24 February, 2009

The Princess and the Pea Mama

Growing up I never ate lima beans, lamb, or lobster.  I never ate peppers, raw tomatoes, liver, broccoli tops, cauliflower, and peas either.   In the case of the latter, it was because I thought they were disgusting.  I never ate the former items because my mom didn't like them.  If she didn't like them we didn't eat them.  I'm with her on the lima beans, but I sure missed out of lamb and lobster.  Hmm, maybe she just hated food that started with the letter "L"?

I'm doing my damnedest to not do that to the girls.  Of all the foods I hated as I child I now eat almost all of them, except peas.  Peas are seriously the most vile things on the planet.  They stink and they taste like mud.  Eating a pea is akin to popping a bubble filled with mushy sewage.  

Hubby likens me to The Princess and the Pea, except that I can tell that there is one pea in an entire dish of shepherd's pie.  Or that the samosas do indeed come with peas without even opening one.  Okay, the last one is generally a given.  But the foul odour of peas is distinct and I can pick it up despite pastry or potato coverings.

As I said, though, I am trying not to pass on that dislike to the girls.  I plug my nose when I defrost the frozen peas, scrub my hands with smelly soaps when we go pea picking, and make Hubby feed Smilosaurus dinner if peas are on the menu.  So far I've been successful, both girls love peas.  The Monster will eat them fresh or frozen, raw or cooked.  And Smilosaurus practices her pincer grasp at least once a week with a bowl full of peas.  Good for them.  

But they better not ask me to make split pea soup, ever.

14 February, 2009

Happy Valentine's Day

About 2 hours after taking this picture the dogs ate all but 4 cookies while I was out with the girls.  Happy Valentine's Day...

09 February, 2009

Is there anything better?

This morning I decided that one of my favourite activities in the entire world is baking with The Monster.  She is intrigued by the process and will dive right in making a mess, if only to lick the paddle at the end of it all.  I have a million pictures of her devouring the sticky dough left on that paddle.  But today I took pictures throughout the process.  I don't think there is much more to say today.  Pick you favourite recipe and bake.  Pull up a chair for the kids, make a mess, and watch some Yo Gabba Gabba while the cookies cool.  

A personal stash of chips keep little hands busy while the cookies are in the final mix.

Everyone wants in on the action.

Fresh from the oven and into the mouth.

Cooling cookies and watching Tony Hawk on Yo Gabba Gabba.

The crumbs she swept into my hand, off the table, because they were getting in the way of eating her orange.

All is quiet, but not clean (see that bowl?) during naptime.

Today we made an old recipe for me.  These make a cakey, crumbly cookie.  I'm not normally one for anything instant, but the pudding mix does work nicely here.  You can use vanilla, chocolate, or even butterscotch (my fave). You can also play with the type of chocolate chips. I learned how to make these when I was a little girl. I think the recipe came from a church cookbook.  Really, a duotang filled with photocopied sheets.

Secret Ingredient Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes about 4 dozen

1 cup butter
1/4 cup white sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 package instant pudding mix
2 eggs
2 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup (or more) chocolate chips

1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees Celsius.
2.  Cream butter and sugars together.  Add vanilla and pudding mix.
3.  Beat in eggs, one at a time, until mixed well.
4.  Slowly add in flour and baking soda.  Stir in chocolate chips until well blended.
5.  Drop by teaspoonful on to a greased cookie sheet, about 2 inches apart.  Bake for 10-12 minutes.  Let cool and enjoy with your favourite monsters.

05 February, 2009

Make Your Own Baby Food

One of the nice things about vacationing in Baja when your little one is just starting solids is that she begins her foodie career early.  Aside from a few weeks of cereal at home as her tummy was getting used to solid food, she hadn't tried much else before we went on our trip.  But after two weeks there she was eating avocado, beans, zucchini, papaya, chayote, banana, and mango. It must have been a downgrade for her when we came home and she was forced to eat things like carrots, parsnips, and pears.

I am going to try and not turn this into a lecture about making your own baby food.  I will only ask this: why wouldn't you?  Sure, it takes a bit of time and a bit of freezer room.  But other than a blender, food mill, food processor, or a strong arm and a fork there is no special equipment required.  For me, convenience of a jar does not outweigh knowing what is going into my kids mouth.  Let me, then, explain our philosophy.  Philosophy?  Maybe it would be better to simply say this is our approach and why we do it, it seems less pretentious that way.

