Food and Love. For all.

20160910_124104Dear Friends,

I am having a hard time talking about babyfood or any food this week. My heart really aches for everything that has been happening around us since the election. The fear, the anxiety, the darkness that seems to be surrounding us all. I am saddened by everything, but particularly saddened that our little ones are having to navigate through such weighty issues at such a young age.

One thing that has helped this past week is simply being around my two little girls.  Being 5 and 2.5 years old brings a sense of pure innocence and happy energy to our home. Their needs are few–love, hugs, food and Anna and Elsa dress-up clothes.  Kirina and Ela spin around the living room literally singing with glee.

I suppose that is how it should be at this age.

But I realized something pretty important in watching them play. Seeds, of everything, get planted in them at such an early age. Want them to eat diverse? Start young! Want them to be compassionate? Start young! Want them to have manners and be respectful? Start young! It feels overwhelming to think that YOU, as a parent or caregiver are tasked with teaching them all these things.  Yes, it’s scary, but wow.  You alone have the power to mold your child into someone who is full of love, open-mindedness and compassion. Someone who will be a global citizen.

For me personally, I want to make sure my little ones learn about all of the different cultures and customs in the world.  How we all may look and sound different, but are the same on the inside and have the same color blood.  That each culture has something wonderful just waiting to be discovered.  A new custom or birthday ritual. A different way of cooking or eating your favorite fruit or vegetable.  Merely realizing that your curiosity should lead you on a new adventure, instead of fearing what is different.

We have so much to learn from one another.  Fun, amazing things that can enrich your heart and mind.

If you are looking for ways to raise a globally aware citizen, someone who is open-minded and curious, try introducing some new ideas.  Something as simple as a pasta noodle can go a long way in teaching diversity.  From Italian spaghetti, to the Japanese ramen noodle, to the Southeast Asian rice noodle.  Venture out to different enclaves in your neighborhood to try new restaurants. Find a favorite Portuguese place or eat Biriyani at an Indian place. Meet new people and learn about them. Teach kids that culture and diversity are everywhere.  And that’s fun to embrace diversity.

Food isn’t going to heal our nation so instantly.  I know that. But it’s one way to bring everyone together. And it gives me comfort, in times like these, that no matter what is happening around me, I have the power to teach and raise and expose my children to the world and all of it’s beautiful citizens.

Please be kind to each other in the coming weeks and always.

From Kirina and Ela’s dining room chairs to your little one’s, bon appetit!

 

 

 

 

 

Easy Ways to Dress Up Yogurt for Babies (Adults Too!)

Hello Everyone!

Baby yogurt. Best thing ever.  It’s easy, nutritious and always available. Best of all, Ela loves the stuff.  When my harried self is at a loss (or just too exhausted) for lunch or snack ideas a little container of yogurt comes to our rescue.  Not only Ela, but Kirina and even myself slurp down cooling yogurt in one form or another (Kirina has moved onto yogurt tubes, me, I sort of indulge in a few bites of Ela’s yogurt.  The years of buying creamy, whole-milk yogurt are fleeting and I must take advantage!  It’s so much tastier than the adult, boring, low-fat stuff.  Sigh.  I love dairy fat.  The fat does not love me back).

Whole milk yogurt doesn’t always come in lots of flavors. Yes, there are the pre-made baby yogurt containers, but Ela grew weary of those week after week….after week…after, um week (two kids equals chaos.  which equals a heavy reliance on yogurt containers).  Our wallet also grew weary.  Mommy had to think fast! I tried this:

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Whole milk yogurt.  Plain.  Creamy.  Organic.  Yum, right?  I got this in response:

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More of a yuck than a yum.

I can’t blame her.  It’s not like I sit around eating plain yogurt either. I eat it with fresh fruit, a spoonful of jam, even a sprinkling of ground cardamom.

Think of yogurt as a blank canvas for you to decorate with fun flavors. Not only are you creating variety for your little one, but you are also training their taste buds to appreciate new tastes.  Here’s a combo Ela appreciated:

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Kiwi, mango and cardamom.

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The kiwi was fresh and the mango frozen (frozen fruits are a wonderful thing to have on hand!  Especially for out-of-season fruits).  I ground up the cardamom, just a pinch, with a mortar and pestle.  Just mash everything up and add to yogurt.  The consistency will depend on the age of your baby (chunkier textures are ok for babies over 8 months).

Try other fruits and spices too.  Cinnamon, grated nutmeg, pumpkin pie spice. Get creative to keep baby’s taste buds happy and engaged!

From Ela’s highchair to your little one’s bon appetit!

Ginger to the Rescue: Using Spices to Boost Baby’s Immunity & Soothe Tummies

My babies are sick. 😦

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In fact, my whole family got sick this past week. Ela, who just turned 9-months, has been battling a cold and chest congestion, while Kirina, 3-years, got nailed with the stomach bug. My poor husband (who shouldered most of the cleaning-up and rescue duty because he 1) has a stronger stomach than me 2) is more mature about baby throw-up, meaning, he doesn’t scream and run away and 3) he’s just better at this stuff, or, so I tell myself.  Whatever, he’s just the better parent and I suck! But I digress) also got nailed with some hybrid of whatever the girls have.  Me?  I’m coughing a lot, and losing my mind (update: I started this post a few days ago. I now have a fever and am totally miserable!).

