your fingers.
  4. Sift in the cornstarch and add the vanilla and vinegar. Carefully fold together with a spatula until just combined.**
  5. Pile the meringue into the middle of the lined sheet pan. Make a well in the middle. (Or feel free to pipe a design, always leaving some kind of well for the cream and berries).
  6. Bake for 1 1/2 hours.
  7. Then, turn off the oven, keep the door closed, and allow the meringue to cool completely in the oven, about 1 hour. It will be crisp on the outside and soft on the inside.
WHIPPED CREAM
  1. Whip cream until fairly thick. Add powdered sugar and vanilla. Beat until thick and desired consistency.
ASSEMBLY
  1. Fill the pavlova shell with lemon cream. Cover the top with whipped cream and fresh berries. Decorate to your heart's content!
Notes
  1. *Whisk constantly so that the mixture doesn't become too hot. If overheated, the eggs will literally scramble.
  2. **I use my cuisinart to add the butter to the lemon cream. It aerates it a bit, gets out any lumps and incorporates evenly.
  3. **Be careful not to overbeat as you don't want to lose the air incorporated into the whites.
Adapted from https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/mixed-berry-pavlova-recipe-1948158
MandiCrocker https://mandicrocker.com/
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Ever since I gave birth, it’s like my creativity is on hyperdrive.  I didn’t just give birth to Ruby, but also, 12 million ideas that keep me from sleeping at night.  Has anyone else experienced this after birth?

I’m not sure if it’s that my body was too busy creating its’ own project for the past nine months or if having Ruby has inspired me in ways I didn’t realize.  Was it that the prior fatigue and anxiety of pregnancy and childbirth were creatively stifling or maybe it’s just an inner need to create to maintain a sense of self?  Hell, maybe a mixture of all of them!  Needless to say, it’s a ‘thing’ to the point where if I’m not able to work on something a few times a week during the rare down time I do have, I get crazy restless.  

All that to say… Strawberries were on sale at Aldi’s for 89 cents and like the bargain hoarder that I am, I bought $26 worth.  I had seen videos recently on Facebook about the new ‘brushstroke cake’ craze, so I’ve been dying to try it.  

It’s easier and harder than it looks.  I’m guessing that if you use candy melt coating, it’d be extremely easy.  I think candy coating tastes like poodely oodley (but sets like a dream), so I tried to find a good quality white and dark chocolate instead.  The dark chocolate worked swimmingly.  The white chocolate on the other hand, not so good.

I watched a tutorial that taught you to add color to white chocolate.  You have to mix the color into coconut oil first so that the water in the food coloring won’t seize up the chocolate on contact.  I had grand ideas to make a Memorial Day Cake so I needed lots of vibrant red and blue.  The chocolate just wasn’t turning red enough so I kept adding more color, more color…and more coconut oil, more coconut oil.

When I put my brush strokes in the fridge, the white chocolate ones never set.  Too much coconut oil.  UGH!!  Did I mention I didn’t sleep at all the night before because I was too excited to make the darned thing? Yup, pretty much pulled an all nighter… So I had that going for me- ha! 

So I tried again.  This time sticking to white and dark chocolate, and some light pink hues.  I also made my brush strokes a little thicker.  (Also important as most of my dark chocolate shards broke to pieces). I have to say I’m grateful for so many failures over the years because one of my strengths I’ve gotten out of those experiences as a baker, is that I can always making something out of mistakes!  According to plan, this was all wrong… But I think it came out crazy funky cool.  *cue TLC*

And umm… Happy Memorial Day?  😉

I topped the cake with red colored white chocolate, dipped some strawberries in chocolate, splattered on a little luster dust and edible glitter (though I don’t trust glitter ever being edible- ha!)  I’m also not a huge fan of white chocolate either.

However, the strawberry cake with cream cheese icing and dark chocolate shards?  Totally a winner.  🙂

The cake is only colored with the redness of the strawberry jam, so you want to use the ripest of red berries, if you can.  Otherwise, you can add a couple drops of food color like I did. 

 

If you get the chance, you should definitely try to make this! It’s super moist and flavorful.  You don’t have do any crazy decorating.  Some big rustic swipes in the frosting and a couple of berries on top, would be lovely and inviting! And who doesn’t love strawberries when the weather starts warming up?  Also, be sure to let me know if post-pregnancy creativity was prevalent for you, too!  Super curious about what my muse has been up to…  Happy Monday!  

 

Strawberry Cake From Scratch
Serves 12
Flavorful and moist 9 inch triple layer strawberry cake from scratch! Full of fresh fruit and iced with a yummy cream cheese frosting.
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PUREE
  1. 4 1/2 c. ripe red strawberries
  2. 3/4 c. sugar
BATTER
  1. 1 1/8 c. unsalted butter
  2. 1 3/4 c. sugar
  3. 2 1/4 tsp vanilla
  4. 5 eggs
  5. 2 2/3 c. all purpose flour
  6. 1 1/2 c. wheat pastry flour or cake flour
  7. 2 1/4 tsp. baking powder
  8. 3/4 tsp. baking soda
  9. 1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  10. 1 3/4 c. heavy cream
  11. 1 1/8 c. strawberry puree
  12. Food coloring (optional)
FILLING
  1. 2 c. strawberries sliced
SIMPLE SYRUP
  1. 1 c. water
  2. 1/4 c. sugar
  3. 3 T. gin
FROSTING
  1. 16 oz. cream cheese
  2. 1 1/2 c. unsalted butter
  3. 2 T. vanilla
  4. 1 1/2 pounds of powdered sugar
  5. 2-3 T. milk (if needed)
To make the puree
  1. Combine 4 1/2 c. strawberries and sugar in a large saucepan or pot. Simmer on low until the moisture is removed and berries resemble a jam. (Should be reduced by about half of what you started with). Cool completely.
To make the simple syrup
  1. In a saucepan or microwave, boil the water, sugar and gin until sugar is dissolved. Let cool.
For the batter
  1. Whisk together flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl. Set aside.
  2. In a another bowl, combine the heavy cream and 1 1/8 c. puree jam. Set aside.
  3. With a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed in your mixer bowl until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and a couple drops of food coloring (if desired).
  4. One at a time, beat in the eggs.
  5. Add 1/3 of the dry ingredients and beat until barely combined.
  6. Add 1/2 of heavy cream mixture.
  7. Add another 1/3 of the dry ingredients followed by the remaining cream mixture.
  8. Beat in the last of the dry ingredients and beat until just combined.
  9. Distribute evenly into three different 9 inch cake pans.
  10. Bake at 325 for 40-45 minutes, turning the cake pans in the oven halfway.
To make the frosting
  1. Beat cream cheese and butter together until smooth. Add vanilla.
  2. Slowly beat in the powdered sugar until smooth.
  3. (If the frosting is too thick, add a tablespoon of milk at a time to thin out).
For assembly
  1. Shave off the round domes on each cake until they are level.
  2. Put one cake on a plate and generously dab with simple syrup. Add a decent amount of cream cheese icing.** Layer sliced strawberries over the cake.
  3. Stack another cake on top and repeat.
  4. Stack the last cake bottom side up (to get a smooth top surface).
  5. Frost with remaining icing and decorate as you'd like!
Notes
  1. ** Be careful when icing. The cake is fairly fragile. The frosting needs to be thin enough to spread easily or you will pull crumbs from the cake. If needed, put in the freezer for five minutes before frosting.
Adapted from Rock Recipes
Adapted from Rock Recipes
MandiCrocker https://mandicrocker.com/

When I ask people what their favorite dessert is, nine times out of ten they choose chocolate chip cookies.  I’m not sure why…  😉

Is it the sweet to salt ratio?  The crunchy exterior with a gooey center? Or maybe the comforting childhood memory of a special treat after school?  Basically… WHO CARES!!! PUT IT IN MA FACE!!!!  

