Countertop Appliances You Need

The Justin lifestyle includes several small appliances, many of which make excellent gifts or registry items. Here are a few that we use the most frequently:

Toaster Oven: We use this for everything except toast. We heat up medium amounts of frozen foods like breaded chicken or pizza rolls or frozen pretzels or various forms of potatoes (friendly reminder: frozen soft pretzels exist, and they are delicious). Mostly those things actually. It’s totally useful though, especially in the summer when you don’t want to heat up the whole big oven but you do want something heated in an oven.

Regular toaster: I kept burning toast in the toaster oven so Justin got a regular toaster, and then didn’t open it for a few months until he wanted toast. Justin’s favorite thing about the one we got is that it has a “keep warm” function, but it’s probably not the best toaster that ever toasted. If you really want to get intense about toast, nobody can beat David Rees.

Rice Cooker: We had a smaller rice cooker and used it so much we got a bigger one (the sweethome rec). I think we eat more rice than we otherwise might because it’s so easy to make it good in one of these. Learn from our experience though: brown rice takes longer than you think.

Food Processor: We mostly use this for homemade salsa, but we’ve done hummus and a homemade marinade/dressing in it too. We don’t make our own babyfood, but we probably could? Gerber works ok, and our baby really likes finger food.

Obviously, our coffee appliances are pretty important.

Most people would at this point sing a song of love to their kitchenaid mixer. We almost never bake from scratch, though. We make brownies from a box and we use our mixer to shred chicken. It’s pretty good at that. I’d like for us to be people who bake amazing things, but not enough for us to have actually done it much. So in summary: I have every reason to believe the kitchenaid is amazing and worth it except the personal experience of baking.

We might also pick up an instant pot like everyone else in our demographic seems to be doing lately. Maybe if we actually make any money off these affiliate links I’ll spend it on that and then I’ll tell you all about how amazing or not it is.

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Best Baby Gear: putting baby down

Justin is a stay-at-home dad, so he definitely needed places to put our baby down once in a while when he was home alone with her during the day. In our experience, different items were our favorites as the baby got older.

If we had unlimited budget, Justin would have been ALL OVER that mamaroo. He just stared at it in the baby store while I walked away because it made me dizzy. He also frequently was able to calm the baby down when she was small by moving her up and down like a forklift, which was a motion only a mamaroo could approximate. We might have sprung for it, had our baby been fussier than she was.

Like many parents, we found the Rock ‘n’ Play useful for a newborn. We probably get less use out of ours than most because when our daughter was 2 months old she started wearing a harness to treat hip dysplasia. The way the harness caused her to hold her legs was not a good fit with the Rock ‘n’ Play, so that was pretty much the end of that. By the time we were done with the harness, she was really too big.

The harness was a very god fit with probably our most-used baby-holder: the baby bjorn bouncer. This is a pricier option in the category, but we registered for it on the recommendation of a cousin, and received it as a gift. It was useful longer than most bouncers are because it had multiple angles, including a more upright angle which means an older baby who wants to see what’s going on will tolerate being put in it. The cover turns around and becomes a toddler chair, so we might not be done using this one yet.

A friend told us that exersaucers and jumperoos are the kind of baby thing that are REALLY great for a really short time. We’re still in the jumperoo-loving time, so we are fans, but wow, it does take up a lot of floor space. If you can borrow one like we did, that would save you having to store it, although it does come apart into smaller pieces.

We may not be at the end of baby-stashing, although the more mobile she gets the less we’ll be stashing her and the more we’ll be containing her I expect. Maybe this post will need an update or a part two then.

Best ways to transport liquids

There are two kinds of reusable liquid transport that are important to Justin: water bottles, and coffee cups. Obviously, hydration and caffeination are key elements of the Justin lifestyle.

