Adventures in Free – as in dairy, gluten, soy, chocolate, coconut (sigh)

Breastfeeding has made my daily diet a bit wonky…I am currently doing an elimination diet to see what is making poor Oakleigh have tummy troubles. Without our go-to no knead bread (oh how I miss it!) I wanted a cornbread that I could eat with soup. So many recipes are gluten free, some are dairy free but use a dairy substitute. So I decided to give it a go with just water and see what happened.

AMAZING cornbread!!! We may not even go back…

Gluten Free, Dairy Free Perfect Cornbread

  • 2 cups stone-ground cornmeal
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • ¾ cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 tsp white vinegar
  • 2 Tbs molasses or honey
  • 4 Tbs bacon fat, coconut oil or butter


Fat for greasing pan

  1. In a large bowl, mix the cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  2. Add the water, molasses and eggs to the dry ingredients, and mix until blended.
  3. Let corn mixture sit for a half hour, stirring occasionally if you remember.
  4. Place a cast iron skillet or cast iron muffin pan in oven, and preheat to 400 (for about 30 minutes while the cornmeal continues to soak, 1 hour total)
  5. When oven is hot, mix in vinegar to the corn mix.
  6. Remove the skillet from the oven, and melt 2-3 Tbs butter/oil/fat to coat the pan. (or drop a large pea size chunk of butter or fat/oil in each muffin hole) and immediately pour in the batter. Return the skillet to the oven, and bake at 375 for approximately 20-25 minutes, or until the top is golden and the center is just cooked through. Check a few minutes early as all ovens vary and add a few extra minutes if needed. Taking care not to over-bake will ensure moist cornbread.

First Holiday Season with a Little & the Goal of Less Stuff

It is mid November. Or in our family calendar, the middle of “cake season”. It kicks off with the State Fair gluttony in September, followed quickly by my birthday then Matt’s (hence the cake…lots of birthday cake to eat!), Thanksgiving and Christmas. So much food! And then we always mange to plan a poorly time beach (ie: swimsuit!) vacation for early in the new year. Good motivation to work out I suppose!

This year is our first embarking on the holidays as a family of three. Having a little along really makes every routine, tradition and timing of it all go up for consideration. Naps! Gifts! Time in the car! With both our families living within two hours of us holidays look quite different from how I grew up. We are adjusting our routine to equitably squeeze everyone in while maintaining a sense of balance…or at least that is the goal!


I have been inspired by some blog posts and stories online about establishing traditions that don’t revolve so much around gifts and a huge Christmas morning. Our little family has been pulling away from acquiring random stuff for some time now. I will admit that I still fall prey to new things (thank you Amazon for making it WAY too easy to get find anything and everything), but I have made a conscious effort in the past two years to a) stop going to stores just to browse and b) getting rid of random stuff in our house.

The first was hard. I drive a lot for work and would have 15 minutes to kill before going to a meeting. Why not pop into Goodwill (I love seeing what “treasures” there are), Marshalls, World Market etc even just to look? The consequence was that I can always find something I like. Even if it is just dish towels. Now with baby clothes the temptation is even greater! And when thrifting etc everything is so cheap and easy to justify. But I came to the realization that this was just an impulse waste of time and money.

So I just have stopped going in. I have even caught myself pulling into the parking lot, and then turning around. If you don’t look, you don’t buy. Period. I spend that extra 15 minutes calling a friend, catching up on my emails, or journaling in the car. And the amount of time, money and stuff I have saved adds up. Which allows me to justify investing in higher quality items of the things that we really do need or want.

Now to purging: this house remodel has been so helpful in helping us really see what we use and what we don’t. All (and by this I mean probably 90%) of our belongings are being stored in the extra bedroom. For two years now. And we have not missed it. We have seriously paired down the random kitchen items, knick knacks, magazines, books, etc that just took up space. We still need to purge our closets and shoe collection, but it really frees up so much physical and metal space to have fewer things in our house. And when we officially move back in, we will be very intentional about what we keep and what gets rehomed.

