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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Beware of Nonstick Cookware

An independent review panel has concluded that PFOA, a chemical used to make Teflon and other nonstick and stain-resistant products should be considered a "likely" carcinogen. The EPA wants to eliminate PFOA from emissions and products by 2015.

This is pretty sad news to me since I love my nonstick pans. I even sent OXO an email asking if their products contain PFOA since I have so many of their utensils. (I'll let you know what they say.) But the good news is that I recently acquired a stainless steel pan and have discovered that food doesn't stick permanently to it and that it is possible to keep it clean. My biggest fear about getting a stainless steel pan was that I would have to spend hours cleaning it but that hasn't been the case (it's also dishwasher safe).

I'm now ready to invest in one or two stainless steel pots, especially since the nonstick coating on my saucepans is scratched. I will probably get this 4-quart saucepan and maybe this 2-quart saucepan as well. I'll post a product review after I've used one or both a few times.

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Monday, January 30, 2006

Save Money On Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day is in just a couple of weeks, so here are a few money-saving ideas. Some are more obvious than others.

  • Eat at home - Our first Valentine's Day together, Marc took me to a very nice restaurant that was touted as the most romantic in Los Angeles. It was . . . fine. The food was better than average, the atmosphere cozy. But we were dining with a dozen or more other couples, every one of us trying to create our own little world. The menu was set and dinner felt rushed since there was no lingering over each course (there was at least one more seating after us). At $75 a piece, dinner wasn't outrageously expensive, but it sure wasn't cheap. Since then, we've always eaten at home. Sometimes we've gotten take-out from a favorite restaurant, most years I cook. Even an expensive dinner at home (this year we're having Beef Wellington) costs less than a dinner out.
  • Don't buy flowers - If this is your first Valentine's Day together, you might have to splurge. But if you and your significant other share financial goals and priorities, you should be able to agree that overspending on flowers is a bad idea. (Buy them on February 15 instead.)
  • A little (chocolate) goes a long way - I haven't seen (in stores or in articles) anything indicating that the price of chocolates spikes the way the price of roses does at Valentine's Day. So I see nothing wrong, financially speaking, with indulging your sweet tooth. But buy a few individual premium pieces (some gourmet chocolate-dipped strawberries would be fabulous) and leave it at that - your wallet and your waistline will thank you.
  • Get creative - Over the years, I've picked up some great ideas from The Dollar Stretcher. One was to cut out 50 or so little hearts, write "I love you because (fill in the blank) " and hide them in all sorts of places for Marc to find (like in his shoes).
  • Get Romantic - Many, if not most, of the tips at TheRomantic.com require little or no money to execute.

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Saturday, January 28, 2006

The First Years' Liquid-Filled Teether Recalled

The First Years has recalled six liquid-filled teethers because the liquid inside may be contaminated with bacteria. (Yikes! Alex has the one to the right.) Teethers should be sent in a plastic bag to: Parent Service Center, RC2/The First Years, 100 Technology Center Drive, Stoughton, Massachusetts, 02072. (Canadian residents: KRG Logistics Inc.,170 Traders Blvd., East Mississauga, ONT L4Z 1W7.) Include your mailing address in the envelope to receive a replacement teether and free gift. For additional info, contact the company at parentservicecenter@thefirstyears.com or 866-725-4407. See the official recall, including pictures of all teethers, here.

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Friday, January 27, 2006

Parenting Tip: Try Those Free Classes

In my area, there are several Gymboree knock-offs, as well as a real Gymboree location. Earlier this week, Alex and I attended a free trial class at My Gym, which claims to be "The Worldwide Leader In Children's Fitness." The class was for "Waddlers," or crawling and newly walking babies.

It started with a "warm-up" in which parents moved the babies' arms and legs. Most of the 45-minute session was unstructured, so the babies could do what they wanted. At various points in the class, the instructors set up apparatus for swinging, balancing and rolling. The babies were also free to climb on the various mats, jump on the trampoline, or play with any available toy.

I thought Alex would love it because there would be a huge room for him explore and things to climb on, but he surprised me by not really enjoying it much at all. We had a similar experience with Kindermusik as well.

Obviously, as parents we want to encourage our children to grow and learn and develop, but I'm finding that the growth and development seems to happen at each individual baby's pace, regardless of whether the baby's in daycare, spends all day with mommy, or attends various classes. I think that when he's older, Alex might actually enjoy a class like My Gym.

Every place I've called offers a one-time free session, so before you spend money on a series of classes, attend a trial class to see if your child really enjoys it.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Cooking Light's Chocolate Fudge Snack Cake

I've been craving a light and airy chocolate cake, and this Chocolate Fudge Snack Cake from Cooking Light actually satisfied my craving. I’m not a big icing fan, so the cake alone was enough for me. It helped use up some buttermilk that was about to expire, and came out fine with regular cocoa (I didn’t have any Dutch process) and whole wheat pastry flour. Be careful not to overbake for the fluffiest results.

Chocolate Fudge Snack Cake

Cooking spray
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour (I used ground flaxseed instead)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup Dutch process cocoa
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2/3 cup fat-free buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon powdered sugar (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Coat an 8-inch square baking pan with cooking spray; dust with 2 teaspoons flour. Combine flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl.

3. Beat butter in a large bowl on medium speed until smooth. Add vanilla; beat well. Add granulated sugar, 1/4 cup at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat at medium-high speed 3 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

4. Beating at low speed, add flour mixture and buttermilk alternately to sugar mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture; beat just until smooth.

5. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 32 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes on a wire rack; remove from pan. Cool completely on wire rack. Sift powdered sugar over top of cake, if desired.

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Colleen's Bread Machine Recipe for Whole Wheat Bread

Thanks go out to CFO reader Colleen, who was kind enough to send me this recipe!

Colleen's Whole Wheat Bread for Bread Machine
Makes one 2-pound loaf

1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups bread flour
2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons butter or oil (Colleen recommends olive oil)
1/4 cup honey
2/3 cup milk
2/3 cup water
2 eggs

Place the ingredients in your bread machine in the order directed by the manufacturer. If your machine has the options, remember to use the whole wheat and 2-pound loaf settings.

Note from Colleen: If you or your family is used to whole wheat bread from the grocery store, you may want to use 2 1/2 cups of bread flour and 1 1/2 cups of wheat flour. Then with consecutive loaves, increase the whole wheat flour and drop the bread flour by 1/4 cup increments. Be sure to store your whole wheat flour in the freezer so it doesn't get a sour taste.

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Monday, January 23, 2006

Save Money With Your Mail Order Pharmacy

If you take a medication long term and your prescription plan offers a mail order pharmacy service, make sure you use the mail order pharmacy. It can save you a lot of money. Choose the generic version of your medication and save even more.

For example, for a name brand medication, my prescription plan charges $15 for a 30-day supply at a retail pharmacy and $25 for a 90-day supply through the mail order pharmacy. The difference is greater with a generic medication: my plan charges $5 for a 30-day supply and $10 for a 90-day supply.

Your prescription plan has most likely sent you forms to send in to order your medication, but I have found that the easiest way to place an order is to have my doctor's office call the mail order pharmacy. The receptionist or nurse will usually ask me to have the pharmacy call them, but when I explain I'm using a mail order pharmacy, they understand that they need to place the call. I obtained the number that my doctor calls by calling the toll-free customer service number. You can usually pay for the medication with a credit card via the pharmacy's website or toll-free number so you can accrue those miles or rewards points (of course, you can also send in a check but you'll have to pay for a stamp!). You may also be able to refill a prescription online.

My mail order pharmacy offers express shipping for an additional cost via FedEx, but I have never found it necessary to use it. Because I only use the mail order pharmacy for long term medication, I always know well ahead of time when I need to order a refill. Standard shipping via the United States Postal Service (which is included in the cost of the medication) usually takes seven to ten days, and I can order a refill 60 days after my last order so it arrives about three weeks before I start that bottle.

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Thursday, January 19, 2006

Tips For Nursing In Public

I used to dread nursing in public, but the alternative was never leaving the house for more than 2 hours at a time so I eventually got used to it. Here are a few tips I picked up along the way:
  1. Nursing tops aren't necessary, but they are nice to have. If you have the money, invest in at least a few nursing tops. I have only one, but I love it. It's a V-neck tee from Motherhood Maternity, and is basically one shirt sewn on top of the other. You pull the top shirt up to expose a slit for your breast in the bottom shirt when you want to nurse. It's very easy to stay covered up with my nursing top. (Note: Motherhood appears to only sell nursing bras online, but they have a small selection of tops in stores.)
  2. Loose T-shirts are easier to nurse in than blouses. Before Alex was born, someone had suggested I wear a button-down shirt and unbutton from the bottom when I wanted to nurse. I tried it and hated it. I felt quite exposed, and it was a huge pain buttoning and unbuttoning the shirt while holding a newborn. Instead, I came to favor loose V-neck T-shirts (I own about six of these shirts from Target). I just pull up the side that I'm nursing on just enough for Alex to get a latch and hold Alex close to me.
  3. Don't cover up with a blanket. I dispensed with the blanket over the shoulder pretty early on because I felt like I was wearing a sign that screamed "nursing mom." As long as I pull my shirt up just far enough for Alex to get a latch, there's nothing to see, and to a casual passerby, I look like I'm just cradling my baby.
  4. Practice. I learned to nurse in public in a very safe environment, namely among the other moms in our playgroup. Sometimes we were at someone's house, other times we were out as a group. Nursing in public with a bunch of other nursing moms is much less intimidating than doing it alone.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Product Recall: Fisher Price Laugh & Learn Musical Learning Chair

Fisher Price has recalled the Laugh & Learn Musical Learning Chair because a child's neck can become lodged between the seat back and side table, posing a strangulation risk. For a free repair kit containing a plastic piece that fills the space between the seat back and side table, contact Fisher Price at (866) 552-3914 or www.service.fisher-price.com. To view the full product recall press release, click here.

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Creamy Butternut Squash Soup with Corn and Pine Nuts

This soup comes out quite thick. You can add chicken broth to achieve your desired consistency.

Creamy Butternut Squash Soup with Corn and Pine Nuts
Serves 4

6 cups butternut squash, cubed and peeled
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
3 cups milk (I use 2%, you can use nonfat for a thinner texture)
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 cup frozen corn
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine the squash, olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, pepper and oregano. Place the squash on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for 45 minutes, until edges are brown and squash is tender.

2. Place the squash, milk and thyme in a large pot and puree with a hand blender (or puree the mixture in a blender, then transfer to pot). Add corn and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 10 minutes or until corn is heated through. Add remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste. Ladle into soup bowls and top each serving with 1/2 tablespoon pine nuts.

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