Monday, March 28, 2016

What I've Been Cooking Lately

While I haven't had a ton of time to blog lately (the posts you've seen have been compiled over several weeks, pieced together here & there), I have still been cooking.  When I went back to work we quickly realized we needed to do some meal planning so we didn't starve to death or end up eating pizza every night.  Having a meal plan written down for the week helps us to figure out who's cooking what, which nights we won't need to cook anything and can just eat leftovers, and helps us to make sure we have enough leftovers for lunches.  

I've been ever-so-slowly working my way through my Recipes to Try on Pinterest. I try to keep a running list of what recipes I want to try next alongside my menu plan for the week, so I can cross things off as we use them and then add new recipes based on what's on sale or what we need to use up in the fridge. So, here's what I've tried recently, and my thoughts/tweaks to those recipes:

Easy Weeknight Chicken Parmesan - This was the recipe found inside a can of Progresso  Fire Roasted Tomato Recipe Starters in our pantry.  I've used a few of these Recipe Starters and have thus far been underwhelmed.  They all have a pretty "prepackaged" flavor.  I added a ton of garlic and basil to this sauce, which helped.  We used the excess sauce to make a pasta side dish.
"Chicken parm you taste so good..."  Thanks, Manning.

Slow Cooker Chicken Enchilada Soup:  This one was practically perfect as-is. I made it for my church small group and everyone requested that I send them the recipe. I did use more cumin (probably closer to 2-3 teaspoons) and used smoked salt instead of regular--what can I say, I like my Mexican dishes a little smoky!

Crockpot Spaghetti Squash & Meatballs:  This is possibly the easiest meal I've ever made, and it was really tasty.  You literally cut the squash in half, scoop out the seeds, plop the two halves into the crock, then pour in a jar of sauce and toss in some frozen meatballs, set to high for 3 hours, then go back to playing with your kid.  Perfect.

Crockpot Mashed Potatoes:  This one ended up being a flop for me, but I think I accidentally used too much milk--I also think it would have worked better with russets instead of red potatoes.  Reds have a tendency to not be as fluffy, and when I OD'd on milk the end result was a gluey mess.

Crock Pot Beef & Broccoli:  This one was also a flop.  The meat completely fell apart after having been cooked for 8 hours on low, so we essentially had shredded beef & broccoli over rice.  The sauce also didn't really ever thicken up, and was sweeter than I would have liked, so we added extra soy and sriracha. 

Baked Crispy Sweet Potato Wedges:  While not as crispy as I had hoped, these were still delicious.  Great as a side with burgers or brats.
All grilling best when completed by The Hubs with his young apprentice.

Hummus Crusted Chicken:  The hummus "crust" never really got crunchy, but it DID keep the chicken nice and moist and even my father-in-law, who doesn't like hummus, said this was a really tasty dish. I used Sundried Tomato Basil Sabra hummus, and seasoned both sides of the chicken with Cajun seasoning before adding the hummus.

Baked Garlic Paprika Chicken:  This was tasty. I recommend using smoked paprika.  Also--I was lazy and didn't heat the oil & spices together--I just tossed them in a gallon Ziploc and then added the chicken to the bag, tossing to coat.  Still a delicious result.

Biscuit Waffles 'n Gravy:  Technically only "pinspired" by Pinterest, and the trend of waffling everything these days.  We stuck some Grands biscuits in the waffle iron, and my Hubs made his famous sawmill gravy.  The biscuits were a little tough, but tasty--and no fork required, you could just pick them up & eat them.  Good schtuff.

Cajun Black Bean Soup:  My soup did not end up as creamy as I would have liked--I could never get the puree to be thin enough, so it just had some bean chunks in it. I did use Camellia brand black beans. However, flavor-wise this was delicious.  Also--before you start this recipe, note the long cook time.  I didn't and we ended up eating dinner at about 8pm that night. :)

Mushroom & Kale Ramen:  This was a nice spin on regular ramen.  I used baby portabellas instead of shiitake, but it was still a yummy bite. I also added a bit of fish sauce because...well, because it's in our fridge, and it makes me feel fancy.

Ravioli Lasagna:  We didn't really follow any recipe exactly, but the recipe under the link is close to what we made.  I used frozen cheese raviolis from Aldi, 1 lb of sliced smoked sausage links, 1 jar Italian sausage pasta sauce, and tons of mozzarella & Italian cheese blend.  Just layered the ingredients and baked for 40 minutes at 350F.

PF Chang's Style Lettuce Wraps:  These were super-tasty & really easy to throw together. I will definitely be making again.

Herbed Chicken & Pasta:  This dish had great flavor but ended up being WAY too salty for our taste. I think if you could find a low-sodium version of the soup mixes it might help, or just eliminate one of the mixes (either the garlic mix or the onion soup mix).

There's a few other things I've made recently but they were tinkered with enough (or are Cajun enough) to warrant their own post, so I'll save those for later.  You know...when I have time. :)

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Thirsty Thursday: The "Honey I'm Home" (Ginger Honey Pineapple Cocktail)

Our friends recently decided to host a throwback 50s style cocktail party, and it was SERIOUSLY fun.  I talked about the jalapeno bacon deviled eggs that we brought in an earlier post, but now it's time to talk about the COCKTAILS!
Everyone was tasked with bringing a bottle of booze, while the host provided an assortment of mixers and garnishes.  There was a wall of classic cocktail recipes for those who wanted to play mixologist.  Me, I was happy with a good ol' amaretto sour (coincidentally, one of the only "hard liquor" cocktails I would drink in college. I know, I'm such a girl.)

