21 December 2012

My Kitchen Knives: 5,362; Me: Zero

Anyone who truly knows me is quite familiar with my clumsy side. Running into walls. Tripping over flat surfaces. Losing my balance when standing perfectly still and plowing shoulder-first into a filing cabinet.

How I haven't broken a bone is beyond all levels of understanding.

But this klutz's biggest foe also happens to be my favorite tool in the kitchen: my chef's knife.

The hubs and I registered for a block of knives from Chicago Cutlery when we were planning our wedding a few years back, but the set was a little pricey and, like I figured would happen, nobody bought it for us. Resourceful me combined a few gift cards and a little cash to bring the set home.

Everything about the set was beautiful and glorious and so very exciting. The block of wood was way more grown-up than storing dollar store steak knives in a plastic tray in my college days. And the fact each knife had its own slot? This pacified my OCD tendencies. Along with countless hours watching The Food Network, these knives were going to make me the next Iron Chef.

Four-and-a-half years and a couple of boxes of Band-Aids later, I can use my knives (almost) with the best of them. Mince garlic with the giant knife. Peel apples or potatoes with the paring knife. Chop. Dice. Slice. Trim fat. Scale fish. I am well aware of the risks that come with each use of my blades, but time spent in prep just flies with these mad skills.

Now let's speed up to present day... Over the weekend, we hosted our annual family Christmas dinner. Michael's sister's family and his parents were to come, along with my mom. But last minute changes in the headcount had us with a ton of much food and half the mouths to feed. We called on our next-door neighbors to help us consume the bounty. They gladly accepted.

Michael was in charge of the brown sugar-crusted salmon. Gosh, I wish I knew how to grill fish. But no, I am a poultry girl, making me responsible for one of my specialities: roasted garlic-citrus chicken.

So Michael goes to retrieve salmon from the grill. Easy. Cooked in no time, and all he had to do was plate it and present.

Jealous.

The golden-skinned chicken had been resting on the stovetop for about fifteen minutes when it was time to carve it. I grabbed my giant chef knife and a fork and began poking around. Reality set in: I can cook all day, but carve? I had no idea what I was doing, and all I could see was lopping off a thumb in the process.

I called out to our guests for help. My father-in-law is almost 60. I figure he's carved a few birds.

"Mike, you know how to cut up a chicken?"

He holds up a palm. "Yes, but I don't want to step on anyone's toes. Go ahead, go ahead."

Seriously, step on my toes. I'm OK with it. It will save my fingers.

Then it's my neighbor's turn to hear my plea. He's a master of meat. Brisket. Ribs. Tenderloin. He can do it all.

"Keith? You mind helping?"

He laughs. "Just start with the drumsticks. Separate them from the rest of the body."

I'm dying. Really.

I stab the left drumstick with my fork and start sawing with the blade. Why can't I find the dang hip joint? And why do I suddenly feel like my antiperspirant is being challenged? I'm trying my best not to throw things as my frustration begins to bubble up. Somehow, I manage to get the first drumstick off and keep my digits intact, but the energy I exhausted in my anxiety makes me want to bypass the next drumstick and head for the breast meat.

"How the heck to I cut the breast?" Yeah, I'm pretty sure it's obvious by now that I'm stressed. Jennifer, Keith's wife, says something helpful, but I don't even hear the instructions. Without a shred of confidence, I poke more holes in the bird. Someone has to take the knife from me before I hyperventilate and pass out face-first into the pan of drippings.

Keith must have noticed panic washing over me. He takes the knife from me and goes to work on the roasted fowl. Thank God. Back to breathing like a normal person.

That's when I notice an easy job. My mother-in-law's pumpkin-cranberry bread is on the counter, ready to be sliced. This I can handle.

I grab our serrated bread knife and move toward the loaf. My confidence is waxing, so I open my big fat mouth.

"Ahhhh, cutting bread! Now THIS is something I can cut without worry. This is a knife job I can d---yeeeeeooooooowwww!"

And just like that, I've sliced a thick flap of skin down to a hinge on the tip of my index finger. My worst finger-cutting injury to date.

