organicglory

simple nibbles of natural goodness

Happy Fourth of July!

This weekend is looking like a banner holiday weather-wise in Boston! I hope it is where you are, too, and that you get time to relax with family.

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a patriotic craft by georgia!

It’s no longer a  year of ‘firsts’ for Georgia, who’s become an official Independence Day veteran as of this year. Look at her patriotic self last year at 10 months old:

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This year, the nice thing about having a toddler instead of a baby is that we can do fun, festive things around the city for the Fourth of July. And Malden, where we live, has plenty going on!

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We went for pony rides, face painting and slush today while daddy worked on the Freedom Trail, and Sunday we are celebrating my brother’s birthday with a family dinner. I am going to use up the last of my rhubarb on one more crisp. I can’t get enough of it!!

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IMG_0683Stay safe this holiday weekend and enjoy yourselves! I’ll be back Monday :) 

DIY Tile & Grout Cleaner

I have a 100-year-old house with REALLY annoying tile flooring in the bathroom.

I have to clean it daily simply because I have a toddler and a cat who track fur and dirt everywhere, but it’s when we host a party or holiday — like last weekend — that I really start dreading the deep clean. Nothing I buy at the store has ever made these floors look acceptable, and no matter what I use, I have to get down on my hands and knees with a brush to scrub — hard. So, I set my mind to figuring out a way to clean it using things I have in my pantry, things that could sit on the floor for a while and really do half the hard work for me, before wasting more time scrubbing or more money on something store-bought, stinky, expensive and ineffective. Thus I created a homemade cleaning solution with lemon, baking soda, vinegar & water, and let it do half the hard work. Can I just say? WOW, did it ever work.

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Here’s the solution: 7 cups water, 1/2 cup baking soda, juice of 1 lemon (approximately 1/3 cup) and 1/4 cup vinegar. Spray onto the tile/grout you are looking to clean, let sit, and scrub with a brush after 5-10 minutes. Voila!

Yes, I still had to get down there with a brush to get every nook and cranny sparkling, but it was nothing compared to how long and hard I used to have to work to see anything resembling white between these tiles. You can see how well it worked in this somewhat gross, yet also uplifting photo:

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Interested in more homemade cleaning solutions? Lemons are a great all-around cleaning tool, and make an excellent substitute for bleach. I do not personally use any bleach in my home, and I never feel like I need to. Why would I, when you can do all the following with lemons?!

  • Squeeze into your laundry for brightening
  • Cut in half and shine chrome faucets & fixtures
  • Throw a used-up lemon into your disposal to freshen it up and keep it in good working order (ice will do the same)
  • Make a glass-cleaning spray by mixing 3 TBSP lemon juice with 1/2 cup rubbing alcohol
  • Squeeze into your toilet bowl with your cleaner of choice for a freshening and deodorizing; use a cut-up lemon along the rim and on the seat for deep cleaning, then flush.

Get the most out of your lemon by rolling it on the counter for about 30 seconds, to draw out more juice; if you’re going to use the cut lemon to clean, remove the seeds with the top of a knife first so they don’t scratch your surfaces.

You can also use a paste of baking soda and water to remove wetness stains from hardwood, like from a pet’s accident or a beach towel or damp shoe left on the floor. Try 1 TBSP baking soda to 1 tsp water; rub in a circular motion until the water stain disappears. The trick is not to use too much water. This trick works for rings on a coffee table if you forgot to use a coaster, too. And if you use petroleum products, you can also remove water marks in wood by leaving Vaseline on them overnight then wiping away in the morning. (Got scratches? My go-to fix is rubbing a walnut on it. Yup, it really works).

Baking soda is great for removing pet odors from upholstery, too. Just sprinkle some on your couch, let sit for a little while, and vacuum up. Better than spraying with fabric refreshers all the time (dog and cat owners, I know you’re with me on that one!) This worked for us when some rogue milk stains (ugh) managed to escape our notice for several days, too. Thanks Georgia!

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so cute…such grubby little hands!

I hope you found these tips useful. This is now my go-to tile cleaning method for our old fashioned bathroom! Do you have any similar tricks to share? Whenever I don’t have to use store-bought cleaners with nasty ingredients that make fumes in my house, I’m all in. It’s amazing what you can do with hot water, vinegar and some reusable microfiber cloths or scrubbing brushes!

Psst — on an unrelated note, today is the last day to sign up for Mama Natural’s first-ever online natural childbirth class, which starts up tomorrow! I couldn’t get by without her blog, and what I like about this course is that it includes comprehensive breastfeeding support, a.k.a the information you need even more than preparation for labor and delivery. You’ll also get to be part of a community of crunchy moms with due dates around the same time as yours, and who wouldn’t love that? Check it out! 

