Sunday, December 7, 2014

Crayola Freezer Pops

Some of you might remember my post about Squeezurts reusable snack tubes,  these tubes allowed me to create my own homemade frozen treat for my little one. However for one reason or the other, a few of my tubes started leaking and when I went to order new ones this what I saw on their website

So I realized I had no other option but to find an alternative.  I kept meaning to search online for a good popiscle mold since my daughter loves them, but like most other busy working moms I kept procrastinating. I really prefer shopping online because it gives me the added luxury of reading through the reviews and the ability to avoid products with bad reviews. However before I had the chance to even search online, I stumbled upon the Crayola Freezer Pops at my local supermarket. It seemed pretty decent from the look of it, and it wasn't expensive so I thought I had nothing to lose by buying it. 

Within each pack there are three plastic molds in different colors, in the shape of a crayola crayon. The pack also includes a "stand" that helps prop up the popsicles until they are frozen. Once I brought the pack home I washed the molds and decided to experiment with it, I filled one of them,  3/4 of the way with diluted juice and the other two with apple sauce. I put the lids on and placed them in the freezer.

The next day I took them out and offered one to my daughter. My first observation regarding these molds it that they are huge! Which naturally means they make giant popsicles. I understand that the recommended age for this is 4+ however the popsicles are still pretty large even for a four year old!
You can see below, a side by side comparison with an Outshine brand popsiscle and a homemade applesauce popsicle made with the crayola mold. I really can't wrap my mind around the reasoning behind this. This product is marketed for children so I don't see the logic of making the mold so huge.

My husband and I buy the Outshine fruit pops for ourselves, and once in a while my daughter gets to have one. They are the "healthy" option in the frozen dessert aisle.  They have 10 grams of sugar per popsicle, and sugar is not the first ingredient which is pretty darn great compared to most other kiddie pops, but I still don't feel comfortable letting my daughter have these all the time. Which is why I bought the Crayola pop mold. My daughter can easily  finish an Outshine brand popsicle but cannot finish the Crayola ones.  The Outshine pops are 1.5oz each, whilst the Crayola pops are 2.5 oz.

Outshine fruit popsicles
My second issue is that the design is slightly flawed. The mold comes in two parts, the "cup" part that you fill with your liquid/smoothie, and the lid which also becomes the handle for the popsicle once it is frozen.  As you can see from the photos above, the "lid" has an extension, sort of like the wooden stick on a regular popsicle that supports it however every single time my daughter has tried to eat one of these, the top half of the popsicle ends up breaking off because the "stick" in the center isn't long enough/strong enough to support the popsicle properly.

Either way, eating popsicles made from this mold are such a messy, sloppy and wasteful experience that I've scaled back how often I use it. I seriously believe this product needs a redesign!! I'm storing it away for now until she is a little older. In the meantime I finally found a moment to look on Amazon for alternative freezer pop molds and I'm blown away by how many options there are!! This time I'm focusing on the size of the pops and making sure the next brand I try will be a more reasonable size. I'll report back on which brand I decide to try, but most likely that won't be until the weather warms up again!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Super easy apple pie

I promised in my previous post that I would upload the pictures and details of my rushed attempt at an apple pie after our trip to the apple orchard.  I didn't have time or ingredients to make my own pie crust so I decided to use the Pillsbury refrigerated crust and also used their Perfect Apple Pie recipe found on their website and also on the box. It is probably the easiest recipe I've ever tried and I plan to try it again with my own homemade crust soon. The best part of it, is that it doesn't require a lot of ingredients; aside from the apples and the crust, all you need is flour, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and lemon juice.

I started out by peeling and thinly slicing six apples.  Is it sad to admit that I'm somewhat of an apple expert? I can peel, core and slice them up in seconds after making so many batches of apple sauce! When I first started out making apple sauce for my daughter last year I found it a bit tedious peeling, coring and cutting up all the apples so I decided to try the corer & slicer duo shown below by Good Cook

It cores and slices the apple into 8 wedges all at once, which sounds like an excellent time saver in theory, but over time I realized that it was much faster just doing it the old fashioned way with a regular knife and peeler. The corer only works for apples of a specific size and shape and actually ended up being slower in the long run, because more often than not it would not fully remove the core, and it still needed to be peeled.