I learned three things. OK, four things:

  1. Sawing away at that dang chicken with the smooth blade was apparently safer.
  2. Karma has a funny way of sticking it to you when you brag about yourself. Someone punch me the next time I try to gloat about my cutting skills.
  3. I'm never slicing bread again. Ever. Well, maybe if the bread can be sliced using a plastic knife...no, no, I'm never slicing bread again.
  4. Band-Aids aren't enough to keep water out of a wound that deep, so I had to learn to bathe the baby wearing a rubber glove.

12 December 2012

Baby Bites: Quesadillas with Sautéed Greens and Onions

The Nerd and I visited my mom a couple of months back. She was making herself quesadillas for lunch and wanted to share them with her toddling grandchild. The Nerd loved the crispy bites of tortilla and melted cheese with refried beans and veggies, so I decided to put our garden to use to make some of our own. We have two beds filled with greens, giving me inspiration for a veggie-only meal.

Ingredients:
  • olive oil
  • small onion, diced
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced (optional)
  • 2 handfuls of greens, washed and chopped well
  • shredded cheese of choice (we used Colby Jack)
  • pinch of cumin
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 10-inch flour tortillas (the number will depend on how much you stuff them)
Directions:
Heat 2-3 tbsp. of olive oil in a sauté pan on medium heat. Add onions and garlic, allowing to cook until they become translucent. Throw in the greens and the seasonings. Stir every so often as they cook, making sure they cook long enough to make the rigid parts of the green leaves soft. Younger babies' veggies should be soft enough that a fork will mush them. For toddlers (especially those with teeth, like our Nerd), the veggies can be a little firmer than that.


I love sautéing vegetables. It's healthy and delicious.

In a new sauté pan, heat just a little olive oil over medium and spread the oil from edge to edge. While it warms, spoon the sautéed vegetables onto one side of a tortilla and spread to your desired thickness. Sprinkle with cheese (seriously, just a sprinkle--too much gives you a stopped-up baby) and fold over to make a half-moon. Ease the tortilla into the pan and allow to cook until it browns and crisps. Using a wide spatula, flip to the other side and finish to the same shade of golden crispy awesomeness. Continue making the half-moon tortillas with your sautéed vegetables and cheese until you run out of the filling. Cut into pieces that your child can handle easily. Or if they still love being fed from a fork, cut as you go.


Perfect for toddler hands. Serve warm, not hot!

Mmmmmm...gooey... :)
When I made these quesadillas, I ended up with about 4 of them. I froze two and kept 2 in the fridge. They keep amazingly well in both the fridge and freezer.

Alternatives:
  • Child hate greens (or maybe you can't bring yourself to cook greens for him)? Try spinach. Both greens and spinach are packed with nutrients and vitamins, so you can't go wrong with either. Plus, spinach tends to have a richer flavor than greens.
  • Don't have flour in your diet? Forgo the tortillas and serve the sautéed vegetables over brown rice.
  • Feel it needs a little more color? Serve with a very mild salsa or chopped tomatoes.
  • Trying to hide extra veggies in your child's meals? Shred carrot or mince bell pepper into the sauté pan. Don't worry--I'll never tell!
  • Feel the meal needs "more"? Here's what I did. I made a black bean puree as a side item. I soaked dried black beans overnight and cooked them in a pot of low sodium chicken broth cut with water for over an hour (high boil for a few minutes, then simmered the rest). Pinches of cumin, cinnamon, and garlic powder flavored it. Then once the beans were good and soft, I pureed them in a blender and served over the tortillas. The Nerd LOVED this combo.

28 November 2012

Radish Greens Pesto

Our fall garden is starting to take off, and we're already harvesting some tasty produce. When we pulled up our first radish globes last weekend, we wondered if we could use the greens for something other than composting. Sure enough, our internet search turned up suggestions in sautés, soups, and spreads. We've always loved basil pesto, so we decided to give radish greens pesto a try.

They might be small, but these radishes and their full tops will both be used in our kitchen.

