Baby Palate, Baby Tummy

It’s a mystery how our little gourmands work.  If only they could talk and tell us how they feel and what they feel like eating.  I’ve run into many moms at the supermarket, the farmers market, at yoga, where this is a hot topic of conversation yet everyone leaves with a question mark still sitting in their heads.  I know their frustration. There isn’t a ton of (good) information on what to feed babies, how much and when.  What there is, is often contradicting.  What are we newbie moms to do?

We are left to our own devices and instincts to introduce our babies to the world of food.  It’s a big task!  Giving our babies a sound nutritional foundation from which to spring is key to their health for the rest of their lives*.  We are responsible for setting a good example.  You’ll definitely think twice about having that danish for breakfast when you’ve got a little one beckoning for some of your food!  Parenting is the most reflective practice I’ve experienced yet.

Baby Palate

Contrary to what we adults may think, babies have surprisingly open-minded palates.  Not to mention a keen ability to “chew” food even if they lack the hardware (a full set of teeth) to perform such tasks. When I was living in Japan, I was astonished to see babies snacking on dried fish and sea vegetables.  Kids took bentos to school for lunch, filled with rice, fish or other protein, natto (fermented soybeans), etc.  As if kids just want candy.  Of course, if candy were constantly available, what kid wouldn’t eat it.  We’re hard-wired to crave the sweetness.  We’re not, however, designed to eat it round the clock.  Nor are we designed to eat processed sweets or processed anything.

We are lucky that we get our produce from an organic farm that is about 1 hour away.  Local AND organic is a luxury that is difficult to find despite increasing numbers of farmers markets.  Organic food is nutrient dense, it is real food and it is very important both personally and professionally, but that importance multiplies exponentially when I think about Claire eating.

The produce from the CSA is slightly more bitter overall.  It’s stronger in flavor and tastes like it just came from the Earth.  It did!

She eats whatever we get each week in our cherished box.  She’s eaten most vegetables; beets, sweet potatoes, dark leafy greens from escarole and dandelion greens to spinach and chard, squash, potatoes, carrots, celery, corn, peas, etc.  She also eats most fruit (no citrus or berries yet) and animal protein.  Claire just isn’t into purees so I dice her veg and steam.  For greens, I steam and then put them in the food processor.  I then add a drop of olive oil or coconut oil to increase the bioavailability of the fat-soluble vitamins.  She loves it.

Getting into food combos has been fun.  Her favorites have been:

  • chicken and avocado (I put a few pieces of roasted chicken in the food processor till it was fully shredded and found that I can then form little balls with the soft chicken.)
  • beets and potatoes
  • spinach and carrots
  • nectarines and chard
  • ground beef and spinach
  • egg yolk and parsley (or cilantro)

I haven’t yet introduced grains but plan to in the next few weeks.  I’ll probably start her on amaranth and quinoa.  She also is not consuming any kind of dairy.  (The question of dairy is for another post entirely…maybe 2!)

Baby Tummy

Up until a couple of months ago, Claire’s only food had been mother’s milk.  Her food has been raw.  It hasn’t even been exposed to air. Needless to say, the introduction of food can wreak havoc on a developing digestive system.  I noticed this especially after giving her lentils, therefore I haven’t pushed any other beans or pulses.  (Processed foods are much harder for baby’s delicate digestive system to digest.)

After a worrying amount of time in the constipation doldrums, I called the doctor’s office.  The advice I got from the nurse was, “don’t give her toast, make her bran muffins, if it doesn’t get better, give her corn syrup.”**

None of that advice was applicable to us, so I went to work.  I began to give Claire raw coconut water daily.  I gave her prune juice diluted in water.  She ate plums for breakfast.  I then made a prune and apricot compote (see recipe below).  These all gave mild results.  It wasn’t until I began giving her cod liver oil that her system got back on track.  It honestly worked like a charm!

I started by adding a 1/4t to her food which she ate with the same enthusiasm.  Now she takes it by the spoonful (still 1/4t) before she eats.

Introducing your baby to food can throw you for a loop.  It threw me for one!  There are so many rights and wrongs, so many opinions, comments, comparisons.  What I have found is that following my instincts has served me well…so has following tradition.  Claire eats the same food I eat.  Bitter greens?  Yup. Sweet vegetables and tart fruit?  Yes.  Astringent vegetables, salt?  Uh huh.  I’m not sure that you’ll find what I’m doing in a book, then again, maybe you will.  I’m just interested in maximizing Claire’s nutrition as well as giving her ample opportunities to explore different flavors.  I’m not interested in “kid foods”.  If we’re having salmon for dinner, she’s having some version of it, too.  So far, so good.  She loves meal time and kicks her legs and waves her arms in excitement as she sees her plate being prepared.  I’m told this will change.  Like all else in parenting, there is no such thing as linear progression and there will always be a ton of surprises!

