Spoonfuls of Summer: How to Introduce Your Baby to Blueberries

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Freshly picked!

Hello everyone,

Hope your summer has been great!  We are still on a picking frenzy over here…I am introducing my 3-year-old, Kirina, to “pick-your-own farms” this summer and it is such fun! A wonderful a reminder of my own childhood when I picked fruits and veggies with my mom.  Kirina has a lot of fun at these farms…mainly she picks for five minutes and then asks to play on the swing set, lol. Me, I get lost in the dirt and berries and thorns and broccoli and have a blast.  I have a very supportive (only slightly grumpy) husband who waits in the sunshine with two kids while I go a little farm happy. 🙂

We went picking last week and it was Kirina’s first time in a blueberry patch.  I took a lot of pictures…they are cute, but it looks sorta like child labor in some of them:

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Child at work. 😉

 

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The haul!

 

Blueberries for Baby

The Why:

Blueberries are a superfood, plain and simple.  They are high in antioxidants, which are amazing for you no matter your age.  When ripe, blueberries also have a sweet and pleasing flavor.  You can serve them as is or add summer herbs to them for extra dimensions of flavor.

The How:

Making a blueberry puree is simple and fast.  Simply measure out one cup of blueberries, fresh or frozen (one cup will yield about 7 oz of puree).  If fresh, pick out stems and leaves and rinse well with water.  You can even add a splash of vinegar to the mix to wash away bacteria (just rinse well when finished).

Steam the berries in a steamer basket or in a pot with a few spoonfuls of water for 3 minutes:

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Puree until smooth (for 6 to 10-month-olds) or simply mash with a potato masher for older babies (10-months and above) as a nice way to introduce food with textures:

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Puree

 

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Blueberry puree with mint

 

The Seasonings:

Yes, you can season blueberries! I am all about how to spice up baby food am constantly experimenting with what herbs, spices and little flavor additions will work with a particular ingredient.  Try these summery flavor additions:

1.  Mint (add a leaf while pureeing or mashing)

2.  Lemon juice (a few drops added in brightens up the blueberry flavor)

3.  Cinnamon ( a mild, warming spice to give that berry cobbler taste)

4.  Nutmeg (a pinch)

5.  Mint yogurt (puree yogurt, mint and blueberry mash together for something different).

Blueberry mint yogurt

Blueberry mint yogurt

 

You can also mix blueberry puree into other purees and season accordingly.  Remember, start slow when introducing your baby to new spices or flavors.  I promise it will pay off!

Stay tuned for the next Spoonfuls of Summer article.  We’ve picked a lot of fruit and are excited to eat and write. 🙂

From Kirina’s highchair to yours, bon appetit!

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From farm to highchair!

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Happy Summer everyone!!

Oh my goodness, what FUN we have had here in the Saini household lately! There are sooo many great fruits and vegetables in season right now, I can’t even contain my enthusiasm.  Being a country mouse myself (I grew up in New Hartford, NY, a beloved little town near rolling hills and lots of farmland) I grew up picking strawberries with my mom in June and blueberries with my dear friend Meigan and her mom in August.  Come Fall, we all went nuts for apples and freshly pressed cider (back in the day when it wasn’t pasteurized and tasted sooo good!). My mom had her own vegetable garden, full of tomatoes and green peppers.  What happy memories they were.

My mom passed away 8 years ago and it is now a bittersweet thing to do, but I was determined to pass this love of farm-picked fruits and vegetables to my little Kirina.  There is something so pure and precious about teaching a child where their food comes from.  I think it made Kirina enjoy the food more because she had a hand in picking it.  The peas, pictured above, were such fun to pick.  We’ve kept them in a bowl in the kitchen and Kirina grabs them now and then to munch, having fun peeling away the pods and searching for the sweet peas inside.  It’s pretty fun to watch her.

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Kirina picking out peas

Freshly picked!

Freshly picked!