My friend Chelsea created this signature cocktail to accompany the theme of the party.  Many thought it was a little heavy on the ginger but I LOVED it.

INGREDIENTS:
2 oz honey-pineapple vodka
2 oz tonic water (could alternately use sparkling/seltzer water for a fizzy version...or even just ginger ale)
1 oz honey ginger simple syrup
fresh pineapple, honey & turbinado sugar (to garnish)

DIRECTIONS:  
In a shaker, mix the vodka and simple syrup with ice and shake to combine.  
Dip the rim of the glass in a small plate of honey, and then subsequently into a small plate of sugar to create the sugared rim.  
Fill the glass with ice, pour in the vodka mixture, and top with tonic water, and then garnish with a slice of pineapple.
Enjoy!

Monday, March 21, 2016

Jalapeno Bacon Deviled Eggs

Our friends recently decided to host a throwback 50s style cocktail party, and it was SERIOUSLY fun.  We got a babysitter for the evening so we could live it up like some wild & crazy kids! 
As part of the plan, all attendees were required to dress in their 50s finery, bring an appetizer, and a bottle of booze so we could craft classic cocktails (more on that later...probably on a Thursday?) 
I'm so proud of my group of friends--we went all out with the period-appropriate appetizers.  There was a pineapple-shaped cheese ball, puffed pastries, a crock full of meatballs, even a seafood aspic terrine (aka "meat jello").  
One of the tastiest cheeseballs I've ever had.

We were all a bit intimidated by the terrine--myself because I'd sworn off aspic after working with them at Martin's in New Orleans.  However, I decided to be brave--and I'm glad I did because it was a truly tasty work of art.
Be brave, H & C!

For our part, I used my mom as inspiration--and deviled eggs are always her go-to.  But, we decided to mix it up a bit, and make jalapeno bacon deviled eggs.  NOTE: We have a few friends who are vegetarian, so I made half the batch sans bacon, and topped these with sliced pickled okra to separate them from the bacon-laden ones.

Seriously wish I had one of those old-skool deviled egg trays!  Might have to see if I can track one down at the thrift shop.
We got a ton of compliments on these, so I'm thinking it might now my MY go-to gathering fare.  Our recipe was "pinspired" by this recipe, but I tweaked it a fair bit so my recipe is below.

INGREDIENTS:
1 dozen large eggs, hard-boiled, cut in half
3/4 cup Light Miracle Whip
1/4 cup yellow mustard
8-10 pickled jalapeno rings, seeds removed, minced
1-2 tsp brine from pickled jalapeno jar
1/2 tsp sugar
6 pieces bacon, cooked (I used thick cut applewood smoked bacon) NOTE: If you decide to make half your batch vegetarian friendly, only use 3 slices of bacon.
1/2 tsp smoked paprika, plus more for decoration
1 thin/young green onion, minced for decoration (I used a young shoot from my windowsill green onion jar)
2 pickled okra, sliced (optional, use for decoration if you're making half the batch vegetarian)

DIRECTIONS:
Remove the yolks from the halved eggs, and place into a small bowl.  Then add the Miracle Whip, mustard, brine, sugar, and paprika, and whip until smooth. Tweak spices to taste--I like my deviled eggs to have a good "twang" from the mustard.  Now add in the minced jalapenos and stir until well combined.

Cook the bacon, pat off any excess grease, and then crumble, saving 12-24 larger crumbles for decoration (depending on whether you make the full batch with bacon or not).

If you're making only half with bacon, then at this point, scoop half of your mixture into a ziploc bag, and then snip off the end to use it as a piping bag.  Pipe the mix into half your egg halves.  If there's any leftover in the bag, place it back in the bowl.

Now add in the crumbled bacon (except what's reserved for decoration) and mix well.  Place all of the remaining mix into the piping bag, and finish filling the rest of the eggs.

Now top the bacony eggs with a piece of bacon (you could also add an extra slice of pickled jalapeno if you like), and top the non-bacon eggs with the slices of pickled okra.  Dust the entire tray with paprika and minced green onions.

If you don't have a fancy deviled egg tray, you can use a 8x8 or 9x11 pan and place paper towels in the bottom.  The towels will absorb any excess moisture and keep them from slipping around in the pan.

P.S. A bonus shot of that seafood aspic...because I know you wanted a close up. ;P
Crab, shrimp, corn, tomato, avocado and cilantro.  It tasted similar to ceviche so I actually loved it.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Thirsty Thursday: Irish Channel Coffee

In honor of St. Patrick's Day, we'll be totally cliche and have an Irish Coffee.  BUT...because this is a Cajun Food blog [in theory], we'll put a NOLA spin on it.
Photo courtesy of cresentcityliving.com

Those not from NOLA may not be aware, but the Irish have strong historic ties to Louisiana; in fact, by 1850 one in five New Orleans residents was an Irish immigrant, forming the largest Irish population in the South.  The neighborhood just south of the Garden District is known as The Irish Channel for those who settled there in the 19th century, while another large community of Irish immigrants populated the Irish Bayou area in current East New Orleans.
Sadly, these 1800's immigrants likely never had an "Irish Coffee", as the drink was invented in the 1940s.  It was brought back to the U.S. in 1952, and much like the traditions of shamrocks, leprechauns and pots o'gold, wedged itself into our perception of our ginger-haired neighbors across the pond.

HOWEVER, if Irish Channel dwellers HAD ever made themselves an Irish Coffee, I'd like to imagine it was made with good New Orleans Style chicory coffee... and perhaps this tasty pecan praline liqueur I found recently.
Proudly made in New Orleans!

