Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Week 3: Snow days and Turmeric Milk

I saw the latest cover of The New Yorker magazine (by the brilliant Roz Chast) in the mailbox yesterday and laughed out loud. Last Wednesday our Southern town was colder than Fairbanks, Alaska, so the cartoon definitely resonated with me.

Last week looked like this-
Monday: MLK day, no school
Tuesday: Normal
Wednesday: Snow day and streets are icy, town shuts down
Thursday: Snow day again as many streets stay impassable
Friday: Hobbling back to normal

After this unsettled week of entertaining restless house-bound children, I am feeling under the weather. Not sick enough to take time off and not well enough to go about the day energetically- just sort of listless and achy and tired from coughing.

This sort of seasonal crud calls for a good old home remedy- haldi doodh or turmeric milk, now appealingly labeled as golden milk. I can't say I love the taste of it, but it does a sore throat good. I spotted a recipe for turmeric milk mix in a grocery store flier- ground turmeric mixed with coconut oil and spices, stored in a jar ready to be mixed into warm milk. It is convenient to use, and turmeric dissolves better in oil than it does directly in milk. The warm spices offset the somewhat bitter taste of copious amounts of turmeric. Be warned that in addition to being a wonderful spice, turmeric is a very effective dye and will stain clothes if you're not careful.

Turmeric Milk Mix

In a small saucepan, warm 1/4 cup coconut oil.
Stir in 1/4 cup ground turmeric, 1 tbsp. grated fresh ginger and a tsp. or so each of  cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, black pepper and let the spices infuse for a couple of minutes.

Remove from heat and stir in 1/4  cup sugar and additional 1/4 cup coconut oil. Stir well, pour into a small jar and store in the fridge.

 The mix is great, but does set up solid in the fridge, so to use it, either warm it gently or just scrape off as much as you need.

To make a cup of turmeric milk, heat a cup of your favorite dairy or non-dairy milk (I prefer almond milk), stir in 1 tsp. honey and 1-2 tsp. turmeric milk mix. Sip away!

* * * 

On my bed-side table this week is a novel, House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III, borrowed from a friend who recommended it. The story is told from the viewpoint of two people- an Iranian immigrant and a young troubled housekeeper- who are fighting over a house, a small bungalow in California. So far it has been an interesting, if bleak, read.

Image: Goodreads

In our mother-daughter book club, we are reading Enid Blyton's The Enchanted Wood, a fantastic story of three children who climb up the Faraway Tree inhabited by fairy folk that reaches up to magical lands at the very top. I was thrilled to find this copy from the '80s at a used book sale for our home library.

What are you reading these days?

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Week 2: January is my SLEEP month, and a recipe for toddler-friendly pancakes

January is resolution season- did you make any resolutions in 2018? I rarely make real proper new years' resolutions but I like the idea of one-word resolutions, or overarching themes for the year. My word for 2018 is "streamline"- a word that sort of sums up my aspirations to organize, simplify and put into place helpful habits and processes in different parts of my life.

All through the month of January, I'm working on streamlining our family's sleep habits. I more or less took sleep completely for granted and never gave it a second thought, until we had two kids who are/were pretty terrible sleepers. So I have spent the last 6+ years reading every sleep book I could find and learning about how critical and indispensable good sleep is, while simultaneously racking up enormous amounts of sleep debt. Lately our kids' sleep has been improving/ stabilizing somewhat (famous last words? knock on wood, Nupur!) so I am attempting to climb out of the deep, bleary hole of chronic sleep debt.

January is a good month for sleep goals. December is fairly disastrous as far as sleep goes, what with holiday gatherings and travel and social drinking and bedtimes all over the place. There aren't many scheduled activities in January, it gets dark very early anyway and V's traveling a lot of this month so I am running ragged and ready to hit the sack at the first opportunity. Once the night begins, my sleep is at the mercy of two kids and a dog. A regular wake up time is always cited as a very good habit, but my wake up time is whenever the toddler decides he's "all done" or the canine decides it is time for a potty break. Likewise, when I'm woken up in the middle of the night, it can be a struggle to fall back asleep.

But especially at the start of the night, there are many things within my control and this month I'm trying to maximize those factors by making sleep a number one priority and creating a restful environment for sleep.

1. A regular bedtime, every day, no matter if it is a weekday or weekend. A fixed bedtime is a great way to set the circadian clock and over time, it habituates you to fall asleep quickly and easily at your bedtime. So this is probably the most important habit I'm cultivating in myself and the kids.

By nature I am a very early bird and school/work schedules also demand that we rise early (Lila's yellow school bus shows up at 7 AM!) so bedtimes in our household are very early. Niam's bedtime is 7 PM, Lila's is 7:30 PM and working backwards from my average wake up time (5 AM), I have to be asleep by 9 PM to even have the opportunity to sleep 8 hours.

2. Bedtime routines for my kids and for myself. A winding down routine provides a buffer zone between day and night and cues a good night's sleep. We do the usual stuff- baths, teeth brushing, story time, lotion and massage for the toddler, warm pajamas etc.

3. Stop using screens an hour before bedtime. This is the one I'm really working on this month. Going to bed at 9, shortly after getting the kids to bed and finishing household chores- this leaves me with almost no "me time" in the evenings, no time for crafting or watching TV or catching up on blogs. I have to fight against the feeling that "I deserve some time to chill out" and replace it with "I deserve my sleep". The good thing about screen-free time is that I have built in 30 minutes of reading time before bed- reading on old-fashioned dead-tree material, of course.

4. No tea or coffee after 3 PM. Not everyone is sensitive to caffeine but it definitely affects my sleep. Yesterday I had tea with a friend in the evening and sure enough, had trouble falling asleep. Alcohol also makes for a poor night's sleep. Yeah, good sleep is decidedly un-fun. But really, we get around this by shifting out socializing to the morning- friends come over for brunch and we eat and drink (alcohol! caffeine!) and make merry. Dinners, though? Nope, I just tell everyone I turn into a pumpkin at 9 PM.

