Tuesday, July 8, 2008

it's too bad we have plenty of diapers

That is the conclusion my husband and I came to last night, as we sat in the living room after dinner, watching a baseball game online and trading commentary that was, as usual, ever-so-much snappier than that of the actual announcers. 

Our reasoning went something like this: He was craving some dessert, preferably pastry. An almond-and-chocolate bear claw from Whole Foods, in fact.  Which we always buy a pair of (cue Newman from Seinfeld) when we go there to buy diapers.  Thus, especially since I now wanted a pastry too, it was a shame there was no diaper run imminent.  

We hatched all kinds of crazy schemes, starting with driving all the way to Whole Foods right then just for pastries and winding up with quitting our jobs and starting a dessert delivery service ("Do you think people would order takeout dessert?" he said.  Hello!  Raise your hand if you're not currently fantasizing about obscure flavors of small-batch ice cream and brownies knocking at your door.)  Then I said, "Well, I could make a pastry."

For about a minute that seemed like the craziest idea of all.  But then I went into the kitchen and fired up the oven.  I rummaged through the cupboards and chopped walnuts and dark chocolate and threw shredded coconut around willy-nilly.  I rolled out the last sheet of puff pastry from the freezer and, in a drift of flour, brushed it with butter, sugar, and spices and folded it into something like a messy braid.

People, this was so much fun.  It was the antidote to my Memorial Day dessert.  It was possibly the purest, most carefree enjoyment I have had in the kitchen in the past year.  Nobody's empty stomach was waiting for the results of my efforts, and there was no recipe to measure up to.  It was just cooking for the sheer creative pleasure of it.

And that's a good note on which to return to this blog.  We were out of town for part of last month, and then I felt like I'd fallen way behind, and feeling behind is a recipe for procrastination.  I've actually started a post a couple of times since we got back, but each time it felt like a burden and went unfinished.  This is supposed to be fun, right?

Anyway, we stayed up way too late (until 10:05!) waiting for the pastry to come out of the oven, and the result was not at all subtle or refined, but I think it was worth it.

Dark Chocolate-Walnut Pastry Braid

3 T butter
2 T brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/3 C walnut halves, chopped
2 oz. dark chocolate, finely slivered
1/4 C shredded coconut
1 sheet puff pastry, thawed

Preheat oven to 400 F.  Melt the butter and sugar together in a small saucepan, and stir in the spices.  In a small bowl, mix the walnuts, chocolate, and coconut together. 
On a floured work surface, roll the puff pastry into a rectangle about...um, 14 by 10 inches, I guess?...and transfer it to a lightly greased baking sheet.  Pour all but a teaspoon or two of the melted butter mixture onto the pastry, along the long axis in the center third of the dough.  Put the walnut-chocolate-coconut mixture on top of that.  

Then use a table knife to make about  7 or 8 angled horizontal cuts to make a sort of "fringe" on each of the outer thirds of the pastry.  Lap the fringes toward the center to create a braided effect.  It helps if you've had a glass or so of wine.  Drizzle the remaining butter mixture over the top of the braid.  

Bake at 400 F until you absolutely cannot stand waiting any longer, or about 20-25 minutes. 

Saturday, May 31, 2008

getting cultured

I mentioned in a comment on a previous post that yogurt is one of Monkey's favorite foods. She eats so much yogurt, in fact, that I think almost any food is starting to taste better to her with a little yogurt stirred in. She has it with fruit and oatmeal for breakfast, and more often than not with vegetables and rice or multigrain cereal for lunch and dinner.

For a while I didn't even realize that I was making all her meals on essentially the same template. But it's more or less how we eat--a vegetable, a grain, and a little dollop of dairy just seems like a balanced meal to me. It's funny to realize how early and how unconsciously one transmits one's food culture to a baby.

The Mr. and I have been eating a lot of yogurt lately, too--over carrots for dinner, on top of muesli for breakfast, in a brunch dish I haven't even told you about yet, and in the dish of sauteed zucchini and chickpeas pictured above.

And we're not alone.  The New York Times food section recently published a whole feature on yogurt. Over at 101 cookbooks, Heidi marinated tofu in yogurt and spices (we tried out that recipe, in fact, and it was tasty but also convinced me once and for all that even vegetarians need a grill); Luisa of The Wednesday Chef spooned it over fish and then rubbed it onto chicken. I don't know what's behind this sudden interest in yogurt from all quarters. Maybe that combination of heartiness and healthfulness makes a perfect spring tonic.

Zucchini and Chickpeas in Creamy Tahini Sauce

Adapted from kardemumma

1/4 C plain yogurt
2 T tahini
1 medium clove garlic, minced fine (next time I’ll use 2)
Ground black pepper
1 T olive oil
2 small zucchini (I’d use 3 next time, as a matter of fact)
1 15-oz can chickpeas, drained
A wedge of fresh lemon

Combine the first five ingredients in a bowl and stir to combine. If possible, put this in the refrigerator for an hour or so to let the flavors blend.

Slice the zucchini and saute in olive oil until the slices have a nice color (that’s kardemumma blogger Viktoria’s wording; isn’t it nice?). Add the chickpeas and heat through. Squeeze the lemon juice over the top.

Transfer the zucchini and chickpeas to a serving bowl, add the yogurt-tahini mixture, and stir to coat the zucchini and chickpeas with the dressing. Serve immediately.

Makes 2 or 3 servings.


A crunchy carrot salad makes a nice companion for the creamy zucchini. The recipe below is adapted from The Ethnic Paris Cookbook, which, despite its unfortunate title, is an excellent book. In addition to recipes it contains reviews of restaurants, food shops, and markets, making it one in a long and growing list of food-related things that make me want to visit Paris again.

Carrot Salad with Fresh Citrus Juice

3 carrots, peeled (that is what the original recipe called for but I think they must have been working with some honkin' big carrots--next time I'll use more, maybe as many as 6)
Juice of 1/2 of a red grapefruit or 1 orange
1 T sugar
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground cumin
2 T toasted pine nuts

Combine the first five ingredients in a bowl and stir together. Sprinkle the pine nuts on top.

Makes 2 servings.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

not really a day off

But we did manage to capture a deceptively restful-looking picture or two.

For a moment, though, when my brother-in-law announced "I'll take some more of that dessert please," as four of us sat around in the backyard alternately eating a Memorial Day picnic dinner and wrangling Monkey and her two-year-old cousin, I thought that this apple-ginger galette might disappear without any record of its existence at all.

And that would have been a shame, because this was a possibly miraculous dessert, that resisted numerous opportunities for ruin.

I had started out intending to make a Rhubarb Ginger Galette from Simply Recipes, which my friend x. had recommended and my friend T. had also given the thumbs-up. Except I planned to make mine with apples, because that's what we had on hand. (So much for seasonal cooking, right? Well, in my defense, or perhaps just the opposite, the apples were in season when I bought them.) So, while the Mr. cleaned up the backyard in preparation for the picnic, I set up the playpen in the kitchen and settled Monkey in with some toys and a favorite book or two. By the time I'd sliced the apples she was hungry for lunch, so I left them to soften slowly on the stove while I fed her. Then she was ready for a nap, during which I thought I'd make the pastry for the galette.

Except that after putting Monkey down in her crib I realized I was exhausted. So I folded a couple loads of laundry and then thought I'd lie down for just a few minutes. Which stretched into, well, quite a while.

