Monday, September 17, 2012

Adventures in Cloth Diapering: The Post about Stripping

Trust me, this post isn't as scandalous as the title makes it sound.

When I first started researching about cloth diapers,  I kept coming across the term "stripping diapers". I had no idea what that meant, so, as with many things, I asked my mom (who had cloth diapered me and my three younger brothers). She had no idea, either.

I did some reading and found out that diapers occasionally need to be "stripped" to remove hard water buildup, detergent residue, and other oils from diaper ointments, lotions, etc. Mom had never heard of stripping diapers because she only used the old-fashioned 100% cotton prefolds (the best kind, in my humble opinion), washed them with detergent and a little bleach, and dried them on the clothesline. Stripping is mostly necessary for diapers with microfleece (and other synthetic materials) and diapers and/or inserts made with hemp.  Build-up isn't as much of a problem with diapers made with cotton or bamboo.

My next question: when do you do it? The same answer kept coming up: when the diapers get really stinky. This seemed a little confusing. I thought, don't dirty diapers always stink?  Then when I started cloth diapering, I realized that they don't really stink all that much, especially if you use Bac-Out on them and keep them in a good diaper pail . Granted, if you let them sit in the diaper pail for days, then they'll stink.

But then the day came when they really started to stink. Not so much in a gross, poopy kind of way, but an overpowering, make-your-eyes-water ammonia smell. It was bad. Plus, they weren't absorbing as well as they had before.  It was then I knew it was time to strip the diapers. (For other ways to tell if your diapers need stripping, check out this funny video. Oh, how I can relate...)

I read all sorts of methods to do this, among them boiling them in a pot on the stove or washing them in a bathtub.  Here are the two ways I went about stripping my baby's diapers; one of them did the job.

Attempt #1 -- RLR

As I read about the different diapering stripping methods, I kept reading about a product called RLR . It's not a bleach or soap or anything -- it just a powder you add to your laundry that is supposed to lift detergent residue, mineral build-ups, and other particles in material. Lots of people swore by the stuff, so I ordered a few packets.

Being a lover of all things retro, the packaging of this stuff made me happy. I love that the company hasn't changed the look of these packets in decades. It looks like something I would have found in my grandparents' laundry room.


I used a whole packet in my top-loading washing machine. It made everything more bubbly, so I did some extra rinses to make sure everything was out. I was pretty stoked to find that my baby's diapers didn't have that ammonia smell when I changed him.

The only problem: it was fleeting. The smell came back after about a week or so.

The verdict on RLR:  I think the stuff works, but I think it'd be better to use it early on, before the diapers get serious build-up. I think it'd be good use preemptively, like once every 1-2 months to catch the build-up before it gets bad. You can get each packet for about $1-2 (I got mine here).

Attempt #2 -- Dawn Dish Soap & Bleach

I hardly ever use bleach. I'm kind of scared of the stuff. Not just because of the fumes (though that's a concern too, what with all the vinegar I use in my house. The two don't mix.) and chlorine, but because I've had plenty of clothes ruined by it in the past. But those diapers stunk so I had to bring out the big guns. I figure that the diapers are rinsed so many times that there won't be much bleach coming in contact with my baby's adorable little bum.

To strip diapers this way, you'll need to use 1 tablespoon of Dawn dish soap (the blue, original kind) for top-loading washing machines (1 teaspoon for high efficiency washers) and 1/2 cup of bleach.  Wash the diapers in hot water, adding the dish soap and bleach during the wash cycle.

It will get super bubbly and reminiscent of cartoons or sitcoms when the husband or kids do the laundry.

Once that first cycle is done, rinse and then rinse again.

And rinse again. Keep rinsing until there are no suds in the water. That's it -- diaper stripping is no big deal, though it does use a lot of water. (For a great video of the process -- it's the one that helped me -- click here.)

Verdict on Dawn & bleach: it works!  The diapers not only stink way less, but they absorb better, too.

Typically, you only need to strip the diapers every few months. My baby's diapers didn't need stripping until after his first birthday -- this may have been partly due to him being breastfed that first year (it's been my experience that breastfed baby diapers are really easy to clean) or maybe because we mostly used the cotton prefolds during his first year (we're definitely using pocket diapers more as our little guy gets older -- it's faster and easier with him always on the go!).  You can also help your diapers require less stripping by doing a few things:

  • do a cold water pre-rinse (I just use the rinse cycle on my washing machine) before washing your diapers because this gets urine and other residues agitated out (plus, if you don't do it, your diapers are basically washing around in urine and poopy hot water, which is counter-productive).  
  • use enough detergent. The ammonia smell in my baby's diapers got really bad after I tried using soap nuts (for my experience with those, you can read about it here) because our hard water made them less effective and not enough saponin (the natural soap in soap nuts) was being released. 
  • detergents do matter when it comes to build-up and some are better than others. A great post about different detergents and how they rate when it comes to build-up can be found here (I just found out that I've been using a not-so-great detergent for microfleece diapers. Oops.)
  • use ointments and creams that are safe for cloth diapers -- some have oils and ingredients in them that stain and stick to the fibers of cloth diapers, causing serious build-up. This link has a pretty good list of what creams to use and not to use on baby when cloth diapering. 
It almost always surprises people when I tell them that cloth diapering doesn't smell nearly as bad as diapering with disposables (I remember well the days when I'd empty my first son's diaper pail. Gag.), but only if you do it right. With the right supplies and methods, you can easily keep the stink out of cloth diapering.

