Apr 16


So the latest thing I’ve tried baking are macarons. Not macaroons, the coconutty biscuit things, but the french almond meringue biscuits with fillings. The ones they fly into Brown Thomas from Laudaree in Paris daily and sell for obscene amounts of money. I figured, if I could make Madeline, why not something else classic and French? How hard could it be?

And the answer is, not very. They’re a little fiddly but ultimately if you can make a meringue and have some patience, macaron are just not as hard as everyone says they are.

There are two or three things you have to do that don’t seem to be written in most of the books mind you, and if you skip those, you get awful results. So here’s my recipe, with notes:

This makes enough macaron biscuit mix to fill one standard large disposable piping bag and that can make up to sixty macaron (120 hulls) if you make them small. I don’t suggest making them small, the less mass in a macaron hull, the fiddlier the timing on the bake.

Step 1:

180g ground almond
180g icing sugar

Place in a food processor or blender and run it for about 40 seconds. Tip the resulting flour into a large bowl, making sure to get all the bits that will have caked to the sides of the food processor bowl. Now take another large bowl and a sieve, and sieve the contents of the first bowl into the second. Some of the contents won’t sieve, it’ll look like cornmeal or polenta grains. There shouldn’t be much of this, but you might have a few spoons on this first pass. Discard it into the bin. Now sieve the contents of the second bowl back to the first bowl. And repeat this process, discarding anything that doesn’t make it through the sieve, at least twice.

This is the first thing that tripped me up. The thing is, almonds, like all nuts, have oil in them; grind them fine and you get a paste, not a flour – you have to add powdered sugar to the mix to stop that, or have fancy equipment or techniques like cryomilling (which I can’t do because liquid nitrogen’s not readily available here). So most companies selling ground almonds don’t grind them fine. And if you just use their stuff neat, you get a macaron that looks like you made it out of sand and worse yet, it won’t hold liquid properly so it won’t bake right. Either take the time to do this grind-and-sieve routine (and if you discard a lot of material, you’ll have to start off with a lot more; you want 360g of mixture when you finish, not when you start ideally) … or else go to one of the fancy online shops and buy the mix pre-ground and pre-made. It’s not cheap, but neither are ground almonds. I pay about €15 per kilo of ground almond (in the Asia Food Co on Mary St. in Dublin) – Meilleur du Chef will charge you €20 per kilo of the final mix, plus shipping. Your call.

Either way, with the mix made, put it in a bowl (one of the two you used will be fine) and add 30g of icing sugar and 70g of egg white.

The egg whites are a bit of a thing with macarons, especially if you use the french meringue method (I tried that method, it was too fiddly and slow). If you’re getting them by cracking and separating eggs, you’re advised to let them sit in the fridge for a few days to age, so the proteins break down and they don’t form as firm of a meringue which makes making the final mix easier. Personally, I just buy a bottle of egg whites from Dunnes and don’t bother to get the freshest one on the shelf. I mean, you want to leave a petri dish for bugs in your fridge for a week, well hey, it’s your immune system. Me and my aged pasteurised egg white in a convenient container will be over here.

Now take a wooden spoon because silicone spatula heads tend to come off the handles in mixes this stiff, and fold all the liquid into all the powder. It’ll take a minute, but there is enough powder to do it.

A note here – if you’re adding colours or flavours to the hull, you can do so here. Just mix the powdered flavour (like espresso grounds or finely ground tea leaves or matcha tea); or powdered food colourings or even gel food colourings, into the mix at this point. Liquid food colourings and essences are trickier because even that little liquid here can be a bit of a pain. I stick to powders and gels for colourings if I use them and powders for flavour.

A related note is that you can use any nut to make a macaron, it doesn’t have to be almond. Almond’s nicely neutral, so if you want to use pistachios, say, you can just swap out a portion of the almonds instead of all of them. Experiment. I tend to use 2/3 pistachio when making pistachio macarons. I’ve tried using breadcrumbs for bread flavour with limited success too.

Step 2:

Next up, take 80g of egg white and put it in the bowl of your stand mixer. You can do this with a handheld electric whisk in an ordinary bowl but a stand mixer is more convenient. If you have neither of these, don’t make macaron. You’d badly injure yourself trying to do this with a hand whisk.

Add a half-teaspoon of cream of tartar to the egg whites. You could skip this, it’s designed to help the meringue form, but that’d just be masochistic.

Whip the eggs to soft peaks and then stop whisking completely. You don’t want too much air in here. You can add some liquid flavours here if you want – vanilla, various essences, that kind of thing.

Step 3:

Here’s where you can get some serious scarring so don’t be stupid.

Take 210g of castor sugar and put it in a pan. Preferably a medium sized one with a pouring spout, but it’s not mandatory. Don’t put it in a small pan though because any boilover would be a pain in the fundament. Add 50g of water to make a slurry, and stir the dry sugar into the water with an ordinary spoon. You just want all the dry sugar made wet, it won’t dissolve yet. Throw the spoon in the sink now; you won’t be stirring this again. Put the pan on full heat and leave it come up to 118C. Don’t stir. Swirl if you have to in order to ensure it’s melting evenly at the beginning, but generally this is a don’t-touch affair. Use a candy thermometer or an infrared thermometer (they’re nearly as cheap as a good candy thermometer these days – the gun ones are only about $30 on ebay and smaller pen ones go for as little as $15). Whatever you do, don’t stick a finger in there or splash it on yourself; at 118C, it’ll cook you if it hits you and it’s sticky when in contact with proteins (like, say, those found in human flesh). Generally bad news.

