Thursday, April 28, 2011

Tassajara Bread

The The Tassajara Bread Book has totally changed the way I think about bread. I received it as a Christmas gift, and every second Friday I take it out to make a new two loaves of bread.

Tiffany introduced me to molasses, which led me to try molasses bread.  
Rather than just giving a recipe, the book helped me understand the role of each ingredient in the loaf. Whereas I used to hesitate when a loaf of bread turned out hard or grainy or gritty, I now just keep trying different loaves. The primary recipe is marked by fairly long rise times-- partially because it's 100% whole wheat. I also acknowledged that whole wheat bread is not supposed to taste like white flour bread-- they're just different.

After the first beating
There's something satisfying about making something as simple as bread. I beat the water, flour, yeast and salt, you knead it, I see the yeast working, and then we eat. I feel connected to the process in a way that I didn't before, and bread has become my gateway to thinking of all the other things that I can make from scratch. Primarily because I thought bread making was very difficult, and not worth the effort. Bread making made way for pie-crust making, which made way for eating a little more fish, which made way for...

After the first rise, at which time the camera battery died... I can give you the recipe if you'd like to try it out.
I think of each week's bread making as an investment in our family's future: I put in a few hours and try to take note of how each loaf turns out, because five years and 200 loaves later, I can only imagine how much I'll have learned.
Eug, Noah and I are leaving for Korea on Saturday. We'll be away for ten days, but (unlike while I was in South Africa) I've scheduled posts while I'm away. So you may not notice the absence this time. We will be there to celebrate Noah's Dol. It's my first visit to Korea, so if you're so inclined, please pray for us to have a good trip.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

I Made Something!!*

*with [a lot of] help from my friends...

I'm not someone who naturally gravitates towards textiles or crafty stuff.  I have no problem buying second-hand clothes that were made in a dodgy environment, I just mumble some excuse that the person who bought the clothes new is responsible for that environment, I'm just helping give the clothes extra life. Right?  Anyway.

Then there were the 16 or so years where I needed to rebel against the idea that women sew. 'Cos if we're busy sewing, we're not studying or leading or, well, doing other stuff. Which is still compelling to me, but I think maybe we can do both, in limited quantities in my case.

Feminism aside, I am rather too excited to let you know I made a bunny. Modeled after this bunny (and with help and materials from the maker of this bunny). Noah now has his very own home-made easter bunny, stuffed with an old sock.  And I feel incredibly crafty and brilliant.  So much so that I'm inspired to learn to knit socks.  Right after I re-learn to knit, period. Granny will be proud.

Because my first bunny needs more than one photo.

And, congratulations, Vanessa, our soap winner!! Soap will be on its way to you!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Simple Baby Part 5: Stuff to help him stay clean

First, I realized I've kindof beaten this topic to death by making it a series. Sorry about that. But I've learned something: that you need a bunch of stuff for babies, and exactly what you need depends a lot on how you balance space vs. having the stuff. I get excited about having space and as little stuff as possible, because stuff takes energy. But the reality is, trying to minimize stuff also takes energy. I think I like spending time trying to get rid of things. It's hardwired. Trying to articulate our real needs helps me think through my goals around frugality, social justice, simplicity and sustainability. Hence the five-part series.

So this one's short. I refer you to an earlier post on cloth diapers.
Help Staying Clean (Part 5)
Diaper pail
Fabric wipes-- which we just put in the diaper pail with the diapers.
A potty-- in case Noah learned about that early.
Almond Oil-- with a little lavendar for massage.
Baby Wash-- a lot less than I expected though, because most of the time water does the trick.
Diaper Rash Cream-- only very, very occasionally.
Recently, nail clippers-- because those little nails grow so fast.

