Sunday, March 30, 2008

Easy Bake in a "Jiffy:" Mixing Things Up For Less

I spied a "Jiffy" [s.i.c. since 1930] brand baking mix on my friend's counter and was immediately transported back to the 1970s and thoughts of my Easy Bake Oven on the kitchen counter. While my brother ran through the woods beating things with sticks ala Lord of the Flies, I built a culinary education that would serve me well should I ever be trapped in a incandescent-bulb-lit, well-stocked pantry hungry for miniature baked goods.

The Easy Bake mixes, sold in the toy section, exceeded my allowance and my frugal family's sense of economy. So Mom figured out that 1/2 of a Jiffy Mix substituted nicely for an Easy Bake mix. So, if your little light-bulb baker is begging for the $5 Hasbro Betty Crocker cake mix (that has to be bought in toys rather than at the grocery), swing by the baking aisle and grab a 67 cent box of "Jiffy" cake mix and a 67 cent box of frosting mix instead ($1.34 total). Both make and frost two Easy Bake cakes, but (GEEK BONUS) "Jiffy" offers the practical math experience of dividing a recipe by two.

Amazon sells "Jiffy" mixes in bulk (24 box multi-packs) if you want to avoid the store all together or start a Easy Bake supply store for the whole neighborhood.

But, in the wonderous age of the Internet, you can also make your own mixes for pennies on dollar while building valuable math and (dare I say it) actual cooking skills. The nice folks over at Budget 101 have started a registry for Easy Bake and Queasy Bake mix recipes.

Tired of the same old cake mix? Well, you can spice up "Jiffy" mixes with their FREE recipes (online or in booklet form) that transform Banana Nut Muffin mix into Banana-Berry Tarts and Crust and Frosting Mix into their celebrated Easy Coconut Cookies.

In searching for images of my model of Easy Bake Oven, I stumbled upon a most amazing Easy Bake Oven cookbook issued in 2003 honoring Easy Bake's 40th birthday (and I didn't even send a card!):

I kid you not, The Easy Bake Oven Gourmet is a serious gourmet cookbook with contributions from the hungry minds of Mollie Katzen, Mark Bittman, Rick Bayless, Bobby Flay, and others. You can bet that a copy will soon be arriving here at Baby Toolkit Headquarters (even though I no longer have an Easy Bake Oven and Ranger is a few years away from using one).

Maybe I can just cook these on my dashboard during mid-summer [Thanks, Kevin Kelly via street use!].

***This is the independent and often odd opinion of the geek parents at Baby Toolkit. We have no relationships with and have received no compensation from Hasbro, Running Press Publishing, David Hoffman, "Jiffy," or Chelsea Milling Company. Chelsea Milling Company sent us a free copy of their fascinating "Jiffy" mixes recipes booklet but they'll do that for anyone in the United States.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Going to Camp Baby: Send Your Questions and Comments

Next week, I'm going to camp. Camp Baby. I haven't been to camp in over a decade- and then it definitely wasn't ever about babies.

Johnson's (Johnson & Johnson's, baby products) is hosting 50+ mommybloggers (all expenses paid) in their corporate hometown of New Brunswick, NJ.

Honestly, I'm not sure what is going to happen at Camp Baby. The schedule will include a facilities tour, a product expo, and sessions with enigmatic titles (e.g. "Girlfriend Makeovers: Defining Baby Beauty").

I don't know why I was invited. Most of the bloggers are more prominent.

I could not pass up the golden opportunity for a few days in luxury and to maybe sneak a peak behind the corporate curtain... Johnson's only caveat for the bloggers is that:
If you do choose to blog about Camp Baby, in the interest of transparency, our policy kindly requires you to fully disclose that Johnson & Johnson paid for your trip and related expenses for Camp Baby.
So, kind readers, do you have questions or comments for Johnson's? If possible, I'd like to share your ideas with the Johnson's representatives I might meet.

I won't tell you what I've been thinking about asking because I want your uninfluenced opinions, impressions, and ideas. Feel free to post comments here- or email me at babytoolkit [at] gmail [dot] com.

I will do my best to represent your ideas (as well as my own) next week.