Once you get up to about 115C, it’s time for Step 4:

Turn the stand mixer up to full speed. When the sugar syrup hits 118C, carefully take the pan and pour the syrup down the side of the stand mixer’s bowl in a thin continous stream. Don’t dump it in all at once, but don’t add it drop by drop either, it’s cooling very rapidly now it’s off the heat and that thermal energy is needed in the mixer, not the air. Just pour in a thin, continuous, steady stream at the side of the bowl.

Don’t hit the mixer’s whisk. Don’t stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Just… pour.

Now let the mixer run until the steaming meringue mix in the bowl isn’t steaming any more and no longer looks like it wants to climb out of the bowl to strangle you. You can leave it continue to beat until the bowl goes cold; that’s the classical meringue technique. Or you can use it straight away. I can’t tell the difference really.

On to Step 5. And this one is a bit finicky. You have to mix the meringue into the mix from step 1. Which is a very stiff paste. But you don’t want to mix all of the meringue in. You will have a little left over at the end most of the time. You make a little more than you need because it’s a lot easier to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.

Mix it in, a spatula load at a time. The first spatula or so, you can just beat in with the wooden spoon to loosen the paste up. No sense being delicate there, it won’t work. But the more you add, the looser it will get, so go easier as you go on. You do want to fold it in and keep some air; but not all of the air in the meringue is welcome; the macaron hulls are not light airy fluffy things, there’s a little density to them.

I don’t have an easy way to test for all this. You kindof have to do it by eye. I tend to pull the spatula from the mixture and let it drip in ribbons back onto the surface. If it can’t drip, it needs more meringue; but you want the ribbons to hold their shape on the surface of the mix for at least ten seconds. The consistency should be like overly thick potato soup, or thick porridge, and gauging it does just seem to be a try-it-and-see kind of thing.

Step 6:

Fill a piping bag with the mix; put a preprinted template (like this one) on a baking tray and put parchment paper over that, securing both with a small dab of the mix here and there. Now hold the piping bag vertically over the center of a circle on the template about 3mm off the parchment paper, and squeeze. Keep squeezing until the mix reaches the circle; then lift off vertically (you can snap if you know how, but a vertical lift, while leaving a tail, ensures you didn’t also leave a pit). Do that for all the circles in the template. Resist the urge to pipe over the template size; it never ends well. You need the gaps between the hulls as they will spread a little, and more importantly, they need to air-dry first.

Air-drying is really important for this process btw; once a tray’s piped, you have to leave it sit untouched for 40 minutes or more. Test it after that point by very gently pushing on a macaron. If the surface deforms and your finger stays dry, it’s ready to bake. If it sticks to your finger, it’s not. If you do this, when they go to expand in the oven, the skin that’s formed won’t split and the entire hull has to lift upwards, exposing new mix to the hot air of the oven which dries it even as the bubbles are exposed to the air; this becomes the foot, the little bubbly ridge around the base of each macaron hull.

Step 7:

Once airdried to a skin, set your oven for 150C and let it stabilise there, then put in the trays of macaron that have airdried, and close the oven door, but leave a wooden spoon in there to crack it so the water vapour can escape. Rotated the pans at 10 minutes, and cook for five more.

Step 8:

Remove the parchment and attached macarons to a rack and allow to cool.

Detach from the rack, match hulls for size and shape, then pipe filling and squeeze together.


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Apr 12

New baby essentials

There are a huge number of lists of new baby essentials – the things you must have at home before baby arrives – out on the net. Most are from the US, a few from the UK and maybe one or two from Ireland (most of which I found on boards.ie). Thing is, these lists tend to be (a) very long and (b) very localised – terminology and products differ between here and the US. I didn’t find a really useful short list of essentials, with the sole exception of one clever list which in its entirity read:

  • nappies
  • boobs

So instead, I read all the lists together, edited out the obviously daft entries, and drafted my own list, deliberately not leaving anything essential to be a gift from anyone (my parents on getting married bought no towels for the house because everyone gave towels as wedding gifts back then; and of course, not one person gave them any towels as gifts). But I did try to be as sane about it as I could given how little data was available.

Today I sat down and looked back at the list and tried to evaluate what was useful and what really wasn’t. Here are my notes; who knows, they might be useful to someone.

This was my list (comments in blue):

