baby food for non-babies (aka adults)

The biggest development in our small world these past days are the two stubby teeth in the mouth of our seven month old. With these tiny pearls has come the desire to ‘taste and see’ with an emphasis on the ‘tasting’ part – our son is biting everything. Everything. If it’s a thing – be it his dearest mama’s finger or the head of his beloved stuffed cow – he’s biting it.

I try to stay ahead of the game and offer a variety of baby teeth-friendly items for him to chew on and sometimes I’m even on top of it enough to give him actual foods to chew. Yes indeed, lovely readers, we have entered the bewildering world of baby food. Once upon a time I thought it was going to be rather simple – you take food, you make it into a paste, you insert it into the infant’s mouth. Rinse and repeat.  Not so. Turns out that while my little one will *bite* anything, he is a little more particular about the things he will actually eat. Go figure.  Before he was born, I stocked up on organic baby food in those adorable jars, tucking them away in the very back of the pantry, hardly believing that I might have a little person someday to eat them. When the time came and I excitedly opened one of the mini jars, warmed it to the perfect temperature and then dumped a decent-sized spoonful into Bru’s open mouth. He acted as though I had forced him to eat dirt. The gagging, the eye twitching, the entire body convulsions that followed this and subsequent organic Gerber meals convinced me that jarred baby food – no matter how lovingly gathered and hopefully offered – were not his thing. He wants Big People Food. Lesson learned. The End.

Of all the Big People Food we’ve tried since, without a doubt his favorite is stewed apples with coconut cream and exotic spices. I know, right – I’ve unwittingly produced some sort of infant gourmet. Honestly though, I can’t blame him. I tried the baby peas and the word that stuck in my mind was, “Yuck”.

If sterile, one dimensional, Little People Foods are at the far side of the infant menu, this creamy concoction has brought us up close and personal with delightful Big People Food. It’s awake, it’s alive, it’s deep and reminiscent of apple pie filling…oh, so tasty

 

Little Bear’s Big People Stewed Apples

 

4 cups peeled, cored and sliced apples of your choice (can be substituted for 3 cups of readymade, unsweetened apple sauce)

1/2 cup water (omit if using applesauce)

1/2 cup coconut cream

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp  ground cardamom

1/8 tsp ground nutmeg

optional maple syrup to taste

 

In a large saucepan, stew down the apple slices with the water on low heat until they reach the desired constancy. I like mine a little chunky and it doesn’t matter for Bru because they’re going to be pureed anyway, so I usually let them cook 15-20 minutes. If you are using applesauce, simply pour into a pan and warm on medium. Once the apple slices are softened and melting, or the sauce is warm, add the coconut cream, spices and maple syrup if you want it sweetened. Stir well and let simmer for another 5-10 minutes. Serve at the perfect temperature.

There are several variations that we’ve played around with and they’ve earned a full stamp of approval from everyone who’s tasted them. The first is to add 1/2 a cup or more of fresh cranberries cut in half to the apples while they are stewing down. This adds a delightful tang that makes the little bear pucker up but come back eager for more until the bowl is empty. Something the Big People enjoy is spooning the warm, stewy goodness over ice-cream after the Little Person has gone to bed. It’s a delightful reward after the sun has set… Enjoy!

 

 

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being the mother

When I was a little kid, I was terrified of werewolves. Terrified, I say.

I remember laying in my bed, straining to hear the click of clawed feet on our linoleum kitchen floor or heavy, wolf-like breathing in the hallway. I avoided looking out the window in my bedroom, sure that if I did I would be face to face with gleaming teeth and yellow eyes.

My one comfort and hope was my mother. My mom is  the kind of mother who put the fear of God into any monster our fertile imaginations could dream up. Because of this power, my middle of the night bathroom trips always ended with a stop in mom’s room where I would ask her to stay up for a bit and watch T.V. while I fell back asleep. She never complained, never denied and I never questioned or doubted her, I would simply trot back to my room and lay down in utter peace – mom was awake, I was safe. No werewolves could get me.

Now, being this young, I never once thought, “Gee – mom was up all day long taking care of us, she must be exhausted!” I always took it for granted that as she had the ability to defend us from evil, she would be willing to use it no matter what time it was. I had no guilt, I only remember this intense and overwhelming assurance of being protected. Trust. It’s one of my best and most comfortable memories.