Here's what we used to make our very experimental radish greens pesto:

  • 2 large handfuls of radish greens, washed and roughly chopped
  • 1/3 cup lightly toasted nuts (we used a combo of almonds and walnuts because we had them; pine nuts would be good, too)
  • olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • wedge of Parmesan cheese
  • lemon zest from 1/2 lemon
  • juice from a whole lemon
  • salt and pepper, to taste
How we made it:
Toasted awesomeness.
I toasted the almonds and walnuts in a large skillet on a medium-low heat until they started revealing their golden sides. I may or may not have over-toasted a few almonds, but it didn't really affect their flavor. Meanwhile, I pulverized the garlic cloves in our food processor with a little olive oil. 

What should I have done with the nuts after they were all pretty in their toastiness? Pounded them in a freezer bag with a meat tenderizer! I put them straight into my food processor to meet the garlic without pounding them first, and it caused quite a problem. Whole almonds got stuck to the blades and made it impossible to blend and process everything. I had to dump everything out, put them in a smaller blender in stages, remove the whole almonds from the first processor's blades, and then put everything back. Way more work than I wanted to do. *sigh*

OK, back on track. You have your nuts and garlic blended together, making sure you have just enough olive oil in there to keep everything smooth. Add in the lemon zest, lemon juice, and Parmesan cheese. How much cheese? This is up to you. We like our pesto a little on the salty side from the flavor of the cheese rather from actually adding salt, so we go heavy. Add only shredded Parmesan. Chunks don't process easily. Always add olive oil to keep the mixture slightly wet and oh-so-smooth.


Yep, that's a compost bucket alongside everything else. Organic waste gets made into next year's soil.

Finally, add the greens and blend everything until looks that pretty pea green (again, always adding olive oil as you go). Our blades got stuck again, so I had to transfer the pesto to our blender. Totally worked, in case you don't have a food processor. The pesto only needed a little salt and pepper to finish it. You finish it the way you see fit.
Pesto!
So somebody out there is reading this and thinking, "Really? Radish greens in your pesto? Sounds disgusting." I was skeptical, too, until we made it. The flavors from the lemon and Parmesan are not all that different from our basil pesto, but the radish greens give this pesto a very earthy taste. It has been the perfect spread to put on French loaf slices at dinner the last few nights. In fact, I'd probably pair it with bread or some kind of dinner roll over pasta because of its more earthy tang, but I can see it being used as a "sauce" on a white pizza. So for those of you who frequent the farmers' markets and buy radishes with the bright, plush greens on top, give this recipe a whirl. I'm sure you'll like it as much as we have.
Sorry it's out of focus--our toddler grabbed my picture-taking hand. :)



24 September 2012

Perfect Moment Mondays


Baby Nerd has her first pair of rubber-soled Chucks. Red, of course. She keeps kicking her left foot as she quietly eats her mac and cheese with a side of peaches. The sun is at a lower angle in the sky now that fall has arrived, and it illuminates the kitchen in a whole new way. It's a lovely lunch date with our little nerd.

18 September 2012

Nerd in the World: Month 11

Had to sneak in the sticker since she always tears it off. Jeopardy is our best distraction for such a job.