All that leads me to the holidays. And gifts. We have been thinking hard about how we want to establish traditions with Oakleigh from the start, and expectations around Santa gifts and stockings and all the different Christmases we attend. We have not come to any decisions yet (any suggestions out there? I am all ears!!!) but do like some of the ideas around the 4 gift system from parents, asking for experiences (or specific items rather than random stuff or toys), and this out there idea about a rainy day gift closet. All of these align with our family values of meaningful quality over quantity, and getting back to a life with less stuff. And taking time to pick (both in the making of wish lists and in the giving of) meaningful gifts that will be appreciated for the long haul.

I remember a fun childhood with tons of gifts on Christmas morning, but every year, it is really just one or two gifts that I can still remember. These were the highlight and were something I treasure to recall. My porcelain doll. Tiny tea set. Set of coral encyclopedias. A red hooded pea coat. That single gift from my great-grandmother every year that I knew was super special. And I remember the afternoon outing that we would do as a family. Sailing, or taking a walk. That is the part of Christmas that means the most in my memory, and we would like to focus our time and energy in making that our holiday priority.

This seems to be a common theme. When discussing with a friend the other day, a random woman came up to us and joined our conversation. She was having trouble navigating similar expectations with her daughter and grandkids. She was unsure how to ask what they would want to receive so she would be sure to pick things they wanted and would use. It was fun to have this conversation from multiple generations of perspectives!

Giving gifts and the generosity that comes with it is so touching and appreciated. And I know that everyone loves to spoil a baby! We had a great moment with my grandparents last week when my grandma was inspired to buy Oakleigh some new cloth diaper covers. This offer was SUPER appreciated and she asked some good questions ahead of time to make sure they were “right”. I was able to share with her information about what we used, and what we are needing next. It gave her the ability to help out, and we did not end up with random cloth diapers that we may not have used! Win win!

And with that, we embark on the 2017 holiday season! Wishing you and yours a time of restful, meaningful memories with your loved ones and families!

DIY Slate Blackboard Countertops – Living with Slate

In March 2016 (way way back!) I introduced our plan to make our own kitchen countertops from salvaged slate blackboards. Well, after nearly a year and a half of other projects, we have been living with these counters for nearly 3 months. The verdict: we could not be happier with them.


The natural grain (we used the natural side up instead of the polished writing surface) is stunning, and is the first thing everyone comments on. We were hesitant about scratches and chips, and so far have had zero issues. And this is in a kitchen that we are using AND continuing to do major renovation projects (ie: tools on the counter etc). We are thrilled.


The slate wipes off like a dream, and we have not had any issues with water, oil, wine or any other substance leaving a funny residue. We still have plans to finish them with mineral oil, but between other projects, cooking dinner, and wrangling a 4 month old we just have not gotten around to it. And they seem to be fine.

We are currently working on cabinet paint and hanging trim. And oh boy does that pull the kitchen together!!! These countertops are the star though, and truly embody the efforts of this DIY remodel.

Progress updates can be found here, here, and here for more details on this DIY project!

Amber Teething Necklaces – Baltic Essentials Review

Oakleigh is now back to waking every 4 hours to eat (totally fine by this breastfeeding mama) and sleeping soundly between. During the day naps are getting a bit longer again too. Everyone is feeling MUCH better with the extra sleep…hopefully this is the end of her 4 month sleep regression!

Another change has been drool. Oakleigh was never a big drooler in her first months, but that is changing. She constantly wants to have her fingers in her mouth (or your arm, or a toy) and SOAKS it in a matter of minutes. Like dripping down your arm soaked.

So I figured it was time to give amber teething necklaces a try. I had always planned to use one for teething, and they are supposed to help with drool too. And fussiness. And they are adorable. What was there to lose? I struggled with growing pains as a kid and they are supposed to help with that too. I would love to have something that gives Oakleigh some relief! These necklaces are not to chew on, they are worn in close contact to the skin and releases microscopic amounts of oil, as it warms with the body’s natural temperature. Baltic Amber contains succinic acid (anti-fever, anti-inflammatory), the compound that gives Baltic Amber teething necklaces the therapeutic quality.