Let us know what you’re doing, what’s working and what isn’t.  New moms can use all the support we can get!

Enjoy your food journey with your little ones!

Prune and Apricot Compote

Makes 1 C

You’ll need:

1/2 C pitted prunes, roughly chopped

1/2 C dried apricots, roughly chopped

1 cinnamon stick

To make:

1. Soak the dried fruit and cinnamon stick in a sauce pan with enough (filtered) water to cover, overnight.

2. Remove the cinnamon stick and place saucepan over medium heat, bringing to a boil.  Reduce heat to simmer and cook until the liquid becomes thicker and syrup-like.

3. Let cool and serve 1-2 T per sitting to baby.  You can also mix with other foods such as sweet potatoes or spinach.

It’s also great for you to top your yogurt or granola;)

Camera shy but loving that peach!

*If you haven’t seen HBO’s Weight of the Nation, please do!

**I should note that we LOVE our pediatrician, who is also an acupuncturist.  There is a wide range of views held by the nurses in the office, however!

Pickle Me Pink

Makes 1 pint + 1 C*

Why pickles?  First, because I’ve got to do something with the extra produce I have.  (The beets and radishes made my pickles pink.) Second, it seems the universe wants me to make pickles. Since the idea crossed my mind about a week ago, I’ve seen 3 articles on pickles and fermentation and listened to a segment on NPR with Ellix Sandor Katz, author of Wild Fermentation.  (If this subject interests you at all, start with this book, aka the Fermenting Bible.)

So I made these easy, no canning necessary pickles.  Additionally, I’ve got some sauerkraut fermenting a la old school.  The difference is that these {beet and radish} pickles are sitting in vinegar, that was hot when added to the veg, and then they are refrigerated.  The vegetables get sterilized in this “acetic acid environment”¹.  Lacto-fermented cucumbers (sour pickles) for example, get brined in water and salt only and sit at room temperature for extended periods of time.  The “pickling” occurs as a result of the lactic-acid bacteria present on the veg.  Therefore, the latter encourages bacterial growth; lactobacilli, the good, happy, friendly bacteria that will do wonders for your health.

Those colonies of bacteria not only benefit good digestion, but they also enhance the nutrient density and enzyme content of foods. They promote a favorable pH in your gut that can prevent the proliferation of unfriendly bacteria while encouraging the absorption of protein and minerals.  Some have anti-bacterial, anti-viral and cancer fighting elements. These strains are pretty potent in fighting bacterial infections such as Strep, Staph, Salmonella, and E. coli.² “Some have even shown impressive effects against viral infections including polio, HIV, and herpes, and can also produce hydrogen peroxide which has the potential to kill undesirable Candida yeast and prevent it’s overgrowth.”²  These are your probiotics!

There’s a lot of mystery surrounding fermentation.   Consequently, there’s also a lot of fear involved.  I have to admit, I too had my reservations.  We are actually talking about creating an environment for our food to GROW and MULTIPLY bacteria.  Anyone reaching for the Purell yet?

In Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon poses this question, “Could it be that in abandoning the ancient practice of lacto-fermentation and in our insistence on a diet in which everything has been pasteurized, we have compromised the health of our intestinal flora and made ourselves vulnerable to legions of pathogenic microorganisms?”³  It is a valid question and it deserves some more investigation.

This is what I learned.

  • Not all ferments are created equal.  There are a ton of different organisms involved depending on what you’re fermenting.  Mostly we’re talking about bacteria but there are ferments that also include fungi.  Also, usually fermenting is an anaerobic metabolic process, energy produced in the absence of air, but not always.
  • What gets fermented?  Everything!  Most cultures have some form of fermentation.  Coffee, wine, fruit, vegetables, dairy, meat, grains, it all gets fermented both to preserve the food and for safety.
  • Wild fermentation describes ferments that are based on organisms that are present on the foods you’re fermenting.  All veggies contain lactic-acid bacteria that acidifies the environment and it’s these good bacteria that get to work when fermenting vegetables.
  • Cultured foods involve the introduction of organisms or a colony of organisms to the food such as in the production of yogurt.  (You’ll also see cultured butter and kefir which are similarly produced.)
  • Pasteurization kills all the beneficial bacteria of fermentation.  This means if you want the real thing, you either have to make it yourself or get if from someone who does because you can’t buy it raw in the supermarket.  (At least not in NY.)
  • Enough cultures around the world have traditionally used this method to preserve their food and their health which to me is good enough reason to keep up with that tradition.

