Monthly Archives: April 2012

‘Toxic Free’: Browsing Through a Book

I stopped at the library this afternoon to pick up “Healthy Sleep Habits, Healthy Kids,” recommended by several friends. As baby was fairly well-behaved at the moment, I browsed through the new books for a few minutes and picked up a couple other titles.

One was a baby sign language book — I’d been thinking that would be neat to learn more about. (Note, I do take everything I read with a grain of salt.)

The other was called “Toxic Free: How to Protect Your Health and Home From the Chemicals That are Making You Sick.” Just yesterday I was reading some about BPA and learned it’s not only in bottles and cans, but toilet paper and napkins, and our main contact with it is probably in receipts and tickets. So this was along one of my current brainwaves.

On the whole, the book is too extreme for me. The author writes that one day, she went through and threw out everything in her home that contained toxic chemicals. “When I was done,” she says, “all that was left was four bare walls, a concrete floor with dried paint spatters all over it … and a roll-away bed frame with a pile of cotton thermal blankets for a mattress.”

Even if I wanted to do that, I think I’d quickly find myself a divorced woman. Just mentioning to my husband that maybe we could switch to cloth napkins was over the line for him.

I don’t know much about toxic chemicals, but I definitely believe they are in everyday things that we don’t even dream of. BPA began to be used inside cans in the 1960s, back when doctors probably smoked while they were delivering babies. My daughter’s pacifier is BPA-free — the sucky part, anyway. Apparently that may not be the case for the hard plastic parts of it. And yes, our parents are living to ripe old ages having consumed any number of poisonous chemicals, but I don’t think that means we need to keep doing it. I would like to take small steps of smarter choices.

On that note, here are a few items from the book that I found interesting:

  • The only bottled water she considers safe is sold in glass bottles.
  • Toothpastes can contain formaldehyde and plastics.
  • Baking soda can be used as a natural deodorant. (Not sure I’m willing to try.)
  • Most major dish manufacturers still use glazes with lead in them.
  • “If you do need to use plastic, choose food storage products made from polypropylene, which has a very low toxicity. The ‘disposable’ storage containers are made from polypropylene and can be reused many times.”
  • Do not microwave foods in plastic containers.
  • Nylon, polyester and acrylic fabrics are plastics made from petrochemicals.
  • Polyester-cotton and permanent-press cotton is coated with a substance that contains formaldehyde — that includes a lot of bedsheets, and could be a cause of insomnia.
  • CFL bulbs contain mercury, as you know if you’ve had to deal with cleaning one up. LEDs contain arsenic and lead, but they are very difficult to break.
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Recipe Reviews: Baked Chicken Meatballs and the Nutty Granola Bar

What is it about having a new baby that makes me want to cook? It’s certainly not always practical!

Two new recipes made it through my kitchen this week — plus a third version of German pumpkin seed bread that isn’t worth writing about.

First was a pan of new granola bars from a recipe that Christine sent along. The blogger posted a slight variation of Nutty Granola Bars from the book The Homemade Pantry. The book sounds fantastic, by the way. My library has ordered it and I’m eagerly waiting on the reservation list.

Like apparently many others out there, I’m hunting for a good recipe for granola bars. I’m looking for something chewy, including chocolate, and not crumbly. I don’t want to worry about making a mess when I eat one.

Short story, I think this recipe was almost there. Or, it might have actually been “there” and I just didn’t make it. They were yummy but still a little crumbly. I had to make some slight adjustments that might have made the difference: I had slivered almonds on hand instead of sliced; I used the butter instead of coconut oil; I used sweetened coconut instead of unsweetened; and I used the sunflower seed substitute. And I might have underbaked them.

What I failed to think about with these was that if you mix chocolate chips into a warm mixture, they’ll melt. So the resulting bars taste an awful lot like no-bake chocolate cookies — really good, just not what I was expecting.

