Baby & Toddler · DIY · Holidays · Tips and Tricks

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.


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:


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!


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. 


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.


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 😉


  • 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


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!


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.




The deconstructed toddler version:


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.

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!

Grow Your Own Way · kid-friendly · Recipes

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.


  • 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.





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.


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.


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.


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.


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!

Tips and Tricks

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.


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 🙂


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).


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.


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.








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.



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:


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 //

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.


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!