I’ve always said that you can judge a bakery by their chocolate chip cookie.  I gave up pretty quickly on that theory, however, because great chocolate chip cookies are actually hard to find!  What I’ve also learned as a baker is that everyone wants the cookie of their childhood.  I had a friend give me their version of their ‘favorite chocolate chip cookie’ and it was hard to stomach. Thick, small, white and round, flavorless with a ton of flour… Blech!

So stop, collaborate and listen:  If you’re the kind of person that tends to say ‘These are too rich…”  MOVE IT ALONG!!!  UNFOLLOW!!! UNFRIEND!!!  Umm… These cookies aren’t for you.  😉

My idea of an amazing chocolate chip cookie is super buttery, crunchy on the outside, chewy in the middle.  AND… a cookie that is always good the next day.  Oh!  And if it’s not all over your fingers?  Fah-get about it!

Always wanting to make desserts that are ‘the best thing I’ve ever tasted,’ I have tried countless times over my almost-40 years to come up with a chocolate chip cookie that, in my mind, is THE BEST chocolate chip cookie.  It is with great humility, honor and service that I say… I believe I have finally found it!!!

Using browned butter, a mix of flours, high quality chocolate, a light sprinkle of sea salt and you have ooey, gooey perfection. They should be put in a museum for millions to ogle… as long as that museum is IN MY MOUTH. 

One of the keys to these cookies is browning the butter.  If you’ve never browned butter before it’s very easy. But it’s also important to pay attention. Over browning your butter makes for a drier cookie, in my experience.  Here’s a tutorial from Mindy Segal, owner of Hot Chocolate in Chicago, a restaurant and dessert bar I’ve been to and adore.  *swoon*  

Another important key is really high quality bittersweet chocolate with 60-70% cacao.  Did you know that chocolate chips were designed to maintain their shape?  The chocolate you’ll want to use for an ooey gooey cookie is a ‘melting chocolate.’ I typically use Scharffen Berger bars and cut them into chunks and shavings, or Guittard wafers.  And if price just isn’t an issue for you, Gwyneth, Valhrona Chocolate Feves are incredible. This time I found a chunk of a Guittard ten pound bar at a local grocery store. They had big chunks of the bar weighed and wrapped in plastic.

You can absolutely use chocolate chips for every day cookies (I recommend Ghirardelli), but if you want that ooey, gooey look for a special occasion?  Use the good stuff.  Same goes for a flaky sea salt! I recommend Maldon Sea Salt Flakes.  And unlike the chocolate, a box of sea salt flakes lasts a very long time.

Finally, for that ooey, gooey look, save 1/3 of your chocolate until you’re about to bake them. Press them into the top of your dough.  That will give them that pretty bakery feel.  

This is a sexy, delicious dream of a cookie, folks.  

For the love of all that is good and holy… TRY THESE!!! And when you do, be sure to share your warm, delicious baked cookies with NOBODY.  ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?!  LICK THEM ALL SO NO ONE WILL EAT THEM, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!  THEY’RE YOURS!! 

Instead, a very noble and selfless thing to do would be to share the recipe!  On Facebook, Instagram, Match.com, whatevs.  AND!  Be sure to tag me on Instagram: @mandicrocker and @mandicrockersweets so I can repost and retweet all your fabulous cookies as you make them.  And subscribing to this blog wouldn’t be a bad thing either!  😉

Anyway… buckle down ‘Lost In Space’ style and PREPARE YOSELF.  This recipe makes a lot. There’s going to be lots of NOM, NOM, NOM ahead… 🙂

The Best Ooey, Gooey, Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookie Ever!
An ooey, gooey chocolate chip cookie... Rich and buttery... Crunchy on the outside, chewy in the middle... A delicious marriage of sweet and salty perfection!
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INGREDIENTS
  1. 2 c. browned butter, cooled
  2. 2 1/4 c. brown sugar
  3. 1 c. sugar
  4. 2 T. molasses
  5. 1 T. vanilla
  6. 4 eggs
  7. 2 c. all purpose flour
  8. 2 c. whole white wheat flour (I use King Arthur's)
  9. 1 c. oats, ground into flour OR 2/3 c. oat flour
  10. 4 T. ground flaxseed meal (optional)
  11. 2 tsp. baking soda
  12. 1 tsp. kosher salt
  13. 18-20 oz. high quality bittersweet chocolate, 60-70% cacao, cut into chunks and shavings. (I use Scharffen Berger or Guittard)
  14. sea salt for sprinkling (optional)
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 325.
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk together flours, flaxseed meal, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
  3. In a mixer, beat the browned butter, sugars and molasses until fluffy and combined. Add vanilla.
  4. Beat in eggs one at a time.
  5. Slowly add dry ingredients one cup at a time until combined.
  6. Mix in 2/3's of the chocolate until just mixed. (The rest will be used to top before baking).
  7. Plastic wrap and leave in the fridge overnight.
  8. The next day cut dough into 2 1/2 oz. chunks. Top scooped cookies with remaining pieces of chocolate.
  9. Bake at 325 for 12-15 minutes. Leave on the pan for 10 minutes.**
Notes
  1. **If after leaving on the pan for ten minutes, the cookie is still too gooey to pick up, pop back into the oven for two minutes. And again, if needed. Do not overbake.
MandiCrocker https://mandicrocker.com/

 

I know Mother’s Day isn’t an easy day for everyone. Some couples can’t have children or have lost their little ones… didn’t grow up with ‘The World’s Greatest Mom’….or chose not to have children which can sometimes be a painful decision in hindsight… whose mothers have passed… That is why, as a new mom, on my very first Mother’s Day, I’m just sooo extremely grateful for the opportunity to be one. This little ham hock is the coolest, funniest little cooing, hiccuping, laughing weirdo… and I have a great husband that cares about his girls so much. I just find myself extremely lucky for my life, the people in it and this milk sucking glow worm that softens my heart everyday. I do my best not to take it for granted. What a great and awesome responsibility…
 
