That’s what Mama calls lobsters. Having never seen an ocean or a cockroach, I wouldn’t know. (I wonder if they look like any of my bathtub sea creatures?) But having come in to some cooked lobster meat, Mama decided to use it for both dinner and breakfast.
Mama told me she’s not too crazy about the stuff, even though she spent a couple years living in an area known for its lobster. Papa loves it, though, and it was he who suggested she save some for breakfast.
Lobster salad it was for dinner. I don’t think I’ve seen Mama whip up something so fast. It came together quicker than egg salad. Mama and Papa seemed to really like it, but I thought it tasted like a pacifier (and I never liked those either). I ate the avocado and had some roasted red pepper soup for dinner instead.
For breakfast… don’t even get me started. It’s no secret I like eggs. But what Mama did to them today is unforgivable. She sautéed diced shallots and chopped tomatoes in butter, poured in a mixture of milk and eggs, and when it was nearly cooked, she added the chopped lobster meat. She finished it with chopped parsley and salt and pepper. She put that plate before me on my high chair tray, and I just shook my head. Mama thought she could coax me into eating it by saying, “Look, it’s just egg.” But even that little bite tasted like the chewy crustacean interloper.
I think I’m starting to understand what a cockroach is—it’s a destroyer of all that is good.
(Amounts are approximate and subjective to taste—but you get the idea)
1–2 cups cooked lobster meat (thawed from frozen is fine), chopped
1 small stalk celery, finely diced
¼ red onion (or 1 shallot), finely diced (you don’t want as much onion as you have celery)
Zest from 1/3 lemon (add a squeeze of juice, if you like)
1–2 Tbsp flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Healthy pinch of kosher salt
Few grinds of black pepper
About 4 Tbsp mayo
Kaiser roll, or other favorite bread product
Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Adjust seasonings to taste. The filling should hold together without being gloppy or wet. Serve on a roll (toasted, if you wish) with slices of avocado.
Yield: 2–4 sandwiches, depending on how much you stuff ’em
Saturday’s not usually pancake day, but when Mama gets a craving, she gets a craving. And, since she had buttermilk in the fridge from the soda bread, she thought today was as good as any for some pancakes.
Pancakes are pretty simple. Mama said she learned to make them when she was just a little kid using something called a pancake mix (but isn’t that what we’re doing now?). First, she mixed together all the dry ingredients. That’s my favorite part.
Here I am, moments after I helped mix the dry ingredients. Mama knows I like to throw things, and flour is no exception.
Then she mixed together the wet, and added the wet stuff to the dry. That’s it! Mama says she might’ve made the pancakes lighter by separating the eggs and mixing the yolks into the batter, whipping the whites until soft peaks, and then folding them into the batter. “But who wants to dirty that many dishes?” she said.
Besides, we thought these flapjacks were nice and puffy as they were. In fact, they were almost crispy on the outside, while the insides stayed fluffy and moist. Mama thinks it was the coconut oil. (My friends Ty and Tora’s mama told us about using coconut oil in the pan. Mama already adds it to a lot of my food, but she hadn’t cooked breakfast with it yet.)
Luckily for us, there are lots of pancakes left over. I wonder if Mama will take Grandma’s advice to freeze some of them, or if she’ll just eat them all herself.
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 Tbsp sugar
3/4 tsp salt
A few dashes of cinnamon, to taste
5 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
2 cups buttermilk (or other milk–coconut milk would be good)
Splash of vanilla extract
Splash of coconut extract
1 banana, mashed
Coconut oil (or canola oil), for cooking
In a medium bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, combine the melted butter and the buttermilk, then add the egg, whisking to break up the yolks. Add the extracts, then pour into the dry ingredients, whisking until well combined. Stir in the banana.
Heat a spoonful of coconut oil in a frying pan over medium heat until hot, then lower the heat a bit (coconut oil starts to smoke). Add spoonfuls of batter to the pan (a little under ¼ cup) and cook until the tops of the pancakes start to bubble. Flip and cook until done, about another minute more. Remove to a plate and keep warm in a 150–200°F oven (or just invert a plate over the stack). Continue making the rest of the batter into pancakes and serve with favorite toppings. (Mama likes grade B maple syrup, and she even let me have a little bit today.)
