Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Where I am with cloth diapering

A recent New York Times parenting blog article reminded me that I never wrote an updated post to my decision to cloth diaper Baby M. You can read the article here: Goodbye to Cloth Diapers, and Ideal Motherhood.

It was important to me to cloth diaper, partly for environmental reasons, partly for health reasons, but if I'm honest, mostly for perception reasons - my perception of myself as a mother, and others' perceptions of me as well. (Not unrelated to my fervent desire to have a natural birth, even though the manner of giving birth makes absolutely no difference to what kind of a mom I might wind up being - case in point, foster and adoptive moms!)

Anyway.

I did some research and chose a cloth diaper system known as pocket diapers - they have an outer shell that is stuffed with an insert or two, and once that's done they function very much like disposables. They are one size, able to go from newborn to potty training. And they are very easy to find used, which is how I got most of my diapers.

I used these cloth diapers on Baby M for a little over a year since she got home from the hospital. I "cheated" by putting her in disposables for our many doctor's appointments, but I had to lug around oxygen tanks and apnea monitors and feeding tubes, and was not about to burden myself with dirty diapers as well. I went through exactly one box each of size one and size two diapers. We washed diapers every day at first, and then every 2-3 days. I made my own detergent and reusable wipes, and line-dried the delicate parts of the diapers. We had some leaks, but no blow-outs, and I was quite happy with it - for an investment of about $200, I thought I had my diaper needs taken care of for another year or two.

And then a few months ago, it just quit working. We were having lots and lots of leaks - like every diaper, every time, which meant lots of extra laundry for baby and me, and cleaning the couch, or floor, or changing sheets after every nap and in the middle of the night. It seems like Baby M had a growth spurt that made her legs a little skinnier in proportion to the rest of her, AND she started getting mobile - but she doesn't crawl, she scoots around on her butt. The combination meant that the slightest bit of moisture in her diaper got squirted out with each movement, and it was just a nightmare.

I tried stripping the diapers to restore their absorbency and tightening the elastic on the legs and a few other things, but suddenly I realized that I was defaulting to disposables more often than not, and eventually a full week went by without me even opening the drawer where I keep the cloth diapers. Disposables are not as expensive as I feared (we use a store brand which works fine) but it's still not quite how I wanted to raise my kid.

So I did a little more research, and I packed up my diapers and Baby M and went to a local cloth diaper store. After talking with the owner for an hour, and showing him my frustrations with fit and with the way Baby M's way of getting around interferes, I think we have a solution. It's a different diaper system, called All-in-Twos (AI2s), which involves an outer shell and an insert that is snapped or folded into place. The outer shell can be used several times before laundering and has a double gusset at the leg to help prevent leaks. They are one size, although the inserts are different sizes to help get the trimmest fit possible.

I bought a couple of options, both new and used, to try out to see if it's going to work better for us, and I'm excited to see if it works. (The new option had to be ordered, so I'm waiting for it to arrive - this week, I think - to give the new system a fair shot.) In the meantime, disposables certainly are convenient - except for the smelly trash we now get to take out.

I also learned a valuable lesson about myself - the way I deal with my child's waste says almost NOTHING about what kind of a mother I am. I love her and will take the best care of her possible, and there are a variety of ways to do that. I solemnly promise not to judge other moms for deciding not to cloth diaper from here on out!

If you're interested in cloth diapering, Squawkfox has a number of really handy cloth diaper tutorials - here is a good place to start: running the numbers on cloth vs. disposable. I also really like her run down of the various kinds of cloth diapers and determining which system is the best value - but if I've learned anything, it's that the best value in strict dollars and sense might not be the best system for your kid - so keep an open mind!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Ouch....

This story stinks - Man's Mistake Costs His Children $400,000 IRA Inheritance

At first I assumed it was another situation where a family is simply disagreeing over the disbursement of funds, but this one sounds more like a legitimate mistake. The man in question made a will specifying that his children receive his retirement funds. And he wrote on the beneficiary form for his IRA that he wanted the funds to be distributed according to his will.

Unfortunately, that wasn't a valid way for him to fill out the beneficiary form, which means that it made his surviving spouse the beneficiary by default. And there doesn't seem to be any way around this - IRA beneficiary forms are valuable because they bypass the probate process and allow beneficiaries to receive the money without waiting for the estate to go through probate. But that also means that they are not beholden to the will - the form outranks it and a mistake can mean that a default beneficiary will receive the money. This could also mean, for example, if you forget to update your form after getting a divorce - your ex-spouse would receive the money instead of your current one, regardless of what your will says. Eek!