Fortunately, I happened to have a library copy of Deborah Madison's Local Flavors handy, and paged through it while I was lying down. (Because what's more relaxing than lying down? Lying down and looking through a cookbook, that's what.) In that book is a recipe for a "Rustic Tart of Quinces, Apples, and Pears" made with puff pastry. And we happened to have some puff pastry in the freezer leftover from dinner a few days before:

(Asparagus and Gruyere Tart from Under the High Chair)

This was quite a happy coincidence--I'd never bought or cooked with puff pastry before last week. Brilliant, I figured, worst case scenario I'll just use puff pastry instead of a homemade crust.

Which, of course, is exactly what came to pass, because after naptime the Mr. needed to make the rest of our picnic dinner, and somebody needed to mind Monkey, who these days not only army-crawls alarmingly fast, wants to pull up on any and every vertical surface, and generally thinks that sitting around looking at books is for chumps, but also, this day, was having a particularly rough time of it. We think she's working on some teeth. At least eight of them, I should hope, for all the misery they seem to be causing her.

So to be honest, I'm not quite sure how long I ended up leaving the galette in the oven, because by the time I got it ready to bake it was time for Monkey's dinner, and I had to keep popping into the kitchen to check on the pastry in between spooning bites of carrot and yogurt into her mouth. (Yes, that's right, I sauteed the apples while feeding Monkey lunch and baked the galette while feeding her dinner. People, it took me all afternoon to make this dessert! But you should try it--it's really easy, I swear!)

I was multitasking quite impressively at this point, because along with baking dessert and feeding Monkey dinner, I was also doing a little silent fuming, along the lines of why can't I get just five uninterrupted minutes to do something in the kitchen, etc., etc. And that brings me to the rather obvious point that there is no such thing as a three-day weekend, or even really a day off, when you have an infant in the house.

I'd like to say that sitting on the picnic blanket later on and feeding Monkey little bites of apple from the pastry--her first taste of dessert--made it all worthwhile. And it did, of course, but one of the most difficult parts of parenting for me is the way that there's just not enough time for everything. There's the housework and the paid work and the childminding, and when that's done one needs to take care of oneself, and what's left over for creative work is pretty close to nil. So each time I go into the kitchen lately I find that I have to revise my plans and pare down my expectations, sometimes more than once. And to me it seems especially difficult when that happens in relation to cooking, which is not only self-expression but also a way of showing care for loved ones.

So it was nice, after Monkey went to bed for the night, to have a few minutes to check in with the Mr. and realize that he is struggling with some of the same thoughts (a point I hope I can bring myself to remember the next time I am tempted to engage in some silent fuming). And nice, then, to have a few minutes to myself and write up the notes for this recipe.

Apple-Ginger Galette

Sort-of adapted/melded from Simply Recipes and Local Flavors, with thanks to Aimee of Under the High Chair for teaching me how to use puff pastry.

3 apples
2 T + 1 tsp butter, divided
2 T sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1 sheet (about 7 oz.) frozen puff pastry
1 T finely chopped candied ginger
1 oz (or so) sharp cheddar, grated
Flour for work surface

Peel, core, and slice the apples. Melt 2 T of the butter in a large skillet and saute the apples over low heat until they soften a bit. Add the sugar, cinnamon, and ground ginger, and continue to cook over low heat until the apples are soft and syrupy. Remove from heat and let cool. Meanwhile, take the puff pastry out to thaw.

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Stir the candied ginger and shredded cheese into the cooled apples. On a floured work surface, roll the puff pastry into a square about 12 inches on a side. Don't worry if it's messy and uneven; after all, you're making a galette precisely because you don't have time or don't want to worry about such things. Carefully fold the pastry in quarters, transfer to a lightly greased baking sheet, and unfold. Spoon the apple mixture into the center of the puff pastry. Pull the corners of the pastry toward the center (they won't touch).

Melt the remaining 1 tsp butter in the skillet in which you cooked the apples. With a pastry brush, snag the little bits of left-behind spices and mix them into the butter, then brush the butter over the top of the galette.

Bake the galette at 400 F for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 375 and bake for about 30 minutes more, until the pastry is puffy and golden-brown.

Serves 6

Saturday, May 10, 2008

what to do with leftover baby food, part 1

Lately we've gotten into a pretty good routine with making baby food here at home, but making sure Monkey has something to eat if we're going to be out and about for one of her mealtimes is a different story. There is the mixing up her food, the storing it (we have a set of nice little glass bowls with ill-fitting plastic lids that are just bound to result in a mess one of these days), the figuring out how to refrigerate it, and so on. Last weekend we went out to brunch and it took us an hour to get out the door.

So I thought it might be useful to have a few jars of purchased baby food on hand to throw into a bag for impromptu outings, and last time I was at the grocery store I stocked up. We were a bit late getting home, so I figured, what the heck, let's crack one of these puppies open just to test it out and make sure Monkey likes it.

She did not. She ate all of three bites out of a jar of carrots before turning away in disgust.

I am secretly pleased about this, but even more secretly a little bummed out.

Though to be honest, I thought the carrots were kind of watery and tasteless, myself.

Of course, since I had been so confident that Monkey would eat them (she loves carrots! and babies are reputed to prefer the smooth bliss of jarred food to lumpy old homemade), I fed her straight from the jar, and now I was stuck with a nearly full jar of baby food that nobody much liked and that couldn't be fed to the baby at a later meal. So that's how my lunch yesterday came about:

I apologize for the ugly picture, but that's what happens when a girl tries to sneak off for a hurried assignation with the camera in the middle of the workday.

First, I made a quesadilla with shredded pepper jack cheese and spread a tablespoon or two of the carrot puree on one side of the tortilla before closing it up. That was pretty tasty, and the flavor of the carrots improved with a little heat.

But there were still some carrots left in the jar after I folded up my quesadilla, so I dumped them into the last little bit of leftover chili that I planned to have on the side. (I suppose it's a little odd to post a chili recipe in mid-May, when the rest of the food blogosphere is kvelling over ramps, asparagus, and strawberries. But my neighborhood farmers' market doesn't open until (sob!) early June, so I was trying to use up what was in the pantry. Plus, here in Seattle we'll probably be getting little pockets of chili weather for the next month or so anyway.)

I'd invented the chili on the fly a couple of nights before and been pretty happy with it, but it's possible that the carrots make it even better. They give the dish a creaminess that's unexpected in a chili but not unwelcome. And they thicken it up a bit, too--adding some vegetable puree might be a good last-minute trick for thickening a too-watery soup or stew, if you don't have time to reduce it by simmering. (Similar, it now occurs to me, to the technique of pureeing a portion of a soup and then adding it back to the pan.)

Either of the recipes below would work pretty well with another orange vegetable--winter squash, sweet potatoes--in place of the carrots.

I've heard several parents say that their babies suddenly stopped wanting pureed food, leaving them stuck with a freezer (or a cupboard) full of baby food, so I think this post will be the first in an ongoing series about what to do when you're in that fix.

Carrot Quesadillas

For each quesadilla:
1 large (burrito-size) flour tortilla
about 1 oz. cheese (pepper jack is nice), shredded
1-2 Tbsp pureed carrots

You know how to cook a quesadilla, right? And I won't insult you by giving you permission to add other ingredients if you want--coz you know you can.