So… I started daycare this week. And because of that, I haven’t had a lot of time to blog, even though I’ve been eating all kinds of new foods. (I even napped today for 2 hours!) But since there’s so much to tell, I think I’ll just keep tonight simple and write about the spanikopita Mama made.
First, let me tell you that I’m down with spinach. Not everyone is. Even Mama and Papa can only handle it in small quantities. Mama had me eating it when I was quite young, in something she and Papa called “gruel.” She tells me it was steamed organic baby spinach, steamed organic pears, and a mango all pureed together until smooth. Sometimes she let me watch as the blender whirred it up, but mostly, she just gave me the good stuff. I think I must have eaten at least a little bit of gruel every day for a while there. So anyway, Mama wanted to make something that I was sure to eat, but also something that she and Papa would like, too.
She sauteed some scallions (isn’t that a funny word?), then added bunches and bunches of baby spinach, and covered it to cook it all down. In a separate bowl, she combined eggs, very fragrant dill, and lots and lots of feta cheese. I love feta; it’s so salty. While the spinach cooked, Mama took out the phyllo dough. I’ve never seen anything like it before. It’s dough, but it’s very thin—I could almost see right through it. Mama brushed a pie plate with olive oil, laid a sheet of dough in it, then added another sheet. She brushed it again, laid down another sheet. And then another. When the spinach was cooked—it sure shrinks!—she carefully added it to the eggs. You have to keep stirring it, Mama pointed out, otherwise the eggs will scramble. She poured the egg-spinach mixture into the pie plate, then started adding layers of phyllo again, carefully brushing each with olive oil before adding the next. (Melted butter is also acceptable, she noted, as is laying out the sheets of phyllo and rolling it up with the spinach like a log, rather than putting it in a pie plate.) She baked the spinach pie until it was golden, and the kitchen smelled so good.
I loved the egg in this. It really held the spinach in place and gave the whole thing a lovely custardlike texture. And of course eggs and feta go together better than peas and carrots, in my opinion. The phyllo wasn’t my favorite part (Mama felt it could’ve used butter rather than oil), but altogether, I ate two pieces! I even ate the steamed green beans that Mama served with it (and threw only one on the floor).
First naps, now dinner. I don’t know… this daycare thing is having quite an effect on me.
No, really, I am. Papa’s grandpap was Irish, so I don’t know what that makes me. (I’m just a baby—I can’t do that kind of math.) So Mama decided to treat us to some Irish fare for dinner. She had all the burners going, plus the oven, so there was a lot to take in.
First, she put a hunk of corned beef in a pot of water and set that to simmer with assorted spices. She would later add chopped cabbage and carrots.
Meanwhile, she started on the shepherd’s pie. First, she sautéed carrots, onion, and celery with salt, pepper, and Worcestershire sauce until the veggies began to soften. Then she added her faux meat, which just needed to be heated through. Sometimes Mama makes a beef shepherd’s pie for Papa, or she does it half-and-half, but since he had the corned beef tonight, she went for a full veggie pie. When the meat and veggies were all combined and hot, she spread them in the bottom of a pie plate. She poured some frozen corn on top of that. She didn’t have any peas—even though we planted some today!—otherwise, she would have added those, too. Meanwhile, she peeled and chopped a couple russet potatoes and boiled them in salted water until they softened. She told me that potatoes can be boiled with or without their skins, but chopping them definitely makes them cook faster. On the back burner, she heated a small saucepan of butter and buttermilk, which she happened to have because she was making soda bread. After the potatoes were cooked, she drained them, returned them to the pot, and mashed them with the hot milk and butter, which she told me keeps the potatoes from being lumpy. She spread the potatoes over the corn and popped the pie into the oven.
But not before she made Irish soda bread. She wanted a quick recipe, and boy did she find it. I’ve made bread with Mama before, and this recipe seemed more like scones to me. That’s how easy it was. We mixed a few ingredients, shaped it into a loaf, and into the oven it went. We couldn’t find dried currants, though, so we used raisins. I love raisins. Then Mama made honey butter to go with it. Then we just had to wait for it all to cook. (I helped Papa take down the storm windows. He let me use a screwdriver!)