As the article points out, there are no automatic reminders for beneficiary forms (and clearly no one at the institution that manages the IRA is looking at them to make sure they are valid). Peanut and I last updated our forms shortly after Baby M was born, and haven't really taken a look at it since then. I think I will put a reminder in the calendar to review these forms once a year.

When was the last time you checked your beneficiary forms? 


Thursday, July 10, 2014

Three Thing Thursday

Thing the First: This post from Get Rich Slowly is several months old, but I really like it: The Joy of Being Average. I put a lot of pressure on myself to be great at everything, and it's exhausting. I've been trying to ease up on my own expectations since Baby M's birth, and I have to say, I am a lot happier. Being great might get a lot of attention and admiration, but that stuff doesn't bring me the same happiness as a glass of lemonade in my backyard on a sunny afternoon. Who knew?

Thing the Second: I just found out about this awesome program from the state of Minnesota - I Can Camp provides a tent, sleeping bags, air mattresses, cooking stove, dishes, camping lights, firewood and a permit - and instructors with all sorts of activities set up during your camping trip. FOR $40!! It's not great for toddlers, but you better believe we will be taking advantage of this and similar programs in a few years. I used to camp a lot in high school and college, but I don't have any equipment now, and the cost of getting it has kept me from considering camping as an activity. But we can easily afford $40 and food for a weekend in the woods!

Thing the Third: This might seem weird, but I like the thought of it: Fetal Cells Remain in Mother's Body After Birth. I have often thought since having Baby M that no matter what happens in our lives, she will always be a part of me in a way that is hard to explain to people who aren't mothers (dads probably feel this too, but not to the extent that mothers do, I think). I'm actually glad to know that that feeling is backed up by science. Perhaps archaeologists centuries from now would be able to tell that I bore a child - what a way to have this achievement preserved for eternity.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Grocery Store Woes

It seems silly to get worked up about the demise of a grocery store, but it's happening.

Recently, a regional chain decided to exit the Twin Cities, and sold off many of their stores to a competing chain. The outgoing store, Rainbow, was my favorite of the local grocery stores - consistently great produce, good prices, and something about the atmosphere that I can't quite explain. The staff at my local store have all been friendlier and more helpful than I'm accustomed to, and the store looks nicer, cleaner, and more upscale than its prices would have you expect. The new owner, Cub, on the other hand, has always been my least favorite chain to shop at. The produce is not good, prices are higher, the layout of the stores is weird, and the design of the store resembles something more along the lines of a Costco or an Aldi - like you're shopping in a warehouse with no thought given to presentation. Which is totally fine with me if I'm saving a bunch of money, but that's not the case in this instance.

Anyway, my local store is one of those slated to become a Cub, and I've tried to be brave about it, but I am really sad. Mostly I'm hoping that the employees get to keep their jobs, because I like them. I'm also sad to be losing some of Rainbow's store brand items, because the quality was better than Cub's. And I'm sad that overall my grocery bill will be going up, but my shopping experience will be getting worse.

It's been upheaval for the last few weeks. Rainbow has sold out of nearly all of their store brand items, leaving only name brand stuff, which is mostly fine, except in the case of things like milk - the store brand cost around $3/gallon, and I often had coupons to get it cheaper. Now the name brand is $4.39 per gallon, and that's the only option they've got. Ouch! The prices on produce have already gone up, although thankfully the quality is still the same. Maybe the new Cub will keep the same suppliers, many of whom are local. The changeover is still happening, but after this past weekend I think I will be staying away until the changeover is complete. It's too weird to only be able to get about half the things on my list because so many of the shelves are completely empty.

Today I stopped into another Cub location to pick up some things that weren't available the last time I was at Rainbow, and I scoped out the prices on things I buy regularly while I was there. I was disappointed for the most part - everything from soy milk to produce are 10-20% more expensive, frozen vegetables are more expensive (but they do carry some things that Rainbow doesn't have anymore, like frozen squash), and overall, my bill was a lot higher. Also, Rainbow used to double coupons once or twice a week, and I don't think Cub does that at all. I did find that baby food (I still use baby food fruit and meat for Baby M's blends) is cheaper than Rainbow and the same price as it is at Target, so that's nice.

