Sunday, July 13, 2014

Set Phasers to Maximum Geek (or Advanced Freezer Management)

Last night, scraping the bottom of the fridge for dinner, I came up with a winner: Pea Frittata with Mint and Feta, with toast. I won't report the whole recipe here because it's fairly self-explanatory, but it got me thinking about Freezer Management and how helpful a well-stocked freezer can be. I tend to go in phases with my freezer inventory, and I'm forever forgetting and then re-discovering clever freezer strategies, so I figure it's high time to write some things down for myself (and you! everything is for you, dear reader).

There are a lot of time-saving freezer tips out there, most of which involve freezing completed (or almost-completed) dishes. The most extreme of these is Once a Month Cooking, or OAMC to its hard-core fans. These dedicated individuals cook twenty or thirty dinners in a day or two, load up the freezer, and then only have to thaw and cook for the rest of the month. This works well for some people, but it sounds kind of dreary to me, not to mention the freezer space it must require. My freezer philosophy borrows from the good old Minimum Inventory, Maximum Diversity, which I learned about in design school. The theory is that a few well-designed parts can be combined in multiple ways, resulting in many different products. So, ideally, anything that's given a spot in my freezer's Permanent Collection should have the potential to be a part of lots of different meals. I can cook according to whim, season, weather and pantry. The other main theory behind my freezer inventory is The Sale. If there's a good deal on some kind of meat, I stock up in a big way, and eventually end up with a diverse collection of meal-starters. Here are the ingredients and methods that have served me the best over the years:

Plastic tubs
I generally avoid plastics and food these days, but the freezer is one place where the utility of plastic outweighs my fear of it. Tapered plastic tubs (like you get yogurt or sour cream or takeout soup in) are great, mainly because of their shape. The truncated cone is made for the freezer. Being larger at the opening and smaller at the base, it can release frozen food without a lot of tedious thawing. Just run the tub under warm water to loosen things up, then squeeze out the block of whatever-it-is and proceed. This makes frozen food nearly as useful as fresh food for last-minute cooking. The only other thing you need is good labels: tape and a sharpie works for me.

Cookie sheet and waxed paper
Freezing things separately and then, once they're frozen, putting them all together in a plastic freezer bag makes them easier to use than freezing stuff in one huge lump that has to be thawed all at once. The cookie sheet is self-explanatory, and the waxed paper (a double layer) keeps the stuff from freezing to the sheet. This works well for gobs of cookie dough, fresh sausages, berries, single-serving lumps of pureed vegetables, and other things that will be used in small amounts or specific units.

Chicken Bombs
Chopped, cooked chicken packed tightly into plastic tubs, with chicken broth poured over to keep out the freezer burn. A chicken bomb can be turned into soup or curry or chicken pot pie or tacos or quesadillas or chicken salad or any other dish you can think of that uses cooked chicken. And you're clever, so you can think of a lot.

Homemade Chicken Broth
The trick here is to cook the broth down to quadruple strength (or even more). Let it cool and solidify in the fridge in one of those handy tubs, then pop out the chicken jello (mmm!). Since it's homemade and super-condensed, it'll be very firm. Cut it into hunks and freeze the hunks on a (waxed-papered) cookie sheet, and then into a freezer bag. This saves a lot of freezer space, and means you can use it either diluted for soup or a little, full-strength, for a sauce. Or, if you have more freezer room than time, freeze the broth regular strength in a plastic tub.

Curry (or Stew)
Most of the time and effort of curry and stew is in the browning of the meat and onions and the long simmering. The vegetables are quicker and easier to cook, and I'm likely to have some things on hand that can go into a curry at the last minute (including frozen vegetables). So I've started making a big batch of meat-and-onions-only curry, enough for four or five dinners. This saves space in the freezer, and I can prep vegetables (and/or clean out the fridge) while the chunk of frozen curry heats up on the stove. Just remember to divide and freeze it in one-family-dinner-sized portions.