Friday, April 22, 2011

This is Water

I wanted to share the audio of late author David Foster Wallace's speech this Good Friday. I heard it at the beginning of lent, and it's one of the best speeches I've ever heard.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Simple Baby, Part 4: Stuff to allow Sleep and A Chance (for parents) to Shower

We used five things while Noah was sleeping or we were trying to do something that required hands or no Noah, like showering or cooking:

Crib: We received a crib used from a friend. We did buy a new mattress, which cost about $40. Noah didn't actually use the crib much until recently, so it wasn't something we needed from Day 1.

Co-sleeper container. We had a little co-sleeper thing in the bed with us, because we were scared we would squish Noah- not sure if we'll need that next time, as this really wasn't an issue, particularly in summer when there aren't a lot of blankets on the bed.

Reclining Baby seat, given as a gift. This was really useful when Noah was little and immobile, as it meant we could cook while he watched us. We also used the laundry basket, when Noah was a little bigger. But the baby seat was awesome while he not yet able to sit up.

Baby jumperoo: bought at thrift store for $10, used when Noah was mobile but not super mobile, only so that Eug could shower. Like those walker thingys, Jumperoos are discouraged by baby development specialists, because they can stunt a baby's development, but it was useful for us because it was the difference between Eug being able to shower (I leave very early for work) and not, between the ages of 5 and 7 months or so.

Rocker/Glider: I was surprised how invaluable a glider was for us. We didn't buy it until Noah was about 4 months old, and we realized we were going to be up with him in the middle of the night. A lot. Then we bought it in a hurry and it became our secret Walmart chair ($50 with free shipping...). I really dislike Walmart and wished that we hadn't had to buy in such a hurry.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Simple Baby Part 3: Transportation

For the first year, one of the hardest things for me to figure out was how to go places with Noah. I started out nervous that Noah couldn't quite breath in the Moby (that fear lasted about two weeks), and once I got over that fear, I took Noah in the Moby EVERYWHERE, and it was replaced by a laziness around driving places since that involved way too much preparation (car seat, moby, diapers, grrr). Fears and laziness aside, transportation was one area where it would make sense to try different carriers and means of transportation, because otherwise those first few months can feel isolating (and it's remarkable how portable tiny babies are, when they're sleeping all the time). Thrift stores and Craigslist are great for finding strollers, and sometimes carriers.

We have a car seat, a stroller, and two different carriers (one Moby, one Ergo). Here's how we got ours:

Car Seat- received second-hand (less than six years old) from someone we knew. This is controversial, but I felt comfortable that it hadn't been in an accident and was all we needed, particularly as he wasn't in it much.

Stroller- we waited on buying this, then bought it from a thrift store when Noah was a little older. My parents also got us a wonderful second hand stroller in Cape Town, which gave us extra flexibility of both a small and a larger stroller. But you really just need one. I'd advise against a huge stroller unless you're super-strong, because you're usually dealing with a non-walking baby at the same time as a stroller.

Ergo and Moby Carriers- At the time Noah was born there weren't a lot of free or used carriers on Freecycle/Craigslist, so these were things friends bought us new. We went with the Moby (when Noah was little) and the Ergo (up until now). Both carriers will last for a really long time. This said, it might make sense not to spend too much money before you know how your baby likes being carried.

Monday, April 18, 2011

A Soap Giveaway

Beautiful, gentle home made soap

I've been using samples of Mommy's Organic Soaps over the past few months, thanks to the super generous Pam.

I've kept two bars of this pristine soap for a reader.

As soap is not something I am likely to make, I appreciate that I can connect with the person making something essential to me, know what's in it and that it was made with care. I got to share this really refreshing and fun exchange with Pam, despite being halfway across the U.S., about things we both care about. On Pam's behalf, I invite you to do the same. As always, Etsy feels like it breaks down some of the boundaries that are created by our very diversified consumerist society; suddenly I can know who made my soap and what they care about. Amazing.

As I've mentioned before on this blog, I stopped using shampoo a while ago, which has been a good experience. I don't use many products on my skin, but I still feel much less knowledgeable about personal care products than about food. With food, I know if I don't recognize the name of an ingredient, it's probably a bad sign. With personal care products, even my old favorites at The Body Shop have ingredients I've never heard of.

