Cloth Diaper Review: CDS FAP 3.0

How long has it been since I wrote here? I don't even want to check the time stamp of my last post and see for sure. I'd say I'll blog more frequently now, but the truth is, I still don't have the bandwidth to. Ironically, what's taking up the little free time I have is writing for other businesses. Oh well, as long as words are getting put out there somewhere, somehow! That said, I just had to come here and put a virtual timestamp on one of my life's 'firsts'.

video

This weekend, I went out of my comfort zone and made my first ever vlog. It's strange, for someone who has no problem addressing crowds, I get very self conscious in front of a camera. I can barely manage a selfie without wanting to clobber my phone, so a video was.... ambitious, to say the least.

Good thing I'm talking about something I'm so passionate about that I can almost, almost, forget there's a camera on me. Here's a cloth diaper review (what else? I'm still a mom, my interests are somewhat limited!).

Not just saying it for the review, that diaper really is gorgeous, and was reason enough to convince me to do a vlog in the first place! Find it, and other diapers, at http://www.clothdiapershop.in/. Apart from gushing about the diapers themselves, I can guarantee professional, friendly customer service; a payment gateway that works; and a generally pleasant online shopping experience.

Anmol vs. Cookiie SSC: First Impressions

eM and I went to Tirupati this weekend to meet her great-grandparents and extended family. We just got back, to a huge backlog of freelance work. Both when we're in new places, as well as when she senses deadlines looming, eM insists on being carried. Nonstop. Thank god for babywearing - it preserves my sanity, and my back. 

My first baby carrier was from Mee Mee. Let me tell you since Mee Mee won't - it isn't stringently tested, and it's not at all ergonomic. I know a lot of non-parents read this blog, so feel free to skip this post, after this one important takeaway: most commercially sold Indian carriers aren't good for your baby's hips, and aren't as safe as they should be. A couple of mompreneurs recently launched soft structure carriers (SSC's) which are the first Indian-made, internationally tested, ergonomic carriers in the market. Both are similarly priced, completely reliable, and utterly beautiful. I couldn't pick between them, so I just bought one of each. And since I've been getting questions about which one I prefer, I thought I'd do a quick comparison. This is just based on about a week's usage, it's very much just first impressions. I'm still learning about the features.

Purchasing
Anmol sells SSC's via a closed Facebook group. Sales happen on a first-come first-served basis, and it's a feeding frenzy. Each of their releases contains several designs (10-15), but very few pieces are made of each type. This is because they're semi, or completely, hand-woven. Cookiie only releases 4-6 designs in each sale, but they seem to have more pieces of each type available. They also accept pre-bookings through their website. I'm not sure which brand has the most SSC's per release overall, but I've definitely observed that it's easier to land a Cookiie than an Anmol so far. Anmol's launching a website soon, so that may very well change.

Delivery
Cookiie delivers via DTDC, and helpfully sent over a tracking ID. The package from Mumbai arrived in Hyderabad in four days, and attractively highlighted the benefits of babywearing. Less reflux, less fussing; and my favourite, which is also their tagline: you get to 'wear a hug'. Cookiie SSC's come with a clearly illustrated instruction booklet, and a one-year warranty against manufacturing defects.

Anmol sends their SSC's through Mirakle Couriers, an agency employing low-income deaf adults. It also arrived in four days, and my favourite thing about the packaging was that it required no scissors or knives to open up. The SSC was very neatly packed, with a simple photo-guide of instructions, and a handwritten note. The box has a great diagram of the SSC's parts, which I confess I missed seeing because I was too excited about the SSC itself!

Size
The specs indicate Cookiie is less than a centimeter taller than Anmol, and about 3 cm wider. When I place them one on top of the other, you can see there's practically no difference. In fact, I'd have suspected Anmol was wider because of the way it's cut - the thick paneling on the sides goes a bit higher and wider than Cookiie's. eM seems to have a bit more space in the Anmol, though she doesn't really need it at the moment. On the other hand, Cookiie's waist band is a bit wider, which is great for hiding post-baby belly bulges (or cheese paunches, as in my case). Cookiie's SSC also comes with a handy minifier that can cinch the seat by up to 5 inches, making it convenient for smaller or thinner babies.
Both carriers have easily adjustable straps. They may be the exact same straps for all I know, but I find Anmol's easier to adjust on the go. Cookiie's are a bit more rigid. This may also be because Anmol is more generous with extra strap material, so there's more material available to loosen/tighten. My husband will vehemently deny it, but we have pretty similar body frames. But if I were sharing my SSC with someone with a very different body type, especially a bulkier one, Anmol may make it more easy.

