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Friday, October 28, 2005

Breastfeeding An Older Baby

Here are some things I didn't know but am glad to know now about nursing a six to twelve-month-old:
  • About half of nursing moms notice that it takes longer to get a let down.
  • Baby should nurse about seven times a day.
  • A baby who's eating solid food needs at least 18 ounces of breastmilk (or formula) a day.
  • Baby may nurse more frequently during the day because of longer night sleeping.
  • When it seems as if baby may be "self-weaning," baby may be on a (temporary) nursing strike.
  • Although some breastfed babies sleep through the night, many of them sleep in four to seven hours stretches.

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Basic Kitchen Equipment

Thank you so much for your patience while I worked to get this post up. This is Part 4 of a series on saving money by cooking at home. Cooking at home can lead to a huge savings in your budget, but you can’t cook if you don’t have the right equipment. If you’re an experienced home cook, most of this post won't be new to you, but you might enjoy checking out some of the links for information.

In general, I would recommend not buying any expensive equipment until you have gained some experience and have some idea of what pieces you use every day and are worth investing in. Top-of-the-line cookware, knives and appliances can cost hundreds of dollars, so you definitely don't want to invest that kind of money until you know what you really want and need.
  • Chef's Knife - A good quality chef's knife can be the difference between a pleasurable cooking experience and a miserable one (I'm speaking from experience here). You'll probably use your chef's knife more than any other knife (it's the default tool for chopping, cutting and slicing). I have an eight-inch Henckels Five-Star chef's knife, which works fine for me, but I'm not recommending it here because I don't love it. The blade never seems to stay sharp, but it has a nice heft to it that makes it comfortable to hold. I also don't recommend the Henckels Eversharp chef's knife, which I hate. I've heard good things about Wüsthof knives, but I've never used one. When you're buying a knife, try to find a store where they will let you hold the knife. Buy one that feels comfortable in your hand. A few years ago on Cooking Live, Sara Moulton often talked about how much she loved her 10-inch chef's knife, but when I looked at a 10-inch knife in a store, I decided it was way too big for me. Click here for tips on how to use and sharpen your knife. Also, remember not to leave your knife in the sink because the tip may snap off.
  • Other Knives - Other knives you may want to have are a paring knife for peeling produce and a serrated knife for slicing bread and other delicate items. Click here for more information.
  • Frypan or Sauté Pan - A frypan has sloped sides, while a sauté pan has straight sides. I think most beginner cooks would find it easier to use a frypan. Ten inches is a good, all-purpose size. You can use this pan for almost any recipe that calls for a skillet. I would recommend a nonstick pan to start. It's also nice if the pan has an ovenproof handle in case you want to bake something in it. I love this pan, which I got from Amazon.com for less than $20, but it appears to no longer be available. Bed Bath & Beyond has a similar pan for $29.99.
  • Stockpot - You'll need a stockpot to cook pasta and make soups. A good, versatile size is 8 to 10 quarts. I like my stockpot to be nonstick because I make a lot of one or two-pot meals, and it makes clean-up a lot easier. Unfortunately, I had quite a difficult time earlier this year finding a good-quality nonstick pot under $80. After about one month of constant searching, I finally found one on clearance at Macys.com for about $30, including tax and shipping. I am planning to buy a Dutch oven soon, which won't be cheap but is perfect for meals that need to go from stovetop to oven.
  • Baking Pans - My parents always had a 13x9x2 glass Pyrex baking dish in the cupboard, and I am constantly using mine. It's great for casseroles, of course, but also for cakes, double batches of brownies, and pasta bakes. I also recommend an 8x8x2 dish for smaller recipes. Sometimes I use nonstick baking pans, but I find that if I remember to spray the glass dish with nonstick cooking spray, clean-up is usually not a problem. Read more about pots and pans here.
  • Measuring Tools - A basic 2-cup measure for liquid ingredients is all that's really necessary (get one that's microwavable). You'll also want a set of dry measuring cups and a set of measuring spoons. If your measuring cups and spoons come with a ring to keep them together, take it off. There's no reason to have to wash all of your measuring cups or all of your measuring spoons because you used one. For a quick review of measuring cups, click here.
  • Cutting Board - You'll need one to do all of your chopping on. Experts recommend having at least two, one for meats and another for everything else, to avoid cross-contamination. Wooden boards look nice but require special care. I'm partial to the relatively inexpensive plastic boards (about $10) that can go in the dishwasher.
  • Other Utensils - I recommend having a wooden spoon for stirring and mixing, a medium-sized whisk, and a vegetable peeler to get those vegetable skins off quickly. You may also want to pick up a microplane grater for zesting citrus. (I use my microplane to grate garlic and onion instead of mincing them.)
As you cook more, you'll undoubtedly notice that recipes you're interested in making call for equipment you don't have, so have fun adding to your collection according to what you can afford and what you can afford to store.