Peas with a Hint of Mint

     Way back when (ok, not that way back, two years ago) when I was pureeing baby food I took the freshly picked peas, shucked and steamed them, and blended them with a bit of fresh mint leaves.  It was simple and divine.  And different! Peas adapt well to a whole array of seasonings, so be sure to try out different ones–oregano, basil, even a pinch of ground black pepper.  The sweetness of the peas, particularly when they are young and freshly picked, makes it a great vehicle for introducing new spices to your little one.

   Am looking forward to more summertime farm finds.  And little Ela is almost four months old! That means she will be ready for solids soon.  Can’t wait to introduce her to the tastes of the world.

From Kirina’s highchair to your little one’s, bon appetite!

Balsamic for Babies?

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Freshly picked summer strawberries

Hi everyone!
Kirina picked these strawberries all by herself! Here in the Garden State we are lucky to live near such amazing farms, all full of fresh, homegrown fruits and vegetables.  Our favorite farm, Terhune Orchards, has a cute “read and pick” event every other Tuesday this summer.  It was so much fun! Was a bit hot, but we picked a little pint together (while I had the other little pint, Ela, 8lbs, strapped on me.  Wearing a baby and managing a toddler picking (eating, smearing) strawberries in the heat is not something I would recommend).  🙂

Farmer Kirina

What to do with all these strawberries?? Obviously, they are delicious and sweet on their own (particularly since they were locally grown), but there are tons of creative ways to feed them to your little one. Ideas to try:

1.  Strawberries & Balsamic Vinegar

Balsamic for babies? Yes! This is an unbelievably tasty combination for grown-ups and your little one shouldn’t be deprived.  Strawberries are a great vehicle for introducing a new flavor to your little one.  For toddlers, simple mix a few drops of your favorite balsamic into a bowl of chopped strawberries and serve.  For babies (over 9 months), take about a cup of strawberries, chopped, and steam them for five minutes (a steamer basket is best for this).  Puree in a blender, adding a few drops of water if necessary.  Add a drop or two of balsamic and serve! For an even smoother consistency, strain the strawberry mixture before adding the balsamic and serving.

2. Strawberries & Mint

A pinch of mint offers a nice, fun, refreshing flavor! Simply take 1 or 2 fresh mint leaves (or a pinch of dried) and add to your strawberry puree or chunks as prepared above.

3.  Strawberries & Lime

One of Kirina’s favorite combinations! For toddlers, a small squeeze will do.  For babies, start with a drop or two and work your way up.  A little does go a long way.  For mommies, I encourage you to muddle some strawberries, add ice, a squeeze of lime, tonic or soda water and vodka.  No, I am not kidding.  Children, as lovable as they are, make you want to drink.

4.  Strawberries & Cardamom

Definitely more unusual, but since cardamom pairs so well with sweet fruits and desserts, a pinch of this ground spice really enlivens a strawberry mash.  As always, using a familiar ingredient as a vehicle to introduce your little one to a new spice or flavor is helpful.

5.  Strawberry Ginger Yogurt

For babies who are taking yogurt, puree strawberries with a thin slice of fresh ginger root, then add into the yogurt.  For toddlers, you can create a yogurt parfait, layering pureed strawberry and ginger in between layers of yogurt, or simply use the baby version and mix everything together.

From Kirina’s high chair to yours, bon appetit!

Mango Season Is Here!

A spoonful of the season

A spoonful of the season

Hello Everyone,

MANGOS! Or is it mangoes with an “e?”  Jury is still out on that one (grammar folks help out on this one).  Anyway, mango season is upon us! Every April, May and June this wonderful season takes over, particularly for Indian and Indian-American households who are mango-crazy.  When I say crazy, I mean crazy! Whole festivals are created around this fruit in India.  It is sometimes called the hundred days of madness, in fact, in reference to the brief amount of time this prized fruit is in season.

My parents came here in the 1970’s and one of the things they missed most was the Indian mango.  My mom would tell me stories about how my grandmother would spend time pickling unripe mangoes, setting the jars out on the veranda so that the hot Indian sun would work its magic, heating the jars and preserving the newly jarred jewels.  I also have childhood memories of my parents, once they finally found mangos in this country, eating the juicy, fleshy, fruit over the sink because it was so messy! Every Indian-American kid probably has the same memory.

