Friday, November 23, 2012

Granola Mom: Vinegar is Sexy*


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*OK, vinegar is so not sexy. I know.

Once upon a time, I loved to clean every surface possible in my home with bleach. Nothing made me feel like my house was sparkling clean like walking into a bleachy clean home. I'd leave after a morning of cleaning just so I could walk back in and smell the chemical goodness. I'm the person all of those cleansers came out with a "Now With Bleach!" line.

When I got pregnant, I realized that breathing in bleach fumes was probably not super desirable. I feared that my house would never feel clean again. I also knew that after baby was born I'd still not want to be dousing the house in bleach as much as I'd like. I knew I'd need to find a "nicer" cleaning product. Since I'm mostly a stay at home mom and only teaching one class this semester, I also liked the idea of an economically friendly cleanser. (I mean, the budget is way limited now, and if I can get one inexpensive cleaner for almost everything, that leaves money for more important things like shoes!)

Then I rediscovered vinegar. True, vinegar's smell can be unpleasant to some, but it really is a miracle liquid. I mean, come on, you can make a tangy salad dressing with it and then turn around and clean a clogged drain. Ah-mazing.

Obviously, since salad dressings and other kitchen uses are possible with it, it is completely nontoxic. As a new mom I love that. It also has antibacterial properties and as we are headed into flu season, I appreciate that I can kill bacteria. Keeping Little Man safe and healthy is super important to me. As I clean the house with it, I'll be killing those nasty germies. Then, I'll make a salad, and will have spent almost nothing since the stuff is dirt cheap! (Favorite "salad": sliced, peeled cucumbers, a few slices of onion, vinegar, water, ice. Let it sit for a while and eat. A simple, tangy, clean salad." 

Here, then, are a few (of very, very many) ways I use vinegar in the home:

  • When I started losing my hair, somehow the drains got clogged often. Using vinegar, baking soda and hot water cleaned out those clogs super quickly. Simply shake about a quarter of a cup of baking soda into the drain, pour in about a cup of vinegar and watch science happen. (Elementary school volcanoes, yo!) The bubbly magic will break up clogs. Let the reaction work for about five minutes and then dump boiling water down the drain. If the clog is especially stubborn, a plunger at this point may help move the newly broken up grossness. (Note: I don't actually measure this stuff. I just dump what I think looks about right. And be careful with the plunger in super hot water. Duh.)
  • Along the same lines, you can use baking soda and vinegar to freshen up a stinky garbage disposal. (I like to follow it up with a chunk of lemon or lime in the disposal to get a citrus burst to freshen the room. Pull the mangled rind out after grinding or you'll be stinky again in a week or so...)
  • Make a paste of baking soda and a bit of vinegar to clean grout. Vinegar kills mold and mildew. Woot.
  • If baby/toddler/drunk roommate has an accident on a mattress or couch, spray the stain down with vinegar and water and then follow up with baking soda. Once everything is completely dry, vacuum the soda and you should have an odor and bacteria free surface.
  • If you have stinky hands after chopping an onion, rub a bit of vinegar on your hands and the onion smell will be gone. Don't worry, the vinegar smell will be gone shortly, too.
  • According to the back of my bottle of vinegar, it helps soften hands after they have been in contact with harsh chemicals and plaster. Just rub it on undiluted. Again, the smell will vanish pretty quickly. Or you can just use lotion...
  • Soak a smelly sponge in water and vinegar overnight and the sponge will no longer be stinky.