Word on the street says that Dr. Germ will be attending (sponsored by Purell). I hope so, he's a terrifically funny microbiologist who studies fascinating things like toilet plumes.

***This is the independent opinion of the geek parents at Baby Toolkit . Johnson's is providing Adrienne an all-expenses paid trip (airfare, lodging, food, entertainment, wireless) to New Brunswick, NJ but she is under no obligation to blog about the events or products.

...and yes, I am in the above camp photo, circa 1988.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Whispers in the Storm: My Grandmother's Toddler Tantrum Secret

Vocally, Ranger can rival the wail of any storm siren. During his infancy we tried to weather the inevitable screaming without damage to our hearing or nerves. At two and half, we desperately needed an effective way to shut down his high decible screaming.

Ranger screams inconsolably when we had to leave the house or I couldn't fit a basketball into my pocket. Short of buying clown pants and never leaving home (though the former action may encourage the latter isolation), we needed a better solution.

We checked out a library copy of Harvey Karp's Happiest Toddler on the Block, but I couldn't implement toddlerese or physically mirroring toddler tantrum behavior. I was embarrassed just watching the adults on the video. Such behaviors threatened my remaining vestiges of adulthood. It also seemed counterintuitive: don't we want our kids to eventually join the adult world rather than all of us moving to Planet Toddler? Needless to say, the video was returned long before its due date.

So Ranger wailed on- frightening livestock, deafening dogs, and sending people scrambling for storm shelters under clear skies... every time we ran out of yogurt or no, he could not watch Busytown.

My mom came over for one of these afternoon operatic solos. I don't remember the cause of the incident, but I was so embarrassed. My mom's a great elementary school teacher and a super-great mom, so it's mortifying that I can't get my son to stop screaming.

She's actually a second-generation super-great mom, but we'll get there in a minute.

So Mom took Ranger on a walk around the kitchen and he returned calm... and quiet?

It was amazing and mysterious.

Later, I decided to ask how such magic was accomplished.

Her reply- feel free to take notes:
It's something my mom used to do. You lean in really close and whisper "Ranger... Ranger... I want to tell you a secret. (long pause.) Do you want to hear my secret?"
So what's the secret?
It could be anything. "We're having pot roast and potatoes for supper." "I love taking walks with you." "When you put your shoes on, we'll go see Grandpa." "You're very special."
Seriously, that actually works?
Well, my mom was always able to distract me with it... well into my 20s.
Jim and I have been experimenting with this, and it seems to work with great consistency. The bigger the blowup, the more times you may need to quietly repeat the offer to tell a secret...

***This is the independent opinion of the geek parents at Baby Toolkit, (c) 2006-2008. We have no relationship with Harvey Karp (and little chance of one now, I suspect) and we happen to be closely related to and greatly esteem Ranger's Grandma who normally isn't selling anything beyond a love of Lewis & Clark, mathematics, and the Iditarod. Your mileage may vary.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Backyard Reconstruction: Go Outside

Yesterday, Uncle Punk helped Jim reinstall the slide on our remaining playset turret. About half of our magnificent swingset (including the part with the swings) was destroyed by falling trees in a 2005 tornado long before Ranger was big enough to play on it. The well-built remainder is a single tower, stairs, and a sandbox which we're hoping to convert to a platform because neighborhood cats and snakes.

Ranger already loved sitting in the tower, but him playing there alone left me with a lonely feeling. After the slide was installed he got to play on it last night in the limited glow of our small worklight, but today was the true inaugural run. And it was lovely. He took Cheerios and water up in the tower and laid down on the platform when he was too tired to play any more.

I got to lay in the greening grass and enjoy Ranger's play and the Spring sunlight. It was a revelation to savor the yard when before it triggered memories of loss and anguish. Toddler enthusiasm and Springtime both offer renewal and hope.

Thanks Uncle Punk and Jim for fixing the slide- and thanks to all our family, friends, and neighbors who helped us clear that nightmare tangle of smashed trees.

To quote my mother (circa 1980) "Go outside and play."

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

So, What Happened to the Diaper Valet?

In January 2007, Jim's aunt and I launched an online business selling a compact diaper bag of our own design. We greatly appreciated positive responses from our customers and other blogs.

Well, we just added ourselves to the 50% of new business that close doors in the first year.