So when I was making the pie I just used my regular peeler and knife and sliced it as thin as I could be bothered to.

Once I was done slicing them up, I placed them in a gallon size ziploc and added all the other ingredients. I chose to use a lot less sugar than the recipe called for and I decided to use a ziploc bag over a bowl because I felt it was the easier faster option. This also allowed me to store it in the fridge whilst I was figuring out the pie crust.

The premade pie crust is unbelievably easy to use. I just unrolled it and placed it inside the glass pie dish and then poured the apple filling into the dish.

Once I had all the apples in the dish, it seemed that 6 apples were too much for the size of the pie dish, and I thought about scooping some of the filling out out to avoid over stuffing the pie.  But ultimately I decided to leave it alone so I went ahead and put the second layer of crust over the pie and folded it over the bottom layer; sealing in the apple filling. I used a fork to reinforce the edges and then I just hoped for the best.

I planned to use my fork to poke a few holes in the top, but I guess you could say I went a little "fork happy"

Once I was done stabbing the pie a billion times with the fork, I  wrapped the edges of the crust in foil and placed the pie in a preheated oven set to 425F. After about half an hour I removed the foil wrap to allow the edges to brown, and about 15 minutes later I had my very own apple pie!

I really didn't have high expectations for this pie as I didn't put much effort or planning into it, but it was scrumptious! The smell of it alone was worth it; my kitchen smelled amazing for the rest of the day. My daughter was not interested in the pie at all and didn't even want to taste it which worked out great for me. My husband and I on the other hand couldn't get enough of it, I'll absolutely be making this again.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Toddler Activities: Apple picking & pumpkin patch

Although I have my moments when I really miss my daughter being a squishy newborn, I must admit I am really having fun with the toddler phase. Aside from the fact that she loves to say no to ever single thing, it is so much fun to introduce her to new places and new activities. At this stage it doesn't take much for her eyes to light up with excitement and for things to captivate her for hours.  For this reason I'm always open to new ideas of fun activities for us as a family to try.

Once I got over my denial that summer was really over I decided to take her to an apple orchard and try out the apple picking experience. I had heard from other moms that their kids couldn't get enough of this experience and that my daughter would definitely love it. They were right! Its amazing that something as simple as a farm can be so captivating. As usual I researched the heck out all the orchards and farms in my area and decided to pick an orchard that was not too big but still had a lot to offer. This particular orchard had pretty much a little bit of everything, the only thing missing was a corn maze but we were fine with that. The orchard attractions were;

                                                                  A small petting zoo
An apple orchard
Pumpkin patch
Pony rides
A bakery & ice parlor! 

The Apple Orchard

For me this was definitely the main attraction, and my primary reason for wanting to go in the first place.  I needed a large amount of apples to cook up a big batch of apple sauce for my little one and what better place to get apples than straight off the tree! I usually buy them from the farmer's market or from the supermarket, but I'm sure you know that the apples in the store are usually covered in "delicious" chemical preservative sprays and "food grade" vegetable wax to make them look nice and shiny and extend their shelf life.  So during the fall months when the apple harvest is ready, I think its the perfect time to cut out the middle man and pick my own apples.   

Most orchards will provide a daily list of which varieties of apples they have available for picking that day, as some ripen faster than others. On the day we went I was glad that they did have a good variety ready for picking; they had Fuji, Gala and Golden delicious as a well as few others that I wasn't particularly interested in. I really wanted the Fuji apples so I was pleased that most people were flocking to other kinds of apples and we had an entire row of apple trees to ourselves. At my local Shoprite each different type of apple retails for a different prices ranging from $1.69 to about $3.99 per pound,  but at the orchard all the different types were  the same price; $1.89 per pound, which is about 10 cents cheaper than the current price of Fuji apples at my supermarket. Nevertheless it was worth it to me. 