  • Moses basket (gift from a friend)
  • Clevamoma sleep positioner (lives in the moses basket; in the travel basket, we use a cellular blanket folded and scrunched under him. Useful, not essential)
  • Cot bed (Hasn’t been touched yet except as a changing station, but bloody useful for that. We could have left this for six months though)
  • 2 fitted sheets for cot bed (again, could have been left for months)
  • 4-6 cellular blankets (definitely a win. If anything, buy more)
  • Crib bumper (Had this on the list, then came across the research saying not to buy one under any circumstances and why, and scratched it from the list in a hurry)
  • Baby wipes (We’ll wind up using them on baby eventually, but so far, they’ve been more useful to wipe baby’s poop&pee off us and clothes than to wipe them off baby)
  • Vaseline (Bought two large tubs, thought it overkill. Bought a third tub yesterday. This goes on the essentials list)
  • Diaper cream (Bought a jar, haven’t opened it yet)
  • Baby lotion (Bought some, but you’re not meant to use it for the first few weeks)
  • Cotton swabs (Bought loads, used lots, but we started using the square baby cotton pads a lot more often, they’re far easier for cleaning while changing diapers. The cotton balls are still far better for bathtime, for cleaning the cord&navel, and for when he pees mid-change. Both should be on an essentials list)
  • 2 packs newborn nappies (Lasted us most of the first week. But we just bought the first ones we saw; we later bought a pack of each type to evaluate the different brands)
  • 6-12 burp cloths (Bloody useful, but if I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t buy a single burp cloth or washcloth, I’d just buy thirty muslins instead)
  • 2 nursing bras (You’re told not to buy more because sizes change after birth)
  • 2 packs nursing pads (Came free in the breastfeeding/breastpump kit from Tommee Tippee)
  • Lanolin ointment (Forget the tubes from mothercare, buy the little jar types from the chemist, it’s easier to get the lanolin out – it’s like beeswax, not cream)
  • Breast pump (Tommee Tippee kit had lots of useful stuff in it, including small bottles; you’re told not to use it for the first two weeks though, to get practice in breastfeeding)
  • Formula (I got the powder, a tray of the ready-made cartons and two boxes of the ready-made pre-sterilised bottles. We’ve not touched any of it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an essential. We were lucky, and baby took to breastfeeding well; but out of the six or seven babies in the ward, he was the only one who did so. If baby had been a c-section, or hadn’t been calm enough, we would have needed the formula and the La Leche League be damned, the kid comes first.)
  • 4-6 bottles and teats (Forget the 4oz sizes, just get the 8oz size and half-fill them. This ain’t rocket science!)
  • Steriliser (Even if you’re breastfeeding exclusively, this is still getting a workout sterilising the breast pump, soothers, the nozzles for the nasal bulb and so on. Doesn’t have to be a fancy electric steam yoke – and I think Khannie – the moderator from the boards.ie parenting forum – said he’d just have gotten a vegetable steamer anyway if he was doing it over – but you need something right from day one or two at home)
  • 5-7 onesies (We’ve used most of them thanks to the warm weather)
  • 3-5 one-piece suits (We’ve used only one or two of these, because of the warm weather, but with the cold snap coming…)
  • 3-5 sleep suits (Yup. Definitely needed for our lad. Avoid anything you can’t close easily – a single line of snap fasteners from one leg to the opposite shoulder is the easiest design we’ve found so far)
  • 3-5 vests (Used all through the first ten days until the cord fell off. We got five of the little kimono style ones with velcro closures – plain white and cheap – and changed them daily and wore them beneath all the other clothes to stop the cord rubbing off the outer layer)
  • Antiscratch mittens (we got three pairs. Only one stays on, and it looks for all the world like large socks. So don’t buy these; just get more socks and use them. The longer the elasticated bit, the better)
  • 2-3 hats (You definitely want one for the hospital for the first day or two. After that, our lad wouldn’t wear one for more than a minute – we think it was because he was on internal monitoring and had a stitch in his scalp afterwards, but for whatever reason, he’s not worn a hat since day two except for the few minutes after bathtime and even that’s a struggle)
  • Fleece suit (Unused so far, but glad we have it with the cold coming in)
  • Bathtub (See the above comments about sinks Ours was a gift; I’d have no issues with using a sink though)
  • Bath thermometer (my wife and the Holles St. nurses swear they can use their elbow for this; anyone who ever learned to throw a punch with their elbow probably subscribes, like me, to the school of thought that you don’t lower a newborn genitals-first into a body of water whose temperature you’ve measured only with the least sensitive bit of skin you’ve got… so for me the bath thermometer goes on the essentials list)
  • 2-3 baby bath towels w/hoods (We got two of the clevamoma ones and two “normal” ones – to be honest, both work great, I can see how the clevamoma ones would be worth the money if bathing baby alone, but when there are two of you, either’s good. And yes, you need this in the first few days, though you really only need one – it can go in the laundry and be back fast enough to use for the next bath)
  • 2-3 washcloths (never used for washing, so far. They currently go under his bum during a change to catch the worst of anything so the changing wedge covers last more than 12 hours Frankly, don’t bother, just buy more muslins. You don’t use anything but cotton balls in their baths in the first week anyway)
  • Baby bath soap (bought some, haven’t used it at all under instruction – water only for the first 2-3 weeks. After that, I assume it’ll be essential )
  • Baby shampoo (Same story)
  • Baby grooming kit w/nail clippers (Bought it, needed it, still too scared to use the clippers )
  • Nasal bulb (Been useful once or twice, but we’ve been lucky to miss the runny noses so far)
  • 5-7 pairs socks (buy more socks. Not just for feet, they make excellent scratch mittens)
  • Baby safe washing powder (essential, but you don’t see it on the lists so often for some reason)
  • 8 receiving blankets (the US lists all recommend these; we’ve never even found them here. We use cellular blankets instead, and they’re enormously useful)
  • Thermal bottle carrier (Didn’t find one; got given one as a gift after the birth as part of a nappy changing bag)
  • Nappy pail/bucket (Essential. This was a tip from Baby’s godmother – basicly, buy a 12 litre mop bucket from heatons or somewhere, fill it with 2-3 litres of warm water and some dettol, and keep it by the changing station and any soiled clothing or muslins or changing wedge covers or whatever go straight into it (you might also get a cheap wooden spoon to push stuff down into the dettol). That way the poop and pee-soaked stuff is safe to leave for a day or so until you can do a ‘biohazard wash’ )
  • Dettol (I guess you could use bleach in a pinch, but dettol was what I was raised with… either way, it’s an essential)
  • Milton (bought in case the fancy steam steriliser broke)
  • Infant car seat (Can’t go home from Holles St. without one)
  • Stroller (not needed in the first few weeks so far, but we got ours as a package deal in the sales for a Phil&Ted’s Explorer which some friends had recommended – and so we got the infant seat, the stroller, the adaptor that lets one plug into the other, and a bouncer seat kit for the second seat in the stroller and a travel cot, all for a decent price)
  • Baby thermometer (Essential. We went with a pacifier oral model and a rectal thermometer that came as a set from the Philips Avent range; bought on ebay, cheaper than the infrared and temporal artery ones, and according to the medical studies on pubmed, more accurate and reliable than them too when there’s a fever. We had one overheating scare on day four, and I’d have paid ten times the price for the pacifier model and still been happy with it at that point!)
  • Eyedropper (used for vitamin d3 drops, used daily)
  • 5 soothers (ignore the dissenters, keep a few in the steriliser. If you can get a case that keeps them sterile, even better; keep two by the changing station. It calms our lad down a lot mid-change when the temperature change hits him – even with the room’s heating on full, when you take off that nappy, everything gets a bit chilly for boys Also, our guy likes to soothe himself a little when dropping off to sleep – he spits out the soother inside two minutes, but is asleep by then)
  • Changing wedge & 4 covers (Has seen huge use by us, but keep a few covers because they do get pooped and pee’d on even with the muslin under his bum and have to go in the bucket within 48 hours of going on the wedge)
  • Car window sun shades (vital if it’s sunny, but we also put up the carrying arm of the baby seat and taped a cellular blanket over as an awning (not a full canopy and mom was right there watching) because the day we came home was the second day of pure sunshine, which was lovely for everyone but not for us who’d forgotten to buy a sunhat and couldn’t find one anywhere on the day)
  • Baby monitor (Bought a webcam. Haven’t used it yet as he’s not out of our bedroom yet and won’t be for a while)
  • Baby carrier/wrap (Got the Baby Bjorn Synergy carrier and a Moby wrap on the recommendations of the thread in here; have tried both. He’s too small for the Synergy yet, but it’s comfortable enough – as far as we could tell in the 30 seconds we tried before it became obvious he hadn’t enough head support. The moby wrap was shockingly good, though putting it on takes a few minutes practice and it doesn’t keep him as vertical as he’d like. If I had to do it over, I’m not yet sure I’d ditch the Synergy, but it wouldn’t surprise me if we did later. Either way, not essential because we’re huggy parents in the first days anyway)
  • Night light (Hugely useful. Ours is one of the groegg ones thats also a room thermometer – really useful)
  • Play mat (Used twice so far – tummytime’s been on my chest or the bed so far)
  • Tallboy cabinet (really useful to store stuff)
  • Blackout blinds for nursery (He’s not in there yet, so they’ve gone unused…)
  • Swaddling blankets (really handy in the first week or two, and still in use, but the special ones from mothercare aren’t vital, cellular blankets do the job just as well, and the nurses on the ward will show you how)
  • Nursing pillow (essential!)