Age: 11 months
Weight: ~21 lbs.
Length: Not quite sure since we haven't been to the doc recently, but she's a tall one.
What can she do now?
  • there are 7 teeth in her little mouth
  • walk with assistance from the hands of an adult
  • adding new sounds to her "vocabulary", like "doh", "ba", and "wo"
  • climbs the stairs with no trouble whatsoever (but definitely makes Mommy's heart palpitate when she does)
  • uses walking toys to get around when crawling gets boring
  • will turn your face to the side to see what earrings you're wearing
    • pulls everything off of shelves and out of drawers
    • won't go to bed without watching Jeopardy (we have to keep it on the DVR)
    • turns the pages in a book
    • "asks" for you to read a particular book to her (pulls books off shelves until the finds the one she wants, then grunts as she gives it to you)
    • "chases" Mojo
    • claps, taps, splashes, smacks her lips, and shakes her head on command
    Celebrations from the past month:
    • How did I forget to mention our beach trip for Month 10? Mal may have dipped her toes in the Atlantic Ocean back in February, but she hadn't seen the Gulf! Michael constantly gets offers for a free three-night stay at the Beau Rivage in Biloxi, MS. So while we still had a little summer left, we took advantage of the deal and drove the nerd to the Gulf Coast. The water may have been a little murky from the Mississippi River's deposits, but we had a wonderful time helping her jump in the waves and play in the sand. It was obvious, thought, that there was nothing more entertaining in her mind than the pool. She's our water baby!
    Bathing beauty. 
    Her favorite part of the hotel room? The view from the window.
    Hey, Mom!
    Family dinner on the bay at Margaritaville.
    Night view of Biloxi.
    The Nerd was all about swimming in the hotel pool.
    Tacky tourist time!
    • I also forgot to mention the visit with an old friend... On the way to Biloxi, we stopped in Auburn, AL to see my childhood friend, Amanda (aka--A. Hab in the blogosphere). We hadn't seen each other in…uh…a lot of years. We got to meet each other's husbands and daughters over a meal of BBQ in downtown Auburn. (And it was goooooood BBQ!) Photographic evidence of our reunion was taken adjacent to Toomer's Corner before we had to be on our way. Another reunion between the mommies will have to happen again very soon.
    We danced ballet and sang in chorus together as children.
    After collecting a several college degrees each, getting married, and having babies,
    we're still great friends!
    • Play date with Patrick! This kid gets cuter every time we hang out.
    Huggable.
    Mal: "Here's where you put the ball."
    Patrick: "That ball isn't part of the table!"
    • Kenneth turned 30! He was my stand partner in high school orchestra and is still one of my best friends. When he announced that he was coming back to Georgia from his new home in Los Angeles for his 30th, we made sure to clear the calendar. The entire night was a reunion of everyone from the high school music community.
    Jarrod, David, Kenneth, Grace, and me with Mal. The night was more than I could have asked for!
    • Mal went on her first zoo trip. My mom works for the Gwinnett County Public Library System. So when she told us that you can check out tickets to the park, we scheduled a family day trip. Mom came with us and we enjoyed an almost-free day introducing Baby Nerd to various critters from around the globe.
    The Wynnes arrive! And Nana takes their picture.

    Mal meets a goat at the petting zoo.
    • FOOTBALL!!! Baby Nerd is in training to be a Georgia Bulldawg. She may not pay attention to every game we watch on TV or listen to over the radio, but she sure does know how to wear the red and black.
    "Next year, they'll have me trained to call the dawgs!"
     ------------------------------------------------------

    A Mommy's Thoughts…On Daddy Nerd:


    Looking out of our hotel window.
    Gazing upon the waters of the Gulf.
    I didn't cry when I found out we were pregnant. I didn't cry when the doc said the baby was healthy. I didn't even cry when he told us we were having a girl. But when my husband looked me right in the eye at the 14th week of gestation and exclaimed, "I'm going to have to give her away one day...", the water works could not be contained. We were both terrified about having a daughter (pink and girl drama and training bras...*sigh*), but it was in that emotional moment that I could tell my husband was already so in love with Baby Nerd that he would rope the moon if she ever asked him to. They bonded when she was still in utero. She would bend it like Beckham into my kidneys, and Michael would tell her to quit or she was going to be grounded when she was born. He'd greet her after work every evening by placing his hands on my belly and blowing a raspberry.

    Yet, in all the years that Michael and I dated and have been married, I have never seen him shed a tear. Not at funerals. Not over someone being sick in the hospital. And never, ever during a chick flick. So it was incredibly touching when his eyes welled up when he saw his daughter enter the world. It was a fleeting moment. Had I enough time to rest my sleep-deprived lids, I might have missed it. With each day that passes, he cherishes the little things they do together, like pound on the piano keys or roll a ball back and forth to each other. He has grown to hate commercials that dive deep into the father-daughter relationship (Subaru commercial, anyone?). And God forbid you mention anything about dating or boyfriends. He desires to teach Baby Nerd that all boys are gross and unworthy. I've got $10 on Michael welling up on her wedding day.

