Wednesday, June 10, 2015

First Time Mothering Product Reviews

So as my daughter turned a year old, and I sat here bawling at the notion that she is already growing way too fast for my liking, I decided to take a moment to recall several gear and products I tried and either tossed into the failed category or adopted as must-haves. Remember, this is just one person's point of view. There may be things I list that I couldn't live without that you scrunch your nose at with a sarcastic "really?" or something that I deem as " absolutely pointless" that completely saved your day from turning into a disaster. So chill....

Angels Sing Category:
Fisher Price Deluxe Booster Seat - this seat is awesome and convenient. We have carried it into restaurants and to friend's houses. Totally portable, easily washable, and compact. The only downside is it uses up a chair at the table. No biggie for us. We bought two off Craigslist (oh how I love thee): one for our dining table and the other we keep in the car. It's worth its weight in gold.

The Potty Pail- life. changing.
I love this thing so much that when we were in transition between houses I didn't have it hooked up and I panicked. My mom, Nana, was staying with baby and me while Cowboy was still at the rental. I asked her "What did you do before Potty Pail?" as I held up a very poopy diaper. She replied nonchalantly, "I hand washed them." Wait, What?!? I tell you right now. If you are cloth diapering get (or if you're handy, make) a potty pail.

Diono Easy View Back Mirror- Yes, when I got my car seat inspected the fireman told me mirrors can be dangerous as a projectile and also as a distraction but I still love my mirror. I have it attached to the middle seat headrest and she sits behind me. I peek at her no problem if I tilt my rear view mirror ever so slightly. I don't feel she distracts me and I'll take the projectile risk since everything else in my truck could be considered a projectile.

Diono Pacifica- this car seat is expensive, it's a mammoth, and it totally rocks. I take my baby's safety hard core serious. That is all.

Infant Optics Baby Monitor- It's cheap and extremely effective. I've had no issues with it and find it's well worth the $100 I paid vs the more expensive ones.

Halo Swaddles- my baby needed them. She had a high startle reflex that would make her toss her arms out and wake her every 10-15 minutes. Swaddling her allowed her to stay calm and fall asleep. It was a life saver. Some babies need them, some don't. I felt Halo delivered the best product out of the other swaddle companies.

Ergo baby carrier- Easily one of the most used pieces of baby gear I have bought to date. She LOVED this carrier and fell asleep every single time when we were out and about. A naturally mellow baby, she mellowed big time in this while people watching and enjoying being close to mama. Simple to put on and take off by self, super comfortable, and easily adjustable to swap wearers if Nana wanted to carry her. I attached Target Eddie Bauer owl teething pads around the straps for her to drool on to her hearts delight.

ASL Baby Sign Language books. This one was great and there are a handful of others. We started early but it was more to get us as parents used to signing and remembering to speak and sign. She started picking up on it before the age of one and is flying through the signs now. She still babbles and "chats" but she is able to communicate her needs through signing. I firmly believe we have avoided a ton of frustrations due to lack of communications by using sign language. She is able to tell us not just when she's hungry but what she is hungry or thirsty for. She can tell us what she does or doesn't want and what excites her. It is amazing to share this with her and help her learn things into this world. I am amazed at her wide vocabulary already and I do not feel it impedes her speech the slightest.

Don't Bother Category:
Shopping cart covers- Save yourself the car space, the money, and the hassle of this useless puzzle of fabric, elastic, velcro, and/or buckles and just buy a baby wearing device such as the Moby (kind of a pain of the butt if you are needing to take on and off frequently) or (my favorite) the Ergo. Carry that child around as you shop and you'll have the most content baby ever. I got frustrated trying to pack in and pack out that cover and found if I think a cart is that nasty that I can't wipe it down with the store's sanitary wipes then I probably shouldn't be exposing my child to that cart. Besides, I love wearing her around and she loves it too.

Shoes- Until they are walking or crawling (got to protect the tops of those tootsies) around outside and getting into things needing foot protection there's no point in putting shoes on little babies. Even for looks, it's ridiculous so stop it. I have TONS of shoes I ended up getting rid of because her feet are just too chubby to try to force into shoes. Barefoot or socked is great and helps the child learn how to place her feet correctly. I'm also a shoe minimalist in terms of trail running so my opinion on shoes runs deep. As soon as she started trying to walk/crawl especially outside and on our wood (splinters?) deck, Robeez shoes were the way to go hands down.