Well, I’m a mama now and it makes me see my own mother in a breath-takingly new way. I am now the one who is counted upon to be there *all the time* day and night, to feed, warm, comfort, entertain, protect, defend, clean, and sit up and watch during the night to make sure all is well. My son doesn’t doubt or even think for a moment about whether or not I will feed him or love him or be there for him when he needs me, he doesn’t consider that it’s the umpteenth time he’s been up that night, or that it’s the fourth time he’s needed a new change of clothes in a two hour period and you know what, I hardly notice it myself. He is enveloped in a sweet, oblivious trust. I think about all the years my mom cared for me without me ever realizing exactly what all that entailed. I never realized that I don’t ever remember my mom being tired, or sick or hungry or needing to use the bathroom or needing anything throughout my entire childhood. In my memory she is this incredible person who could do anything and do it all with nothing to work from and four little beings trailing along behind.

This past week I contracted a chest cold and have been gimping around with a cough and slight fever for a couple of days. Strangely enough, my illness didn’t seem to affect my three-month-old at all! He still needs to eat every other hour, still needs to be changed almost as often and seems to fall asleep in my arms just as the tickle in my throat becomes unbearable.

When I am sick, food preparation is usually the first thing to suffer (which is why there is no recipe this week) and we all suffer with it! I don’t know what my mom had going on yesterday, I don’t think we asked. I just knew that if I needed her help, she’d be there – and she was. Like the work of a good fairy, delicious food appeared and my husband was fed before he went off to work.  Chicken noodle soup, eggplant parmesan, baked french toast – she cares and feeds and gives like it were as easy as breathing. I gulped down her homemade soup and knew that health and healing were right around the corner… I guess the same Super-Mom Power is as effective against illness as it is against werewolves!

 

 

Entertaining Angels

“Don’t neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for in doing so some have even entertained angels without knowing it.”  Hebrews 13:2

It was actually something my husband and I discussed quite a bit before we got married – hospitality. I was raised around a table that often had guests seated at it and I wanted to continue that practice in my own home. Alex took that a step further and said that we must always have a spare bedroom for the guests who needed a place to stay the night. He lives with the assurance that we could travel nearly anywhere in the United States and have a bed waiting for us, his friends and relations are scattered across the map and would welcome us. He wanted to be such a spot on the map, a place of promised welcome.

In the almost two years of our marriage, our little home has been pressed into service more times than I can count. There is an empty bed and several empty chairs waiting for company, and that’s exactly what how we want it.  We have had the privilege of entertaining friends, family and strange angels alike and hope to do the same for many more as long as we have a roof and food to share.

The meals are often far from perfect (like my soupy lasagna, or the lemon pie with the inedible cardboard crust) and the spare room isn’t always completely free from storage (guests can go to sleep after counting boxes of diapers and spare cookbooks), but I like to think that we make up for that in warmth and good conversation!

Our little son is turning into quite the host, giving our visitors his best grins and entertaining them with long stories about his morning bath or nap time woes before demonstrating the strength of his tiny lungs or the great size or his appetite.  I think his charm is going to go a long way towards smoothing over the rough edges of imperfect cooking! This past week we had one of Alex’s childhood friends over for dinner. Mike lives in California now and was back in the area visiting his family and we asked him over for the evening. We had baked chicken, wild rice pilaf, and roasted butternut squash and then ice cream for dessert. Alex said that the squash was one of the more delicious things I’ve made to date so I thought I would share that recipe.  Squash is a perfect side dish this time of year. You can get all different varieties of squash at the local markets, but our favorites are acorn and butternut.  I have used this recipe for sweet potatoes, too and found it quite delicious!

 

Roasted Butternut Squash

1 large or 2 small butternut squash

2 Tablespoons olive oil

2 Tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon salt

1 Tablespoon poultry seasoning

1/4 cup maple syrup

13″x9″ baking dish

350 degree oven

 

Peel and dice your squash into 2-3 inch chunks – seems like a simple enough task, but I’ve been trying for years to find an easy way to go about this. So far, the most tear-free way I’ve found is thus: peeling the squash with a sturdy veggie peeler then using my Big Knife to halve it and chop it into cubes after the ‘guts’ have been scooped out with a sturdy spoon.

Toss the cubes into the waiting baking dish and add the remaining ingredients. Give it all a good toss to mix it together before popping it in the oven for about an hour. It’s ready to serve when the cubes are easily pierced with a fork or knife.