Note: Some of the links in the post above are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. 

{This post is linked up to Homestead Barn Hop and Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways..}

Monday, September 10, 2012

Meatless Monday: Greek Salad-Turned-Sandwich

I'll just come out and say it: I've already done a post on this recipe. I wrote it back in 2010 and used some pictures taken in terrible overhead lighting, giving the pictures a weird, yellow-green hue that couldn't even be fixed in Photoshop. So, that's one reason I'm revisiting this recipe: the pictures just don't do it justice. Even the pictures I have for this new post probably won't do it justice because it's really, really good.

Reason #2 I'm revisiting this recipe: I've improved it! This time, I made the dressing (an Italian dressing, but it's very similar to Greek dressing) from scratch. Holy cow -- it was EASY! I'm embarrassed that I mentioned in the post that I was too lazy to make my own dressing and that I opted for the bottled stuff. In fact, I sort of want to punch myself for ever buying bottled Italian dressing.

Reason #3:  You have to make this meal this time of year when garden produce (whether from your own garden or from the farmers' market) is so fresh and perfect. The homegrown cucumbers and tomatoes (especially the tomatoes) in this recipe make it sing. 

Like I mentioned in the original post, there's no set-in-stone recipe for this dinner, except for the dressing. You just sort of guess how much food you'll need to feed the people at your table and just go with it.

To make this meal, you'll need:
  • Spinach -- baby or regular (just tear it into smaller bites if you use regular)
  • Tomatoes, chopped
  • Onion, sliced (the restaurant recipe my mom recreated this from uses red onion, but I've always seem to use white)
  • Cucumbers, sliced
  • Pitas or flatbread (alas, I didn't do this from scratch this time -- just pita wraps from Costco.)
  • Feta cheese
  • Dressing (see recipe below)

First step: make the dressing.

The recipe I used to make this dressing comes from one of my favorite cookbooks (review to come soon), The Homemade Pantry by Alana Chernila.

In a pint-sized Mason jar (or any other jar that holds 2 cups), mix:
3/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (from 1-2 lemons)
4 Tablespoons chopped fresh parsley OR 4 teaspoons dried
4 garlic cloves, finely minced
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh basil OR 2 teaspoons dried
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
Black pepper, to taste
Balsamic vinegar (optional)

Screw the lid on the jar tightly and shake for ten seconds. If using dried herbs, let the dressing sit for 15 minutes to rehydrate the herbs. Adjust the black pepper to taste. 

Unless you're making a lot of salad, you won't use up this whole recipe. This dressing will store in the fridge for 2 weeks in a covered container (just be sure to shake before serving).  Like I said before, making your own dressing is seriously easy.

Once you've made your dressing, fire up your grill. Brush the pita bread lightly with olive oil and grill the bread for a minute or so, just so that the bread is warmed up and you get those cool-looking grill marks on each side.

Toss the spinach, cucumbers, onion, and tomato together in a large bowl. Drizzle the dressing over it and toss some more, coating the salad with as much dressing as you like. 

Pile the salad on one half of the pita, sprinkle with feta, crack a little bit of black pepper over it, and give it a splash of balsamic vinegar. Fold the other half over and devour. The husband and I were going nuts over this the other day -- even our five-year-old liked it.  It's such a healthy and easy recipe and just perfect for these late-summer evenings.

Note: Some of the links in the post above are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. 

{This post is linked up to Homestead Barn Hop, Your Green Resource, and Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways..}

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Cookbook Review: Food in Jars

Can you feel it in the air? Canning season is upon us!

Sure, you can put food in jars year-round, but there's just something about canning in August and September. This time of year puts me in this sort of content yet industrious mood.  Plus, there are few things more satisfying than seeing jars full of delicious and fresh food in the pantry and thinking, "I did that!". I'm telling you, canning is good for the soul!  (Watch this to see what I mean.)

For a while, it seemed like canning was going out of style and becoming a lost art (I used to have older women gawk in line at me at the store, in my early-20s and with a shopping cart full of jars. Often they would say, "I didn't think anyone still did that."). Now there seems to be a resurgence and interest in canning (I went to the same store last week and found the canning supply shelves looking pretty empty). It isn't just for people with huge families, people with massive gardens, or people with tons of time (are there people with tons of time?) -- anyone can do it. Which leads me to one of my latest cookbook acquisitions:  Food in Jars by Marisa McClellan.

For years, my go-to (and only) canning cookbook has been the classic Ball Blue Book of Preserving and it's a classic for a reason. That said, I'm really enjoying this new book. Here are a few of the reasons:

1. The emphasis on small-batches.
I think a lot of people write canning off because they think that it's super time-consuming and that it isn't practical unless you have a big family and tons of room for food storage. I can see why they'd think that. Canning twelve quarts of peaches doesn't make sense if you're single.  A couple isn't likely to go through dozens of jars of homemade jam in a year.  Problem is, so many traditional canning recipes call for lots and lots of produce. I think that's one thing that turns people off from canning.