As you can see from the photo above, the apple trees are staked in the such a way that the apples are well within the reach of toddlers and so very easy to pick. My daughter had so much fun picking and packing them away in the bags they provided us with. it was surprisingly a lot more fun than I expected it to be!

Pumpkin patch

For many parents, picking and buying the perfect pumpkin to decorate for Fall/Halloween season is their main reason for visiting a farm at this time of the year. But lets be honest here, if you know anything about me, you'll know I couldn't be any less interested in pumpkins and I definitely am not a fan of halloween. I guess you could call me the scrooge of halloween, I even posted about here. I am not at all motivated to have anything remotely resembling a jack-o-lantern  so I planned to skip the pumpkin altogether.  However when we arrived at the orchard, there were pumpkins everywhere and their bright orange color really captivated my daughter. she wanted to touch them, sit on them and  play with them, so it is a genuine miracle that we were able to leave the farm without buying one. 

I did like the fact that they had all different sizes available and we had the option to either buy one already picked or go out to the patch and pick one ourselves.

The petting zoo
My daughter like all other toddlers her age loves animals, so the petting zoo was great, she got to come close to  few farm animals such as rabbits, ponies, sheep, goats, donkeys and ducks. They also offered carrots for children who wanted to feed the animals. It was fun to see her reaction to the animals and recognize them from out of her little story books.

The hayrides
There is something magical about a hayride to a 2 year old child, even if the ride doesn't lead anywhere special. She enjoyed the bumpy experience and wanted to go on it again and again.

The pony rides.
This particular orchard offered pony rides for $7, I'm not sure if that is a good deal or not but we decided to opt out because she was a little scared of being on the pony alone... we will have to give it a try next time

The bakery & ice cream parlor
This ended up being the best part of our visit! Their freshly baked apple cider donuts were just too awesome to express in words and the smell of all the delicious fruit pies straight out of the oven made me never want to leave! They also had their own homemade ice cream in the most scrumptious flavors!

We walked out of that place with our arms full of the yummiest goodies and once I came home and realized I had bought way more apples than I could ever use in a lifetime I decided to bake my own apple pie too. I chose the lazy option and used a pre-made pie crust by Pillsbury (gasp!) and also used their recipe that came on the box!  It was so much easier than I thought it would be and smelt heavenly, I will post about that next. I plan to try this apple recipe again when I have the time to make my own crust from scratch and I believe that will transform it from a great pie into an awesome pie!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Baby Gear: Infant & Toddler Dental Hygiene

I like to think that I've spent more than my fair share of time in the dreaded dentist chair and I still don't have perfect teeth to show for it; partly because of genetics and partly because of my horrible weakness for sweetness!! So I have always promised myself I would try my best to make sure my kids developed the right dental hygiene from an early stage!

My daughter was less than a week old when we took her for her first ever trip to the pediatrician's office. Among a whole list of advice that we were bombarded with, her pediatrician emphasized the need to clean her mouth on a daily basis even at that early stage. She recommended using a dampened soft muslin cloth wrapped around my finger to gentle clean her gums, tongue and entire mouth. At the time I had just started using the Aden & Anais muslin swaddle blankets and was so in love with how soft they were, so I decided to cut up one of the new blankets and use it as the doctor directed.

As she got a little older I found that using the cloth wasn't as effective as I would like; she mainly wanted to chomp on my finger and wouldn't really let me clean her mouth at all. I started to notice that most baby stores sold some sort of gum and mouth cleanser gel for infants and although I didn't think those were necessary for a young infant, I was especially drawn to the finger brushes that were included with the gum cleansers. I was unreasonably excited by this discovery and I tried to find a finger brush for sale on its own  but couldn't find any at a reasonable price, so I went ahead and bought the Earth's Best Strawberry Banana toothpaste

As you can see from the image above, this toothpaste comes with a "free" gum brush that fits over your finger for easy control to clean a young baby's mouth. Both the paste and brush are advertised as being safe to use for babies who are 6 months and older.  At the time when I bought it my daughter wasn't quite 6 months old yet so my plan was to use the gum brush on it own with water, and hold the toothpaste to the side til she was older and actually had some real teeth to clean.  Imagine my surprise when I opened up the box at home and realized there was no way on earth that I would get the brush to fit into her mouth. It was huge! It is made out of a thick silicone type of material with bristles on one side. and ridges on the other side.  The photo I took below shows a side by side comparison of the Earth's Best finger brush on my index finger and a kiddie toothbrush for  toddlers aged 2-4.  I can't say it enough times, the finger brush is ridiculously huge!