Individually frozen on a cookie sheet, then bagged. I generally make soup with sausages, but they're flexible too. The trick is in the individual freezing, and the fact that sausages are pre-seasoned, pre-cleaned, pre-portioned meat.

Really Good Bread
Our local bakery sells large chewy, rustic rolls that are just the right size for two people. I freeze five or six at a time, and use them one by one. It does help to thaw them for a couple hours first, and then here's the trick: preheat the oven to 400, run the bread under water briefly (just to wet the outside) and then bake for 10 minutes. The crust will be restored to its just-baked glory, and you'll have what seems like freshly baked excellent bread for dinner.

The Good Frozen Vegetables
There are some truly terrible frozen vegetables that will make you feel as though meal-replacement drinks are a good idea. But persevere! At least in our area, there's one particular brand of broccoli that is really excellent, a different brand of green beans, almost any brand of corn, and ditto peas. Frozen kale and collards are a huge time-saver over fresh, and perfectly delicious in the right preparation (well-cooked, well-chopped). I've never had good frozen peppers, onions, or asparagus, and despite seeing frozen artichoke hearts in several recipes, I've never seen them in a store. Good frozen vegetables are a life-saver. They're just as nutritious as fresh (sometimes more so), often cheaper, and keep for months rather than days, so they're much less likely to turn into expensive sludge in the bottom of the fridge.

In the warmer months, any leftover fruit, odd ends of juices, the last inch of ice cream, leftover whipped cream, and any browning bananas often get blended together and frozen (along with a couple big spoonfuls of yogurt) in popsicle molds. The only caveats are: don't mix your purple fruits and your orange fruits (no one likes a brown fruit popsicle), and chocolate syrup doesn't freeze unless it's mixed in.

Summer Freezer/Winter Freezer
Turnover is an important part of freezer management, and I use the change of seasons to help me remember. My summer freezer is for popsicles, quick-cooking vegetables, ice packs for picnics, and the pinnacle of delicious and practical food-gineering: the ice cream sandwich (no bowls! no spoons! single serving!). My winter freezer is for broth, soups, stews and chili. As the weather turns, I try to plan some meals to use up the freezer stash and make room for some fresh stuff. Freezer-as-time-machine only works for so long, before freezer burn catches up with you.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Salmon Curry with Vegetables

This gets full marks in all the important categories: tasty, quick, frugal, healthy, and sustainable. The only hurdle, for people unfamiliar with canned salmon, is the horrific sight that confronts you when you open the can. There is slimy skin, there is mysterious orange oil floating on top of a grey liquid that smells of cheap cat food, and there are bones that look like they'd be more comfortable in a natural history museum. But persevere! Canned salmon is generally (always?) wild caught from sustainable fisheries, it's full of healthy fats, and those creepy bones are soft enough to eat. Just crush them between your fingers and throw them into the mix. They're a great source of calcium. The omega-3-full orange oil should get used too, so don't pour off the liquid. It mixes right into the curry sauce.

Salmon Curry with Vegetables
serves three or four

4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1 tablespoon oil
2 tsp curry powder

1 15-oz can coconut milk

1 tablespoon fish sauce (or more to taste)
1 tablespoon lime juice (or more to taste)
2 tsp sugar

1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and chopped (2 or 3 cups)
one red pepper, chopped

one bunch of scallions, chopped
1 7-oz can red salmon (skin chopped up, bones squished into bonemush, flesh gently flaked)

Heat your largest frying pan. Fry the garlic and ginger in the oil. Once it's soft and fragrant, add the curry powder and let it toast in the oil for a few minutes, until it's a little darker. Stir in the coconut milk, fish sauce, lime juice, and sugar.

Let it reduce a little bit while you prep the vegetables. Once you're practically ready to eat, heat the sauce to a wild boil, and toss in the asparagus. Once it's heated through, toss in the red pepper. Once that's hot, stir in the salmon and scallions. Serve with rice.