Don't forget to check out Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of this series. Next week's final installment will be about how to acquire basic cooking skills and how to make your kitchen work for you.

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    Wednesday, October 26, 2005

    It Pays To Complain (Politely, Of Course)

    I've already written about this once, but I wanted to reiterate it because it works: if you have a bad customer service experience, report it to the company.

    I bring this up now, because it worked once again for me. Last month, we got together with Marc's family and ordered take-out from Grand Lux Cafe. I ordered a dessert (I know, I freely acknowledge that I shouldn't have) but it wasn't included with our food. Of course, we should have checked more carefully before leaving the restaurant, but there was a lot of food involved. Upon discovering that my dessert was missing, I called the restaurant to ask that the amount be credited back to the credit card that was used to pay for the food.

    It took about 20 minutes and several calls to get through to a manager, who told me that she couldn't credit the card but would send me a gift certificate. I was pretty perplexed, because other, less well-established restaurants, have issued credits without complaint when the same thing has happened. But I gave her my address and waited. For a month.

    I figured a month was long enough, so I went to the Grand Lux website, found the "Contact Us" form, and filled it out, explaining the situation. I included the name of the manager I had talked to, and expressed my disappointment, but without using harsh or offensive language. Today - less than a week after I sent that message - I received a call from the restaurant's general manager, who apologized earnestly, said he would send me a $25 gift certificate, and that I should call if I haven't received it in a week. (He also said that the manager I spoke to was misinformed and that she could have and should have credited the card.)

    This time, I'm pretty confident the gift certificate will arrive. And that's why it pays to complain (politely).

    (In case you're wondering, the dessert was $6.95 - with tax, that comes to $7.52. So they're giving me $17.48 for my trouble.)

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    Tuesday, October 25, 2005

    Chicken Cobb Salad

    Chicken Cobb Salad
    Serves 6

    1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
    juice of 1/2 lemon
    1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
    1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
    8 cups shredded romaine lettuce
    2 cups shredded chicken (about one 2 1/2 lb. roasted chicken)
    7 strips of crisp bacon, crumbled
    1 avocado, sliced
    1 cup crumbled blue cheese (about 4 oz.)
    3 hard boiled eggs, sliced
    1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes

    1. In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, lemon juice, salt and pepper until the salt is dissolved. Slowly whisk in the olive oil. Toss the romaine lettuce with the dressing and pour the dressed lettuce onto a serving platter or bowl.

    2. Arrange the remaining ingredients on top of the lettuce.

    Tip: You can prepare most of the components the day before or the morning of - shred the lettuce, cook and crumble the bacon, crumble the blue cheese, and boil the eggs. Assemble the salad shortly before serving. Also, add some shredded mixed baby greens to boost the nutitional content.

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    Sunday, October 23, 2005

    Quick Mini Tart Shells

    The November issue of Martha Stewart Living had this nifty little idea that I will definitely be using:

    Instead of making tart shells from scratch, use sandwich bread. Roll them to a 1/8-inch thickness, then cut a 2 1/2-inch circle with a biscuit or cookie cutter. Brush both sides with melted butter and press into mini-muffin cups. Bake for about 10 minutes until they're golden brown. Remove the shells and let cool before filling the center.

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    Saturday, October 22, 2005

    IMBB #20

    Is My Blog Burning is a classic food blogging event, and I'm excited to participate in my first one. The theme of IMBB #20 is soufflés, which is perfect because I'd never made one before.