  • Clean out the microwave with vinegar and water (perhaps on your newly clean sponge... or microwave the sponge and all, then--being careful not to burn yourself, obvs--wipe down the microwave with the hot, wet sponge. Caked on grossness should lift off the microwave pretty effortlessly. and you'll have killed two birds with one sponge stone.
  • Use your clean sponge to get rid of a stinky fridge or Tupperware by wiping the offending surface down with vinegar and water.
  • Run vinegar and water through a coffee pot to get rid of hard water buildup. This doesn't smell super yummy--I used to hate it when my mom did this when I was little, but since we had well water and coffee drinkers, it seemed to happen pretty often. They were always happier and more quickly caffienated the next day, so it seems like a fair trade.)
  • Instead of buying packets of soap made to clean our front loading washer, when the clean washer light comes on, I run the cleaning cycle with vinegar in it. If you don't have a washer that is smarter than a fifth grader, just do this on a semi-regular basis. The acid in the vinegar cleans soap build-up. Since I wash diapers in our washer, I like to run a cycle of vinegar about once a month to get rid of any sort of build-up. Use a vinegar soaked sponge or rag around and inside the rubber gasket and over the door.
  • If you want to clean toys and board books without spraying them down with either a bleach/water combo or Lysol, a soapy water/vinegar solution is just as effective. (Well, almost as effective. I think Lysol actually disinfects a bit better.)
  • Mop hardwood floors with it. Use about a half a cup per gallon of water. I've been bugging Beau for a floor steamer before Little Man starts to crawl. I'm pretty sure you can use a vinegar/water solution in the steamer for a super duper clean floor. (Steam + vinegar= a germ's worst nightmare.) Hopefully I'll let you know that soon.
And, here are two really interesting uses that I've heard of (thanks, Pinterest!) but haven't yet used:
  • Wipe down your car windows with a 3-1 vinegar to water solution and you'll have frost free windows in the winter. Fa La La La La.
  • Combine a couple of tablespoons of Apple Cider vinegar with a pint of water and use it as a conditioner. You'll have shiny, soft hair immediately. And, I understand the smell subsides rapidly. (I saw a suggestion to add a few drops of essential oil--like my fave lavender!)
It used to be that when I came back to the house after going on a bleach cleaning binge, I'd inhale and smile. While I'm not quite there with the vinegar, I can tell you that the smell doesn't last very long. And the knowledge that it is so much better for all of us makes it worth it!

Vinegar is so safe and gentle that I have no issues using it in the same room as Little Man. I don't worry that he's going to touch a surface I've just cleaned with it. (Or more realistically, he's going to lick said surface...) Harsh cleansers that are full of ingredients I can't pronounce do worry me.

In case you aren't totally convinced at this point, on top of being cheap, safe, antibacterial, nontoxic, etc. it is also super duper green and good for the planet.

Everybody's doing it. Come on. You know you want to.

Do you use vinegar for magic or salad that I haven't mentioned here?  Or are you of my old mindset: chemicals/chemical smell = clean?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

I Heart Bread

If you know nothing about me, know this: I like to eat.

More than I should.

Specifically, I love, cake, ice cream, and bread. (Among many, many, many others.)

I've been trying to make decent bread for quite a while. It takes patience. I'm not super patient. Especially when it comes to food. You see why I haven't been able to really make a good loaf of bread. 

Yesterday when I was at the library I was looking through the cookbooks and came across this.

Obviously, I checked it out. I'm so glad I did.

I saw one review on Amazon calling it "bread porn." I suppose that is accurate, if not a little creepy. I personally don't like to think of my bread that way.

I like to think sweetly of bread. I like to recall living in England when I would walk to the grocery store in the village and get a bag of groceries with a fresh, crusty loaf of bread tucked in at the top of the bag. I'd eat a good chunk of that warm goodness on my walk home. Bread is innocent and comforting. The images and language in Flour Water Salt Yeast support that.

This is apparently the month for me to find great reading in the shape of cookbooks. (Remember this one?) I've literally been reading this book in all my spare time. (As in I sit engrossed in the text and the fantastic photography, not just flipping through and skimming recipes as I typically do.)

Author and baker Ken Forkish (what an appropriate name, right?) takes his readers step by step through his story from corporate man to baker, sharing his training as well as the inevitable roadblocks. He's a likable voice whose oft proclaimed "obsession" with artisan bread baking is contagious. After chapter 3--Equipment and Ingredients-- I wanted to fill up my shopping cart on Amazon to prep my kitchen. I wanted to start baking immediately and make that loaf on the cover.


Then, of course, I wanted to eat it.

Don't worry, Beau. I didn't fill my shopping cart. I only purchased one item that seemed absolutely necessary. It seems that this Le Creuset has one flaw. The knob is plastic. Plastic melts. So, I purchased a stainless steel one so I can bake me some bread this week without a melty knob on the lid.

The secret it seems, is in the dutch oven, since bread is really just the ingredients that make up the title of this text. That, and a little patience, should give me a good shot at a crusty, delicious loaf.

