Granola fail (?)

I think it’s fitting that my first food post here will be a recipe-fail … or, is it? Anyway, cooking is all about messing up, starting over and improvising – if your recipes are coming out perfect each time, you’re not doing it right. I’ve been trying to be more creative with my cooking and baking, namely, coming up with my own ideas. Or rather, using someone else’s recipe and adapting it for my and my husband’s tastes and what we have in our pantry.

Take my latest … attempt. I had bookmarked this recipe for these “Energy Bites” quite some ago on Pinterest. The other night I was home alone for a few hours after dinner – Joel was at his community band rehearsal and I was enjoying a rare day off – so I decided to give them a try. I had been madly pinning a few hours earlier, giving me all this motivation to get in the kitchen. Specifically, I was stuck on the idea of making my own “snack food”, thereby reducing our dependence on processed and pricey snacks from the grocery store.

Now, a few months earlier than that, I had made a big batch of the Pioneer Woman’s granola bars. They were delicious but the recipe made SO many (note to self: Pioneer Woman recipes can feed an army), and most of the granola bars became hard as rocks after weeks in our fridge. However, after that experience, we did have some regular oatmeal in the pantry, as well as some wheat germ and molasses that wasn’t serving any purpose.

So I decided to give the Energy Bites a try, thinking they’d be a yummy breakfast snack when I was rushing off to open the store. Here’s the recipe as you can find them on Gimme Some Oven:

  • 1 cup of dry oatmeal
  • 2/3 cup toasted coconut flakes
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup ground flaxseed or wheat germ
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips (optional)
  • 1/3 cup honey or maple syrup
  • 1 tbsp chia seeds (optional)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

You stir all the ingredients together, chill in the fridge for half an hour or so, then roll into balls or whatever size you want. Store them in an airtight container in the fridge for up to one week.

My problem: The coconut flakes and chia seeds I did not have, but wasn’t worried about. What I also did not have was peanut butter – Joel and I had eaten the last of what we had earlier that week with our toast. Oops. Like I said, however, I did have molasses. Peanut butter, molasses – same thing, right?

Not really. On top of the chocolate chips, I also added butterscotch chips and some dried cranberries, but man oh man, was that molasses smell/taste strong. Not bad, necessarily – I do like the taste of molasses. But not that much. Plus, they weren’t rolling very well, though I think that was mainly due to the extra stuff I threw in.

I then decided that perhaps baking them in mini muffin cups would make a difference, and you know, I think it did! The molasses taste and smell was much more mellow after baking at 350 degrees for 15 minutes, with the flavors blending a little more.

Unfortunately, not having cooking spray, I just dumped this stick mixture into the muffin cups, meaning they were a tad difficult to pry out. The whole shebang had to be soaked overnight before I could wash it. And the ball concept just went to pieces, meaning what I was left with was some loosely-packed granola bits.

When it was all said and done, the granola still smells pretty strongly of molasses but the chocolate and butterscotch chips keep it sweet and tasty. I like to pick at it for breakfast and for a snack, though I still haven’t been able to get Joel to try it. I do think it would have been better sans molasses and with peanut butter, but you know, it’s good enough that I won’t throw it away. Verdict: minor success!

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Feminism on overdrive

Man, I picked a really good time to read The Feminine Mystique. Earlier this week, I spent a valuable hour during one of my days off reading op-ed after op-ed on the problems facing modern feminism; namely, multiple responses to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, Lean In, a look at why more women aren’t in leadership positions and what they need to get there.

I’m still processing most of it, so here’s a smattering of some valuable reading on the very important topics of women in the workplace, work-life balance and what it means to be a mother and wife and a successful career woman.

Sheryl Sandberg’s valuable advice (Washington Post) – Ruth Marcus

Sandberg prods women to consider how their own attitudes and behavior unwittingly exacerbate the problem. “We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small,” she writes. “We lower our expectations of what we can achieve.”

Her advice is obvious, yet hard to execute. Sit at the table: Believe — or act like you believe — you have something valuable to say. Don’t leave before you leave, tailoring your ambitions (and constraining your future choices) because you fear, down the road, that you will be unable or unwilling to juggle the load.

Sheryl Sandberg isn’t the perfect feminist. So what? (Washington Post) – Jessica Valenti

The detractors underestimate how radical Sandberg’s messages are for a mainstream audience. When was the last time you heard someone with a platform as big as hers argue that women should insist that their partners do an equal share of domestic work and child care?

