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Monday, August 29, 2011

Cloth Diapering 101 {The Basics}

Who says cloth diapering is hard?  I don’t buy arguments that it’s harder than disposables or not as convenient as disposables.  I’m the queen of “easy” and I swear, cloth diapering is definitely not challenging.  I do understand those people who have issues with getting their hands dirty… but really, that happens sometimes even with disposables! 

I made the decision to cloth diaper for many reasons, the first being that they are better for the environment.  Yes, washing the diapers uses our water resources, but that water is recycled through the environment naturally.  I truly want to limit the number of disposables that I contribute to the landfills.  Also, my husband has VERY sensitive skin, so we were both concerned about the chemicals in disposables if Lily ended up with skin like his; plus, we mommas know how desperately uncomfortable feminine pads are (I HATE THEM and am looking into cloth pads for myself!) and disposable diapers can’t be much more comfortable.  Most importantly (to me) is that cloth diapering is WAY cheaper than disposables. 

We used disposables when Lily was a newborn because of the nasty meconium days, and because the cloth system I initially invested in was just not working for her.  They didn’t fit properly (even the “newborn” size) and we had leaks EVERY diaper change.  Leaks = changing a crying newborn’s outfit and bedding in the middle of the night when mommy so desperately wants to go back to sleep.  This battle pushed me over the edge into disposable land. 

We still currently use disposables at night because Lily seems to hold her pee until bedtime and sleeps on her tummy.  This combination (thank you, gravity) ends up soaking an ENTIRE cloth prefold and leaks out the front of the diaper wrap, no matter how perfectly snug the wrap is fitted, and who in their right mind is going to wake a peacefully sleeping baby in the middle of the night to change her diaper??  Not this momma!  I’m currently experimenting with a couple different brands and combinations to find a leak proof system that works for us, so I’ll get back to you on that endeavor. 

All that being said, I don’t judge anyone for their diapering choices!  Do what keeps you sane!  However, know that cloth diapering is not difficult, there are options for everyone, and they are SO CUTE!  Cloth diapering has come a long way from plain cloth prefolds from a diaper service, secured with a safety pin!

So, if you’re interested in giving cloth diapering a go, here are my tips for making cloth diapering easier.

1. Get a washable wet bag for your diaper bag.  Mine has an inner waterproof section for wet, and an outer zippered pocket for dry.  This eliminates using a ton of disposable Ziploc bags ($$)!  I store all of my clean diapers and washcloths in the outside pocket, then pop the wet ones in the inside pocket.  It also has a strap with a snap, so it can be attached to a stroller handle.  It’s a great on-the-go diaper bag, so I don’t always need to bring my big bulky diaper bag.  Sweet.

2. Get a wet sack for your baby’s room.  I don’t personally like the idea of a wet pail in an infant’s room.  Too much of a hazard, even with a fitted lid… kids are resourceful.  I use a wet bag with an elastic top and use it to line a small box (no room for a full trash can, which is what they are made to line).  Then when it’s time for a wash, the whole bag gets dumped into the washer.  Hands free!

3. Get a baskets or cloth bins for storing clean cloth diapers and washcloths.  Or if you are diapering on a dresser and can dedicate an entire drawer to diapering supplies, awesome.  I use baskets and bins.  Staying organized makes cloth diapering life so much easier.

4. Wipes… Lily did end up with daddy’s sensitive skin, so I can’t use disposable baby wipes; even the “sensitive” ones make her break out into a rash.  Plus, why use disposable wipes when you’re using reusable diapers?  So I use baby washcloths dipped in plain water in a small bowl.  Be sure to change the water and the water bowl frequently.  Water gets slimy over time - this has nothing to do with diapering!  Standing water just gets slimy and gross.  That’s why the pilgrims drank beer coming across the Atlantic… but I digress.  You don’t want a slimy water bowl, so change it at least every other day. 

4. Changing a cloth diaper is just as easy as changing a disposable, with one extra step of dumping solids in the toilet.  I use this time as an early potty-training tool.  I use a kleenex to take the poop out of the diaper and set it aside... unless it’s really mushy, which happens when Lily eats too much squash, in which case the diaper goes out into a bucket of water in the garage to soak, then gets rinsed out in the garage sink before going into the washer.  After removing the solids with a kleenex, the wet diaper goes in the wet sack.  I wipe her down with a washcloth and plain water, which also goes into the sack.  When she’s diaper-clad, we go to the bathroom together and put the kleenex-wrapped poop in the toilet, while I sing the "Poo poo in the potty, poo poo in the potty!  Bye bye poo poo!" song.  Yes, I am outrageously silly and my husband shakes his head at me when I sing to the toilet, but I am hoping this experience of equating poop with toilet will help her with potty training in the future.  That’s what I tell myself anyway…

5. Washing!  I wash my cl0th diapers on average every other day.  I use a very small amount of generic free & clear detergent (not even 1/3 cup), 1/2 cup of baking soda and 1/2 cup of vinegar (give or take – I don’t measure anymore, I just pour).  I probably don't even need the detergent to be honest.  I wash once on cold then again on hot to fully rinse them, and dry on medium heat.  The diaper covers are hung to dry.  I haven't had any smell issues – the baking soda and vinegar get rid of the ammonia pee smell, which is worse than any poop smell in my nose’s opinion.  Any pesky stains get sun therapy - hanging in the sun works wonders for whites!  