This morning my husband asked me if I wanted anything special for breakfast.  I began making this- ha!  I’ve been doing my best to eat heart healthy so it’s nice to splurge.  I’m not sure why I didn’t just hand the recipe over to him while I binge-watched ‘Younger’ for the second time but alas… I must really like cooking?  (Remind me of this come Thursday when my back aches, Ruby’s crying and cooking is the last thing I want to do!)  😉
 
I hope you all are having a wonderful Mother’s Day!  I know I’m feeling very blessed.  🙂

 

Chorizo Skillet
Serves 3
Spicy chorizo mixed with crispy shredded potatoes, crunchy vegetables and a hit of citrus. Yum... 🙂
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Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
25 min
Total Time
35 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
25 min
Total Time
35 min
Ingredients
  1. INGREDIENTS
  2. 1 tablespoon olive oil
  3. 9 oz pkg of chorizo
  4. ½ medium yellow onion diced
  5. 1 cup cilantro, leaves picked and reserved for garnish, stems minced
  6. 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  7. 2 russet potatoes, peeled and grated
  8. 2 garlic cloves, minced
  9. 4 mini bell peppers, seeded and diced
  10. 1 hearty handful of spinach, coarsely chopped
  11. 5 sticks of asparagus, chopped
  12. 1 T. lime juice
  13. 4-5 eggs
  14. salt & pepper, to taste
Toppings
  1. red & green salsa
  2. avocado
  3. lime wedges
  4. cheddar cheese
  5. parmesan cheese
  6. sour cream
  7. cilantro, for garnish
Instructions
  1. DIRECTIONS
  2. In a 10 or 12-inch cast-iron skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the chorizo and cook until golden brown, 4 to 5 minutes. While chorizo is cooking, squeeze out access moisture from grated potatoes with a paper towel. When chorizo is cooked, set aside on a plate.
  3. To the skillet, add the onions and minced cilantro stems. Cook for about five minutes until the onions have caramelized, 5 minutes.
  4. In a separate pan, sauté the asparagus and bell pepper. Season lightly with salt & pepper. Add the spinach and set aside.
  5. Add the butter to the onion pan. Add grated potatoes and mix. Press the mixture into an even layer and let cook until golden and crispy, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic, then cook, stirring constantly until the potatoes are evenly crisp, about 2 minutes.
  6. Add the reserved chorizo and veggies to the skillet. Stir in the lime juice.
  7. Make 4-5 wells in the hash and crack an egg into each one. Season each egg with salt & fresh ground pepper. Cook, covered, until the whites are just set, 3 to 4 minutes. Garnish with the toppings of your choosing and serve! 🙂
Adapted from The Tasting Table
Adapted from The Tasting Table
MandiCrocker https://mandicrocker.com/

Ah yes, Gluten Free Raspberry Tarts… “for the celiac in all of us.”  Truth be told, I don’t make tarts often.  This is because I’m lazy.  Tarts can be very time consuming and due to their delicate nature (especially with a gluten free crust), can be often hard to master.  Also, cleaning tart pans is my version of hell.  You often have to soak them, wash them and dry them immediately because they rust easily.  Give me a cupcake tin any day!

With that said, tarts are both gorgeous and delicious.  They look so delectable and special all lined up in a bakery window. Worth it?  Absolutely.  And whose excited for fresh berries?!   I LOVE berry season!!!  When I was living in Washington, we’d go pick a ton of berries as the season progressed from strawberries to blueberries, and we’d keep them in our freezer throughout the year.  

I’m always trying to find good gluten free recipes because my best friend is actually celiac.  As a person that loves her gluten and loves to bake for her friends, eat with her friends, whose life revolves around food, food, glorious food… THIS SUCKS FOR ME.  I mean, in the grand scheme of things, she has it easy!!!  😉

I kid… Like my heart healthy lifestyle and in the spirit of friendship,  this is a challenge that I accept with dignity, grace and determination! 

In the recipe I posted, I made six tarts.  I made my crusts on the thicker side because with gluten free crusts, they can get awfully crumbly.  I think that was a mistake.  In the creme to crust ratio, I would have made them thinner next time and the crusts held up well. If you’ve got eight tart shells, I would do eight!

To make creme brûlée, I always use Ina Garten’s recipe.  She’s a goddess and I don’t mess with perfection. 

Because this creme brûlée is for a filling and not individual desserts, I just use a casserole dish rather than ramekins.  You have to bake it a little longer but the clean up is so much easier.  Hot tip for the lazy!  And the water bath is extremely important.  I set the dish inside a 13×9 pan and fill it with water. 

If you’re in a bit of a rush, you don’t have to make the jam.  You can just buy a gluten free brand at the store.  I used about a tablespoon of jam per tart and spread it evenly over the bottom.  

Because tarts can be a little overwhelming to try, here’s another tip. Feel free to make the filling ingredients ahead of time.  That way, before you want to eat them, all you have to do is assemble.  🙂

After the shell is spread with jam, fill each tart with creme brûlée. I used a pastry bag for each tart (a little less messy) but a knife works fine, too! Then you sprinkle a tablespoon of sugar on top and torch it.  And then you have these cute little tarts!

The fun part is you can decorate them any way you want!  

I’ve been watching videos on chocolate garnishes.  Note for next time: Use the right chocolate.  I melted bittersweet Ghirardelli chips which are great for cookies and a good quality chocolate, but terrible for garnishes.  It doesn’t temper properly so it doesn’t turn back into a solid chocolate.  (And duh, I know this.  But mom brain… *sigh*)

This one felt very whimsical to me… like a fairy crown!

And you can decorate them any way you’d like or just keep it simple!

There’s something so comforting about baking on dreary days… But enough about these tarts, let’s eat these suckers! 

See the thin layer of raspberry in there?  Creamy filling, burst of acidity in the raspberries, the sweetness of the chocolate, nuttiness of the almond crusty, the sugar crunch on top… nom nom nom!

They’re really light and refreshing, especially with the fresh raspberries. A perfect spring or summer dessert!

“The perfect bite!”  What movie? 

And the best part?  Dinner’s already made for the hubs!  😉

If you get the chance to try these out, please let me know what you think!  And be sure to use the hashtag #mandicrocker.  