Beef Arepas! (Cornmeal Flatbreads) with Pickled Jalapeños & Avocado

This post is dedicated to my adventurous husband and daughter who bravely tried something that they a) had never heard of, b) knew was a little spicy, and c) couldn’t slather with melted cheese, as is their typical preference. 

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This dish was super easy, and can be made both vegetarian and mild very easily.

(Or, you can go all-in and cook the jalapenos with their ribs and seeds and everything and get even MORE heat!)

What are Arepas? Similar to Polenta patties, they are like small pancakes made with pre-cooked white or yellow corn flour, available inexpensively in large grocery stores under the Goya brand or online. Pan-fried in a hot skillet with a little bit of oil, they are a fast foundation to several Central- and South-American dishes. They are very versatile and can be served at any time of day with eggs, vegetables, cheese or meat. All you need to do is mix the flour with water and form into palm-sized balls, then pat them flat and cook in a frying pan.

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Arepas with Pickled Jalapenos & Avocado

Time: Less than 40 minutes start to finish.

Quantity: The recipe below feeds about 2 1/2 people, which was exactly our size. Adjust accordingly! It doubles very easily and most people will be satisfied with one arepa, or maybe one and a half if you’re a growing boy like Mark ;)

INGREDIENTS

  • 8 ounces ground beef (1/2 pound)
  • 1 cup Masarepa (or corn flour) — see note above on where to buy
  • 2 radishes, ends removed, sliced
  • 1 avocado, peeled, pitted and sliced
  • 1 lime, quartered
  • 1 red onion, sliced
  • 1 large bunch cilantro, de-stemmed
  • 2 TBSP red wine vinegar
  • 2 TBSP sugar
  • 1 jalapeno pepper (can sub jarred jalapeno slices)
  • seasonings, such as cumin & chili powder, to taste (I used carne molida blend)
  • 1 cup room-temperature water
  • olive oil, for cooking

DIRECTIONS

Start by washing, drying and preparing the produce: cut off the ends of the radishes, then slice them thinly into rounds; quarter the lime; pit, peel and slide the avocado to desired thickness; toss with the juice of 1 lime wedge to prevent browning; peel, halve and thinly slice the red onion; pick the cilantro leaves off the stems, discarding the stems; slice the jalapeno into rounds (or slice lengthwise and chop into smaller pieces, discarding ribs and seeds for less heat); end by washing your hands so you don’t transfer the heat of the pepper to other parts of the dish (or rub your eyes by accident — ouch!)

Next, pickle the jalapeno and onion. In a small pan, combine the jalapeno, sugar, vinegar and half the onion. Add 2 TBSP water and heat to boiling on high. Once boiling, cook and stir occasionally for just a couple minutes, or until the liquid is mostly reduced. Transfer to a bowl and set aside to cool.

Then, brown the beef. In a large non stick pan, heat 2 TBSP olive oil on medium-high until hot; add the beef and cook, breaking it up as you go, for 2-3 minutes or until it’s just cooked through (no more pink). Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a bowl and set aside; wipe out the pan with a paper towel.

In the pan you just used to cook the beef, heat 2 TBSP olive oil on medium high until hot. Add the rest of the onion plus the spice blend to your taste (I did just the tiniest pinch because I was making this mild) plus salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, just a couple minutes or until fragrant; add the cooked beef and the juice of 1 lime wedge. Cook another two minutes, stirring, until just combined, then transfer to a bowl and wipe out the pan again for the arepas.

To form the arepas, combine the flour with a huge pinch of salt and 1 cup of lukewarm water. Stir until just combined; the dough should be damp and easy to work with. Using wet hands, divide the dough into four equal-sized balls, then flatten into 1/4 inch thin rounds on a clean work surface like a dry cutting board.

In the pan you just cleaned out, heat 1 TBSP olive oil over medium-hot until hot. Add the arepas all at one time, cooking 2-4 minutes per side, or until they are golden and cooked through.

Plate your food by placing the arepas in the bottom of each dish, topping them with the ground beef, then avocado. Garnish with the radishes, cilantro and as much pickled jalapeno and onion as appeals. Serve with the remaining lime wedges on the side. Yum!

TIPS

Carne Molida is a spice blend made up of 2 Parts Ancho Chile Powder, ​2 Parts Chipotle Chile Powder, ​2 Parts Garlic Powder, ​2 Parts Ground Cumin, ​2 Parts Ground Coriander, ​2 Parts Mexican Oregano, 1 Part Cocoa Powder, 1 Part Ground Nutmeg, and 1 Part Cornstarch. I barely used a pinch of this; you can decide what type of flavor you like and what heat level you desire and adjust accordingly. You could just as easily add a dash of cumin and chile powder and call it a day.

Masarepa is a quick-cooking flour. Its most popular use is in making arepas; the name “masarepa” is a combination of the words “masa” and “arepa,” meaning “dough” and “cornbread.” As I said above, you can buy it online here if you can’t find it locally.