The list was huge, we got everything on it bar the receiving blankets, and only the moses basket was a gift and we went asking our friends if anyone had one of those. It was way too much stuff (see the notes) and even at that there were things we missed and had to get after the birth (though to be fair, some things – like the hats – we couldn’t have known ahead of time):

  • More nursing bras
  • Hospital-style maternity pads
  • Nipple shields
  • MORE COTTON PADS! (The big square ones. We now have a few thousand of them and we’ll get through those in a fortnight at this rate)
  • One of each brand of newborn nappies. (Pampers seem to be the best post-cord, but the huggies have a nice scallop out of the waistband for the cord before it falls off – the rest all do the job too, but they stood out)
  • Steak. Salmon. Fresh food. Fruit Juice and Barley Water (Mommy has to eat right, Daddy can survive on beer and chicken)
  • Mens PJs for mommy (breastfeeding nightshirts are crap things that look awful and make breastfeeding more awkward)
  • Nursing tops. (Mommy loves the Baby-B ones and they’re cheap enough, but there are loads out there (BabesWithBabies, GlamourMom, etc) and mommy doesn’t have to dress like it’s 1950 again just to nurse…)
  • Lots and lots of hand sanitisers. (Carex are nice and small; Miltons good but don’t inhale till your hands are dry or you’ll disinfect your lungs; Tommee Tippee are nonalcoholic so we use those when changing him but you have to airdry your hands for the last few seconds or they get sticky)

Some of the things on the list, I should point out, we couldn’t possibly have known about ahead of time, like the hats. Other things, like the cot bed, we knew ahead of time weren’t going to be used for months, but because there’s no legally mandated parental leave in Ireland the way there is maternal leave, and I’d only have two weeks of personal leave taken after the birth, we decided to get things well in advance so I could have them ready while Herself wasn’t housebound so she could help choose them. But we had the option to wait and spread the cost if we’d needed it.

Give all of that, what’s the list I’d give to myself from a few months ago to go get ready with?