The Cookiie fits babies from 5-22kgs, while Anmol seats 7-22kgs. While Cookiie's brochure emphasizes it's not to be used for babies below this threshold, Anmol provides a rolled blanket/pillow hack that allows their SSC to be used by even newborns. Both brands have toddler variations that can be used by bigger babies.

Other Features
Apart from being in a cool colour, Cookiie's hood has drawstrings on the sides making it easier to tighten and tie + look great with ruffled edges when not in use. It's also stowed with snaps while Anmol's is secured with velcro. Coming to the chest strap, Anmol's is placed at bra-hook level, while Cookiie's is a bit higher, and adjustable.

And finally the pocket - Cookiie's is placed at the middle of the waist strap, and is wide enough to accommodate a mobile phone, credit card, and keys. Anmol's is placed at the left of the waist strap, and won't fit a phone. This is probably a good thing, as it keeps phones away from the baby, but it's less convenient. Being a right-hander, I also find the placement slightly awkward, especially since it's near/partly under the baby's leg. That said, I only do front carries at the moment. When I do a back carry, Anmol's pocket will likely be the more convenient one.

Aesthetics
The Cookiie comes in super cool graphic prints - stars, chevrons, block prints, ikats. The waist band has a different pattern, and the hood is usually a sharp contrasting colour, which makes the whole thing look stunning when used. Most Anmols are semi or completely hand woven by local weavers, and the wefts of cotton skilfully showcase several colours. The material's OKO tex certified, and is yarn dyed, AZO free. What this basically means is it's completely baby friendly and won't bleed into their skin. It also looks gorgeous, especially in natural light. Each brand definitely has a distinctive style, but I think both look fantastic.

There you have it, the differences I've spotted after a few days' use of each. This isn't a review of either, because I haven't used them long enough. I genuinely don't have a preference yet, and I also want to emphasize that what eventually works for me given mine & my baby's body types + how we use it won't necessarily be the right choice for you. This is also only applicable for the carriers that were sold in the latest release. Both brands are constantly modifying and improving their products.

I highly recommend trying out any babywearing gear before you buy it. If you're in Hyderabad, check out our sling library, where you can easily try on and rent carriers. (Full disclosure: I'm a co-founder of the library, but I don't make any money from it, or from any of these vendors).

From Maggi to Udon Noodle Soup

I always thought I'd marry someone who cooked. It turns out the only thing more attractive than a man who cooks... is a man who doesn't cook, but attempts it for you anyway. Over the last five years, A's cooked for me exactly two times. Ready-to-cook cake, and a ready-to-cook mac and cheese, as he's always quick to point out. But, no sarcasm, I still think it's really sweet. This week, after binge-watching Masterchef Australia and hearing me talk about the idiot-proofness of Built2Cook, he volunteered to make dinner. I figured it was an interesting opportunity to stress-test the product... would someone who'd only ever made Maggi noodles be able to pull off an Udon noodle soup? :)

eM and I took our seats in the Rao kitchen and settled down to watch. First off, I should mention that I was very impressed with Built2Cook's ability to take feedback & refine their product. I'd just mentioned an oil spill in last week's box, and this week saw the oil in a different type of container! Everything continued to be neatly labelled and packed. I'm a fan of consistency, especially from startups, so this is very promising. As A set up his kitchen, he asked if I had a strainer, a vital utensil for this dish. I do, but as I'm rating Built2Cook from the perspective of the average bachelor who doesn't cook - it may be worth noting if a recipe needs 'special' equipment like a strainer or a grinder that such kitchens may not have. They do mention it in the recipe, but it'd be good to have it mentioned upfront to avoid disappointment.

Inspired by the advice on MC Aus, A decided to 'keep his bench clean'. He opened everything, carefully re-sticking the labels for each ingredient onto the containers as he went along... he didn't want to risk grabbing the dark soy rather than the light soy, or the aromat in place of the tempura crumble. Thanks to his meticulousness, we noticed a couple of minor discrepancies. The recipe said to garnish with leeks & broccoli; but the ingredients list only mentioned leeks, and the box itself had neither. This wasn't a big deal though, as the box was chock-full of other lovely fresh veg - carrots, spinach, asparagus, yellow & red bell peppers, mushrooms. We certainly didn't miss the leeks & broccoli. It was a beautiful display of chiffonade, which made the finished dish look “exactly like the picture on the flyer!” as A said.
 