IMG_4128In our house, the preferred water bottles are made by rubbermaid. Like basically everyone else our age, there’s a few Nalgenes and stainless steel waterbottles around our house, a camelback or two, and some other kinds, but here’s why we like the rubbermaid best:

  1. They seal pretty well. No bottle is totally accident-proof, but these have had a pretty good track record for us.
  2. They are pretty lightweight and easy to carry.
  3. They fit in most cupholders (not true of most nalgenes, for example).
  4. They have nice plastic loops you can clip to things or carry with one finger.
  5. The opening is medium sized and not a straw, but the lid comes off all the way for cleaning. If you don’t regularly dump water on yourself (or explode water with a pressure change) with another kind, congratulations on being better at life than we are.

While we’re on the topic of water, Justin has the uncontroversial opinion that he likes it cold.

Coffee transport is similarly a journey, with many no-longer-used coffee cups in our cupboard. Justin opinion #1: coffee tastes best out of a ceramic mug, ideally a cool looking one. But sometimes you have to leave the house faster than you can ingest enough coffee, so travel mugs it is. We have a few ceramic travel cups, but they are kind of heavy and not so tip-proof. Plus, they are not well insulated: they start off too hot and then the coffee gets cold too fast.

Justin bought this Bubba thermos from a meh.com sale and he is very committed to it. It is well-insulated and also has a reliable seal. It holds the moderately large amount of coffee he wants to take with him. He also says, and this is a direct quote “Tervis is ok if you want cold coffee in an hour, and sometimes I do.”

Best Baby Gear: Going Places

The target incident was one reason I decided to start this blog, but the other was being constantly frustrated by baby gear reviews that didn’t reflect what we thought they should. We! Have! Opinions! and we have a baby. I anticipate this will be a many-part series, but this post is about gear to take your baby with you to places.

If you’re suburbanites like us, most of your going places will probably be in a car, so you need a carseat. We started out with the bucket-style infant seat even though there are convertible seats that last longer and also fit newborns. I think I would make this same choice basically anywhere that has any weather, because it means you can do all your baby-buckling indoors and not in a parking lot. In my experience, parking lots are pleasant places to stand approximately 4 days a year. The bucket is also useful because you can gingerly bring your sleeping baby into the house without unbuckling and maybe the baby will stay asleep.

After painstaking comparisons by Justin, we chose to get a Graco seat as part of a travel system, because it seemed like a good value way to acquire a seat and a frame stroller that would go with it. We liked Graco because it was the lightest of the seats we considered.

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(baby in the carseat and frame stroller in stores in winter and summertime)

We would also definitely get a lightweight stroller to click in the carseat again. It’s a great way to take the baby around stores and keeps the carseat in a temperature controlled environment instead of turning it into a block of ice or lava depending on the season.

Justin also spent forever picking out an umbrella stroller, which is a little lighter and folds up better for travel. We have to date never taken it anywhere in the car, but we have both taken it around the neighborhood quite a bit. This is a reliable way to get the baby to take a nap. We kitted it out with this which is a great place to put your phone, water, snack, etc. However, if I had to do it over again, I’d get this one which improves upon the concept with a picture of a rhino. (BONUS OPINION: “you would spend twice as much because this one has a picture of a rhino?!?” Rhino option is NOT Justin endorsed.)

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(This umbrella stroller features a recline, which we have found useful for encouraging naps)

Justin’s opinion is that he prefers to use a stroller for neighborhood walks instead of a baby carrier, but there are times when a carrier is more convenient. It takes up less space and is much easier to manage on stairs, for instance. After consulting friends and looking around, we got a lillebaby carrier.

Justin’s sister who used an ergo carrier for her children tried ours on vacation, and she liked the lumbar support that it had. We liked that it offered more positions, although we don’t actually switch it around much, and that the “airflow” model attempts to keep everyone cool, although you still have a living human pressed up against your body so it only helps so much. Justin was also won over by the bright colors of the “Guncles” pattern, which is unfortunately no longer available, but fits our “all the colors” aesthetic.

IMG_3049.jpgIt also adjusts pretty easily for both of us to use, which is a big deal. A friend lent us a k’tan which I know a lot of people love, but we didn’t use it that much because really Justin needed a larger size and I needed a smaller one. Plus my whole maternity leave we had two adults at home. I think if I had to be home alone with the baby or if we had other children we’d have done more carrier when the baby was tiny.