I'm not sure what kind of babies they tried this on but that gum brush is way too large for  a baby's mouth!  It did not fit in my daughters mouth not even when she was 6 months old. Even by the time she was nearly a year old, this particular gum brush was still quite chunky for her mouth!

I threw this into my reject pile temporarily and went back to the drawing board. I decided to try the smaller finger brush that is included in the Infant Tooth & Gum Cleanser by Nuk (Gerber)  I was hesitant to try it because up until that point I had experienced nothing but disappointment from Gerber products, but I thought it was cheap enough to give it a try.

The finger brush was actually perfect!!  It wasn't thick and gigantic like the Earth's Best brand, instead it was soft and flexible and the perfect size for a baby's mouth! Finally something from Gerber I could rave about! I  didn't use the toothpaste that came with it, I just put the brush on my finger, ran it under some water and used it to clean/massage her mouth, tongue and gums. I could definitely see that her tongue looked cleaner after I used it and because she was teething she loved me cleaning her mouth daily!

Once my daughter started eating solid foods and then started sprouting teeth I began using the toothpaste by Earth's Best with the blue finger brush from Gerber twice a day. She totally loved the taste of the Earth's Best toothpaste so we were both pretty happy with it in the beginning. However I started getting frustrated with it for several reasons. Firstly because it had such a gooey and runny consistency that it got really messy to use after a while. Most brands of infant/toddler toothpaste are a clear soft gel, but this particular brand is especially gooey.  In addition even though I was using just a little bit each time, I was still running through tubes of it pretty fast, as each tube contains only 1.6oz. Each time I bought a new one I was forced to get another "free" over sized finger brush that I didn't want!  I also found it hard to find this particular brand in most stores anyway. In fact the only store I have consistently been able to find this toothpaste is at Baby's R Us. And if you know anything about me you will know that is my absolute  least favorite place to shop in the entire world!

I shopped around for another healthy alternative to the the Earth's Best brand, and decided to try the Babyganics Say Aahh Strawberry Toothpaste I had tried their body lotion and sunscreen with great results so  I decided to give it a try.

Firstly I love love love that this comes in a 4oz tube, so I don't have to run out and buy a new tube of toothpaste every five minutes! Secondly it has all the great features that had initially attracted me to the Earth's Best brand but at a better price! The one thing that initially concerned me about this brand is that they don't state a specific age that their products are geared towards. The only reference to age on the packaging is on the outer box which says the gel is great for whether you have just one tooth or a lot of teeth. I must say I wasn't  impressed with the vagueness and I'm simply not the mom that has time for cutesy ways of getting around liability! Dear Kevin & Keith can you please put an actual age recommendation on the package so busy moms like myself can use your product without losing out peace of mind! 

Once my daughter turned a year old, I decided to switch her to a regular toothbrush, much like the finger brushes, most early stage toothbrushes are sold as a combo pack with a training toothpaste. So once again I was forced to buy a toothpaste full of chemicals that I didn't want,  just so I could get the toothbrush!!  I bought the Colgate  0-2 year toothbrush and paste starter kit. I gotta say I was excited about it! My little baby was going to use a real toothbrush! Especially since it had felt like an eternity just waiting for her to finally sprout some teeth!

Whilst I was really excited about this transition, my daughter was not pleased at all! She did not like the toothbrush one bit and wouldn't open her mouth for it , not even for a second. So for a while I had no other choice but to continue using the finger brush. I tried every trick in the book, but she would not open her mouth!  This was until I discovered the YouTube video of Elmo, Bruno Mars, Nicole Kidman, and several other celeb guests singing about brushing their teeth.