Lentil and Sweet Potato Chili (with Pureed Carrot Variation)

1 onion, chopped
6 smallish cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes
1 C brown lentils, washed and picked over
1 Tbsp mild chile molido
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp oregano
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp salt
Water (or stock)
1 roasted red pepper, diced
1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced
1/2 C (or more?) pureed carrot (optional)

Saute the onion and garlic in olive oil until they are soft and just beginning to color. Stir in the tomatoes (with their juices), lentils, spices, and salt. Add some water--exactly how much depends on how thick you like your chili, but make sure that it is at least enough to cover the lentils. Cook on low heat, covered, until the lentils are soft. (The Joy of Cooking says brown lentils take 20 to 30 minutes to cook, but mine were awfully old and wizened, and required at least twice that amount of time. Since brown lentils retain their shape when cooked, you don't need to worry much about overcooking them.) Add the diced pepper and sweet potato, and simmer until the sweet potato is cooked, about 20 minutes more. Stir in the pureed carrot, if using, and heat through. This is good topped with shredded pepper jack to serve.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

101 uses for dried fruit puree

Well, maybe not quite 101, but I promised some more ideas about how to use the puree of apricot, prune, and raisin that sweetens the muesli recipes I recently posted, so here goes.

Before we get started, I wanted to say again that this puree was inspired by a similar one that was part of the Bircher Muesli recipe from delicious:days. I think I mentioned that in the text of my previous post but forgot to give the nod when I typed up the recipe.

And on a different introductory note: yes, I do realize that dried fruit puree looks like poop. Let me tell you, my husband was a little alarmed the first time he saw an ice-cube tray full of it sitting in our freezer. (Freezer contents in houses I have previously lived in have included a dead storm petrel and several tupperware containers full of assorted insects, so I guess he had reason to be concerned.) And now that we have broached the subject of poop, I will say that ever since Monkey started eating a spoonful of this stuff with breakfast every day, she has not had any trouble in that department. So if you (or more precisely, I hope, your baby) are feeling the effects of too much rice cereal, I highly recommend dried fruit puree as a tasty cure. (There, yes, I just blogged about my kid's poop. But I have managed to avoid the subject for nearly four months, so really, I think you should consider yourself lucky.)

Anyway, on to topics of conversation more appropriate for the table....

I think the fruit puree would be delicious in this carrot variation on muesli from A Veggie Venture, which I'm dying to try. In fact, Monkey has already had the baby version of this recipe; substitute an equal quantity of pureed carrots for the applesauce in my Baby Bircher recipe and call it (because I can't resist) Baby Bunny. She might like it even better than the apple version, to be perfectly honest.

And of course it would also be good stirred into either oatmeal or yogurt on its own. Sweet and fruity with no refined sugar--take that, YoBaby!

Spread it on toast fingers for a snack for the baby, or pair it with peanut butter for a sandwic for toddlers on up. Add it to pancake or waffle batter (or maybe heat it up with some maple syrup to go on top). Use it in a quickbread or carrot cake.

And then there are the savory possibilities. Combined with some braised alliums and a bit of vinegar, the puree could be a player in a nice chutney. Throw it in with some cooked carrots and a pinch of cumin for glazed carrots--doesn't that sound pretty? And--this is going to be a bit vague, because I don't know a thing about cooking meat--I'm pretty sure you could also add some to a skillet after deglazing to make a rather sophisticated sauce for chicken or pork.

But more simply, it's delicious spread on a cracker and topped with a thin slice of aged cheese (that's Parmigiano-Reggiano in the photo above). The high proportion of apricot in my version of the recipe gives the puree a sunny flavor that's especially nice paired with the cheese's bite. If you wanted to get really fancy, you could add a bit of mustard to the puree for an impromptu mostarda.

I didn't invent the pairing of dried fruit and cheese, of course, but I am pretty tickled to have figured out, quite accidentally, how to do it on the cheap. This puree is not much different from the stuff they were recently peddling at my local grocery store, asking $6 for about a quarter-cup nubbin. (Six dollars! And it didn't even look any less like poop* than the homemade version!)

*Hey, if I'm going to talk about poop in a post I may as well go all out, right?

Anyway, I think I may try to keep this stuff on hand, even after Monkey outgrows the habit of eating a bowl full of mush for breakfast.

And here, to save you a click, is the recipe once again:

Dried Fruit Puree

Adapted from delicious:days

Most any combination of dried fruits could be used in this puree (I'd like to try adding some candied ginger, too); just use an equal volume of fruit and water.

1/2 C dried apricots
1/4 C prunes
1/4 C dark raisins
1 C water

Combine all of the ingredients in a small saucepan and simmer, covered, over low heat for about 20 minutes or until the fruits are very plump and tender. Let cool a bit and then puree in a blender or food processor until smooth.

This puree keeps in the freezer for quite a while, but (due to the high sugar content, I think) it may not freeze solid. Test this out before tying up an ice cube tray!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

nine months

It's that time again.

Here's what Monkey thought of this month's new tastes:

Aged cheddar
Cumin + cinnamon*
Multigrain cereal (Rice + Oats + Millet. Have you ever had millet? I don't think I have but my kiddo LOVES it, apparently.)
Maple-Roasted Root Vegetables (carrot, sweet potato)
Peas as a finger food (I am sorry I waited so long!)

Avocado (not a new taste; what's new is that I am admitting that Monkey really does not like it. She finally convinced me by gagging dramatically on a spoonful of beautifully ripe avocado the other day. And then doing it again.)
Havarti with dill
Rice as a finger food (too sticky?)

*Or possibly she is willing to eat anything as long as it is mixed with sweet potatoes. Except avocado! I think I've tried that and it was a no go.

**Sounds astonishing, doesn't it? But this is another installment in our series of occasional essays on the topic of "Hey, guess what? Babies don't like gross food!" I pureed a couple of pieces from a bag of frozen mango bought because I wanted to add a new fruit to the rotation, and when Monkey didn't seem to like it I used the rest of the bag in a mango version of this bread salad from 101 Cookbooks. I fed the bread salad to some families from my parents' group last weekend, unfortunately before realizing that the bagged frozen mango was really not very good at all (now that I type that out, it seems like it should have been obvious). It was unripe and tasted...fishy. Yes, fishy. My guests were very polite about it, and I am very sorry. Please do not let my error dissuade you from trying the bread salad linked above, because it is really an excellent recipe, the ever-so-slightly-caramelized bread cubes playing off the sweet-tart fruit dressing. Also, if any of the members of my parents' group are reading, please do not let my error dissuade you from coming over to my house for a meal in the future. I am resolved to do better next time.

I thought we'd been getting into a groove with this solids thing, but on reviewing the short list above I realize that in fact it's a rut. I guess this is one of the downsides of making your own baby food: once you have a stock of reliable favorites in the freezer, it's hard to find the time and motivation to branch out. Our staples, day in and day out, seem to be muesli for breakfast, banana, sweet potato, carrot, peas, yogurt, baby cereal, and upscale hippie cheerios (which brand I continue to buy because it is the only one I can find that does not contain sugar. Which I feel compelled to tell you because I apparently don't want to admit that I am, in fact, an upscale hippie.)

