With A Grain Of Salt blog has been redefining homesteading in an urban environment. On the blog, you will find discussion, recipes, and tips about a realistic approach to living a healthy, sustainable life and urban homesteading.
It's been almost two months since we brought Ben home. Seven weeks of sleepless nights, eight bottles sterilized twice a day, five types of pacifiers tested, two bottle cleaning brushes used until they broke, three times being peed on, roughly fifteen thousand diaper changes, and countless "We made him! Look at that face!" exclamations later, I finally carved out some time to write.
Before you get nervous - no, this is not turning into a site exclusively about motherhood and recipes for pureeing farm stand cruelty free baby food. I promise not to regurgitate what's been written about by countless others. Keeping this space platitude free is critical. Even as a new mother the last thing I want to read is yet another post about how beautiful motherhood is or how breastfeeding is the most difficult. No kidding. Also, the sky is blue.
Bringing Ben home, becoming a parent, it's every single emotion. Exhilarating, inspiring, frustrating, annoying, decadent, surreal... every possible feeling wrapped up into one big one that hits you like a brick flying through a glass window. At first I tried going about things as if nothing had changed - cleaning, cooking, checking email, trying to keep up with life in the same way. But, eventually, I slowed down. Or rather, forced myself to slow down. Trying to keep the same pace as before is unsustainable and not just because we're sleeping only four hours a night.
We're settling into this new life and trying to find balance and rhythm in our little family. Below, a few lessons learned and experiences gathered over the last two months, from deep within these sleepless trenches.
Two Months with Baby Ben
1. Sleeping when the baby sleeps is a big fat myth. Unless you have a housekeeper or nanny daytime naps are when it's time for laundry, dusting, cleaning, bottle sterilizing, laundry, dog walking, did I mention laundry?
Also, let's be real, when baby naps is the only time to indulge abandoned but well loved previous behaviors such as binge watching Billions while fixing a chipped manicure. Oh, and afternoon naps make me as groggy and grumpy as Ben. Unfortunately, the 5 S's don't work as well on a 33 year old woman.
2. You need coffee. So much coffee. BUT here's the thing - all coffee will remain unfinished. Don't even try to drink a whole cup in one sitting. There will be feeding, burping, swinging, shushing, and swaddling between sips. Thank goodness for the microwave. Learning to enjoy reheated coffee - huge part of the motherhood gauntlet.
3. It is incredible how much can be done while holding a baby in one arm. Two weeks ago I made a full dinner of pasta with meat sauce all while balancing Ben on my hip. There was even a chiffonade of basil involved! I've also watered plants, organized books, even lint rolled a pillow. Maybe when he goes to college I'll take up juggling.
Two days of diapers. two.
4. Baby has more outfit changes than Linda Evangelista in a '92 Versace show. Don't bother salvaging onesies. Just move onto the next one. Accept that you will probably never again outrun the laundry. (Yes, that reference dates me but, whatever. There are no models walking today that live up to the glory that were the 1990s Supers.)
5. Babies sleep better with noise. After two weeks of white noise playing endlessly in the apartment I felt like I was living in the world's most anticlimactic horror movie. With much experimentation we realized Ben falls asleep to Paul Simon. Not just falls asleep - he stays asleep. This was well and good until Paul Simon was playing so often that the mere beginning of "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard" made me want to cheerily sashay myself right out of the bedroom window. We had to break up with Paul.
We're now firmly planted in playing "thunderstorm" or "rain on a tin roof" sounds through Alexa. (It's really a brave new world when real rain outside your window isn't loud enough to satisfy the fourth trimester needs of a baby.) How long can two adults handle being fake rained on during clear, sunny, June days? Unclear.
6. Every baby movie ever wasn't lying. Boys pee straight up. No more explanation or description of the situation necessary.
7. Hold your breath when taking the diaper bag out of the Ubbi pail. Seriously, it's not worth it to breathe.
More to come soon but for now I'm going to go smell my baby's head.
bags under eyes brought to you by sleep deprivation and pure bliss.