6. Don’t limit yourself to one style of cloth diaper!  And DO NOT fall in love with a brand on the internet and spend a bunch of money on all sizes and colors only to find out that that particular brand doesn’t work for you (yes, I did this, and no, they didn’t work for me, so I’ve been selling them on eBay and craigslist).  Purchase one or two and see if you like them before you commit.  Trust me and my wallet on this one.  You may end up loving one brand for day time at home, another brand for travel/babysitters, and yet another brand for naptime and bedtime.  Give yourself the flexibility to try different brands.  In the long run, it’s SO MUCH cheaper than disposables, so why not invest an extra few bucks into finding the perfect setup for you?  Especially when you can reuse cloth diapers for subsequent children!

Good Momma friend Kiel: 
"I would also add, as far as investing a bunch of money, don't waste money on the special 'cloth diaper detergent' like I did... Only to find out that your little one is allergic and that your stash of pre-folds (or what have you) are totally ruined. Also, my changing/storage situation was a little different. We changed diapers in the bathroom and kept our bin in there. If she pooped we would rinse the diaper in the toilet just by flushing and that did the trick."

Good Momma friend Ricki: 
"You may want to add that EBF {exclusively breast fed} babies have water soluble poop so no presoaking until the kiddo starts solids :) that's always nice to hear because in those early days almost every diaper has some amount of poop on it. And you let people know that if they do want to do cloth from the day one invest in coconut oil. It keeps the meconium from sticking to the baby butt and diaper!"

Please contact me if you have any questions or if I didn’t cover something.  I am not an expert but I am a good researcher, so if I don’t have an answer I am more than willing to try to find it for you!



Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Beer Tasting Notes {Life and Limb}

When I first saw the press for Life and Limb, I was attracted by the label alone (I'm a tree-hugger, it called out to my inner hippie).  But as I read the description for this fantastic collaboration by California's Sierra Nevada Brewing and Delaware's Dogfish Head Brewing, I was equally intrigued.  So I called my hubby and asked him to find a bottle ASAP.

A note: you may notice that I send my hubby on lots of beer hunts - he works in the beer industry, so he's out in the trade most days.  He calls on some of the best retailers of fine craft beers, so if he, of all people, can't find it in his travels, it's not available here!

So by the next day, a bottle of Life and Limb was sitting comfortably on the top shelf in the refrigerator, daring me to pop the cork... but I promised myself that I would savor it on Friday night, when life takes a slower turn for a couple of precious days; so I waited.  Friday came, and I talked about my bottle all day.  I made myself wait until the wee one was in bed asleep, and finally popped the cork.  I'm so glad I waited.

Here is the inscription on the bottle:
LIFE - this living ale is naturally carbonated to enhance complexity, refinement and to encourage aging.  LIMB - for the birch and maple trees, whose syrup gives this ale its unique flavor and symbolizes the collaboration between Sierra Nevada and Dogfish Head.  We are proud to share our Life and Limb with the thousands of other branches who collectively comprise the craft-brewing family tree.  Sip slowly with friends and loved ones; savor - because one could do better than be a swigger of birches.

I took my tulip glass out to the backyard and sipped this gorgeous brew while watching my hubby work on his boat.  It made a chill Friday night even more relaxing.  Bliss.

Without further ado, my tasting notes.

Sierra Nevada Brewing and Dogfish Head Brewing Life and Limb

Life and Limb is a 10.2% ABV American Strong Ale.  And strong it is.  It pours a dark black brown with a thick gorgeous tanned caramel head - when held to the light, it shows a warm amber-red glow.  The aroma is sweet and sticky and very boozy (in a VERY good way); full of roasty dark chocolatey malt and a sweet caramelized maple twist, with light citrusy orange leafy hops dancing around the fringe.  A warm liquory maple flavor slides down my throat, leaving a burnt malt sherry flavor on my tongue and starting a small comforting campfire burning in my tummy.  The sticky maple malt lingers in the mouth, making this a perfect sipping beer. The flavors only got better as it warmed.  A must have, and a must-cellar brew.