Why Women Still Can’t Have It All (The Atlantic) – Anne Marie Slaughter

I still strongly believe that women can “have it all” (and that men can too). I believe that we can “have it all at the same time.” But not today, not with the way America’s economy and society are currently structured. My experiences over the past three years have forced me to confront a number of uncomfortable facts that need to be widely acknowledged—and quickly changed.

However, I find the first opinion piece I read, written by Elsa Walsh, author of Divided Lives: The Public and Private Struggles of Three American Women, to be the most interesting and perhaps the one I identify with the most. I particularly like how in the first few paragraphs of her essay, Why women should embrace the good enough life, she points out the inherent flaws in much of the discourse that has surrounded the Sandberg discussion:

Yet, I find it to be a narrow conversation, centered largely on work, as though feminism is about nothing more than becoming a smart and productive employee and rising to the top.

Parenthood and family are much more central to our lives than this conversation lets on. The debate has become twisted and simplistic, as if we’re merely trying to figure out how women can become more like men. Instead, let’s ask: How can women have full lives, not just one squeezed around a career?

It helps to take a longer view of a woman’s life.

Walsh says she agrees with much of what Sandberg writes in Lean In, including that women should always demand a place at the table, and not be afraid to negotiate their salary. Why is it, after all, that men continue to be paid more than women?

And yet, Walsh says Sandberg’s argument lacks a few key details – details that I think are pretty important:

First, Sandberg does not seem to get just how hard it is to have a demanding job and a meaningful family life if you cannot afford child care and other help.

And third, I have to wonder if Sandberg does not realize that she is going to die someday. There is so little life and pleasure in her book outside of work. Even sex is framed as something that men will get more of if they pitch in and help their working wives.

Success, particularly the kind Sandberg calls for, requires ever more time at the office, ever more travel. It requires always being available, always a click away. Sandberg is almost giddy when she describes getting up at 5 a.m. to answer e-mails before her children wake up and getting back on her computer once they are asleep.

“Facebook is available 24/7 and for the most part, so am I,” she writes. “The days when I even think of unplugging for a weekend or a vacation are long gone.”

Imagine what that life looks like to a child. Imagine what it looks like to yourself when you are 80.

That is not how I want my daughter to live, and it is not how I want to live.

I agree with Walsh: that is not how I want to live either. I am currently moving into a new career field that will hopefully be less demanding of my time and energy, so that I can devote my life to my career but also my family, friends and other passions (traveling, writing, etc). I recently quit a job where the boss was only a quick phone call or text message away, whether that was 6:30 p.m. on a Wednesday or 2 a.m. on Saturday. I was exhausted and miserable, the “glamorous” part of the job not coming close to outweighing the imposition it made on my life. And I’m only 26. But because I’m 26, I was able to make the choice to change what made me unhappy, and then work on starting over (while, at the same time, not really starting over at all – just using my skills in a new way).

Still, I think Walsh – like all the women writing these op-eds – understands that no matter how many little things Sandberg gets wrong, there is one thing we modern feminists can all agree on: women need to have something for themselves, whether that’s a career or some other driving passion. As rewarding as motherhood can be, women deserve far more than just “the home life.”

I say this because these simple truths aren’t so simple to many women today, including many young women of my generation. Heavens knows what other Princeton moms are telling their daughters these days, but just this week, I came across this quote someone posted on Facebook. This girl graduated from high school with me and is, as you can see, pretty religious. But this pretty much sums up her worldview:

If you’re a mom, God has called you to mother those children. If you’re a wife, God has called you to bless and serve and fulfill the needs of your husband, to be a keeper of your home. That’s God’s calling. When you’re doing that, you’re serving the Lord. Don’t get distracted. – Nancy Leigh DeMoss

For this young woman, things like a career or any other passion outside the home as merely “distractions.” Yes, I know this is reflective of a conservative Christian sect, and yet, this is the message so many of my peers live by everyday. Do they even know Gloria Steinem? Do they care?