Here you go:

  • 6-8 cellular blankets.   These have proven to be enormously useful multitaskers for us. 
  • 1 pack Baby wipes.   Just the one packet, it gets used during changes or before changes, to wipe poop off you, not off baby. These don’t go near baby if you can help it. Baby needs cotton pads and warm water and nothing else for the first few weeks, until the skin toughens up.
  • 2 tubs Vaseline.   Two large tubs should do it; use it during every change in the first week, and coat every fold and cranny that will be inside of the nappy – it acts as a barrier to stop the meconium from sticking to baby’s skin. After the first week, less is needed. And you don’t need the brand name product, the Tesco’s own product is just as good and slightly easier to spread.
  • 200 Cotton balls.   Two small (100 ball) bags, or one large bag (300 ball) – though the two smaller bags will make it easier to take some to the delivery ward with you. Mostly, these get used for cleaning up the cord, during bathtime, that kind of thing. For actual nappy changes, you use…
  • 500 Cotton pads.   We use the BabyKind brand, but any large square pure cotton wool pad will work; these make changes a damn sight easier. They’re more expensive than cotton balls, but believe me, the first real nappyful of fun will convince you it’s worth the extra few euros. They come in packs of 50 or 100 pads; we have about a thousand pads in the cupboard now and that’ll last for maybe a fortnight…
  • 2 packs newborn nappies.   Personally, we preferred the Huggies Newborn brand for the first week until the cord fell off; but really, there’s not much of a huge difference between the brands; the nappy hasn’t been invented yet that will always contain all gas&poop explosions!  😎  
  • 30 muslins.   Before I used them, I didn’t get the point behind them; afterwards, I say forget special burp cloths or special washcloths, and just buy lots and lots of muslins. Buy the white plain ordinary ones because they’re going to be spending time in dettol and very hot washes anyways. Larger sizes are better. Mothercare sell them in packs of 12; I’d buy three. But Tesco and everyone else carry them too, and frankly, they’re muslins, not black truffles. Generic brands are perfectly fine, if not better because you can buy more…
  • 2 nursing bras and 2 nighttime nursing bras.   Mothercare may be a bit of a rip-off for stuff, but at least their nursing bras weren’t designed by 70-year-old nuns. Baby blues are bad enough without Mommy having to wear something that looks like it was deliberately designed to be ugly. And the nighttime  ones are a lot more comfortable for Mommy at a time when comfort is really important!
  • 2 packs nursing pads.   Dude, just man up and buy them, you’ll have more embarrassing things to buy in the immediate future anyway 😎
  • 2 boxes ready-made, pre-sterilised disposable baby formula bottles.   Watch Dara O’Briain’s routine about political midwives in antenatal classes. Now substitute breastfeeding for mistrust-of-doctors and you get a taste for antenatal classes in Ireland today 😀 But the truth is that not every baby will breastfeed (I know of two that hated it) and not every mom can breastfeed, either for medical reasons (births don’t always go to plan and sometimes strong antibiotics will be part of your future and that can rule out breastfeeding) or because they just can’t (breastfeeding is like juggling – it’s a physical skill, and while almost everyone can learn it given time, some just can’t or don’t have that time). And if you can’t breastfeed, the kid has to eat *something* – and your job isn’t to promote the idea that breastfeeding is the best thing ever (even though every study says it’s the best option) – it’s the kid’s welfare. So have formula ready in case you need it. But not the powder. If something comes up and you need to go to formula, have a box or two of the pre-made ready-sterilised bottles handy. You could get the pouches of the ready-made formula and some bottles and teats and so on, but the ready-sterilised bottles is the easier solution, and by the time you get through them, you’ll have had the time to get the powder and kit you need for the longer term run. They’re far too expensive to be your daily feeding solution, but for a box or two as a one-time thing, they’re not that bad. Dunnes Stores carry them, so does the shop in Holles St. and several other places.
  • Steriliser.   You could use a pan and Milton; you could use a microwave model, you could go for an electic steam model like we did. If I had it to do over, I’d get an electric vegetable steamer, because then when it’s not needed as a steriliser anymore, I’d have an electric vegetable steamer (you can’t use it for vegetables and then soothers, obviously…). But you will wind up needing something, and you’ll need it for soothers in the first week at least. 
  • 10 daytime suits.   Divided between onesies and one-piece suits, with the split depending on the weather at the time and remembering that the big worry is overheating, not cold (you have 8 cellular blankets for pete’s sake…)
  • 5-7 vests.   The wrap-around kimono-style ones, plain white, simple, cheap (we got ours from Mothercare for about €20 for ten vests). These get worn under everything and changed whenever you change the nappy and there’s any blood on the inside of the vest – it’ll be from the cord, and that’s why the wrap-around ones are better; the vests are to stop the outer layer of clothing pulling on the cord. 
  • 1-2 hats.   You’ll need at least one for the delivery ward. You might need more when you get home, or baby might hate hats (like ours) – either way, they’re hats. They don’t need washing every day and if your baby turns out to be a fashion diva, you can afford to take the time to go buy more without panicing.
  • Sunhat.   Not just for sun – though if it’s sunny, you need this to go home from hospital – they’re bloody useful for any bright lights, indoors or out. Get the 3-6 month size, you want them oversized and floppy. 
  • Bath thermometer.   Special bath? Not needed really, the kitchen sink is fine (geez, fine, take out the dishes first if you have to be finicky about it). But lowering a baby into a body of water whose temperature you don’t know? Not a great idea. The floating-in-the-bathwater kind of thermometer is pretty convenient, but in a pinch you can use the baby thermometer, just clean it before and afterwards…
  • A baby bath towel with a hood.   The Clevamoma towels are neat, especially if you’re trying to bathe baby on your own; but the regular kind will do just as well especially if there are two of you doing the bathing. Keep the changing wedge by the bath if you can, to give you a convenient place to lay out the towel and lay baby into it after the bath.
  • Baby nail clippers.   You will need them, baby nails are sharp and baby arms have little coordination, resulting in lots of eyepoking and the like. Mittens help; clippers help more. If you figure out how to use them without wincing, please let me know how you did it 🙂
  • 10 pairs socks.   Again, just the plain ordinary white ones because they’ll end up in poop when you forget to take them off before a nappy change. You need 10 because half of them will be going on his hands as anti-scratch mittens (be sure they’re long enough to go right up past the knee/elbow).