Happy Monday, y’all!! What are YOU making with fresh berries?!  🙂

Gluten Free Raspberry Creme Brûlée Tart
Yields 6
Creamy creme brûlée and tart raspberry layered inside a nutty shell.
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For the crust
  1. 3 c. almond flour
  2. 3 T. sugar
  3. 1/3 tsp. baking soda
  4. 1/3 tsp kosher salt
  5. 3 T. coconut oil
  6. 1 egg
Rasperry Jam
  1. 6 oz. fresh raspberries
  2. 1 T. sugar
  3. (or you can use jam!)
Creme Brûlée
  1. 1 extra large egg
  2. 4 extra large egg yolks
  3. 1/2 c. sugar + 6-8 T. more for brûlée
  4. 3 c. heavy cream
  5. 1 tsp vanilla
  6. 1 T grand marnier (optional)
To decorate (optional)
  1. Fresh raspberries
  2. Various Chocolate garnishes
  3. Powdered Sugar
For tart shells
  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. In a bowl whisk together almond flour, sugar, baking soda and kosher salt.
  3. Add coconut oil & egg. Mix well with hands until dough clumps or use food processor.
  4. Separate evenly and press into 6-8 tart shells.
  5. Bake until shell begins to turn golden brown. (Approximately 8-12 minutes if making eight tarts. Approximately 15-20 minutes if making six tarts.) Cool completely. Remove from tart tins.
For creme brûlée
  1. In a bowl, mix together egg, egg yolks and sugar. Set aside.
  2. Scald the heavy milk in a saucepan.
  3. Slowly pour a 1/4 cup of scalded milk into the yolk mixture and whisk FIERCELY! 🙂
  4. Add another 1/4 cup of milk and whisk.
  5. Add the remaining milk and whisk until thoroughly combined.
  6. Add vanilla and Grand Marnier.
  7. Pour into six 8 ounce ramekins or use a casserole dish.
  8. Set ramekins/casserole dish into water bath. (I use a 13x9 inch pan)
  9. Bake at 350 for 35-40 minutes for ramekins. Bake for 50-60 minutes for a casserole dish. (Liquid should be jiggly like set jello but not watery or runny).
  10. Cool completely
To make raspberry jam
  1. Simmer raspberries and sugar on low.
  2. The jam will be done when most of the moisture has been removed and the jam has gotten thick.
  3. Cool completely.
To assemble
  1. Scoop 1 T. of jam into bottom of each tart shell.
  2. Fill tart shells with creme brûlée.
  3. Sprinkle sugar on top and torch.
  4. Decorate as you wish!
Notes
  1. **You will need a blowtorch for this recipe.
  2. **Make filling ingredients ahead of time.
  3. **Gluten free crusts tend to be a bit crumbly. Be careful when removing from tart shell.
MandiCrocker https://mandicrocker.com/

Hey folks!  Today we’ve got a whole wheat waffle recipe courtesy of my new heart healthy lifestyle.  As I wrote in my previous blog, my high blood pressure followed me home from the hospital after giving birth to my daughter.  In this blog, I share my blood pressure journey, imperative information everyone should know before getting their blood pressure checked and some heart healthy deliciousness.  Hope you enjoy!

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Before leaving the hospital, the doctors warned us about the potential that my blood pressure was going to get higher.  At that point we were entirely exhausted and frustrated, and knew we would feel better being in our own beds.  Those conversations, however, shook me a bit.  They sternly warned me about the risks of postpartum preeclampsia and chronic hypertension.  High readings could lead to blood clots and stroke.  I didn’t know if I felt wonky because of high blood pressure, c-section recovery or being on meds, but these warnings got in my head.  While I was grateful we left the hospital when we did, I was also happy to have a follow-up visit with my midwife.  Having heard all of my shenanigans, she wanted to check my blood pressure while I was there.  It was in the high 130’s.  “Borderline,” she said, based on my history.  At her suggestion, we got a blood pressure cuff to monitor everything while home. 

My anxiety was pretty high.  On one hand, I had a newborn that I just couldn’t believe was ours.  She was just such absolute joy, I miss how small she was already!  But at the same time, there was this shadow side of my health that terrified and exhausted me. Seeing the cuff everyday was a uneasy reminder of the lurking unknown. 

The cuff itself was difficult to master. I felt like I could never properly get the cuff on right by myself and the readings were a bit all over the place, sometimes in the 150’s and low 160’s. That was terrifying to me. With the most helpless and pathetic gift of a little newborn now under my care for life, I couldn’t fathom anything happening to me. For her sake and my own paralyzing fear, I got an appointment immediately at our local clinic.

The General Practitioner there said my blood pressure was too high, put me on metroprolol and had me do an EKG and a lab test.  She mentioned to have blood pressure this high is very dangerous.  She didn’t sound nonchalant. She made me feel like if I didn’t make changes now, I would have major complications pretty quickly. Having heard the blood clot/stroke spiel from the doctors where we delivered, as much as I tried to trust the universe with healing and peace, my anxiety was through the roof.  

From that point, every time I went up the stairs holding Ruby I was terrified I was going to have a stroke.  Pain in my upper thigh, I was sure was a blood clot and it was only a matter of time before it moved to my lungs.  If I ate something I didn’t realize was high in sodium, I could feel my arteries clogging.  

To my readers, maybe this fear seems a bit far out and unnecessary, but when you feel in a fog recovering from surgery and taking care of a newborn, and when you don’t feel entirely well regardless, it’s very easy to believe there is something wrong with you. We also live at a fairly high altitude and this effects me sometimes as well. Those doctors really got in my head and with Lliam at work, holding down everything for us, my fear was a conversation I really could only have with myself. 

I immediately began eating insanely heart healthy.  I researched what to do, which foods to eat and which would be bad for me.  My daily intake now consisted of things like spinach, nuts, whole grains, oats, fruit and veggies– like nobody’s business.  I removed all salt, sugar, red meat and fat as best I could.  A few days later, I went down the mountain for my first OBGYN visit.  My blood pressure had stabilized in the lower 120’s.  Oh, the relief.  While still shaky and nervous, because I was still scared I had a blood clot, I had a little validation that the medication was working. 

I got a phone call from my local clinic for a follow up appointment.  They said the General Practitioner really wanted me to talk to a midwife nurse practitioner that came in sometimes.  I was told this nurse knew more about postpartum health situations.  I arrived waddling, just barely into my c-section recovery, carrying my daughter in her heavy ass car seat.  

They took my blood pressure and it was in the 150’s.  I couldn’t believe it.  I had been so relieved and now it was back up again!  I explained to the nurse that I definitely had ‘white coat syndrome,’ was probably panicked from everything we’d been through during our hospital stay and I asked her to take it again.  She did and it was even higher.  “See, now I’m even more anxious! I really think I’m fine.  I just need to calm down and, like,  get zen.”  

She said she would wait a few minutes and take it again.  “This is the time to get zen,” she said, “because otherwise, I really want you to head back down to the other hospital.”  (Our local clinic has no OBGYN). They asked whether or not my husband was at work, if he could come pick me up and take me if needed, etc. I was so in my head.  

They left and my heart was racing.  I could not ‘get zen,’ I was overwhelmed with anxiety.  I looked at my little girl and had no idea what was going to happen.  Lliam was working as a temp for the county at the time.  He was trying to get in good with them to win a permanent position.  The last thing we needed was a consistently sick wife taking him away from work.  Not to mention, with a newborn and being strapped for cash,  to be working less was hardly ideal.  They came back in and took it again.  They didn’t tell me what the reading was, they just said, “We need to get you to the ER.  Call your husband. This is a ‘leave work now’ situation.”

I couldn’t believe what was happening. In just a matter of days, I had gone from partially relieved to being hospitalized.  I called Lliam and he came over as soon as he could.  They hooked me up to a blood pressure monitor and gave me labetalol. It wasn’t working. I looked at Ruby, still in her car seat.  I didn’t bring enough formula for her.  I didn’t expect this. This wasn’t supposed to happen.  Lliam eventually went home to stock up on diapers and bottles.  They upped my dosage of labetalol.