Instead, I love Walsh’s advice for her daughter:

I’ll also tell her to make time for herself. Unplug from the grid. Carve out space for solitude. Search for work you love that allows flexibility if you want to have children. And if you do, have them when you’re older, after you’ve reached that point in your career when you are good enough at what you do that you will feel comfortable dialing back for a while. Don’t wait until it’s too late to start planning, because no one else is going to do it for you. And don’t quit completely because, as wonderful as parenthood is, it cannot and will not be your whole life. Learn how to manage conflict, because the greater the level you can tolerate, the more freedom you will retain. Making compromises is a healthy approach to living.

For a woman to say she is searching for a “good enough” life is not failure — it is maturity and self-knowledge.

I’d also tell her, if she marries, to work hard on her relationship. It’s not only much easier than getting divorced, it’s more rewarding and more fun. Love. Full stop. That’s what matters.

I like to think Betty Friedan would agree.

Spring is (trying) to arrive

Spring in Michigan is a fickle thing. It’s nearing the end of April and yet the days are still rather frosty around here, with a few snowflakes making an appearance every now and then. And yet, during a run with Joel earlier this week, we stumbled across a sure and colorful sign that spring is trying to make an appearance.

flowers

 

I’ll tell you what, I’m so pumped to get patio gardening here sometime soon. I was going to make cleaning off my patio and getting my hands into some dirt my weekly chore, but the skies are cloudy round these parts with only highs of 50 degrees. Mmm, maybe I’ll wait til next week.

Teaching our kids how to cook vs. Princeton mom

Right now, I’m reading the landmark feminist manifesto/outcry against the male-dominated power structure, The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan. It just so happens that everything I’m coming across on the internet these days seems to coincide with or spurs me to mull over feminist thoughts and the role of the modern woman, family and the role of ‘home.’ 

First, there was this great interview with my favorite food writer and sustainability advocate, Michael Pollan (author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma), who spoke with NPR about his newest book, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation. During the interview, he speaks on how cooking left the kitchen sometime during the mid-20th century, as corporations began churning out processed, frozen meals for busier and busier families.

There was this really uncomfortable conversation taking place at kitchen tables all across America. Men and women were trying to renegotiate the division of labor in the household. And then the food industry recognized they had an opportunity. And they said ‘Don’t worry about it, we’ve got you covered. We’ll do the cooking.’ And KFC even took out a billboard with a big bucket of fried chicken and the slogan, ‘Women’s Liberation.’

This was during the 1970’s, Pollan says, when women were emerging from the relative “dark ages” of Friedan’s 1950’s and 1960’s, when being a woman was all about being in the kitchen (and being happy with it). Now, so many of us are moving back and embracing “hearth and home”; and not just women, but men as well. But this is less a movement dominated by cultural expectations and sexism (though that still exists), but one defined by a desire for sustainability, affordability and control over a world made up of processed meals, artificial ingredients and waste. I think this note by Pollan is particularly important:

I think the most important thing we can teach our kids for their long-term health and happiness is how to cook.

Now, let’s compare this with the noise coming from Susan A. Patton, otherwise known as the Princeton Mom who in fit of regressive retro fever, wrote to the Daily Princetonian, telling all the smart ladies who managed to get into Princeton that they’re pretty much doomed if they don’t find the man they’re going to marry by their freshman year.

For most of you, the cornerstone of your future and happiness will be inextricably linked to the man you marry, and you will never again have this concentration of men who are worthy of you.

Yeah… Poor Friedan is rolling over in her grave right now. I mean, seriously, paging 1950? This is the exact same message girls were being bombarded with 50 years ago, with everyone from sociologists to advertisers to their college professors telling girls they’re basically only fit for marriage and child-rearing. Flash forward to 2013 and here’s this loony society dame rehashing the same old sexist crap. Yay for progress!

And let’s not forget another comment from Ms. Patton, at another speech on the Princeton campus last week:

[Female college students] are receiving so much information about career planning, and they don’t need to hear any more of it.

Also from that speech: women in their 30’s are desperate and feminist are bullies who force poor housewife-wannabes into – dun, dun dun! – careers. Please.

While reading The Feminine Mystique, I have to remind myself that Friedan is responding to a totally different era and a totally different set of cultural biases. 2013 is not the world of The Feminist Mystique. Lucky young women such as myself have been given the freedom to pursue whatever passions or careers we want in life. In fact, girls are now doing better than boys in school. Personally, I was pushed to succeed as much as possible if only to fulfill what I was told was a limitless potential. The girls smart enough to get into Princeton are likely made up of the next generation of cancer researchers, diplomats, engineers and perhaps a president or two.