This has meant that I'm not terribly far on my journey towards knowing what goes on my skin. For now, knowing who I'm buying from and what they believe in is a huge step in that direction.

I kinda gave up Facebook for lent (I say kinda because I've had some lapses) so if you feel like helping to publicize the giveaway, I'll be super grateful.

The winning commenter will be announced next Tuesday!

Noah likes to show that skin...

Proof that Noah and I survived the foray into shampoo-free living, and that Noah has found a new favorite activity

And that he visited Castle Island at his earliest opportunity...

Sunday, April 17, 2011

[potentially] Vegan Cornbread

Cornbread offers fresh-baked goodness while being super easy. I started trying this recipe when I didn't have eggs in the house, but wanted to make cornbread. I adjusted it to use just one pot, because dishes are a huge barrier to me doing anything in life. Or at least in the kitchen.  Having flaxseed in the house has proved a really good substitute for eggs, and they're super nutritious. I keep the flaxseed whole in the freezer, then grind them right before using them, which helps keep them fresh.

2 tablespoons ground flax seeds
6 tablespoons water
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon table salt
1 cup soymilk or milk
1/4 cup canola oil

Prep Time: 25 mins
Total Time: 50 mins
1. Preheat oven to 425°F
2. Butter up a container (I use a 9" pyrex dish)
3. Bring the water to a boil in a saucepan.
4. Add the ground flax seed, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer the ground flax seed in the water for 3 minutes or until thickened, stirring occasionally.
6. Add the ground flax seed mixture, soy milk, and canola oil to the flour mixture. Mix well.
7. Add the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt until just combined.
8. Turn into prepared baking dish. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
10 Cool on wire rack 10 minutes; invert cornbread onto wire rack, then turn right side up and continue to cool until warm, about 10 minutes longer.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Simple Baby, Part 2: Food

What we've needed:
Breast pump/nipples/bottles/pumping gear.
Food- it's not a lot quantity wise, but I've noticed our food bill has increased by about $30/month since Noah started eating more solid food.
Spoons-- though Noah is already fine with regular spoons

Food is something we're still figuring out. For the first six months, we relied exclusively on breast milk. Thereafter, it was breastmilk and a mix of lots of foods.

For this, since I returned to work at 12 weeks, I've been using the Medela Pump-in-Style Breast Pump-- Bought second hand from someone on Craigslist. I also got bottles, caps tubing etc, from the same person. So I just needed to buy nipples. This is a somewhat controversial subject but if you're pondering whether to do this, let me know and I can talk you through the risks. Not ignoring those risks or downplaying concerns you might have, there are financial and environmental benefits to going used, and everything apart from the pump itself can be sterilized. Having used the pump for a while, I feel confident that the risks of the pump mechanism actually getting milk in it are minimal.

Baby food
I didn't end up reading anything about baby food, because I feel like I would have gotten rigid and stressed, and because I feel like I've learned a lot about food more gradually and organically over the past few years, from nutrition to developing a philosophy around food. I heeded the big advice around baby foods: no milk, no peanuts, no strawberries, and no honey until age one, and introduce other full-cream dairy around nine months. Otherwise, we've tried to not give Noah any foods with an ingredient list.

We grind grains (oats, brown rice, quinoa) in the coffee grinder, and Noah usually eats some kind of grain, some fruits, and some vegetables (and occasionally lentils and meat) every day. I make our yoghurt (I say that nonchalantly, as if I've been doing it forever, when in reality I learned maybe three months ago, and announced it proudly on this blog). Glass jars have been great for keeping the baby food process simple. By making a lot of food at once and freezing the leftovers in small jars, we're not stuck cooking or preparing every single meal. I tried ice cube trays but I found small jars worked better. We're careful about limiting salt consumption, but otherwise he usually has a bit of what we're eating, and if he doesn't eat much then he'll have something made especially for him. His six teeth are pretty sharp, and his digestive system is developing fast, so we're able to grind grains pretty coarsely at this point.