This week I will make one of Forkish's more basic breads. The leftover dough, he says, makes beautiful focaccia or pizza crust. I'm in bread heaven.

Hopefully after my successful first run, I'll be able to begin trying some of his more time consuming and nuanced recipes (that somehow still use only those four ingredients--bread magic).

If you have a baker or a wannabe baker in your life, this might make for a fantastic holiday gift!

Does the loaf of bread like the one on the cover of the book make you want to wander down cobblestone streets in Paris? Am I the only one who desperately wants to make good bread by hand?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Granola Mom: Cloth Diapers FAQ


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When people find out that I use cloth diapers I usually get funny looks followed by a series of questions that I'm more than happy to answer. I thought I'd devote this blog post to the most frequently asked questions and my answers to them. (With the caveat that MY answer is not necessarily the best or right answer.)

1) Why?

This is one decision I was pretty adamant about. Most people thought/think I'm crazy. I even had to convince Beau. (He was worried about some of the questions as well.) Disposable diapers are expensive, bad for baby and worse for the environment. Rather than waxing poetic about all of the bad stuff (because we all know I'm wordy and that could take ages), check out this blog post. Obviously, there are both sides of the argument, but if even one quarter of all of the scary stuff is true, I knew before I met my Little Man that I wanted to do my best to take care of him and protect him as best I can.

Also, after Beau and I had made the decision for me to stay at home, I knew I'd have the time to devote to the laundry that would be generated and I wouldn't have to worry about finding a day care that isn't weirded out by cloth. (Many of them won't deal with them despite the fact that they are just as easy as disposable.) Also, in staying at home I was looking for ways to cut costs. This seemed like a smart place to start.

To answer the question without going on for much longer, I simply decided why not?

2) Don't you worry about sticking him with pins?
If you haven't seen cloth diapers in a while, you're in for a pleasant surprise. There is no need for pins. Cloth diapering today does not necessitate shoving long, sharp pins violently through layers of cloth and hoping not to stick baby. Even if you have never tried to pin a diaper, I'm guessing at some point you have tried to safety pin through something and shoved the pin painfully into your finger.


Now imagine that stick going into the silky smooth leg of a sweet newborn.

Nope. You couldn't pay me enough to use pins.

Today there are many options like the snaps above, Velcro, or Snappis. They are the bomb if you choose to go with flat diapers or prefolds.

(Image from here)
I'm not going to go into all of the cloth diapering options in this post or explain diapering terminology, but basically, if it looks like it needs a pin, just use a snappi.

Suffice it to say: No. I don't worry about sticking him with a pin because I don't use any pins at all. Those things are antiquated!

3) What do you do with poop?

Well, right now, Little Man is only getting breast milk. Breast milk is 100% water soluble. All I do is throw the diaper in the bin and wash them all together when the bin is full.

Soon he'll be on solid food and I'll need to dispose of solid waste in the toilet. Generally speaking, a little shake should do the trick. If not, there are sprayers made for the task of rinsing solid waste into the toilet. Simply, spray the diaper off into the toilet, then the diaper goes in the bin to be washed and the toilet gets flushed. Easy peasy.

4) What do you do with dirty diapers?

This bin that I speak of is very much like a mid-sized trash can with a lid. The only thing that makes it special is that the inside of the lid has a compartment for little baking soda disks to absorb any smells. This bin sits in in the corner of the nursery near the changing table and the door.

Said diaper pail is lined with a waterproof diaper pail liner. (I have the one it is linked to and "hoot." I wish "hedgehog" had been around when I was doing my ordering... cute, cute, cute)

When the bin is full, I pull the bag out of the bin, take it to the washer, dump everything inside and throw the bag in as well. I set the washer on sanitize (for an extra hot, germ killing wash and rinse) and walk away.

When it is done, I pull the covers out to hang to dry and the cotton liners get dried in the drier.

5) You wash them in your washer? Gross.

Babies have disgusting blowouts all the time and no one gets grossed out when all that mess goes into the washer. This is the same thing. Yes, I wash dirty diapers in the same washer that I wash our clothes in. Like I said, I use the sanitize setting and the diapers (and the inside of the washer) get really clean. We have a tankless water heater and our plumber (who was totally thinking ahead) put its thermostat in right next to the washer. I can turn the water heater temperature up to 135 degrees so that the diapers get super duper hot water.