Cooking Jalapeno with sugar and red wine balances out its heat a little, but you should only use a tiny amount of chopped jalapeno in this dish if you really hate spicy food. Adding in the ribs and seeds will intensify that level significantly. I cooked a little bit and then made sure Mark and Georgia didn’t get any actual Jalapeno chunks on their plate, which satisfied my desire to get the flavor into the dish while making sure they didn’t bite down into anything hot.

This can be easily doubled with one pound of ground beef and so on. You can also very easily sub in vegetarian ground crumbles or omit the meat entirely and insert cheese, eggs, or sturdy roasted vegetables with the same seasonings.

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The deconstructed toddler version:

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And no, she didn’t really go for the radishes. She did try them, though. 

Happily, avocados and carbs are already favorites of hers, so the patties and everything else went down the hatch. Like me, she never really eats red meat, so the hamburger she sort of picked at and gave a few courtesy nibbles. I’m not worried about her disliking ground beef, though. While it’s a rich source of iron, protein and zinc, no toddler needs to eat red meat to get those nutrients if they eat enough good fish like salmon, eggs and full-fat dairy products like cheese and whole milk, and she’s better off without all the unhealthy saturated fat in beef (to say nothing of the hormones and antibiotics found in most U.S. meat, which isn’t safe for anybody). If you do eat a fair amount of red meat, good tips for keeping it healthy enough for toddlers include purchasing higher-end cuts that have less fat; picking lean ground beef when buying it for hamburgers; and broiling instead of pan-frying, which reduces the amount of fat retained.

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the kind of fat you want to retain forever: those cheeks

I hope you enjoy this one. We tried it during our free trial of Blue Apron, which we’ve now decided to subscribe to this summer on a temporary basis to see how we like it. When pricing it out — $60 per delivery, which includes three meals that feed exactly two people — it made more sense than dropping $25 every other night on takeout when we don’t have enough time or ingredients in the house to make dinner. We always seem to have just enough extra to give Georgia a taste with her dinner, too, so it comes out to an economical $10 per person. I’ve decided to “skip” two weeks each month, so that we only get deliveries from Blue Apron every third week, and in between we rely on our old favorites, like pasta with meatballs, risotto, shepherd’s pie and spaghetti carbonara. Now that it’s summer and our garden is firing up, we’ll rotate this lemony pasta with sweet sausage in more frequently, as well as homemade pizza to use up all those peppers, tomatoes and basil. And, of course, there’s lots of fresh greens available at the farmer’s markets these days to go alongside any of these dishes to lighten them up and add some vegetables!

Happy Father’s Day!

What a weekend. I’ve been so derelict in posting lately because we had LOTS of stuff going on at home — in particular, we threw a big party this weekend to celebrate Mark’s 30th birthday, and then the next day of course it was Father’s Day! Mark (prepare your shocked face) had to work all day, so Georgia, my brother Brent and I met my dad for the “jazz brunch” at Johnny D’s, one of our old favorites from the years we lived in Somerville. To say Georgia enjoyed her cheesy grits, bacon, sliced bananas and fresh squeezed juice with a side of live music would be an understatement!

Every year we buy grampy new clothes, and this year was no different. As far daddy? We bought him a pair of nice work pants, which in his profession is this:

abc pant // lululemon.com

abc pant // lululemon.com

Designed to look like dress pants, they are in fact made of athletic material and are basically the most useful thing ever for someone who might need to read for a screen role in the morning, audition at a dance call in the afternoon, teach tap at night and follow an energetic toddler in between. There’s even a reflective strip on the inside seam so you can roll them up and ride your bike home safely.

mini helper!

mini helper!

I’m really dragging today after cleaning my whole house & yard to host 50 people (including 10 babies!) this weekend, shopping for gifts and entertaining G so Mark could relax on Father’s Day evening. Luckily, we have lots of leftovers from the party, which means cooking dinner is one thing I can check off my to-do list for a couple days. Luckily, I set aside a portion of my famous strawberry rhubarb crumble for MYSELF to eat tonight! And when I say famous, I mean it’s one of the only desserts I’m actually good at, so I bring it to everything. It’s worth the wait for the relatively short window that rhubarb is in season each year.

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We also had pudding pie, chocolate chip cookies, stuffed strawberries, sliced watermelon and vanilla ice cream for dessert. Mark fired up our charcoal grill and we had marinated steak tips, natural-casing dogs and burgers from Dom’s Sausage in Malden where we live. Georgia loved visiting the Piantedosi Baking Company next door to buy wholesale buns and to watch the production belt whizzing by overhead! They always give kids a free fresh roll to chew on, and she finished the whole thing :)

We also managed to get our new sandbox set up in the backyard for the kids to enjoy, plus Georgia’s new water table, bubbles, jump-rope and sidewalk chalk. We have a long driveway that deposits guests into our very tiny, somewhat sloped & terraced backyard, so we have to make the most of what we’ve got when we entertain!