We love our product, had great experiences with customers, and had regular (and repeat customers).

The problem is that Monica and I both have a lot of commitments. She's a splendid tailor with a burgeoning custom sewing business, a dedicated grandma who provides a lot of care for two very active grandsons, a great cook, and a sort of cruise director for her siblings, parents, children, and extended family. There's nothing more fun than Halloween hayrides, chili stirred with an oar, and a pumpkin pinata at Mo's farm.

But we're a greedy family. We wanted Mo's time for ourselves. We'd rather have her sitting at the table telling jokes and kicking our butts at Scrabble than working behind her sewing machine extra hours.

We discussed having the bags made by subcontractors, but if you bought one, you know that Mo's quality standards are high. We really couldn't have found a good replacement.

So we have officially shut our web doors. Thanks for your past business and praise for a our product. It really was a lovely experience.

Birthday Banner: Making a Pennant Name Banner for a Young Friend

There has been a load of guilt expressed in my moms' group about the differences in the treatment of birthdays for first children versus later offspring. It seems that many second and third children at young ages are perfectly content to use their older sibling's old (and current toys). This makes it harder to find presents that aren't redundant or unnecessary.

Personally, I think my friends are being too hard on themselves. It's not like the babies attended their older sibs' parties and have the power to compare. I'm also a pretty happy second child who was always thrilled to receive my brother's cast-offs (toys and some clothes- in particular a yellow ringer t-shirt with a dragon in a girl scout uniform with a toothpick captioned "The cookies weren't bad either.")

Personalized gifts were mentioned as an alternative, so I spent the wee hours of Sunday night making a name pennant banner for a sweet girl turning one on Monday.

The banner is made from cotton fabrics (each triangle is 11" wide and 10" high). I cut the triangles with pinking shears to prevent fraying. The bias tape across the top is double-fold made from 3" wide strips of fabric (end width 3/4"). I allowed 12" of bias tape for each letter and an additional foot on either end.

I used freezer paper stencils and acrylic paints to add the name (in retrospect I would have chosen a bolder letter color, but as I started the project after 10 PM- I had to use what I already had on hand).

With pinking shears and pre-made bias tape this could be a great project for even a novice sewer. If you want to try your hand at one, check out my tutorial for sewing name buntings.

What kinds of gifts do you like to give (or receive) for those babies and toddlers who already have everything?

Behold, the Wonderous Future of Baby Cereal: Beechnut's Packaging (Win some!)

When I opened the box of samples from Beech-Nut, I muttered a slightly amazed "oh, yeah." Beech-Nut's new Easy Pour packaging for infant cereal makes so much sense you wonder why no one thought of it sooner.

As Ranger's beyond the baby cereal years, we handed the samples over to our our good friends for real world testing. As advertised, the Easy Pour cartons create far less mess than the cellophane covered cardboard they aim to replace.

The cartons' superior durability and compact 8 ounce size made it ideal to toss in a diaper bag for meals about town and more extended travels.

The used packaging is great for making durable cardboard building blocks!

Beech-Nut offers many varieties in this handy packaging: rice, barley, oatmeal, DHA+ multigrain with apples & yogurt, and DHA+ rice with bananas & raspberries.

Beech-Nut regularly offers parents great coupons via their email newsletter.

Beech-Nut is offering three great prizes for Baby Toolkit readers with U.S. mailing addresses. Email your entry to: babytoolkitcontests[at]gmail[dot]com with the subject EasyPour to enter a drawing for one of THREE great Beech-Nut prize packs (estimated value $25). It will include 3 boxes of the great EasyPour cereal, 10 jars of Beech-Nut DHA+ baby food, a copy of How to Get Your Kids to Eat Great and Love It by Dr. Christine Wood, and a few other fun prizes selected by Beech-Nut.

One entry per household. Entries must be received by 11:59 PM Central Time March 19, 2008.

General disclaimers regarding contests on Baby Toolkit: we'll do our best but we can't guarantee the same efforts from the postal system. If a prize item were to be lost or damaged in the mail, we would take it as a message from a higher power that the situation was simply not meant to be (no compensation or replacement will be issued). One entry per household. We will use a random integer generator at to determine winners. Jim, Adrienne, their parents, and Ranger are not eligible for this contest. We respect your privacy and will not use your personal information for any purpose beyond determining a winner and sending prizes. Winners will be emailed with notification and first name/state will be announced on Baby Toolkit. Estimated prize value: $25.