Anyway, to keep us on track, or possibly just because I love to make lists, here are some things I'd like to get Monkey to try over the coming month:
A good mango
Potatoes again (one of my husband's colleagues recommended trying Yukon Golds, which I think is an excellent suggestion--they're buttery and smooth all on their own)
Those Damn Teething Biscuits
Winter squash
Yam and Carrot Tagine (oh you betcha there will be a recipe to share)

Saturday, April 26, 2008

a bowl full of mush

As I was thickening applesauce with some baby oatmeal for Monkey's breakfast one morning, I was reminded of a once-loved recipe that I hadn't thought of for years. It used to be one of my favorite breakfasts, in fact: a combination of oatmeal and grated apple, soaked in liquid overnight to make a dish that's soft, comforting, and--odd as this may sound in relation to a breakfast food--distinctly refreshing.

I was pretty sure the prodigal recipe was called muesli--I could picture its yellowing newsprint, glued to a plain white index card. But neither my mother nor I knew where the index card was.

Disorganization has its benefits, I guess, because a quick Google search of what I remembered about the recipe (muesli + grated apple) revealed that this "fresh muesli" (as distinguished from dry muesli, those flakes with little bits of dried fruit more familiar to us inhabitants of the land of Kellogg) is in fact the original muesli (I know, Google and Wikipedia cited in one post! The librarian in my life will be so proud), invented a century ago by the Swiss physician Maximilian Bircher Benner and sometimes known as Bircher Muesli in his honor. And appropriately enough, it turns out that the word "muesli" is derived from the German for "mush."

In light of that coincidence, how could I resist creating baby and adult versions of the dish, and sharing breakfast with Monkey?

Figuring out Monkey's version was pretty straightforward: just a slight elaboration of what I'd already been feeding her for breakfast. But the question of what to put in my own bowl was more daunting, because there are about as many variations on muesli as there are cooks out there. I kept it simple, with just oats soaked in apple juice, a bit of lemon juice and cinnamon, grated apple, and some yogurt to serve. But you can also add other fresh and dried fruits, nuts, and any number of additional grains, seeds, and spices if you're so inclined.

To this I added a puree of mixed dried fruits, which sweetened the muesli recipe from delicious:days. I changed up the mixture of fruits (I wanted to get some prunes in there since I know Monkey loves them), and simmered them for a while to soften them up before blending, and wow am I happy I tried this out. I think this puree has a ton of potential uses, in both baby and adult diets. I'll share some ideas on that in an upcoming post--but for now, it's breakfast time.

Bircher Muesli

This recipe does require some forethought, since the oats need to be soaked in liquid overnight to soften. But resist the temptation to double the recipe--this dish is better the first or second day. After that, the grated apple loses its crispness, and with that goes the dish's refreshing quality.

1 C old-fashioned rolled oats
1 C apple juice
1 medium apple, grated (leave the skin on for color!)
A squeeze or two of lemon juice
1/4 tsp cinnamon
Plain yogurt
Dried Fruit Puree (recipe follows)

Place the first 5 ingredients in a bowl and stir to combine. Cover and refrigerate overnight. In the morning, dish the muesli up in individual bowls and top each serving with a dollop of yogurt and a smaller dollop of Dried Fruit Puree.

Makes about 3 servings.

Baby Bircher

1 Tbsp applesauce (or 1 ice-cube's worth, for those of you freezing along at home)
1 Tbsp (dry) baby oatmeal
2 tsp plain yogurt
1 tsp Dried Fruit Puree (recipe follows)
Pinch of cinnamon
Apple juice or water

Place the first 5 ingredients in a small bowl and stir to combine. If necessary, thin with apple juice or water to the desired consistency. Serve immediately.

Serves 1 baby.

Dried Fruit Puree

Most any combination of dried fruits could be used in this puree (I'd like to try adding some candied ginger, too); just use an equal volume of fruit and water.

1/2 C dried apricots
1/4 C prunes
1/4 C dark raisins
1 C water

Combine all of the ingredients in a small saucepan and simmer, covered, over low heat for about 20 minutes or until the fruits are very plump and tender. Let cool a bit and then puree in a blender or food processor until smooth.

This puree keeps in the freezer for quite a while, but (due to the high sugar content, I think) it may not freeze solid. Test this out before tying up an ice cube tray!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

spicing things up

Monkey's lunch yesterday: sweet potatoes and rice cereal, with a little yogurt and a pinch of cumin. Lunch today: the same, with a pinch each of cinnamon and cumin. Both days she ate the whole bowl. She's not crawling yet, but I couldn't possibly be prouder. Do you see where I'm going with this?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

family dinner: could i see a menu, please?

Via the handy food-news aggregator at the blog delicious:days comes this article from The Observer (UK), with the surprising headline "Fruit and veg diet 'danger for toddlers.'" The piece describes a recent study that found daycares in the UK are serving meals with too little fat, too few calories, and too much fiber--meals that, in hewing closely to dietary recommendations for adults, are inappropriate for young children.

I don't know the exact state of things on the other side of the pond, but here in the U.S. fat has become so thoroughly demonized (unless you're on the Atkins bandwagon, I guess) that it's not hard for me to believe people would go overboard and forget that it takes plenty of fat to grow a proper brain. (I would even go further and suggest--gasp!--that adults need some fat in their diet too. Pass me that full-fat yogurt I bought for the baby, please; I'd like to drizzle it atop some carrots braised in olive oil and butter.)

The article also makes me wonder whether some of the picky eating that's famously endemic among the toddler set is, once again, just kids being sensible. Maybe expecting them to eat the same proportions of protein, starch, and vegetables that we put on our own plates is not appropriate, and by balking they are following what they know their own bodies need. (Maybe. Can you tell I don't have a toddler yet?)

But mostly, this article just pushes my buttons, with its multiple quotes from experts about how children 1 to 4 years old "have entirely different [nutritional] requirements" from older children and adults; and how "it is completely inappropriate to simply purée a meal that would be healthy for a four-year-old and feed it to a two-year-old" (side note: barring developmental or other health issues, what the hell are you doing pureeing food for a two-year-old anyway?); and how "The nutritional content of toddlers' meals is a proper science." That last quote is my favorite of the bunch, for its ability to induce a profound wonder as to how we have ever managed to survive as a species until now.

I don't doubt that what a toddler needs to eat to be healthy is not exactly what an older child needs is not exactly what an adult needs. But it seems to me that all this "entirely different" talk just reinforces the notion, increasingly prevalent nowadays, that there is kid food and there is adult food and never the twain shall meet. That notion is making family dinner times fraught and helping to turn countless parents (ok, let's have a moment of gender solidarity here: mostly moms) into short-order cooks. And as I look ahead to a time not so far in the future when the three members of my household might share regular meals together, I'm more and more bothered by this kind of thinking. Is it so outlandish to imagine that a girl could just, you know, cook dinner and feed it to her family?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

cooking with chaos

Many thanks to my friend a. for mentioning maple syrup as a good sweetener for yogurt and other baby foods, and thus inspiring the following recipe.  

Maple-Roasted Root Vegetables

I used carrots and sweet potatoes in this recipe because that's what I had on hand, but I think almost any root vegetable would be good prepared this way--I'd like to try parsnips, rutabaga, and maybe some shallots too.