An added advantage is that it's impossible for each vegetable not to get cooked properly as they're all cut so evenly. If I had to nitpick I'd cook the asparagus slightly before throwing in the rest, as it remained slightly bitey, but mostly, it's foolproof... and so healthy, given it’s all blanched! A ate everything except one asparagus without complaint. So I definitely recommend making this with/for kids who may be picky about their vegetables otherwise.

We were also impressed with the ingredients for the curried broth. When I cook Oriental from scratch, I invariably skip things like aromat, or replace the castor sugar with white. I just can't be bothered stocking a full Oriental kitchen for the few times that I cook it. With Built2Cook, there's no such compromise because you have everything you need, in the proportions that you need. A was hesitant at first, asking if he could really just use exactly what was given without tasting along the way. In the interest of checking idiot-proofness, I told him to go for it, leaving out just the salt. The resulting broth was a thing of beauty. As A put it, "I feel so proud of making something taste like that, even though I didn't actually do anything." Hint, hint: if trying to get to someone's heart through their stomach, this is bound to impress!

The broth and vegetables are perfectly balanced, and the whole thing has a complex flavour profile which you wouldn't think came from just four basic steps. It probably took A about ten minutes to cook - 8 more than Maggi; but 10,000 times more healthy; and, frankly, just as moreish. I'd be happy to drink mugfuls of that every day. I wasn't this impressed with thetacos since their taste depended on my ability to season. This, on the other hand, was gorgeous enough to inspire poetry - the crunch of the tempura crumble against the freshness of the spring onions, while the veg stayed firm but tender in that rich broth... I hope they keep a Japanese dish on their menu at all times, because the chef absolutely nailed this one! 

I think the only advice I'd give non-cooks who try Built2Cook is to follow the recipes verbatim except for the amount of oil & salt to be used. With a non-stick kadai, we used about 1/3rd the oil provided, and none of the salt. It was lovely to sit around doing nothing while A whipped up a beautiful meal. I could see his confidence growing as he cooked, and the dish's resounding success has him rearing to try something else soon!

Mexican Fiesta with Built2Cook

When my mum was learning to drive, she told me I was the best person to practice with because I wouldn't rush her, get tensed, or pass judgment. I translated that to mean I was her favourite person to try new things with! And so this Mother's Day, I offered my foodie-mum a choice of cuisines she'd never eaten before, and promised we'd explore one together. I'd make some stuff, she could make some with me, and we'd buy the rest. If she didn't like anything, she could ditch it, no questions asked. 

I was thrilled when she picked Mexican. I've ranted about this before, but Hyderabad has no decent - read, authentic - Mexican food. None. If I want it, I know I should just make it. This was the perfect excuse. Last year this time I was in Mexico, so this gave me an opportunity to get nostalgic! I'd also been itching to try a new food start-up, Built2Cook, which delivers pre-prepped ingredients for international recipes. They had tacos on their menu, with sides of salsa and guacamole, all for Rs.250. Bring it on! 

I like their website. Ingredients, portion size, and cooking time are clearly noted - and the ingredients include things like salt and oil, so you could literally have an empty larder and still cook up a meal. I also like their pictorial step-by-step recipes... given the people who order off Built2Cook are likely unfamiliar with the cuisine or even cooking in general, it's especially helpful. I wish they had 3 course options - right now, tacos were the only Mexican thing on their menu, so we had to look elsewhere for our other courses. I'd love to see a burrito up there.

The taco recipe came with a disclaimer that tacos are a diverse breed, and every person has their own recipe for the filling. I couldn't agree more. I wanted to tweak mine a bit, so I ran out to the local grocery store to buy a few things. While I was there, I did a quick cost comparison - 3 tacos would be Rs.60, the veggies would cost another Rs.120 (thanks, avocados!), sour cream + cheese would easily tally another Rs.200. That's assuming you don't bother with refried beans. Even without factoring in the opportunity cost of time spent prepping all that stuff, there's no doubt that Built2Cook saves you a lot of money. And assuming this is a one-off and you don't cook Mexican (or whatever else) all the time, you won't be stuck with a whole lot of, say, sour cream, that you'll never get around to using. 

I got home and was surprised to find they'd already delivered my box at 6pm. I'd specifically asked for 7pm, and I couldn't help thinking that on a weekday, they took a real gamble by deciding to show up an hour early. It's 46 degrees out in Hyderabad, so it's not even like they could have left the fresh-prepped ingredients with the watchman. My mum also told me that they didn't have change for Rs.100. I personally think if a startup only offers cash on delivery, its dishes are all priced at Rs.250, and they do their own delivery, they should definitely give their delivery people a stack of 50's. Alternatively, just charge either Rs.200 (similar start-ups in Bangalore often charge Rs.150 on average); or go big, maybe add a lime soda for people to drink as they cook, and round off the bill to Rs.300. It's the small things that make the difference. 