    Cooking Light's Greens and Cheese Soufflé has been in my "to try" pile for several years, but I'd never made it because I didn't have a soufflé dish until last year and frankly, I was intimidated. IMBB #20 was the perfect time to get over my fear of failure. After all, I've seen soufflés made countless times on the Food Network. How hard could it be? This is what I was going for:

    I don't know if you've noticed, but I almost never include onions in my recipes because Marc and I don't like them very much. In this case, I omitted the onions and substituted one pound of frozen spinach for 10 ounces of frozen collard greens. The soufflé base looked like this:

    The recipe called for a 1 1/2-quart soufflé dish. Mine says "10 cups" on the bottom. Now that I've done the math, I realize 1 1/2 quarts is 4 1/2 cups, which explains why my soufflé didn't rise above the rim of the dish:

    At least my soufflé came out light, the way it was supposed to:

    However, I also thought it was rather bland, so I won't be keeping this recipe. It definitely wasn't my last soufflé, though!

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    Thursday, October 20, 2005

    The Well-Stocked Pantry

    As previously discussed, cooking at home can save you lots of money. A well-stocked pantry can save you even more money, because you won’t have to run out and get something you forgot (which usually results in "that looks good" purchases). The well-stocked pantry can also save you money because you will be able to throw together a meal even if you weren’t planning to cook.

    I use the word "pantry" pretty loosely in this context. I’ll start with what you should have in the freezer, then the fridge and finally the actual pantry.

    The Freezer
    • ground beef and/or white meat turkey, in one-pound packages
    • 3-pound beef or pork roast
    • one pound of boneless skinless chicken breasts
    • assorted shredded cheeses, such as Mexican blend and mozzarella
    • grated Parmesan cheese
    • package of frozen spinach
    • package of frozen broccoli
    • unsalted butter
    It’s also nice to have:
    • chicken and/or vegetable broth
    • frozen vanilla yogurt
    • chopped onion, celery and carrots in zip-top freezer bags
    • whole wheat tortillas
    • dinner rolls and/or crusty bread
    The Fridge
    • milk (nonfat is best for drinking, but 1% or 2% is better for cooking)
    • low-sodium soy sauce
    • natural unsalted peanut butter
    • nonfat or lowfat plain yogurt
    • eggs
    The Pantry
    • garlic
    • dried herbs: oregano, basil, crushed red pepper flakes, kosher salt, black peppercorns (in a mill so you can freshly grind it), cinnamon
    • olives (kalamata, green, black)
    • tomatoes (diced or crushed)
    • tomato sauce
    • whole wheat pastry flour (instead of all purpose)
    • brown sugar
    • honey
    • extra virgin olive oil
    • vinegar: apple cider, white wine and balsamic
    • onions
    • chicken and/or vegetable broth
    • dried whole wheat pasta (whatever you like: rotini, fettucini, spaghetti, penne, etc.)

    This is by no means an exhaustive list but you could, for instance, make Pasta Puttanesca in less than 30 minutes with ingredients just from your pantry. To give another example, last night, I had planned poorly and was stuck with a pound of browned ground turkey. I had some frozen ravioli, so I made a marinara sauce out of tomato sauce, garlic and dried herbs, combined the sauce and ravioli with handfuls of cheese, and baked the concoction until the cheese on top melted. If you’re planning ahead a bit, you can pop a roast into the slow cooker in the morning with some seasonings and broth, then shred the meat for sandwiches for dinner. (Pop the roast into the microwave on low for about 10 minutes before you put it in the crock for safety reasons.)

    To check out other pantry ideas, click here for Cooking Light’s Ultimate Pantry list.

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      Tuesday, October 18, 2005

      Target Recalls Jumbo Pencil With Sharpener

      Target has recalled a jumbo pencil with an attached sharpener because the blade is exposed when the cover is removed and the hole in the sharpener is large enough for a finger to fit into. Click here for more information.

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      Twice-Baked Sweet Potatoes

      This yummy concoction makes an easy entree or side dish.