Going Out For Lunch! Or, Fish Cakes

Step One: Give up eating meat for Lent (fish is okay).

Step Two: Find yourself (with spouse and child) downtown at lunchtime, chilly and peckish.

Step Three: Try to find a place that is open, has some food that includes a pescatarian option, and is willing and able to cook and sell this food.

Step Four: Give up on Step Three. For extra credit, avoid familial squabbles!

Step Five: Take the bus home and make fish cakes for lunch.

Easy Fish Cakes
1/2 lb mild white fish, cooked and flaked
1/3 cup panko
2 teaspoons fish sauce
1 egg
1/4 tsp garlic powder

Combine, form into small cakes, and fry in a little oil until golden brown. Eat with leftover sauteed greens, avocado slices, and peanut sauce. Vow to never again eat restaurant food.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Noisy Village Dumplings

Cleo likes to listen to audio books when she's sick. Well, she likes to listen to one audio book: Astrid Lindgren's The Children of Noisy Village. After listening to the whole two-hour book as many times as she's had a cold this winter (so, so many times), I suggested a few other options.

No. Noisy Village or nothing. So, by now, I could probably recite the whole thing from memory. Let's see... "My name is Lisa, and I am nine years old. I am a girl, which you can tell by my name." I could go on. I will not. It's a sweet story, about six Swedish children growing up in the countryside and their antics and accomplishments.

In one chapter, there's a dramatic snow storm, through which the children must walk home from school. They struggle through the snow, get rescued in a horse-drawn sleigh, and go home for hot beef broth and dumplings. This inspired Cleo's first book-induced food craving. She requested it for dinner, with great enthusiasm and shining eyes, and (with the help of the internet, the freezer and the pantry) we were eating it a couple hours later.

I guess Swedish dumplings are usually potato-based, but I was limited to flour-and-egg dumplings, so I tracked down and adapted this recipe. I doubt there's anything Swedish about it, but it was delicious, frugal, easy, and a great parent-child kitchen project (especially if you use a plastic pizza wheel to cut the dough). They're like thick, chewy, tender noodles. I have no idea how they are the next day, since we inhaled them.

Flat Dumplings for Soup
serves two or three

1.25 cups white whole wheat flour, plus extra for rolling out
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs
4 tablespoons oil
3 tablespoons water

In a big bowl, beat together eggs, oil, water, and salt. Add the flour and mix to make a sticky dough. Chill one hour (next time, I'm skipping this step, just in the interests of research). Put a large pot of salted water on to boil. Meanwhile, sprinkle a large cutting board with flour. Dust the dough with flour, and divide it in two. Using half the dough at a time, gently spread/stretch/roll the dough out on the cutting board to about 1/8" thick. Cut the dough into little pieces-- ours were about 1/4" by an inch or two. Variations in size seemingly had no effect on quality, so put down your ruler and go nuts with the pizza wheel. Gently slide the dumplings off the board and into the boiling water, and cover. Boil 8-10 minutes, then scoop out the finished dumplings. Repeat with the other half of the dough. I held the finished dumplings in ice water until the soup was ready for them, and that worked well. Next time, I might skip that step (again, research/laziness).

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Days These Days: Four and a Half

Another year, another blog post. How do I maintain this punishing schedule of constant updates? Yes. Well. Hello, there.

I realized the other day, after wondering to myself what had happened to my blog, that parenting used to be physically grueling. It's manual labor, caring for infants and toddlers, and so much of what you do is repetitive, exhausting, unrelenting, and tedious. There's profound sweetness and love in there too, of course, but it doesn't require that much of the talky/write-y parts of the brain. It's about half sheer physical work and half heady, all-consuming love. While I was doing that kind of parenting, my verbal brain was looking for an outlet. My dear stalwart husband got all the paranoid hypothetical questions about child development (or lack thereof), my cadre of mom-friends got all the commiserating about input and output (ahem), but I had all these sentences and paragraphs growing up in my brain that had nowhere else to go. When I sat down to write in those days, it was like turning on a tap. The water pressure was there, waiting. Or maybe it was more like weeding a garden. It was ready to be picked, to be yanked out and bagged up, to be said and spelled and written.