Does any of this tickle your fancy?

To help you get started, here’s another great resource.  Your first step is waiting for you below!

Good luck and happy pickling!  And please report back with your experiments!

You’ll need:

1 C small radishes, rinsed and trimmed

2 C beets, roasted and sliced (I had 4 medium-ish beets that came to about 2 C)

1 C water

1/2 C red wine vinegar

1/2 C apple cider vinegar

1 T maple syrup or honey (I actually used date sugar once and was not disappointed.  Any good sugar will do here though.)

2 t sea salt

2 bay leaves

1/2 t peppercorns

1/4 t cumin seeds

1-2 cloves garlic, smashed

To make:

1. In a small saucepan, bring the water, vinegars, maple syrup and salt to a simmer until salt (and sugar if using) has dissolved.

2. Chop the vegetables into the sizes you wish.  Add them to clean and dry mason jars and divide the bay leaves, peppercorns, cumin seeds and garlic among them.  (I only added the garlic and cumin seeds to the radishes to taste the difference.)

3. Pour the vinegar mixture into the mason jars, let cool then cover and refrigerate.  Give the pickles about 24 hours to settle before digging in.  They will be tasty on their own or added to salads or as a condiment to a rich, meaty dish.

4. Enjoy!

*Please note that this is what I had on hand so these are the yields that were produced.  This recipe can easily be altered if you should find yourself with more or less produce to pickle.

¹ The Art of Fermentation, WNYC New York Public Radio, The Leonard Lopate Show

² http://naturalbias.com/a-great-source-of-natural-probiotics/

³  http://www.westonaprice.org/food-features/lacto-fermentation

P.S. I like the suggestions that I found in Nourishing Traditions because Sally Fallon deals with much more reasonable sizes than Sandor Katz does in Wild Fermentation.  Since I’m new to this, I’m sticking with small batches.

Summer Squash Fritters

Makes A LOT (I think I got 3 dozen out of this batch.)

That saying, “don’t plant zucchini unless you have a lot of friends” couldn’t be more true!  They have a way of taking over a garden. Around this time, I am usually inundated with all kinds of squash from friends trying to unload.  So when that happens, it forces you to get creative.  Let’s be honest:  How many stir-frys or pasta with sauteed squash can you possibly have?  Baking muffins or a quick bread is an effective way of using some of your squash.  Pickling them is also a great choice.  (More on pickles in the coming weeks.)  Shredding and adding to salads or sandwiches works, but so does converting them into fritters.

In our last CSA box, we got a boat load of squash and after said stir-frys and pasta dishes were done, I just threw what was left into the food processor and started adding goodies to create a fritter bursting with flavor but that was light as opposed to heavy and oily, despite being pan-fried.  Seems impossible, but you’d be wonderfully surprised.

Thinking about what to write about squash, I found that there’s not a lot of research done on the health benefits of squash, especially summer squash.  They’re not dark leafy greens after all.  Yet, they shouldn’t be ignored…how can they be ignored when they’re all over your garden or taking over your fridge?!  And, that’s a good thing because  they’re fiber rich which is good for gut and colon, and also means they’re protective against colon cancer.  Fiber aids in digestion which helps move things, especially toxins, out of the body. They also help lower cholesterol and are anti-inflammatory, thanks to Vitamins C and A.  As for minerals, magnesium and potassium make an appearance but the star of the mineral show happens to be manganese.

Manganese helps the body metabolize protein and carbohydrates, participates in the production of sex hormones, and catalyzes the synthesis of fatty acids and cholesterol.  The manganese in zucchini also increases the levels of superoxide dismutase (SOD), the enzyme responsible for protecting mitochondria against oxidative stress. Finally, manganese is essential for the production of proline, an amino acid that allows collagen to form, thus allowing for healthy skin and proper wound-healing.“¹

Suddenly it seems like a good thing that these squash are taking over our gardens and refrigerators!

You’ll need:

3/4 C farmer’s cheese or ricotta

1/2 C scallions, chopped (about 3 scallions)

1/4 C basil, chiffonade* (I had some Thai Basil from the CSA so I used 2 T basil and 2 T Thai Basil to mix it up.  Super yum combo!)

1/4 C flat leaf parsley, chopped

1 C spelt flour

1/2 C Parmigiano Reggiano

3 eggs, lightly beaten

4 C squash, shredded

2 t lemon zest + more for garnish

1 t sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

3-4 T extra-virgin olive oil + more as needed

To make:

1. In a bowl, add the cheese, scallions, herbs, salt and pepper and combine well.  Add the flour in steps, slowly incorporating it into the mixture and follow with the Parmigiano.