People ask me why I don't just take them to the laundromat. I have no idea why I would leave the comfort of my home to wash my son's diapers elsewhere. I know that my sterilize setting actually gets the diapers hot and clean. (Thanks to Tommy the plumber!) If I went to the laundromat, I'd have no idea if the hot cycle was getting hot enough to sanitize everything.

6) How did you even get started with this?
Years ago, I was visiting my friend Nikki in Florida. Her middle child was then just a baby. She had decided to do the cloth diaper thing and I was there when she got her stash in the mail and started the process. I didn't even realize that there were people who used anything but disposables. It really got me thinking about how much waste is created with disposables. When Beau and I got pregnant, those early days with Nikki and her cloth stash came to mind. I figured if she had two kids and could do it, I could handle it with one little guy.

From there, I asked questions and did all kinds of research on what I wanted. It turns out that the process has gotten even easier since Nikki started. I'll be posting about the cloth diapers I use sometime later this week or early next week, so specifics will come soon.

7) Wouldn't it be easier to use a diaper service?

Diaper services do exist and they make cloth diapering very, very, very easy. Basically, you pay a monthly fee and diapers are delivered to your doorstep. The night before delivery day, you put your bag of dirties outside. They disappear, clean ones reappear and everyone is happy.

Nice, huh?

But, like everything else in life, this convenience is not cheap.

When I first let people know I was going to cloth diaper, many of them assumed I'd use a service. Some even laughed at me and told me I'd change my mind about wanting to wash the diapers myself shortly after bringing Little Man home.

Aside from being green and safer on my little boy's bottom, the savings of cloth diapering really appealed to me and I knew that I'd need to do the laundry in order to realize any of that savings.
The cost of using a service is about equivalent to using disposables. This means that if I went with the service, the savings would be nonexistent. After paying for my stash, the only monthly costs are for detergent, water, electricity and gas (the drier and water heater).

7) What kind of savings do you expect to see?

I've seen different estimates on what it costs to diaper a child. The estimates usually come in around $3000 to diaper a child until he's potty trained at two and a half or three. Wipes would add close to $1000 to that. Like I said earlier, I've invested about $40 into my wipes.

Cloth diapers are not cheap to start with. My awesome sister-in-law got us started with a few different diapers from my registry and I later purchased another set and some individual cloth covers, plus prefolds and some accidental flats (which I use as the best and biggest burp cloths ever!). All said, even with Betsy's gift factored in, we've got less than $500 invested in this. (Probably closer to $400, actually.) Unless I want more diapers, new patterns or whatever, I'm set until Little Man is potty trained.

So, I've got about $440 spent out of pocket. Over the course of a disposable diaper timeline a parent could expect to pay about $4000 on diapers and wipes. That's a sweet savings!

And the best part? If we have another child (especially a boy), our cost would be zero dollars to diaper him (plus that negligible cost of washing). With disposables, the cost just repeats itself since those things can't be reused!

If we were to have a girl, I'd probably feel compelled to get a few super cute pink diapers and patterned ones with flowers and bunnies and stuff.

Do you have any other burning cloth diaper questions? Any other CD'ers out there have anything to add?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Granola Mom: Cloth Wipes


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Today I'm going to jump right in to this series in a post that talks about poop, diaper rash, and wipes. Motherhood is so glamorous, y'all.

I knew even when I was pregnant that I wanted to try my hand at cloth diapering. (I'm going to dedicate a few posts to that sometime in the next few days.) I didn't think about using cloth wipes as well. I didn't even know such a thing was possible.

Granted, I never gave it much thought or I would have known it was absolutely possible. I suppose I just thought it a little outdated.

In the hospital, Little Man was in disposable diapers and we used disposable wipes. By the end of his first short day of life, he already had diaper rash. As if his pathetic little IV'd hand and sensors all over his body weren't enough, he had a red, sore bum. Poor guy.

I figured the rash was from a combination of diapers and being genetically tied to me, the woman with abnormally sensitive skin. I figured cloth diapers would make the rash go away more quickly than the tube of goo the nurses gave us. (And by "gave" I mean charged our insurance company an obscene amount of money for...)

We kept Little Man in disposables at home until I felt comfortable switching over. (Meconium gone, his scrawny little chicken legs fattened up a bit, the gross umbilical stump fell off, etc.) I used Seventh Generation diapers and those seemed to help a little bit. I figured as soon as he was in cloth everything would be cleared up.