      Twice-Baked Sweet Potatoes
      Serves 2 as an entree or 4 as a side dish

      2 medium sweet potatoes
      2 slices of cooked bacon, crumbled (optional)
      8 oz. frozen chopped broccoli, thawed and squeezed dry
      1/2 cup cottage cheese
      1 cup shredded cheddar or jack cheese
      2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (optional)

      1. Use a fork to poke holes in each sweet potato. Microwave the sweet potatoes on high for 8 minutes, turning them over after 4 minutes.
      2. Preheat your oven or toaster oven to 400 degrees or prepare your broiler. Cut the potatoes in half lengthwise. (Be careful because the potatoes will be extremely hot.)
      3. Scoop out the potato halves, leaving a 1/4-inch thick border so you don't pierce the skin.
      4. In a bowl, mash the potatoes. Combine potatoes with bacon, broccoli, and cottage cheese.
      5. Scoop the potato mixture into the shells. Top each shell with 1/4 cup shredded cheese.
      6. Bake for 15 minutes or broil for 5 minutes, or until the cheese melts and browns on top. Top with chopped parsley and serve.

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      Monday, October 17, 2005

      Little Things Matter, But Not As Much As The Big Ones

      No matter how many little things you do to keep your marriage healthy, they can't replace the big ones. Here are some big ones that I think are important:

      • Expect the best from your partner. I remind myself that the reason Marc hasn't done the dishes isn't because he thinks it's my job, it's because he's genuinely forgotten about it.
      • Don't set your partner up to fail. For example, I was doing the dishes this morning and caught myself hoping/expecting Marc would walk in and say, "I'll do those." If I want something, I should ask instead of getting angry at him for not reading my mind.
      • When having a heated discussion, keep the focus on the actual problem. Discuss the dishes, not all the things that are bothering you. If there's a bigger underlying problem - for example, you feel the dishes are a sign that you're being neglected - be upfront about it, instead of pretending you're just upset about the dishes.
      • Another thing to keep in mind when arguing: don't bring up the past without a very good reason. Grudges can lead to heart attacks and kill you.
      • Communicate even if you're afraid of the answer. This goes with the first tip, in that you should try to believe your partner is going to respond in a loving way to your feelings.

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      The Price Book: The Best Way To Cut Back Expenses Without Changing Your Lifestyle

      The single best way to cut back on expenses is to use a price book. A price book is simply a way to keep track of prices so that you know a good price when you see one. The benefit of a price book is that you will pay the lowest prices on almost everything you buy on a regular basis, so you can substantially reduce your expenses on groceries and household items (and put that savings toward paying off debt or into an investment vehicle).

      Here's how it works: A very basic price book lists an item and its lowest price per unit that you've been able to find. For example, you might list "size 3 diapers" at $0.25 and "size 4 diapers" at $0.29. The next time you're buying diapers, you'll know if the package of 48 size 3s that's on sale for $10.99 is a better deal than the package of 72 that's selling for $18.49. The cost per diaper in the package of 48 is $10.99/48 or 23 cents. The cost per diaper in the larger package is $18.50/72 or 26 cents. In this case, you would buy the smaller package and also write down the new low price.

      You may find it helpful to keep track of other information, too. I usually write down the store that I found the lowest price at, the date, the size of the package, the total price in addition to the price per unit, and whether I used a coupon. This method works with just about anything you can think of: toilet paper, toothpaste, spaghetti sauce, meat, etc.

      A price book can be maintained in a notebook or a computer file. If it's on computer, you may want to print it out until you are able to recognize a really good deal without having your price book on hand. Most cell phones have calculators now, so just pull that out to do a little math while you're at the store and decided which item is cheaper at a per unit cost. (But remember to buy the larger package only if you're going to use it, otherwise, you're not saving money.)

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      Saturday, October 15, 2005

      Cleaning Baby Toys

      This is for my friend Paige, who asked about cleaning baby toys. Here's an article with an expert's view on the topic. As the article suggests, I regularly load many of Alex's toys into the dishwasher, along with his bottles and their parts, my pumping equipment, and pacifiers. I have four dishwasher baskets for a good reason! Many of Alex's soft toys end up in the washing machine. Other toys get wiped down with a Lysol or Clorox wipe, and when that dries, a wet cloth.