Finally, after weeks of the same notification from Alexa, "41 degrees and cloudy with a chance of flurries", today felt like Spring. The last few weeks the days have been so grey it feels like we've been in an endless tug of war with winter. Opening the windows to let in a fresh breeze felt spectacular. Just what I needed to get into gear to finish off my last week of pregnancy on a super positive note.
Growing my very own watermelon!
More so than in previous posts, this year I feel like pressing RESET on everything. No surprise, really. At 38.5 weeks pregnant I am the size of a watermelon and nesting hard. My brain feels like scrambled eggs except when it comes to organizing closets, creating freezer meal plans, and reshuffling the pantry for baby bottle storage. Also, I channeled all of my neuroses and folded every single towel we own into a perfect square. I am told this is entirely normal behavior one week before your entire life changes.
In an effort to curtail irrational terrorizing of every linen closet and resorting of paper towels and pillowcases (for the third time in two weeks), I spent this week letting all my anxious energy out through transforming the apartment for warmer weather.
Over the last few days I arranged fresh flowers and put away everything that reminds me of winter: no more boots and no more puffy marshmallow pregnancy coat! Referencing seasonal posts from years past really helped me figure out what to tackle and stay motivated. In no particular order and with as much energy as my very round self could muster, I attacked each of the below. Hope this burst of warmth is as motivating to you as it was to me. Each post is linked so click away!
Then, once my home was relatively in order - I baked the best cookies of my entire life. For the record, cookies have never been my forte and they've never been my favorite. I'm mostly a chocolate chip girl and only on very rare occasions (somehow, cookies never satisfy a craving for me the way ice cream or brownies do.) That completely changed when I made these. I've made them twice since Passover (they're gluten/flour/leavening free) and vowed to never let my cookie jar be empty again.
Not too sweet, not too crunchy, not too soft. If I am the Goldilocks of cookies I finally found my perfect fit. Ok, I'm awful at analogies but these are SO good. Please forgive me, and make them this weekend!
Almond Meringue Cookies
3 cups almond flour
4 egg whites room temperature. reserve one for later in a separate cup.
1/3 cup buttermilk or whole milk
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
pinch of salt
rough chopped almonds, pecans, or walnuts
Meringue before I folded it into the dry ingredients. It will deflate as you incorporate it into the mixture.
Preheat over to 300F.
Beat 3 egg whites and the pinch of salt in a bowl with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form. The trick to egg whites is that all of your equipment must be totally dry. Not a single drop of water anywhere! Like the desert but even less. (Thanks, mom for this tip! Only took me 2-3 years to ask why I couldn't manage "stiff peaks".)
Combine all dry ingredients.
Gently fold the meringue into dry ingredients.
Add buttermilk and vanilla.
Stir to combine into dough. It will be very, very sticky.
Chill in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.
While the dough is chilling chop up your toppings and remember the egg white you set aside in a separate bowl. I used pecans but honestly any nut or even chocolate chips would work.
Scoop up slightly smaller than golf ball chunks of dough, roll into a ball.
Coat cookie dough ball in egg white followed by topping of choice. Flatten into patty... or cookie. Cookies are a type of patty, right? Whoa.
Place on greased baking sheet or parchment paper.
Bake cookies for 15- 20 min, until edges are a bit brown. Cool and then eat. Duh!
Alright, I'm going to spare you my usual song and dance of, "I can't believe I haven't written in so long! Holy crap, how has it been since August?? Can you believe it?! I can't believe it." Truth is, I can believe it. The last few months, have been nothing but travel. Not complaining, but even the best hotel bed doesn't compare to home and cuddling up with these fellows.