I was wrong.

I couldn't figure it out. A huge reason I wanted to do cloth was because of how much better for skin it is. Diaper creams and cloth don't really get along (special cloth-friendly creams do exist, though) and I was at a loss. Then, purely because I ran out of one small package of wipes, I used sensitive wipes. Little Man got a little better. That got me thinking that there might be something more gentle than the sensitive wipes.

A quick search and some questions on the new mom forums lead me to flannel wipes. Being an Amazon junkie, I went there and after reading reviews, I opted to purchase the OsoCozy Flannel Baby Wipes. I ended up going back to Amazon last week to buy another pack of 15 wipes because they impressed me as being durable, soft, and inexpensive. I wanted more.

(Image from Amazon)

For my wipe solution, I simply use a squirt of organic baby wash (purchased on the cheap from a company called Organically Grown using a Living Social Deal), a few drops of lavender essential oil (from Amazon), and warm water in an old disposable wipe container.

I swirl it around so everything mixes and then plop the wipes in so they are ready for whatever surprise is waiting for me at each diaper change.

The only "extra" work I have to do when it is time to change a diaper is wring any excess solution out of the wipe before use. They work just like any wash cloth or wipe, so that's pertty self explanatory.

Guess what? The diaper rash was gone in two diaper changes. It comes back (very mildly) when we travel and I use disposable diapers and wipes, but is gone almost instantly when we go back to using cloth.

I read somewhere (probably on Amazon before I bought these) that parents will spend approximately $500 on wipes while a child is in diapers. That seems like a lot of money. Right now I've got about $40 tied up in this adventure. Obviously I'll need to buy soap and lavender when I run out, but that'll take a long while since I'm using maybe four drops of oil and a dime to nickle sized squirt of soap. Ok, someimes a quarter if I'm not paying attention.

So, lets recap: The diaper rash is gone. I'm using unbleached cotton on my baby's bum. I know exactly what ingredients are in the solution. I'm saving a ton of money. I'm not creating any additional waste since the cloths are thrown in with diapers that I'd be washing anyway. (And I don't techincally have to dry them since they'll just be getting wet for use.)

I also get the awesome added bonus of having a nursery that smells of lavender essential oil. (And the diaper pail gets a dose of it with every wipe, so that's double plus good.)

The planet thanks me. Little Man would too, on behalf of his bottom, if he could.

So, dear readers, what do you do that is green (and maybe crunchy) that has a gazillion other benefits?

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Granola Mom: Series Introduction

Like I mentioned in yesterday's post, I have been thinking about a series.


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And, I'm playing with buttons, as you can see... Hopefully they'll get more attractive.

Not long ago, my friend Ayme, in conversation with some neighbors, referred to me as her "granola friend." She immediately called to tell me for fear that a neighbor would let me know she said something negative about me.

I took it as a compliment. And, to be fair, she meant it as such.

I'm proud to be on the crunchier end of the granola spectrum.

When I first had Little Man and was starting to dabble in the world of cloth diapers, I came across this quiz and took it. I thought I'd be off the charts since, you know, I drive a Hybrid car and everything

I only scored a 63 which put me in the "Pretty Crispy" category.

I'm OK with that. I like that I shave my legs. If that cost me some points, I'd say it is a pretty fair trade-off.

Even though I'm not "Crunchier than Grape Nuts" (which I love to eat, but don't aspire to become), I do have some granola tendencies that I'd like to share with you in this "Granola Mom" series.

By no stretch of the imagination do I think I know it all or have all the answers. Nor do I even thing I'm doing it "right." Heck, I'm fumbling through my first crack at mommyhood. Realistically, it would take at least three turns at this before I think I would feel OK with suggesting I was close to having some of the answers. (No, Beau, I'm not pushing for more quite yet!!)

I do, however, have just over five months of experience at this point. (How'd that happen so fast?) I'd love to share my thoughts on "crunchy" topics like cloth diapering, cloth wipes, breastfeeding (which I've talked about a little bit here), green cleaning, making baby food (soon!!!! geesh), etc. I get asked about this pretty frequently, so I figured it might be a good chance to do a dedicated series of posts.