2 T olive oil
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp Aleppo pepper or mild chili powder
1 T maple syrup (we like the more strongly flavored Grade B for this sort of cooking)
4 medium cloves of garlic
1/2 of a large Spanish onion
1 medium sweet potato
3 medium carrots

First, as you read over the list of ingredients above, recognize that the precision of measurements is somewhat artificial and could just as easily read "two large glugs," "one smaller glug," etc.

Preheat the oven to 375 F.  Place the olive oil, salt, spices, and maple syrup in a rectangular baking dish and stir with a spatula to combine.  

Peel and roughly chop the garlic.  Peel, trim, and roughly chop the onion.  Peel the sweet potato and cut into 1-inch cubes.  Peel and trim the carrots, and cut into chunks roughly the same size as the sweet potatoes.

Add the vegetables to the baking dish and toss with the spatula to coat with the olive oil mixture.  Put in the oven.  When your sweetie comes home from work, suggest that these veggies would be good with some guacamole made with that last avocado that really needs to be used up.

Realize in a panic that it's past time for the baby's bath, so stir the vegetables quickly before going to start the water.  Give the baby her bath. Afterwards, consider asking your sweetie to keep an eye on the vegetables, but decide against it because he seems so dang grumpy, and you've already asked him to make guacamole.  Instead, hope he might think of giving the vegetables a stir or two on his own, and go put the baby to bed.

Once the baby is asleep, re-enter the kitchen to the following peeved query from your sweetie: "So what's happening with these vegetables?"  Realize that your sweetie is not in fact a mind-reader and has not stirred the vegetables.  Cover up your panic with an airy statement to the effect that, "Oh, they're probably about done."  Remove the vegetables from the oven, stir them up to coat with the caramelized olive oil and maple syrup mixture in the bottom of the pan, and decide that they're just about perfect after all.

So, officially, that's roast at 375 F for 40 to 50 minutes, stirring once about halfway through.

Roasted Vegetable Burritos

1 recipe Maple-Roasted Root Vegetables
2 burrito-size tortillas
A couple ounces grated cheese
Sour cream
Guacamole made from 1 medium Hass avocado

Tortilla + vegetables, sprinkle with cheese, top with sour cream, roll up.  Put the guacamole on top.  Enjoy the little nuggets of caramelized garlic and the fact that you really can taste the maple syrup in the vegetables.  Use dinner as an opportunity, after the grumpy chaos of earlier in the evening, for you and your sweetie each to say that you appreciate everything the other does around here, and realize that you actually mean it.

Serves 2, with a few vegetables left over for the baby to try.

Monkey enjoyed a few cubes of roasted carrot and sweet potato the next day--she didn't talk to them quite as enthusiastically as she does with Cheerios, but she seemed to like them pretty well.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

the whole is greater than the sum of its parts; or, three wrongs make a right

Monkey does not like green beans, rice cereal, or yogurt.  But mix all three together and apparently they become tolerable enough to eat for dinner.  Very mysterious.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

eight months

Sweet potato
Yogurt in combination with other ingredients
Absolutely perfectly ripe avocado
Baby Mum-Mums (sigh)
Rice cereal in combination with other ingredients
O-shaped cereal that is so outrageously expensive it makes me cry when I find one stuck in the seams of her highchair (a friend calls them "free-range Cheerios," hee!)
Dried fruit puree (more on this in an upcoming post!)

Any other sort of avocado
Yogurt by itself
Green beans
Cardamom (my favorite spice! can you hear me weeping?)
Rice cereal by itself

I don't want to mislead you with the impressive length of that first list.  It's not as though Monkey licks the bowl clean every time I feed her one of these foods--they are merely things that she has eaten either thoroughly or with evident pleasure at least once (and sometimes only once--it's hard to hit the sweet spot with avocado). 
Readers with advanced math skills will notice that although I like to freak out about these things on the Internet, in real life I have started to rebel against the wait-four-days rule.  Though we've just noticed that Monkey has some eczema on the backs of her knees--maybe we should back off the wheat and dairy for a bit?  But what would she do without her beloved (and wheat-containing) Os?  At random times throughout the day I keep noticing that she has her thumb and forefinger pressed together, compulsively practicing her pincer grasp.

This past month we've seen other milestones, too.  A few weeks ago the Mr. and I took Monkey out to dinner with us and for the first time she sat in a highchair rather than in her carseat.  We went to a conveyor-belt sushi restaurant (a fantastic place for babies, incidentally: plenty to look at, with lights and motion and a giant screen showing obscure Japanimation, and just cacophonous enough to camouflage any fussiness), and I shared my food with her.  I peeled the tempura batter from one of my green beans and handed it over.  She brought it to her mouth, tasted, grimaced at the awfulness of it, and then repeated the sequence several times before finally dropping it on the floor.  Perhaps she would have liked it better if I'd left the batter on.

Anyway, I defy you to imagine anything cuter than a baby in a highchair bellied up to a sushi bar.

Friday, April 4, 2008

a little bit about why i love my husband

This is relevant, I promise (click through the link below for proof).  

There are many reasons, but foremost among them in my mind right now is the fact that he gets me a little choked up right in the middle of my work day by sending me sweet and beautiful things to read.

Happy National Poetry Month, all.  And happy Friday.  May your weekends be full of good things to eat and good things to read.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

carrots for everyone

I didn't want to say anything before, for fear of jinxing things, but Monkey really seems to be getting the hang of this eating business.

It happened quite suddenly one afternoon--we were out of her favorite sweet potatoes, so I pulled some carrot puree out of the freezer.  I didn't think she'd eat much of it, but I put two cubes in a little bowl anyhow--that's all that was left in the bag and they were sort of wan and smallish, so I figured, what the hey.  I added some rice cereal and a little water and--whoa, before I knew it the bowl was empty.  Next day she plowed through a full serving of peas (more recently, I swear I've even heard her say "Mmmm" between bites of that previously scorned vegetable), then scarfed down her oatmeal three mornings in a row.

All of this happened within a few days of the emergence of her first two teeth.  I suppose that is just coincidence, but the combination makes me feel a little sad that my baby is growing up so fast.

It's sweet in equal measure as bitter, of course, which is why I decided to celebrate Monkey's newfound enthusiasm for food by making one of my favorite carrot recipes for the grownups' dinner earlier this week: a simple recipe for braised carrots topped with yogurt (a friend from the Internets described the basic method to me, calling them "Nigel Slater's Turkish Braised Carrots," though I couldn't find the original recipe online to confirm the source), to which I've added some warm spices as well as extra good things on top.  The result is what my mom would call "slickery" (that's a good thing), in a nod to one of my favorite books from childhood.

Usually we have these carrots as a side dish, but I figured they could pass as a main if served over rice.  Come to think of it, carrots with rice (cereal) and yogurt was what Monkey had for dinner one evening recently before sleeping through the night--7 hours anyway, which apparently counts if you're a baby--for the first time in months.  I know the supposed link between solid foods and sleep is all a big myth, but hey, I'll throw a little party for that particular correlation-without-causation any day.


Turkish-ish Braised Carrots
(Quite possibly adapted from Nigel Slater)

8 medium carrots
1 T butter
2 tsp olive oil
1/4 C water
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground coriander seed
pinch of salt
about 1/4 C full-fat plain yogurt
1 tsp zahtar

Peel the carrots and cut them in large chunks (I cut them in half crosswise, then slice the fat end in half lengthwise).

