Saturday, March 31, 2007

Egg-cellent: A Hard Boiled Hack Just in Time for Easter (or Egg Salad Sandwiches)

I love egg salad. My friend Kathryn has the best recipe ever for egg salad, but as she's a Southerner it's completely irreproducible for anyone living above the azalea line. She's given it to me more than a dozen times (always when I'm lacking a pen).

The "recipe" goes something like this:

"Honey, it's just egg salad- but you MUST use Duke's Mayonnaise [only available at Winn-Dixie, Piggly-Wiggly, and other Southeastern grocery chains] and you take the pickle relish [sweet/dill? I can never remember- and apparently it's essential that you not choose the wrong one] and you squeeze all the juice out of it. Then you put [one portion- either the squoze relish or the juice- another detail I can never conquer] in with the regular egg salad ingredients. Whatever you do, you MUST use Duke's mayonnaise."

Note the complete lack of measurements and proportions. It just makes my head spin, plus it's dangerous to assume I know anything about cooking. Should I ever lay hands on an unexpired jar of Duke's, I may call Kathryn and take one more shot at getting the recipe, but for now I really love the recipe for Pickle Packers International's Auntie M's Deviled Egg Salad. This stuff is seriously delicious (far superior to my own Auntie's egg salad), and, as if that weren't enough it allows one to say "Pickle Packers International" (bonus points)!

Jim and I were making egg salad tea sandwiches for a baby shower, and he dropped the eggs into the large pot of boiling water after punching a pinhole in the big end of each egg. I heard the egg shells cracking together as they dropped into the pot, and I remembered that Jim usually misses the hard-boiling stage of egg salad production. So I taught him a hack that we think useful for religious and secular egg boilers alike.

Using a spaghetti scoop (aka spaghetti server, spaghetti fork, spaghetti ladle, pasta server) is great for gently navigating the eggs into and out of a pot of boiling water. It cradles the egg, making them easy to capture and strategically release (unlike a large spoon).

Happy Spring, everyone!

Friday, March 30, 2007

Yipee, Kipiis! Winner

Linda from Tennessee won the Kipiis bib clips we reviewed earlier this month and wrote to me about them.

Her reflections after some use:
[The Kipiis] really are great. I threw them in the diaper bag and they worked beautifully with a cloth diaper. I'm also thinking I may start using them at home with a washcloth or dish towel instead of bibs. I am SO tired of the Velcro on [baby]'s bibs tearing into his clothes in the wash!

Thank you to all who entered the drawing! Thank you, Kipiis for a review sample!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Bottles, Bottles, Everywhere: Cleaning and Organization Tips

Now that I've confessed to my general confusion about what bottles to use in the age of plastic, let's talk about easier stuff- like keeping them under control.

1- Get a bottle count
"Knowing is half the battle," thus spoke GI Joe. A bottle count is the first step in knowing a bottle is busy congealing under the driver's seat, skulking among the condiments, or threatening to leak into your bag. When we washed the bottles, we'd check to see all were present. If one was missing, we would send out a search party. Our top three AWOL locations: 1- Diaper bag; 2- Hidden in the fridge; and 3- Somewhere in the car.

2- Wash by hand (or machine, but we don't have any tips for that)
Okay, this may be too much for most people, but a friend's high-power dishwasher took the incremental markings off her children's bottles and the designs off the sippy cups. Our dishwasher doesn't even take the food off the plates with regularity, but it makes us look like we have a better dishwasher when I hand wash the bottles. Actually, the detergent used in hand washing is gentler than the dishwasher powder (many of which contain chlorine in some form) and (in the case of my dishwasher) the wash is more thorough when hand washed.

Washing by hand also saves water- hot water- the conservation of which lowers your energy bill.

2A- Use a second inner tub to wash in. My stainless steel sink chills the hot water in a heartbeat, so I use a smaller plastic tub in the basin to wash in. This has been particularly helpful with bottles that have small parts (like Dr. Brown's) or clear parts (clear bottle nipples and sippy cup valves, straws, and disks). If you lose one in the wash water, you'll see it when you dump the tub into the sink. It's a safeguard that's kept us from losing essential parts into the in-sink disposal.

2B- Bottle brushes are well worth the expense. We have a great Munchkin bottle brush with a suction cup bottom to help it stand and a smaller nipple brush (I cringe at the searches Google will now direct to this site) on board. This one is great for the tall bottles, but doesn't do as well when the neck has lots of crevices and ledges. The Avent bottle brush is great for clearing those bottles.