This is a good season for opening our doors to family, friends and angels, even as the windows are closing and cold weather is setting in, you never know who is going to bring an unexpected blessing with them. The food doesn’t need to be complicated as long as the hearts are warm that offer it!  Enjoy…

 

in the morning

Somehow I thought there would be more tea and cozy robes…

Welcome to 6 am on a Tuesday morning. Something has just smacked me in the chin and when I open my eyes I find myself staring into the large, brilliant and dark eyes of my two month old son. A look of victory flashes across his infant face before he dissolves into tears. Piteous, moaning, “I really mean this”, morning tears accompanied with much grabbing and banging – he’s starving, fading, waning, expiring and something must be done. I’m not quite coherent as I begin to feed him and check the time. I’ve been asleep for all of two hours. He’s been doing so well with the whole ‘sleeping’ thing, but every so often we hit a bit of a hiccup and neither of us sleeps. This was one of those hiccupy nights. I think of tea and my cozy robe and suddenly enjoy a swell of warmth as I start to fall back asleep, hoping that he will do the same. My little one coos and gurgles and I feel myself reluctantly opening my eyes again. This time he is smiling broadly. His smile has more charm and finesse than you would expect from a person who has no teeth, it’s rather irresistible. I pat his back, hoping a burp will make its way up and realize that the warmth I felt washing over me was not only the thought of tea and coziness – we are both soaking wet. Soaking, I say.

Bruin lies there, smiling his charming, gummy grin, both full and empty in all the right places. I realize at that moment that the morning will be filled with laundry and baths.

For me, breakfast is the hardest meal to deal with. I’ve spoken before about the cruelty I feel is involved with making people cook while still half-asleep, well, how about half-asleep and soaked with an infant who is also half- asleep and soaked? It’s just not going to happen! I’ve lost before I’ve even started.

Let me introduce you to my secret weapon. I actually have *two* secret weapons; the first is called a Rubber Sheet, a magnificent device which is laid down beneath the child to keep the entire bed from becoming damp and needing to be laundered (Ooooooo); the second is called Apple Crisp, a delightful dish that was once only thought of as a dessert option but is now rising with the sun into breakfast glory (Ahhhhhh).  Here’s how I do it…

Firstly, you need apples, about 6-8 cups of peeled, cored and sliced apples. As to peeling, you needn’t be too particular. I figure that as long as I get roughly 55%-67% of the peel off it’s considered good and anything that is left behind is healthful roughage. So there. Add to your apples about 1 Tablespoon of cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg, 1/4 cup maple syrup and 3 Tablespoons flour. Mix well. Dump the lot into a deep, greased 8″x8″ pan. In your bowl put 1 1/2 cups of rolled oats, 1/2 cup flour, 1/4 cup maple syrup, 2 Tablespoons whole or ground flax seed and 6 Tablespoons of butter. Mix this together until the butter has broken into bits and the texture is something like damp sand (with bits of oatmeal, of course…). Crumble this mixture onto the apples and then slide it into a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes or until the crisp is brown and the apples are bubbling.

There are a couple of  ways you can make this an easy fix in the morning. I bake mine in the evening and serve it for dessert after dinner then simply reheat it in the morning with yogurt, or you could put it together the night before and bake it in the morning. Either way, you have an exceedingly nutritious and delicious morning meal that can be enjoyed with or without tea and a cozy robe. Enjoy!

Not Your Mother’s Tuna Salad

 

I don’t make tuna salad like anyone else I have ever known, not even my own mother. I don’t remember having tuna salad sandwiches much growing up, probably because my small herd of younger brothers considered it to be a ‘Girl Food’ and disliked tuna in general unless it was thoroughly hidden in a thick casserole of egg noodles, creamy white sauce and cheese.

I moved from my family’s home to my husband’s without a lot of thought thrown towards cold salad sandwiches, I was more intent on trying to impress my dearly beloved with good roasts and fluffy pancakes. One day, early on in the marriage, he requested tuna salad for dinner. Thinking back on it now, I do believe it was the first food he asked for as a married man and I remember my wifely heart sinking a little.

“Tuna salad – really?” I didn’t even remember how to make a tuna salad.

“Oh yeah, tuna salad. With pickles and artichokes…” My husband licked his lips and wandered out of the kitchen, leaving me in dumb bewilderment. Pickles and artichokes? In a tuna salad? But how? What’s an artichoke?

Let me remind my dear reader that this was slightly before the Great Revelation that he didn’t really care for Butter – something which he very neatly announced at dinner one evening and nearly made me choke on my own life’s breath – so I wasn’t yet *fully* acquainted with my new husband’s eating preferences. There’s so much adjusting that goes on in those first few months, it’s a little dizzying and love truly makes the dance worth while.

I got out my mixing bowls, some cans of tuna and anything else in the cupboard I thought seemed appropriate. In the very back I found a can of quartered artichoke hearts, and hidden in the far reaches of the refrigerator I found a half-eaten jar of pickles, some mayo and then I had at it.

Fifteen nerve-wracking minutes later (give or take a few) and I was serving Alex the strangest tuna salad that ever was seen on this or any other planet and let me tell you what – it was awesome. I’ve been making tuna salad a’la Alex for over a year now, almost monthly as it is one of his most favorite things to eat, and we’ve tweaked the recipe into a true Gaylor Family Heirloom.  Are you brave enough to try it?