The hospital smelled like an old folks home. The poor guy next to me couldn’t stop vomiting.  I had barely a thing to eat all day and the drugs were making me feel even worse.  It was like another surreal nightmare.  I was soooo grateful Lliam was there but how long would I be in the hospital? Would I have to be monitored for days? What would we do with Ruby while Lliam was at work?  If he took time off, how would we survive financially?  So many thoughts… 

The ER doctor looked a little out of his league with my situation so I wasn’t surprised when he eventually called down to my birth hospital and talked to an OBGYN there.  They said to put me on procardia, and if my blood pressure went down below 140, I was okay to leave.  The procardia worked!  After six hours, I was ECSTATIC to be going home.  I had a new prescription… and about 120,000 new fears.  

About a week later, I had another follow up with my OBGYN. My blood pressure was taken and it was in the low 140’s. While wary, they didn’t seem too concerned.  I was relieved!  After being hospitalized I was terrified it was going to be sky high again. From where it had been, and my nagging feelings of death looming, that number felt low and I was grateful.  

Later that week, I had a follow up with the local clinic to go over my lab results. I was feeling really good, healing well and I was excited for this to be my last appointment there.  However, things took a turn pretty quickly.  The labs showed that I had really high cholesterol and that my EKG showed a couple of anomalies.  She also mentioned a Vitamin D deficiency but that’s pretty common.  I could tell by the stern look on her face I was being judged.  “This isn’t good! Really unhealthy! Very dangerous!”

F*******ck!!!  Again I thought I was out of the woods and now I was REALLY terrified about strokes and blood clots.  Anomalies on an EKG?  I was being referred to a cardiologist at 39 years old? What… the H!!!

Quick sidetone: What I DID find hilarious, however, was that of all the years I have worked professionally as a baker or managed bakeries, the one thing I did NOT have was diabetes. Everyone and their grandmothers have always told me I was going to end up diabetic but alas, suckas!  You gotta find your humor (and minor win) somewhere, right? Ha! I kid…

But back to our story… At another follow up with the OBGYN– Yes, Holy Doctor Appointments, Batman!– I showed her my lab results.  Her verdict on my cholesterol, “Yeah… that’s really high.”  She explained that eating healthy wasn’t going to cut it and that exercise would be important for me.   Neither the hospital nor my local clinic wanted to put me on medication for cholesterol because I was partially breastfeeding but she also said they would continue to monitor my blood pressure closely. 

I felt really helpless so I reached out to my stepmom who is a nurse.  She was excited like only a nurse can be– obviously, not for my fear but for having  a fun conundrum to figure out.   Thankfully, she relieved me a bit by giving me ideas and not making me feel like I was going to die. She suggested I get my own General Practitioner, a doctor that I could see regularly and follow up with about my blood pressure when the OBGYN appointments were over. 

Since leaving the hospital after Ruby’s birth, I had been seeing a doctor and going to various appointments– whether for me or my daughter– 2-3 times a week. Every appointment we had was 45 minutes away and the winding road down the mountain leading to those appointments drops 4,000 feet in elevation in thirty minutes.  To be out for hours with Ruby was a challenge. I would lug her around in her car seat, holding her away from my body as best I could so as not to knock her against my knees.  I was relying solely on my arm strength (which was pretty nil after leaving the bakery and those 50 pound bags of flour).  I had no core strength due to the cesarean… it was an exhausting work-out.

She was struggling to breastfeed and latch properly, so the hours away from home unable to pump decreased my milk supply. Breastfeeding is a nightmare in itself and everywhere you go there is such judgement. “You know, you really want to be exclusively breastfeeding.” Uh-huh. And I’d really like for you to have a clue about what I’ve been going through before you say REALLY STUPID THINGS…. ahem.  Obviously, I was stressed…

Aside from these appointments, I was also taking care of the animals, cleaning the house, washing the dishes, doing laundry, pumping, changing/burping/snuggling/breastfeed-attempting, and cooking healthy constantly because gone were the days of a quick hot dog. Thank you GOD, I have a supportive husband and we have a pretty agreeable baby. *knocks on wood*

Finally, I went to a General Practitioner down the mountain.  He might have been 12 and looked like a young Ryan Gosling, but he actually listened to me.  He went over my labs with me piece by piece and the weight of the world came off my shoulders. “Is this cholesterol high?  Yes.  But is it high enough for me to even put you on medication?  Not at all.  This is fixable.”  

WHAAAAAAAAT????  I was BLOWN AWAY!!!  Everyone had me believing my cholesterol was through the roof.  “400’s or 500’s is through he roof.” My cholesterol was 293. He also told me diet is more important than exercise because if you eat a box of donuts, running a mile isn’t going to make a difference.  (Personally, I think it’s a mix of diet and exercise but what woman in her right mind is going to fight with a guy who will one day grow up to be Ryan Gosling?) 

He put me on a higher dose of Vitamin D because “the one you’re on is too low and this dose is totally useless.”  He said the EKG was “unimpressive” and looked like a “cover your butt” situation.  And mostly… he was really excited for me.  I told him what I had been eating and the changes I had been making and he was grateful because many patients spend a good deal of time in denial about their health issues.  He even had the Attending Physician come in and talk with me to ease my mind.  

Together, they agreed the cholesterol wasn’t that big of an issue but that the blood pressure was the big concern with my history. They wanted to up my procardia a smidgen because my reading that day was in the 140’s.  I began to panic again.  No, no, no!! I felt okay and I had been eating super healthy. I know it’s always a little high at first.  He said the meds were part of the journey for a short time but that if I continued on this path, I wouldn’t need them forever.  Being off the meds completely was our goal.  I agreed to take the extra bump but also asked them to take my blood pressure again at the end.  It was now in the 120’s.  WHO’S HEALING WHO HERE, PEOPLE?! (I should totes have been a doctor…) 😉

They told me to follow up in two weeks. I went to schedule my appointment with Dr. Baby Ryan and found out he would be on vacation for two months.  NOOOOO!!!!

Finally, the appointment with the cardiologist came around.  There, my blood pressure was 118/76.  I was PSYCHED.  That’s the lowest it had been.  They took their own EKG and while they also saw the same anomalies, they agreed the referral was a ‘cover your butt’ situation.  

And come to find out, anomalies aren’t fact.  They’re curiosities– like going to a dermatologist for a weird mole but knowing just because it’s weird doesn’t mean it’s cancerous.  To be on the super, super, super safe side, they scheduled a stress test and an ultrasound of my heart for later this month.  They said I was doing beautifully with my life changes and I left feeling on top of the world.

