I like to take Evan grocery shopping when I can. He loves looking at all the colorful fruits and vegetables. When he sees something particularly exciting, like an olive oil dispenser in action, he cranes his neck forward and his mouth makes a little “o” shape as he stares at the interesting thing, brows raised in wonder. He takes in a small gasping breath and says “ohhhhhhhhhhh!” as he kicks his legs back and forth in utter excitement. Insatiable curiosity in its purest form.
He was in his stroller near the cheese counter one afternoon when I took a taste of some brie with one of those tiny wooden tasting paddles. Evan looked up, fascinated, his mouth a perfect circle. “Cheese!” I said. “Would you like to try some?”
I scooped a tiny quantity of brie with a fresh wooden paddle, said “Nom!”, and swiped a bit of cheese in Evan’s mouth. He slowly gummed at it, wrinkled his nose, and frowned, still gumming. He cocked his head to the side, as he does when he examines something new. Then his face brightened as he began to swallow. He looked up at me and made a small “o” face. More!
It was my turn to gasp excitedly. My baby likes brie!
I bought a small wedge for us both to share. I couldn’t help it—I had to see if he would eat more at home. I grabbed a small container of crème fraîche from the refrigerator case to mix it with.
As it turns out, “cheese”—or rather pureed brie and crème fraîche—is one of Evan’s favorite foods. Who knew?
brie for baby
1 part brie (I used pasteurized)
1 part crème fraîche or sour cream
Puree the brie and crème fraîche in a coffee grinder and store in a 4oz/125ml canning jar.
brie for grown-ups
Eat. Watch your little one eat. Gasp. Oh!
As you can see, Evan is particularly pleased with this simple watermelon dish. The baby version of watermelon salad turns into a creamy soup, which Evan found a bit strange at first. He tried to eat the soup off the spoon, and realized that was not the most convenient method of consumption. "Slurp, slurp", I said, as I fed him, making the noisiest slurping sounds that would be perfectly polite at a Japanese ramen house. "Hoo!", he giggled. The more he eats this soup, the more practice he gets at conveying liquids to his mouth with a spoon, rather than a bottle. He seems to find the result worthy of the effort.
The grownup version of this dish is a warm weather favorite. With its juicy sweetness, watermelon begs for the salty counterpoint of feta cheese. The salad is incomplete without fresh mint leaves and some grassy, peppery extra virgin olive oil. I like to top the salad with some Aleppo chili pepper flakes. The salad would pair nicely with a good chilled beer, I think, and is best consumed outside in the hot summer sun.
watermelon feta salad
Leave out the chili flakes to make the baby-friendly version of this recipe (see below). You can always add the chili flakes later.
1 small or 1/2 large watermelon
1 8 oz/226 g package feta cheese, cubed
1 bunch fresh mint
Aleppo or other chili pepper flakes
- Cut the watermelon into large bite-sized cubed and place the fruit in a large bowl.
- Add the feta cubes to the bowl. The ratio of cheese to watermelon should be a little less than one to one.
- Rip 2-3 handfuls of mint into the bowl.
- Season to taste with freshly ground black pepper, and drizzle with olive oil.
- Sprinkle the chili flakes over the top.
watermelon feta soup
- Follow the directions for preparing watermelon salad as shown above, skipping the last step.
- Remove a few chunks each of watermelon and feta cheese from the bowl, and place them in a coffee grinder.
- Add another mint leaf or two, if you like, and another drizzle of olive oil.
- Pulverize the salad in the coffee grinder. Correct seasoning with freshly ground black pepper and olive oil.
- Optionally, sprinkle in a dash of finely ground chili pepper such as cayenne or hot paprika.
- Store in a 4 oz/125 ml canning jar.
I love chopped liver. It may not be pâté, or even pâté de campagne, but it’s still delicious when done right. The trick is to cook the livers just so, such that they’re still a bit juicy, and chop them by hand to retain some rustic texture. Liver is best fried in–what else?–duck fat. I keep a jar on hand in the fridge just in case.
Chopped liver is fairly easy to turn into baby food. Just leave out the herbs (in case they aren’t sufficiently pulverized), and add a little more duck fat if necessary for ease of pulverizing. Evan seemed to like it, as you can see in the photo.
Nota bene: This recipe has more than two ingredients, such as it is best made for older babies or babies with no known allergies to any of the main ingredients.
This is the second post in a series on making your own baby food. See the first post here.
duck fat for frying
1 1/2 lb/680 g chicken livers (or half beef liver)
5 medium shallots or 1 onion, finely chopped
4 hard boiled eggs, peeled
salt, pepper, ground cumin, ground coriander seeds
1 handful parsley
1 handful dill
- Heat the duck fat in a large, heavy skillet on a medium flame.
- With paper toweling, pat dry the livers and fry them until browned on both sides, but still moist. Fry in batches, being careful not to crowd the pan.