6. Blackout curtains in the bedrooms. This made a huge difference in my sleep quality and I highly recommend it! The bedroom should be so pitch dark that you can't see your own hand when you hold it out in front of you. No blinking lights, clocks or electronics, and most definitely no TV in the bedroom.

* * *
After a good night's sleep comes a big breakfast. My toddler loves finger food and I was looking for a hearty pancake recipe with some eggs and oats. I found this one in, of all places, the comments section of a blog post. I personally don't like these pancakes- too bland and eggy for my taste- but the toddler loves them, so here is the recipe for anyone wanting to try it on the little ones in your life.

Toddler-friendly Eggy Pancakes

Measure 1/3 cup oats into a blender bowl. Blend into flour.

To this oat flour, add
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 tbsp. baking powder
  • pinch of salt

Blend everything into a smooth batter in the blender.

Let the batter rest for 10-15 minutes.

Make pancakes- this makes about 5-6 small (6 inch) pancakes.

Serve pancakes with butter, jam, applesauce, syrup or any other spread.

I usually spread the pancakes with jam or applesauce, then cut them into bite size pieces as a finger food. Pancakes can be stored in fridge (3 days) or frozen. Warm in microwave before serving.

Tell me about your sleep- do you get good sleep or is it something you struggle with? 

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Week 1: Highlights of winter break, and a recipe for Gingerbread

Ah, December, the most wonderful and most exhausting time of the year. For us it was a month of holiday gatherings, gift exchanges and travel. And catching up with many old friends, which is the best part of winter break for me.

Lila's maximalist graham cracker "Hansel and Gretel"
house made in Kindergarten class. 

Christmas cards made simply with strips of
colored paper and a glue stick
I do lots of holiday baking most years, and this year I managed to do a little bit. For Lila's teachers, I put together boxes of almond biscotti (I finally got around to updating the recipe with pictures to make it easier to follow) and buttercrunch candy, with a few store-bought Lindor sea salt chocolate truffles (the only supermarket candy I like) tucked in for some color and sparkle.

For Niam's teachers, I made some silly-cute wine bottle hat and scarf sets plus gift cards.

I bought a few small gifts for friends that we visited. From a local holiday market, I found some beautiful leaf-shaped ceramic spoon rests for my friends who like to cook.

The favorite gift I gave this year came from a close source. My artist friend Bala published a coloring book last month called Meditative Mandalas. What really amazed me that she drew these perfectly symmetric graphic circles with her hands, using no software to design them.

A hand-drawn mandala from Bala's book
I gave Bala's book to my dear high school
friend in Boston and she has declared that she's
"addicted to coloring"
Lila got two "big" gifts from us- a pink dressing table that she has been wishing for, and tickets to see a beautiful production of The Nutcracker Ballet- we went as a mother daughter outing with my dear neighbor and her daughter. Santa got Lila a much-coveted unicorn beanie boo (Santa's helper had to google that one) and some chocolate coins. She also got several gifts from friends- a horse stuffed toy, a scarf, two art kits, a princess throw, a Playmobil kit and a book. The most off-beat and delightful gift was from our friend S who believe it or not is the production head of a candy factory that makes sprinkles and got her 14 pounds of multicolored sprinkles!

On Christmas Day, we took a flight to Boston to treat the kids to a snowy vacation much unlike what they get to experience here in Georgia. We stayed with friends in their beautiful new home and enjoyed sledding in the yard and looking out at the winter wonderland. The temperatures were brutally cold (even for Boston in December) and it was the perfect excuse to stay indoors in our pajamas all day, drinking chai, watching movies and playing board games (many, many rounds of Codenames).

My friend's Christmas tree in Boston
complete with a toy train running around it.
Festive and darling!
I have so many recipes for holiday treats and sweets and cookies saved, just waiting to be tried. This time around, I only tried one new thing and it was wonderful- a damp, cakey, light as air gingerbread with lots of fresh ginger and molasses. A friend made this gingerbread a couple of years ago and I loved it and asked for the recipe. I couldn't resist adding some cardamom to the recipe to add another note to the heap of fresh ginger and it worked beautifully. The aroma of this cake baking in the oven was enough to put me in a holiday mood.

Gingerbread Cake
(adapted from the Field of Greens cookbook)

1. Preheat oven to 350F.

2. Grease a 9 x 13 pan.

3. Mix dry ingredients in a medium bowl:
1.5 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt

4. In another medium bowl, beat together:
1 large egg
1/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup light or dark corn syrup

5. In a large bowl, cream together  until fluffy
1 stick soft butter
1/2 cup sugar

6. Beat in the egg mixture.

7. Add the dry ingredient mix, alternating with 1/2 cup buttermilk (room temperature) until batter just comes together. (Note: you can also use buttermilk powder plus water, as I did, to avoid buying fresh buttermilk)

8. Stir in 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh ginger and 1 tsp. ground cardamom.

9. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a tested comes clean (or with crumbs attached). The cake is relatively thin and light so it is easy to over bake it- start checking at 20-22 minutes!

* * *
Week 1 of 2018 was a bit of home-related chaos around here. We narrowly missed the bomb cyclone up North and landed safely in Georgia, only to come home to a freezing house and a malfunctioning furnace. Suffice it to say that the week was spent chasing HVAC personnel and electricians and borrowing half a dozen space heaters from kind neighbors. But come Sunday night, I'm sitting here in a toasty warm home feeling very grateful to have heat since we have way-below-average temperatures this week here in the Atlanta area.

How did you celebrate the end of 2017? A very happy 2018 to you!