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You know it was a good party when you were so busy having fun that the only photographic evidence left over is of half-deflated balloons and your child eating pizza and cookies simultaneously.

Instead of my usual all-romaine salad, I made one with kale, Swiss chard just a touch of romaine lettuce; the tougher greens can really stand up to strong or creamy dressings and well-seasoned croutons, so I think I’ll replicate that approach next time. It was pretty popular!

The biggest hit of the day, though, was hands-down the sweet cream-cheese stuffed strawberries my brother’s girlfriend Michelle made, so she’s agreed to share the recipe in another couple weeks when she makes it again! (You may remember her as having made these amazing Stuffed Mushrooms that you all demanded she guest blog about). Can’t wait to share the strawberries soon!

Hope all you dads, uncles, brothers, sons and grandfathers had a wonderful weekend and that you’ve got lots of plans to enjoy the summer months ahead. They’ll be gone before you know it :)

Strawberry Mini Muffins

It is peak strawberry picking season in New England right now, so I thought it would be a great time to test some new dessert recipes. I could never get bored of my two favorites — strawberry shortcakestrawberry-rhubarb crumble — but it’s always good to experiment with new baking ideas! Inspired by how much Georgia loved some tiny cupcakes a friend made last weekend, I whipped up a simple recipe for Miniature Strawberry Muffins during nap time last Sunday. It was a huge hit with both of us, and we do consider ourselves strawberry (and muffin) experts :)IMG_0405

I bought a one-pound container of strawberries and probably used about half, give or take. Georgia and I just sliced up the rest for a refreshing snack!

Strawberry Mini Muffins

Makes 24 muffins in about 45 minutes of hands-on time.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 stick of butter (unsalted), softened to room temperature
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 C (plus 1 TBSP) TigerNut Flour*
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 cup whole milk, acidified^^
  • 1/2 cup of strawberries, diced very small
  • a pinch of salt

^^ Acidified milk is produced by adding lemon juice to pasteurized milk at room temperature, then letting it sit for a few minutes so that it appears to curdle. The milk isn’t actually souring, you’re just altering its taste and texture to mimic that of buttermilk. The ratio to use is 1 cup of milk to one halved lemon, juiced. In this recipe you can use 1/2 the cup to start and then add in a bit more if the batter seems too thick as you’re mixing.

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DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 375 and spray a miniature muffin tin with baking spray. Set the butter out to warm to room temperature.

Cream the butter and sugar together in a stand mixer (or hand mixer) until combined, then add the egg.

Sift together one cup of flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.

Alternate adding the dry ingredients and the milk to the mixer on low.

In a small bowl, toss the chopped strawberries with the TBSP of flour.* Fold the strawberries into the batter.

Drop tablespoons of the batter into each muffin tin, filling them about 2/3 high.

Bake for 14-16 minutes or until they are turning golden at the edges and are springy to the touch. Remove from the oven and let them cool in the muffin tin for another 15 minutes.

If you used a non-stick pan in particular, your muffins should release very easily when you’re ready to eat them! Ours kept in the fridge for exactly one week.

*RECIPE NOTES

Why add lemon to milk in this recipe? Because I didn’t have buttermilk handy, and acidifying milk with lemon is the best way to achieve the same result. Buttermilk’s role in baking is to lighten your batter, as the acids in buttermilk “get fizzy” when they make contact with baking soda or powder. This reaction makes baked goods airy and tender, and cancels out the sour taste of buttermilk (or ‘soured’ whole milk). You can also add vinegar to milk to achieve the same effect if you have a recipe that calls for buttermilk and you have none handy. Or, you can thin sour cream or plain yogurt with water. All these options will play the same role in your batter, and are only slightly less creamy in texture than buttermilk would be.

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You can use any type of flour, but I was lucky enough to get an opportunity to try TigerNut flour along with a host of other organic & paleo-friendly products from OrganicGemini in Brooklyn recently. They are best known for their TigerNut Horchata, which comes in more than half a dozen flavors such as strawberry, chai and banana. TigerNuts are actually tubers, or small root vegetables. Nut-free and gluten-free, they make an appealing baking substitute for kids and classrooms with allergies! Next time I have to bake for Georgia’s school, this will be my go-to flour.

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Last note: adding flour to the strawberries before putting them into your batter helps keep the chopped fruit from sinking to the bottom as your muffins bake. This is a good tip to follow for any similar recipe.