We haven’t been able to eat much in the Saini household this week, but some things have been wonderful.  In fact, they’ve been surprisingly effective.  The first being ginger, our new best friend.  Did you know ginger has been around for a zillion years and is known to soothe all sorts of tummy problems?  It reduces inflammation and is very protective. Asian countries use ginger in just about everything, particularly ginger teas (I remember drinking hot water and ginger infusions when I was pregnant).  Kirina’s nurse even recommended flat ginger ale for her stomach.

How could I use ginger with Ela?  Too young for soda for sure, but it got me thinking, what if I infuse cooking water with ginger and boil/steam her veggies in it?  I tried a carrot and ginger combo.  I thought it would be a great immunity booster, and also a gentle way to introduce ginger to her palate (hey, I have to multi-task. I’m still in the business of spicing up baby food people!).

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It was awesome! And super easy. Simply take a slice or two of fresh ginger root and add it to your water while boiling/steaming your vegetable of choice.  The carrots took on a lovely, light ginger flavor.  Ela ate them all up! I think this cooking method would be fabulous with lots of different herbs and spices.  Mint, cilantro, basil leaves, etc.  Even a clove or two in boiling water would create a nice perfume and gentle flavor.

Give it a try and let me know your thoughts! And most of all, stay well this holiday (and cold and flu) season.  Lots of love!

From Ela’s highchair to your little one’s, bon appetit!

 

 

Happy Halloween! How About Some Pumpkin For Your Little Pumpkin?

Hello everyone,

Happy Halloween! It’s the best day ever! Or, well, one of the best days ever. 🙂  I am, and always have been obsessed with Halloween.  I love everything about it…the dressing up, the decorations, lights, pumpkin picking/carving, and most of all, trick-or-treating.  In fact, I love it so much I’ve been waiting for Kirina to grow old enough for trick-or-treating, just so I can re-live those days of ringing doorbells and getting candy.  Mmm, candy.  Yes, it is what you’re thinking.  I am going to raid my innocent 3-year-old’s candy bag and treat myself to whatever I find appealing.  I figure this is the least she can do for me since I had to, um, birth her, which might I remind everyone involved lots of pain and bad hospital food.  Nothing a free peanut-butter cup won’t fix. 🙂

At any rate, what about baby Ela?!  She needs a treat too.  A special new meal is in order.  On pumpkin day, why not eat pumpkin?!  It’s time for Ela to branch out on her veggies, which quite frankly, we are struggling with.  She doesn’t eat them straight like Kirina used to…Ela wants it sweet, mixed in with applesauce or some other fruit puree.  Which is fine, but it is important to keep her tastes diverse.  Well, we found winners with two great recipes today.  We made pumpkin two ways:

Pumpkin Puree with Cinnamon Butter

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The recipe is easy. I lightly coat a small sautee pan with butter and add 1 tsp of finely chopped onion or shallot.  Add a pinch of cinnamon and cook onions until very soft, about 5 minutes.  Add 4-6 ounces of preferably organic canned pumpkin puree (you can make your own puree too, but it’s Halloween and we need some time savers today!).  Sautee for a minute or two with the onions and add water to reach your preferred consistency (Ela always likes things on the thinner side).  Finally, blend with a stick blender or food mill to create a smooth puree.

Questions I often get from parents? Why onion? Why butter?

Because they taste GOOD. I agree that we should not be adding lots of “stuff” to baby food, but I think a little bit of these ingredients (yes, butter) gives the food so much taste and dimension. Babies are people too! Serve them interesting meals and they’ll keep exploring and asking for more.

The second variation I made was a Pumpkin Sage Puree.  I took a fresh sage leaf and sautéed it in the onion/butter mixture for a few seconds. Sage is strong, so just a scent of it will do if you are introducing this spice to baby for the first time.

So give a little pumpkin to your pumpkin!  Have fun and enjoy tonight.  I have to run and get outfits ready (Ana & Elsa, what else?).

From Ela’s high chair to your little one’s, BOO! and Bon Appetit!

Meet the Inspiration Behind “Masala Baby”

Hi Everyone,

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My inspiration: Kirina

This is a special week over here.  My sweet little girl, Kirina, turns 3 this week!  She is a vivacious, mischievous, fun-loving little soul.  She helps me cook (by helping I mean eating and making happy messes with her mixing bowl and scraps).  I love her with all my heart.

Kirina is the reason this Masala Baby project even happened.  She is my inspiration in many ways, but being inspired to create baby food and write a book about it is all because of her.

