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.