And so to hear comments like Patton’s while I’m reading Friedan, I sometimes get cultural whiplash: what year is this again? At the same time, I firmly believe that Pollan’s philosophies are completely separate from the June Cleaver-esque aspirations of Susan Patton. The idea of homemaking as espoused by Pollan – as part of his urging to return to the kitchen and simpler, healthier way of eating – is not about latent sexism or recreating the cultural norms of the 1950’s.  It’s about being mindful of who we are, taking care of ourselves, being better to the environment, and enjoying food that is not only better for you but tastes better too. Just because the processed food movement “liberated” women from housewifery and allowed them to have careers in the 1970’s and 1980’s, that doesn’t necessarily mean that processed food is good.

Patton, meanwhile, is basically telling girls to turn the clock back 60 years and just ignore all the amazing things women are capable of when they’re not husband-hunting. Also an important note: Pollan says everyone should return to the kitchen – not just women, but men and children as well. Patton’s message, meanwhile, is only for the ladies. No boys, go ahead and pursue your ambitious degrees at Princeton. It’s just the girls who need to concern themselves with matrimony.

The Clean House Project: Dividing and Conquering

to-do-listI like to think that, for someone in their mid-20’s, I keep a pretty clean and organized home. Granted, I don’t have children and I know that changes a lot. But over the years, I’ve worked out a system for keeping my home clean with only a minimal time investment on my part.

The most important part of keeping a clean and organized home is creating a routine and sticking to it. You’ll never keep your home clean if you don’t work at it. Luckily, if you regularly follow a set of easy rules, “cleaning house” becomes no more a chore than putting your dirty clothes in the laundry basket.

This blog is still a newbie, so what better way to kick things off than embarking on a giant cleaning project, just in time for spring (or, “spring” if you’re from Michigan … what does warm feel like?)? I thought I’d share my system for keeping things in order, with the hopes that it helps you think of cleaning with less trepidation and perhaps a bit more zen. I’ll divide this post up a bit, so let’s start at the beginning:

List, divide and conquer

First things first: make a list of all the chores and tasks you do around the house to keep things clean. This list includes everything from making the bed in the morning to cleaning the garage every year. Try to be as comprehensive as possible but don’t let the list overwhelm you; seeing it all written down is the only way to recognize all that needs to be done. Coming to terms with your house, and what it needs to be healthy and happy, is the first step to getting there.

Second, divide those tasks into the following categories: daily, weekly/bi-weekly, monthly/bi-monthly, seasonally and annually. You won’t be cleaning the basement every week, but you will need to make the bed every day. Depending on the size of your family, laundry may be a weekly or bi-weekly (maybe daily!) event for you. Every family, and every home, is different.

How do you know what needs to be cleaned when? First, consider your own habits. For those cleaning routines out of the ordinary, a simple Google search reveals dozens of cleaning experts out there, eager to let you know when your carpets need to be cleaned, to how often you should clean your washing machine.

Still, it’s important with both these steps to be honest while still idealistic. You’re not creating a cleaning routine so that you can maintain the status quo – you want to have a cleaner, more organized home. If your methods aren’t working, you have to change something. And if you’ve never cleaned your refrigerator before, but you’re kinda grossed out every time you reach for the milk, then maybe it’s time to get straight with yourself: it’s time to clean the damn fridge. If you have animals and you aren’t vacuuming your highly-trafficked areas on a weekly basis, your guests have probably noticed that your house feels like an animal lives there. Let’s work on changing things for the better.

But yet, be realistic. Don’t say that you’re going to deep-clean your home every week because, let’s face it, that’s not happening. Like I said above, consider your habits. How much time can you devote to cleaning every week? If you don’t have time to clean your entire house every week, that’s OK. Neither do I. That’s why I split things up: I make time for a few weekly chores, and then split up the actual grunt work that goes into cleaning a room over an entire month. So, do you have time to clean one room of your house every week? Great. That’s all you need.

Plus, everyone is going to have different needs. Here at Casa Laura, my “outdoor” space is limited to a postage stamp-sized patio and a shared yard in my townhouse complex, and a front stoop. Garages … do not exist. I do have a basement, however. I also only have one bathroom. I also own two animals.