In a medium saucepan over low heat, melt the butter and olive oil together.  Add the spices and stir to distribute.  Add the carrots and water, and stir to coat the carrots with the fat.  Turn the heat up to low-medium and cook, covered, until the carrots are tender, about 15-20 minutes.  Stir things up now and again, but don't be afraid if the carrots get some brown, caramelized spots on them--that's where the deliciousness lives.  Well, there and in the next step:

Place the carrots in a serving bowl and spoon the yogurt over top, sprinkle with zahtar, and drizzle with pomegranate molasses.

Serves 2 as a main dish over rice, more as a side dish or mezze.


The Mr. and I rounded out our plates with a kind of olive oil-based pizza made with pita bread.  Now, I'm aware that bestrewing some store-bought pita loaves with toppings hardly counts as cooking, but I'm including the recipe anyhow because I'm charmed by the sort of intellectual stone-soup process by which it came about: I had a brainstorm about using up the leftover feta in the fridge, and somehow when it occurred to me to add some lemon zest the capers came tagging along behind; the Mr. suggested adding garlic to the olive oil and was also responsible for buying the whole wheat pita bread (I would surely have chosen white, but the whole wheat variety is much better for this recipe, the nuttiness playing off the tangy cheese).

Also, I'm including the recipe because these are so, so simple, and freaking delicious.


Flatbreads with Feta

2 T olive oil
2 medium (or 1 large) cloves garlic, sliced crosswise very thin
2 loaves whole wheat pita bread
2--hmm, no, make that more like 3-ish--ounces crumbled feta cheese
zest of 1/2 lemon
2 tsp capers, roughly chopped

Place the olive oil in a small bowl, add the sliced garlic, and let sit for a half hour or so.

Preheat oven to 425 F.  Split each pita loaf into two rounds and place the rounds, insides (rough sides) facing up, on a pizza pan or baking sheet.  Brush the bread rounds with the oil and distribute the garlic evenly over the four pieces.  Then top with the feta, lemon zest, and capers.  Bake for 5-7 minutes, or until the edges of the bread get slightly brown and crispy.

Serves 2


Finally, I wanted to compile a little list of carrot baby food recipes to leave you with, but yikes, there is just not that much out there.  Just a bunch of sites that tell you to peel some carrots, steam them, and then puree them.  Yeah, thanks.  And also--wow, so boring!  In my mind I am clamping my mouth shut, turning my head resolutely to one side, and banging my hands impatiently on my highchair tray.

But here are a couple of recipes that I thought could be adapted--or at least serve as inspiration, in their combinations of flavors--for feeding little ones:

Carrot and Cardamom Mash (Ambrosia and Nectar)

Do you have a story about your baby suddenly becoming enthusiastic about food?  Or was it a more gradual process in your house?

Friday, March 21, 2008

then again, maybe i'm just neurotic

Just as I was winding up my rant about the lack of consistent guidance on introducing solid foods, I came across this post in which Swedish food blogger Viktoria reports that for the first time her whole family, including her 8-month-old daughter, has eaten the same thing for dinner.

"It felt almost like a little holiday," she writes, and I think I know what she means.  To my mind that first meal all together might be an even bigger milestone than a baby's first taste of solid food.

In Viktoria's flat, the celebration featured a meat pie.  She says that she made a few concessions to the baby, pureeing the filling in the food processor and leaving out the salt, but her recipe also contains several ingredients that come up pretty frequently on lists of things not to feed the baby: tomato juice, milk, eggs, cheese.  (The recipe also features onion, garlic, Dijon mustard, a chili, and mixed chopped fresh herbs--but those ingredients don't scare me, they just impress me.)

Is it possible that I am--or perhaps we Americans in general are--just really freaky and uptight about baby food?
In fact, some experts argue that much of the current advice dispensed in the United States--and in Western cultures in general--on the topic of introducing solid foods is based on myth and convention rather than sound science.  (I don't want to make too much of the article behind that last link: it's nearly three years old, prevention of food allergies does not seem to be the primary research interest of any of the researchers quoted, and it doesn't seem to have any connection to any peer-reviewed study.  But still, isn't it a breath of fresh air?)

I think of Michael Pollan's contention that, having lost touch with where food comes from, lacking a solidly rooted food culture of our own, and buffeted by the constantly shifting winds of nutrition science,  we have become fearful about food and anxious about what to eat.  I am a real-butter-schmearing, bread-loving, farmers-market-visiting moderate hedonist, so I never thought his description would apply to me.  Yet ever since my daughter started eating solids, the idea that food is dangerous seems to come naturally.

The question of food allergies, which is what I'm worried about, is different from the obsession with nutrients (such-and-such will prevent cancer, such-and-such will give you heart disease, such-and-such will make you smarter) that Pollan critiques.  Yet some of the rhetoric is surprisingly similar.  Take, for example, the frequently encountered advice to wait four days between introducing each new food.  That is perfectly logical when it comes to being able to pinpoint a food that is causing a reaction.  But in practice, this approach transforms eating into a minefield to be navigated with the utmost caution.  When what I really want to do is feed my baby with joy.

Amongst all these warnings, though, are some hints that we have already taken some of the most important steps to avoid food allergies: breastfeeding, and waiting until around 6 months to start solids.  In fact, I'm starting to wonder whether some of this calculus about what foods to introduce and when and how long to wait and so on might be a holdover from an era when children were given solid foods much earlier.  Parents with children just a few years older than mine were told that 4 months was definitively the time; a generation ago it was 2 months, or even earlier than that. 

So I'm trying not to worry about the fact that I've unwittingly and quite blithely been feeding my daughter one of the most allergenic spices around (cinnamon--who knew?); instead I'll try to focus on the fact that it doesn't seem to bother her.  In fact, I think she likes it. 

Friday, March 14, 2008

oh for the love of pity pete, would somebody just tell me what i can feed the baby?

A few weeks ago I had a chat with the nurse at our pediatrician's office about whether it was okay to give Monkey a teething biscuit.

The pediatrician had recommended them at Monkey's six-month appointment, but I was a bit doubtful about the long list of ingredients in the ones I bought--especially the common allergens corn and milk, neither of which Monkey had had before. (Yes, yes, I know the box clearly says for nine months and up--but the pediatrician said teething biscuits; the box also says that crawling is a sign that the baby is ready for these biscuits, and I don't know what on earth crawling might have to do with food allergies).  So the box sat on the counter, taunting me, for two weeks, until I finally decided to just go ahead and be That Mom and call and ask about it.

I talked to the nurse for about five minutes, but I still have no idea whether it's okay for my daughter to have one of these teething biscuits.

There were any number of answers that I would have been happy to hear from the nurse.  "Sure, go ahead!" for example.  Or, "No, not until 8 months," or maybe something like, "Corn and milk are fine at this age, but introduce them separately first."

Instead what she told me went more like this: "Is there any family history of food allergies?  Is she sitting up pretty well? [Insert several sentences full of referent-less pronouns here.] Mmm-kay [this in that chipper-yet-impatient tone of voice that implies we really need to wrap things up]?"

You might imagine that what I am really complaining about here is our pediatrics practice, but I don't think so, because after I got off the phone I poked around several published sources and other handouts I've accumulated on the subject of introducing solid foods, and I am more confused than ever.