Last week, I went to another follow up appointment with a General Practitioner.  My blood pressure was 144.  Again, this was a new doctor who didn’t know me at all.  Based off of this reading and my supposed history, he said we needed to consider putting me on additional medication at this point.  I just… I couldn’t.  I felt so much better, I was READY to be healthy and I just couldn’t believe my blood pressure was high. AGAIN, it always goes down after a bit!!!  It lowered to the low 120’s last time! But did Dr. Baby Sexypants put that in my notes?  No! They always and only include the first reading. Ahhhh!!  From the condescending nod, I know Dr. NOT Ryan Gosling doesn’t believe me. 

He’s beginning to make assumptions about who I am and the thought of that is so frustrating, I begin crying.  (The worst possible timing, OF COURSE I DO).  He asks why I’m crying but where on earth do I begin? It’s also difficult to formulate cohesive sentences due to ‘mom brain’ without sounding pathetic and unstable. He then starts asking me how I’m doing at home with the baby because now he thinks I have postpartum depression.  “No, I’m HAPPY at home! I love my baby! My husband is awesome!”  He tells me it’s okay to be overwhelmed with a baby. “I’m not overwhelmed with my baby– THIS! THIS is what stresses me out!”  He asks what am I doing for my anxiety.  “Typically I mediate! But I haven’t been because–” He tells me there are counselors I can talk to at the hospital.  “It can be really helpful if you’re feeling overwhelmed.” My skin is crawling.

I’m not sure what I said but my stubbornness won.  If I wasn’t going to go on extra meds, he pointedly suggested I get a blood pressure cuff at home.  (We returned the one I had previously because I don’t feel like I ever got it to work properly).  This way, it would help me, help them, treat me correctly.  He totally didn’t believe me. I left feeling defeated, like I had taken 100 steps back.  

I was zero percent enthused about spending a chunk of money we didn’t have on something I wasn’t sure would work properly, but I went to Target and looked around.  They had a wrist monitor!!  The best decision I could have made for my history. I’ve named her Betty. She is totally loyal and I love her so much.  She takes my blood pressure and my pulse.  She does averages.  And the best part? I never have to were a STUPID FROGGIN CUFF.  (Ahem)…  I trust her readings.

What I have learned from Betty is incredibly eye opening.  The first reading I took was in the mid 140’s.  But in the span of five minutes, it went from the high 140’s to the low 120’s.  If I am moving and have just set down my daughter, it’s in the 150’s.  If I take a minute to sit and do some deep breathing, it’s in the 130’s.  If I take another minute, it’s in the 120’s or lower.  If I take five minutes to relax, as the directions suggest, it is always in the low 120’s. 

With readings all over the board, you can imagine my frustration and fear. Which reading was the correct one?!  If I really did have high blood pressure, I wanted to know! I began to do some research and my jaw dropped.  According to this Berkley Wellness website, blood pressure is often taken incorrectly and myriads of people are probably put on medication unnecessarily.  

Did you know that to get a correct reading ideally, you should:

  • wait five minutes in a quiet room before being tested
  • there should be no talking during the test
  • you should be sitting on a chair, back supported with feet on the floor 
  • forearm supported at heart level by your nurse
  • wear an appropriate cuff size
  • readings should be done on both arms, one five minutes after the other

I couldn’t believe it.  I still can’t!  EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. my blood pressure has been taken, it has been as soon as I walk in the door, typically only a minute after lugging around Ruby when my heart is racing and I’m out of breath.  The nurse talks to me through the process. Sometimes, they’ve taken my reading while I’m seated on the examination table, feet dangling.  And it took hours of asking for them to give me an appropriate cuff size at the hospital. They would never take it manually. And for sure, they’ve never tried both arms. To do or not do these things, for me, is literally a change of 20+ points!!

How can something so important to diagnosis and prescription, be taken so mistakenly in the medical field? Again, the last doctor I saw wanted to put me on additional medication because one reading is always taken as law.  Can you imagine???! None of these guidelines or my anxiety or mental state have ever been considered or believed.  It is incredibly scary to think of the amount of people potentially misdiagnosed. Am I grateful to have a healthy daughter and to be feeling healthier?  Of course!  But can we do better?  Abso-froggin’-lutley! 

In hindsight, this whole experience has been pretty eye-opening.  I consider myself pretty ‘zen’ for the most part; when I get anxious, I know to mediate.  During my second trimester, when my blood pressure was in the 110’s, I was meditating 20 minutes daily.  I felt relaxed, connected, present and peaceful.  In my third and ‘fourth trimester,’ as they say, I haven’t kept up the practice as much.  It’s especially hard to find alone time with a newborn.  However, to see readings differ significantly based on whether or not I’m relaxed, or after a minute or two of deep breathing, it is a pretty affirming reminder.  In my head, I’ve always had the answers but whether or not I follow through with them in life is a whole other story. 

While this experience has been frustrating and scary, I really am grateful that it happened. I’ve learned so much about the power and magnitude of my fear, and what a huge factor it can play in my health. I learned a lot about speaking my mind and sticking up for myself, trusting my intuition and what I know about my body.  And I’m even grateful that I was so petrified because I’m not sure if anything less would have scared me into a healthier lifestyle.

While my blood pressure has stabilized, I haven’t forgotten or ignored that it has stabilized while still under the influence of medication. Going off medication, would it sky rocket?  I have no idea.  So, I’ve made no plans to throw caution to the wind with my lifestyle.  If anything, I feel more committed to stay on this life path for as long as I’m blessed with one.  If I’ve estimated my pregnancy weight properly, I’ve lost almost 50 pounds.  Two weeks postpartum, at my first follow up clinic, I was weighed and for sure I’ve lost 22 pounds without counting baby weight.  And truly, it’s not about weight.  I stagnated for a week and a half pounds-wise and while it was frustrating, I felt more energetic, felt a bit stronger, my clothes still fit well, etc.  In my heart I knew it wasn’t about numbers and I’ve NEVER felt that way before!

Mostly, it has occurred to me that if I want Ruby to grow up healthy, confident, smart, funny, fearless, strong, loving and excited about this world… who do I need to be to help get her there? If I want to teach her to put herself in the way of beauty in this world, she requires a mother that is truly beautiful.  Gone are the days of low self-esteem and anxiety. I want to be who she needs me to be.  There is a note on my mirror to remind myself of this daily.  

Introducing her to healthy food as delicious and nourishing (rather than making it about weight) is one way I can encourage her wellbeing. And like an episode of ‘Chopped,’ I have personally been given a challenge to make food heart healthy and it excites me!  So today, I’m sharing a waffle recipe I adapted that makes this treat at breakfast delicious but also good for you.  Rather than use all purpose flour, I substituted whole white wheat.  In place of oil, I use unsweetened apple sauce.  I added oats, ground flaxseed meal and a bit of cinnamon– all great ingredients that help to lower blood pressure.  I replaced full fat milk with non-fat and rather than use sugar I use honey.  (Honey is totally sugar but at least it’s got some proven health benefits). 

And the kicker?  (Because I’m NEVER gonna be a ‘4 oz. of plain chicken and steamed broccoli’ girl).  They’re super yummy!  I love the nuttiness of various whole grain flours and oats in baking so I love these waffles!  I don’t feel like I’m missing out on ‘the real deal,’ because they aren’t processed and don’t taste like fat free crap.  They’re just yummy waffles!  