I think I'm going to have to rethink my grocery shopping strategy again. I get some staples at Costco and go to Aldi about twice a month - I can get really great deals on a lot of things there, but there are some things that just aren't as good quality or that I simply can't get - for example, they don't carry whole milk at my location anymore. I have also been popping into Trader Joe's when we are near one - they have some very good deals on certain things but it's not worth a trip specifically for grocery shopping. Rainbow was worth a weekly trip on double coupon days and to get fresh produce (and it is directly on the way home from the freeway, whereas all other stores require a purposeful trip in their direction). I've also been doing a little more shopping at Target, because their baby food prices were so much cheaper than Rainbow.

It's been about two years since I did my price book experiment - maybe once the new Cub is open, I will repeat that exercise and see how I can best maximize my grocery spending while cutting down on the number of trips I'm making to various stores. It's not so bad in the summer when I can drag Baby M with me (which she loves) but I don't want to put her in a germy cart during cold and flu season so I will need to figure out a way to streamline the process by winter.

In the meantime, I'm going to feel silly about it, but I'm going to do a little mourning over the loss of my Rainbow. To your lovely produce, your well-laid-out aisles, your double coupons and your cheerful staff - you will be missed.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Emergency Money Plan

I loved Revanche's recent post In Case of Emergency Break Glass and I thought I'd do a quick rundown here.

The question is where do you get money if you come up short. Here's my process, from bad to worst:


  1. Credit card. Rewards points, baby! 
  2. If for some reason I can't put it on credit, start with the checking account - we keep a $1,000 extra balance in there, so we could get that amount in cash quickly. 
  3. Savings account - our emergency fund lives here, along with our sinking funds. I have a little bit of money in Paypal that I can grab too. 
  4. Roth IRAs. Not ideal, but we can withdraw contributions without penalty. 
  5. Cash in the rest of our retirement savings. Taxes and penalties, ouch! 
  6. Sell the house, move in to in-laws' basement. Maybe asking family for a loan should go in before this step, but it's hard to contemplate that we would get to that point without any income. 


Most of this scenario assumes unexpected expenses (from furnace breaking, to death or illness in the family, to major illness/accident of one of us) and not job loss. A job loss would probably have us re-evaluating a lot of expenses as well (cell phones, internet service, eating out), which would lower our overall expenditures. I'd like to have more cash savings that we can tap when we need to, but we're still rebuilding that from the blows we've been dealt the last few years.

We are far from living on the edge, but losing an income and gaining a medically complex child with a high deductible health insurance plan has certainly taken its toll. My goal for the next few years is to continue living within our means and building up savings where possible. Someday when childcare won't be a major drain of my income, I'll go back to work and we can focus on things like college savings and additional retirement funds. In the meantime, it's good to know that we have a number of options before we are truly out of options.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Three Thing Thursday

Thing the first: Revanche's post about a car emergency kit scared the pants off of me. I don't have one! I have kitty litter and a shovel in the car in the winter, a blanket at all times, and now Baby M's hospital bag (three days of necessities for both of us in case she gets rehospitalized), but nothing like a quick car repair kit. Her suggestions are great, and I'm going to assemble one for myself.

Thing the second: I have mixed feelings about sleep training right now. We did sleep train Baby M and it was amazing at first but it seems to have worn off, and bedtime is a pill. I still think it's worth it for anyone who needs more than 45 consecutive minutes of sleep a night, and I'm hoping that this blip is a function of development or growth or even the start of the terrible twos.

Thing the third: ND Chic is doing a grocery challenge for the month of July! I want to join, and this seems like a good time to do it. I'm going to try to stick to $400 for groceries for the entire month, and that includes some planned freezer cooking/stocking up I have planned.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Ceiling Woes

So there's a crack in the popcorn texture of our ceiling, and it's getting worse. We had someone out to look at it, and he said it's caused by water damage - oh, boy. The roof on our house was replaced less than six months before we bought it, so I am hoping that if it's related to that it will be covered by warranty or insurance (although I really don't want to file another insurance claim...). But in the meantime we have to figure out what to do about the ceiling.

We're not a fan of the popcorn texture, and had kind of sort of always thought we'd get rid of it, but our hand is sort of being forced here. If there is a leak or water damage, we need to address that asap, and while we're doing it, we might as well remove the texture from the landing/stairway and the other bedroom upstairs as well.

We talked about doing the work ourselves, but it doesn't seem like a good plan for a number of reasons. I called around to get some quotes, but so far have only had one company return my phone calls - I would like to get at least one more quote to make sure it's a good price. Right now, we're being quoted $1200 for the one room or $1575 for the entire job. It'll cover everything from removal and disposal of materials to sanding and refinishing, plus painting with Kilz and a no-VOC ceiling paint, and any repair that needs to be made due to water damage. The project is expected to take five days.