      But I think Paige really wanted suggestions for when she's on the go. I myself have used a couple of different methods:
      • Bring lots of toys. When one gets dirty, put it into your purse and give baby a new one.
      • Rinse the toy off with your bottle of water, then wipe it dry with a burp cloth.
      • Wipe the toy off with your shirt, then give it back to baby. If it's a pacifier, you can give it a suck first yourself to make sure it's really "clean." (I swore I'd never do this one and now I do it all the time!)

      A method I hadn't thought of but would have used if I had left the house during Alex's first two months of life would have been to carry some individually wrapped antibacterial or alcohol wipes to wipe down his toy with. (Come to think of it, back then, the only thing we needed was a pacifier.) I then would have rinsed the toy off with water, and wiped it dry with a burp cloth before giving it back to Alex.

      These days, I save myself a lot of grief when it comes to dropped toys by making sure everything is attached to whatever Alex is in. Both of the strollers have toys velcroed to the center bar, and both car seats have toy panels that attach to the bottom part of the five-point harness. The only thing in danger of being dropped is the pacifier, and I always have an extra clean one of those in my purse.

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      Menu Planning

      Menu Planning is an important part of saving money by cooking more at home. While cooking at home without planning ahead can still save you money, cooking with a menu will save you much more, by keeping you from buying unnecessary ingredients, and by making sure you have what you need to make your meals. Just sit down with your recipes and a notebook or calendar, plan your menu, and use your menu to make your grocery list. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
      • It's easiest to start with a one-week menu, assuming you do your grocery shopping once a week. Eventually, you may find that you prefer to plan a month's worth of menus at a time. (Some people actually have all of their recipes and menus in a computerized database and do a once-a-month grocery shopping, but I'm not one of them so I'm not qualified to tell you how to do that.)
      • Pick one or two new recipes a week to keep your meals exciting - my personal favorite source for new recipes is Cooking Light. (See my post from a couple of weeks ago about experimenting.)
      • To save the most money, pick meals that will leave leftovers for lunch (or plan to double your recipe). Alternatively, you could add sandwich fixings to your grocery list so you can have a sandwich if when you don't have leftovers.
      • You may also wish to double meals that freeze well. That way, you can make enough for two meals, eat one portion the night that you make it, and freeze the other for a time when you're too busy to cook.
      • Plan ahead. Anything that can be done ahead of time should be done ahead of time, like the night before, or even on Sunday - measure out dry ingredients into a zip-top bag, prep vegetables, saute ground meat, or fill a pot for cooking pasta and leave it on the stove so that all you have to do is turn the heat on. You'll be much less likely to decide you're too tired to cook if half of the work is already done.

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      Friday, October 14, 2005

      Grocery Shopping Help

      One of my readers turned me on to an interesting website called The Grocery Game. The idea is that The Grocery Game tells you what's going to be on sale at your local grocery store, and what coupons you will need from the Sunday newspaper. You then shop based on the information you are given, which includes some deeply discounted items and even some free items due to double coupons. When you shop depends on which stores you go to and when they run their sales (for example, in Los Angeles, Ralphs sale prices are good from Wednesday morning through Tuesday night, so if you're using coupons from Sunday's paper, you have to get to the market by Tuesday.)

      I was intrigued by The Grocery Game, but decided not to subscribe because I have a pretty good system set up already and I don't think it would help me much. Many of the deals are on processed items, which makes sense, since there are always tons of coupons for such items, but I almost never buy them. The Grocery Game offers a four-week trial for only $1, which seems like a good deal if you want to give it a try.

      Keep in mind that whether or not you choose to play The Grocery Game, it's important for your budget to only buy things that you will use (a 50-cent jar of spaghetti sauce doesn't help your budget if your family hates that brand). It's also important to keep a price book, so you know when something really is a good deal (more on price books within the next few days).