When I went out to pick a necklace I was torn between a solid Baltic amber one and one that also had semiprecious stones. I loved the look of the mixed stones but did not want to lose the effectiveness. I contacted Baltic Essentials with my questions and they offered to let me test them out and share my story!

We choose one unpolished Baltic amber (cognac color), and the other alternating pink rose quartz, green and purple fluorite, and amber. Both are very pretty, but I am partial to the uniqueness of the mix. The necklaces from Baltic Essentials are both high quality, beautiful and arrived super quickly (important when you have a teething baby to soothe!). They were also very helpful in recommending the right necklace for my little love.


how pretty is this?!

I started out with the mixed stone necklace. Oakleigh wears it around her neck, against her skin (it has to have skin contact to stay warm and release the pain reducing acid), and around her ankle when she is sleeping. First off, it looks adorable! She does not even notice having it on. Actually, she likes to have it put on and off because our fingers tickle her chin and neck and she loves it!

After three days, I am not noticing much difference in drooliness, but she does seem calmer. The first day she wore the necklace nighttime sleep was SO much better (this also coincided with her kicking the 4 month sleep regression so who knows, it could have been the necklace, the sleep or just total coincidence! I’ll take it!) Regardless, she does not mind wearing it at all and it looks adorable.


This weekend I am going to swap this necklace out for the all amber one and see if it makes a difference. All amber is supposed to be more effective so I am excited to experiment!


DIY Slate Blackboard Countertops – Install

When we embarked on the DIY blackboard slate countertop project we had a general idea of how to do it, but in the end had to make a bunch of decisions, trial and error, research and pure guts.

Step 1: Cleaning the slate

These blackboards were from the 1940s, and had been glued to the wall with who-knows-what adhesive back in the day. Then at some point they had white boards glued on top of them! In other words, a TON of stuff to remove. You can read more about that process here

Step 2: Building the understructure

Just like a tile countertop, we needed to build up a structure for the slate to attach to. This was pretty straightforward (especially after doing the brick fireplace the same way). A sandwich of ¾” plywood, backerboard attached with thinset and screws, and then taping any seams. This flat, level surface then gave us the template for the slate. We took the opportunity to make the new surfaces a half inch further offset from the cabinets below giving the counters a bit more surface area and a more attractive overhang.

The best part of making our our counters is we could experiment as we went, and truly get it exactly how we wanted. If we had ordered them, we may not have been able to look ahead as far to see how we wanted it.

Step 3: Cutting and Installation

We used a borrowed diamond stone cutting saw (like a mini circular saw with a water attachment) to cut the slate. Matt would measure out the pieces we needed, set them up on sawhorses in the driveway and cut away. He scored guide lines with a metal scraper since drawing them on would wash off with the hose water from the saw. He also learned that using a guide was critical. We used a combination of a standard clamp guide from Harbor Freight, and some old trim clamped on with c-clamps to ensure a straight cut. This step required LOTS of patience and attention to detail. There were certain pieces we had picked out for particular areas due to the grain in the stone, so we only had one shot.

Installing the slate was just like large format tile. We used large format thinset and a wide notched trowel. There were some great resources online demonstrating the importance of how you  lay down the thinset and how it impacts the strength of your floor/counters etc.

We set the slate with as minimal of grout lines as possible, starting with the edge pieces. This would ensure that the top pieces would overlap perfectly to create the counter edge. Clamping them in place was critical to ensure they would not slide as the thinset set up.




Look of pure relief when the island piece was finally  installed. This one had a super unique grain patter  and was a complex series of angles to get it cut just right.


Once the sides were installed and cured, we could move on to the top pieces.

