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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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…

 

wilted beet salad

One summer, when I was much younger, my family stayed on a farm way out in the country for a couple of months. We had been living in an expansive trailer park that was more like a factory farm of metal boxes lined up on cement. Going from that broiler oven to being surrounded by luxurious fields, a huge yard filled with trees and secret places to hide away in and visit with fairies and other imaginary friends was nothing short of miraculous. I was enchanted – there were raspberry bushes and strawberry patches and mulberry trees, swings and chickens and a *gigantic* woodpile that was reborn into a magnificent fortress that my brothers and I defended form the wrath of the two angry geese who patrolled the back yard.

One day I remember Jan (for that is the woman of the place’s name) telling me that men don’t often notice cobwebs behind doors, but most women do and that’s why you must be careful to always dust behind the doors. We were preparing for a Tea that she was hosting at the farm and she and my mother were busy cleaning and cooking and getting things ready for the afternoon. I was so excited, being under the age of ten and longing desperately for the prestige and privilege of a grown up woman, I had been included in the Tea. Mom and Jan were always willing to involve me in their womanly activities, letting me sit up with them at night and talk about the deep things in life over tea while the lightning bugs filled the fields like fallen stars and crickets serenaded us from under the porch windows. I felt grown up in all the ways that mattered to me at the time and it satisfied me tremendously.

I don’t really remember how the Tea that we were preparing for came off, my young mind fixed on one dish in particular that was being mixed together in the big, old kitchen and everything else remains a happy blur.  This was the first time I had a Wilted Salad. I haunted the kitchen even then, feeling that room contained all the important business of the house. Jan mixed together a warm salad of greens, bacon, vinegar and sweetening and it tasted like heaven to me.

Over the years we have repeated her recipe, adjusting it and adapting it to different greens and not always saving it for special occasions! This is an excellent side dish to throw together for any summer dinner. It tastes like that sweet and tart time in life when I was so young and yearning to be so much older.

Wilted Spinach and Beet Salad

3 red beets (with or without their greens)

1 lb  raw spinach

1/4- 1/2 lb bacon (depending on how much you like)

1 medium onion, sliced

1/4 cup cider vinegar

1-2 tablespoons of honey, brown sugar or maple syrup

Firstly, cook the beets and their greens if you have decided to use them. I like to boil mine in their jackets. Once they are cooked, slip them out of their coats and chop them into bite-sized pieces. If you are using the greens (which should be boiled with the beets until tender) chop them up too.

In a *big* skillet, fry up your bacon until it is crisp, drain most of the fat away then add the onions and let them cook until they get slightly clear. Add the vinegar and sweetener and let it all simmer together for several minutes before dumping in your chopped beets and their greens. It’s really starting to smell good now!

Wash your spinach and drain it,  then pile it on top of the dressing in the skillet and cover for about five minutes. The heat will start to wilt your spinach and then you can begin to mix everything together. Turn off the heat and stir until the dressing has completely covered the spinach. The spinach shouldn’t be soggy and cooked, just wilted.

Serve immediately and Enjoy!

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!

 

company’s comin’ Potato Salad

Our short little table was adorned with a patchwork of vintage linens and a clearance April Cornell table cloth. Spare chairs were summoned from the far corners of our fair home and the entire dining/living room had been rearranged in a an attempt to make room for company.

Our guest list had only two names on it, but that is reason enough for a little bit of grandeur here on Park Street, and I worried about the table legs which always seem to be in the way of ours. We did our best to cool the place down for the evening and I sweated away in our room-sized oven of a kitchen, cooking away.

I love entertaining – I always stress and fuss way too much and practically drive myself and the surrounding husband crazy in my effort to have everything ‘just so’. Under it all, however, is this deliciously deep satisfaction at having people come to our home and enjoy themselves.  It isn’t grand, it isn’t showy and the table legs definitely get in the way, but it’s ours and we love it, and I love to welcome people into it and give them good food.

The menu was braised chicken breast sandwiches with tomato, mayo and garden-fresh lettuce, a huge fruit salad (served in a carved-out watermelon because we *ARE* that stinking cute) and a potato salad, with ice cream for dessert.

This potato salad is one that I loosely translated from my husband’s dear grandma’s salad. While we were in Maine visiting YiaYia and Papoo, she served us a potato salad that I ate an embarrassingly large amount of. It was incredible and when I asked her how she made it, she shrugged and said, “A little of this and a little of that!” She did go into the details that I was craving and I tried my best to remember it. Ever since then I have been itching at the chance to make one and try my hand at it.