Even Mama was a little surprised all this was done at the same time.
Sometimes I have a funny reaction to potatoes, and sometimes to corn, and sometimes even to carrots. Not funny-ha-ha, but rather funny-I-don’t-like-it. Not tonight, though. I thought the shepherd’s pie was really tasty. I even tried to feed myself with my own fork, but I became impatient with that. I didn’t have the corned beef, but Mama says I can have that for lunch tomorrow, even though she knows I don’t do leftovers. Papa declared it “delicious.” And the soda bread was soft on the inside and crunchy on the outside; it was yummy with the honey butter.
This shepherd’s pie was pretty good. Now, if only someone would explain to me what those shamrocks have to do with it…
I got down from my high chair, danced a jig to Flogging Molly, and went to bed with a full belly. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
Canola oil (or other, favorite cooking oil)
2 carrots, peeled and diced small
2 stalks organic celery, diced small
½ onion, diced small
1–2 dashes Worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper
1 package soy crumbles or other meat replacement (or 1 pound grass-fed ground beef)
½ package (8–12 oz.) frozen corn
½ package (8–12 oz.) frozen peas
2–3 large organic russet potatoes (or 4–6 red bliss potatoes), chopped large
4 Tbsp butter, melted (optional)
1/3–1/2 cup buttermilk, milk, or cream, heated (optional)
Preheat oven to 350°F (375° is okay, if you’re doing the soda bread at the same time).
Coat the bottom of a skillet with oil, then sauté the veggies until they begin to soften and caramelize. Season with W. sauce and s&p. Add the soy crumbles and heat through. (If using ground beef, sauté this first, breaking it up into small bits, until cooked through. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and cook the veggies in the remaining fat. Then combine it all before proceeding.) Place in a pie plate.
Top with corn and peas. (If omitting either corn or peas, use the full package of the other.)
Meanwhile, boil the potatoes in salted water until soft. Drain, return to the pot, then add melted butter and hot milk, if using. Season with s&p, if necessary, then spread over the corn & peas.
Bake, uncovered, for 40–60 minutes, until the potatoes start to brown. (You may dot the top with butter before baking, if desired.)
Note: Mama said if you really don’t want to cook the carrots, onion, and celery, you can add a packet of onion soup mix to the soy crumbles or ground beef and omit the W. sauce and s&p. Regarding organic produce, Mama tells me something called the Environmental Working Group publishes an annual list on the worst pesticide offenders. Celery is #2, and potatoes are #9. Onions, sweet corn, and peas are #s 1, 2, and 6, respectively, on the list of foods that are okay to buy nonorganic (if you really wanted to).
That’s what my cousins call me. When Mama and I visited them last summer (my first time on an airplane!), they thought it was both funny and sad that mama doesn’t give me much sugar to eat. Instead of fishy-shaped crackers and animal-shaped cookies, I get organic puffs. Sometimes Mama buys the banana ones, but when we were in Wisconsin, she happened to buy the kale kind. And we haven’t heard the end of it since.
For the record, I like kale puffs. I like all puffs. They were nice to eat before I had any teeth because they dissolved in my mouth, and they helped me hone my pincer grasp—something every baby needs to learn how to do. I didn’t really eat them as a snack, though. Instead, Mama would put a few puffs in a snacking cup for me when I started getting antsy about my car seat. “If you want puffs, you have to get in your car seat,” she still says. And because she worries that I might choke while she’s driving, she still gives me puffs, even though I now have four molars.
But back to my cousins. Mama says we come from a long line of good bakers, where you couldn’t visit someone without having several sweet options to nosh on. It’s something everyone comes to expect. Grandma always—always—has a pie or cookies or quick breads in the oven. It was she who taught Mama to take cookies out of the oven a bit early and let them finish baking on the cookie sheet to make them crisp on the edges while soft in the middle. (Apparently, this is a good thing, though I wouldn’t know, since I’ve never had a cookie.)
