Grains of Salt: South Carolina July 4th!

For a variety of reasons July 4th this year felt like a deep sigh of relief. Lots of things are in motion for our family but we were able to toss it all to the side and spend time relaxing, picking peaches, and endlessly ringing the windchimes on the porch to Ben’s absolute delight. He also took two almost two-hour naps daily which, if you have a toddler, you know isn’t a thing that happens ever.

Back in the swing of normal life this week but moving slower than usual as we anticipate the rollercoaster ahead. I’ll share more soon - lots of changes in the upcoming weeks for us. For now though, some photos of our official start to Summer 2019.

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Plane Toddler

This is not a post about Nashville.

This is a post about getting out of Nashville.

Let’s start from the beginning. Ben turned one in April and, per our most recent count, our family vacation to Tennessee was his 16th flight. Between trips to Michigan and South Carolina to visit grandparents, this kid has somehow racked up more miles in 14 months than I did in my first 20 years.

As we prepare to take off once again for South Carolina in a few days, I figure it’s high time I share my tips for traveling with someone who has the attention span of a fruit fly. Here’s the thing - by no means am I implying to be an expert. But, after so many flights and the utter nightmare that our trip out of Nashville turned out to be, it feels like I’ve got some notches on my belt now.

  • Take the earliest possible flight. Toddlers are absolute angels when they first wake up in the morning. An early flight guarantees that if your kid woke up at 5AM, and your flight is at 8AM, they’ll be sufficiently tired. Remember, airplanes are basically steel wombs. Rocking, humming, warm, steel wombs. It’s all the 5 S’s in one easy place! A tired baby + a womb like environment + your arms + a bottle or sippy full of milk/water = NAP.

    Regardless of your flight time, plan things out. If you can, feed a large meal, so they’re sleepy on the plane. Or run them around and play beforehand in the terminal so that they’re worn out. Point is, the best kid on a plane is a sleeping kid.

  • Check luggage, gate-check the stroller, bring a backpack/large diaper bag. Yes, it’s more expensive but hear me out. The last thing you want to deal with when you’re traveling alone with a baby who cannot sit still is a situation in which that baby must sit still. You only have two hands, right? Wrangling a suitcase into the compartment above your seat, is not a luxury you can afford. Last time I tried it Ben started licking the metal of the seat belt buckle. (We live in New York, germs are everywhere. Germs don’t scare me. Airplane germs, though? NOOOPE.) If you’re traveling with your partner, bring a carry on. Alone? Just check it. You’ll have your hands full with the baby and putting them down in the seat without full attention is not really an option - don’t do that to yourself. Unless you have more than two hands, then go for it.

  • Bring entertainment. We pack an arsenal of toys that don’t make noise or a mess but are stimulating. A small stuffed bear, magnetic building tiles, touch- and- feel books. The books are so good we now have them in three different versions - something about the bright colors and fun textures on each page mean they’re actual magic for distracting a cranky one- year- old on long flights.

  • Bring snacks. When all else fails, distract with food. Just like adults, toddlers are unable to resist eating their feelings. Puffs, veggie teethers, fruit pouches, hell even some blueberries, whatever it takes. Pack different kinds and don’t blow your stash all at once. Hand out slowly.

    Pro-tip: Whatever you bring, do not pack bean salad for your baby. We recently saw a couple try to feed their one- year- old bean salad on the plane and it was traumatizing for all involved, including the passengers who had to suffer the smell.

  • Actual pro-tip: Give a bottle/sippy on the way up and a bottle on the way down. We always give Ben a bottle as soon as the plane takes off and one as soon as the pilot announces our decent. This helps little ears pop without even knowing what just happened or an ear pressure related freak out.

  • Deploy all of the above strategically. Every child is different, has a different attention span and tolerance for boredom. What every child cannot resist is an interesting new activity, insert jazz hands here. Don’t bring everything out at once. Pack your bag in such a way that your toys, books, snacks come out one a time and are separately interesting.

Here’s the most important thing to remember about toddler and baby travel. You are the star of the show. Don’t like the spotlight? Too bad. Cause you’re on stage for the next 1-5 hours, non-stop. Whether it’s reading, playing with a stuffed animal, turning “itsy-bitsy” spider into a 10-minute production of Charlotte’s Web meets Fiddler on the pull-out tray, whatever it takes. The reality is, a child cannot be expected to understand social protocol, so it’s your responsibility to keep them from driving your fellow passengers nuts. No one likes a screaming kid on a plane and even worse, no one likes to be that parent.

Sadly, sometimes, no matter how hard you try best laid plans are just a total flop. Earlier this month I decided that Ben and I should tag along for a conference Ian attended in Nashville. Fly in the weekend before and leave once the conference kicked off.

The trip was lovely. Let me tell you - quality family time is only enhanced by hot chicken.