Food Feeders- Food enclosed in a type of net, these feeders help baby experience new food without the risk of choking. This seemed like a great buy as she liked it with frozen breast milk, however she only used it a small handful of times. Its not that expensive but I just feel in hindsight it probably wasn't needed.

All the electronic "Vtech" plastic craziness of loud singing toys that are out there now. Seriously, my daughter gets excited playing with board books, spatulas, and a bin of ribbons.

Reviving Cast Iron

I cannot believe how excited I am about this. I just completely resurrected my entire collection of cast iron cookware from lifeless pealing cracked gross souls to beautiful glazed newness! It was so easy I cannot believe I have put off doing this for over a year. It's been many years now that I had completely transitioned from stainless and non-stick (blah) to cast-iron. I only use stainless for my saucepans now and they get used mainly for boiling pasta water and simmering tomato sauces. I am a total cast iron convert and have never looked back.

I had read so many places that the only way (other than scrubbing like heck with steel wool) to revive cast iron is to take it to a machine shop and blast the crud off. I had already tried steel wool with an exhausting amount of elbow grease and even resorted to using a chisel to chip it off. The other day I was searching online for a machinist near me when I came across a blog about using the self-clean feature on your oven. Wha-what?? I researched further and found the pros and cons on different methods using the self-clean button. This is what I used and holy cow it worked beautifully! I wish now I had taken before and after pictures.

1. Scrub your cast iron with hot water and soap- don't worry about the no soap rule this is the exception.
2. Dry and set cookware upside down on oven racks. Do NOT place foil or anything else along the bottom of your oven- every site I read that had people do this ended up with aluminum foil melted and baked into their ovens. One lady had aluminum pieces permanently etched into her brand new oven bottom. The crust and crud on your cookware will disintegrate into rusty soot that can later be easily brushed or vacuumed out. No worries.
3. Close your oven and press the self-clean button. Mine automatically set at 3hrs.
4. Get ready for a lot of iron-y fumes and smoke (if you've ever accidentally left your cast iron skillet on a hot flame you know the smell I'm talking about). Make sure you are doing this on a day you can open your windows and keep your kitchen well ventilated. I set up a stand fan blowing out my back door.
5. In 3hrs, let your oven turn itself off and allow cast iron to cool completely.
6. Once cooled, run under warm water with a steel wool briefly to get rid of any lingering rust spots. This should take just a light scrub. Rinse and dry immediately then place on a burner to dry thoroughly. At this point you can clean out your oven. I just used a hand brush and dust pan to scoop up the soot at the bottom, then gently wiped the interior (not really needed) with a wet cloth.

Now to season your cast iron.

You just stripped your cookware in steps 1-6 so now you have to season your pans in order to use them without everything sticking. I know, I many steps and it is time consuming but hopefully, if you do it right, you'll only need to do it once. Some people online have argued against stripping your pans as setting them back to "new" is not desired since now you are starting from scratch on the possibility of having an awful sticking mess with everything you cook. The answer = season your pans well and cook on them a whole lot! Cook bacon, brown up some ground beef, etc. The more you use them the better the seasoning will be which will turn them into a thing of beauty.

7. Preheat oven to 350. Lightly coat your cast iron with a film of oil. I used Crisco but just about any oil will do.

***The lesson I have learned through this entire process is to make sure the coat is lightly applied (You can go slightly heavier on the inside but the outside has to be extremely light). Take a paper towel, dip in oil, and wipe entire pan down inside and out, then take another towel and take another swipe to clean up any drips or over-applied spots. My initial fault many years ago was that I got way over excitable seasoning my pans for their first times and thought "more is better". What happened was as I continuously cooked with the pans, all the baked on oil I had excessively slathered outside of the pan became burnt and further baked on creating a monster of ugly scaly hard-as-nails crust. It was a nightmare and every one of my pans suffered from my over-zealous application. So, LESS is more and remember, you can always season multiple times if the first application is too thin. Which it won't be....