Parenting a four year old, though, exercises every bit of my verbal brain. Life is conversation, conjecture, evaluation, and an endless series of what-ifs. At the end of the day, when everyone but me is sleeping, what I most want is to Not Talk. To finally stop expressing myself. To absorb a little frivolous information from the internet, to read a tiny little bit of some neglected novel, to drink a whole cup of tea while it's still hot, and then to go to sleep. This is not a recipe for frequent blog updates.

So, in the interests of better-late-than-never, or maybe better-done-than-perfect, here's where we are these days.

4:00 The Dada of the House gets up and goes upstairs to his office. He does this so that he can get some work done at an hour when no one will call him, no one will have a dentist appointment, no client will have a crisis, and no one will need any forts built out of the couch cushions. He likes it, he says, and it works out really well. The hardest part, apparently, is going to bed early enough. The second hardest part is getting up at four AM. Other than that, it's great. I sleep through all this quite soundly.

5:15 Cleo wakes up. She has been instructed to snuggle with her guys (large rabbit, small rabbit, clown, giraffe, fox, turtle), close her eyes, and try to get back to sleep. This usually works.

5:45 Cleo wakes up again and plays quietly until it's officially morning at 6:30. Today it was explained to her that "playing quietly" (already established: not knocking down block towers or jumping off the bed) should not include a jaunty version of London Bridge is Falling Down over and over for forty minutes. The gleeful phrase "take the key and lock 'im up" is now seared into my subconscious. That will be what they find me humming in my wheelchair in the nursing home.

6:30 Cleo and Dada head downstairs for breakfast-- it's usually rice and eggs, oatmeal, or homemade granola these days. After a few rounds of domestic diplomacy, it was determined that he would handle breakfast, pack a school lunch when necessary, and generally do all AM feeding and cleaning while I would sleep in and stumble out of bed in time to heave myself and Cleo into the car for the trip to preschool. In exchange for this, I do both drop-off and pick-up every school day. We arrived at this arrangement after we realized that my idea of hell was packing school lunches twice a week and his idea of hell was driving to school and back, ever. A sweet deal for everyone, I think. But these things are always up for negotiation. Next year, School Bus. Gasp.

7:40 I get out of bed, dress with at least one eye open, and then we head to the car. Cleo runs laps around the car while I unlock my door, poke the main unlock button, close my door, and open her door. Between my slowness and her fleetness of foot, she generally manages three or four laps. She's been up for two hours. I've been up for two minutes. During the drive, we discuss traffic laws, whether or not anyone around us is speeding, which intersections are tricky intersections, the weather forecast, the chances they will play outside at school, whether today is Library, Music or Gym, and the state of the sky as we drive over the bridge. We often agree that it is beautiful.

8:00 We arrive at preschool along with everyone else, a small, dusty hatchback in a herd of glossy, muscular SUVs. I forfeit the game of slow-motion parking lot rugby, and park on the street. We walk in, and it melts my mother heart that Cleo still chooses to hold my hand and walk with me, rather than running ahead. She stows her gear (snow pants, boots, library book, lunch, sweater) and gallops off to play. Her world this year is more gendered than she's been used to, with The Girls and The Boys really dividing themselves into little gangs. We hear a few tiny little bits about how she's navigating this. "Cleo's the only girl who will play Star Wars!" and "Cleo's the funniest person I know!" and "I hate girls. Except Cleo." All quotes from boys in her class, reported by their parents. She's also starting to get more interested in clothes and "beautiful" things (where beautiful=pink or purple or embellished with flowers), but it's clear that she's investigating that almost anthropologically. If left to her own devices, she will pick very colorful clothes and toys, with no thought to matching or conventional girliness. When she's tuning in to other people and social environments, she will request or admire pink/purple/sparkly things. It's hard to know how to support both her individuality and her very human desire to fit in with what she sees around her. My main strategy is to not take her shopping with me if possible, so that I can buy colorful, fun clothes for her that don't strictly adhere to the conventional feminine aesthetic, and she can weigh in on what she wants to wear from those choices. And the less "Daddy's Little Princess" clothing she sees, the better. Oof. It's only eight AM, and we're already into gender roles and aesthetics.