NOTE: I am fully aware that this is a very foofy version of an Irish Coffee, and that the traditional version is made with whiskey and brown sugar, with heavy cream floated on top.  However, I'm not much for whiskey, I had Cool Whip in the house, and this is MY blog.  So suck it. :)

INGREDIENTS:
4-6 oz strong chicory coffee
2 oz Irish Cream
2 oz Pecan Praline liqueur
whipped cream to top 

INGREDIENTS:
In a tall coffee mug, combine the Irish cream and praline liqueur.  Pour hot coffee over, and then top with whipped cream (I used a ziploc bag to pipe the Cool Whip on top).  Add a dash of cinnamon or nutmeg for garnish.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Mom Guilt

I recently discovered (thanks to a fellow mom friend) the Podcast "One Bad Mother".  And I LOVE it.  They vent about things I can relate to (newborn with a super-serious face who cries every 2 hours and doesn't smile yet?  Been there, done that!), and every episode features both a "Genius" and a "Fail" moment, a venty rant from a mom who is on the brink of a nervous breakdown, and ends with the hosts telling us all, "you are doing a GREAT job".  Because we all need to hear that.  Lest the Mom Guilt get the better of us. (Awesome podcast about Mom Guilt behind that link.) Seriously--it could be a game, right?  If it weren't so sucky, and if there were an actual prize other other sleeplessness.


Granted, I'm still new to the ranks, and I have 20+ years of guilt to go, for new and interesting things.  But here's a few of my current faves.

1. Being a Working Mom:  This one gets me.  I love my job, I love my coworkers, I feel validated by the work that I do.  I make a really good living doing it.  But because my husband & I (currently) have no debt, we technically don't *need* my income.  We could live without it--about 30% of it goes into my retirement savings before I even see my check.  Am I being greedy by continuing to work?  I've read articles that talk about "how to afford being a SAHM", which noted that the median monthly income for women was about $3000 (FYI: median monthly income for a dude is about $3450--but we can save gender pay gaps for another post) and talks about how once you factor in taxes and daycare and work clothes (seriously?  Who is spending $50/month on work attire?), you actually almost have a net gain by staying home.  Which is great, if your monthly income is actually close to that median. But when I start plugging in MY real numbers, it's nowhere near that.

Some moms HAVE to work to make ends meet.  Is it wrong to be a mom who chooses to work even if she doesn't HAVE to for financial reasons? Of course the answer is a resounding "no"; there are dozens of articles about how children benefit from being in a two-working-parent household.  My son will grow up seeing both parents working as partners, sharing responsibility for finances and household chores, challenging passe gender roles.  He will likely rely on both of us equally since he doesn't spend more time with one or the other parent.  He will have more opportunities to travel and explore the world because his parents have more disposable income.  We'll be able to contribute more to his college fund.  He will [hopefully] be a totally awesome, well rounded kid.   

And here's the thing: I'm the child of a working mom.  I started going to a sitter when I was about 4 weeks old.  Do I harbor any kind of resentment toward my mom for not being a SAHM?  No.  I loved my sitter--she was an older lady who watched me and several of my cousins, so it was like having an extra set of grandparents--we actually called her "Grammy".  I can't even say I've ever wondered about how life would be different if my mom had stayed at home instead of working. I've never thought about it.  I was well cared for and I have great memories of my sitter.  She taught me to garden and sew, and I loved playing "School" in the basement with the other kids. I remember the swing and great climbing trees in the backyard. I remember watching Captain Kangaroo, Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers, Reading Rainbow, Square One, and 3-2-1 Contact (also, the Frugal Gourmet, which may have been the kernel of culinary interest that eventually fueled this blog). I also remember hanging out with her while she watched her "stories" (which were bold, beautiful, young, and restless). I remember drinking a lot of Tang and instant tea, and getting a special sweet treat (usually a Hostess cherry pie) on Fridays if I'd been good all week.  I had a good great childhood.  So why do I get to feel guilty for giving my kid the same thing I had? 


2. Breastfeeding for Less Than 1 Year:  My mom was only able to nurse me for the first 4 weeks before she had to go back to work.  I turned out fine [debatable].  I made it my personal goal to make it to 6 months, because it seemed doable--the first 3 months I'd be home on maternity leave, so what's another 3 months of pumping at work?  Plus, several studies said "breast is best for the first 6 months" (AAP & WHO...or so I thought).  So BAM.  That was my goal.  But now I hear about different recommendations from AAP and WHO stating that at least ONE YEAR is best for baby...WHO even goes so far as to recommend up to 2 years.  TWO YEARS OF PUMPING AT WORK?  No thank you.  As far as continuing past 6 months, we haven't hit that deadline yet...and I'm not opposed to continuing to nurse for a while and pump if it's not a huge inconvenience and as long as my body is producing enough...but I'm not going to stress about it.  Nor am I going to start shelling out a bunch of extra money for Mother's Milk tea or lactation cookies if things start tapering off.  Does that make me a bad mom?  I'd like to think not.  I already seclude myself in a bathroom for lunch every day to pump--I think that's pretty self-sacrificing.

3. Using (off-brand) Formula: I ranted about formula in a previous post, but to recap--no mom should have to feel guilty about feeding her child.  If your child is healthy and has a full, happy belly, you are doing a great job and deserve a cookie (or five).  And yet, we feel guilty if we have to give our kid something other than boob milk.  And then, even when tata juice is no longer an option, we feel guilty if we give our kid anything "less than [second] best".  Is that organic, non-GMO, brand name soy-based formula really better for our kids than the store brand? Or is the store brand really just the name-brand stuff in a generic package?  [For the record--the milk coming out of my tatas isn't organic or non-GMO, either.]  Is our child going to develop a hormonal imbalance, growth defect, or just be stupider than his classmates 5 years down the road because we wanted to save money? I'd like to think the FDA cares enough about the future of this country that they wouldn't let us haphazardly poison our kids. (That being said...stay up on any product recalls, obvz.)