A handout from a lecture I went to says no dairy until 9 months and "wait on corn" (until...kindergarten? college?).  A handout from our pediatrician says cow's milk should not be introduced until 1 year, but nothing about corn.  But a poster-style chart (also received from the pediatrician--is this a test to see if I'm paying attention?) assures that at 6 to 7 months one can introduce "teething foods" including teething biscuits.

Our reference book from the American Academy of Pediatrics is worse than useless on this subject, full of airy obscurantism (representative passage: "If you started with cereal and your baby has accepted it, you can start introducing him to other foods slowly.  One possible order is meat, vegetables, and fruit."  We didn't, and we keep a vegetarian kitchen, so now what?).  And the Searses are not much more helpful, mentioning teething biscuits at 7 to 9 months, but implying that dairy should wait until 9 to 12 months, and keeping mum on the subject of corn.

The only really useful advice I found came from a handout from the "First Foods" seminar (scroll down) that Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn coauthor Ann Kepler, RN, MN, runs quarterly in Seattle.   (I haven't attended the seminar, but my sister-in-law passed the handout along to me and it has 104 references, be still my heart!)  Keppler writes, "By 7 months, an infant's intestines will have matured to the point that they are not as likely to take the whole protein molecules from his food into the system which are the cause of allergy," citing Ellyn Satter's book Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense--which I'd been meaning to check out and has now been vaulted to the top of my list. 

So I thought I'd wait a couple of weeks, then try dairy and corn separately, and if that turned out well I'd let her go to town on the teething biscuits.

In the meantime, the nurse recommended some rice-based biscuits called Baby Mum-Mums.  If you can get past the unnecessarily cutesy name, the horrendous overpackaging, and the total lack of stimulation for the taste buds (they're basically rice crackers, but without the sweet, umami-spiked glaze--so, without anything to recommend them, really) they are alright I guess.  When I hand one of these biscuits to her Monkey reaches for it and gums it eagerly, makes her "Really? You want me to eat this?" face, and then soldiers on.  They disappear pretty fast--"teething biscuit" is a bit of a misnomer, but their quickness to dissolve is said to reduce the possibility of choking.  I've seen Monkey make chewing motions to mash up the pieces of biscuit that break off in her mouth, so at least she is learning a useful skill.

Oh, and the second ingredient in Baby Mum-Mums, right there on the label after that hallowed hypoallergenic rice?  Skim milk powder.

Mmm-kay, indeed.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

seven months

I thought it might be interesting to post monthly updates of the foods Monkey has tried, and what she likes and doesn't like at any given point.  Here's a list as of her 7-month birthday (which was last week; I left off more recent experiences such as those ill-starred potatoes). 

Look, Monkey likes it!  She really likes it!
(1) banana (in mesh feeder)
(3) oatmeal 
(5) prunes (in mesh feeder)
(2) sweet potato (pureed, or steamed spears in mesh feeder)

Monkey is not, however, so sure about:
(7) peas (pureed)
(6) carrots (pureed, or steamed spears in mesh feeder)
(4) apple (pureed, or steamed spears in mesh feeder)

Now that I look at it, that doesn't seem like much of a list.  Perhaps I need to spend less time blogging and more time, you know, feeding my kid.

Although there are foods that Monkey definitely seems to like, I'm not sure that she really "gets" solid foods yet.  With oatmeal and sweet potato puree especially, it's often just a few bites before she gets tired and/or bored.  The only food that she full-on devours is banana.  She hadn't had any for a couple weeks, and then I gave her a chunk in the mesh feeder yesterday and today, and was surprised by how enthusiastically she slurped it through the mesh.  But otherwise, solids meals can feel a little futile these days (especially compared to the ease and convenience of breastfeeding, with which we've been lucky to have a very smooth road).  

Monkey usually gets two meals of solids each day, about an hour after waking in the morning and again in the late afternoon a couple hours before bedtime.  It can be hard to find the sweet spot where she's hungry enough to be interested, but not too tired to bother.

Some other babies we know who are about Monkey's age seem to eat with much more gusto, spooning through jar upon jar of purees.  (Well, they are not doing the spooning I suppose, but now I'm tickled by the image. Are you picturing a monkey with a wee spoon and a big grin, surrounded by a dozen little jars?)  I suppose eating is like rolling or crawling or walking, and happens on each baby's individual (and largely inscrutable) schedule.  A little patience, then, is on the menu.

Update, March 10: Yesterday a friend was asking about the order in which we introduced foods, so I added numbers (as best I can remember!) before the items in the list above.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

potatoes. puh.

The other day I made some pureed potatoes (mashed nothing-but-potatoes, you might call them) and sat Monkey in her high chair, excited to introduce her to this wonderful comfort food .  But she wasn't a fan, making a face at the first bite and definitively refusing the second.  

I  was pretty surprised by her reaction at first.  I mean, who doesn't love a potato? Then I tasted what was in her bowl and it was terrible--bitter almost to the point of being metallic.  Who could love that sort of a potato?

Babies often have a reputation for being picky eaters, but some of what we expect them to eat is frankly unappetizing.  A gray slurry of overcooked chicken and peas?  No, thank you.  Maybe in some cases babies aren't being picky so much as discerning.  And maybe a good approach, going forward, is for me not to expect Monkey to eat anything that I wouldn't eat myself.

As for the potatoes, I guess I'll try to salvage them for my own dinner--an undertaking that I'd wager will involve lots of butter. Then I'll make another batch of puree (I used a russet potato for this ill-fated attempt--maybe a waxy potato would work better?) and try once again to convince Monkey of the wonder that is the spud. 

Saturday, February 23, 2008

rice and smothered cabbage soup

Certain dishes are so lacking in appeal to the eye that their appeal to the belly is all the greater.  One look at this sort of food and you know it's going to be good, because it's not pretending to have any aspirations beyond being as tasty and nourishing as possible.

So ugly it's beautiful pretty well describes this soup, from Marcella Hazan via The Wednesday Chef.  It's just a beige and lumpen bowl of cabbage and rice--until you taste it.  Then it's something close to perfect: hearty without being heavy, the richness of cheese cut by the tang of cabbage, given substance by rice and all smoothed out with a little bit of butter.

An added bonus is that this is a pretty forgiving recipe.  You can use a medium-sized head of regular old green cabbage if you can't find Savoy.  Substitute vegetable bouillon for the meat broth if you like; the soup will still be plenty rich and savory.  And if, following the new-parent principle of not generating any more dishes to be washed than absolutely necessary, you skip the saute pan and go straight to the soup pot to braise the cabbage, you might even be glad you did (that's a pretty large volume of cabbage there at the start).

It's such an easy dish, and so perfect for the kind of cooking that I'm able to do these days, that I like to imagine it was invented by the mama of a young infant in some Italian hill town on a blustery late-Winter day: no time for pretty fillips, just get dinner on the table as simply as possible, and preferably with a maximum of gladness for the taste buds.

It's not quick, exactly, but don't let that scare you off--by some mysterious alchemy it pretty much makes itself.  Oh, sure, there's some chopping to do at the beginning, but that can be taken care of while the baby rolls around on her blanket (or during naptime, if you prefer--even that short last nap of the day would give you enough time to get this dish going).  Next play with the baby for about an hour while the cabbage melts down into tenderness.  Then add the broth and rice, and go put the baby to bed while your sweetie keeps an eye on the stove and throws in the butter and cheese there at the end.