So everyone was a little surprised that Mama doesn’t feed me sugar—and more than a little repulsed by the idea of kale puffs. The cousins kept patting my head, saying things like, “Aww, poor baby…” Grandma always made fancy cakes for everyone’s birthdays (except for Uncle Scotty, who gets a coconut cream pie and a lemon meringue pie). Even though it was a few weeks before my birthday, Grandma wanted to make me a cake. She had a challenge ahead of her, as I still wasn’t up to whole eggs yet, and there was the whole sugar thing to contend with.
Well, Grandma took the challenge by storm. She made a banana cake using applesauce instead of eggs and brown sugar instead of white—and Mama convinced her that she didn’t even need all of what was called for in the recipe. She made plain whipped cream for the “icing,” which I dutifully smashed. But nobody wanted to try the cake… not right away, anyway. The cousins wouldn’t touch it, but my GeeGee and Aunt Karen liked it. And I thought it was pretty good too.
I made a pretty good mess of my birthday cake.
Mama would want me to point out that she hasn’t banned all sugar. I do get some, sometimes. She baked gingerbread biscotti at Christmas, which turned out to be the perfect teething biscuits—they’re hard, they dissolve when wet, and they’re minimally sweetened. She also makes various kinds of scones, which have hardly any sugar in them to begin with, and she sets aside a few for me that she doesn’t dust with sugar before baking. And she makes a variety of fruit-filled muffins with lower-than-called-for amounts of sugar, and usually she substitutes brown sugar (but not always whole-wheat flour). I eat lots of sweet potatoes. I don’t drink juice, even watered down, but I eat a lot of fruit. We skip pre-made yogurt, and instead make fruit smoothies with the plain stuff. But don’t think I’m immune to sugar. I can totally tell the difference when Mama tries to substitute something like puffed kamut in my snacking cup. She muses that if she had started with the kamut, rather than with the puffs, I might not have minded the difference, but they’re just too bland for me.
This is the first time I tried a marshmallow--Mama made it. It was squishy-soft and very sweet. I had just a couple baby bites.
So why have sugar at all? Why does Mama bother baking all these goodies if she has to alter recipes for me (or give me just a nibble, if she makes it full-fledged)? She can’t help herself, for one thing. She feels kids should experience the joy of stirring flour and eggs and oil—and yes, sugar—in a bowl, putting it in the oven, and as if by magic, taking out something completely transformed and delicious. I have to say, I like when she lets me help her. (That flour really flies far and gets all over the place!) Mama’s also careful of when she gives me any sort of sweet treat—not when I’m being fussy, and usually when I’ve already eaten something sensible. And she would also say it’s a “control thing.” She likes to be in control of the amount of sugar I put into my body, so she doesn’t accept the lollipop from the bank teller or the cookie from the nice lady at the bakery. She feels I have plenty of time to eat all the sugar I’ll ever want, so why rush it? She believes in real, whole food–which includes the occasional homemade treat. And one mini zucchini muffin is so much better than that box of Girl Scout cookies she has hiding in the cupboard, wouldn’t you agree?
For Mama's chocolate cheesecake, she let me taste the batter before she added the eggs. Boy, was that good! I don't think I've ever had chocolate before (or since).
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1½ tsp baking soda
1½ tsp cinnamon
¾ tsp salt
½ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp allspice
½ tsp cloves
2 cups cooked pumpkin (from a pumpkin that was roasted; may also use a 15-oz can of pumpkin puree)
¾ cup firmly packed brown sugar
3 large eggs
½ cup canola oil (use ¾ cup if you use solid pack pumpkin, rather than pureed)
1 cup raisins or dried cranberries (optional)
Preheat oven to 350°. Line a muffin tin with cupcake liners or spray liberally with cooking spray.
Whisk together the flours, soda, and spices in a medium bowl. In a large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, brown sugar, eggs, and oil. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and stir to combine. Add the raisins or cranberries, if using. Scoop the batter into the prepared tins.
Bake mini-muffins for about 15 minutes, regular muffins about 18 minutes. (They should feel firm, yet spongy, to the touch; or a toothpick inserted into the center should come out clean.) Cool in the pan a few minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container. These also freeze well.