      Tuesday, October 11, 2005

      Some Great Recipes

      I'm still feeling under the weather, so I didn't have a chance to prepare a recipe for this week. Instead, I offer up some of my favorites from Cooking Light (for those who don't buy the magazine, this month's access code is TESTKITCHENS):

      Friday, October 07, 2005

      Summer Couscous Salad

      This one is for Whitney. I gave her the ingredients list of the last version of this salad when I made it, but here is the "official" recipe.

      Summer Couscous Salad With Heirloom Tomatoes
      Serves 6-8

      1 1/2 cups whole wheat couscous
      2 1/2 cups chicken broth
      2 tablespoons dried basil
      1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
      3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
      1/4 teaspoon salt
      1/8 teaspoon pepper
      1 tablespoon of lemon juice
      1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar
      3 cups chopped heirloom tomatoes (or halved cherry or grape tomatoes)
      1 15-oz. can of garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained

      1. In a medium saucepan, bring the chicken broth to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in the couscous. Cover and let sit for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork.
      2. In a large bowl, combine the basil, parsley, olive oil, salt, pepper, lemon juice and balsamic vinegar, and stir with a whisk.
      3. Add the couscous, tomatoes and garbanzo beans to the dressing and toss. Taste and add more salt and balsamic vinegar to taste.

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      Thursday, October 06, 2005

      New Mom Seeking Other New Moms

      Many of my friends aren't married, so when I was pregnant with Alex, one of my biggest worries was meeting other new moms. I was lucky enough to find a group of wonderful women a few months after we had all given birth. We now get together on a regular basis to discuss feeding, pooping and other issues, and to let our babies play together. I don’t know what I’d do without them! If you’re having trouble finding the support you need, here are seven ways to make new mommy friends:
      1. Your birthing class (if you’re still pregnant). Before your baby is born, you will probably take a Lamaze or other type of birthing class to prepare you for the big day. If you happen to "click" with another woman in the class, get her name and phone number.
      2. A breastfeeding support group. Many hospitals and private lactation consultants run breastfeeding support groups, and because breastfeeding can be so hard, it’s especially helpful to talk with women who are dealing with the same struggles. Your obstetrician or pediatrician will likely have a list of local lactation consultants. The International Lactation Consultant Association has a list of certified lactation consultants.
      3. A new moms support group. Most hospitals offer a support group for new moms, and many small local mom-and-baby shops also offer support groups. Also, your doctor may know of a good group in your area. Many local baby stores also have a table or shelf where other business owners can leave advertising, so you might want to check those out as well.
      4. Exercise classes for mom and baby, which have the added benefit of helping you get back in shape. Stroller Strides gets a group of moms together for a walk and resistance band workout at a local park. Some of the resistance band exercises actually incorporate the stroller! If you practice yoga, check the studios in your area for a class that includes your baby.
      5. Baby classes. Kindermusik is a wonderful way to learn some new songs to sing with your baby. Many moms enjoy Gymboree or swimming classes.
      6. The park. There is a park with a path that goes around a lake near my house, and I’m never the only mom getting some exercise. It’s surprisingly easy to talk to strangers when you have new babies in common, so go ahead and strike up a conversation.
      7. The mall. The mall near my house is always so full of moms with strollers that I avoided it like the plague when I was having difficulty getting (and staying) pregnant. Many malls now have play areas and family lounges with diaper changing areas and breastfeeding booths, and these areas are an easy place to start conversations with other moms.

      Reebok Children’s Fleece Pullover/Pant Sets Recalled

      Reebok fleece pullover/pant sets with navy blue quarter-zip zippers are being recalled because the zipper slider and pull on the fleece pullovers can detach. Click here for the press release, which includes photos.

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      Product Review - Cuispro Stainless Steel Food Mill

      I got the Cuispro Stainless Steel Food Mill ($69.95) to make baby food, instead of the food mill by Kidco ($9.95), because I figured I would also use it to make adult food, like mashed potatoes or applesauce (it turns out that Marc hates applesauce, but I digress). I had read reviews on Amazon criticizing the lack of assembly instructions, but I was not prepared to read that I should "assemble the mill with the disk of [my] choice" with no further elaboration of how the pieces fit together. I am not mechanically inclined, but somehow I managed to figure it out, no thanks to the manufacturer.