Breast Milk on Planes

Only in the U.S. could they have a breast milk scanner at the airport. The quick summary: you can take breast milk as hand luggage, even though you're traveling alone. Boston airport has private bathrooms where you can pump, Pittsburgh airport does not.

I'll step back for a second-- I had some fears about traveling for the day to Pittsburgh, mainly around pumping and traveling with milk.

Some things were helpful and some things less helpful in dealing with these fears. Least helpful were the websites that reported that you couldn't take breastmilk in your hand luggage unless you had a baby with you (which, I know, doesn't make sense, and goes to show I shouldn't believe everything I read.)

Most helpful was a) taking my fears to their logical conclusion, and seeing if they're all that bad. So, what if I wasn't able to find a space to pump all day, and as a result Noah had to have formula at some point in the next month (we've not bought formula up to now), or I had to dump milk or... Not great outcomes but also not absolutely earth-shattering.
b) Not being embarrassed to ask security before checking in. I went to security in both Boston and Pittsburgh, explained my situation and asked for their suggestions. On the Pittsburgh side, they had a scanner for the milk, and were super polite about scanning and allowing me to travel with the milk as hand luggage.

Anyway, so my fears came up empty. I did have to pump in a large banquet room in a hotel, where I was locked in from the outside, which was vaguely uncomfortable, but makes for a pretty good story...I'm glad to be back at home, with Noah and Eug.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Simple Baby (At least for the first year): Part 1

It's hard to capture all the changes our family has gone through since Noah arrived. We didn't get any miraculous parenting wisdom, or any other kind of wisdom. I became my own parents' biggest fan. It dawned that, as someone who is always waiting for Life's Next Big Event, the Big Event has come, and we are living it now. Not that Noah was himself the Big Event (though he was, in a way), but that there was nothing bigger to come. Some old and deep cliches about the present being a gift resonate.

I couldn't think of a good segway from "Being a parent is awesome" (see above) to "here's what you might need, don't buy too much" (see below), so I gave up. Here's a picture of Noah digging to fill the awkward transition:

Aah, but the awkwardness continues a couple more sentences. While I really want to convey in this post that it's possible to keep having a baby simple, affordable and relatively environmentally friendly, I couldn't write a simple post about it! So it's going to be a series. But a Simple Series. Really.

The Exhaustive List of What Our Baby Needed in Year 1
Big Ticket Items (Part 1):
Space to Sleep and later, Play (in our case, we delayed getting a bigger place, but it was inevitable)
Someone to take care of him at all time (in our case, a parent).
Health Insurance and money to pay the huge deductible.

Food: (Part 2)
Breast Milk
Breast Pump and associated bottles/nipples/etc.
squishy food
harder food

Transportation (Part 3)
Sling/Ergo type thingy
Car Seat

Stuff to Wear (Not sure if this needs a post- gifts and thrift stores are awesome)

Stuff to Play With (Also not sure if this needs a post?)

Sleep and a Chance for His Parents to Shower (Part 4)
We had a little cosleeper thing in the bed with us, because we were scared we would squish Noah- not sure if we'll need that next time.
Jumperoo (Only as a chance for dad to shower)
Reclining Baby seat

Help Staying Clean (Part 5)
A potty, in case Noah learned about that early.
Almond Oil
Baby Wash
Diaper Rash Cream
Recently, nail clippers.

That's it! That's all we got! (I did fudge over clothes and toys up there, but there's no need to go too wild in either category) (Unless you want to.)

Oh, and bibs. Lots and Lots of bibs.

Part 1: The Big Costs
The big ticket baby items for many families are housing, daycare, and maybe medical care.

Housing is big not only financially, but also environmentally. We've moved twice since Noah was born, just because of life circumstances. But we saved about $2400 by staying in our tiny one-bedroom while Noah was little and immobile. During the first four months, all he needed was love, attention, milk, and lots of diaper changes, and not having to deal with a bigger apartment was great. We did need to move later on, and our housing expenses really increased. That said, our vision is to stay in the smallest house we can, and in the most central location possible. I'd love a garden and chickens one day, but we're not there yet.