Yield: 1 dozen regular muffins + 1 dozen minis
Note: Mama says if you use an ice-cream scoop to put the batter into the tins, it’s not only faster, but your muffins will turn out to be the same size. Mama also says roasting a pumpkin is almost as easy as roasting a squash—just cut it, scoop out the seeds, and bake it in a pan with a little water until it’s soft. Just don’t use “face” pumpkins (the kind you’d use for jack-o-lanterns).
Poor Mama. She’s had a lot of “Misses” of late and has had to resort to her backup supply of purees and other mashed foods. Maybe she’s letting me graze too much during the day on things like fruit, cheese, and organic cereals. Or maybe I’m just being a picky baby.
But this weekend she made something that surprised even me. Eggplant has been hit or miss. “Baby” ganoush—miss. Ratatouille—hit. Last night she sliced a few eggplants, sprayed them with olive oil, and grilled theminside (even though it was gorgeous outside). While the slices cooked, she made a pesto to spread on them, telling me she’d have to substitute almonds for the pine nuts she was sure she had. She then made a filling with shredded mozzarella, tomato sauce, golden raisins, and some of the cooked eggplant chopped up. (She also cut up some kalamata olives for herself and me, for “on the side,” since Papa does not like them one bit.) She placed a bit of filling on one end of each slice of eggplant, rolled it up, and put each roll in a baking dish that had a little bit of sauce in it. Then she topped it all with more sauce, sprinkled more cheese over it, then baked it until the cheese turned golden. On the side, she made orzo, then grilled a pork chop for Papa.
I thought the eggplant was tender and flavorful, and the orzo was so much more pleasing in texture than the brown rice Mama usually serves. Even Papa, who’s not always a fan of eggplant either, enjoyed it (though he said the olives threatened to “contaminate” the whole dish). What was even more of a surprise was that I ate the leftovers for lunch today, and I usually cannot abide leftovers. Live and learn.
(even Mama couldn’t come up with a more approximate recipe for this one—she just keeps tasting it until she gets it right)
[UPDATE: Mama finally sat down and drew up a recipe, which you can find here.]
About 1 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves, rinsed and torn or cut chiffonade
A couple tablespoons pine nuts or other favorite nut, toasted or not
A couple tablespoons freshly grated parmesan cheese
Juice of half a lemon, or so
1 clove garlic, roughly chopped (or more if you really like garlic)
Salt and pepper, to taste
Good extra-virgin olive oil, as needed
Place all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse or blend until a paste forms. Stream in enough olive oil to give it body. The pesto should be intensely flavored, so that a little goes a long way. Adjust the tastes as you go along—you can always add more, but you can’t take away.
Note: Mama advises against toasting the nuts if you’re going to be baking the pesto, as in the eggplant dish, above. She also says that you don’t have to use basil—spinach, parsley, and arugula all work just as well.
Mama suffers from what she calls a “dinner malaise.” She doesn’t like to prepare the same meals close together, even if they’re successful, and as a result, she’s at a loss for what to make. Every night. Papa’s often asked her, “Remember when you used to make…?” But when someone mentions tacos, Mama always thinks, “Oh yeah, tacos. They’re easy, and they’re good.”
So she made tacos the other night. More often than not, it’s fish tacos, but since we had just had a fish fry, she opted for grass-fed beef for me and Papa, and something called tempeh for herself (whatever that is). She showed me how to brown the ground beef in its own fat, and told me that beef’s flavor by itself isn’t that appealing. She demonstrated how to properly dice an onion, and then she sautéed it right alongside the beef, “to add flavor.” Then she seasoned the meat with spices such as cumin, coriander, chili powder, and salt & pepper. She chopped up tomatoes, cabbage, avocados, and cheese to top the tacos, and served it all with a side of seasoned red beans, brown rice, and pineapple. I ate the pineapple and the avocado.
A few nights later, Papa thought he would try his hand at it and made red bean enchiladas with a corn salsa on the side. I didn’t mind the sauce, and I ate a few kernels of corn, but I had to call it quits on this south-of-the-border fare. Give me a grilled cheese sandwich, please. Or ratatouille.