Better done than perfect did I say? I'm going to wrap this up so it doesn't linger in "Drafts" for six months.

1:00 School Pick Up, come home, see Dada, snack.

2:00 Snack, a little playing, naptime. Yes! She is still napping. At an age when almost all of her age-mates have stopped napping, she still totally zonks out for a solid hour or two in the middle of the day. Occasionally I gripe about how this cramps our style socially, but Cleo's beloved babysitter, who has her finger on the pulse of four year olds across the city, advised that we keep it up as long as possible. Her tales of afternoon woe and malfeasance among the napless were sobering. So, yes, Cleo still naps. We will wean her off of it right before kindergarten next fall, if necessary.

5:00 I get home, Cleo's dear Dada goes back to his office to complete his fourteen hour workday (with "breaks" for meals and childcare). Man, I'm impressed with that guy. He always responds to my statements to that effect by saying that he's only trying to be the man I deserve. He's overshooting the mark by quite a bit, I think. Cleo and I have an hour and a half to make dinner, play, read books, and possibly enter into video negotiations. Two smiley faces on the chart equals two 12-minute episodes of Busytown Mysteries. The latest development: cleaning up the whole living room (toy central) completely independently without being asked earns an unprecedented three smiley faces.

6:30 Dinner. Cleo remains a good eater, especially if I've been a hardass and not let her snack on demand in the hour before we sit down. For support, I channel my dear grandmother, who would sweetly tell her four daughters that of course they could have a snack before dinner-- there are some lovely celery and carrot sticks all ready in the fridge. In Cleo's case, I give her a choice of apple slices or carrot sticks, which is usually met with a grumpy, "I changed my mind. I don't want a snack" and a little stomping, before she forgets why she was grumpy and goes back to skipping.

7:30 Bedtime routine: Dada brushes teeth, then I step in for pajamas, story, song, and negotiations. These usually end by 8:15 at the latest, and she chats and sings to herself for a little while before nodding off. She's been in a twin bed for a while now, and is all done with night time diapers, accidents, falling out of bed, and pacifiers (cold turkey, with notice, on her fourth birthday). The only thing that gets us up at night anymore is the very occasional bloody nose or throw up, and that could happen to anyone. It seemed to take forever while we were living through it, but now it feels like middle-of-the-night parenting was just another phase we got through.

10:50 (right now) Holy moley. It is late. Good night.

Thursday, April 05, 2012


I have to confess: I've been giddily over-shopping for Cleo's Easter basket. There are multiple bunnies, many grams of high-fructose corn syrup, and shreds of blue excelsior that are destined to live forever in the fibers of our dining room rug. There are also two new dresses, and even a matching dress for Baby Cousin who we're not seeing until May. Even after a mild winter, there's something that happens in my brain when spring comes and Easter gets close: "Eeeeeee! Little girls in white tights! Colored eggs! Those insanely cute mini daffodils!"

I need to do a little deep breathing. And then I need to put away all the groceries in the world, that are currently waiting for me on the kitchen floor (lamb! asparagus! dozens of eggs! heavy cream!). Happy Spring, everyone.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Happy Halloween

Cleo went as a lamb. I was mutton dressed as lamb. Okay, a mama sheep. Very close.

This afternoon, as I was singing her to sleep for her nap, we had this exchange:

Cleo: "Next Howlaween, I want to dress up as Dark Vader, okay?"
Me: "Um, sure, sweetie. That's fine" (pause) "Do you know someone who dressed up as Darth Vader this year?"
Cleo, breathily, impressed: "Ian!"