 

Tuna Salad with Pickles and Artichokes

2 cans of white tuna (packed in water) – drained

2 spears kosher dill pickles, chopped into small pieces

1/4 cup finely diced onion

4-5 quarters of canned artichoke hearts, chopped

1/2- 2/3 cup mayonnaise  (make sure to use the real stuff – no Miracle Whip!)

1 teaspoon lemon pepper seasoning  (generic, salt-less blend available at the grocery store)

*anything else*

This includes (but is surely not limited to):

Chopped tomato, diced celery, chopped sweet pepper, chopped olives or avocado chunks. Instead of the seasoning, you could use a tablespoon or more of your favorite salad dressing – Italian, Caesar, French, Balsamic… the sky’s the limit. We’ve tried about every combination of additions and find it hard to make something that isn’t tasty.

Dump ALL of your ingredients into a bowl and mix them together well. I usually add the mayonnaise last because depending on what else we’ve tossed in I might need a little more or less. We are not ones to like our tuna salad on the sloppy side, so I tend to go light on the mayo, but that’s just us.

There are about as many methods of consuming this food as there are of preparing it. We like to eat it late at night, squeezing too much between two slices of homemade bread – what a mess! Or we eat it on top of a green salad, or stuffed in a hollowed-out tomato, or scoop generous bites of it up with crackers while watching movies. It’s an easy, satisfying sort of meal that I would never have truly appreciated had it not been for my husband’s rather odd request. So there you go!  I suppose there isn’t anything “too strange” to try, at least in the kitchen…

 

because it’s the right thing to do

There is something so *Right* about family traditions.

Every family has its own web of traditions that is uniquely their own. No one really knows how they start but we all think that ours are the best and *most* unique and relish in the annual opportunity to drag them out, dust them off and use them as the foundation of our festivities.

Cranberry Molded Salad is such a tradition for my family. It seems a really common sort of tradition when you first look at it, but when you remember that no two families ever make their cranberry salads alike, it becomes something reminiscent of the ancient clans of Scotland with their intricate family tartans. You bind yourself to your family’s recipe with a fierce and nearly blind loyalty – nothing will EVER taste as good as what you had growing up. It’s a bit of an unspoken rule we whisper to our babies on their first Thanksgivings, cementing the truth that this is the Only Legitimate Cranberry Salad on Earth, accept no substitutes.

I’ve been at family gatherings where a tart jelly is served in a ridged roll, slid from out of a can. It’s tradition for them and their mouths water at the sight of it’s crimson self, quivering and glistening in the holiday lighting. I’ve seen it made with jello and chopped carrots and even marshmallows, I’ve seen it scoop-able and pour-able and even non-existent.

Every year I can remember, I have eaten my mother’s cranberry molded salad at Thanksgiving – not really a relish, definitely not a sauce but absolutely the perfect foil to the rich line up of foods that tradition orders on that holiday. We never vary, we never waver, we never subtract or substitute. There must be cranberry molded salad, we must all have a hand in making it and it must be eaten almost as an after thought. We eat it with seconds and for days thereafter in sandwiches and with leftovers. It is the last dish to be scraped clean, after we have been thoroughly saturated with Thanksgiving goodness.

Every year, without fail, my mother says something to the effect of, “Why don’t we ever make this any other time of the year, we like it so much…” and every year we all wonder for a minute about what would happen if one of our holiday foods were to escape and wander into July or March and we realize that it would be Wrong. We eat cranberry molded salad at Thanksgiving. It’s our tradition and it’s a good one. Let’s not tamper with it.

 

The Best Cranberry Molded Salad Ever

2 bags fresh cranberries, washed

2 whole oranges, washed

4 apples, cored

4 packages unflavored gelatin

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup cold water

1 cup boiled water

1/4 cup lime juice

 

This makes enough to feed a small army.

We like *our* recipe because it’s actually rather healthy for you. The fruits aren’t cooked and that means they are still in possession of their enzymes, making it the perfect thing to finish that incredibly filling meal with. That’s why we eat it last. Aha.

In a food processor, you are going to grind the cranberries, apples and oranges ( skin and all, folks!) together then dump the whole lot into a big mixing bowl. In a small bowl, add the cold water to your gelatin and let it soften. Stir the sugar into the ground fruit *well*  and add the lime juice. Once the gelatin is soft, add the boiled water and dissolve completely. Add this to the fruit blend and stir again. Cover and put in the fridge to ‘set’. This can be made a day or more in advance, it will keep quite nicely!

I’m not sharing this recipe with the suggestion that anyone should try it in lieu of their own, perhaps this could be your Fourth of July side dish and it will see other parts of the year, something it never would be able to do in our house.

At any rate, enjoy your festivities this week – eat heartily and be at peace!