She has been a big Elmo fan almost from birth so I knew it would be worth a try! Sure enough after letting her watch the video a few times she couldn't get enough of brushing her teeth! Now I find myself randomly humming this whilst I'm brushing my teeth too!

We quickly made it part of her daily routine, to brush once in the morning and once at night before bed. I still was worried about her teeth developing correctly because of the whole debate about fluoride Whilst many pediatricians recommend fluoride supplements for toddlers, there are many dentists that advise that toddlers do not need any fluoride and that too much fluoride can cause just as much issues as not enough fluoride.  Some moms I knew were going out of their way to buy water with added fluoride, whilst others were avoiding drinking their tap water because it had too much!
I didn't want to make the wrong decision but I also didn't feel comfortable giving my daughter the fluoride supplements that her pediatrician recommended. This was my reasoning; if fluoride is so important for toddlers why is it that all the toddler toothpastes are boasting"fluoride free"? I contacted my local water department to find out how much fluoride we have in our tape water and was told, our town was proud to have no fluoride in the tap water. Confusing right? Because some towns are equally proud to have added fluoride in their tap water! I decided the best thing was to call in the experts, I asked her pediatrician for  recommendation for a pediatric dentist and I booked an appointment. I thought that they were the best people who could look at my daughters teeth and tell us if they were being cleaned properly and if we needed to change anything in our routine

My husband took her to their appointment and told me that it went well for the most part! She received a very generous goodie bag full of fun things for her to play with as well as few samples for us to try out. Best of all we got the peace of mind we wanted. The pediatric dentist confirmed that we should continue with our twice a day brushing sessions, and  that she would be find without the fluoride until she was a little older!

Once she turned two years old, we switched over to the next set of toothbrushes for ages 2-4 and also started buying Fun flossers by Dentek because she sometimes gets food stuck in her teeth. I actually have to hide the pack from her because she is a little too excited by it, I believe the fruit flavor of the floss makes her think its some kind of a treat! The great thing about the Dentek kiddie floss is that because of the shape of the handle, she is able to use it herself!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Upgrading to the Contigo water bottle

When my daughter was 6months old, we introduced the Zoli straw sippy cup. I initially loved the Zoli cup but over time I got a bit frustrated with certain things about it, although we continued to use it until just past her second birthday. I had two main issues with the Zoli cup, firstly after a while it leaks excessively; not because of the seal on the cup but rather because of the bot straw. The straw randomly just leaks, and can empty out the entire cup even whilst the cup is sitting upright. Secondly the silicone straw constantly needs to be replaced and a replacement set of straws costs $12 for a three pack; that definitely adds up over time.

Not too long after her second birthday, my daughter went out on a play date with a couple of her best buddies from daycare and I noticed that the one of the other moms had the Contigo water bottle. I was immediately impressed with it! The water bottle is simple and easy to use, even for a toddler. It has a carry handle and a 100% leak proof seal. Not even a drop leaks out, not matter how you shake it. This water bottle features a spout that pops out with a simple touch of a button and easily folds away when not in use. My little girl figured it out within a few minutes.

The Contigo has a 14oz capacity so it doesn't need to be refilled constantly, the recommended age for it is 3+ and it is BPA free. This water bottle comes apart into three main pieces; the lid, the bottle and the inner straw.  It is pretty straight forward to clean and I am so glad I do not have to deal with leaky sippy cups any longer!

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Baby book in the making

I guess you could call it the natural consequence of being a self-confessed DIY addict, but I always have a mental list of projects that I intend to get started on.  During my pregnancy I knew without any doubt in my mind that I would be making her a baby book. For those that might be new to this, a baby book is basically a scrap book filled with photos, memories and mementos of her baby years. I was torn though, on trying to decide what type of baby book to go for. I considered making my own from scratch using a blank scrap book,  or alternatively I could buy a baby book that already had a fixed template so all I would need to do was fill in the blanks.  I'm sure you can imagine that making my own baby book from scratch would be my first choice but then I kept procrastinating on actually getting started on it.