- Remove livers and place in a work bowl. Drain off any red liquid.
- Fry the shallots in the same fat until carmelized. Add more fat if necessary.
- Chop the livers and return them to the bowl. Toss with the onions.
- Use a plane cheese grater to grate the eggs into the liver mixture. Mix well, then season to taste with the spices and a dash of balsamic vinegar.
- Finely chop the herbs and mix into the chopped liver
Serves 4-6 as an appetizer.
chopped liver for infants
- Follow the directions listed above, skipping the last step.
- Scoop out 2-4 tablespoons of the chopped liver and pulverize in a coffee grinder. Correct seasoning and decant into a 4 oz/125 ml jar, pushing through a strainer, if necessary.
You can freeze the pulverized chopped liver for later use. Just make sure to leave enough room at the top for expansion during freezing. Defrost in the refrigerator, or by dunking in a shallow bowl of hot water.
This isn’t a mommy blog. Really, it’s not. And I don’t intend to make it one. But this is the place where I write what I write, and what I write is often a reflection of what I’m doing and thinking about. Having had a baby nearly seven months ago, it’s inevitable that baby-related posts would show up here.
I’ve been experimenting with making my own baby food for the little guy’s consumption, and I thought I’d set down some basic principles about how to do it. It’s really not that daunting, as I’ve discovered, particularly if you let go of a few outdated ideas about what babies “should” eat.
- Would you eat it? The most important factor to consider. Taste it. Does it need salt? Pepper? A bit of cumin? Don’t be afraid to add a little spice. There’s really no reason for babies to eat bland food. Indeed, societies in which people eat spicy food don’t tend to shy away from feeding their infants the same foods they eat in pulverized form.
- What food groups do you want to include in a given dish? Carbohydrate? Protein? Fat? A combination? The Nourishing Traditions Book of Baby & Child Care claims that the enzymes required to properly digest grains are not present in infants until around one year of age, so I am putting off grains until my guy is a year old. Babies aged nine months and older may be at risk for anemia, so including liver and egg yolks in their food might be a good idea. I have been combining all carbohydrates with fat or protein so as to avoid any spikes in blood sugar. It is my belief that fats used by traditional cultures are the best ones to eat, so I use coconut oil, butter, ghee, schmaltz, and olive oil in my baby food.
- Equipment and utensils. You don’t need any special equipment to make your own baby food. I’ve been using a good coffee grinder that I bought at a yard sale and some four ounce mason jars to store the food I make. Make sure to use a separate bowl for feeding, so as to keep the rest of the food in the jar clean of bacteria and baby saliva. I use a small sterling silver espresso spoon or a small bamboo spoon for feeding. The silver is mildly anti-bacterial, and therefore, not simply cosmetic, or, er, a symbol of being spoiled rotten. I use small, sturdy cube-shaped porcelain bowls to feed Evan, and will eventually graduate to a sturdy bamboo bowl when he starts eating solid foods in larger amounts. Silicone bibs are very convenient, as they are easily washed in the sink after meal time.
- Make a little at a time. You don’t know what your little one will like until you try, and even if he likes it, a jarful can easily last a few meals and keep for a few days. I always taste the food first before feeding Evan, to make sure it’s still fresh.
- Use the ingredients from your own meal. Watermelon is in season at the moment, such that when I make watermelon feta cheese salad, Evan gets chilled watermelon soup. There’s no need to prepare a special tiny pureed meal if you don’t have the time.
- Be adventurous. The cheese shop I go to was sampling some soft goat cheese recently. I took a disposable spoon and gave Evan a little taste. He made the most amusing face, an expression of surprise, curiosity, maybe a hint of disgust. I think the tangy, goaty flavor threw him for a loop. That’s OK. The taste was completely new to him, and he was discovering the flavors and texture of the cheese. When he finished his taste, I offered him a small taste of a slightly less pungent soft cheese. Guess what? He was curious about it and opened his mouth immediately when I showed him the spoon. Your infant may surprise you if you offer him something new and unexpected.
- Allergens and unsafe foods. Initially, I was very cautious about the foods I fed Evan. I began with one food at a time, mixed with a fat or some yogurt. I would switch to a different food after 3 or 4 days to be sure he had no reaction. This is a prudent course of action at first, I think. But there is a whole world of foods to savor, and he didn’t appear to be allergic to anything, so I began combining more than two foods, and adding in spices in moderation. I am, however, avoiding all nuts and any foods that cannot be sufficiently pulverized so as not to be a choking hazard. I am also going on the recommendation to avoid honey (even though traditional cultures feed it to babies, or so says my local Yemeni apiarist) and raw milk. I do suggest doing your own research in this area and drawing your own conclusions. The research on food allergies and first foods is still very open-ended.