I went to the store to buy some pectin a couple weeks ago and saw that Ball has sort of ditched their boxes of pectin and have gone with a container (pictured below) instead.

I think this represents a shift in how canning is approached. Instead of using the pre-packaged amount of pectin, you can measure it out according to your needs -- you can make twenty jars of jam or just two. And that's what I love about Food in Jars -- the title says it all: preserving in small batches. This makes canning less overwhelming, especially for new canners. That said, experienced canners, those who want quarts of canned tomato sauce and twenty jars of jam, can enjoy this book as well. You can make as much or as little as you want.

2. Small batches mean more variety.
This book has all sorts of recipes, ranging from the basics (like strawberry jam, salsa, dilly beans) to more unique recipes (like blackberry and sage jam, blood orange marmalade, lemony pickled cauliflower). Instead of limiting yourself to month after month of a certain kind of jam (that was our case when I made, not exaggerating, 30+ jars of pluot jam a few years ago), you can have a variety in your pantry. Plus, with smaller batches, it doesn't feel nearly as risky to try new things. Take her recipe for cantaloupe jam with vanilla -- it sounds kind of odd but intriguing. I haven't made it yet but I want to. What if I make it and it's not what I hoped it would be? It only took 2 1/2 cups of cantaloupe, a packet of liquid pectin, and some sugar (enough to make around 3 cups of jam), so my losses aren't so bad. Say I made some other kind jam with bushels of fruit and pounds of sugar and didn't like it? We'd be eating it whether we liked it or not -- it'd be too much to waste.  This isn't to say I'm against big-batch canning (I would make gallons upon gallons of this salsa if I could), but small-batch canning does mix things up a bit and make eating more interesting

3.  All the recipes can be processed without a pressure canner. 
No expensive gear needed for these recipes -- just a pot to cook your food in, a bunch of jars and lids, a canning funnel, some ladles and tongs, and your boiling water canner. I have yet to learn how to use a pressure canner (I'm not going to lie -- I find it pretty intimidating), so I was glad to flip through the pages of this book and know that I could make every.single.thing. in there if I wanted to.

4. So far, all the recipes I've tried from it are good!

My mom brought a gallon-sized bucket of tomatillos from her garden to my house last week (Mom and I have fun canning together this time of year), so we decided to try out the recipe from this book for tomatillo salsa. It was yummy! Sweet and tangy and little bit spicy -- it's a really nice salsa verde. Another recipe I've liked out of the book is the peach jam -- her recipe has cinnamon, nutmeg, a little lemon juice, and lemon zest in it. The result is a peach jam that has a warm, almost fall-like taste to it. After I'd put it in jars, me and my little baby (18 months old this month! Where does the time go?!) kept scraping the extra in the pot onto pieces of toast. So tasty!

5. Not all food in jars is fruit and/or vegetables. 
Though there are plenty of recipes for canned and processed produce, there are also recipes for things you can store in jars without any processing. McClellan includes lots of other kinds of recipes -- bread mixes, nut butters, chicken stock, vanilla, and more.

6.  It's pretty.
Maybe this seems superfluous, but for me, a pretty cookbook goes a long way. When a cookbook is laid out well, has lovely photography, and an appealing look to the text, I'm more prone to cook from it.

7.  It's not just recipes. 
I read cookbooks like I read novels. I love them. I especially love cookbooks that aren't just cookbooks. I like it when they're wordy, when recipes have a sort of preamble. I like to read about how the recipes came about, what thoughts the author had as he/she was making them, what the recipes remind them of, the memories associated with their food, that sort of stuff. It makes me feel like I'm right there cooking (or in this instance, canning) with them, like I know the author personally. (A perfect example of a cookbook author who does this well is Ree Drummond, aka The Pioneer Woman -- if I saw her in person, I'd probably just start a conversation with her like she was one of my neighbors, completely forgetting that she had no idea who I was.). Food in Jars has just the amount of wordiness I like.

8.  The book conveys a sense of confidence, energy, and fun.
So many people think that canning is scary, that one risks killing the people you love with a botulism-tainted jar of fruit. I would like to state for the record: canning does not need to be scary. Other people think they can't make it work in the space they have-- the author is proof that anyone can do it, no matter the size of your home or kitchen (here's a picture of her kitchen).  Marisa McClellan makes canning not only seem completely do-able, but fun. Her book, like her blog, has this feeling like she's right there with you, helpful and attentive (speaking of helpful, she pretty much answered any question a person left about her book in the reviews section on Amazon. Awesome.).

I recommend this book to both experienced and novice canners. Pick up a copy and start putting up all the great summer produce. 'Tis the season, after all.

Note: Some of the links in the post above are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. 

{This post is linked up to Your Green Resource, Little House Friday, Homestead Barn Hop, and Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways.}
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