I think I will give this recipe another shot, but I’ll plan some variations: I’m going to try to let the wet ingredients cool before I mix in the chocolate chips — if they melt again, so be it; I’m going to try to up the liquid level just slightly to try and relieve the crumbliness; I’m going to leave out the cinnamon; and I’m going to bake them longer. The edges of this last batch really stuck together better than the middle of the pan. (It was hard to tell if the edges had browned as I’d used dark chocolate chips and the edges were brown to start with!)

Last night I tried out the Baked Chicken Meatballs recipe from Smitten Kitchen. Like most commenters, I’d never bought ground chicken before — and having bought it, I think I’d look for it to go on sale before I bought it again.

But they were pretty yummy. They really do taste like there is a little cheese in them, even though there isn’t. (I put a little Parmesan on top, though.) I’ll probably try them again. My husband ate a couple before he went to bed last night, so I’ll call that a meal that at least tasted decent!

I did have a slight variation, of course — the recipe calls for Italian bread pieces, and I wasn’t about to buy Italian bread just to make meatballs, so I used the multi-grain sandwich bread I had on hand, just two pieces. I figured multi-grain would soak up more milk than Italian bread, but I may have been wrong. My meatballs, when raw, were not very ball-y. And I got 18 decent-sized meatballs, not 12. Again, probably a bread issue.

Now to plan next week’s menu! Too bad the coupon previews are showing pretty lousy inserts this weekend.

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Recipe: Somebody’s Banana Bread

This is the recipe my mom uses; I don’t know where she got it. I’ll assume it was her mom’s, but I apologize if it was someone else’s.

3 bananas (brown is good)

2/3 c. sugar

1 egg

3 T. oil

1 tsp. vanilla

1/4 c. buttermilk or the milk/lemon juice alternative

1 3/4 c. flour

1 tsp. soda

1 tsp. salt

DIRECTIONS: Mash bananas. Mix with sugar and liquids. Mix dry ingredients separately; add to wet and stir just ’til mixed well. Put in greased loaf pan and top with brown sugar. Bake in oven pre-heated to 400. Turn down to 350 after first 10 minutes of baking, then bake another 50-60 minutes. Toothpick test.

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Silence: Is That the Sound of the Baby Sleeping?

Oh, I was mistaken. The silence has disappeared.

My 3-month-old daughter had been falling asleep while eating up until the last week. She has now started changing up her routine and eats, then plays, then gets tired. At that point she wants to be rocked to sleep.

I’m a snuggling fan, so generally I’m okay with “rockabye.” But sometimes I’d rather not — such as at 4 a.m.

And of course I want her to develop good sleeping habits. I want her to be able to self-soothe and magically get put in her crib and fall asleep.

(Allegedly that is possible.)

(Still no silence.)

Is this really possible? If so, is it also realistic? And if both of those, how?

The parent educators at my newborn class said you really can’t spoil a baby under 6 months old. True or false? Is 3 months too soon to start letting her cry herself to sleep? And how do you do it — just really set her down and let her cry?

And cry, and cry …

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Recipe: My Mom’s Scalloped Potatoes and Ham

Growing up, I was not a scalloped potatoes fan. They’re kind of bland. And they weren’t spaghetti.

But they came back into my life a few months ago after one of those general pushes to add new recipes to our repertoire.  I try not to make them very often so I don’t get sick of them, but small doses of scalloped potatoes make a nice blah-day food now.  A super-cheap, easy meal.

So I walked into my mom’s shop one afternoon and asked, “Do you remember your scalloped potatoes recipe?”

It isn’t culinary genius or anything, but it’s one of those recipes not written down anywhere. I admire cooks who can just keep recipes in their memories, or eyeball measurements, etc.

I apologize: I’m going to write this out without an ingredient list. This makes about four servings — fills my 1.5 quart glass dish.