Before Kirina was born, I did a whole host of things.  I practiced law (defense litigation and government prosecution).  It was a career that sort of munched away at my soul bit by bit (or, bite by bite, I could say).  My beloved mom (my best friend and only real constant in my life) passed away in 2005 and I decided I just couldn’t practice law anymore.  I couldn’t live life doing something that left me empty every day.  Life, as I learned, was simply too short.  I sold my childhood home and moved to New York City, simply to start fresh.  I was alone, grief-stricken and without a real path in life.  I took a job at a law school and set out to figure out who I was again.

I discovered so many facets of myself in NYC.  Mainly through all the new relationships and sights and sounds of the great big city of possibilities.   The big sense I discovered? My sense of TASTE.  Of all things food and culture.  Vietnamese Pho a block away.  Thai curried noodles next door. Wine bars, fig and olive bars, Venezuelan arepa bars, gourmet cupcake trucks, waffle trucks, whole shops dedicated to one ingredient (bread! cheese! jam!), and even a whole restaurant devoted to 12 different types of macaroni and cheese.  I went on noodle tours and pizza tours and ate my way through the city, savoring each new discovery.  I fell in love not only with the tastes and creativity of the meals I ate, but also the fact that each meal was a gateway to a new culture.  I loved to learn about all the people, cuisines and customs of the world.  NYC allowed me to journey abroad without ever leaving the country.

I met my sweet husband a few years later, moved to New Jersey and had Kirina.  I never thought I would have a family ever again, but my love and my constant, my husband, brought me back that sense of family and life.  With Kirina’s birth (and baby Ela’s of course) our family was complete.  To this day I am amazed that these blessings have occurred in my life.  I am forever grateful for my family.

Career-wise, however, I was lost again.  I was in a new town, didn’t know anyone, and was home alone with a little one (home alone and scared!).  Whatever was I going to do with myself? As a new mom, I never knew what I was doing and the days felt long and lonely.  Yes, I had a beautiful baby girl, but I felt like I also needed an occupation of some sort.  Something to call my own.

Baby Food

When Kirina was ready to eat solids, I was so excited.  Here was someone I could feed! I could turn her into a foodie just like me and my husband.  I prepared some rice cereal from a box, just as the pediatrician recommended.  It looked and tasted like cardboard mush.  Kirina spit it out.  Day after day after eternal day.  What was I doing wrong? Why wouldn’t she eat? I tasted the mush we were feeding her and it was pretty disgusting. I couldn’t blame her refusal.  So I decided to try something else…something with flavor.  I took an avocado and put some cinnamon on it.  Boom! She ate it! Slurped it up! It was like magic!

Kirina discovering blueberries

Kirina discovering blueberries

 

This moment transformed my life.  As ridiculous as it might sound, that moment taught me that my little one needed foods with flavor.  Real food, not food from a box.  I remembered my mom, my love of cooking, my love of culture and my love of caring for my family.  It inspired me to research what babies around the world eat….to make meals with bold tastes….to experiment with new ingredients and spices and see what Kirina would eat.

We grew together, one spoon at a time, one meal at a time.

Slowly I discovered I had a new passion in life: baby food.  Making it.  Researching it.  Living it.  Yes, baby food.  Ask me ten years ago and I would have laughed, but creating recipes for little ones (especially my own) has breathed new life in me.  I love it!  It’s like I’ve found a new passion in life…the blending of all the culinary and cultural finds and experiences I’ve had.  This passion has led to my recipes, a possible book publication, blogs, and endless amounts of cooking and creating.

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Nurture your baby’s taste buds. Explore global cuisines, even when they are small.

In short, Kirina enabled me to find a new piece of myself.  Even through all the exhaustion, the self-doubt of staying at home (the self-craziness that goes along with it) and endless wanderings of what I wanted to do in life, Kirina managed to lead me to a new, potential career.  I’m still learning about the baby food business, and trying hard to freelance write, blog, and get a book published….it’s slow and it’s hard work, but I feel PASSIONATE about it.  And in all my years so far, it’s the one thing I’ve learned that is the key to success: love what you do.  And love who you are while doing it.  I wake up each day thinking about spicing up baby (and now toddler) food and how to teach parents to embrace different tastes and ingredients from around the world.  To nurture every taste bud and palate, one baby at a time.  It’s a fun feeling every day.

So thank you my dear baby Kirina.  Thank you for introducing me to myself again, and for helping me discover another side of me.  You’ve brought meaning into my life in more ways than I can count.  I love you for bringing joy, laughter and an extreme curiosity into the house.  For eating all my cooking (well, most of it anyway.  I still can’t get you to eat a potato).  For jumping on couches and mashing blueberries into your fingers.  For asking to snack on cumin seeds when you help me cook.  For trying faithfully to chop onions with me while I cook (me with a Wusthof, she with a plastic spoon that serves as her knife).

Thank for you being my Masala Baby and inspiration on this culinary and life adventure.  Happy THIRD Birthday my love!

Mommy loves you. xoxo

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From Kirina’s highchair to your little one’s bon appetit!