But it isn’t just Indian folks who have a fondness for the fruit.  Caribbean and Mexican cultures adore the fruit as well.  The only debate is over which mangos are tastier.  True Indian mangos, called Alphonso mangos, have been denied an entry visa for years from the US government (something to do with pesky insects they carried) until recently (they can be found for way too much money now in Indian grocery stores).  Other mangos, like the Kent and Ataulfo varieties are more commonly found in US markets and are grown in Florida and Mexico.  These are just as tasty when ripe…look for sweet-smelling, soft fruit when selecting.

Ripe Mango

Baby Food

If your baby is lucky enough to be starting solid foods during mango season, this is an amazing fruit to try! Simply cut into chunks and blend until smooth.

Mr. Teacup takes a taste of mango saffron puree.

Adding Flavor to Baby’s Food with Saffron

What could be better than simply mangos? Adding a pinch of saffron!  Saffron is a mild, gentle, but flavorful spice that comes from a special orchid flower.  It is used in everything from warmed bedtime milk, to Indian and Middle Eastern desserts to the famous Spanish Paella (it is what gives paella its bright orange color).

Saffron and mango are buddies…they taste amazing together.  Dissolve a few saffron threads in a few teaspoons of warm water.  You will notice the color coming out.  Add this to your mango chunks when blending and your puree will be imparted with a beautiful, exotic saffron perfume.  It is a wonderful way to introduce your baby to a new spice.  Kirina loved this as a baby and I can’t wait to try it on Ela when she is ready to start solids.

 

For toddlers, you can add the mango-saffron puree to a cup of yogurt in a bowl, or blend to make a smoothie.  YUM!

Keep those taste buds growing!  With summer upon us and fruits coming into season it is a fun time to experiment and introduce new flavors to your little one.

From Kirina’s high chair to your little one’s, bon appetite!

 

 

Have your taste buds grown up yet? Maybe one day they will!

Hello Everyone!

What an interesting foodie household we have had here in the past few weeks.  Kirina is almost three and Ela is almost 3 months.  Kirina, my original “ethnic baby” (aka guinea pig for recipes from my please-let-me-get-published-soon-book) is in toddler-eating mode and Ela is in full-on nursing mode (forming her own tastes through breast milk based on what I eat).  Mommy and daddy eat when we remember to, often late-night suppers once Kirina is in bed and Ela snoozes in my lap.

The main dinner table drama these days involves dear Kirina, who, as a toddler, has her own will, her own wants and her own tastes.  Which would be fine, except her tastes involve graham crackers with cream cheese, grapes, and hummus with strawberries….over and over and over and over and over….and over again.   Coming from someone who craves variety on a daily basis, I just don’t understand how this little munchkin of mine can have such a boring (to me) diet.  She used to love variety, but has now settled into a sort of cracker and dip complacency.

Which is why I keep introducing new tastes, just so we keep up the habit.  The other day we were eating an eggplant and potato curry, two vegetables that she hasn’t warmed up to (yes, she is the only child on the planet that does not like potatoes.  she will not take them mashed, she will not take them fried, she will not take them baked, broiled or otherwise, Sam I Am).  The vegetables were cooked in an onion, tomato and yogurt gravy and sautéed with spices such as cumin, coriander and garam masala.  She took a small spoonful and made a face.  Not a happy one at that.

The title of this post is based on some words from my dear friend Valerie, who shared this wonderful (non-chicken) nugget of advice that she tells her own children when it comes to new foods or flavors.  Which we promptly said to Kirina when she made her yucky face:

“Maybe one day your taste buds will grow up and will like potatoes later!”

Oh my goodness, this sentence was great! She started asking us if taste buds grow like hair (hair?) and we told her yes indeed, taste buds grow like everything else! And truly they do.  Imagining taste buds like any other organ in the body helps to understand…they, like other body parts, need time and nurturing to mature and grow.  Only with taste buds they grow to appreciate new tastes and flavors.   We have used this sentence with Kirina for all sorts of things she doesn’t have a taste for yet–olives, squash, eggplant.  And the key is not giving up.  I always ask Kirina to taste everything, especially if it is a new ingredient, usually telling her she doesn’t have to like it, but she at least has to try it.  Now with this new bit of advice about her taste buds growing up, she really does try harder to taste new things.  She’s excited by the concept of things growing and this helps her relate to new things instead of just shutting down the idea, as many toddlers are prone to do.