    But my favorite daddy-daughter moments are the ones Baby Nerd doesn't realize are happening. They are the ones where I glance over at Michael, and he's completely oblivious to anything in the world but her. He is staring at her and reveling, proud of her milestones and adding to the list of things he wants to share with her as she grows.
    Travel. Growing crops. Tasting fancy cheeses. Kurt Cobain. Gordon Lightfoot. Reducing fractions. Hitting a baseball. Identifying a city skyline. Fishing. Putting together a puzzle...



     Certain is it that there is no kind of affection so purely angelic as of a father to a daughter. In love to our wives there is desire; to our sons, ambition; but to our daughters there is something which there are no words to express.   
     Joseph Addison

    12 September 2012

    Baby Bites: Broccoli and Pasta with Lentils

    With a little shredded cheddar cheese on top!

    We would never survive a low-carb diet in this house. We have pasta at least once a week. I could totally buy into the idea of living in a rustic Italian village where we could eat fresh handmade pasta at every meal. So why wouldn't we make pasta dishes for our little one? Here's a meal I made up for Baby Nerd, and she loves it. It's great as a stand-alone meal, but it compliments other main dishes, like fish or chicken.

    Ingredients:
    • 1 cup chicken broth cut with water (lowers the sodium while adding flavor)
    • roughly 1/3 cup dried lentils, any color
    • half of a bag of frozen broccoli florets
    • leftover pasta (I had 3 strips of leftover cooked lasagna that I cut up into bite-sized pieces)
    • shredded cheese (totally optional, especially if your baby is lactose intolerant...I used cheddar, but any hard, salty cheese would be ideal)
    Directions:
    Bring the broth to a boil and add the lentils. Allow to cook for about 15-20 minutes or until the lentils have begun to soften. Add the frozen broccoli and cook for another 10 minutes. Broccoli should be super soft. Finally, throw in the already-cooked pasta and mix. If there is any broth-water left in your pot, drain it. Portion the mix into 2- or 4-oz. containers and sprinkle a little of the shredded cheese on top in each container. Store in the fridge up to 3 days and in the freezer up to 3 months.

    Also, if you don't have any leftover pasta like I did for this recipe, just boil 1/3-1/4 cup of any bite-sized pasta (wagon wheels, elbows, mini farfalle, ditalini) in a separate pot while the lentils soften. Add at the end just as directed above.
    --------------------------
    Let me talk about cheese for a sec. For as much as we love pasta, we love cheese twice as much. This means after we live in Italy and eat pasta until we barf, we'll take up residence in random cheese cellars across Europe. So here's my plea: only use REAL cheese. No liquid cheese, no American singles, and for the love of brie, nothing that can be dispensed from a nozzle (I shudder at the thought of Cheese Whiz). I'm not saying you have to start your baby out on Limburger or a veiny stilton. So for this dish, just stick to cheeses that are made from real and natural ingredients. Baby Nerd has tried and loved parmesan, cheddar, colby, ricotta, and mozzarella so far.

    Dang it. All this talk of cheese and pasta has me wanting a hefty helping of manicotti. Maybe I'll try that one next. ;)



    06 September 2012

    Baby Bites: Baked Fish Cakes

    Getting her fingers into the fish cake.

    Baby Nerd approves!

    Original recipe from 500 Baby & Toddler Dishes (Glock,  2011).


    Fish. It’s something I NEVER eat. Growing up, my parents and brother ate anything and everything that could be caught on a fishing rod or in a crab net. My husband considers all forms of seafood a treat. Me? I’d rather eat a bowl of Brussels sprouts. What makes me turn up my nose to marine munchies? The taste. The texture. The…smell…ugh… I’m just not a fan. And if the hubs does get a craving for seafood, we either go out to eat or he has to cook it on his own. I know seafood cooks much faster than steak or chicken, and that’s about where my culinary expertise in this food genre ends.

    But with all of that said, no child of mine is going to be the weirdo I am about seafood consumption.