Ultimately, it comes down to what works best for your kiddo's digestive system--some babies don't tolerate off-brands well.  Conversely, some babies don't tolerate the brand name and end up finding a store brand that works great.  Again--the thing that should REALLY matter is that your kiddo is happy, healthy, and has a full belly.  So if you can achieve that spending $1300/year on store-brand formula, you are NO LESS AWESOME than a mom who chooses to (or has to, because of her kiddo's needs)  buy the high-end stuff and spends closer to $3000/year.  We got a couple month's worth of free samples when Baby J was born, all brand name, but more than likely when that's all gone, we'll be moving to Target or Wally-Hell brand as long as they agree with his system.

In another 7-8 months, I'm sure I'll be having Mom Guilt over whether we give our kid regular milk or start buying organic.  So yeah...it never ends.

That's a good segue into talking about food, right? 

4. Feeding Too Early/Not Feeding the Right Things:  As I've mentioned before, we got the OK from our pediatrician to start experimenting with a spoon and cereal at his 4 month appointment, because he had good head control and could sit up with just a little support.  She did tell us to wait until he was about 6 months before introducing any "real" solid foods.  But this then sparked a debate amongst fellow moms, since *most* pediatricians recommend waiting until 6 months to start trying foods.  So then there's this internal debate of "do we go by what our doctor says, who is basing her approval on his personal developmental progress, or do you wait for an arbitrary date because it's 'generally accepted'?"  Then there's the debate over whether or not starting with cereal is even useful and whether you should just do baby-led weaning and start with finger foods.

(In reality, you'll likely be so frustrated and overwhelmed by the entire thing that you just forget about it until he's at least 5 months old.)

Let's just summarize:  as a mom, you get to freak out about everything that goes into or onto your child's body.  Even if you're nursing--are YOU eating the right things to make your milk as high quality as possible?  Then the time comes for outside foods, and we feel pressured to give our child the very best--even if WE OURSELVES don't eat the very best.  Everything is treated like it could kill your kid, and NOBODY agrees on anything.  So do you splurge on the organic oatmeal cereal?  Or do you just stick the oatmeal that's already in your pantry in a blender and grind it down super-fine?  Does it ultimately matter if it's really just a training tool and he's only going to be eating like a few teaspoons a day until you decide to try "real" food?  
 "Toes are organic, right?"

As a scientist, I could drive myself nuts reading through articles about what pesticide was found in what food and then back-researching to see what the actual legal limits for that chemical are so I can make an "informed" decision about whether or not to care about that finding (because it's my actual job to know that just because something was detected doesn't mean it's "contaminated").  But doing that for 
Every. 
Single. 
Thing. 
that goes into my child's mouth is likely to occupy WAY too much of my time.  Does that make me a bad mom, or just a sane person who would rather play with her kid on the floor than do research?

5. Not Getting Enough Tummy Time:  Our doctor recommended at least 15 minutes a day.  Some resources say at least 30 minutes a day.  But ultimately--our kid is at day care for 8-9 hours a day (see Mom Guilt #1) and we have no idea how much tummy time he gets there.  We try to make sure he gets at least 15 minutes a day on the weekends, and we spend most of our at-home time in the evenings playing on the floor.
"Who is that dead-sexy baby in the mirr--oh wait.  That's me."

Oh, and at a certain point, they learn to roll from belly to back--so after that point, if they don't wanna Tummy Time, they ain't gonna Tummy Time.

6. Flat(ish) Head: Another good segue here.  At our 2 month appointment, our nurse noted that Baby J's head was a *skosh* flat on the back, but wasn't concerned about it.  Because that's the benefit of getting to be the nurse--she gets to say something and walk away and not go home with the baby with the skosh-flat head and then worry about it constantly.  She's not the one who will now be obsessed with trying to get in enough tummy time or who will be searching on Amazon for anti-flat head pillows or tortle caps (not that we ever bought either, but I've read a lot of reviews).  She's not the one who will stare at the back of her son's head every day, trying to determine if the flatness is improving or getting worse.

At his 4 month appointment, the pediatrician also noted he was a little flat, but that everything was still symmetrical and that we shouldn't worry about it, as long as he was still getting plenty of tummy time (cue Mom Guilt #5, which causes Mom Guilt #1, etc).  The fact is--the "Back is Best" campaign is producing a bunch of babies who will (at least temporarily) have a flat-ish head because they're sleeping on their backs for 12+ hours a day.  And short of babywearing every time your child takes a nap (or sleeps at night), it's just unavoidable.  And yet...we still get to feel guilty.
"No worries, Mom...my head is just fine. Now let's talk dinner..."

7. Not Using Cloth Diapers:  I may be an environmental scientist, but I'm not a crunchy one.  I briefly researched cloth diapers back before we got preggo, and then set it aside.  Do I regret the fact that 5,000-6,500 diapers will end up in a landfill over the course of my kid's life? I'm not proud of it.  But we knew a) it would be harder/possibly more expensive to find a daycare that was willing to mess with cloth diapers, and b) the cost savings wasn't there for us.  Real world studies of the cost of cloth diapering showed an investment of around $1000 just for Year 1.  However, given that we were gifted our first 5 months' worth of diapers through baby showers, and then shop sales for diapers when they hit a target price point of 11 cents/diaper* or less, we will actually spend less than $700 over the course of 3 years.  

