Monday, October 21, 2013

All Purpose Brown Garlic Stir Fry Sauce and How To Beat The Baby Cat Nap

All Purpose Brown Garlic Stir Fry Sauce

Disclaimer: If you don't have a baby and could care less about naps/sleep issues, just scroll to the bottom for the recipe. However if you are interested, I'm going to tell you how we got our three month old successfully napping in her own bed...for longer than 40 minutes! This is some exciting stuff for sleep deprived parents, lemme tell ya. And Maya Angelou says when you learn, you should teach. I don't know about teaching, but I'm all about sharing.

A note to consider: I have what The Baby Whisperer classifies as a "touchy baby" which means she's extra sensitive and needs more help in certain areas, like sleeping on her own and staying asleep. Not sure which type of baby you have? Take the test here and find out. 

Dudes! And ladies. I was gonna blog here and be all THE BABY DOESN'T NAP LONGER THAN 40 MINUTES EVER blahblahblahblahblah losingmyfreakingmind blahblah nosleep blahblahblah blah.

But today I'm here to tell you that after some hard work we have come out on the other end finally victorious in various areas, namely conquering the cat nap!

What is a cat nap? a short nap that last anywhere from 20-45 minutes. This is sometimes called "the 40 minute intruder" because it does just that- It intrudes on a nap. It's rude, really.

Why it's a problem-  because babies need more sleep than 30-40 minutes at a given time. They should get at least an hour to an hour-and-a-half to be sufficiently rested so they are happy upon waking and not cranky until their next nap time.

Some babies need their parents help teach them the skill of going and staying asleep. When babies  wake early from naps, they get tired again a short time later so instead of the optimal wake/eat/sleep cycle, it looks more like wake/eat/sleep/wake/cranky/sleep (but not too long because, surprise! It's already time to eat again!) In other words, they are chronically tired and it affects EVERYTHING from mood, to nighttime sleep to feeds. Basically, if you want to conquer this beast I'm told you need a consistent schedule. A good place to start is to wake your baby up at the same time each day and put them to bed at the same time every night.

But the problem is that my baby wakes up at different times each morning regardless of the bedtime, so it's hard to get the same routine happening at the same time every day. Sometimes she'll wake up at 5:00am and be up for the day. Like, happy and babbling even. As in, definitely not going back to sleep. Boo! I was NOT about to set a 5:00am wake-up time. We were in a vicious cycle. Something had to change, especially since she is still waking up three times a night to eat. After thinking through it multiple times, I decided if I could get her napping figured out and get her the day rest she needs, it would help the rest fall into place. I always hear good sleep begets good sleep.

A plan. She won't go to sleep without me!- Usually, we would walk Ellie around the house to get her to fall asleep. This worked for a while, until she got too heavy and needed to be walked for longer stretches of time before settling down. You could not sit. Walking only. Another problem was the walking wasn't working all that well anymore. She'd get overtired and fussy and would take forever to nod off. Then, you'd have to hold her for her entire nap or else she'd wake up early. Now I have her successfully going down for every nap in her crib upstairs.

The only way she would sleep! Holding her...Do you see how big she is?!
All Purpose Brown Garlic Stir Fry Sauce

What I did-  I started small since there were a few issues to deal with, which were getting to sleep without my help, AND staying asleep without my help. So, I started placing her in her swing when I saw she was getting tired (eye rubbing, yawns) when I'd usually start walking her. She fussed at first since she was used to the walking. Some times she would straight up cry when I put her in. But since I was in the living room with her, I just kept talking to her and telling her it was okay and to go to sleep. I would also play classical music on Pandora softly and run a box fan for white noise, but I didn't pick her up. She would fall asleep after 10 minutes or so. Victory! But even then she kept waking after 40 minutes. So I'd let her fuss/cry for a few minutes and see if she'd self soothe back to sleep. The first few times, she didn't. She just got revved up and mad, so I'd pick her up and let her be up a while, then hold her to sleep when she got tired again before the next feed. I figured the sleep was more important than how she was getting there at this point. I only focused on getting her to fall asleep without me, which was working. Then, each time she woke up early I'd let her fuss just to see if she'd self soothe back to sleep. I always gave her the chance. After 4-5 days of this, she did it. She woke up after 35 minutes, fussed for five minutes (which seems like 30 minutes- but it's not-look at the clock. You'll always think it's longer than it has been) and the FELL BACK TO SLEEP FOR ANOTHER 40 minutes!

So, this is what we did for another week. For every nap. Consistency is key I've been told.