I'm not sure whether I'm more dismayed at the price or the time estimate - although most of the time is for the ceiling to dry after removal and between paintings. We'll be displaced into the guest room for that time, although we should still have access to the upstairs bathroom (the only shower!). The price is unpleasant but manageable for us, and in terms of frustration per hour, it makes sense to pay someone else to deal with it.

We haven't quite decided how to go forward just yet. I'll be making some calls to try to get another estimate, but I'm not sure what else we can do - my number one choice, to just ignore the situation, is probably not the best option.

Have you ever dealt with home projects that you just did not want to deal with? How much did it cost, and how did you handle it?


Monday, June 30, 2014

Resourcefulness Across Generations

We are just back from our trip down south (more on that soon!) and I noticed an interesting difference among the generations in my family.

My grandfather built the house that he and my grandmother live in, some 50+ years ago. He and some friends dug out a foundation, framed the house, and built it, each nail, each brick, each shingle. He was not a carpenter or builder by trade (he was a bus driver), but he had the skills and knowledge to build an entire house.

My parents bought a house that need a lot of work - it was dated and had some weird architectural features. They did the majority of the work themselves. My mother built in bookshelves, removed popcorn ceiling texture, handled painting and wallpapering. My step-father built a floor to raise a sunken room up to the level of the rest of the house.

Peanut and I have some problems with the popcorn ceiling in our bedroom, as I mentioned. Before we went on our trip, I had a professional come out to give me an estimate on what it would cost to fix. Peanut and I had discussed doing the work ourselves, but we were intimidated by the project - it's messy, difficult, and unpleasant work, and we don't know whether there's asbestos in the building materials. For Reasons, only Peanut would physically be able to do the work, which means it would take a longer time than with two of us working. We learned from doing the drywall in the basement that we Do Not Like that kind of DIY work, and we're concerned that we wouldn't wind up doing a good job on the ceiling. So our default assumption was to call in a professional.

I'm a little disappointed at this. I mean, my grandfather BUILT A HOUSE. Which is still standing. And it wouldn't surprise me to learn that he built it for close to the price that this contractor would charge us simply to remove popcorn ceiling texture. And just two generations on, we are so wimpy that we are calling out the professionals for what's not even a renovation, but little more than a repair.

On the other hand, we have a better, more consistent standard of living than my grandparents enjoyed. Paying for a professional to do this would not break the bank, or even touch our emergency fund. It appears that there is water damage causing the crack in our ceiling, and we are well out of our depth in terms of fixing that. The building materials that were used at the time when the ceiling was originally done are now known to be toxic, and we don't know the proper way to deal with disposal and protecting our health while dealing with it. And perhaps we are spoiled, but we don't like the idea of our house being a project zone for weeks on end while Peanut works full time and then comes home to work some more on the house.

I would like to have more DIY skills than I do, but realistically, after working on our basement, I've got a pretty good idea of where my own limitations are, and an appreciation for getting a job done right the first time, even if it costs more than doing it myself. I would like to be as self-sufficient as my grandparents, and someday I hope to have the time to do the kind of work my parents have done on their house, but for now, I think I have to be okay with paying to fix the kinds of things that are "need to fix" like a ceiling leak.

Sous Chef: Salsa Chicken

Click to pin salsa chicken!
Ah - a winner!

I made this salsa chicken recipe on a night when we planned to have company, but bad weather caused a change of plans. Just as well, since it was so tasty, Peanut and I might have decided not to share it!

This is a crockpot meal, which is awesome because it's one pot, no fuss, hardly any mess. It was super simple to throw together, and we all loved it, including Baby M. I served it with black beans and rice, and we all had seconds. 

This is going into regular rotation!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Sous Chef: Braised Salmon and Smashed Potatoes



This week it's a two-fer! I made quick-braised salmon with wilted lettuce (from Everyday Food) and smashed potatoes (from Pinterest) and they were awesome!

Well, I will say that I might skip the lettuce next time. Wilted lettuce is okay, but there are so many other flavorful veggies out there that I might do asparagus or beets or something with a kick. But braising salmon - my mind was blown. I like salmon okay, but I'm a little squicky on how undercooked fish is supposed to be. Braising totally took care of that for me, and it was easier to clean up as well. The only downside was that I bought the fish with skin on, not having read the recipe carefully, and then I had to take the skin off. Next time I will ask for the butcher to do that when I buy it, because that was gross.