Like I said, I'm no expert and my thoughts and experiences are evolving as I go. I know I'm barely scratching the surface of granola-ism, but everything "granola" I do is easy, relatively quick, and, most importantly, best for my Little Man. Please feel free to join me through this series.

How'd you do on the quiz? Any topics you're dying to see? Are you OK with me carrying a designer diaper bag and claiming to have granola tendencies? Anybody reading still?

Friday, November 9, 2012

Breastfeeding Doll: Do or Don't?

Today I was going to begin a series that I've been thinking about for quite a while.

Then I started reading the paper and I came across an article about The Breast Milk Baby:

Here's how it works:

(Images here.)

The AP article quotes a person as saying people "either love it or they hate it." That's not entirely true. I'm torn. (No surprise there, I tend to be indecisive anyway.)

As a breastfeeding mom, I get that there is nothing sexual about the act. I also know that we live in a society that isn't 100% OK with the act, especially in public. So now there is a doll so children can mimic the act. Hmmm. Is it raising awareness that "breast is best", or is it going too far?

Not long ago when Beau, Little Man and I were flying home from our trip north, we were at Logan airport. Little Man was getting fussy and hungry, so I sat down to feed him while Beau checked us in a few feet away. I guess I was sitting in the area where Delta customers in need of wheelchairs are asked to wait, because a porter came by to ask if we had ordered a chair. I was wearing my hooter hider (which I adore!) and the porter had no idea I was feeding Little Man until I said, "Nope, I'm just feeding the baby." He got this stricken look on his face and then proceeded to let me know there was a nursing station further down.

I had no idea Logan offered nursing stations (which in passing by looked like family bathrooms, so I'm not sure what they are actually like inside), but I didn't expect to see the horror on the man's face.

From my experiences, nursing in public makes people uncomfortable. (Did I tell you about needing to nurse Little Man at a funeral? The funeral director took me into the coffin showroom to nurse him. Yes, the coffin showroom. As in a room full of coffins. It was the most uncomfortable 30 minutes of my life. Seriously. Creepy.)

Kids are going to mimic what they see. I'm certain plenty of moms have seen their kids "breast feeding" dolls and stuffed animals when little brother or sister came along. That seems normal and developmentally appropriate. So this doll seems a natural progression, right?

Or, is the suckling and swallowing a bit too realistic and too adult?

I'm teetering on the "too much" side of the fence. (Though the "too creepy" attitude is not one I share.) If my feeding my actual baby in public makes people feel awkward, how off-putting is a doll feeding on a child's petal shaped "nipple"?

While I think breastfeeding is important, healthy, and wonderful, I'm not sure children need this level of realism for a "lesson for life" or the "magic of motherhood" as the company's video suggests.

What are your thoughts?

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Help...I'm Making Thanksgiving Dinner

OK, the title of this is maybe misleading. I'm totally not doing that. I can. I have, but it is my mom's job. She has told me many, many, many times, with no irony or sarcasm at all, that it is by far her favorite meal to make.

Because of that, I steer clear for the most part. I help her in the kitchen and I bring a dish or two, but it is her shebang. I don't really put much thought into it beyond what I'm going to bring whereas she is probably already working on the menu, making shopping and to do lists, etc.

I'm glad mom loves Thanksgiving so much. I actually don't. Call me un-American (well, not really, please), but I don't really like turkey all that much. Fruit pies are a waste of perfectly good pie crust. Sweet potatoes gross me out. Cranberry sauce seems pointless. Etc, etc. Bah! Humbug! To me, Thanksgiving is the green light for Christmas decor, carols, and sweaters. (And, obviously being thankful for the plenty that fills our lives in the form of family, friends, shelter, stuff.)

When I got a book from Goodreads Advance Readers (mentioned here) that was about preparing Thanksgiving, I wasn't as super stoked as I would have been if it had been a different cookbook to add to my collection. The book sat on my coffee table for a few days. Grudgingly I picked it up thinking that I would  flip through to find a side dish recipe inside and I'd do nothing more with it. (I do have to think about these things early because mummy dearest needs to know what I'm bringing so she can maintain up-to-date lists.)