After a week of consistent swing naps she got so used to it that the second I placed her in, she would close her eyes and immediately nap. Sometimes she'd fuss for 30 seconds or so but that was it. So, I decided since she didn't need parental contact to help get her to sleep anymore (all the walking), I'd start setting her in the crib upstairs instead of the swing with a mobile that played SOOTHING, quiet classical music since that what she was used to downstairs already, and a box fan for noise. I hoped she'd make a sleep association to it. All the sleep books will tell you to put your baby in their bed sleepy but awake so they learn to fall asleep on their own. This was crucial. But this was not working for us...yet. She cried like mad and wouldn't calm down even though I was standing in the room with her, reassuring her. She just wasn't tired or calm enough.

So, I stretched out her awake time from 1 1/2 hours, to 2 hours (she is three months old, so this is appropriate) so she was good and tired when I set her down. I figured she needed to be tired enough to get her past that 40 minute mark and get back to sleep. This is supposed to be a no-no. Overtired babies are harder to settle. I agree, mine will melt down when overtired, but I kept her up past the fussy overtired faze and I waited until she was really, really sleepy before setting her down. I got the idea from this blog and it made sense to me and our situation. Guess what? IT WORKED! I also extended the period in which we get ready for sleep with a longer routine (more settling). After she was really, really, tired we would go upstairs, turn on her fan, and I'd get her into her Merlin's magic sleep suit, gently, (more on that below) then pick her up and walk her silently and slowly for 2 minutes around the room. Then I whispered that it was nap time, set her in the crib and turned on the mobile. After watching the mobile for 30 seconds she started to cry, but within 20 seconds it turned more into a fuss, so I waited and let her work it out. Guys. Five minutes later she was asleep! She woke up again 40 minutes later and fussed/cried but I waited to go in until I heard distressed crying. I never heard it. Again, five minutes later she had put herself back to sleep! The very first time! HOLLA!

I don't think it would have worked prior to the three-month old mark. And some babies won't be ready for this until 5-6 months. It just depends on how good their self soothing skills are. Sometimes you have to wait it out.

*The Merlin's Magic Sleep Suit is a swaddle transitioner and even though the babies look like they are in ridiculous giant marshmallow space suits, I'll be damned if it didn't do just the trick. She could move her hands about, but it muffled any jerky reflexes she had and made her feel secure and snug. She much prefers it to the swaddle. I know this because she sleeps better and longer in the sleep suit. I was skeptical but like I said, you never know unless you try. It's scary trying new things, but so worth it when it works! 

What changed- Because I stretched Ellie's awake time to two hours, and she'd nap for 1 1/2 hours (sometimes only one hour, and sometimes 2 hours), it bumped our schedule from a 3 hour routine to a 3 1/2 hour (and sometimes 4 hour) routine which worked better for my baby. I wouldn't have guessed it, but it did work better. I guess you don't know until you try. She was hungrier for her feeds and ate more, which sustained her for longer periods of time, and helped with the napping. It all works together, you see. It also helped get us on a three nap a day schedule instead of 5-6 cat naps. One thing though- I ALWAYS WAKE HER UP if she is still sleeping at the two hour mark. And, I don't let her sleep longer than a two hour nap once a day. I wake her to keep her on the schedule so she doesn't skip a feed. I've also read that if a baby sleeps longer than a two hour stretch during the day, it'll rob them of night sleep.  She usually sleeps 1 1/2 hours for her morning nap, 1 1/2-2 hours for afternoon nap, and 1 hour for her early evening nap. Now her bedtime is earlier (between 8pm and 8:30pm) and I swear it's helped her sleep better at night! So strange how it all works.

How good naps have changed night sleep- I wake her up before I go to bed around 9:30pm or 10:00pm to give her a dream feed. Sometimes she wakes up for this on her own, sometimes not. Either way, she eats and goes right back to sleep. She still wakes up every three hours to eat throughout the night, BUT she goes back to sleep easier and now if she fusses when I set her back in her bed, she puts herself back to sleep after a few minutes since she's used to it during the day. I used to pick her back up and hold or nurse her again until she was in deep sleep, or I'd hold her in bed with me and let her sleep there. I was exhausted! It is leaps and bounds better this way!

I should say, this might not work for you. I'm just sharing what my experience was and what worked for me. And honestly, I don't have it all figured out. This kid leaves us guessing daily. But this napping in the crib for longer than 40 minutes thing is huge. Huge, I tell you. If the Momma's are anything like me out there, they are googling all sorts of things and reading about all the ways they can get some much needed rest without neglecting the needs of your littles. I get it. I so get it. I read and re-read and took what I felt in my gut might work and what made the most sense to me and our situation.

* Update- This post has been so popular that I decided to share more information and update. First off, an excellent source for baby sleep drama is Troublesome Tots. She goes over everything from when and how to do cry-it-out, to helping you figure out exactly what in your routine is tripping you up and not leading you down the road to blissful sleep. Check out "Why Sleep Training Didn't Work" and "Baby sleep, what is normal?" to get started. 

