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.