      It's harder to use the mill than I thought it would be, even though it works exactly the way it's supposed to. I put the food in the bowl, turn the handle, and the puree comes out through the disk. I have to turn the handle in the opposite direction and scrape down the sides periodically, but that's no big deal. My biggest problem is that I find it awkward to hold the mill and turn the handle at the same time, which is why I've been using my food processor more than this food mill.

      The verdict: The Cuispro Stainless Steel Food Mill does a great job, and I will continue to use it on foods like potatoes, which I can't put into the food processor. But most of the other baby foods will go into my food processor, which is much easier to use. If I could go back in time, I would just get the Kidco baby food mill- it had gotten good reviews when I was deciding which mill to buy, and is a lot cheaper to boot!

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      6 Ways To Cook At Home

      When Marc and I first decided to really save money, we realized that a huge expenditure was eating out. I've always enjoyed cooking, but that was when I started to cook more. Here are some ways to make cooking at home a little easier:
      1. Plan your menus ahead of time.
      2. Have a well-stocked pantry.
      3. Acquire the basic utensils that you'll need every day.
      4. Master some basic cooking skills.
      5. Make your kitchen easier to work in.
      6. Don't be afraid to experiment.

      I'll post more about the first 5 tips in the coming weeks, but I'll discuss #6 right now because I've been doing a lot of it in the last couple of weeks. I've made a bunch of new recipes from Cooking Light and most of them have just been okay. But new dishes makes eating at home more exciting and enjoyable, and luckily my wonderful husband tolerates mediocre leftovers for lunch as long as I keep trying to broaden our palates. The fact that we're eating new dishes at home makes eating out less tempting, so even if they're not the most delicious meals I've ever made, they still save us money.

      Read the rest of this series:

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      Wednesday, October 05, 2005

      9 Ways To Find Extra Money To Pay Off Your Debts

      1. Sell some of the stuff that got you into debt in the first place. Hold a garage sale, list your stuff on Amazon.com or eBay, or put an ad in a local newspaper.
      2. Never spend change. Put all of your coins into a big jar at the end of the day. Once a month, sort the coins and put them into sleeves that you can get at the bank. Deposit the coins and write a check to your lender.
      3. Cook more at home and take leftovers for lunch. (More on that tomorrow in the Financial Tip of the Week.)
      4. Cut back on "extras" for a week, add it all up, and put it toward your debt. If you skip that morning coffee and afternoon soda, wash the car yourself, use Dryel instead of going to the drycleaners, and have dinner at Baja Fresh instead of El Torito, you might find yourself with a good amount of cash for the week. It might even be enough to motivate you to skip the extras until you've paid off all of your debts!
      5. Spend an hour online shopping around for the best deals on insurance, phone service, and banking.
      6. Check your house for energy efficiency before winter arrives. Many utility companies will perform a free energy efficiency check.
      7. Sell underperforming investments.
      8. Make sure you haven't forgotten about old bank accounts or other deposits. The Dollar Stretcher has a list of links to each state's Unclaimed Property website.
      9. Check your tax withholdings and increase your number of exemptions if you will have overpaid at the end of the year.

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      Tuesday, October 04, 2005

      Product Review - Baby Food Ice Cube Trays

      Baby food ice cube trays aren't a necessity, but they are a nice convenience because they have a tight-fitting lid that helps to prevent freezer burn. I bought two kinds, one by Kidco and one by Fresh Baby. At first I thought I liked the Kidco ones more because they make bigger cubes - supposedly two ounces, but in reality about one and one-half. The Fresh Baby trays make one-ounce cubes. It's pretty hard to get the cubes out of both trays, and in fact I broke the Kidco one this evening by twisting it too hard to get the last cube of green beans out.

      The overall verdict: Don't bother. Regular ice cube trays work just fine. I cool the baby food completely, then spoon it into the trays. I put plastic wrap directly over the food to keep out as much air as possible, then wrap the entire tray in two or more layers of plastic wrap. When the food has hardened, I transfer the cubes to a zip-top freezer bag, label it, squeeze as much air out as possible, and put that into another zip-top freezer bag for an extra layer of protection.