- Keep at it. Your baby may not like the first bite or two of something new, but she may take to it with gusto a few tentative bites in. If she doesn’t like something you’ve made, take it in stride. She is developing her palate, and is becoming discerning, which is fun to observe.
- Offer a choice. Sometimes a baby just wants the comfort of his bottle, rather than a strange new mashed food on a spoon. My friend Quan taught me a trick: when your baby seems a bit fussy about his solid food, offer him a choice. Put his bottle on one side and his bowl of solid food on the other. Then ask him which he’d prefer. He will examine each option and grab at the one he wants. It’s perfectly OK to switch to his bottle if he wants it.
- The joy of eating. It is indescribably satisfying to watch your infant discover the joy of eating. Savor and encourage it. I like Evan to tell me when he wants more and when he is done. This allows him to discover his palate, his sense of hunger, and satiety. When he wants more, he bangs on the tray of his high chair. When he is done, he purses his lips and turns his head away. He can always eat more later, or the next day, if he wants. And I can finish his food if he can’t.
- Have fun. I like to eat my meal along with Evan if I can, so that he learns to have routine meal times, and enjoy the conviviality of shared meals. I love seeing him smile in delight when he eats.
P.S. I find it necessary to mention that the above post is simply a reflection of my experience, research, trial and error. I am not a health professional of any sort, and wouldn’t dream of dispensing advice in such a capacity. Infants, like adults, are individuals, and what works for one may not work for another. YMMV.
Happy almost Chanukah! My tips on latke-making are now syndicated on BlogHer. For everything you wanted to know about potato pancakes but were afraid to ask, click here.
Faint stirrings, a whimper, a frown that seems to melt your entire face like wax dripping down a candle, a frown that threatens to morph into a full-blown yowl. You turn restlessly to and fro, and I try to determine whether you’re about to cry in your sleep, pass tremendous gas, or howl to be fed. I hold my breath and watch you for clues. You start and stop, sputter like an antique automobile. Your movements begin to get more frantic, and I realize I have thirty seconds to run to the toilet if I absolutely must, and perhaps put on a pair of wireless headphones so that I can watch a movie during the hour it will take to feed you as you drift in and out of sleep, spit up, push away the bottle, then thrash your arms trying frantically to grasp it, eat, fart, pee, and finally raise your arms above your head as if in complete surrender to soundest sleep.
I know I am a horrible mother for entertaining myself while I feed you. Every minute spent with you should be valuable, and by squandering it on distractions I feel that I am shortchanging you. I am selfish.
I sit back down and pick you up, laying you down on your nursing pillow. (Well, feeding pillow. Nursing is a skill I haven’t quite mastered yet.) I can hear your cries and whimpers through the headphones, and I tell you reassuringly that it’s all right, that I’m going to tuck your burp cloth into the collar of your sleeper, and feed you a bottle of milk. (In the interest of brevity, and the hope that you’ll learn to associate the word with relief and the cessation of your plaintive cries, I refer to all bottle contents as “milk”, whether it is expressed breast milk or the organic formula I prepare for you by mixing filtered water with odd-smelling, yellowish powder.) The feel of the cloth around your neck is your Pavlovian bell–you stop crying and emit small, high-pitched grunting sounds as you root excitedly for the breast that won’t feed you. (In these moments, you sound a bit like a dolphin.) I pray the distraction of the burp cloth gives me sufficient reprieve to reach over, get your bottle (please, please, please let it be at least half full), remove the cap, position you accordingly, and offer you the silicone nipple in such a way that you latch properly and drink your meal without spitting up half of it down the burp cloth, your chin, neck, onesie. I have learned that frantic sucking while tossing your head right and left and making a sort of frustrated “mmf mmf mmf!” sound means that the nipple is screwed too tightly on your bottle and has consequently collapsed in your mouth, or that you are farting and/or pooping prodigiously and are uncomfortable eating at the same time. (When you’re done eating, I shall tell you that you are Captain Stinkypants, and that you require a diaper change–which you hate, but for which, I know, you are grateful when it’s all over.) I adjust your bottle, and wait for the sound of the gas passing, for which I praise you. “Good baby fart!” I say. (May all your achievements feel this satisfying.) If you make snorting piglet sounds, it means your head is tilted at the wrong angle, or your nose is stuffed. I use the horrible blue squeeze tube thing to vacuum the snot from your nostrils, which you hate (I’m so very sorry!).
You take the false nipple rather deftly and begin to eat. Having satisfied the urgency for sustenance, your eyes wander as you quietly suck your meal. You glance sideways, directly into my eyes. It’s more of a curious stare, the unwavering kind that is the hallmark of absolute guilelessness. Your brow is raised and furrowed. I hold your gaze and wonder what you’re thinking. “You’re the lady who feeds me,” I imagine you saying, “the one with the leaky protrusions.” Your almond-shaped eyes are wide, the dark grayish corneas with their pupils fixed on me. “I’m counting on you. Please don’t fuck this up.”