*Easiest way for us--stocking up on Target's store brand diapers. These are normally about 17 cents/diaper. Target periodically runs promos where if you buy two bulk packs, you get a free $25-30 gift card.  We then save that gift card and use it the next time we buy diapers (waiting 'til they run that promo again), effectively cutting the price to about 10-11 cents a diaper.


8) Letting Your Child Sleep Anywhere Other Than A Crib:  This one wracked me for months, but I've since calmed down a bit.  Our son has always slept at night in a crib--we started him there from Day 1, never did a bassinet and his crib is in his room across the hall from ours.  He sleeps great in his crib at night.  But he just doesn't nap well in one.  So we've always had to use a swing or bouncer, or hold him while he naps (that last one less so these days, but there were plenty of times that I had to put him in the baby wrap while I was on maternity leave just to get him to fall asleep).  He falls asleep in his carseat, and if we rock his infant carrier while we're out (say, having dinner at a restaurant), he'll generally conk out (if he's tired enough).  Do I worry about him getting "bucket syndrome"?  Not really, because these days the only time he's in his swing or bouncer (while at home) IS to take a nap.  If he's awake he's hanging out with us or playing on the floor.  He might use his Bumbo and/or exersaucer for about 15-20 minutes a day. I do know they have to use swings and exersaucers & other "containers" periodically at his daycare, and I don't know *how* much time he spends in them (Mom Guilt #1), but I do know he's not showing any signs of developmental delays, so until that's an issue, I'm not going to worry.
Chillin' like a villain.

9. Compilation Guilt:  Some days just start out bad, and every tiny thing stacks up into one craptastic pile that makes you wonder why you signed up for the job.  My son's first day at his new day care was like that.  First, I accidentally scared him when I went in to wake him up for the day.  I turned off the fan we use for white noise, which makes a "click".  Lil' Man was *awake*, but totally zoned out and probably about to drift back into Sleepytime, so he flailed when he heard the click and immediately started crying.  He calmed down while nursing, and was fine after, but he REFUSED to give me any smiles that morning.  He'd smile at Dad, but not Mom. #gutwrenching  

"No smiles for you. But can I interest you in a chew toy?"

Then I had to take him to his new day care, which was a mishmash of paperwork and chatting with another mom and telling the caregiver how he takes his bottles while handing my son over to a stranger... and then as I was leaving, I realized I hadn't given him a hug & kiss goodbye.  He was totally fine, playing already, but it broke my heart.  And THEN, as I was driving to work, I realized I forgot to put wipes in his bag, and that I hadn't labeled any of his stuff, like the paperwork I was holding had requested that I do.  And I felt like a crap mom.  Throw some PMS and a broken coffeemaker in the mix...and it's just a bad day.

So ladies, let's hear it--what's your *favorite* brand of Mom Guilt? 
(Note: all comments require approval, so when it doesn't show up right away, that doesn't mean it didn't come through. I will approve it and respond ASAP.)

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Thirsty Thursday: Rosemary Ginger Spritzer

A while back I decided to host a wine tasting and fancy cheese party at my house.  
Since I'm nursing I still can't go too crazy with the booze; we had a few other non-drinkers there so I decided to make a non-alcoholic cocktail for us to enjoy.  I'm including both versions of this recipe so you can decide whether to get schnockered or not.

INGREDIENTS:

Rosemary Ginger Simple Syrup:
1 cup sugar
2 Tbsp rosemary leaves, roughly chopped
1 ginger herbal tea bag (original recipe called for fresh ginger, but I didn't have any on hand, so I steeped the tea bag in the simple syrup instead) - I used Stash's Ginger Lemon, which is my fave.
1 cup water

Combine these ingredients in a small saucepan; cook over low heat until sugar dissolves, then set aside & let steep for at least an hour while it cools.


Then, strain the syrup into a pitcher and add the following:

2 (12 oz) cans ginger ale
2 cups orange juice
1/2 cup lemon juice
BOOZY VERSION: 2 bottles dry champagne
NON-BOOZY: One 2L bottle sparkling water

Serve with rosemary sprigs for garnish.


BTDubs: Leftovers from a wine & cheese party make for a truly indulgent lunch the next day at work.


Monday, March 7, 2016

Adventures in Parenting: The 5 Month Mark

Another month down.  We may be getting the hang of this whole "parenting" thing...which must mean that EVERYTHING is about to change. 
Chillin' w/ his Yodas.

Our little man has put on an extra pound since his 4 month checkup; he now laughs every day and has developed a love for standing (with Dad's assistance).  The Hubs is convinced he'll just skip that whole "scooting/crawling" thing.  
Oddly though, he seems to have regressed and forgotten how to roll over from belly to back--even though he did it like 6 times in a row on his 4-month-i-versary.  He gets realllllly close, but doesn't realize he just needs to pitch that giant noggin of his sliiiightly further and gravity will take care of the rest.  So then he just gets mad and loudly requests that I do it for him. (I hear this will be trend for the next 18 years.)  He desperately wants to roll from back to belly, but hasn't quite got the momentum yet, so instead he just arches his back while on his side and ends up spinning around like the world's slowest breakdancer.

He's also discovered his toes, which are fascinating and MUST go in his mouth (much like everything else he can wrap his mitts around).

Here's everything else that has happened in the last month!

1. "Houston, We Have Toofers."  The first one poked through on 2/12/16, and the second made it's way to the surface on 2/18/16.   We weren't even the first people to discover it, which sort of sucks.  My sis-in-law was babysitting while we were out on a date, and after we got out of our movie, there was a text and a photo waiting "did you know *Baby J* is cutting a tooth?"
Pardon my son's nose-boogins.