Good luck, and happy eating!

***Disclosure: we accepted from Beech-Nut 3 8-ounce cereal samples to evaluate. Beech-Nut is providing 3 prize packages and shipping them directly to winners. This review is independent opinion of the geek parents at Baby Toolkit, (c) 2006-2008. We have no undisclosed relationship with Beech-Nut or their subsidiaries/affiliates.

A Bigger Canvas For Colorforms- and It Cools Milk

A few weeks ago we mentioned buying some great Colorforms sets through Amazon. These are the iconic Colorforms shapes (circles, squares, rectangles, and triangles) that had been totally usurped by Snoopy and the Muppets by my '70s childhood.

Jeremiah at Zrecs was kind enough to call manufacturer University Games and ask about phthalates (modern Colorforms are phthalate-free!).

Ranger (at 2.5 years) loves playing with the Colorforms and talking about their shapes and colors. The set comes with loads of pieces and two boards (one white and one black), but Ranger didn't like overlapping the pieces and quickly ran out of room.

This weekend we leaned the Colorforms book against the fridge and gave Ranger free reign. In a few minutes we were all sitting by the fridge having a great time.

***Baby Toolkit is the independent opinion of the geek parents at Baby Toolkit, (c) 2006-2008. We have no financial relationship with University Games, Colorforms, or fridge manufacturers.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Winners Abound: Walking On Eggshells, Toddler Cookbook, and HABA dice dome Winners

What an exciting weekend! Random numbers were generated and winners were selected and notified for our recent contests.

Walking on Eggshells Winners
Katey in Mississippi
Jennifer in Arkansas
fellow Hoosier Amanda
Tracy in Michigan
Elizabeth in Michigan

Toddler Cookbook Winners
Carissa in Colorado
Allison in Wisconsin
Hannah in Massachusetts
Sarah in Massachusetts
Ellen in Virginia

HABA Dice Dome Winner
Carmen in British Columbia

Thank you to everyone who entered!

If you didn't win a copy of either book, I strongly recommend checking them out at your local library, bookshop, or Amazon.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Reminder: Contests ending tomorrow

For everyone on Daylight Savings don't forget to set your clock forward tomorrow.

Tomorrow also marks the end of our book contests, so register now if you haven't already entered:
Good luck!

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Cure for the BPA Blues: Zrecs produces great new tools

Anyone worrying about bisphenol A in baby bottles and toddler sippys can get great guidance from the McNichols' family at

Not only did these great blogger parents put together a remarkable list of BPA use in bottles, sippy cups, and kids tableware, they've now blasted through some crazy fourth wall of the Internet and are willing to go shopping with you:
***This is the independent opinion of the geek parents at Baby Toolkit. We're friends with the McNichols and periodically help out at their contest site though not for profit. They did send a totally awesome "I outsmarted Bugs Meany" t-shirt last week, but that has nothing to do with our admiration for their great research into BPA.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Stuffed animals in stitches: Taking the bite out of future people repairs

My smart friend, an RN/Mom, recently took her son (2.5 years-old) to the doctor for emergency stitches.

On top of being painful, the experience startled him (which isn't surprising because the perspective while getting forehead stitches is even harrowing for adults).

My friend (thinking ahead with enviable foresight) realized that her son's stitches would have to be removed before his memories of their insertion diminished.

She took his fine furry friend Bear-Bear and discovered that he needed stitches too. Throughout the next week Bear-Bear found himself getting into lots of situations that required stitches and, being a fast healer, had his stitches taken out soon afterwards.

By the time they returned for her son's stitch removal, the process was familiar.

She did something very similar with Bear-Bear to prepare her boy for bloodwork and followed up with a pretend blood draw from her son (using her finger as the needle and poking him gently with her fingernail).

That's one smart momma!
***This is the independent opinion of the geek parents at Baby Toolkit, (c) 2008. Our thanks to RN-Mom, her brave son, and Bear-Bear for their great tip won through hard experience.