The potatoes were super simple - boil for ten minutes, smash, shake with olive oil and salt, sprinkle with dill and bake till crispy. Yum.

Baby M and Peanut were both fans of everything, it was quick to throw together (aside from skinning the fish), and fairly healthy. No leftovers on this one!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Frugal Things I'd Like to Try

For all the things we do to be frugal, there are a bunch more that I'd like to try but for whatever reason haven't put into practice. Here are some that I want to do someday:

Grow a substantial amount of our own food. We have a small garden, and it gives us a bit of produce, but nothing that really cuts down the grocery bill. I'd like to grow enough tomatoes to make and can tomato sauce and salsa, for example, or not buy produce at all during the harvest season. We're not there yet, although we are doing a little better each year.

Sell electricity back to the power company. I'm not sure this is possible given our climate and house location, but I'd love to have solar panels and generate enough electricity to sell some back to the power company.

Never shop at a chain store again. I've been trying to buy used items, shop at locally owned businesses, and otherwise keep my money from flowing upstream into large corporate coffers, but it's really hard to do that and be frugal, especially with kids. Not impossible! Just hard, and I've not been up to the challenge yet. Grocery shopping would be my biggest challenge - there are a couple of local convenience stores, but I haven't found any place that could replace my regional chain for most staples.

Drop to one car, or even no cars. It was nice being car-free in New York City but it's not as practical where we are now. We could easily get by with one car (and do in the winter) but we can afford two cars right now and we are enjoying having that freedom. It would be nice someday to live in a very urban environment again, but we'll see if that ever comes to fruition.

Keep bees. Why not? I've tasted fresh honey from someone's backyard hives, and oh, man. It's incomparable.

Air dry all laundry. I air dry a lot of my stuff - only underwear and socks make it into the dryer from my hamper. More of Peanut and Baby M's stuff goes into the dryer, along with towels and sheets, but when it's nice out I still try to hang what I can outside. Our basement is too damp in the winter for this to work well, though, so I guess I will have to wait until I live somewhere warm and windy for that to happen for everything.

What are some frugal things you'd like to try? 


Monday, June 16, 2014

Sous Chef: Falafel Pitas with Yogurt Sauce

Falafel with yogurt sauce - click the picture to pin!

My favorite New York City street food was falafel, but I've never tried to make it. Recently I decided to whip some up from scratch.

The pin here is NOT the recipe I used for the falafel itself - that one is lost to time and space, and it's a good thing because it didn't work. It called for a can of mashed chickpeas and some spices, mixed up and made into patties. Well, friends, mashed up chickpeas do not make patties - they just fall apart. So I improvised, and added an egg, and some flour, and got some patties and fried them up and they were fine. I think next time I will try this falafel recipe.

I did make the yogurt sauce here, though - I know tahini is traditional, but I hate tahini sauce, so I tried this. It was super simple, and pretty good, except it was awfully sweet - that's when I realized I had bought VANILLA yogurt instead of plain. Oops! (In my defense, it was a bad container design - the lid of the container does not say vanilla, it's only on the front - and the way yogurt is presented in my store and my fridge, I only ever see the top!)

We had falafel in pita sandwiches with lettuce, tomato, and red onion. I'll try it again, but this time with plain yogurt!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Stuff I want to spend money on: house edition

One of the reasons I was thinking about what we're spending on house maintenance is that there's so much that I want to do to the house, and I just feel like we're pouring money into it. Well, clearly, we're not, but for posterity, here's a list of things that I really want to spend money on for the house.

* Remove popcorn ceiling upstairs. This one might wind up being done sooner than later, as a bit above our bed has started to crack and it's going to fall eventually. We're investigating taking care of this ourselves, but we're pretty sure there's asbestos, and I don't think we're equipped to handle that properly, especially with a kid with lung problems in the house (plus, removing popcorn ceiling texture is awful work!). We're going to price it out and see if we can afford to just have that part fixed or removed now, or maybe do all of it (two rooms plus a landing and stairway), or try a little fix and hope it holds til we've got more cash on hand.

* Fix the front steps. The flight of stairs leading from the sidewalk to the house has been cracked and in not great condition since we bought the place. We'll probably need to fix this someday.

* Refinish hardwood floors and replace all carpet. Having a refluxy baby did a number on the floors in this house. This stuff will have to be done before we can ever sell the house, but I think we'll live with it until we are done with having little kids around.