So, there you go. Innocent lamb one minute, wooed by the dark side (boys!) the next. Babyhood is quite definitely over.

Friday, February 04, 2011

This One's For You, Sprout

One of my dear sisters-in-law has just managed to leave her beloved Egypt (with her husband, mother and two small children). Her fortitude, resourcefulness, and bravery are remarkable, and her fellow Egyptians who are fighting for their freedom are just as impressive. If you live in the US, please take a moment to urge the White House to keep up the pressure on Mubarak to step down immediately. Here are phone numbers:

Comments: 202-456-1111
Switchboard: 202-456-1414
FAX: 202-456-2461

Another of my dear sisters-in-law is outdoing even The Great Kingsolver in finding ways to eat locally, sustainably, and deliciously. They're making their own cured meat! From their own lovingly-raised animals! And what are you doing this week?

And my third dear sister-in-law is not only getting her PhD in General Awesomeness and Smartitude (or something like that), she's making a brand new human being. Inside her very own body! From scratch! It's mind-blowing. 

Which brings me to my two points today. One: I am related to amazing women. Two: I have a lot of opinions about baby gear. My pregnant sister-in-law just asked for some advice in the gear and stuff department, and I figured a blog response, with its linkable links and searchable terms, might be the most convenient way to reply. So, for you, dear mother-to-be of my niece or nephew Sprout, are my best gear tips:

Ergo Baby Carrier. We started using this as soon as Cleo could hold her head up, and she's still comfy in it at age two and a half. It's flexible, adjustable, comfortable, and sturdy. However, for the first few months, we only used...

The Moby Wrap. I LOVED the Moby wrap. For the whole first year, I could wrap Cleo up snugly next to me-- we used three or four different positions as she got bigger and stronger and heavier. When she was small and slept a lot, I could actually work with her in there! I adored it, and so did Cleo. But not all kids like being that confined. I wouldn't buy it until after the baby's born, so you can tell if Sprout is a "wrap-me-upper" or a "don't-fence-me-inner"

Aden and Anais swaddling blankets. Cleo loved being swaddled, and it calmed her right down. These blankets are thin, soft, and very big. We loved them and used them constantly. I feel like I could still swaddle a newborn in my sleep. And will do so if asked!

Nosefrida and saline spray. Cleo doesn't exactly liked being squirted up the nose and then hoovered out, but it sure helps with stuffiness. Way better than the bulb syringes.

Baby Bjorn bouncer. She slept in this at night for the first few months, when she wasn't in our bed or her cradle. I have a clear memory of hanging one arm off the side of the bed, so I could bounce her as I "slept." We liked this one, but there are lots of baby bouncers and there's no need to spend this much. The major benefit of this one is it's foldability and non-cutesy style. I also hear raves about battery-powered baby swings, but we never got one.

A travel bed/bassinet/moses basket. This one is fantastic-- lightweight, folds down to travel, can have rocker-legs or sit flat on the floor, has a sunshade, and the handle folds down. Ours was a gift from the grandparents that Sprout and Cleo have in common, and is yours if you want it!

Baby Bjorn travel bed. When Sprout's a little bigger, this is the travel bed to get. It's like a pack-and-play except lighter, simpler, more compact, less dumb and more good in every way. And we have used both. There's one you can test drive at the grandparents' house. 

The great stroller issue... We started out with a snap-n-go, which is a frame that you just plop the infant car seat into. It worked great, and was way cheaper than the infant carrier conversion kit that our fancy stroller was made for. Speaking of the fancy stroller, I love it. It has gotten a beating over the last two and a half years, and I'm only now starting to wish we'd treated it nicer (we tend to leave it out on the porch, and the sliding mechanism is getting a little sticky). The only drawbacks are that there's not much cargo space, and it's so not a one-handed fold/unfold. But I love that it stands alone while folded, and its maneuverability and ability to handle rough terrain are awesome. It's also compact and lightweight for how big and sturdy it is. If you use disposable diapers, this is a great way to get them. Free quick shipping and good prices. Or look into the Amazon Subscribe and Save program, where the diapers are slightly cheaper, and you sign up for regular deliveries.