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      Crockpot BBQ Beef Sandwiches

      These sandwiches are so easy, I feel a little guilty posting them as the Recipe of the Week. With toasted French bread, they're extra delicious.

      Crockpot BBQ Beef Sandwiches
      Serves 6

      nonstick cooking spray
      3 1/2 lb. chuck or rump roast
      1 bottle of your favorite BBQ sauce (12 to 16 oz.)
      6 French demi-baguettes

      1. Spray the inside of a 4 or 5-quart crock with nonstick cooking spray (it will make cleanup easier).
      2. Place the roast into the crockpot (remove any butcher's twine first) and pour the BBQ sauce over the top. Cover and cook on high for 4-5 hours or low for 8-10 hours.
      3. When ready to eat, slice the baguettes length-wise, taking care not to cut all the way through (you're making a pocket for the beef to sit in). Without tearing the crust, remove some of the bread to make room for the beef. Toast the baguettes lightly in a toaster oven.
      4. Remove the roast from the crock and shred the beef, reserving the BBQ sauce.
      5. Stuff the baguette pockets with beef, then pour some of the sauce from the crock onto the beef. Serve immediately so the sauce does not soak through the bread.

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      Monday, October 03, 2005

      Make Your Feet Say "Ahhhh!"

      All that walking I've been doing is wreaking havoc on my poor feet, so it's time for a nice relaxing foot bath. Here's my favorite way:
      • Fill a foot bath or large bowl with warm water and add some bath salts, which will help soften the skin. Soak your feet for 5 to 10 minutes.
      • Pat one foot dry, then use a foot file to gently exfoliate the entire foot, paying special attention to the heel. (I've seen two types of foot files; both have extended plastic handles, but one type has coarse sandpaper, while the other has a pumice stone. My personal preference is the pumice, but I have pretty dry heels. The sandpaper may be better for your foot.) Repeat on the other foot.
      • Return your feet to the water and gently massage with a sugar scrub for a few minutes.
      • Rinse off your feet and pat them dry.
      • Moisturize with a rich lotion. Take a few extra minutes to go up your calf and massage your lower leg. My dermatologist recommended Albolene as a super-moisturizer.
      • If you want to paint your nails, now is the time. Otherwise, put on socks to let your feet really absorb the moisturizer.

      Saturday, October 01, 2005

      CIO: Crying It Out

      At Alex's four-month well-baby check-up, his pediatrician suggested we let him cry it out so he would learn to sleep through the night. At his six-month check-up, the doctor strongly recommended that we let him cry it out. I just can't bring myself to do it, though - at least not the full-blown method.

      Crying it out can be a controversial topic - Babycenter.com even has a debate board on the issue. I stumbled across it one day and read a thread that went like this:
      • First post: a mother's plea for help to end her baby's night-waking
      • Second post: an explanation of the options (crying it out, not crying it out, various modifications of crying it out)
      • Third post: another question by the mother, lamenting her baby's wakefulness/crying
      • Fourth post: a terse "Don't come here for support, this is a DEBATE board"

      I was taken aback when I read the last post, but sure enough, the introduction to the board states that it is a debate board, intended for the expression of opinions on the topic. There's certainly a lot of information available. In addition to getting the advice of my wonderful friends, I've read several books on baby sleep (Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Marc Weissbluth, The No-Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley, Secrets of the Baby Whisperer and The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems by Tracy Hogg, The Happiest Baby on the Block by Harvey Karp, and Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems by Richard Ferber). Each one made complete sense when I was reading it, but none are particularly helpful when Alex cries - I usually find myself paralyzed by all of the information and options.

      In the end, I find myself listening to my instinct, which sometimes says, "He's crying too much, he needs me." This happened last night and I went in, soothed Alex and sang to him, and eventually he fell asleep. Later, he cried again, but this time my instinct said, "Wait five minutes, maybe he'll put himself back to sleep," and he actually did.

      Most of the time, though, it doesn't go quite so well, and sometimes I am so full of doubts that I end up in tears. I have to keep reminding myself that as in all areas of parenting, I can only do my best and pray that it's good enough - in this case, good enough to teach Alex how to fall asleep on his own.