They say never to make something for the first time for company, but really, what do ‘they’ know?  Never having been one for listening to the random voices of the universe, I dived in and made my first potato salad as a married woman, YiaYia’s spoken recipe in the back of my head leading me onward – – –


Potato Salad

4 red potatoes, boiled

5 green onions, diced

1/2 sweet red pepper, diced

2 tablespoons fresh chopped dill

1 tablespoon fresh chopped mint

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1/2 cup mayo

salt and pepper to taste

The simplicity of this salad is its perfection. As I said before, this is not her exact recipe, but I’d never heard of using mint in a potato salad and it was awesome.  Also, she used red potatoes, which keep their shape well and have an excellent texture. I liked the waxiness of them. The bit of vinegar (her suggestion) cuts the mayo and brightens the salad.

YUM.

The potatoes got chopped into small bite-sized pieces and then mixed with the rest of the ingredients. I made it ahead of time to let the flavors meld together and I think next time I will make it even further ahead, like over night.

My-oh-my was it good!

We had a delightful evening with our guests, everything went swimmingly – everyone enjoyed their meal and didn’t knock their knees too badly. I’d say it was a success!

use the cheese- change the world

I hate it when people say, “Oh, we’re just eating at home…” as if that were something to apologize for. I believe that the most important meals are prepared and eaten in one’s own home. When you thoughtfully create food for those you love, you are adding something to the world around you and  giving it the fuel it needs to be a better place. I think every home chef holds to the belief that a good meal could change the world. Choosing local ingredients, getting fresh food from neighboring farms, slowing down and actually cooking your own meals for your family – these are all things that decide the way we eat and therefore, how we live.

It is important to give yourself good ingredients to work with, but then you have to enlist your senses to help you create meals that truly please you to eat them. What kinds of foods do you *honestly* like? What scents tempt you? What textures are able to involve you in a meal rather than just give you something to put in your belly? WHat flavors entice you? These are all things to be thought of when you get out your frying pan and mixing bowl. You have to be thoughtful, a little fearless, a little daring and make good food happen.
Something that I hear all too often is, “Oh, I don’t like such and such.” Even I have my list (short though it is) of things I’ve convinced myself I don’t like. Instead of making such final judgments, maybe we should be more open, work on it a bit more, try a new approach. Turn the food upside down and look at it like that for a little while.
This week I decided to do just that with a food that I, as well as many people I’ve known have said they didn’t like – Goat cheese. I love goats – I admire the fact that they can provide us with dairy products, meat, fiber, plus they’re personable critters to boot, I just have never been able to truly enjoy a slice of goat cheese that wasn’t feta mixed in some strongly flavored salad. We have a couple of goat farms in the area that make a variety of artisan cheeses and sell them at the farm stand down the road, so I picked up a creamy white wedge of semi-hard cheese, headed home and began experimenting.
This is the recipe I ended up with. Talk about a senses-pleasing, world-changing dish!

 

 

Sensational Goat Cheese and Summer Squash Fritters
For this recipe you will need:
1/2 cup unseasoned bread crumbs
2 cups of shredded zucchini and/or yellow crooked neck squash
1/2 cup of shredded, semi-hard goat cheese
2 beaten eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon herbal seasoning of your choice – I used a basic Italian blend.
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
olive oil for frying

Makes 6 fritters

 

Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and stir until everything is well blended. It is going to be somewhat of a damp mix. This can be made ahead the night or morning before you plan on cooking them, if you want. Once everything is mixed together, put a frying pan on medium-high heat and once it’s thoroughly hot, add some olive oil. Spoon the fritters into the hot pan and flatten them a bit with a spatula. Cook the fritters for three to five minutes before flipping them. They should be dark golden brown. Fry them on their backs for another few minutes and then they’re done and ready to enjoy.
The zucchini is plentiful this time of year and mild enough to let the cheese’s flavor really shine through, all the while providing a strong sort of ‘foundation’ – they aren’t overly cheesy, aren’t overly ‘squashy’, just delicious. My husband and I ate the whole batch over the course of a day, and I do believe I will be making them again soon.
Don’t give up on a food you don’t think you like. Take up the challenge and *make* it something you enjoy.
Perhaps the world you will end up changing is your own…