First, we make all our baby food.  Okay, I do concede to buying rice/barley/oat cereal until she is old enough to eat oatmeal.

Second, we try to do absolutely everything organic.  I've been accused to being snobby with this insistence.  Maybe, but my thought is that organic food generally tastes better and my biggest concern, aside from nutrition, is developing her palate.  If an organic pear has a better taste than a supermarket one, then that's the one that will teach her what a pear should taste like.  There is also the environmental benefit, of course.

Third, we generally cook in season for ourselves and so we do for her.  That means she is eating a lot of root vegetables that we get locally from storage.  It also means a splurge on the so not local fruits like oranges, mango, and papaya, but they are in season in the Southern Hemisphere.  As her capacity to chew develops and she ages she can then enjoy strawberries for the first time right out of the garden, the first rhubarb, and sweet peas right out of the pod.  it also means I am cooking for all of us, and not just her.

Fourth, what I can't get fresh I buy frozen and still make.  Peas are a perfect example, as frozen are as close to fresh you can get.  I also have fruit from last summer which I froze whole -like peaches and raspberries - that I can easily puree for her.

Finally, I am still breastfeeding.  That means meal time is about exploring new tastes and textures, as well as sitting down together as a family.  She is getting a lot of her nutrients from me, and supplemented by the veggies, fruits, fish, and meats she is trying out.  I must admit, though, that one of the main reasons I am breastfeeding is that I am too lazy for bottles.  My plan is to get her to take a cup so that when it comes time to wean in a few months she will be on a cup and I can avoid bottles all together.

Don't waste your money on fancy kits or cookbooks. Even if you aren't much of a cook, this is easy to do. Really easy to do. Just do one food at a time. As they develop and you feel confident you can try mixing flavours. I always go for things I would generally eat myself - squash with apples and maybe some chicken, beets and oranges, beef and broccoli.  And a kit?  Just fancy ice cube trays and a special DVD.  Read below and email me and I'll get you going.

All that being said, how do I get a load of baby food made and in the freezer with a toddler on hand and a busy schedule?

One thing that has definitely helped has been teaching the toddler how to peel veggies.  To be honest, I'm a little afraid that she'll slice herself with the peeler.  But I held it with her the first few times and now she is a pro.  She asks for help on the end bits, knowing that she could hurt herself.  She's tough, but not stupid.  While the little one naps The Monster and I will stand and peel veggies.  It's a great a activity for both of us.  And the pride she has when she sees her sister eating the food she made is enough to make a Mama Foodie cry.

Smilosaurus (aka Little Miss Sunshine) has now tried most veggies and fruits available to us.  That means we can make big batches now.  When I first introduced a new food I only made one or two servings.  That way I wasn't stuck with a huge batch of cauliflower if she wasn't going to eat it (although you can easily throw it in a cream of veggie soup or macaroni and cheese for yourself).  I would simply put a few florets or tablespoons aside from whatever I was making for the rest of us.

Baby Food Making Supplies

Vegetable peeler
Sharp knife
Pot with tight fitting lid/ Steamer
Food processor/blender/food mill
Ice Cube Trays
Plastic Bags or plastic containers

Wash and peel any vegetables like carrots, parsnips, beets, squash, sweet potatoes.  Trim the ends of beans and zucchini.  Peel all fruit (except berries).

Chop the veggies into uniform pieces and place them in a small pot with a fitted lid (what I do) or a steamer.  Add about a half cup or so of water, not to cover, only to fill the bottom of the pot.  Set it on the stove, with a burner turned to high.  Don't walk away and watch TV, otherwise you will boil away all the water and burn your veggies (trust me).  Steam the veggies until a fork will go through them easily, adding more water if necessary.

All veggies, barring cucumber, should be cooked.  I also cook my pears and apples, essentially making an applesauce.  But I do not cook berries, mango, papaya, or bananas.

When veggies/fruit are done, drain them of any water.  Reserve the cooking liquids.  Put your veggies in your blender/food processor/food mill.  You may need to add water to get the desired consistency.  To start with you may want quite smooth purees.  Unless it is a veggie like a sweet potato or cauliflower you might have to add water to do this.  If you run out of cooking water I usually take what's left in the kettle after boiling my water for tea that day.  Some veggies have a lot of water in them and you won't need to add any, like zucchini.  To be honest, we never went the smooth puree route.  From the experience of friends it seems that babies who stay too long on smooth purees have a hard time with different textures - even by a year old.  That, and my food processor tends to have a rougher chop unless I add a lot of water.