As for us, we are still napping great in this house! She now is almost 4 months and gets 3 long naps a day (morning, early afternoon and late afternoon) plus a catnap (20-30 minutes) before bed. Bedtime is between 7pm and 8pm each night depending on when her last nap was. I try and keep her up two hours before bedtime and manage naps to hit bedtime around 7:30pm each night. I still watch her sleepy cues instead of the clock though, which is why it varies from night to night. She had five night stretch recently where she'd wake up every hour or so and cry at night and I'd go to her. I was getting super frusterated until I learned about a common 4 month sleep regression. I think that's what it was because she is back to her normal pattern of sleeping and waking every three hours to eat, then right back to sleep. We also learned that since our baby is so sensitive she really needed MORE soothing before and AT bedtime to get her to settle down for a long stretch and not wake up an hour after going to bed. So now we do a 30 minutes routine every single night that consists of kids in the other room (to make it quiet), feeding session, then bath, jammies, sleep suit, and the same routine upstairs I mentioned above except without the mobile being on. I found she falls asleep with it on, then gets mad when she wakes up and it's off. So I just stopped turning it on. She still likes to look at it. 

Phew! Onto the food!

All Purpose Brown Garlic Stir Fry Sauce

All Purpose Brown Garlic Stir Fry Sauce

I have been successful in other areas besides nap time. I have conquered Chinese food! Can I just be honest for a second and say I'm not that good at Chinese food? Because I'm not. I have had a couple dishes turn out really well for me, but mostly I just eat Chinese when I'm out. Stir fry is one of those things people make on busy week nights. I don't quite get this because chopping all the vegetables takes some time, not to mention making a good sauce to go with it. Then I realized most people don't make a sauce, which is why I have thought homemade stir fry pretty much sucks for most of my life. My mom used to make stir fry. It was nothing more than some veggies sautéed in garlic with some soy sauce. I tried this once, but I added the soy sauce to the vegetables in the hot pan and it burned. Burned soy sauce is disgusting. I decided stir fry was just something better left to the experts and restauranteurs. But then I saw this recipe for basic brown garlic stir fry sauce and it got me thinking...every time you order Chinese food it comes drenched in a sauce. Beef and broccoli is slick with a brown glaze. Sweet and sour chicken has a tangy sweet sauce coating. Shanghai eggplant comes with a sweet and smokey hoisen style sauce. I never thought about it before, but the sauce is what makes it good. Duh.

All Purpose Brown Garlic Stir Fry Sauce

If I made a proper stir fry sauce and added it to my vegetables at the end, I would have a delicious satisfying meal; one plain soy sauce just can't touch. I jumped in, and I'm so glad I did. Guys, this sauce is amazing. It's basic and would go with any Chinese vegetable stir fry combination you can think of. Add chicken or beef if you want and it'll be amazing. This is a basic brown garlic sauce with a hint of ginger. Thick and delicious, it coats all stir fried vegetables just so. It isn't too heavy nor too thin. It's right on the money.

Some vegetables and protein to consider using in any combination with this sauce are:

sliced bok choy
snow peas
Shiitake mushrooms
bamboo shoots
water chesnuts
baby corn

Who's ready for some good Chinese food at home?

All Purpose Brown Garlic Stir Fry Sauce

All Purpose Brown Garlic Stir Fry Sauce
adapted from Chinese Cooking For Dummies By Martin Yan
makes enough for 2 woks full of vegetables, serves 8

*note: This is a larger batch recipe. You can half the recipe to serve 4. That's what I did.

1/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup water
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/3 cup rice wine (mirin)
3 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
2 tablespoons cooking oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced ginger (I used a scant tablespoon)
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/4 cup water (for cornstarch)

In a bowl, combine soy sauce, broth, rice wine, sugar, sesame oil, 1/3 cup water and white pepper. Dissolve the cornstarch in 1/4 cup water. 

Heat a pan over medium-high heat; add the cooking oil, swirling to coat; add the garlic and ginger; cook, stirring until fragrant, about 15 seconds.

Add the soy sauce mixture; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook for 1 minute. Add the cornstarch solution and cook, stirring, until the sauce boils and thickens. 

Set sauce aside at room temperature until ready to use. Add the sauce to your cooked vegetables and allow to heat through. Serve immediately.

The key for stir fry: Cook vegetables in a hot wok (or skillet) in a bit of oil. The key is to have the skillet hot and to keep stirring and flipping the vegetables around so they don't burn. Cook the heartier vegetables first, such as broccoli and carrots and add the rest in stages based on how long they'll take to cook (if using meat, cook that first, then add the broccoli and carrots). I'll add a few tablespoons of chicken stock to the skillet with the vegetables every now and then to help cook them further with the help of the steam. Cooking all the vegetables shouldn't take longer than 5-7 minutes, start to finish.

Add stir fry sauce when vegetables have finished cooking and allow to just heat through. Serve immediately over rice.