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)

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