Do not feel like you are diluting your food if you add water.  I'm not a nutritionist, so don't quote me if I say it's okay.  But I do know that babies bowels have a hard time with new foods and the little bit of extra water generally helps if they are constipated.  It's not like I'm serving her soup!

Once you've reached the desired consistency, pour your puree into clean ice cube trays and freeze.  Once frozen you can store in plastic bags or plastic containers.  Each cube is essentially one serving.  At each meal the Smilosaurus will eat anywhere from 1-5 cubes of food.  You can defrost the cubes in the microwave or leave a few in the fridge each morning to defrost.  They are easy to transport and you can still feed your kid your homemade love when you are out and about.

I want to make a special note about meat here.  Generally I will poach the chicken, or keep a tiny piece of red meat or fish aside for her.  No seasonings, but broil it or bake it as I do the rest for the family.  You need a good blender to really get small pieces, and I generally have to add water (the poaching liquid).  When you are feeding the little one, I find it easier to mix it right in with the veggies, you get a better consistency for them.  With fish I don't even bother blending it.  You can flake it into small enough pieces that are easy for a babe to eat.

When all is said and done, an hour of work once every week or two will get you loads of food.  The next step is encouraging your child to eat and explore food.  A few mantras we use around here:

Let them get messy.  It sure isn't pretty and it's hard on cloth bibs and clothes.  But I'm thankful we have dogs that have learned that the floor is pretty tasty after the girls eat.  And I highly recommend bibs that cover the shoulders to save yourself some laundry headaches.

Let them decided how much they are going to eat.  We should all eat like babies - they get loads of colour in their mostly plant based diet and they stop when they are hungry.

Let them try new things, even if they didn't like it the first time.  I saw some guy on TV once (how's that for a source?) who said kids need to be exposed to something about 10 times before they can truly establish a like or dislike for it.  Keep offering it.  I still can't get her to eat applesauce, but I keep trying.

One final note.  Please listen to your public health nurse or health care provider on the recommended way to introduce food.  Certain foods should be avoided in the first year, strawberries and egg whites, for example.  I'm only a mom, not a nutrition or health care expert.  If in doubt, here is a good resource for additional advice and guidance on feeding your baby solids.

02 February, 2009

Taste Adventure - Passion Fruit

In the winter at the Calgary Farmer's Market the pickings get slim.  We still go to buy the bulk of our groceries, have brunch and coffee, and let the Monster jump her little heart out in the bouncy castle.  Bypassing the crafts which we don't need but look nice we skip through the stalls to our regular spots.  Recently, however, a new vendor has been tempting me with the exact opposite of locovore eating.

More Than Mangos has taken up a weekend stall for the winter.  The colourful fruits and exotic smells are intoxicating in the grey and tired days of mid winter.  We've been buying avocados, mangos, and baby bananas imported from Central and South America.  I decided to branch out recently and picked up some passion fruit.  The scent of these orange passion fruit - versus the purple and plain ones Andres has - was more than I could resist.

And I would be the only one.

The Monster was more than excited to open the passion fruit in the recommended way - by smashing it.  The natural curiosity of a toddler led her to ask a few questions about what this new thing was.  Smashing it was great fun.  And as soon as she saw what it looked like inside she walked away and refused to have anything more to do with it.  She wouldn't even come close it after that.  

When Hubby came home I tempted him with this new treat.  I'd devoured that juicy pulp from the one the Monster broke, straight up.  We cracked another one and Hubby bravely took a slurp.  Quite promptly he responded that it was "nasty".  It reminded him of guava, which he hates.

Oh well, more for me.  It kiboshed my plans to make a passion fruit pavlova for dessert.  And so it sat.  The Monster ate a Cara Cara orange instead.  And I finally finished the passion fruit as a topping on some yoghurt.  A tropical, but somewhat disappointing end to that slurpy, sweet pulp.
I haven't given up.  I'll get them to eat it yet...  Smoothies, vinagrettes, maybe even a cocktail or some ice cream.