2C- I found it easiest to wash by component types so I didn't have to keep changing brushes all the time. Ordering them from largest to smallest components also makes it easier to fit everything on the drying rack (handy if you have the counter space). Bottles, lids, necks, rings, inner parts (Dr. Brown's), nipples.

2D- Group the components by brand and type. That way if I was holding an Avent bottle, I knew where to look for the appropriate parts and they weren't buried under other parts for other brands. No sorting required when a hungry baby is screaming like a hyena.

3- Assemble clean bottles and store somewhere accessible
Assemble the clean, dry parts and put them somewhere you can find them readily. For storage, we put a huge trifle bowl on top of the fridge. The clear glass let us easily survey how many clean bottles we had left without even standing on tip-toe.


Monday, March 26, 2007

Hitting the Bottle: Polycarbonate Plastics May Drive Me to Drink

Two months ago, I felt like I knew plenty about baby bottles. Now, I'm not so sure.

We used Dr. Brown's, Soothie, and Avent bottles primarily and felt like we knew each bottle's strengths and weaknesses. This was plenty for a post. I just needed to clear the kitchen counter and take some pictures of our bottle drying and storage areas.

A couple weeks ago, reading Daddy Types, I ran into the ongoing polycarbonate debates. For those of you living further under rocks than me here's a quick summary of the situation from the reasonably impartial WedMD.

I have no idea how I missed these concerns that WebMD addressed in March 2003, but I went on buying polycarbonate Nalgenes and feeling healthy for drinking water from them rather than consuming lots of disposable bottles. We may have missed the recent upsurge in these debates as our area has a major GE presence (the largest Lexan factory in the world is within 30 miles of our home).

Anyway, the research on both sides of the polycarbonate safety issue is hotly debated. It looks like industry funded research stands on one side arguing total safety while environmental groups champion the unsafe argument.

We took a break, did some research, and our household decision has been to abandon the polycarbonate bottle in all forms (Nalgenes and sippy cups as well as baby bottles). Maybe industry research isn't biased and polycarbonates are really, really safe, but why take the chance? If bisphenol-A has the side effects of cancer (especially breast cancer) and infertility, why take the chance?

I have some biases here. While I was an adolescent, my grandmother (after over a decade of struggling with breast cancer) was ravaged by the disease and died in our family home. It was traumatic and terrifying; her death is not the only one I've had close proximity to- it just stripped her life away layer by layer. My brother and I both now have a profound fear of prolonged terminal illness.

Almost a decade later a major motor company bought her home and much of the property adjacent to it for government mandated environmental cleanup. Apparently the stream NEAR her backyard carried horrifying toxins into the neighborhood. My uncle and aunt live next door to my grandma's house. Their adjacent property wasn't addressed in the government mandate and thus didn't "need" environmental cleanup, and there was "nothing [for my aunt and uncle] to worry about." Except they've both gotten aggressive cancers in the past few years. I believe industry looks out for itself regardless of human consequences, so I'm probably more prone to believe that polycarbonates are indeed harmful.

So- we threw out or repurposed our polycarbonate bottles last week. The upside is I now never have to clear my counter for photos and our fastening hardware (nails, screws, etc.) is now a little more organized in clear, unbreakable bottles .

Glass bottles, beyond being impossible to find, were highly impractical replacements with the our local Mad Bomber in the high chair. We're using Playtex drop-ins for the waning formula demands (I can't believe I'm using disposable baby bottles) and some Avent Magic Trainer Sippy Cups (HDPE plastic) with Advent bottle parts on top. We found a great flip-top stainless steel kid Thermos Funtrainer with straw at Meijer on drastic markdown (Superman or Barbie: $3.25+ tax). For the grown-ups we're ordering HDPE Nalgenes (their milky color reminds me of the 70s and my parents' lab-inspired camping and sailing gear).

The scientists and history can hash this debate out, but I'm sure we're getting plenty of Lexan-related chemicals from the air we breathe (we're upstream, but downwind from the factory) without additional bottle leaching.

I just wanted other families to be aware of the controversy and potential risk. Every family will make their own decision on whether to continue using polycarbonates around food. I'm not going to scream and knock these bottles from the hands of babies (as the research is hardly definitive on either side), but I do want every family to be able to make a conscious and informed decision.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Hang On, Soupy: Kipiis Bib Clips- Portable, Clever, and Cute

Before I had a child I usually forgot my wallet. Now I always seem to forget a bib. I just can't bring myself to invest in disposable bibs. Yes, they work beautifully and are really compact (my friends have generously given me more than one in a pinch), but they're not reusable which bothers me.