    One of my favorite baby food cookbooks is 500 Baby & Toddler Dishes by Beverly Glock. Not only does it contain a wide variety of food options for your youngster, it also offers variations on every recipe to fit every child’s preferences. Even with these variation suggestions, I still adjusted the recipe to fit what we had in our house and garden.

    [And by the way, did anyone notice the 4 cups of milk as an ingredient?!?! The reason they include this as an ingredient is to cook the filets in it for easier flaking and removal from the bone. Their recipe suggests that you substitute formula or breast milk if your child is under 12 months. But think about it: formula is waaaaay too expensive (at least, in my book) for any use other than bottle feeding, and I don’t know a single breastfeeding mother who would sacrifice 4 cups of her supply for what is essentially boiling fish. You’ll notice in my adjustment there is NO milk as an ingredient. It’s lame and unnecessary. Just bake the fish on a sheet of parchment on a cookie sheet.]

    Ingredients:
    • ·      2 medium-sized russet potatoes, peeled and chopped
    • ·      2 small or medium-sized whitefish filets, boneless and skinless (I used thawed tilapia from the Publix frozen seafood department)
    • ·      2 thin slices of REAL unsalted butter
    • ·      small bunch of fresh chives, washed and finely chopped (we grow these behind our house)
    • ·      4 eggs, beaten
    • ·      1 cup breadcrumbs
    • ·      1 tbsp dried parsley
    • ·      large pinch of paprika
    • ·      large pinch of ground sea salt
    Directions:

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place your boneless, skinless fish filets on parchment on a cookie sheet and bake 10-20 minutes or until cooked through. While the fish is baking, boil the potato chunks in lightly salted water in a deep pot until they are soft enough to mash. Drain and pour the chunks into a mixing bowl. Toss in the chopped chives and use a potato masher to smooth the potatoes and work out all the large lumps.

    Remove fish from the oven and allow to cool to a temperature you can handle with your fingers. As the fish cools, mix the breadcrumbs with the parsley, paprika, and salt and spread out on a plate for dredging your cakes later. Transfer the cooked fish to a cutting board and flake with a fork. Add fish and half of the beaten eggs to the potatoes and chives. Mix thoroughly and bump up the heat in your oven to 400 degrees.

    Make patties with the fish and potato mixture by scooping out a spoonful at a time, rolling it into a ball, and slightly flattening it. Dip each patty into the eggs that are left and lightly dredge each side in the herbed breadcrumbs. Place each breaded patty on a new sheet of parchment on a cookie sheet (I used the same one I baked the fish on earlier to save on dishes). Bake roughly 15 minutes or until cooked through and golden brown.

    The recipe says it makes just over a dozen patties, but it made 21 patties when I made it! The fridge and freezer directions should be the same as given in the original recipe.

    ------------------------------------
    Baby Nerd ate her fish cakes straight up, but I can see them being served with a little ketchup or a homemade tartar sauce. And if your baby likes the sour taste of lemon, squirt the cakes with fresh lemon juice! The herbs in your breading can be adjusted to what your baby likes. Baby Nerd has tried many herbs and spices, so I went with ones that would both compliment the fish and tickle her tastebuds: smoky paprika and mild parsley. I can also see dried oregano, ground pepper, or cumin making the breading tasty, too.

    Finally, don't fry these fish cakes. The point of cooking for your baby is to provide him or her with healthy options, and baking these will cut out excess fat and grease. They come out crispy and easy to break apart by hand. It's a fun food for little fingers. 


    30 August 2012

    Baby Bites: Roasted Mashed Sweet Potatoes and Navy Beans

    I couldn't help but take a few bites myself.

    Ahhhhhhh, the sweet potato. I'm a fan of anything potato, but eating sweet potatoes is like getting dessert in the middle of your meal. Baby Nerd has loved every jar of sweet potatoes she's tried, so I figured I would give it a go. In fact, the inspiration for this recipe comes from the pouches of organic baby food created by Tyler Florence. We gave them a try when they went on sale one week at Publix. One of the pouches contained sweet potatoes and white beans, which I knew couldn't be that hard to make. Below is the recipe I came up with for Baby Nerd.