  • Baby safe washing powder, washing machine and tumbledryer.   Yes, you probably have these, but they’re about to get a monster workout so if they need servicing, now’s the time…
  • Bucket.   We used a 12 litre plastic mop bucket with the mop squeezing attachment removed. Cost €3 in Heatons.
  • Dettol.   Goes in the bucket. Keeps poop-covered clothes and muslins from becoming biohazardous waste so that you only have to do a mucky wash every 2-3 days instead of daily.
  • Infant car seat.   Can’t go home without one. This you do have to buy new, unless you absolutely know the history of the car seat you’re getting second-hand.
  • Baby thermometer.   Rectal is the gold standard in US paediatric care. The studies on pubmed say that temporal artery, infrared skin and ear canal thermometers (the ones that all cost north of €50) are not as good as the rectal thermometers (which tend to cost around €10). Thing is, rectal thermometers are about as invasive as you get, and do carry a risk of injury if you treat your baby like kebab meat. So we got a set from Phillips with a rectal and an oral pacifier thermometer. Cost less than half the price of the fancier ones, and works better. What more could you ask for?
  • Vitamin D3 drops.
  • Infacol.   Seriously. Shut up and buy it. Thank me later.
  • 5-10 soothers.   Again. Seriously. Shut up and buy them. Keep two or three by the changing station in a sterile sealed container (tupperware is fine, just sterilise it every other day and don’t open it mid-change over the nappy), keep two or three by the moses basket, keep some in the nappy changing bag, keep some in the stroller if you have one – you just wind up needing them quite a bit. Don’t bother carrying one with you, you have little fingers for a reason and unless you’re a pianist or touch-typist, it’s finally their moment to shine (get a nail clippers, cut the little fingernail almost to the quick, keep the nail dull and clean – last thing you want is an infected cut on baby’s tongue). And no, a soother will not confuse a breastfeeding baby into not wanting to breastfeed.
  • Changing wedge & 4 covers.   You can get away with using a folded towel. You can get away without one at all. But we found that when our lad’s tummy got upset, the changing wedge was all he’d sleep on, because it was the softest air mattress in the house. So we’re buying another one. (Also, the shape keeps him safely on his back). And you’ll need spare covers. Even with a muslin laid under his bum at every change, he’s gonna get the wedge with poop or pee within 48 hours. Strip off the cover, dump it in the dettol bucket, put on a fresh one. 4 is enough to always have a fresh one to hand without getting OCD on the washing machine).
  • Car window sun shades.   I don’t like the suction cup ones and would prefer the electrostatic peel-n-stick ones, if I could find the things. Other than that, this one needs no comment really. And yes, they’re essential if the weather is good – you’ll use them on the drive home from the hospital.
  • Night light.   Lots of savings on stubbed toes. I like the groegg ones as they also act as a room thermometer, which is another essential – by the end of the first month or two, you won’t need it, but you kindof need to know if the bedroom’s too warm before baby overheats, since they won’t always cry when they’re too hot. 
  • Storage space.   We love our tallboy cabinet for some supplies and all the baby clothes, but we still need another large cupboard to keep all the changing supplies in. If you have a changing unit with a cupboard, this might well handle all that for you; if not, find another solution, because you’ll need it…
  • Nursing pillow.   Not just for nursing, this also acts as a good surrounding bolster for when he’s sleeping in our bed while we read or work around him, and they give great lumbar support too…
  • Hospital-style maternity pads and disposable underwear.   If the pad’s got wings, or is thin and dainty, it’s gonna be useless. Stop thinking Mothercare, start thinking Mother Russia. Childbirth ain’t prissy, and there’s gonna be some blood and mucus and poop, even after the birth. Hence the pads. The disposable underwear is because even the most industrial-looking pad won’t catch everything. Don’t bother with laundry – disposable underwear’s cheap and you’re just going to want to ditch it anyway after it’s used. This is the part of childbirth they don’t play up in all the melodramas and romantic novels, by the way, but look – you’ll be cleaning up black sticky poop for a week, this is going to be mild by comparison.
  • Steak. Salmon. Fresh food. Ready-made soups. Salads. Fruit Juice and Barley Water.   Mom will be between one and two units of blood down, and if she’s breastfeeding, that’s 750 calories a day she’s losing on top of that. There may also be stitches and antibiotics. She’s going to need to stay hydrated and to eat well, regardless of what Daddy eats. Frozen dinners were recommended to us a lot, but for the first week or two, we’ve not gone near them to be honest, except for ready-made soups. The steak and red meat is for iron, the protein for repairing damage, the fresh food for rebuilding blood cells, the hydration for breast milk and the salmon helps with the baby blues apparently. Also, if you know how to make blueberry pancakes, you will win so many brownie points it’s unreal…
  • Mens PJs.   I don’t know who designs breastfeeding nightshirts, but if they set out to design garments to humiliate new mothers and make them feel ugly, they couldn’t have done a better job. Men’s PJs are far superior if they’re the jacket-that-opens-in-front design that 99% of all normal men’s PJs are. Plus, they’re cheaper by a large margin. Buy them in dark colours to hide the inevitable small lactation stains, and buy them at least one size too large for Mommy.
  • Nursing tops.   There’s a host of these out there now, from BabesWithBabies who are great but expensive to Baby-B which mommy here loves, to GlamourMom to a dozen others. But get two or three which don’t look like something designed by 70-year-old nuns who think breastfeeding is too much like enjoying sex. Mommy will have enough to cope with with baby blues, she doesn’t have to be dressed like a catholic penitant to make matters worse (clothes won’t fix the problem, but at least nice ones won’t add to it). 
  • Lots and lots of hand sanitisers.   They don’t need to be huge, I like the Carex 50ml ones myself and they’re only €2-3 each, though we use the Tommee Tippee non-alcoholic one for nappy changing time just to save baby’s skin a little. Ideally you’d want one in every room in the house and one by the door, but at least have one in the room you use most in the house (be that living room or kitchen), one in every bathroom, one in the room you change nappies in, and one by the front door (right up there at eye level so you remember to get everyone coming in the door with a squirt – it’s not rude, E.Coli is commonly found on most people’s hands and while an adult system just deals with it, an infant system gets neonatal meningitis…).
  • Kitchen apron.   Doesn’t have to be new. Does have to cover as much of you as possible. Used during changes. Put up with feeling silly the first few times; the day you witness projectile pooping mid-change when there’s no nappy in place to catch the poop, it will cease to feel silly in a heartbeat.
    • But seriously, you don’t need the safety goggles. I mean, funny photo, but dude…