* Redo the backyard. We have a lovely landscaped backyard, but the longer we're here the more problems we find with some of the stuff that's back there. Certain plants seem invasive and need to be eradicated, there's a totally dead tree and one we wish would die, a lilac bush that's overtaking some power lines, parts of the yard are inaccessible and should be landscaped, other parts should be unlandscaped and turned into a vegetable garden, a slate step needs replacing, a set of stairs needs a new railing to be up to code, and I'm sure I'm forgetting things. Peanut and I have differing opinions of what should be done where and when, and since he does most of the yardwork he really should get the final say. At any rate, all of this stuff is "nice to do" when we've got the time and money.

* In my wildest dreams, completely redo the kitchen and upstairs bathroom. Not gonna happen, probably, but nice to think about. I had wanted an island or breakfast bar in my dream kitchen, and mine has neither, and I wince to think about sharing the only full bathroom with a teenage girl - no counter space! But it's all easily manageable for now.

Any home projects you're dreaming of? 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

How much does it cost to maintain a house?

When we were looking at buying a house, I did a lot of reading. I found that in general, books and websites advised prospective homeowners to consider maintenance costs in addition to their mortgage payments. Most experts break this down as a percentage of home value, usually 1-2% per year. Trent at the Simple Dollar cites 1% (the number his family uses), though I've seen other blogs recommend as much as 4%. Money Smart Blog breaks this down further into figuring the value of your land versus the value of the structures and basing the amount on the life expectancy of each component that will require maintenance - but that got way too complicated for me.

We decided to keep it simple, and just build a large enough emergency fund to cover major maintenance costs to our home, rather than having that as a separate fund and putting aside a specific percentage. The way we figure, replacing a furnace or broken window counts as an emergency. Fixing a basement damaged by flooding is covered by insurance, and the deductible is an emergency. Replacing stained carpet or adding a patio would NOT be emergencies, and we would save up for those purchases outside of a home maintenance fund anyway.

Recently I wondered whether that 1% rule seems valid. We've been in our house 2 1/2 years now, and we've had some big and little emergencies with regards to maintenance. Here's where we stand:

Home value when purchased: $230,000 (the assessed tax value is less than that, but we'll go with purchase price since that's the number I always remember offhand)

Maintenance costs: $6,584.28 (this includes a new furnace after rebates, a bit of work on the old furnace, two visits from the plumber, deductible and out of pocket expenses for fixing the basement after it flooded, lightbulbs and other bits and bobs for the house and necessary equipment for taking care of the yard - so lawn mower supplies but not flowers, for example)

This is 2.86% of the value of our house. BUT! That's over 2.5 years. So clearly, the 1% average is true for us so far. Neat! The big outlay for the furnace has felt really huge to me since we made it, but seeing it average in with our other expenses makes it hurt a lot less.

In comparison, we made mortgage payments of $38,559.71 during that same time period, so it's good to know that our house is not exactly a money pit.

How much does it cost to keep up the place where you live?


Monday, June 9, 2014

Sous Chef: Herbed Ricotta Pasta with Zucchini and Corn

Click to pin!
This week's Sous Chef recipe comes from one of the many, many, (many) copies of Everyday Food I've been collecting for a long time. I love zucchini, and I was really tired of pasta with red sauce, so this pricked my interest.

Prep: This comes together really easily. It takes only a few minutes longer than pasta does to boil, so it's quick to get on the table - maybe 20 minutes start to finish. In the recipe from the magazine, it makes use of zucchini that was grilled earlier in the week, so if you're able to do that, it's a one-pot meal, too! I never had that ready to go, so I just sauteed the zucchini while the pasta cooked, and it worked fine.

Taste: I think this is a really tasty dish, and fairly healthy  - I use full fat ricotta but you could sub low-fat with no problem. I subbed dried herbs for fresh ones, simply because that's what I had on hand, but I bet with fresh this would be amazing.

Reception: Baby M thought this was awesome (toddler friendly!) but Peanut thought it was just okay. He's not crazy about corn, but I think he felt, as I kind of did, that while this is good, it needs something else to make it a meal. It's not quite protein-y enough for a main dish, but awfully filling for a side dish. It'll stay in my repertoire but I'll have to figure out a filling second dish to serve it with. Suggestions?

Anecdata: Makes enough for two adults with one meal of leftovers. Reheats okay; cheese gets a little gritty as opposed to the smoothness when it's fresh out of the pot.