Figuring out how to afford life [in Boston] and take care of Noah was hard. Our decisions worked for us, partly by serendipity: my work does not easily translate to independent or from-home work, but I'd worked with the same employer for a couple of years and they were really supportive and flexible about how I got to my 40 hours/week. Eug went freelance around the time I got pregnant, which was scary financially but exhilarating for all the possibilities it opened up for us. The cost of good daycare would be about the same as the income we've given up, without the stress of wondering whether Noah's taken care of. I get to spend most afternoons with Noah, which makes working full time less difficult in the short term.

I can't give advice on daycare and couples' work without feeling icky and under-qualified, so I won't-- I know that this is the most personal of decisions and one that every family really ponders and struggles over. That said, it was important for us that didn't use our community or family tradition as our only reference point-- whether that reference point was daycare from tiny or saving towards my becoming a stay-at-home mom. It was something that had to work for our family, and for us, what works seems to change over time, just as Noah changes.

The medical costs for Noah's birth were about $1000 (it makes me almost wish I'd made it to one of those nice wood-paneled delivery rooms). We have very mediocre insurance (which is cheaper per month but makes life difficult when we actually need it) so we save a little every month, that would otherwise go to more expensive insurance plans, and have it ready when we need something.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Simple and Adaptable Sorbet

Eug and I have dessert of some kind almost every day-- it doesn't need to be anything too elaborate-- it marks the end of the day and our opportunity to relax and enjoy Noah being asleep. A few months ago Eug discovered sorbet. And it's incredibly simple:

(photo credit: Delish Blog)
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup sugar (you could try a healthier sweetener and let me know how it turns out)
frozen berries/a lemon/other fruit of your choosing (I usually use about a handful; so far rasberries are my favourite sorbet fruit; I dream of one day growing my own.)

1. Boil the water and the sugar together.
2. Blend in the frozen berries/lemon juice etc. (I blend the mixture if I'm using strawberries or whole fruits)
3. Pour into a container and place in the freezer.
4. Stir every half an hour or so, to prevent the sugar and water from separating.

After a few hours, depending on your freezer, you have tasty dessert! It only uses 2 ingredients + water, which is good for reducing your food miles. It's a simple and cheap alternative to ice cream. The recipe is versatile, and once you've got a sense of what taste and texture you enjoy, you can tweak it any way you like. Depending on your reference point, it's not unhealthy.

If you try it out (or have been making it for many years) let me know your experience!

The Coma of Happiness

Last night, Noah slept from 7:20 until 4am. As you'd expect we're overjoyed. But if that wasn't enough, we experienced the Noah Coma of Happiness this morning. Noah usually comes to our bed for a snack shortly before I leave for work. And he SO happy about it. He stands up, then flops down grinning like a little drunken sailor. Then, after he's had his full of breast milk, he decides to lie on one of our faces, until he's almost asleep and realizes if he's on me he's not on daddy. So he switches faces. And switches again. Because he doesn't want to miss out on Face Time. Until finally he's lying there with this blank smile on his face, staring at the ceiling. Our boy knows how to enjoy The Good Life.

In other news, the news-fast is going well, except I really would like to know how we did on the cricket World Cup. Can anyone help?

Eug is fasting from Hulu, our online alternative to TV, this lent. And since we watch hulu together in the one hour between Noah falling asleep and my getting ready for bed, that means I'm also semi-fasting from Hulu. As it turns out, I'm a little addicted. We sure don't watch the national average, which is a poor reference point, but we watch one 20 minute or 40 minute show most days.

Setting aside Hulu has felt like Found Time. Where I usually went to bed in a daze after almost falling asleep during House, it feels good to decide what to do that hour. In the midst of the media fast, I've more or less been able to complete my extra work, and I can go back to just one job and return to blogging.

So here's to the benefits of [very partial] media fasts! Looking forward to being back with you.