Baby’s Thanksgiving Table: Fun & Flavorful

Greetings and Happy Thanksgiving!

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Whether your little one is just starting out on purees, or you have an older baby mastering finger foods, Thanksgiving is one of the best times of year for introducing flavor to your child’s ever-growing palate!

As adults we are fortunate to enjoy all the flavors and spices of the season:  Delicious roasted turkey rubbed with savory herb butter.  Sage, rosemary and thyme play prominent roles in flavoring stuffing and seasonal root vegetables. Pumpkin pies and sweets are amped up with cinnamon, nutmeg and clove.

We often think we have to create separate and bland versions of these dishes for baby because they are too young for such tastes.

But I assure you they are not!

As you know, my mission is to encourage parents to feed their babies diverse foods and seasonings from the very first bites.  Including your baby in the family meal (and Thanksgiving is the ultimate family meal!), flavors and all, is a great start to raising an adventurous eater.

So how can we bring these flavors to our babies and toddlers?

  • For brand new eaters (6 months and up), puree parts of the Thanksgiving meal.  Roasted root vegetables, like parsnip or carrots, are easily turned into the right consistency with the help of a little stock or water. Flavor them with whatever you usually use—rosemary, sage, cumin, even a bit of mild curry powder.  Let your little one explore, in puree form, what you are feeding the adults.
  • For older babies, roasted or steamed root vegetables are the perfect finger food.  Already soft and tender, you simply have to cut the veggies into bite-size pieces and serve.
  • Other ideas? Sweet potato puree with a pinch of baby-friendly ground cinnamon and/or nutmeg, good for all ages.
  • Mashed potatoes with herbed garlic butter.  Children and potatoes usually go together well!
  • Thanksgiving soups, ranging from brothy to creamy are perfect to serve to babies.  Butternut squash soup, in particular, is a favorite.  It’s a flavorful, yet mild vegetable and can be spiced with everything from onion and garlic to nutmeg and sage.
  • Pumpkin puree with cinnamon, clove or pumpkin pie spice mix is always a nice and easy way to introduce flavors.
  • Stuffing. Yes, your baby can have some, but probably best to make sure your little one is ready for finger foods.  Also, watch out for large chunks of nuts or raisins or other items that might be too big for baby. Otherwise stuffing is a treat!
  • Cranberry Applesauce.  Whisk a little cranberry sauce into your regular applesauce for a sweet and tasty dessert.

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Thanksgiving is about loved ones, food and family.  And a good meal can bring us all together.  Include your little butterball in all of the foodie festivities!

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

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!

 

 

 

 

 

“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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

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