So, what's a parent to do? A clip to make a bib from on-hand objects (e.g. towel, paper towel, napkin, washcloth, t-shirt, heirloom baby quilt, bib) seemed pretty useful & compact. I saw a listing for a Kipiis bib clip on Amazon, but couldn't find any reviews. At Kipii's site I found there was no bricks and mortar store carrying Kipiis within this state or any closely adjacent states.

I really wanted to try Kipiis out, so I wrote to Kipiis and asked for one to review. Kipiis was wonderful and sent one of the cutest baby implements I've ever seen. The material is pliable and smooth, and the rounded bright clips are modern and playful. The whole Kipiis has a charming cartoon robot look about them.

They adjust to such a long length that a breastfeeding mom could improvise a nursing curtain with a thin blanket, yet they are suitable when sized for an infant.

We found they worked well at home with a standard tea towel. For many babies, they would work well anywhere, but with BabyGeek the paper solutions (especially fast food restaurant napkins) were momentary. In defense of the Kipiis, the little guy is unusually bent on destruction and has always resented bibs. Our son has the soul of a test engineer, so he's always ready to take things apart- especially things that are not his. He tore through all the paper solutions faster than Bill Bixby's shirt shredded as it found itself housing an angry, green Lou Ferrigno.

His success in destroying his paper nemesis bolstered his confidence and he began operating the clips to his own delight. I'm sure this well-designed clip would work much better for a child not periodically hailed as "Destructo."

So BabyGeek (soon to lose this moniker) needed another solution. We started using a old school mitten clip (about 4 inches of elastic and those little metal chomper jaws) and a terrycloth or woven cotton tea towel. The clips hold on tight to the towel despite the geek's escape efforts and the latch is too small for him to operate (for now). The mitten clip also stays pretty high on his neck and generally out of his vision. The strength of the clips are such however that this improvised bib should only be used under supervision due to strangulation hazards.

One of the biggest advantages of the Kipiis (or the mitten clip) is use with a standard size kitchen towel offers ample coverage of the child's chest and lap. It's so much better than a regular bib, and I don't much like the pocket bibs (the thin vinyl ones don't clean well for me and always seem greasy in the pocket and the rigid ones are just a little 1940s sci-fi villain for me even with the teddy bear imprint).

I like the Kipiis alot and for the right kid's parents it promises a bright future of one less thing to remember when leaving the house. Sadly, we're just not those people. For the rest of us there are mitten clips and forever being bib-less at restaurants.

Would you like to have the gorgeous Tangerine & Blue Kipiis that Kipiis generously sent for review? If so, please send an email with the subject Yippee, Kipiis! to by midnight CST on Friday. The winner will be selected at random.

Have you noticed that the world seems to be filling with wonderful new people these days? Please join us in welcoming our dear new niece and new friends to the world: Welcome, Olivia! Welcome, Dylan! Welcome, Amelie! Welcome, Jonas!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Eyes Have It:

As parents, we tend to study our babies' eyes. They're wonderful portals to interpreting pre-verbal emotions and general state of being.

Well, it turns out parents aren't the only people who should be looking into those beautiful eyes.

Eye professionals recommend that children have eye exams at 6 months, 2 years, and 4 years. And that first year of life exam is offered free to children in the US (regardless of income) through a program called InfantSEE.

When Jim was young his lazy eye went undiagnosed. The consequences of this missed diagnosis can be total loss of vision in the affected eye in adulthood.

We're taking our son for early vision screening so we don't repeat this mistake.

It turns out that 1 out of 10 children is at risk for undiagnosed eye and vision problems.

Keep those eyes as healthy as they are beautiful- visit an InfantSEE participating optometrist for a free evaluation between 6 and 12 months.

Sketch Artist: Maggie Makes Her Mark

Remember the ineptly lit, poorly composed photo that I posted a couple weeks ago? Well, our commissioned drawing is already finished, and I'm so excited to share the results. Please click on the image above to see it in larger resolution.

Again, the original photograph:

Lamp, drapes, and codura chair are all happily vanished... Leaving only a sweet memory of a peaceful afternoon.

Interested in commissioning something yourself? Maggie charges $65 (including shipping and handling) for a drawing of a lone person on 9 by 12" paper. She draws from photos, so don't worry about making your toddler sit still. She charges $20 for each additional person. Email me for her contact information.