  • Preheat the oven to 350.
  • Peel, cut in half lengthwise, and slice two large brown  potatoes. If  your casserole dish doesn’t look full enough, add some more.
  • Dice a piece of pre-cooked ham and mix it in with the potatoes. (I just buy one thick slice from the deli counter.)
  • In  a small  saucepan, melt 3 T. of butter. Mix in 3 to 4 T. of flour, enough to make a paste that’s not too thick.
  • Gradually mix in 1 1/2 cups of milk, preferably not skim. Using part half-and-half or cream makes it yummier but obviously more fattening. Mix until lumps  are gone. Add 3/4 tsp salt or to taste.
  • My mom calls for some sauteed onion, which I forgot this time, but am trying to avoid onion anyway while nursing. You could probably work this step into the original butter mixture.
  • Add liquid/onion to the potatoes and cover with foil. Bake for 90 minutes. Remove foil for last 20ish minutes to brown the top. I forgot altogether this time and the world didn’t end.

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Portobello Mushroom Burgers, and Updates

Thanks to Emily for suggesting portobello mushrooms as an entree. I saw some at the store today and took a  shot at this recipe for Portobello Mushroom Burgers with herbed mayo, spinach and cheese. They were pretty good — maybe a B+. They would have been better on the suggested hard rolls — I had regular hamburger buns on hand.

Have freezer meal, on-the-go breakfasts, or granola bar recipes to share? I’d love to hear about them.

Some updates:

  • Took a stab at microwaving yesterday’s frozen Breakfast Casserole Bites. They reheated reasonably well — removing the foil liners was kind of annoying, though.
  • The lasagna never made it to the freezer…
  • On last week’s goals:
  • 1. Take the baby on at least two walks.

    2. Try out our cloth diapers, starting Monday afternoon after our newborn class.

    3. Serve a veggie with every supper this week.

    4. Make a batch of twice-baked potatoes to freeze.

    5. Clean out the fridge.

    6. Order a smaller garbage bin.

    7. Only two trips to the coffee shop this week!

    8. Research laundry detergent recipes.

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Results of the Three-Recipe Nap

My lovely baby — who last week wasn’t into napping — today slept from the start of our grocery foray, through the store, the unpacking, a load of dishes, a load of laundry,

baking a new snack recipe,

baking a new freezer-breakfast recipe,

making a new supper recipe,

and the eating of said supper. And unloading the aforementioned dishes.

This is the story of those three recipes.

First up, Chewy Granola Bars. I’d give them about a C+, which is partly my fault as I didn’t read any of the reviews. I made mine with full-size dark chocolate chips, but only one cup, and 1/3 cup of coconut. My goal was to make granola bars, a early-morning staple of this breastfeeding mom, for cheaper than I buy them. It was probably cheaper — I never really crunched the numbers. But this particular recipe led to fairly dry and crumbly bars. I’m not sure how portable they’ll be. They’ll probably all get eaten, but I’d try a different recipe next time.

Second was a recipe for Breakfast Casserole Bites from 100 Days of Real Food. Basically, they’re egg, bread, meat, and cheese baked in a muffin tin. The blog says you can freeze them  — I guess  I’ll know more tomorrow about how realistic that is. My hope was to make a cheap, on-the-go breakfast item for both my husband, who isn’t a big breakfast person, and me, whose previously noted baby often spends half the morning eating. We tried one fresh out of the oven, and  it was  pretty good. My husband’s adjective, which I don’t recall, was pretty favorable. I think I’d give it at least a B for now, but I’ll try to remember to report how well they freeze. (The recipe calls for natural and organic items; I used what I had on hand, which was non-natural/organic.)

Third but perhaps first in successfulness was Chicken Alfredo Stromboli from Taste of Home’s cooking-for-two magazine. Basically, it’s a baguette with a sour-cream parmesan mixture, chicken, mushrooms, and mozzarella. It isn’t a true stromboli, really more of an open-faced sandwich, but it was yummy. Quick, too — took me 22 minutes from start to finish with thawed chicken but a frozen baguette. My husband suggested of his own free will that it could go into our regular dinner rotation. I’d give it an A!

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