I read it cover to cover. And liked it. I wanted it to be longer. (It is a skinny little thing; only 160 pages in length.) It isn't every day that I find a cookbook writer who can, well, write. Sam Sifton can write. He's got culinary and literary chops! He wrote (and edited!) for the New York Times. Did you know the New York Times had (still has?!?) a Thanksgiving dinner help desk website set up for harried, stressed Thanksgiving chefs at home? I had no idea. That desk was manned by our author for three years! That'll get you some turkey day street cred. I chuckled when I read about the help desk. I had visions of frantic questions about burnt crusts and unthawed turkey. I wonder who makes these posts. Not my mom. She's cool as a cucumber in the kitchen.

Sifton makes it clear from the start that he believes that this one meal out of the other 364 days of meals needs to be traditional. And so, his little manual takes the reader through a very traditional approach.

Butter. In this book, glorious butter is a NECESSITY. As it should be every day. Pie crusts should be homemade. Salad, he belabors at least four times, do not belong anywhere near Thanksgiving. Appetizers. No, no, no, no. Just no. Unless, said appetizers are oysters. Then yes.

See, I didn't know about these rules. I might have actually brought salad to Thanksgiving last year. (Never again Mr. Sifton. I promise.)

There is nothing new about this book. It is not full of experimental, trendy recipes for the holiday. Instead it is full of traditional, tried-and-true dishes that absolutely belong on the dinner table. Chapter two is entitled "The Turkey" and it is a comprehensive chapter on thawing, seasoning/brining, cooking (including grilling and frying), carving and serving the centerpiece of the meal. There's not just one recommended approach, but an entire chapter. I like that.

There is a chapter on table setting, serving, and etiquette (chapter five) that is just lovely. This chapter calls to mind the Norman Rockwell painting with the family seated at the table with dishes served family style. Paper and plastic, Sifton says, are abominations of tradition. Thank you. (And thank you mom for always making Thanksgiving an occasion for china and silver, even if I had to polish and then hand-wash.)

I could go one about all eight of the chapters, but I won't. I will, though, mention that chapter six, "Drinks & Drinking" encourages drinking. Thanksgiving is, after all, a celebration. While Sifton doesn't encourage getting blitzed and belligerent, he does remind the reader that the meal is a long one, part of a long day of preparation and digestion. Drink, he says. Be merry. Wine, should flow in abundance. A bottle per person? Absolutely not unrealistic! Imbibing while cooking. Go for it. (With moderation, obviously.) This is not an uptight book, is my point.

Sifton is not unclear about his expectations of this holiday meal. He delivers these expectations in a wonderfully cheeky and conversational way. I'm a nerd about tone. Cookbooks, as a rule, seem to be stuffy and without any sort of discernible--or at least enjoyable--tone. This one though, breaks that rule. (As a note, I'm not positive I can actually classify this a cookbook, though. It is hard to classify. It has recipes, but they are not the bulk.)

In his introduction, Sifton says the following: "Thanksgiving is likewise not a book for those interested in cutting corners. Shortcuts are anathema to Thanksgiving, which is a holiday that celebrates not just our bounty but also our slow, careful preparation of it. There is no room in Thanksgiving for the false wisdom of compromise--for ways to celebrate the holiday without cooking, or by cranking open cans of gravy to pour over a store-roasted turkey reheated in the microwave. Thanksgiving is no place for irony. We are simply going to cook."

Did you ever imagine lovely prose about Thanksgiving? I would have thought it impossible. Sifton makes the impossible possible. And natural. He is poetic at times, funny at others, clear and articulate. This book was an absolute joy to read.

Another reason I'm not sure it is fully a cookbook is its lack of glossy photos. Instead, the book has beautifully sketched drawings and diagrams (like a properly set table) by Sarah Rutherford. These drawings are the perfect accompaniment to the text. Glossy photos of a glistening turkey and laughing people around a perfectly set table are just too cliche for this book.

Lacking any nod toward cliche are these drawings. Chapter one opens with this one.

Beautiful. Understated. Traditional. Just like the book.
Whether this is your first time preparing the Thanksgiving meal, or your 30th, I recommend Thanksgiving: How to Cook It Well to get you thinking about the meal that is (happily/terrifyingly/ ominously?) looming this month.
Mr. Sifton, I'm now officially excited about Thanksgiving this year!
Are you making Thanksgiving dinner? Do you believe in Sifton's steadfast rules of no salad, set the table, eat Turkey, etc.? Does anyone out there shuck oysters on Thanksgiving? Am I missing something?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Lions Don't Roar, They Drool

In our 'hood, Halloween ain't no joke. (Nor is grammar, so I'll stop with that.) For the past four years our neighbors have hosted a block/neighborhood party in our front yard. It is expected that adults, especially parents, dress up as well as the abundant supply of neighborhood children.

