“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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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!