Step 4: Finishing

After experimenting with some trial pieces, we decided to slightly sand a bevel into the leading edge of the counters. This smoothed out the look of the stone and also should reduce chipping in the future. To achieve this, we used a belt sander to take off a fine bit of slate. It made all the difference in taking this project to a pro level. Some we sanded once they were set, some we did before.


Step 5: Sealing

After reading up on options, we decided to just finish our counters with mineral oil. And well, honestly have not done that yet. We still plan to, but they are performing so well just as they are.


By doing this project ourselves we save a TON of money, got the material we wanted (dark, solid, natural stone), saved materials from the landfill and truly achieved a unique one of a kind feature for our home. We still have a pile of leftover slate so we may do this again for an outdoor kitchen…

Questions? We would be happy to answer them!

Four Month Sleep Regression and the Hype Curve of the Zipadee Zip

Our smiley little love turned 4 months old! She shared her first real laugh that evening to celebrate…and then was engulfed with the four month sleep regression. She went from waking 2x per night to eat, to waking every.single.hour. Oy!

We were happily nursing to sleep and feeding on demand, but I know that she was not hungry at each of these wake ups. In fact, she had pulled plenty of 5-6 hour stretches, and a few 8 hour ones. So it was time to really focus in on getting some good sleep patterns in place.

I tore through a sleep book to brush up on ideas and schedules for some gentle sleep training, and on night 3 of this bad sleep trend we gave it a shot. Nursing to sleep? No more. It was time to try putting her down “drowsy but awake”. I also decided to retire the swaddle since she was fighting her arms when we put her in it. With the endless sleep-helping-jammies rotation we decided to try the Zipadee Zip.

Our sweet little starfish took 12 minutes to fall asleep on night 1. She was happy and content looking at her newly freed arms and hands, and only slightly fussed. Success! I was high on the idea that I might finally get back some normal sleep.


Well…not so much. That first night was still pretty sporadic and LOTS of waking up. Lots of getting up to pop in the pacifier. And then she would conk out for another hour. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Cue the Hype curve. This is totally accurate.


Last night was night 2 with the new routine. And I am thrilled to report that it is going better! 9 minutes, zero crying, and she slept for some 2-3 hour stretches and only ate once. Much happier baby (and parents!) in the morning! Phew. On the slope of enlightenment? Let’s hope so.

I know we still have a long way to go, but a solid bedtime routine, new freedom from jammies, and putting herself to bed have been really helpful as we move into this new phase of life with our little love. And extra bonus: last night was the first time Matt and I ate dinner together, alone, upstairs while she had already gone to bed. HUGE WIN!

Coconut Milk Vanilla Ice Cream (Dairy Free!)

I am on week two of trying no diary. Of course it is fall and that means apple crisp…which is not complete without a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The pints of alternative ice creams at the grocery store were a) too expensive, and b) just not really what I was going for, so I made my own based on my traditional dairy ice cream base, swapping milk and cream for coconut milk!

Verdict: it tasted like frozen coconut cream pie. Heaven! On it’s own it was very coconutty, but when paired with apple crisp resonated pretty true, rich vanilla. I have made a chocolate version that is excellent too.


Coconut Vanilla “Ice Cream”

  • 4 cups full fat coconut milk (we use Thai brand Aroy-D cartons from our local Asian market)
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 2 tsp arrowroot powder
  • pinch of salt
  • vanilla extract
  • 4 egg yolks


In saucepan, heat HALF the coconut milk with sugar, arrowroot powder, and salt until heated through, stirring or whisking constantly (not boiling). Temper egg yolks with some of the hot mixture, and add to pot. Continue cooking until the consistency is of thin pudding. Add in vanilla extract and remaining 2 cups of coconut milk.

At this point I choose to pour the ice cream mix through a mesh strainer to remove any lumps, but this is optional .

Cool ice cream base in the fridge until cold, overnight is ideal. Churn in ice cream maker for ~20 minutes or until done. Freeze in containers for at least 30 minutes before serving.