I didn't know that and last year I rushed home from work, threw on sweats and tossed together something for the potluck. Boy did I feel silly showing up as (gasp) myself.

This year I knew that I'd need to dress up. (Beau, sadly, missed the festivities because of that pesky job.) I'm not sure I would have dressed up for Little Man's first Halloween had it not been for the party.

Because I've grown out of costumes.

I'm not very creative.

I'm not very outgoing.

But, none of that matters. We were going to the block party and I was not going to face ridicule, or be thought to be unfestive. Oh, no.

I'm so, so, so glad this party forced me to step out of my comfortable zone (and sweats) and dress up this year.

About a month ago Beau and I got Little Man a costume at Costco. You know, where everyone gets costumes. Oh, wait, is that just us?

Anyway, we got him this sweet fleece lion costume.

Even though I call him my monkey, this costume felt perfect for two reasons: 1)When Little Man was a newborn, Beau would growl into his neck, nuzzle him and tell him that if they were lions in the jungle he'd learn his dad's growl this way. (I have no idea if that's true or not, but it was easily one of the cutest things I've ever seen.) and 2) I call him my Little Man and often Mumford and Sons' song "Little Lion Man"  gets stuck in my head because of it. (No, it isn't the most child appropriate song, but its not like I sing it to him...)

I could have gotten creative and made something, but lets be real. We're talking about me. The Costco lion was perfect. (It is actually a Carter's brand costume if it looks familiar to those who frequent that retail establishment.)

I knew I wanted to do a family themed thing and since I'd decided on Little Man's costume, I had to figure out what we could be. My first thought was a lion, a witch, and a wardrobe, but as soon as we knew Beau wasn't going to make it that one was out the window. (I'm guessing people would just say, "oh, look, Amy's a witch and Carter is the cutest little lion ever." Instead of, "Hey, I get it. A lion and a witch. Narnia!") Instead, I decided I'd be a lion tamer.

I went to the local costume shop and got a felt top hat, white gloves, and bull whip. Then I went to the nearby consignment shop for a red blazer. (Which was marked down to $4 from $7 just seconds before I spotted it! Sweeeeet!) I put on black boots and black leggings, belted the blazer with a big belt I already owned, accessorized with my costume shop goodies and voila!

My guy looks a little scared. He's not. We drove over to see our dear friends Auntie Meagan and Uncle Andy and I had to wake Little Man up when we got there. In these two pictures he's just waking up.
Don't worry, he's quick to smile, though.

Thank goodness Andy and Meagan had the camera handy. These pictures make me so happy. I'm so glad we got some good ones that aren't just snapped from my phone. (I know that kind of comes off as another camera hint for Beau. It was totally unintentional. But if you're reading this, sweetie...)
Little Man got his first trick or treated candy at this stop. (Our only one for the night. And don't worry, I tested the candy. It was good. Sorry, Little Man. Maybe next year you'll get more than one piece. And have teeth. And be eating solid foods...)
He also got to learn a lesson from Uncle Andy.
I'm pretty sure they are having a conversation about the best way to get the most candy possible. That's what Uncle Andy's for. Halloween is, after all, his holiday. (He makes a pretty awesome Wolverine when he's got his hand-claw things on...)
The break in the nap made Little Man a little cranky, and we didn't get a picture with Auntie Meagan. She was a cowgirl with a sheriff's badge on her hat. Maybe Uncle Andy's actually telling Little Man that the lady is always the boss, badge or no. That's be a good lesson, uncle.
After our short visit we came back to our party and visited for a little while. Unfortunately when you are a baby on Halloween there's no staying up past bed time, so lion and lion tamer came inside to get ready for bed. Our final nursing session was set to the music of children running around the front yard (no longer a lake!) letting out sugar induced shrieks.
It was a good night for all of us.
Any other fierce animals in in the mix at your house? Cool themed families that I can steal ideas from for next year? Any moms bite the bullet and dress up too?