Also, some general notes:

  • Poop. It gets everywhere. You probably want to have a few new t-shirts and things for yourself as well as baby stuff. Dad should get some warm flannel plaid shirts. Yes, you’ll look daft, but baby will settle faster if he has his ear to your bare chest (the heartbeat calms them) and has a strongly contrasting black-and-white pattern on it, which black and white plaid works well for.
  • Sleep. Not to worry, you can get by without sleep for a year or two, right? Seriously, I think parenting needs to be classified as shift work, or you’ll both go postal in the first week.
  • Fancy baby clothes are great gifts and you will succumb, like I did, and buy a cute onesie or two. C’est la vie. Honestly though, the plain jane white cotton garments that you can wash at high temperatures are the better solution. And with vests, socks, mittens and the like, being plain white cotton and able to take hot washes is almost mandatory as they will get covered in blood and poop from day one and the vests will be right up against the cord.
  • Mothercare is nice for some things, and they have very helpful staff, and I don’t think I’d have bought the infant seat anywhere else really, but – we spent a ridiculous amount of money in there. I wince when I look at the total. I wince more when I realise that exactly the same products, from the same manufacturer, at the same quality were available for half the price or less in TK Maxx, a 30 second walk away. We have a lovely racist view of TK Maxx in some parts of Ireland (we apparently think it’s a lovely shop for our polish immigrants to use, from what I can tell), which confuses the daylights out of me, because I’ve been shopping there since college and I won’t buy kitchen kit anywhere else if I can help it; but even I didn’t realise how good their baby stuff is because I never looked at it. Seriously, walk through the place before you go to mothercare or mamas and papas or whereever.


And lastly, Google and Pubmed are your friends. Consult them often. Holles St. will answer your questions if you call them, and the public health nurses are great and like all nurses are excellent at the practical aspects of medicine; and they’ll give you a load of information, but – they’ll also tell you that the information may conflict with what the doctors tell you, or the antenatal or postnatal classes; and some of the leaflets we were given were…. well, whoever wrote that breastfed babys’ poop doesn’t stink needs to change a nappy and then rewrite their statement in the light of actual data. So read up on what the PHNs are going to tell you so it’s not unfamiliar territory, and so you can ask questions, and so you can understand what they’re talking about a bit better. It’s not about oneupmanship – they’re professionals and Irish nursing standards are actually pretty high despite the shambles that our healthcare system is in – it’s about having a clue about what’s going on. As a parent, that’s your job. Ignorance is something only people who don’t have dependants can afford to suffer from. You don’t have that option anymore.

On the upside, you get to take embarrassingly cute photos of your kids in funny onesies and save them for projection onto a screen during the best man’s speech at their wedding, so swings and roundabouts 😎

Apr 12

Holles Street delivery ward notes

Some notes about things we wish the antenatal classes would have told us that we’d find useful in Holles Street when Calum was being born…