Thursday, August 4, 2011

Beer Tasting Notes {Dubhe Imperial Black IPA}

Happy IPA Day!  
In honor of this fine day, I present you with tasting notes for a lovely Imperial Black IPA that we drank recently.  Tonight we will be sampling a nice IPA (not sure what; the hubby is on the hunt for something), and I'll share those notes in the next few days.  For now...  Cheers!

Uinta Brewing Company Dubhe Imperial Black IPA
This 9.2% ABV brew pours a deep dark black with a pillowy caramel colored head.  No light shines through this bad boy.  The scent of dark roasty malts mix with prickly piney hops, with a touch of deep dark chocolate and a smidge of alcohol essence hiding at the tips.  The intense sticky, resiny pine hop flavor coats your tongue, and the roasted bitter chocolate malt flavors mix with a slight alcohol warmth to balance the hoppiness.  A very, VERY good Black IPA.  Highly recommended.


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Beer Tasting Notes {Battle of the "Summer" Beers}

I take great pleasure in seasonal beers: a good seasonal embodies and elaborates on the spirit of each season, in turn.  They capture the season's essence and infuse your spirit with the flavors associated with it.  When imbibed out-of-season, they make you nostalgic for the time you are savoring with your tongue.  

In short, seasonal beers are awesome.

If you haven't already figured this out about me: I love summer.  Hot days filled with barbecues, swimming, gardening, fairs, farmer's markets... wildflowers all over... warm breezy nights lit with string lights and lanterns... good times all fueled by good craft beer.

There are a number of summer seasonals, and I decided to compare some of them.  Here we go!

Big Sky Summer Honey Ale
Big Sky's summer seasonal pours a light honey-yellow and has a fleeting thin foam layer.  It has a very lemony-citrus nose and a very mellow (almost absent) pale malt flavor with a faint honey finish.  It's light bodied and dry.  Sessionable at 4.7% ABV, but  light almost to the point of being a little boring for a craft beer.  

Sierra Nevada Summerfest Lager
Summerfest pilsner-style lager pours a light golden-yellow with a fizzy fleeting collar of foam.  I smell hay and spicy hops.  The first sip harbors flavors of dry pale malt and the telltale citrusy hops prevalent in Sierra Nevada's brews.  It has a pleasant herbal, biting, lemony hop finish.  It is a thirst quenching session beer at 5% ABV.

Blue Moon Summer Honey Wheat
Summer Honey (formerly known as Honey Moon) pours a hazy sunny golden with a thin head that diminishes to nothing. It smells like a wheat field on a hot summer afternoon, with a touch of citrus hiding at the edges.  The honey flavor is prevalent throughout, with a light malt middle.  I don't detect a lot of hop flavor, except in the orangey-citrus flavor at the edges.  Summer Honey is the sweetest beer of the bunch.  I have a penchant for this beer (I have a sweet tooth, so sue me), and drink it every summer.  Very sessionable at 5.2% ABV.

Anchor Summer Beer
(inserting previously posted tasting notes... because I'm lazy... and I want to be done with this post so I can go have a beer already)
Sunshine in a bottle!  This 4.6% ABV Pale Wheat Ale pours a hazy golden honey color like a lazy sunshiney day, with a perfectly clean white head of foam like a single perfect cloud in the summer sky.  It has a light citrusy wheat flavor and is very light bodied, which makes it very sessionable and thirst-quenchingly perfect for a hot summer night (or day).  It has a very faint hint of honey, as if a bee dipped its toes in to cool them off for a spell.  Bliss.

Anderson Valley Summer Solstice Cerveza Crema
This is a very unique beer experience.  Summer Solstice is a cream beer, and to me the mouthfeel outplayed the flavor.  This was my first cream beer, and the creamy sensation of teeny tiny spicy bubbles partying on my tongue was a trip.  It poured a clear orangey color, and smelled sweet and malty.  I tasted hints of tart orange rind and sweet caramel malt.  Medium bodied.  5.6% ABV, and because of the overwhelming (but not unpleasant) mouthfeel, I wouldn't call this a session beer.



Recipe of the Day {Farmer's Market Ravioli}

I would have called this "Ravioli from my Garden" but my tomato plants have been VERY slow in bearing fruit this year (punks), so I had to resort to purchasing some awesome mixed tomatoes at my local Farmer's Market.  My basil plant is rocking, so I was able to use my own basil at least!

This recipe was SO good.  I seriously wished I had made a double batch so I could have totally gorged myself.  I threw this together after watching my friend Anne make a similar dish for lunch last week.  This is SO easy, and SO quick.  I will be making this more often!

I paired this with an Anchor Summer Beer and it was very complimentary.  See my tasting notes on Anchor Summer here.