Well, that blog took forever- ha!  Thank you soooo much for reading all of this– and I hope next time you go to the doctor you ask for a few minutes of peace before any vitals are taken.  You owe it to yourself to be properly cared for!  Health & happiness, y’all!  This is really exciting.  🙂  

Heart Healthier Waffle Recipe
Yields 6
Light and fluffy whole wheat waffles with heart healthy ingredients. They still feel like a treat but it's an amazing way to start your day!
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Prep Time
20 min
Prep Time
20 min
Ingredients
  1. 1 1/3 c. whole wheat flour (I use whole wheat white)
  2. 1/2 c. rolled oats
  3. 2 T ground flaxseed meal
  4. 1 T baking powder
  5. 1 tsp cinnamon
  6. 1/2 tsp salt
  7. 1 3/4 c. non-fat or almond milk
  8. 1 T good quality honey
  9. 1/2 c. unsweetened applesauce
  10. 2 eggs, separated
Instructions
  1. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, oats, flaxseed meal, cinnamon, baking powder and salt.
  2. Separate the eggs. (See note below)
  3. Mix milk, applesauce, egg yolks and honey to dry ingredients.
  4. Beat egg whites to stiff peaks and fold into the batter.
  5. Ladle mixture onto hot waffle iron and bake until golden brown & crispy.
  6. Top with sugar-free jam, fruit compotes or a light drizzle of the real maple syrup or honey.
  7. Enjoy!
Notes
  1. *In a time crunch, I have completely skipped the separation of the eggs, added whole to the batter instead, and these waffles still turn out great!
Adapted from Genius Kitchen
Adapted from Genius Kitchen
MandiCrocker https://mandicrocker.com/

Like every family that has been created, our birth story is very personal.  Whether you’re a couple, a single mom or adoptive parents, if you have children, we all have lived through a story of chaos and beauty in creating our families.  Despite how much our experience felt like a nightmare, I also know we’re very lucky.  It felt overwhelming and difficult but not everyone has had it so easy.  I’m also grateful we brought my camera.  The experience sits in such a brain fog, I remember everything and nothing. I wasn’t sure if we’d even get around to using it but I put it on ‘auto’ and hoped for the best.  

Here’s our story… 

I was exactly two weeks overdue with Ruby and while my water broke (thanks to a crazy castor oil cocktail), labor just didn’t want to start.  When I got to the hospital on Saturday, we discovered– despite being overdue, I wasn’t dilated at all, not even a smidge. That was pretty shocking. Not to mention, a bit of a blow. 

My mom had been in town the past week waiting, waiting, waiting past my due date like any good Grandma.  In my head, I had always imagined my mom being there for the birth, so I was incredibly grateful that she flew out. Also, being two weeks overdue, I was extremely bored.  We watched a LOT of ‘Call The Midwife,’ which proved to be strangely comforting. 

I happened to get pregnant at my heaviest weight.  (I don’t recommend that route).  The last time I had been weighed was at 38 weeks (below).  At the time, I had gained about 45 pounds.  

When I look at these photos of me in the hospital, I don’t even recognize myself.  The final month my guess is that I gained an additional ten pounds at least, maybe more? To me, I look really, really bloated and unwell.  While uploading photos, I asked my husband if I had actually gained that much weight or if the fluids they had me on caused me to swell.  He said the photos did look like me and that the last two weeks overdue, I got really big.  Jiminy Christmas… 

While in the hospital, they told me my blood pressure was ‘a little high’ so they were going to put me on a magnesium drip. I began an endless bunch of drugs to assist with dilation and after two full days of various medications and painful internal exams, I had finally dilated to 2 cm.  Unfortunately, every time I had a contraction Ruby’s heart rate would dip, and because at this point I had been in the hospital for two days after my water breaking, they thought a c-section was necessary so as not to get an infection or distress the baby. 

Looking back, while the waiting game was annoying, I am super thankful for that.  Soooo many women have had to push painfully and endlessly before having to have an emergency c-section.  This was not the case for me and I’m beyond grateful.

Up until this point I had been working with a wonderful midwife in Loma Linda and we had plans to give birth in their beautiful tub of my dreams.  *swoon* Despite this birth plan, at 39, I was always open to a c-section if complications arose.  Having a healthy baby was all that mattered, as they say.  When we got to the hospital, though, it got really emotional.  Even typing this today, I get nauseous and my heart starts racing.  PTSD is real, homies!

For starters, we had major issues with the blood pressure machine. Each time it started, it would squeeze my arm so hard, it would cause sharp pinching pain so severe I would wince and it would literally take my breath away.  Of course, this made my heart race even faster. Another time, it made my arm swell so much around my hospital wristband, it cut off the circulation in my hand.  My hand grew pink and swollen and my husband had to rip off the cuff.  Another time, it got so tight it just popped off of my arm completely. In these instances, my heart would race from pain and the readings would be off the chart– like 180 and 220. 

While I wasn’t denying I had high blood pressure, some of these readings couldn’t possibly be correct. For whatever reason, the hospital staff wouldn’t listen when we told them what happened during those high readings, like this obese person just couldn’t come to terms with her high blood pressure. No one would take my blood pressure manually even though I asked.  And once, I was told by a nurse that the reason the cuff hurt is because I have high blood pressure.  Ummm… no. 

My poor mom also had nowhere to sleep.  When I was on another round of meds to be dilated, Lliam drove her back home. I think all of us knew it was for the best.  She was able to feed the animals and ‘Mima’ even learned how to work Netflix on her own!  🙂

The nurses were doing all of these really invasive things and I finally asked to speak to the attending doctor. When she arrived and mentioned the reason for the invasiveness was because ‘preeclampsia is pretty dangerous,’ we were blown away. We never knew they had diagnosed me with preeclampsia or that they found protein in my urine. To me, that is a huge deal to not tell a patient because preeclampsia IS dangerous.  I told her if we had known I had preeclampsia, we would have been more grateful for the invasiveness.

She seemed a bit surprised we didn’t know but did her best to downplay it because we were pretty shocked and angry.  And when she was describing my high blood pressure, she–again!!– mentioned the few super high and faulty readings like they were law, partly being taken into account for the diagnosis. Ack!!

This photo was before the epidural.  I toooootally look like my brother.  Ha!

Everyone kept saying how sorry they were that I wasn’t having the birth I wanted like we were upset about not being with my midwife. I’m sure they didn’t mean it this way, but it felt condescending because that wasn’t the case. We were upset because faulty information was used in decision making, and things weren’t being communicated properly. And I don’t know about you, but when I feel I’m not being listened to and I’m not a part of major decisions or conversations involving myself, my body or my baby, my anxiety– and blood pressure– reeeeeally goes through the roof.  It feels like a crazy nightmare, like you’re in an episode of Black Mirror wringing your hands, screaming as loud as you can, and no one will listen.    