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I really hope you enjoy this one! It made for a great daycare snack for G, and a “pre-breakfast breakfast” for me. (I wake up hungry but don’t have time to eat an actual meal and get G to school and us to work, so I eat my ‘real’ breakfast at my desk every morning). We finished the last two after dinner yesterday, and I seriously wish there were more right about now!

Our trip to Myrtle Beach and Charleston, South Carolina

With winter suddenly back on the scene in New England (it was 50 degrees out this week and I wore a COAT to work!) I can’t help but fantasize about our next vacation. It seems like we’d only just installed our air conditioners for Memorial Day Weekend, only to have this rainy cold snap float through. While I wait for it to be over, I thought I’d indulge my vacation-fantasizing mind by finally sharing our trip to South Carolina from the fall!

ahhh, the beach.

ahhh, the beach. and my little baby.

In September, we took the best family trip to Myrtle Beach, and I wanted to share some pictures of our favorite activities and the awesome Southern food we enjoyed. It was very different from Boston, and as foreign as it felt at the time, I find myself thinking back to the trip fondly and hoping we can return when Georgia is a bit older. There’s so much to do for bigger kids that it felt like we barely scratched the surface of this resort town.

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I was honestly not sure what to expect, but it turns out there is a LOT going on at Myrtle Beach — stuff like amusement rides, mini golf and theme restaurants that she was just too little to appreciate (not that she didn’t have a blast). We are so lucky that she basically travels well, sleeps OK on the road, and doesn’t get overwhelmed by all the stimulation of eating out nightly, seeing strangers, being in a rental car, etc. She’s fairly adaptable and it feels like she’s just along for the adventure wherever we take her. Plus, she’s a total water baby, which makes beach vacations awesome :)

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Vacations are so essential. I know everyone says how important it is to decompress and avoid burnout, but studies show many Americans don’t take advantage of their earned time off (15% of us take none of our vacation every year!)

I don’t know why, but I’m definitely one of those people that accumulates vacation faster than I take it, and then I struggle to unplug while I am away.

I think it’s partly because Mark doesn’t really get paid time off except under very rare, specific instances dictated by his union, so every time we travel it isn’t just drawing down our savings (or racking up our credit cards)…it’s actually lost earnings for him, which makes it hard for him to agree to trips, and even harder to enjoy being gone. One of our resolutions together this year, though, was to put those concerns aside and take seriously the very real need for humans to unplug and recharge (pardon the awful mixed metaphor).

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We’ve both seen first hand how much vacations help you avoid burning out at work, and we’ve gotten hooked on the productivity boost we seem to get in the weeks immediately following a relaxing trip. So when we went to Myrtle Beach, we made a pact: he’d agree not to complain about the job opportunities he was missing during our week away, and I agreed not to check my work email constantly. We both kept our promises, and relaxation ensued.

What we Did

We were staying in a timeshare with my family, so accommodations were taken care of, but Myrtle Beach is awash in great hotel choices. Most tend toward the high-rise-on-the-beach category, and many of those have “lazy rivers” and miniature water parks right there on site, multiplying your options for beating the heat. Of course, the boardwalk and beach are open to everyone, so staying off the waterfront is by no means an indication that you’ll miss out on the action.

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Getting there

Myrtle Beach has its own airport, but from Boston you need to get a connection through Raleigh or Charlotte. Other areas may fly direct. We rented a car at the airport (a minivan, actually) and it was invaluable as this is not a transit/walking/biking friendly place, unless your hotel is right on the boardwalk and you don’t intend to take advantage of any of the zillions of surrounding sites to see. Again, because there’s so much to do, I’d plan not to stick close to your hotel every day. (If you just want to drink and walk to the ocean there are better resort towns for that!)

essentials of the seasoned baby flier: chewbeads on mom, a hook-on diaper bag for your lightweight travel stroller, and a big strong daddy.

What to do

Everywhere you look, there are arcades, water parks, mini golf, ice cream, beachwear shops, amusement rides, waffle & pancake houses, outlet malls, golf courses, theaters and night clubs, so there really is something for everyone. There’s also a gorgeous state park with camping, hiking trails and a mile of undeveloped beach, just down the road from the resort & high-rise laden “Grand Strand” that most people think of when they picture Myrtle Beach. Those 60+ miles of shoreline offer swimming, wind surfing, sunbathing, fishing, surfing, kayaking, para-sailing, scuba diving and boardwalk dining, all of it very family-friendly in our experience. Georgia loved her first mini golf outing, and she tried lots of new foods, from she-crab soup to hoppin’ john and gumbo.