    Ingredients:
    • one large sweet potato
    • two small cloves of garlic, tops cut off
    • roughly 1/3 cup of dried navy beans, soaked in water overnight
    • olive oil
    • 1 cup chicken broth cut with water (broth is optional; can make this with just water)
    • extra cup of water
    • pinch of ground ginger
    • roughly 1 tsp cinnamon
    • freshly ground nutmeg (I eyeballed this amount since I grated it over the potato once cooked)
    Directions:
    Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Wash and scrub the sweet potato. (Do not remove skin because you will be roasting it.) Poke holes in the potato with a fork and microwave it for 4-5 minutes, or enough to start softening it. Meanwhile, boil the watered-down broth on the stove and add the navy beans once it reaches a boil. Reduce heat and allow the beans to cook while you complete the next step.

    Take the sweet potato out of the microwave and wrap it in aluminum foil. Do the same with the garlic cloves, but drizzle them with olive oil before wrapping them up. Place both in your oven and allow to roast for 20-30 minutes. (While they roast, check on the progress of your navy beans.) The potato will come out very soft, and the garlic will have turned a golden brown. Allow your garlic cloves to cool enough to squeeze them out of their skins. Mash the cloves with a fork to make a "paste". Cut a long slit down the side of the sweet potato and scrape out the flesh. When the navy beans have reached the soft-enough-for-baby-to-eat stage, add the sweet potato and garlic paste to the pot WITHOUT draining the broth and mash it all together. Add in the spices and stir until everything is mixed evenly. If the potatoes are looking dry, add the water you put to the side to moisten them. These can be stored in the fridge up to one week and in the freezer up to 3 months. These should definitely be served warm, but be careful during reheating: the beans will hold the heat longer than the sweet potatoes. Make sure to test how hot the beans are before serving them to your baby.
    ---------------------------------
    Baby Nerd enjoyed this for dinner earlier this evening, although we butted heads when she refused to take them from the spoon and preferred using her fingers. Oh, the amount of orange that girl had on her face! But hey, it's one of very few battles we have, and the meal only cost what we paid for the sweet potato and bag of dried beans--we already had everything else.

    One more note: I used dried beans (soaked overnight, remember!) because canned beans are more expensive per ounce and they are much more likely to have added sodium. You could leave them out altogether (along with most of the spices and the garlic) if you want to introduce just the sweet potato as a first food. I like the combination of beans with potato because it gives your baby a more "complete" meal by providing a carbohydrate and a protein. Plus, the combo introduces a new food texture.

    Happy eating!

    27 August 2012

    Baby Bites: Apple and Peach Oatmeal

    Fresh fruits are a great addition when flavoring oatmeal for your baby.

    Time to share another winning baby food recipe with my fellow mommas. This one is an adjustment of a recipe I made before, apple oatmeal. For that version, I used whole oats. They made the meal thick and sticky, although not unsatisfactory in flavor. I just don't think Baby Nerd was a fan of the texture. So when I wanted to give oatmeal another go, I decided to substitute the whole oats with steel-cut oats, as well as throw in another one of my favorite fruits: the peach. As always, I don't always measure the ingredients I use, so the amounts given below are approximations. If you try this recipe for your baby, taste often and make adjustments as you go!

    Ingredients needed:
    • 2 whole apples, peeled, cored, and chopped
    • 1 whole peach, peeled and chopped, stone removed
    • 1/2 tbsp brown sugar
    • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
    • pinch ground ginger
    • water
    • roughly 1/4 cup uncooked steel-cut oats
    Directions:

    Place the chopped fruit in the bottom of a 2-quart pot and add water to immerse the fruit almost halfway. Cook on medium heat (covered) until the fruit becomes soft enough to mash. Throw the heat down to low. Add seasonings and mash everything together. If your child is older than 9 months, less mashing and more stirring. If your child is younger than 9 months, pureeing or milling might be a better option. There will most likely be water (now mixed with juice from the apples and peach) still left in your pot, so go ahead and add your oats and allow to cook until soft. You can always add more water as the oats soak up the moisture. Stir so that the oats are evenly dispersed throughout the cooked fruit. Serve warm. Store up to one week in the fridge or 3 months in the freezer. Thaw carefully before serving.