Did I have high blood pressure before I gave birth? Yes and no.  At the very start of my pregnancy it was in the low 140’s but when I quit a stressful job, it went down thirty points in two weeks and hovered at 110 for months.  So I know stress and anxiety is a huge factor for me.  When my husband and I moved back to California, I had readings in the 120’s with my midwife toward the end of my pregnancy but at the time we also had no place to live, no jobs, no money, etc.  It was very stressful so we both took that into account.  Another symptom of preeclampsia is protein in the urine and having tested that every week, I was totally fine.  Also, surprisingly, I barely had any swelling in my legs and feet throughout my entire pregnancy so I wasn’t concerned.  Unfortunately, preeclampsia can come on and be diagnosed at any time.  Previous to that, it’s not to say that I didn’t have high blood pressure at some point during my life, I just wasn’t aware of it.  

After two very long days and no sleep, the resident doctor told us we needed to have a c-section.  A very cerebral guy, he spoke like a robot half asleep, showed no emotion and kept giving us information like it was being downloaded.  My husband and I, a little worse for wear, asked him to leave so we could discuss.  We knew it was our only option at this point but needed a few moments together to feel all the feelings.  When he comes back, my husband had changed into a BMW t-shirt.  All of the sudden the doctor’s eyes lit up, he points at my husband’s shirt and says, “That’s a 2002 BMW!”  

He enthusiastically proceeds to talk to my husband about how much he loves working on BMW’s and how it’s probably the reason he became a doctor.  Because… “I figured if I could fix cars, I could fix people.  Except, come to find out, that 24.2% of people react differently to treatment.”  

WHAAAAAAAAT???????????  

For a metaphysical, partially crunchy and super spiritual gal, my jaw dropped to the floor.  Comparing fixing humans to fixing cars, this doctor was literally my worst nightmare.  At that point, I was like “Okay universe, CLEARLY I’m not allowed to have ANY control here.  And that’s cool, I throw my hands up, Jesus done take the wheel already, I surrender!  

“Um… I would, however, like to ask that these people don’t kill me.”  

I wasn’t sure my prayers were being answered as I was drugged, strapped down to my bed and wheeled into the surgery room.  I know this is all routine and standard procedure  but I remember thinking this is probably how alien abductees feel, completely helpless, as a ginormous bright light blinds you from above. I was nauseous and told its okay to throw up if I needed.  But how?  I was strapped down.  Was I just supposed to let chunks drizzle down my face?  

“God, please don’t let me choke on my own vomit and die during my c-section.”

I was so drugged and tired, I fell asleep through the surgery. Lliam had to wake me when they removed Ruby from my guts.  Even looking like ‘Carrie,’ I love her sooooo much. 

They laid her on my neck wrapped up.  All I remember was being entirely uncomfortable and out of it.  I looked up to the plastic separating me from the doctors just in time to see one of them roughly compressing my stomach with their folded hands like they were trying to resuscitate my uterus, or jamming an overstuffed suitcase closed. I could feel it but not feel it. It was insaaaaane. I remember feeling entirely outside of my body and thinking this was the most surreal experience of my life. 

This didn’t feel like a magical moment.  That is why I am so grateful we brought the camera.  Looking back, I’m able to see the beauty in these moments, though they didn’t feel beautiful at the time…. which is pretty much everything I know and love about photography.

Ruby Clementine Donohue was brought into the world on February 12, 2018.  My sister Jodianne’s birthday.  She is an Aquarius with a Gemini ascendant and a Capricorn moon.  🙂

Being overdue, I was for sure she was going to be 146 pounds with a pumpkin head.  I’m grateful she came out at the size she did.  🙂

After the surgery, we were wheeled into a ‘recovery room.’  On a kind note, my midwife told me they moved heaven and earth to allow me to do skin to skin with her and breastfeed after the c-section.  So I greatly appreciated that!!

I do remember how amazing it was to see Lliam with her, a ‘Papa’ for the first time.  He adores her so much.  

All of the nurses and the doctors (and anyone that has met her thus far) kept mentioning her ‘alertness.’  From day one, she’s always looked about intently, taking in her surroundings.  (Or maybe contemplating why the H she chose us as parents!)

We spent two more days in the hospital.  We really just needed sleep– desperately.  We had some really nice nurses but regardless of the situation, I just don’t understand how anyone expects you to recover while being poked and prodded every twenty minutes. Or less!  We were at a teaching hospital so it could be one nurse, groups of people, the cleaning lady,  people I wasn’t even sure of conducting a survey, etc.  We got NOOOOO sleep. I became depressed, teary and angry. Not to mention, we also had to take care of our newborn.  None of this helped my blood pressure.  I felt jittery like I was on 24 cups of coffee but drugged like a sloth.  Thankfully, we had her…

Ruby was jaundice and had to be under lights for six hours.  (When I imported these photos into Lightroom they were insanely blue.  I’m not sure why because they didn’t look that way in camera.  Regardless, I converted them to black and white and thankfully I like them this way quite a bit!).

I know it’s a pretty common thing but damn, it was hard to see her in there.  

I CANNOT FATHOM how parents must feel with their babies in the NICU.  They are my heroes. I am soooo grateful we’ve had no serious concerns with her, I can’t even tell you. 

Baby feet and hands come out soooo gray and wrinkled!  Like they’ve been waterlogged for weeks.  

I was so grateful when the blue lights were over.  I just wanted to snuggle her and tell her that one day we’d be out of this hospital and she would no longer be poked and prodded… You know, except vaccinations. I didn’t mention that part.  😉

She struggled with breastfeeding which was also stressful.  The overworked lactation specialist spewed information at such rapid fire, we didn’t stand a chance.  We were so tired, it might as well have been in another language. Typically, after a cesarean, recovery in the hospital is 2-4 days after birth.  We were so insanely exhausted that by the second day, with Ruby at 100%, we were desperate to go home. 

The doctors, however, weren’t feeling as optimistic.  My blood pressure was inching back up at 138 and they wanted me to stay and be monitored the extra 2 days. When the doctors kept pushing back, however, my panic set in and I got emotional.  Every time they took my blood pressure, it just got higher and higher. We couldn’t take another day.  I felt so shaky and delirious with fatigue, frustrated and helpless, that I felt like if we didn’t leave then, I might never leave.  It felt like they would always find something else wrong, and I knew I would never feel better without sleep.  Against their wishes, we headed home.  

As soon as we drove up the mountain and walked through the door, I felt SUCH a sense of relief.  It was amazing to be in our own space and in our own bed.  My mom was there to help out and I immediately felt like I could breathe.  It was the best decision we could have made for us. 

The high blood pressure did, indeed, come home with me.  That part of my recovery has been the hardest and scariest part by far, and I’ll be sure to share that part of our journey in my next blog. But in the meantime, I’d love to hear from moms and dads about your own birth story.  Do you remember it?  What was the experience like? Was it what you expected?  How was your recovery?  Being a mom is such a wild and incredible experience… how unbelievable that we come into the world this way.