What we Ate

The food was like landing on another planet. From hush puppies and waffle huts to grits and fried, well, everything, even drive-thru menus at chain restaurants had different offerings than up north. We indulged, and then proceeded to spend the next month working it off. Ooof. South Carolina is known for its low country cuisine, of which we tried to sample almost everything.

mainstays of low country cooking: baked mac n’ cheese, shrimp & grits, spinach, fried catfish and hush puppies (mmm)

We took a couple really awesome excursions worth mentioning. One was to Murrells Inlet, a saltwater estuary with boardwalk that’s just a couple miles down the coast from Myrtle Beach. A historic fishing village, it’s a hub for that low country and Southern Cuisine, especially seafood. We had a blast dining out, listening to live music, and walking along the marsh on the elevated boardwalk.

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The other day trip we took was two hours south to Charleston! You may remember, before this happened to our bathroom in 2013, Mark and I were planning a “baby-moon” to the Holy City together. It never happened because, you know, we had to take down the side of our house to fix 40-year-old mold rot, so this day trip solo was the next best thing. And we are planning to come back. Because we were site-seeing all day, we weren’t dressed properly for any of the fancy/trendy restaurants you always hear about, like Fig, Two Boroughs Larder and Husk. So, thanks to an awesome travel piece in the Boston Globe, we ate at the laid-back Rarebit on King Street, where we indulged in chicken & waffles, fried catfish, and granny smith apple pie, with some Lazy Magnolia Southern Pecan Nut Brown Ale.

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We packed a weekend’s worth of Charleston activities into one day trip, and it was both exhausting and well worth it. Because we had family very generously babysitting G for the entire day, we left early in the morning to make the two-hour drive and got back to Myrtle Beach around 11 p.m. In between we took a carriage tour of the city, rode the ferry out to Fort Sumter, toured the fort, rode back, visited the historic Charleston City Market, and had dinner. I was completely ill-prepared for the all-consuming heat we experienced, and saying I sweat through my clothes is probably the biggest understatement I’ll make all year. We probably walked about 10 miles that day. But check out what the humidity did to my hair:

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There are lots of things I’d like to do on a three-day excursion back to Charleston (not the least of which is to visit nearby Savannah, too!) If I could flesh out a longer itinerary, it would include:

  • Buying a sweetgrass basket and lingering longer at the historic (and recently renovated) City Market
  • Doing a ‘steeple chase’ of the city’s historic houses of worship (from which the nickname The Holy City comes)
  • Shopping the vintage and indie stores in the up-and-coming Upper King Street area
  • Taking a break from traditional low country cuisine to sample more raw bar offerings
  • Taking a more focused tour of the land-marked homes and architecture south of Broad Street
  • Visiting more historical sites related to Charleston’s sad past as a key part of the slave trade and Civil War, in particular the Old Slave Mart Museum and the Old Exchange & Provost Dungeon
  • Seeking out some bakeries and confections! Like the doughnuts at Glazed Gourmet (s’more? orange pistachio? sweet corn & blueberry? These are not everyday flavors!)

apple pie & cheddar doughnuts // glazedgourmet.com

All in all, we had a great time in both Myrtle Beach and Charleston, and we can’t wait to go back — maybe a little better prepared for the heat, which was worse than even southern Florida where my family lives! And we would probably try to stay longer next time, because a week was just too short to see everything this area has to offer. We never even got out to any of the beautiful antebellum homes and estates, like Drayton Hall, Middleton Place or Magnolia Plantation & Gardens. And, if you are a serious golfer, then this is one of the nation’s top golfing destinations (Mark does golf, but I have never been).This is really the kind of place that you can go for a weekend away without kids, or take children along and have endless activities.

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I’d highly suggest going when we did if your kids aren’t yet school aged, because early September is still very warm there, but the resorts are no longer as crowded (and aren’t yet closed up for the off-season). And if you do take little kids, make sure you have plenty of sun screen, sun hats, rash guards, and shaded floaties, and try to hit the beach in the later part of the day when peak sun isn’t shining. The best thing would be to stay somewhere that has its own pool, so that everyone can cool down in the late afternoon after a day of touristy activities. That’s what we did! 

pin our trip tips for later!

 

So, is there something I missed that we should keep in mind for our next trip? Have you been to Myrtle Beach or Charleston, or another part of South Carolina, and know some good tips? Let me know in the comments!

Hearty Weeknight Marinara

I call this “weeknight” marinara because it takes two minutes to throw together and you can simmer for as long or as little as you want to get a deeper flavor. I put the sauce in a pan with unthawed meatballs while Georgia is playing (or having her evening bath) with dad, then cook it on low while I put her to bed, and by the time I get downstairs from “nigh-nights” it’s ready. All that’s left to do is boil water for the pasta and dinner is served.

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With just four ingredients, you can keep this simple or customize with veggies, meat, vegan protein, whatever.

All you need is a 28-oz. can of crushed tomatoes, the pasta of your choice, frozen (or pre-home-made) meatballs, and a TBSP of this seasoning by Wildtree, a certified organic food company started by a mom seeking faster, healthy options for kids with food allergies.