Cue the Mom Guilt.  We were out having a good time, while Someone Else found his First Tooth.  We had been with him just 2 hours before--was it there then and we just didn't notice?  How DARE we not notice a tiny tooth breaking through his gums!  It sorta put a dampener on the rest of the evening.  Mostly I just started to think about how with him being at day care 5 days a week, there may be a lot MORE Firsts that we miss...and I kinda hate it. (Separate post about Mom Guilt to come later.)
Funny how two teeth can change his whole appearance.

2. Experiments with Spoon Feeding:  At his 4 month visit, our pediatrician said since Baby J had good head control and was good at sitting up with just a little support,  we could start trying to see if he's interested in cereal.  He generally sits on our laps while we eat meals at home, grabs at our plates, and loves to watch us use utensils.  So we started "experimenting" a little...since he loves to lick everything right now anyway. One day The Hubs let him lick a carrot, which produced a "WTF" face (a few weeks later we let him lick a lemon and got the same face).  Then one day we let him lick a piece of toast...which he licked a couple of times with pretty much just a blank expression.  THEN The Hubs let him lick a piece of bacon...and he cut his first tooth the same day. (Coincidence?  Not with our DNA. #lovebacon)

So about a week ago, rather than buy a bunch of cereal, I took some of the oats we already had in the pantry and ground them into a fine flour.  We started with a 4:1 milk to oat flour ratio, which seems to work well at this point for basic spoon training--we're also not feeding him very much yet since he doesn't really need it, just a few teaspoons' worth.  He still has a bit of tongue thrust reflex, but he seems to really love the cereal--his eyes get huge and he opens his mouth, and then bangs on the tray of his high chair if I'm taking too long to get him another spoonful.
"Oatmeal is nommy, Mommy."

BTW--thank you, anonymous person on the interwebz, who said "start with a 4:1 or 5:1 ratio of milk to cereal".  That was really helpful.  Unlike the anonymous person who said "his first cereal should be slightly thinner than gravy".  That is NOT a useful comparison--or at least clarify.  What KIND of gravy?  Turkey gravy?  Brown gravy?  Sawmill gravy?  Not. Helpful.

3. Tata Juice Economics: Supply & Demand:  As I've mentioned in previous posts, I had a personal goal of making it to 6 months nursing/pumping.  However, around the 4.5 month mark, I started doing some milk math:  Baby J was eating about three 6-ounce bottles a day at the sitter, but I was only able to pump about 10-12 ounces each day at work.  You don't have to be a mathematician to figure out that's not sustainable.
You might have to be a mathematician to follow my calculations, though.

So, we decided to start introducing some formula--essentially, just one bottle's worth to make up the difference, so that he would still be getting breastmilk for 5 of his 6 daily feedings.  We tried a bottle of straight formula (no chaser)  first to see what he thought...not interested.  So his sitter started mixing it half & half with his bottles at day care, and he didn't seem to notice.  Success!

Am I disappointed that we couldn't make it to 6 months on solely breastmilk?  Not really.  I was a little frustrated at first--it's really hard to watch your stockpile disappear, because you've worked so hard on it.  I mean, seriously...I JUST sent a cooler full of milk to the sitter's, how can it ALREADY be gone?  Instead of being happy that my kid is a good eater, I started wondering if my childcare provider was selling my stockpile on eBay. (just kidding...sort of.)

But ultimately, it's not worth stressing over.  Over 80% of his food is still coming from me, and the formula is just a stop-gap method so that I can continue nursing/pumping longer.  Otherwise we'd have run out entirely before he hit five months.  And I made a point of telling myself before the baby even got here--treat breastfeeding as a cost savings, not as a requirement for him to be a healthy child.

Soap Box:  Can we just STOP shaming/guilting moms for having to use formula?  I can honestly say I don't know a single mom who just *decided* with her first kiddo to go straight to formula and not at least try breastfeeding.  The moms I know who did go straight to formula were on their second/third kiddo, and had already been through the psychologically-scarring battle of trying to nurse and not being able to for some reason or another.  If given the choice and appropriate circumstances, I imagine most moms would be perfectly content to nurse as long as they could--but life and reality get in the way.  Some babies just won't latch.  Some babies are allergic to what mom eats.  Some boobs just don't produce.  Some boobs stop producing once you go back to work.  It's not a CHOICE--it's just what happens.  And to shame a mom for that is just deplorable.  To tell a mom that she just isn't trying hard enough, or that she just isn't making enough concessions to nurse her baby, is total CRAP.

I like nursing because a) it's free, and b) it's a lot easier than having to mix formula or heat a bottle. The fact that he gets my immunities or any additional health benefits from it is just a bonus. Yes, the first few weeks SUCKED, like they do for all moms, but after that, everything worked out well for us.   But that's MY reality.  For some moms, it's NOT free--not if they're shelling out mucho dinero for fenugreek and teas and lactation cookies and lactation consultations, or if pumping takes up too much of their work time. And it's only easier if you, as a mom, have an easy place TO feed.  If you're constantly on the go and having to try to find a comfortable place to nurse or pump, it SUCKS (as I know from when Lil' Man was needing to eat every 2 hours).

So to all moms--whether your baby is breastfed or bottle-fed, boob milk or formula, brand name or generic--SO LONG AS HE/SHE IS FED, then you are awesome.  You deserve a medal, or a trophy--preferably made of chocolate. Frankly, I know there are days I don't take good care of myself--don't eat enough, don't drink enough water, and I know I'm not alone.  So the fact that you are making sure that your child DOES have a full belly, and is happy & healthy, then you are doing good, Momma.  < /soapbox. >

Speaking of formula...

