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!

 

 

 

 

 

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“Everybody Cooks Rice”

Greetings and Happy Fall!

I’ve been on a blogging break as of late.  But for a good reason! I’ve been on a little tour with what I like to call my third baby, my baby food cookbook, Around the World in 80 Purees: Easy Recipes for Global Baby Food.  It’s been fun!  Between that and running after my two actual “masala babies,” however, I’ve found it nearly impossible to keep a regular blogging schedule.

But I had to write today because I ran into such a lovely little book at the local library yesterday! It was one of those books you are drawn to and meant to find. Little Ela happily sat down in an aisle after finally finding a stash of books and as I sat next to her my eyes landed upon a book called Everybody Cooks Rice by Norah Dooley:

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Now, as you know, I’m obsessed with all things global food.  I am fascinated by what people eat around the world and how the same ingredient is prepared in totally different ways to create unique dishes representative of that country or region.  And this worn, bunny-eared, little book was calling my name right there in the children’s section of the library.

The story is about a little girl named Carrie who’s been sent looking for her little brother Anthony, whose gone off to play in the neighborhood somewhere. The young girl visits several neighbors’ homes: the Darlingtons from Barbados, the Diazes from Puerto Rico, the Huas from China, the Trans from Vietnam, the Bleus from Haiti and even encounters a little Indian boy carrying a tiffin (Indian stainless steel lunch containers) full of food.

In each home, dinner is being prepared, particularly dishes involving the humble little rice grain. The Diazes are making rice with black-eyed peas, adorned with friend onions and bacon.  Carrie is offered a bowl and loves it.  She remembers she’s supposed to be looking for her little brother so she tries another house.  She soon discovers with each visit that because her neighbors are from different countries they are preparing their rice dishes in different ways! She ends up tasting Vietnamese rice with nuoc cham, a garlicky fish sauce, Creole rice, which is spicy and Carribean-style rice, which is bright and yellow from a spice called turmeric, and biriyani, an Indian-spiced baked rice dish. When Carrie finally finds her brother and comes home, she’s not only stuffed full of yummy rice dishes, but discovers that her Italian mommy is cooking rici e bisi, rice with peas, Parmesan, butter and grated nutmeg.

What a beautiful story of food, culture and community!

The book really struck me, because it’s one of those rare children’s books that teaches not only diversity of food, but diversity of culture, which often can be found right on your own street (or as the book jacket aptly describes, Carrie discovers a “new world right in her own backyard”).

I aspire to teach my children about the world and all the beautiful and interesting citizens in it. As this book, and hopefully my own cookbook shows, you can teach your children about world culture through every single meal you serve them.  A passport on a plate as I like to say. You are not only teaching your children to be diverse eaters, but teaching them about other cultures and customs that might be new to them.  This is turn teaches little ones respect and open-mindedness, lasting life lessons.

Food brings everyone together, and crosses all borders. I can’t wait to find more diverse books like this one for my little ones (and me!).

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!

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