Motherhood is SUCH a day-by-day learning experience.  I never fully feel like I know what I’m doing or if I am doing it right (no matter the topic).  Little nuggets of advice from other mommies surely helps lead the way.

From Kirina’s highchair to yours, bon appetit!

Have an ear? Make it spicy!

Hello all!

Hope everyone’s Friday is going well! Had a fun snack from Kirina’s table this week to post.  I was thinking a lot about my mom, particularly since Mother’s Day is coming up (she passed away 8 years ago this June.  I miss her loads, and miss her cooking just as much).  We had a few rainy days here and it made me remember an Indian snack she used to talk about a lot from her childhood.  She said she would eat it during monsoon season in India, a terribly wet and muddy time in Western India.  I’m not sure what the official name of this snack is, but it involves fresh-roasted ears of corn and spices.  My mom said it was a nice, warm, treat when you felt cold and wet from the rain.

I thought Kirina would get a huge kick out of this snack (what kid doesn’t like eating things off a stick or a cob of some sort?) and also she could eat something from her grandmother’s kitchen and we could remember her that way.  It’s an easy snack and there are variations with the spices.  You know we are all about spices here when it comes to babies, toddlers, and adults! No one is too young to experience zesty food if you ask me.  So here goes…try this out on your little one and see how it goes.

Start with an ear:

This one happens to be sweet Jersey corn (New Jersey is the Garden State after all.  We are not just Newark Airport).

Make the corn naked (shuck the corn) and place on a medium flame on your burner if you have gas.  You do this on an outdoor grill as well.  And my mom only had an electric cooktop and somehow made it work too (stick to medium heat).

Keep rotating the cob until you start to see browning (be careful not to char too much.  though if this happens, it’s ok, just lightly rub it off with a paper towel).

Next, get your spices ready.  I tried to take nice pictures, but, as usual, they kind of turned out blurry, or in this case, just plain creepy, lol:

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I told you it was creepy. 🙂  This is my grandmother’s cutting board.  My grandmother! Her name is Gigi, and she is amazing.  Anyway, what you see on the board is paprika, chili powder, salt and lemon.  That’s all you need!

Here’s what the roasted corn looks like when cooked (the steam kind of messed up the picture):

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In a separate plate, take the roasted corn and rub all over with lemon first, then salt. And here is the variation…rub with paprika for a toddler just trying this snack out.  Adults eat full-on chili, and so do children in India who are used to the seasonings.  With Kirina I’ve started her on paprika because it is a mild chili flavor, and now we do a mixture of paprika and chili as she gets older.  That’s the great thing with introducing your little one to spices…it’s easy! And you can vary the amounts and strengths as your little one gets older. The goal for us is always to expose Kirina to new tastes so she gets used to all the yummy flavors of the world.  How did she like it?

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It was a hit! Though she didn’t like getting corn stuck in her teeth and we had some adventures with dental floss, but hey, I guess it got her to like dental floss and brushing more, so it was an added bonus!

For you adults who are curious, this is a flavorful way to prepare corn without the fat of butter (even though butter is totally my best friend).

Good luck and hope your little one finds it tasty.  From Kirina’s table to yours, bon appetit!

 

Welcome, Bienvenue, Hola, Willkommen, Namaste!

Hello world!

Welcome to the Masala Baby Food blog site.  This is my first foray into blogging, and there is much to learn but I am very excited to share my thoughts on a topic I find fascinating: baby food.  Yes, baby food.  As someone who has been through graduate school, the socratic method and other academic pursuits, I find it pretty funny that baby food has become the thing I’ve found a fascination with.  But I’m not ashamed!