To get you started, here’s a breakdown of my cleaning routines, organized by how often they pop upon my schedule. I’ll go into more detail on each section in later posts. I may or may not have forgotten a few things:

Daily

  • Make the bed
  • Wash the dishes/run the dishwasher
  • Feed the cats
  • Pick up clothes/shoes/stuff around the house, put it where it belongs
  • Make sure the kitchen counters are wiped clean
  • Take care of the plants

Weekly

  • Vacuume our living room and dining room
  • Mop the kitchen floor (when I’m not cleaning it)
  • Wipe down the bathroom (when I’m not cleaning it)
  • Switch out the kitchen towels and washcloth
  • Laundry
  • *Clean ONE-TWO rooms in my house*

Bi-Monthly

  • Clean the bathroom and wash the bath towels

Monthly

  • Clean the kitchen

Seasonally

  • Clean the basement
  • Clean up outdoors
  • Wash our walls
  • Steam clean the carpets

Welcome to one homebody’s life

laura

It’s always awkward writing the first post for a new blog. And so, I’ll keep this simple:

Welcome to A Homebody! 

After blogging about books and reading for going on four years, I decided that the older I got, the more I realized the importance of home, and making that home a special, healthy, warm and hip place to be. I have a lot to say about home, whether it’s what I’m cooking for dinner that night to finding affordable, Earth-friendly cleaning products. What I say may not be particularly special, but it’s what’s on my mind and I wanted to create a space for me to discuss these thoughts and insights further.

All that being said, I understand that these posts will most likely be geared toward a readership around my age bracket – from fresh out of college to those dealing with the “pressures” of the quarter-life crisis. I’m not going to pretend I know what it’s like to have kids, though who knows, this blog may still be around when I do get around to procreating. I won’t pretend I know what it’s like to own your home, either. Still, I hope that others will enjoy reading, no matter what your station in life. In fact, I’ll be writing plenty about growing up here at A Homebody (my best friend is expecting her first little one this summer – ch, ch, changes my friend!), and so I welcome advice from like thinkers with a bit more experience under their belt.

But wait, who is this blogger person anyway?mr b

  • I’m Laura (hi!). I’m in my mid-20’s and I’ve been blogging about books and the reading experience over at Paperback Fool since 2009.
  • I live in Metro Detroit with my husband and two cats, Harper Lee and Mr. Bennet.
  • I’m currently working on my Masters of Library Science while working at a bookstore.
  • For some reason, I really like to cook and clean. And I’m mildly OCD when it comes to organization.
  • I take out my aggression on the track as a roller derby girl, playing for one of southeastern Michigan’s awesome amateur leagues.

Why home is important

In naming this blog, I really only had one choice: a homebody. Because, that’s what I am. Despite my love for traveling and discovering new places, my favorite place to be is home. I like being at home. I like the warmth of home. I like the comfort and familiarity of home. Home is where we’re safe and loved. It’s where my cats live. It’s where I make food and share meals with my family and friends. It where I can go barefoot. It’s where I read. It’s where I love. It’s where I write.

Now let me assure you, I have no intention of being a stay-at-home wife. I have ambitions, I have dreams and if anything, I have a driving desire to work and make a difference. However, I can’t lie: ever since I graduated from college, creating and maintaining my home (and everything that entails) has been a deeply satisfying experience. Being a homebody may not be exciting, but I can’t imagine being anything else.

A post-feminist philosophy

Perhaps more important than my daily ramblings, though, I have a certain fascination with the idea of the “modern homemaker.” As a self-described feminist and liberal-leaning lady, I’m not looking to recreate the 1950’s here, nor bring back the regressive, ultra conservative philosophy that a “woman’s place” is in the home. However, over the years, I’ve observed homemaking – with its new emphasis on sustainability, post-consumerism and healthy lifestyles – making a comeback, led by some of the most interesting young women out there. And it’s not just women, but men too are going back to their kitchens and gardens and looking for ways to create a better, healthier and simpler life for them and their families. Yes, young homemakers are bringing back the old ways, but this is not your grandmother’s kitchen.

And so …

harperWelcome to this journey! I hope you enjoy and perhaps share a tip or two yourself. And if not, just ignore the girl talking to herself about cleaning routines and burning the chicken dinner.

Also, excuse the copious pictures of my cats. But aren’t they cute?