4. Formula PooP.  Dear. God.  I can remember as a pre-mom thinking that diaper changes were going to be SO disgusting.  But then the baby came, and while yeah, it's poo, the poo of a breastfed baby does not STANK.  I'm not saying I'd want to wear it as a perfume, but it's really not that bad.  However, as soon as you start giving that kiddo anything other than boob milk, his poo actually starts to SMELL LIKE POOP.  Like, regular human adult stanky pooP that requires an extra "P" at the end.  I feel like we're going to be emptying the diaper pail a LOT more often, or just start using those Arm & Hammer bags for all the pooP diapers.
And they're SNEAKY. Thank GAWD they generally start only pooping like every other day, but at first, I was really wondering if my son was broken.  Don't get me wrong, it's AWESOME when you only have to change a pee diaper...but it's sorta like Russian roulette, just wondering WHEN that super-stanky, melted-chocolate-sticky pooP diaper is going to show up, and who's gonna get to change it: Mom?  Dad?  The Sitter?  You always sorta hope for the latter (sorry ladies, but it's true...you're at least getting paid to deal with it).  Unfortunately for us, Dad got the first Formula PooP Diaper...AND it was a blowout. I was nice enough to help...and by "help", I mean take the diaper trash bag out to the garage and then pre-soak his soiled outfit while Daddy changed him and tried not to gag.

And because they're more infrequent, they also tend to be blowouts, which REALLY sucks.  We had a few blowouts pre-formula, but not to this extent.  If anyone knows the secret to keeping my son's Number Two's from resulting in his back getting coated with crap, I'm all ears. At this point, I'm almost ready to duct tape the back of his diaper to his skin. (kidding, of course...unless that's a viable option.)

5. Stop Trying to Discuss Pumping with Your Male Coworkers.  The dads, while they are respectful of the time it takes and vaguely remember their wives going through it, don't actually have any way to empathize with feeling like a dairy cow.  That's the difference between the Farmer and the Cow--the farmer sees it done, and helps facilitate, but it's the cow that's hooked up to the machine. 
The non-dads tend to go all "squirrel in the headlights"--because you're talking about boobs (in case you forgot), and boobs have only one function to a non-dad dude (*winkwink*).  And honestly, the non-mom females will, at the most, have something of a detached curiosity, equivalent to that of asking about recent repairs to your car.   Save the pump-talk for the other moms who know what it feels like to be Bessie.

6. Changing Caregivers:  We started searching for day cares when Lil' Man was about 12 weeks in utero, but every place we went had a wait list of like 40+ people.  We put our names on a bunch of lists, but most places were at least honest enough to say, "Look--we're probably not going to have spots until at least mid-next year".  Thankfully, a coworker recommended a really wonderful lady who does in-home care...we called and she had a spot open.  The price was right--the only downfall was that she lived out of the way, so it was going to add about 30 minutes to my commute each way, and since she was closer to my work than to our house, it also meant I was going to be the primary person to pick him up & drop him off.  But hey--good price, sweet lady, and she came with shining recommendations.  She got our son drinking out of a bottle and doing tons of tummy time. We were happy.

Fast forward 2 months, when one of those other daycares calls us back.  The one that's only 5 minutes from our house.  And tells us they have a spot starting in March.  What do you do?  Do you leave him where he's happy with the sweet lady who's like an extra grandma to him?  Or do you move him somewhere that both you & your husband can equally share the responsibility of pickup/drop-off?  Ultimately, we decided to move him.  It hurt, because we really LIKED his sitter--if she lived closer to us, I'd have left him there 'til he started school.  

But it comes down to time with our kiddo--in order to get him to her house, we were spending an extra hour each day in the car.  But with a daycare closer to our house, that's an extra hour per day we can now spend with him at HOME, actually getting to play with him--and when you only get about 3-4 hours of awake time with your kiddo, every extra minute means so much. It means that if the Hubs finishes up with work early, he can pick him up early and get extra Daddy Time, rather than waiting for me to get home with him at 6pm.  It means that I could go the gym after work on occasion, or run errands, without having to have a kiddo in tow.
60 more minutes of snuggles = 100% worth it.

But it also means someone gets the shaft.  I know sitters are used to kiddos coming and going, but it really stinks to make that choice.  It would be one thing if they weren't jiving, or if we/he didn't like her for some reason, or she had done something that made us mad.  It would be easier.  But it's literally like telling a grandma that she doesn't get to see her grandkid any more after a certain date. It sucks.

7. Time With Your Kiddo:  Now that I'm back at work, my time with my little man during the week is really limited.  We have about 20-30 minutes together in the morning while I feed him, then he goes to Daddy while I get ready for work.  Then we drive to the sitter, I work for 8-9 hours, and then go home--now that we're at the new day care, The Hubs generally picks him up around 5pm.  By the time I get home, it's 5:30-6pm, and by 8:30, Lil' Man is ready for his last feeding and in his crib by 9pm.  So I really only have a 3 hour window of time w/my son...a time slot that is also occupied by making/eating dinner, a few chores (if needed), baths (which he is starting to tolerate better), talking with my husband about his day, etc.  
Love those baby blues.