Wildtree’s goal is to mimic the convenience of packaged foods, without the allergens, additives and processed ingredients that can be so problematic for many families, including anyone with diabetes, heart conditions, or who has to watch their sodium or sugar intake. All the products are free of preservatives, dyes, additives, GMOs and MSG, and come from a peanut-free facility. They are designed to help working parents get fast, healthy meals on the table even if medical issues make mainstream grocery shopping difficult.

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We already have a super simple “weekend” marinara that really needs a full hour to cook on low before it tastes just right, but sometimes you want a home-cooked meal on a school night. This hits the spot. Mark had three servings.

Hearty Weeknight Marinara

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 package of turkey meatballs (I used Trader Joe’s), frozen, or 1 batch homemade
  • 1 lb. pasta of your choice (pictured is linguine)
  • 1 TBSP Wildtree Hearty Spaghetti Sauce Blend

DIRECTIONS

Place the sauce and meatballs, not thawed, in a medium saucepan over low and add the spice blend. Stir. Cover and cook over low, simmering, for at least 20 minutes or up to an hour. Meanwhile, put a large pot of water on to boil; add pasta, cook until at dente, and drain. Serve pasta with the sauce meatballs spooned on top. If you’re making meatballs homemade, feel free to pan-saute them or microwave them to heat up and serve in or alongside the sauce. Dig in and slurp it up!

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In other news, just this week Georgia (finally) drank her milk from a sippy cup. We’ve tried many, many times, and so has daycare, only to have her scream and throw things and yell for her “baba” (baby bottle). All it took was Mark, on his first weeknight off in months, demonstrating how much HE enjoyed drinking milk from a sippy (poor guy) then asking me for “more” using baby sign language. It worked. The things we do!!

It also got rather hot and muggy here this week, which allowed us to discover that Georgia has inherited mom’s humidity-induced waves and frizz. Lucky lady!

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I love this kid.

Interested in Wildtree? Here’s what I recommend: the Kids Cheez, a natural version of the powdered stuff that makes Kraft Easy Mac so tempting; the Taco Seasoning Blend, which in my experience tastes just as good with vegetarian meat crumbles as with real ground beef; and their Coconut Oil, which is a tremendous value for the size, and is a healthy way to replace butter in baking, pan frying and roasting. I’ve also sampled several of their dips, spreads and marinades, and recommend those, too. I tried Wildtree the first time because a friend sells their products, but I’m a loyal customer now! Please note, this is not a sponsored post, I just really love their products and wanted to share a simple recipe that’s now in our weekly rotation thanks to Wildtree. Check ’em out!

Have a Happy Memorial Day Weekend!

Lucky us: Mark’s show closes Sunday and we both have Monday off, so it actually IS a long weekend in our house. Georgia moved up to the toddler room at day care (sob) where she is eating at a preschool table with miniature chairs, napping for three hours a day, learning Montessori works and bonding with a more intimate group of classmates. She also did her first somersault last weekend so we are signing her up for toddler gymnastics. Where did my baby go??

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We are visiting with Mark’s Grandfather, a World War II veteran, this weekend and probably cooking out at his house in New Bedford (the onetime whaling capital of the world, still a major fishing port). In fact, if you’re ever in the area, New Bedford has a world-class whaling museum, historical waterfront and even a zoo!

Are you grilling at home or with friends, too? When you have the basics covered, here are my picks for what to serve on the side, at dessert and as appetizers.

Homemade Restaurant-Style Salsa

Slow Cooker Brown Sugar Kielbasa

(Vegan) Spinach and Artichoke Dip (serve with the homemade pita chips in my salsa recipe, above)

Pillsbury Sausage Party Bites

Refreshing Basil Lemonade

Pimm’s Cup (for the adults!)

Apple-Fennel Slaw

Meatball Pizza (cook it on the grill!)

Belgian Salad (a cold, tangy vegetable salad that doesn’t spoil if kept outdoors all day)

Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble (what a crowd pleaser!)

Orange Creamsicle Cake (egg-free! with whipped cream…mmm)

It isn’t exactly hot out yet, but to be ready, I just ordered Georgia this awesome-looking water park table (!!!) Can’t wait to see her with it when the dog days of summer hit.

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone! Enjoy the outdoors, friends, family and food. xoxo

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Sneaking veggies into food (with toddler-friendly risotto recipe)

Well, I suppose it was inevitable: the day where my toddler figured out junk food exists in the world, and that she’d prefer to eat cookies, fruit juice and Kraft Macaroni & Cheese than mom’s home cooking. Hoping it’s just a short-lived phase, I’ve adapted by sneaking in greens where I can and holding a firm line on her requests to snack the day away. “More?” “Cookie!” and “Mine” are her new favorite words, especially when pointing to mom’s coffee, a bag of fruit snacks or (cringe) the drive-through menu.