  • Pump-action spray bottle filled with filtered water. Used on mom during the birth if she got too hot, and on her calves which were constantly itchy because of the hormones, and on dad’s face and mom’s face in the delivery ward after the birth because the hospital air is so dry, and when filled with warm water, on baby’s backside for changing time. Nice multitasker. Bought mine in the cooking section of hsw.ie of all places, but they sell them in lots of places and on ebay, and they should be quite cheap. Get a smallish one though, no point bringing a litre sized thing when you only want about 200ml at most.
  • Neurofen/Panadol/Hedex/whatever for dad. You’re not the patient, so the hospital can’t give you any form of pain meds, and these are just for you – mommy shouldn’t take your neurofen because they need to know what she’s on. Have them in the ward bag anyway – on the day after the birth you’re likely to have a monster headache because of the stress, and because you probably didn’t eat and drink properly the day before  And since all you want to do is focus on baby’s face a few inches from yours, the headache’s a bummer and chemicals are your friend…
  • Slippers for both mom and dad. Everyone tells mom to bring slippers for the ward because the floor is cold – that’s not why you really bring them though. You really bring slippers because it’s a hospital and they’re careful, but there’s still a risk of sharps on the floor. And since dad shouldn’t walk in off the street and put boots on the bed while sitting in the chair holding baby (because what if you put him on the bed afterwards to change him or check the nappy or whatever – you’ve no idea what you’ve walked through…), having slippers for wearing just in the ward is useful.
  • A pillow for daddy’s chair. You’re going to be sitting in a fairly uncomfortable chair for most of the day in the ward – and that can mean twelve hours or more – and the last thing you need is back pain as a result. So bring a pillow or a cushion or something. 
  • Hand sanitiser. It’s not paranoia. Swab your own hands right now and you’d find a disturbing amount of E.Coli and Group B strep bacteria on them (and you thought you’d washed your hands last time you went to the bathroom…). Your system can cope with it; a newborn’s can’t and it can cause neonatal meningitis, so before any visitors (or you) pick up baby, use the hand sanitiser. Keep it by the bed – Holles St. has alcohol sanitisers all over the place, but some people will walk right past them and up to the bed, so it’s handy to have one right there. And they don’t have to be large, the Carex 50ml ones are tiny. You can even get nonalcoholic and hypoallergenic ones if you need them.
  • A small bag inside your ward bag. We bought a mothercare set of baby lotions that came in its own zippered case with a handle; we left the lotions in the bathroom at home and used the case in the ward bag. It’s handy to keep the little things like lip balm and such together in the delivery room bag too, but it really shines after the birth when you put all the nappy-changing stuff into it, and when you have to change baby, you just grab that and take him down the hall to the changing room, instead of trying to juggle him, nappy bags, nappies, vaseline, spray bottle and so on. A nappy changing bag would be overkill, you just want a small valise.
  • Smartphone. Camera, phone, MP3 player, radio, all in one device. Also:
    • Facebook app. Gets photos up and family off your back quickly and lets you deal with hospital stuff faster than calling the few people you have time to call and then having the “Why did you call X and not me???” conversations with others.
    • Contraction timer apps. Utterly useless to us in the end, I’m afraid, but your milage may vary…
    • BabyESP (EatSleepPoop) app. Used it to track feeding times and nappy changes in the hospital, using it still. Lets you sync a single baby’s data over multiple devices which is handy. Android only though it seems. But there are many apps like this on every platform. It sounds like overkill, but we’re finding it makes things a lot easier. And you can show hard data to the PHN if you’re worried about something.
    • Podcasts and headphones. At a few points on the ward, mommy was sleeping and baby was sleeping on my chest and we’d be there for two or three hours at a stretch and you can’t move. Sometimes you’d blink and the time was over; other times, especially when I was tired, I stuck an earbud in one ear, left the other free to keep watch on the two of them and listened to the friday night comedy podcast, to material world, to IT conversations, to Science in Action, and so on.
  • Robinsons barley water and a large water bottle. Mommy has to keep hydrated, and that stuff makes it a lot easier to chug pints of water. The water bottles sold for people taking protein shakes and the like by health food shops work really well for this.
  • Along with the towels for mommy to shower with, bring another dark towel to change baby on. Holles St. has a changing room with changing units in it, but they don’t have mats on them (it’s a hard wooden surface) and they ask you to use your own towel rather than the blue towels they use for the cots and swaddling. You might also want to have your own bag of cotton wool balls – or even better, cotton pads like the ones Babykind make – because they keep them in the changing room but occasionally they run out and inevitably you’re there with everything laid out and prepped when you realise you’ve nothing to clean his bum with. And they’re kept in a cupboard down the hall, not in one in the changing room so you have to go find a nurse to get more if you don’t have your own stash.
  • A small tub of Vaseline. You don’t put much on a newborn’s bum when changing them (you won’t need sudocream or anything else); but smear a layer of vaseline on every time you change him for the first week, or until the meconium is fully gone. That stuff is quite sticky, and better it stick to the vaseline than to baby’s skin.
  • Men’s Pyjamas for mommy in dark colours, because they’re easy to doff for examinations or feeding, they’re more comfy than nightdresses and they have a pocket for things (btw, what idiot designs womens clothing so that mom’s clothing has no pockets when she needs to carry fifty things all the time?)
  • Shirts for daddy, in soft cotton or flannel, with some sort of alternating high-contrast pattern (plaid. Yay.) which open with buttons in front like normal. Babys calm fast when they hear a heartbeat, so open your shirt, lose the 1970s medallion, put his ear over your heart and trade dignity for peace and quiet 
  • The hoover. We brought baby home on the first day and he went nuts. Wouldn’t settle, wouldn’t stop crying any time we stopped talking to him. We finally figured out (we were a bit slow on the uptake with this one) that he’d had nine months in the womb where it’s really noisy; then birth which is very noisy; then three days on the delivery ward which goes from really loud and noisy to kindof relaxed but still with background noises; to the car ride home which was noisy; to the living room and silence. Poor thing must have though he’d suddenly gone deaf. Turned on the hoover and just left it run, it calmed him right down (still does, two weeks in, and still works for daddy, 35 years in). After an hour of that, we managed to wean him onto the radio, and over the last few days, he’s gotten more and more used to the quiet. But the hoover earned its wages that first day 
  • Takeaway menus. Seriously, by the end of the day we came home, we were so tired we couldn’t even face the effort of microwaving something to eat, so we just ordered pizza. I seriously wouldn’t recommend it as a habit though