But we were excited with what we got - an enticing looking package reminiscent of Masterchef's Mystery Boxes, and a flyer with the pictorial recipe & ingredients list. My mum promptly pocketed the flyer for future reference, it's a keeper! We opened the box to find 4 compartments, with the ingredients for each component of the dish segregated neatly. Just in case anything got mixed up in transit, each packet or cup of ingredients was also labelled with the name of the ingredient, and the dish it was to be used for; eg: tomato (guacamole), tomato (salsa). Very nicely done. The olive oil and sour cream had both leaked, so some things were a tad messier than I'd have liked... but this was purely an optical problem - none of it got onto any of the other ingredients, and they'd packed a little extra of the basics such as salt and oil anyway. The latter's a bit of a double-edged sword, I guess, because with everything neatly portioned out, a newbie cook may be tempted to just add all the salt or all the oil... ouch. Maybe the recipe should specify how much of the seasoning to use, or say season to taste.

I loved the convenience of having all my stuff pre-prepped, it's like having a handy sous chef. As I said, I made a few tweaks to make it more like the Mexican I'm familiar with. In case you buy the same box and aren't too familiar with the cuisine, here's what I did:

- I kept aside the water chestnuts & babycorn to make a Thai curry with some other time, as I'd never had them in a taco before.

- Since it's not prime tomato weather, but it is mango season, I changed the tomato salsa to a mango salsa. Yum-my. Plus, it gave us more salsa.

- I bought some extra tortilla chips to go with the salsa & guacamole, and grated some more cheese to top them with. 

- When avocado oxidizes, it quickly turns darker. So to preserve the colour and enhance the taste, it's recommended to add a squeeze of lime juice. You also want to mash it up a bit, so it tastes buttery.

- I also shredded the lettuce and coriander more finely, but that's subjective - I've a picky-eater husband so I tend to over-mince and make it hard for him to take out anything!

I made us some virgin mojitos to sip on as we cooked, and ordered a bunch of other stuff we could eat along with our tacos, chips, guac and salsa. I put on a movie, mum sampled everything, and we had the perfect, relaxed evening. She discovered she really likes guac & mango salsa, and said she'd try them again soon!

All in all, Built2Cook helped create some of those memories that money can't buy. It looks very promising, and I can't wait to order another box for a date-night in with A! Now if only they had a Thai green curry, or an Austrian spatzle....

(Usual disclaimer: this isn't a paid review, just me spreading the joy for anyone else who may be interested).

Rant: Digital Marketing Faux Pas

I'm angry about a lot of stuff this week, none of which I can do much about. So to divert myself, here are the top ten digital marketing trends that make me wonder about companies' hiring standards, or lack thereof.

- Clickbait headlines are bad enough, but clickbait headlines with poor grammar? If I wanted that, I'd just read one of Chetan Bhagat's 'novels'.

- Ads which call out a specific product or price point, then direct you to the homepage. It's like being sent to the grocery store when you place your order at a restaurant.

- When the word 'only' is suffixed to outrageous price points. Rs.900 only for a dupatta? No, please, take a kidney too, it's only fair.

- Completely irrelevant jumping on the bandwagon. B2B businesses that wish people on, say, Father's Day, just because B2C businesses are. Happy Veteran's Day to you, too.

- Hashtag hashtags. Learn how they work before you use them, please. #korangukailapoomaalai #TamizhLols

- 'Mobile sites' that are basically desktop sites with text in font size 5 and awkward image alignment. I wouldn't mind if your company wasn't touted to be a 'cutting-edge' 'tech start-up'. (Aren't they all?)

- Asking for all my details, including location, several times; then emailing me a bunch of offers that are only valid in other regions. Is this some bizarre tie-up with a relocation company that I don't know of?

- Giving away freebies to bloggers who started their blogs purely to receive freebies. I've no idea which restaurant is actually worth eating at anymore. Or which blog is actually worth reading, for that matter.

- No opt-out clauses. Dear big e-comm company, I'd probably not have used your biggest rival as much if you didn't try bullying me into downloading your mobile app all the time. 

-  Remarketing that never stops. Twelve months into seeing the same pregnancy ad, I wonder how long they think the human gestation cycle lasts. You'd think a maternity clinic would know the answer, eh?