There are a couple key things I’ve done to get through this temporary eating issue.

One is to make smoothies with greens like celery and lettuce blended in, since they add nutrients without turning the flavor detectably non-fruity.

Secondly, we’ve gone back to sending fruit & veggie pouches to daycare for snack time. She sucks them down as readily as her applesauce pouches without realizing there are greens mixed in with those pears and apples.

Since she loves mac n’ cheese so much, I’ve tried to make my own more often, and to buy better boxed versions from Trader Joe’s and Annie’s — as well as to mix in peas, diced green beans or broccoli, since covering them with cheese seems to get her to accept more veggies. 

I also shredded carrots into my homemade marinara, and she was none the wiser.

Finally, last week I realized I had a very adaptable recipe in my arsenal: risotto. By finely dicing carrots, onions, celery and celery greens with cut up sweet chicken-apple sausage, and swirling in a spoon full of low-fat cream cheese right at the end, I made a toddler-friendly version of one of our favorite dishes.

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She not only finished some off of our plates, she ate it by herself for lunch the next day, and even scooped a handful out of my bag while I was packing up leftovers to take to work! So we know it’s a keeper.

Here are my other two favorite risotto recipes:

An important note: I do choose to leave in the step with white wine, even while cooking for Georgia, because it’s a critical component to the final texture of the arborio rice. However, omitting it won’t ruin the dish completely, if that’s what you’d prefer to do.

In other news, Mark and Georgia planted our garden this weekend! This year, we are having strawberries, peas, tomatoes and basil:

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This is a kid who loves getting her hands dirty! I went online pretty much right away and ordered her this gardening play set from Green Toys, and already it’s a huge hit. She loves to help daddy with the soil, seeds and plants!

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Have a great week everyone and get out there to enjoy some nice weather now that it’s here to stay :)

The cutest guide to baby food, birth to 12 months

I recently stumbled across the most darling illustrated guide to feeding your baby in their first year on Along Abbey Road, and I simply had to share it. It makes me so happy! And, it’s completely useful. What she lays out here is pretty much month-for-month exactly what we introduced and when, and I feel really good about how we started Georgia on solids and transitioned her to table food when she was ready. 

alongabbeyroad.com

alongabbeyroad.com

So what comes next, after babies turn one?

At 12 months we started mixing whole milk into her formula (she had weaned from breast milk at 9 months) in graduating ratios until she was completely on “big girl” milk & solid foods. She started refusing purees right around 9 months anyway, so she was exactly on the timetable you see above when it comes to introducing more table foods. We started off cutting up our meals into really small pieces (rotisserie chicken, green beans, spaghetti, etc.) and then making the pieces larger as her coordination and number of teeth grew. She always has had an adventurous taste for things that are spicy, tart or unusual, so we were lucky there; we just had to help teach her how to take bites, “chew chew chew,” and bend her elbow to spoon things like mashed potatoes and stew into her mouth. All in all, it went fairly seamlessly and it was exciting to watch her grow and develop! The only real hiccups we had were between months 15 and 18 when she really struggled to feed herself with utensils, and got so frustrated (and messy) trying! Now, she’s an expert.

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See some of Georgia’s favorites from year one, and check out the first time we gave her baby oatmeal — her first food — right here. These days, she eats what we do, and the leftovers go to daycare for lunch.

Favorites include bananas, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, pineapple, mango, apples, pears, orange slices, vanilla yogurt, dried fruit, macaroni & cheese, dumpling soup, chicken and mushroom casserole, croissants, omelettes, pancakes, bacon, cheddar, jalapeno cheese, pretzels, pizza, granola bars, applesauce, smoothies, lemonade, ice cream, ravioli, meatballs, pesto tortellini, corn bread, naan, scrambled eggs, risotto, peanut butter crackers, donuts and chocolate chip cookies.

Clearly she’s growing — just look at her now!

I still can’t tell whether she’s going to be a righty or lefty since she switches hands every time she eats, and we are still working on the dexterity for foods like broth-based soup and fruits with the skin on. But it’s so fun to give her new things, and great to be able to go out to restaurants and order off the menu as a family without having to pack special snacks just for her! Plus, the older she’s getting, the more she likes “helping” me in the kitchen, which is super fun. To think I once couldn’t cook and didn’t know if I’d ever have kids!

such a pro, she's now feeding others!

such a pro, she’s feeding others!

Interested in Georgia’s mealtime accessories? We love our Ikea high chair with tray, which is priced right, portable, and unbelievably easy to clean; this Playtex sippy cup set; this Oxo Tot toddler flatware with easy-to-grip training handles; and this Skip Hop plate set, which was a favorite 1st birthday gift from a friend and comes in many “animal” pattern options. Bibs are also from Ikea and she loves this spill-proof snack container from Oxo Tot, too.

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