Farmer's Market Ravioli
Your favorite five-cheese ravioli (fresh or frozen) or tortellini
3-6 white mushrooms, sliced
A very generous handful of cherry, grape and pear tomatoes, halved
3 fresh basil leaves (must be fresh!!), sliced
A good quality EVOO
Fresh grated parmesan cheese

Cook the ravioli according to the package instructions.  A note on ravioli... once the water comes to a boil, REDUCE HEAT to a very mild simmer, then add the ravioli.  Never boil them - they will explode and you will have a sad pot of cheese water and flat pasta flaps instead of yummy stuffed ravioli for dinner.

While the ravioli are cooking, saute the mushrooms in butter.  I don't measure, I just plop some in.  Use your best judgment.  But don't be stingy.

When the ravioli are done, drain them (gently!) and place them in a pasta dish.  Top with the sauteed mushrooms, sliced tomatoes, and fresh basil.  Drizzle a few tablespoons of EVOO over the top, then sprinkle cheese over it all.  Savor the fresh summer flavors!

*A couple of notes on ingredients:
1. Fresh basil is a MUST for this recipe to truly shine.  Dry basil just won't cut it.
2. Fresh cheese is very important - the dry container cheese would not do this recipe justice.
3. Every kitchen that uses fresh ingredients absolutely must invest in high quality EVOO (extra virgin olive oil, for those of you who have NEVER heard of Rachael Ray).  I am lucky enough to be the proud possessor of a bottle of organic EVOO direct from my friend Peppe's organic farm in Sicily.  Good EVOO is so important in fresh recipes!
4. Surprisingly, the best store-bought ravioli I've ever had were the frozen bagged cheese ravs from Costco.  The fresh containers at the grocery store are good too.  If you have the time to make your own ravioli from scratch, go for it!  I'm sure they would outrank ANY store-bought brand.



Home Brew Tasting Notes {Honey Porter}

The Honey Porter Kit specs.
Back in April, Jim and I brewed a batch of Honey Porter.  You can read the post here.

Ok, before I begin, I must apologize.  I have had this post sitting in DRAFT form since June 29 when we finished off the last pint...  and I was only able to get a photo of HALF OF A PINT because Jim was so enthusiastic about drinking this batch...

Jim: This was a great batch *raises 1/2 full pint glass to the light*

Me: Was...? *eyebrow raised in accusation*

Jim: The keg just popped. *gives me a very "innocent" look because he knows I only got a single pint to myself at best - I'm breastfeeding, I'm only allowed a beer a day!*

Me: *mouth open, speechless, accusatory eyes narrowed*

Jim: What? *with a laughing sparkle in his eye... innocent my ass*

So I absconded with the 1/2 pint, took a crappy photo (sorry!) and sat down to savor my plunder.  A better beer blogger would have been more punctual with a review of HER OWN BEER!  Sigh.

Now, on to the tasting!

After 3 weeks in the carboy, the beer was transferred to a corny keg for secondary fermentation.  Somewhere around the end of May, we tasted the beer, and it was a little flat, so we let it sit for another week.  Then Jim couldn't help himself and had to bust into it with reckless abandon.

The carbonation was "ok" but it really never gave a good foamy head.  Granted, in this photo, half of the pint had already been consumed by my rascal of a husband, so the fact that there's foam remaining is a good indicator that it may have had a decent head.

It had a very mild roasty-sweet scent, and a nice mellow honeyed-malt flavor.  It was light enough to be a session beer (hence why a whole 5 gallon keg disappeared before I knew it), however I have yet to buy a hydrometer and learn how to use it, so I am not sure of the final ABV.

I think that if we make this beer again, it needs more honey and maybe some more black malt.  And we need to try keeping our corny keg at a slightly higher temperature so that the carbonation kicks up more quickly.  All in all, though, a successful batch.



Beer Tasting Notes {Deschutes Hop in the Dark Cascadian Dark Ale}

This is a sexy beer.  The name alone suggests a sultry kind of intrigue begging to be probed.  We drank this beer as dessert after some awesome grilled steak and red bell peppers, and paired it with a lovely chunk of dark chocolate that I had hidden away for just such an occasion (wish I hadn't thrown the wrapper away before stashing the chocolate in wax paper, because it was GOOD and I want to buy it again!).  
Deschutes Hop in the Dark Cascadian Dark Ale
This Dark Ale pours a deep warm black-brown with a fluffy caramel head of foam.  Piney hops and roasty malts create a comforting scent that makes me want to go camping and drink this while bundled up in jeans and a hoodie while sitting in front of a campfire.  I taste rich dark mocha chocolate in the dark malty warmth and smooth pine-hop undertones swirl around my tongue, forming a lovely medium bodied black ale.  At 6.9% ABV, this is a good after-dinner session beer.  I seriously want to take a couple of bottles of Hop in the Dark up to my favorite camping spot.  You should too.