The exercise/yoga/pilates ball. This saved our lives. We loved it so much, we traveled with one. If Cleo was overtired, it never failed for us hold her tight, bounce really hard, sing really loud, and just outlast her. It also makes a good footstool to use with...

A glider. They are big, ugly, and expensive. But if you ever end up holding Sprout during naps, it will make you cry tears of gratitude if you can put your feet up, lay your head back, and snooze a little too. We used our (hideous, hand-me-down, four-babies-and-counting) glider with strategically placed small pillows to make everyone really comfortable and secure. Most gliders can either rock or be locked in position. That was a nice feature, since you could lock it in a semi-reclined position, for maximum parental comfort. And yes, I'm sure someone at the AAP is getting hives since I talked about nodding off in a chair while holding a child. It worked for us. I do not guarantee that it's a sensible idea for anyone else.

Sleep sacks and a space heater. We keep our house cold at night, but we want the good old baby to be warm. What to do? She's not exactly a pro at keeping a blanket on, so once she graduated from swaddling (six months? eight?), we moved on to the sleep sack. She did recently discover how to unzip it, and also how to unsnap all four thousand snaps on her pajamas. The adorable/pathetic result of this is that when we checked on her before going to bed ourselves, we found her huddled in the corner of her crib, sound asleep, naked except for her diaper. Poor kid. I picked her up, re-pajama-ed her, and put her back down. She barely woke up. The next night, we told her that we had a special new way to put on her sleepy suit! Backwards! How funny! Works great.

An infant nail clipper is not necessary. You can just bite 'em off until you're comfortable using grownup clippers, and you can be much more precise and gentle with your teeth than with a fiddly little tool.

If Sprout uses a pacifier, you might want a night time pacifier retention device. We made our own by securely sewing one of these pacifiers to the hand of one of these bunnies.

Cotton flannel wipes. When I thought we were going to do cloth diapers, we got a supply of these. We ending up going with disposable diapers, but those wipes have been great for spit ups, highchair wipe downs, hand wipes, face wipes, nose blows, etc. They're sturdy, soft, washable, and plentiful. We probably put a dozen in every load of hot white laundry we do. So 12 or 18 wipes should do it, if you want to always be able to grab one.

See Kai Run shoes. These are expensive, but awesome. Cheap kids shoes are a terrible thing: stiff, slippery, crappy, pinchy, bad (one exception: we found some comfy Ugg-style winter boots at Target). Scrimp on the baby clothes, where there are lots of great ways and places to save. But go for the good stuff with shoes. My advice is to let the grandparents and aunts and uncles know that shoes are an excellent gift and here's the size we need right now. These shoes were Cleo's first. Sigh.

A white noise machine. We only started using this later, maybe around a year or eighteen months, but it really helped Cleo keep sleeping once she was asleep.

The Green Light! Again, a bigger-kid item, but it has saved us from the horror of waking up every morning at 4:15. You set the clock so it lights up at the appointed wake-up time, and explain the the little dear that morning does not begin until that light comes on. Before that, it's time for sleeping.

Sippy cups. These are for older kids, obviously, but learn from us: pick one kind of inexpensive and widely available cup, and stick to that. Otherwise, you'll have an avalanche of mismatched plastic and silicon parts threatening to engulf your kitchen and you can never find the right damn part when you need it. Most are BPA-free now, and if you don't put them in the dishwasher and you replace them when they start to look worn, I think the health risks of plastic are pretty well minimized. We like the kind linked above since they don't leak, and they only have three parts, unlike some that have up to seven parts per cup.