What the kids are up to lately

Well, El Guapo’s walking. He was taking a few steps at a time about a month ago, and about two weeks later he started just toddling around the house. He still is unsteady enough that an object on the floor or a sudden change in the texture or height of the floor (moving onto or off of a rug, for instance) often causes him to fall. But he gets around, and he’s happy about it.

He’s also trying to talk more, which is going rather weirdly. First of all, he calls me Dada. He also calls Jon Boy Dada. We have this conversation about ten times a day:

El Guapo, patting my chest affectionately: “Dada!”
Me: “No! Mama.”
El Guapo, patting again: “Dada!”
Me: “No! I’m Mama. Say Ma. Ma. Ma.”
El Guapo: “Dada!”

He smiles so pluckily its as if he thinks that his thick mother might eventually figure out that her name is Dada and that he’s right. Last night we did get him to say “Nah-Nah” (like Mama, but with N’s) once, so maybe he just can’t. I don’t know.

Then, once in a while, he’ll say a word he’s never said before, once, almost perfectly. Like “book” or “cheese” or “thank you.” Then he won’t repeat it. Ever. Instead, he just says “light” a million times a day.

Duplo is becoming more interested in reading and is figuring out more and more words. He’s in that stage where he’ll decode a single word on a sign or a book and ask why it’s there. He spends hours a day playing with wooden blocks and is super interested in how things are put together and what the functions of different pieces of machinery are.

Lego just started first grade and is doing fine. He actually seems to come home cranky more often than not, but he claims to love school, so maybe he’s just tired after a long day of working hard. He also learned to ride his bike without training wheels this weekend. I really can’t say who’s prouder of him, us or him. We’ve been working with him on it all summer, but we weren’t even outside when he figured it out. He was out with his cousins and tried a smaller bike, and when he learned how to ride that, he tried his own and did just fine.

So yeah, we’re doing great and learning all the time. Never a dull moment at our house, let me tell you.

In which I go all granola on you

I really don’t consider myself the sort of person who buys organic, who makes her own bread from her own freshly ground whole wheat flour, or who does any number of homely but ultimately time-consuming, earth-mama-y things. I’m a modern girl, and while I do garden and can my home-grown produce, I generally don’t care enough to stop buying bread at the store, and I’m too much of a cheapskate to pay more for something that is probably better for my family when the alternative is not actually bad for them. I think the word for people like me is lazy or maybe apathetic.

Which is why it’s so surprising to me that I’ve suddenly gotten into homemade cleaning products. I just don’t feel like the sort of person who makes her own laundry detergent, you know? Not that I have anything against people who do; I just didn’t see myself joining their ranks.

But a few months back, I saw a blog post from someone who moved into a place with a horrible, old, black, gucky tub. Like mine, you might say. She tried a whole bunch of things to clean it and reviewed each one. In the end, the one she recommended most highly was . . . borax. Plain old-fashioned boric acid borax. I didn’t even know you could clean a tub with borax. I didn’t even know where I could acquire it. What I did know is that I’d tried a whole host of things to clean our nasty tub, and none of them had made much difference. If borax could get it whiter, I’d consider it a triumph. So I went to my grocery store’s laundry aisle and bought a box of borax. I scrubbed and scrubbed (she did warn that elbow grease was needed), and you know what? That tub looked better after I was done than I’d ever seen it. Not that it was perfect, mind you, but it was better. (Update: At my mother-in-law’s suggestion, I tried a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser for some of the black spots on the tub, and it worked wonders as well. It didn’t do as good of a job on the general grayness as the borax did, though.) One downside is that borax doesn’t dissolve in water, so you end up with a gritty residue where you use it. It rinses off easily, though.

Now that I’d seen the power of borax on my tub, I decided to try it for its main purpose, laundry. I used it to freshen the scent of musty loads, and it does work great for that without the risk of bleaching the colors. It isn’t so awesome at stain removal, unfortunately.

I guess borax was my entry drug. After that, I was more willing to try cream of tartar (and later baking soda) to scrub my stovetop. Cream of tartar works great for greasy, cooked-on food stains. Again, it requires elbow grease, but it does work really well. Baking soda does not work half so well. I later used cream o’ tartar to scrub clean a cookie sheet that had had burned food on it (babysitter didn’t know it was in the oven when we left . . . oops), and it worked for that too. Too bad cream of tartar isn’t exactly cheap.

Well, after trying these, I guess the logical next step was to try making my own laundry detergent. To be honest, I kind of felt like I’d gone over to the dark side when I first started contemplating it. But the more I thought about paying $25 for three months’ worth of laundry detergent, the more I wanted to see if homemade detergent, which cost more like $35 a year, worked as well as some people online said it did. I had to find Fels Naptha soap and washing soda, the latter of which I actually had to ask an employee for help finding. I have to admit, my first load of laundry didn’t come completely clean with 2 Tbsp. of my detergent. But upping it to 3 Tbsp. seemed to solve the problem, so maybe I just do really big loads.

So yeah. Natural cleaning products for the win. Maybe I’ll mix up some vinegar and water and use it to clean my kitchen. Ca-RAAA-zy!

The best peach cobbler

I feel like I have a lot of updates on our family that I should be sharing (El Guapo turning one and learning to walk among them), but instead I’m going to take a minute to share the best peach cobbler recipe I have ever tried. And I’ve tried some.

My dad and I share a deep and abiding love of peaches, and when peach season hits, we both crave a good peach cobbler. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a recipe that quite did it for us. The yellow-cake-mix variety is just sad, but anything we tried with a more biscuity topping tasted bland and floury, and sometimes dry. So when I was in high school, we did a peach cobbler bake-off. We tried several different recipes, but none of them was quite right. Ultimately we gave up.

A few years later, I married my husband. One night, either early in our marriage or while we were still engaged, we had some peaches and decided to make cobbler. I told him I didn’t have a good recipe, and he pulled out his mom’s.

Oh. My. Word. This recipe is like the Platonic ideal of peach cobblers. It’s a bit more work than the other ones I’d tried, but it’s worth it.

Peach Cobbler

For the peaches:

4 tsp. corn starch
4–6 Tbsp. brown sugar (depending on the sweetness of your peaches)
1/2 c. cold water
3 c. sliced peaches
2 Tbsp. butter
2 tsp. lemon juice

In a medium saucepan, mix corn starch, brown sugar, and water. Add peaches. Cook and stir over medium heat until bubbly and thickened. Remove from heat, and add butter and lemon juice. Pour into casserole dish (ours is 9″ x 7″).

For the topping:

2/3 c. flour
1/4 c. sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. salt
3 Tbsp. butter, softened
1/4 c. milk

Sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut in butter. Stir in milk until it forms a sticky dough. Don’t worry too much if not every bit of butter is completely incorporated; as it bakes, the butter will melt and integrate better with the rest.

Drop the topping by spoonfuls over the peaches as evenly as possible. Bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes. Eat with vanilla ice cream if you’re not counting calories.