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I was anticipating our flight out of Nashville to be as seamless and smooth as the vacation. I planned it perfectly. Nap before the airport, hour and a half to get checked in and situated. Large lunch in the terminal and some walking around meant Ben would certainly nap on the flight! And then… a two-hour delay. No amount of perfect timing or strategy could prepare me for keeping my child entertained, with no nap in sight, in the airport THEN on a flight. We spent our delay walking to and from terminals, even ate a different snack in each wing. If you need recs for food in Terminal C at BNA, I’m your girl.

Sharing a frozen yogurt in Terminal C.

Sharing a frozen yogurt in Terminal C.

Did you know the airport sometimes has live music? Dancing with my tiny fellow to an acoustic cover of “Stand by Your Man” on the grey, Motel 8 inspired carpet of the Nashville Airport? Crossed that one off the bucket list. Long story short, by the time we got on the flight I was in for it. No nap, too much stimulation, no interest in my ongoing attempts to entertain him meant Ben lost it. Climbing me like a jungle gym, throwing puffs, slapping the seat, you name it - he was doing it. (I’ll briefly mention that somewhere in this time period he also managed to create such a stink in his diaper that I had to change him in the plane bathroom.) My baby was going so nuts that about 90-minutes into the flight the attendant came over and politely asked me to walk up and down the aisles with him to keep my fellow seat mate, an extra from Wolf of Wall Street who had clearly never seen a child before, from raging out on us. He even gave Ben a flashlight! So, there we were - walking up and down the aisle of the plane. Dropping the flashlight, CLUNK, picking up the flashlight, dropping the flashlight, CLUNK. Then laughing, then crying. Like some kind of unhinged toddler security.

There’s a reason they make them cute…

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What to Cook after Vacation

What to cook after vacation?

Don’t.

Just don’t.

You just got back from vacation and if it’s anything like over here, unpacked three bags worth of stuff. (Somehow a one- year-old single-handedly destroys the dream of not checking luggage. We travel with 10x more now that there’s a baby.) The last thing you want to worry about the night back from vacation, which is often also the night before going back to work, is standing in front of the stove. What are you, Betty Draper? No. Grab a beer an order a pizza, or Indian food, whatever. Relish the last moments of total freedom and just don’t bother.

I have a long-standing tradition of cleaning out our fridge completely before we leave for vacation. Bare bones. Total deep clean. I don’t do much grocery shopping before heading out of town so anything that’s in there is either a leftover, long forgotten, or never to be consumed. The day before we take off, I throw away most of it (usually old vegetables and jars of who-knows-what; so, please don’t get all up in arms about food waste). This results in coming home to a clean slate and very little pressure to cook immediately.

Then, once I’ve snapped out of “ugh back to reality” mode and checked days’ worth of unread work email, I can plug into cooking. Very recently, I’ve developed a system which is proving to be no fail. As always with my blog - limited effort, maximum result. So, the answer to what to cook after vacation? Roast a chicken. (Not immediately, do it on a Tuesday night. Trust me. It pays off for the rest of the week.)

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Here’s what you do. Pull a chicken out of the freezer to defrost the night you get home. Or, if you don’t have one, buy one. This is where you’re probably rolling your eyes at me because roasting a chicken sounds SO labor intensive. It doesn’t have to be! The below recipe isn’t totally mine, it started from the genius mind of Mark Bittman. However, I’ve adapted it a bit to satisfy my taste and to make it even easier. Make either one, I promise it’s not hard.

Seriously, the whole thing has like seven ingredients and one of them is a skillet.

Mark Bittman’s Version

Easiest Roast Chicken

Ingredients

  • 1 whole chicken, not too big.

  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges

  • 1 head of garlic, cut into wedges

  • olive oil

  • salt

  • pepper

  1. Heat up the oven to 400°F.

  2. Meanwhile, take your whole bird, remove everything that might be inside, and pat down the entire thing with paper towel. Use half a roll if you need to but the dryer the crispier the skin.

  3. Place the bird in a cast iron skillet.

  4. Rub the chicken all over with olive oil.

  5. Sprinkle all over with salt and pepper. Seriously, don’t skimp on these.

  6. Cut a lemon into 4 wedges. Stuff them inside the bird.

  7. Cut a garlic into wedges. Stuff inside the bird. Don’t even bother peeling it.

  8. Roast for 30 min at 400°F then turn the over down to 350°F and roast until the chicken is golden brown, and an instant read thermometer reads 155 to 165 degrees. Or, if you’re me, just cut into the thing and see if the juices run clear. It’s probably fine.

  9. Remove and rest the bird for at least 15 min before serving.

  10. Carve and serve.

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Serve the chicken with mashed sweet potato, baked potato, sautéed green beans, or even just some sliced tomato and cucumber!

When you’re done eating and ready for clean up, make your partner do the dishes while you do this:

  • Take all the meat and put it aside in a Tupperware container for the rest of the week. Make chicken salad, put some in a sandwich for lunch, throw it in some pasta, or make Tomato Basil Chicken Paella. Easy meals for the rest of the week!

  • Take all the bones from the carcass, all the fat and olive oil at the bottom of the cast iron skillet, the lemon, the garlic, and put in the fridge - post about what to do with these soon!

That’s it! That is it.

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