We do our best to streamline things--I try to take care of miscellaneous things while I'm at work, and The Hubs does a lot of the household chores like laundry and dishes if he's not out working on claims during the day.  I started doing a little bit of meal planning and we're doing our best to share cooking responsibilities (and make big batches of things so at least one night a week we're just eating leftovers and not having to cook).  I try to include Lil' Man as much as I can--carrying him on my hip as I grab things from the pantry or pick up the house, and have him sitting in our laps or the high chair as we eat dinner.  Post-dinner we always do some Tummy/Back time on the floor with his play gym--he just got a Kick 'n Play a few weeks ago and has been enthralled with it ever since.  
This elephant is his absolute favorite thing on the Kick 'n Play--forget the keyboard, just let me lick that elephant!

I just do my best to make sure those 3 hours are as much quality time as possible.  Once he's off to bed, I can do other little things, like laying out my clothes for the next day, take a shower, pack my lunch, wash bottles, watch TV/play on Facebook, enjoy a glass of wine with The Hubs, etc.

So here's one of the nice things about nursing--it guarantees me at least 40 minutes/night of one-on-one time with my son.  He usually wants to be fed around 6:30p, and then he nurses again at bedtime.  In the event that he wakes up during the "night" (really, it's closer to 4am anymore, if he wakes up at all), that's still on me.  I know a lot of moms like bottles because then Dad can help with putting the little one to bed or deal with mid-night feedings...however, as a working mom, I actually like having that little bit of extra alone time with just the two of us.  

8. Stop Eating Crap.  I ate pretty well during my first and second trimesters, and logged my food with my FitBit.  During my third trimester, I was so miserable I gave myself a pass to eat pretty much whatever sounded good at the time.  Thanks to my diligence over those first 6 months, my baby weight fell off by the time he was 8 weeks old.  Then...I was on maternity leave, with a baby that hated me and cried all the time and a house full of food (particularly holiday sweets). I was nursing, so that gave me an extra 500 calorie allowance each day.  I didn't even put on any holiday meal weight. (There's your new holiday diet--nursing!)

But here's the thing--on maternity leave, I was actually getting more exercise than I am back at the office. I was going for walks, bouncing the baby on the exercise ball, running around the house doing chores, much of which while carrying a 10+ pound squirmy weight in my arms.

Now that I'm back at work, even though I'm still nursing/pumping, I've noticed I don't get a free pass to eat crap anymore.  That belly pooch is trying to make a comeback.  And in another month or so, I may not be nursing anymore, so it's time to get my sweet tooth in check.  Plus, I wonder how much of that sugar is making its way into my son's food supply:
"Your milk tastes like CANDY!!!!"

BTDubs--if my coworkers could stop bringing 4 dozen Krispy Kremes into the office break room, that would help.  Cuz...I mean...there are starving kids in Africa & stuff, and those donuts aren't going to eat themselves.

9. Sleep Regression:  I've been told this happens around 4 months...but so far, we have been lucky. *knocks on wood*  He's in his crib by 9pm, and is completely conked out for the night.  He might coo once or twice at night, but he doesn't cry out for us--just jabbers for a bit, then sucks his thumb and falls back asleep.  However, he HAS recently started waking up at 5:30-6am to just start TALKING to himself.  Our vain child seems to LOOOOOOOVE the sound of his voice and all the new little noises he can make.  Honestly, I love the sound of his voice too, so it's hard to be mad when he sounds so happy--but Mom & Dad would like to sleep until their actual alarm goes off at 6:30, pretty please.  

So, he talks, coos, gurgles...we turn on his mobile, and then within about 15 minutes he's asleep again.  Usually.  It's not foolproof.  But it gets us a few more minutes of laying in bed.  But I have a feeling that's *not* the sleep regression we've been warned about.  Sooo...maybe we'll have an update in next month's installment. 

10. Hair, Hair Everywhere:  You know how one of the benefits of being preggo is a lusciously full head of hair?  That's because you stop shedding hair for those 9 months.  I'm sure every lady out there with medium-to-long hair is familiar with the typical 10-20 hairs shed per shower.  Well...this stops whilst you have a bun in the oven.  You might still shed a couple, but it noticeably decreases.

And then...a few months after your bouncing bundle of poop & joy arrives, alllllll those hairs that didn't fall out over the course of the last year suddenly start fleeing your head like Syrian refugees.  There is more hair in my bathroom trash can than trash.  I've been assured that this should stop soon...but in the meantime my stylish recommended a biotin supplement...which I usually remember to take.

11.  Being Social:  When possible, we've been doing our best to still get out and see friends.  There's an inherent apprehension every time, but almost every time he surprises us.  He is a very curious, social creature and just loves to silently soak in his surroundings.  We went to hibachi with friends, hoping he would take the nap he was well overdue for and not be fussy.  No nap--but he he was happy to sit on people's laps and stare at our chef as he cooked.  
"Hey...you gonna eat that?"

We went bowling and he spent his time getting passed around as we took our turns [not] getting strikes or spares, and was totally cool until about 8:30pm when he hit his sleepytime wall.  He cried until we got in the car, and was conked out before we got a few blocks from the bowling alley.  We went to a beer tasting event at a local tap room, and after having a bottle of his own (not beer, obvz), he dozed off on my shoulder for 20 minutes, amidst the din of 100+ people and their clinking glasses.  We went to a housewarming party where he wooed all the ladies with his flirtatious smiles and barely made a peep until about 9pm when he was both hungry and tired.

We're learning to overcome our fears about what might happen, and not letting it keep us at home.  Truth is, we have a pretty chill child who loves to people-watch, and we might as well take advantage.  If we can get him used to being out and about now, it should hopefully bode well for his future behavior in social settings.

Previous Adventures:
Birth Story
3 Weeks
Month 1
6 Weeks
Month 2
Month 3
Month 4
Mom Guilt Edition
Working Mom Edition
Things That Suck
Traveling For The Holidays
Living In The Moment