IMG_3849.jpgI use the lillebaby a lot. The baby gets excited when she sees me putting it on because she likes going outside in it. I think she falls asleep quicker in a carrier walk than a stroller one, but it’s pretty hard to sit down without waking her up.

One thing you should know with all these items: we are middle-height people — 5’7″ and 5’10”. This certainly affects which strollers work for someone, and also which carriers work best.

Justin’s opinions about brewing coffee

I know there are about 10000 articles about how to make the perfect cup of coffee. Justin is not as intense as many internet coffee opinion-havers, but don’t worry he has still thought a lot about how to make good coffee at home, with tradeoffs for effort, ease of cleaning, and cost.

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(our old coffee setup)

Probably the one thing that makes the most impact on the quality of your home coffee is grinding the beans right before you brew the coffee. We made perfectly great coffee for years with a cheap blade grinder and then upgraded to a nicer burr grinder when it died. Justin got some kind of a deal on that, I’m pretty sure. But the difference between the blade and the burr grinder is incremental. The difference between grinding your own and buying pre-ground coffee is significant.

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(our current coffee setup. the plastic carafe is to transfer filtered water from the sink)

I’m about to get controversial here: I don’t like french press coffee. I find it too oily. We actually had a regular, classic drip coffee maker that worked great for a long time, but recently got this bodum “automatic pour over” machine which is, let’s be honest, a fancy drip coffee maker. It does a good job though and it’s easy to clean and looks nice on the counter. If you really wanted to go low-investment, a simple pour-over funnel would work too, but we want to make a whole pot and pouring over by hand requires a bit more time and attention.

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(print pictures of your baby on a mug and make your own recursive photos!)

Where to get the best beans? We’re still experimenting on that. Trader Joes has been pretty good for this, we’ve also been satisfied with Meijer brand and Papa Nicholas. Aldi carries some single source beans that have been hit and miss with us.

One more tip: we use the creamer from the fiesta sugar/cream set for sugar, because the spout makes a nice place to leave your spoon handle outside the lid. Plus we aren’t fancy enough to put our cream in an intermediary container between the carton and the cup.

Kitchen items for your wedding or housewarming

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(wedding photo by Melissa Keeley)

Ok, so a few weeks ago we were at Target with some members of my family, doing some recreational shopping. Some of us come around a corner, and there’s Justin, with the baby in the stroller, informing a group of young women what they should add to the bridal registry they were working on.

They seemed more delighted than creeped out by this behavior, and if you’ve ever heard Justin talk about his love for this oxo spatula you know he’s sincere about it. In fact, his top two gifts for wedding showers or housewarmings have long been one of those and an ikea collander I just found out they don’t sell anymore.

Trying to decide which kitchen gadgets to include in your wedding registry, or find a gift for somebody who likes kitchen stuff? Here’s some other stuff we have and like that are at a relatively low pricepoint:

Microplane grater:¬†Listen. I didn’t know what this was when I opened it up as a wedding gift, and then it became the gratest way (see what I did there?) to deal with hard cheese like parmesan or asiago. And if you want to know how to elevate your box pasta and jarred tomato sauce dinner, fresh-grated cheese helps. Careful though, it’s really sharp. Don’t get over-confident or your hands will pay.

oxo Peeler:¬†Everybody knows this is the best peeler, right? It’s comfortable to use and easy to clean.

oxo angled measuring cups: you can see what you’re pouring from the top or the side.
AND/OR
Pyrex measuring cups: these can handle being microwaved or full of boiling water and that is also nice to have. Honestly we have both kinds and I regret nothing.

Vintage Pyrex mixing bowls: they are so colorful and durable. Just don’t put them in the dishwasher or you might wreck the design. Also you have to buy them at an antique store or get lucky at a thrift store or garage sale. But they are great. The modern ones have good lids so there’s that.

Cheese cutter: We eat a lot of cheese and this works great and fast.