Putting the baby to bed being what it is, the rice might end up cooked well beyond the suggested al dente stage, but I promise you'll still manage to empty your bowl, maybe even twice.

Mid-February cooks take note: pairs nicely with the last few swigs of champagne left over from Valentine's Day.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

baby food for mamas (and dads)

My friend s. has been sampling the banana, apple, pea, carrot, sweet potato, and avocado purees she's been preparing for her 6-month-old son.  "Making purees is fun!  Why don't adults ever eat them?" she wonders, pronouncing the carrot puree "surprisingly good."

Mashed potatoes, hummus, guacamole, applesauce--sounds like a balanced diet to me.

Actually, aren't vegetable purees The Thing at certain fancy restaurants these days?  Or is that over now?  (It's a measure of how little I get out nowadays that I'm not sure of the answer to either of those questions.)

Well, be they trendy or no, I've tasted a puree or two myself recently--I don't want to force or coax or cajole Monkey into eating, but I can't bear to waste baby food.  The last thing I ever wanted to be is a garbage-disposal parent, but I see those little dollops of leftover carrot or sweet potato or applesauce and realize that this pretty much represents the sum total of my kitchen labors for the week, and I think, I am NOT dumping that down the drain.  So into my own mouth goes the tiny, rubber-coated spoon.

And I'm struck by how rarely we adults experience the pure, unadulterated taste of a single thing.  Even those simple recipes that are supposed to celebrate high-quality, farmer's-market-fresh ingredients by doing as little as possible to them usually include a little salt, fat, and/or sugar--all verboten ingredients when you're making baby food.

The purees I'm feeding Monkey, on the other hand, contain just a single vegetable or fruit and a little bit of its cooking liquid (I'm oven-steaming, about which method I would provide more specifics if it weren't an absolutely seat-of-the-pants operation).  It's amazing how much nuanced flavor these absolutely unadorned foods have.

(And this, without even using the best possible ingredients.  Yes, yes, everything is organic--you don't have to confiscate my Mama Merit Badge after all--but bought from the supermarket; the carrots came out of a bag--a plastic bag, people!--and the apples had been hanging around in the fridge for weeks.)

I think I can taste not only what I am eating but also--unless my jaded palate is playing tricks on me, and projecting my memory of what's not there--hints of the ingredients that are often paired with those foods.  That is, I'm getting a glimpse of why those flavors go so well together.

Carrots have a bright, almost citrusy sweetness, and an undertone of earth.

Sweet potatoes are more caramel and brown sugar, with a buttery smoothness that fills my mouth.

Apples are surprisingly tart--Braeburns are, at least--but a floral taste lingers behind.

I'm not ready to give up butter and salt, dressings and sauces, altogether, but I'm glad to have had a taste--a real, though small, taste--of these things.

And for those adults inspired to eat more purees themselves, a few grownup ideas:

Delicata squash and celery root (The Wednesday Chef)
White beans (Orangette)

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

show don't tell

Last week I made chickpea and potato curry, in an effort to use up a rainy afternoon and a bag of potatoes moldering in the crisper drawer of the fridge.  

First I spread a blanket on the floor in a corner of the kitchen (away from the knives and stove), and set Monkey down with a few toys to explore.  I chopped onions and melted butter, while she gummed and babbled to her current #1 toy, which we've dubbed the Butterbee.  After reacquainting myself with the spice cabinet, I looked up to find that she had rolled onto her belly and was kicking her feet and grabbing at the blanket, deeply entranced by its texture.  

By the time the onions and spices had melted into ochre silkiness, Monkey was getting a little fussy, so I picked her up and showed her what was happening on the stove.  I told her the names of all the spices--ginger, coriander, turmeric, cumin, allspice, cayenne--and carefully, carefully raised the lid on the saucepan to reveal the clutch of round potatoes boiling away.

I set her down again and added some diced canned tomatoes to the onions; drained the potatoes, peeled them, and set them in the pan; and rinsed off a can of chickpeas in the colander.  By this time Monkey needed another little cuddle (it had taken me a long time to peel the potatoes), so I picked her up and showed her how the potatoes that we'd seen before in the saucepan were now nestled amongst the onions in the skillet, dyed yellow by the spices like Easter eggs.  

I pointed out the chickpeas in the colander, and thought to myself, "Ummmmmm, legumes are okay at this age, right?  I think so.  I think."  I mashed up a chickpea between my thumb and forefinger, worked the skin of the bean away from the flesh, and held the makeshift puree up to Monkey's lips.  I'm not sure how much she actually swallowed, but she got a taste, so I've optimistically decided that we're on our way to curry and hummus and all sorts of delights.

Chickpea and Potato Curry

3 Tbs. butter
1 medium onion, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. ground turmeric
1 tsp. ground cumin
dash allspice
1/4 tsp. cayenne (or to taste--if you're a new parent, you know how many stars you like)
Salt to taste
1 C. diced canned tomatoes (with juice)
1 C. plain yogurt (full-fat would be best)
The moldering potatoes, boiled and peeled (The original recipe calls for "12 very small new potatoes," which seems a bit precious even for a blog about baby food, don't you think?  I used about 9 average-sized ones--that's what I had on hand, but it came out about right.)
1 15-oz. can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

Heat the butter in a large skillet and saute the onions and garlic over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until they are very soft.  Add the spices and stir to combine.  Add the tomatoes and heat through.  Then, turn the heat very low and stir in the yogurt.  Simmer, uncovered, over very low heat for 5 minutes.  Add the cooked potatoes and gently coat them with the yogurt and spice mixture.  Finally, gently stir in the chickpeas and continue to simmer, covered, over very low heat for 10 more minutes, stirring occasionally.  Serve over basmati rice right away or, better yet, tomorrow night.

(Adapted from The Versatile Grain and the Elegant Bean.  The original recipe is for Mung Bean and Potato Curry--but chickpeas come in a can.)

Thursday, January 31, 2008

into the mouths of babes

The mouth of one baby, that is.

This is a blog about food and parenting.  My daughter--my first child--has just turned six months old, and over the past few weeks we've begun tentatively exploring the world of solid foods.  So at first this will largely be a blog about feeding babies, reporting our experiences and sorting through which foods to introduce and when and in what format.  (I'm a science geek, so expect to hear some crankiness about the conflicting advice and lack of evidence on this topic.)  I'm excited about introducing her to the pleasures of food, and want to record this time when each small bite is a whole new experience, a little venture into the wider world that we all share.

But I also want to write some about what that baby's mama and daddy are eating.  When I was pregnant I suffered from nausea from week 6 until, oh, 40-plus, and I missed food and cooking.  I still miss cooking, as a matter of fact.  Only by the grace of Trader Joe have we survived this long, and I hope that writing this blog will also inspire me to get into the kitchen a little more.

After a few months I hope I'll also be able to start sharing news about food and recipes that all three of us enjoy together.  But now I'm getting ahead of myself (and possibly engaging in some wishful thinking to boot).  We'll have to see what develops.

As for the baby: I'll call her Monkey herein--actually, that's what I do call her more often than not!  I'm still getting to know her myself, so I'll leave it at that for now--but I think you'll soon come to agree with me that she is a delight.  In fact, delicious.