2. Add squash and eggs and stir well until thoroughly combined.

3. Heat 2 T of oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Using a tablespoon to measure, drop batter into skillet and pan fry for 4-5 minutes before turning over and cooking for another couple of minutes until golden brown.  Remove fritters and place on a wire rack over a sheet pan (alternatively, you could line a plate with paper towels, but they may get soggy this way) to cool slightly.  Repeat and add oil as needed.

4. Enjoy!

*Chiffonade means to cut/slice into strips or ribbons as opposed to chopping which is more random.  Basil lends itself to this cut.  I haven’t gotten that far on the knife skills page, but I’ll get there!

¹http://www.healthdiaries.com/eatthis/8-health-benefits-of-zucchini.html

Red Quinoa, Corn and Peaches?

Makes 8 C

Yes, most of the food that will make its way onto these pages will be optimal runners’ food…at least until the marathon in November.  However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t optimal food for everyone.  The more I cook for specific needs, whether it be to maintain wellness, to enhance a physical regimen, to curb an illness or to prevent one, I find that a lot of the same principles apply.  Not all and not for everyone, but there are similarities.

I use both the red and white varieties of quinoa most often.  There are some differences between the two, but nutritionally speaking they are both superstars.  I often prefer the nuttier and slightly more bitter taste in the red quinoa.  It somehow feels more special.  You may remember that I made and posted a different quinoa salad here before.  So, why another?  Because quinoa is that special.  It’s a complete protein, containing all 9 essential amino acids.  It’s gluten-free and it’s versatile and delicious!  They are high in magnesium (necessary for muscle contraction, runners…remember?), iron (production of hemoglobin and oxygenating blood and therefore fighting fatigue), the anti-oxidant Vitamin E and the B Vitamins.  They’re low in fat and what fat there is, it’s unsaturated.  (Remember, we NEED FAT in our bodies!  Good fats…not trans fats!)  They are also fiber powerhouses.  This little seed goes a long way without taxing the digestive system and is one of the best fuels for fitness and endurance.  (Incan warriors ate quinoa before going to battle!)  It’s also a great food to introduce to babies when they’re ready for “grains”.  (Claire will be ready soon:)

Why peaches?  Honestly, because I didn’t have mango.  And thank goodness I didn’t!  I had beautiful peaches from our new CSA (I’ll be talking about this CSA a lot) and figured why not try it.  The sweet almost tart taste of the peaches plays so well up against the hearty quinoa, black beans and grilled corn.  The texture combines beautifully, too.  I surprised myself with the flavor of this salad.  I love when that happens!

You’ll need:

1 C red quinoa

3/4 cup black beans, soaked overnight (or 1 15oz. can)

1 C sweet corn, grilled (leave husks on 1-2 ears of corn) OR 1 C frozen corn, thawed

1/2 C red onion, diced (1 small red onion is about right)

1/2 C cilantro, roughly chopped

1 peach, diced

For the dressing:

1/4 C extra virgin olive oil

1/4 C freshly squeezed lime juice

1 T apple cider vinegar

1 T dijon mustard

1 T maple syrup

1 t sea salt (or more to taste)

freshly ground black pepper, to taste

To make:

1. Rinse and soak the quinoa in a saucepan for 15 minutes.  Drain and rinse again.  Add 2 C water to quinoa and cook over high heat until it reaches a boil.  Then, reduce heat to low, cover and let cook for 20 minutes or until the water has evaporated.  Let cool.

2. Get the beans going!  Drain, rinse and add beans to a saucepan with enough water to cover.  Cook on high heat for 10 minutes while removing any foam that accumulates.  Reduce heat to medium, add kombu and partially cover, cooking for 40 minutes or until just tender.  (You don’t want them too soft, but these are dense little beans so make sure they’re all cooked through:)  Drain and let cool.

3. If using, grill the corn.  I leave the husks on when grilling (or you could roast like this too) for added depth in flavor.  About 10 minutes on high is usually good.  Make sure you rotate for even cooking.  Remove husks and cut kernels off.  Should yield about a cup.

4. Mix all dressing ingredients and whisk until thoroughly incorporated.

5. Mix quinoa and beans in a large bowl.  Add corn, red onion, peach, cilantro and toss with dressing.

6. Let sit for about an hour in the refrigerator to let the flavors settle and to let the quinoa absorb the dressing.  This salad is worth the wait!

7. Enjoy!  (I enjoyed it with avocado on the side and some extra peaches just for fun!)