To put it in perspective, I haven't been in our apartment or kitchen or living room or bedroom for more than 15 days over the last 3 months. Insanity, right? Right. Even though the whirlwind of travel which has marked the last year isn't slowing down, I've finally made the decision to learn to live in it instead of letting myself be carried away by it. What the hell does that even mean, you ask? It means that the worst thing when you're away a lot is to come home every weekend and feel like all you can do is catch up on having a personal life. Opening an empty fridge, sorting through endless laundry, it doesn't add up to quality time spent at home. Basically, first chance I had, I sat down, and made a plan for how I'm going to tackle the next few months of being away 2-3 days a week without losing my f-cking mind. (Yes, I'm swearing in this space now. But only when the occasion calls for it.)
First things first, I went to the grocery and made a real meal.
I didn't want something insanely time or labor intensive because well, it's me. Also, when you're working with a limited amount of time at home you want to spend as much of it as possible with your butt on the couch next to your dogs and husband and not at the stove. The other thing is that I wanted enough food to last us a few days so that we could really enjoy some time without having to worry about cooking again. The other other thing is that it's chilly, finally, and I've been craving chili.
Weirdly enough, it was hard for me to find a recipe to settle on for a nice slow cooker chili. So many options, so many of them from weird somewhat unreliable to me sources like Betty Crocker or Stouffer's. I don't love the idea of getting my recipe from a corporate behemoth and some of the fancier ones were just too fancy. I'm sure you probably have yours, or your grandma's, but I finally put together my own, and of course I want to share it. Also, I made the best damn cornbread of my life, all because I listened to my husband and added 7UP to it. Don't judge until you've tried how insanely fluffy it makes the bread coming out of the oven. Seriously, don't judge. I did and was wrong. This cornbread is so good I've had it for breakfast every morning since.
Chill, Chili + CornbreadChili
2 lbs ground beef/chicken whichever you prefer or have on hand.
1 large yellow onion, diced.
2 cloves garlic, minced.
2 cans crushed tomatoes, with juices. I used the basil kind because it's what I had and they worked great.
1 can tomato paste.
3 cans kidney beans or black beans, your choice. Drained + rinsed.
2 habanero peppers, diced.
1 tbsp. paprika
1 tbsp. chili powder
1 tbsp. cinnamon
1/2 tbsp. cayenne
1/2 tbsp. red pepper flakes
1 tbsp. cumin
1 tbsp. salt
1 tbsp. pepper
1 bay leaf
For toppings: cheddar, scallions, sour cream, some people like cilantro - we are not those people but maybe you are?
In a large skillet, sauté onions until they start to sweat and turn golden.
Add beef or chicken (or both!) and cook until no longer pink. Drain!
Take the onion/beef mixture and throw it into your slow cooker.
Mix all the spices in a large bowl and dump them in too. Don't forget that spices are a really individual thing - some like more some like less. Please season according to your taste buds, not mine. It's your life, your chili. (But do remove the bay leaf before you eat, please.)
Mix well. Really, really, really well.
Set your slow cooker for 4 hours on high or 6 hours on low. Ignore it until the smell of chili consumes your house. Start the cornbread an hour before you're ready to eat.
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup cornmeal
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup veg. oil
1 cup buttermilk or whole milk
1 cup 7UP or Sprite or plain seltzer if you just cannot with the soda.
1/8 stick butter, softened.
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Mix all dry ingredients + wet ingredients in separate bowls.
Butter the hell out of a cast iron skillet. (If you don't have one, use a normal baking pan. Totally fine.)
Combine ingredients, mix well, pour into skillet.
Bake for 40 min or until toothpick stuck in the middle comes out clean.
Dot the top of the cornbread with butter, watch it melt. Maybe drool a little? We did.
Now, throw a slice of the cornbread into a bowl. Top it with scoops and scoops of chili. Top that chili with cheddar, sour cream, scallions. Eat a serving, then eat another serving. Feel like you ate too much? Good. Repeat the next day.
This is a crucial step in the process: cornbread first, dollops of chili second. You want the most mush, trust me.