I can’t take it. It’s too much. I lean down and kiss your forehead, deeply inhale the scent of your hair. I look back at you and smile almost guiltily, tell you you’re a good baby (is there any other kind?).
You stare back as you knock back the “milk” with a faint “kuh, kuh, kuh” sound.
You’ve sussed me out. I’m not a real mother, I just play one on TV.
I bought some house-made smoked andouille sausage from the butcher last week. I think I’ve only eaten andouille sausage once or twice, probably in a jambalaya which I imagine I must have tasted off my husband’s plate. It’s not a dish I tend to order, for some reason, and, to be fair, Cajun cuisine isn’t really popular around these parts. The andouille appealed as it was house-made (they know their way around pork), smoked (mmm), and I’d never cooked with it before.
To be honest, I know very little about Cajun food, having never lived in nor visited an area populated by people of that particular heritage. As a result, I’ve only ever sampled what I assume are vague approximations of Cajun cuisine. I do know it’s a complex cuisine, with French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Caribbean, and African heritage, and that its holy trinity is onions, peppers, and celery. And I had a pot of rice just waiting to turn into breakfast. So I threw together this thing that isn’t really jambalaya at all, just a combination of flavors that I thought might combine well, while highlighting the smoky flavor of the fatty sausage. It is reminiscent of the abstract idea of jambalaya, as imagined by a hungry Californian on a Saturday morning. The result is just a little fiery, a little smokey, and deliciously redolent of paprika. The texture is very satisfying, combining soft scrambled eggs, bite-size sausage pieces, and warm, filling rice. If you have any shrimp, by all means, toss them in. They add yet another dimension of texture and the taste of the ocean.
not quite jambalaya
I didn’t have a green bell pepper, otherwise I would have included it in this dish. Bell pepper is an important ingredient in the Cajun “holy trinity”, which also includes onion and celery. The dish was quite good without it, but I think it would have been even better with some diced bell pepper. As I often do, I used ingredients that I had on hand. You can do the same.
2 TBS butter
1 TBS olive oil
1 small leek (both white and green parts), 1 carrot, 1 stalk celery, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 smoked andouille sausage, cut into quarters lengthwise and diced
sweet paprika, smoked paprika, cayenne pepper, ground cumin, Mexican oregano, allspice, salt and pepper
4 eggs, beaten
2 cups cooked rice
a handful of thin slices of Spanish chorizo, cut into ribbons
1/2 bunch broccoli rabe (or other greens), chopped
1 tomato, diced
- Place a large skillet or wok over medium heat.
- Melt the butter in the skillet along with the olive oil.
- Add the leek, carrot, and celery to the pan. Fry the vegetables until they are golden.
- Add in the sausage and stir. Season to taste with the spices. I used a relatively large amount of sweet paprika, at least 1-2 teaspoons, and smaller amounts of the other spices, and just a dash of allspice.
- Stir the vegetables to coat them well with the spices.
- Push the vegetables to the side and add more olive oil or butter if the skillet looks dry. When the fat is hot, slowly add the beaten eggs and scramble them.
- When the eggs are scrambled, combine them with the vegetable mixture.
- Add in the rice and combine with the eggs, vegetables, and sausage.
- Add the chorizo ribbons and toss to combine.
- Add the chopped broccoli rabe or greens. When they begin to wilt, combine them with the rice mixture.
- Add the diced tomato and combine.
- Cook until the greens are bright green and wilted.
- Squeeze over some of the juice of half a lime and turn off the flame.
Aborted pebbles, rocks and stones.
No fecund land, just desert bones.
What use this hollow granary still?
What good this craggy mound to till?
Dusty plains, forgotten farms,
Leathery women with listless arms.
Dusty men with empty pockets,
Parched throats, sunken sockets.
Tiny bones that strew the land
Punctuating waves of sand—
A rib that questions, a femur exclaims,
A pallid skull cries out in pain.
A fetid wind kicks up the dust
and parts a sea of death and lust.
A thousand bones of infant frame
lie scattered ‘cross the arid plain.
The men squint in the scorching sun,
The women’s eyes, glazed o’er in ruin.
Bellies swollen, the women purloined,
their hunger sated by the fruit of their loins.
I’d like to give birth to myself.
Vomit out a tiny little replica of me.
A small, helpless thing that adores me.
A thing I will raise to be myself.
As it grows, I will teach it all the things it should think.
Which god to pray to.
Which politician to vote for.
What it should do with its life,
How it should earn a living.
Whom it should love.
The things that matter.
It will be all the things I always wanted to be.
It will do all the things I always wanted to do.
It will make me proud to be me.
Because it will be me.
When it misses the mark, I will swallow it whole.
Like a pool of water absorbs a single drop.
I will heave out fresh stock
And start again.