Then I stumbled upon a few loose leaf baby books and I realized that they  would be the perfect compromise for me. A loose leaf baby book is in the style of a ring binder, with hole punched pages. This would give me the freedom to rearrange the pages, add in extra pages or remove pages I didn't like. It also meant that in the future I could simply take out all the pages and put it into a scrap book of my choosing. Could it be anymore perfect for me? I think not!  Loose leaf baby books are usually a bit more expensive than baby books with a regular binding but I think the benefits of the loose leaf binding are so worth it!

After shopping around for a while I came to the conclusion that I preferred the baby books by CR Gibson the best. Although I am not into pink and ultra feminine trims, I still fell in love with the Bella Loose leaf baby book by CR Gibson

This baby book comes in a gift box which doubles as a storage box. It has a picture window frame on the front cover and pearlized pages in white and pink paper, with decorative accents. Each of its 60 pages has a heading or easy to follow template as shown below. This guides you on what information to fill in and where to place photos.

It also has some blank pages in the back as well as clear sheet protectors for storing letters, cards and other keepsake paperwork such as ultrasound prints.I ordered it online and my number one concern was that it wouldn't look as good in person as it did online, but when I received it, it was even better in person!

She brings tons of art work home from daycare on a daily basis which I keep stored in a box for the meantime but every now and then she brings home something especially touching like the valentine's day card shown above and then I add that to her baby book. I also save all the cards  and letters she receives from family and friends. I am sure she would love to read them all some day!

In addition to that, I try to make the time to fill in the rest of her baby book by adding pictures, important dates and funny stories. I know it seems time consuming but it doesn't have to be.  I work on it at my own pace and its really beautiful to see her baby book progressing into a memorable work of art!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Adventures in toddler foods: Strawberry compote

Strawberry compote is essentially a strawberry sauce commonly used as a filling or topping for  cheesecakes and other yummy desserts. Some brands of yogurt even have a separate compartment with a fruit compote that can be mixed in just before you consume it, such as the Muller Corner brand.

Muller Corner yogurt

Since my daughter first began eating yogurt at 7 months, I have tried as much as possible to always give her plain yogurt with fresh fruit or homemade fruit purees mixed in, to avoid all the unnecessary added sugars, artificial colors and additives in commercially flavored yogurt. I experimented my "home flavored yogurts" with many different fruits such as apples, pears, banana, blueberries, peaches even papaya but for some reason I was hesitant to try strawberries. I introduced raw strawberries to her after she turned a year old and she loved them but I never tried cooking them and mixing them into her yogurt. I fell into a comfortable routine of alternating, pear puree, apple sauce or fresh crushed blueberries as those seemed to be her predictable favorites.One afternoon I realized I had ran out of all my regular 'go to' fruits for her yogurt but had lots of strawberries in the fridge. I had two options, I could either go all the way to store to buy some apples, pears or blueberries, or I could make the best of the strawberries I had. It seemed like as good a time as any to give it a shot.

I started by washing and cutting up the strawberries, now in hindsight I realize I probably should have chopped them up much smaller, to avoid having big chunks of fruit in the compote. I then placed them in the pan and added a tiny sprinkle of sugar.

I usually don't add any sugar to my fruit purees but decided to add a tiny bit because I worried that the strawberry compote might be too sharp and sour for her. I don't think the little sugar I added made much of a difference and next time I won't add any. At first the strawberries in the pan just sizzled for a while but with time the juice from the fruit stared oozing out and I began to see the compote starting to form.

Once I realized that the chunks were a bit large I used my potato masher to smash them a bit whilst still in the pan over a low heat. I must admit it smelt so good I just wanted to chill it and pour it over cheesecake.

 If I was making this for a cake filling or dessert topping I would have added vanilla for extra flavor but I didn't do that in this case.

I chose not to put it in the blender because I wanted to  keep the chunky texture, so I just allowed i to cool down and then poured it into jars to be later mixed in with her yogurt. she truly loved it! I later used some of it in a smoothie for her with pineapple and frozen banana and it was honestly scrumptious!!

I am not sure why I waited so long to try this, it was by far a lot easier and faster than some of the other fruit I cook up for her. I will definitely make more of this for her yogurt as well as for my desserts.