I am a recovering lawyer (recovering from a career that slowly munched away at my soul).  After having my now two-year old, Kirina, I found myself at home and going a little (a lot) batty (as enjoyable as motherhood has been, that first year felt like a hazing ritual gone bad.  I still don’t know what I am doing most days).  For the first time in my life I had to stand still and think about what I wanted to do next, find out what I was really passionate about, what was going to feed my own soul.  It definitely was not the law.

I have always been a foodie at heart and a culturally curious soul.  I have an ongoing romance with all the different foods of the world, culinary customs and history.  When I lived in Manhattan for five years, I would devour all the different cuisines I could get my hands on.  I would scour blogs and restaurant reviews for the best piece of pizza or meal.  It was the first time in my life I had all of the world’s cuisines at my disposal, where Vietnamese Pho and Squid-Ink Pasta were just a delivery phone call away. 

You can imagine how excited I was when it came time for my daughter to start “real food,” aka “solids.”  I was going to raise a foodie 2.0! I bought a special bowl, a cute spoon and had the camera all ready for the sweet smile Kirina was going to give us after her first spoonful.  

It definitely did not quite go as planned.  The week we got clearance to feed Kirina we started with dried baby rice cereal, just as the pediatrician advised.  I had never seen these dried flakes before.  Well, maybe I had actually.  It sort of resembled the dried fish food flakes I used to feed my goldfish as a child.  Anyway, I mixed the flakes with milk as directed and excitedly waited for Kirina to gulp it down.

Kirina spit it out.  With gusto. 

On day 2 she spit out even more.  We tried several days in a row, but no luck. 

I was so deflated!  Here my little foodie-to-be was not taking to solids.  I finally tasted the pasty mush we were feeding her and nearly spit it out myself.  To use one of Kirina’s words, “yuck.”  I mean, I wouldn’t eat this bland stuff, why would she?

On day 5 or so we tried mashing up an avocado and boom, it was like magic!  She gobbled it up with such zeal.  Spoonful after spoonful the avocado went down so easily.  It suddenly occurred to me that maybe she wanted something with more flavor. 

Flavor became my mission, my obsessionI soon discovered this was the most exciting part of my day–feeding her new things, introducing her to new tastes.  I thought about what my husband and I eat (a lot of Indian and other ethnic foods) and how I could make it baby friendly.  I was eager to introduce her taste buds to things other than pasty cardboard rice cereal and strained peas from a jar.  Little by little I started to “baby-fy” our dinners for Kirina.  I started mashing Indian dal and adding rice cereal.  Then I would add one spice (coriander powder for instance).  Sweet potatoes with garam masala.  Carrots with oregano for an Italian flair.    A bit of cardamom to her applesauce, or cinnamon to her pears.  Over only a few weeks time, I realized that Kirina appreciated these new tastes and in fact preferred them to bland food.

I became so obsessed with spicing up Kirina’s meals that I began to research what babies around the world eat as their first meals, talking to parents, researching ingredients and inventing recipes based on my findings.  Kirina began to develop a taste for well-seasoned foods, which in turn encouraged me to delve into more research about taste, how taste buds develop in young children, and what we as parents in this country can do to broaden our babies’ taste buds. 

What else did I learn on this journey? That I am passionate about this stuff! As crazy as it sounds, I think I’ve finally found something in life, career-wise, that totally feels right.  I have never been more passionate about a subject as I am with this one.  I am constantly motivated and excited to develop baby, toddler and kid’s meals that are ethnic, but approachable, seasoned and different, and inspired by the global community of parents and caregivers.  I love teaching my daughter how to eat not only a variety of foods, but how to introduce flavor and seasonings from an early age so that she will (hopefully) be a less picky eater as she grows up (so far so good! she loves eating ginger-spiced lentils more than she loves a chicken nugget.  No offense to chicken nuggets.  We eat those too).  I have so many recipes and notes on this topic, I actually wrote a book (notes on the publishing process are for another day.  I am learning a lot about that too).

In the coming weeks I hope to discuss what parents around the world feed their babies, along with helpful facts, books, and research on this topic.   I want to change the way babies eat. And I would like to share and communicate with other parents who are interested in helping babies eat better. 

From Kirina’s highchair’s to your child’s….bon appetite!

Leena