8. Once oven is heated, place oiled cast iron upside down in oven on racks. This time, it is totally acceptable to line the bottom of the oven with a sheet of foil. Other ways are to line each rack with foil or place foil on a baking sheet and put under the cookware to catch any oil drips. This is fine because you aren't getting the oven temp above a bazillion degrees to melt the foil.

9. Close oven door and set timer for one hour. After hour is up, turn off oven and leave cookware in there to cool completely.

10. Remove cast iron and stare at your handiwork. Isn't it gorgeous?? Now go cook on them!!!

To clean with every day wear just rinse under hot water and a good stiff nylon or similar brush. No soap. Though many people do use soap with no adverse effects I find soap unnecessary and counterproductive to the use of cast iron. Immediately dry and place on a burner to thoroughly dry. Once dry, immediately coat the inside lightly with your choice of oil. My oils tend towards bacon grease, avocado oil, olive oil, or coconut oil but pretty much any oil will do. Store in a dry spot. If stacking, use a paper towel where pieces touch to prevent rusting. If you do notice rust, just rinse with water, scrub with a little steel wool then re-coat in oil. Worst case you'll have to do steps 7-10 again.

Okay, I feel the need to mention this since I read of two people's events while using this self-clean method. These two people's self-clean feature set their cast iron on fire. Yep, on fire. Neither individual suffered any negative effects of this. Their ovens were fine and so was their cast iron but it scared them pretty bad and they were writing their story to warn others. One person drew up a chair in front of their stove and sat there with a fire extinguisher clenched in their hands until the oven turned off and unlocked the door. So proceed with caution. My experience was nothing but good and I had no fires.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Dandelion Jelly

Dandelions aren't just for hippie headwear! I remember when I was a little kid I used to sit out in fields of dandelions while playing outfield for our t-ball team, pinching off their blossoms and making dandelion chains by inserting the skinny end into the thick large end. Then I'd hang them on my neck or around my head and dance around.

This past week, KT and I got together to make dandelion jelly and it was so delicious. It tastes very similar to honey!!! She rounded up her kids the night before to pick dandelions on her acreage while Nana picked some from ours. The whole gang, husbands included, sat around our table deflowering....wait that doesn't sound We haven't found a word for what we did without it sounding utterly wrong in so many ways.

Well, what we did was pinch the blossoms aggressively at their base and roll between our fingers. That releases the petals from the stems. The goal was to get as little green anything in with our yellow fluff as possible.

Once that was achieved KT took the petals home and steeped them in hot water making dandelion tea. The next morning she removed them from the tea. Together, while managing to wrangle three young kiddos at the same time, we finished the jelly.

Recipe courtesy of Simply

Making Dandelion Jelly with Powdered Pectin
  • 3 Cups dandelion tea
  • 4 1/2 Cups sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1 box powdered pectin
Add dandelion tea, lemon juice, 1 box of pectin into a large saucepan. Bring to a boil.  Add your sugar and bring back to a boil.  Continue boiling 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat and fill half pint jars leaving 1/4" headspace. Process in a water bath for 10-15 minutes depending on your altitude. Let sit for 5-10 minutes with heat off before setting on draft free countertop covered gently with a towel. Do not disturb for 24hrs. Check seal at that time. 
**Pick at least 10 cups of dandelion tops as you need 4 cups of petals in the end to make the tea. Pour boiling water over petals and let steep overnight. Strain petals with cheesecloth or coffee filter and discard petals into your compost. Add additional water as needed to achieve 3c. of tea. 
Next time I think I would steep more dandelions for a stronger flavor but overall it turned out perfectly. 
After this I proceeded to get my jam on and made Aprium-Pineapple Jam (with a touch of apricot schnaaps....yummmm) with natural pectin. It was fabulous. My next endeavor is Caramel-Apple Jam and also Bourbon Bacon Jam. 

Today was a bee-u-tiful day on the homestead. Sun shining, warm but with a gentle breeze, laundry swaying, chickens dust bathing, and baby digging up stones and flowers in the dirt. Love.....

I love love love the bonnet. We have five that Nana made for her in gorgeous calico fabric. Because Cowboy and I always put on our cowboy hats when we head out the back door, she has now found it unacceptable to leave the house without her bonnet on. She insists, signing "hat" and pointing at her little bonnet which is kept on a hook by the door.