    After tasting this meal for Baby Nerd, I seriously wanted to eat every last ounce. The subtlety of the ginger. The sweet blend of brown sugar with cinnamon. The essence of peach amid the apples. There isn't a packet of instant oatmeal anywhere that could match the taste in this recipe. Hope your baby enjoys it!


    18 August 2012

    Nerd in the World: Month 10

    Cheese!

    She loves my car keys.

    Uga is a buddy during college football season.

    My little lovely.

    Age: 10 months (again, I'm late…shameful…)
    Weight: 19 lbs.
    Length: 28.5 in
    What can she do now?
    • crawling!
    • sitting up from lying down position
    • can give a high-five
    • has teeth on top and bottom gums
    • tries to climb the stairs (making her mother sprout grey hairs each time)
    • constant babbling and using new sounds
    • adding foods to her list of likes
    • bathing in the big girl tub with non-slip fish-shaped treads (which she pulls up every time she bathes)
    • and since I'm so far behind, I'm sure I left something off the list…

      Celebrations from the past month:
      • No new school year for this teacher. Sure, the no-paycheck part is a tough pill to swallow. But with all the changes that were made in the school system I left, the salary wouldn't be worth the stress. The class sizes went up significantly after cutting teaching positions. The school day was lengthened because the school year was shortened by 14 days. The cost of benefits are no longer supplemented by the system. The entire state curriculum was changed all at one time when it is normally rolled out one subject per year (and with no new textbooks, technology, or significant training). Don't get me wrong--I really miss teaching. I've had at least 3 or 4 cry-fest breakdowns this summer due to the fact that me not teaching is the equivalent of having an identity crisis. But I have missed the actual teaching part a little more every year.
      • I have been building a business! Well, the pro-rated paycheck was going to run out eventually, so I started building a portfolio so I can work as a part-time photographer while I'm staying at home. I am scared. Like, out of my yoga pants scared. Every damn day, I learn something else I need to refine in my skill set. Books and the internet have been on my side, as are a couple of local mentors and several really good friends (and yes, even family) who are encouraging me. For all the years I've had an interest in photography--since, oh, let's say, the 2nd grade--I was the one who always took good pictures, but usually, out of dumb luck. Now I have to be good at it…on purpose…for money… THAT, my friends, is what's scary! But now that it's out there, be on the lookout come October(ish) for my Facebook business page or contact me for session inquiries.

      A Mother's Thoughts:
      I thought I was going to have trouble staying at home. I've always been a career-driven girl, especially since my career has been one that I truly love. Teaching was my calling! How could I give it up? And then there were the multiple weepy-eyed sessions I mentioned earlier. I'd break down driving my husband to work or while watching a movie about teachers and their students. He could see I was struggling with my decision. I wasn't leaving just any old job. I was leaving my students, their upcoming siblings, their parents. I was leaving old memories and the chance to make new ones. I keep photos of former students on my fridge because they are my babies. One was in my wedding. To say they are a part of my life would be an understatement.

      But I have spent the last 8 years putting everyone else first and my life at home second. Do you know how many times the hubs got a phone call from me, letting him know I would be staying late in the classroom or that a meeting with a parent ran over? Do you know how many times he got frustrated at the sight of my overstuffed teacher's bag? Do you know how many times I have apologized to friends because I graded papers while watching football or on a weekend away with them? Do you know how many parties, showers, and life events I have skipped because I was attending a student's Saturday morning football game or filling out report cards? Even poor Mojo has caught the brunt of it when my days ran long and my time for him short.

      I don't regret a moment I spent in education. I didn't love every moment, but I don't regret a one. When it is your calling, you don't mind the sacrifices. Not a one. Your husband still loves you. Your friends still invite you to their dinner parties. Your dog still enjoys the walks you take together. I still have parents and their children who message me updates in their lives or invite me to family events. And they will never truly realize just how special it makes me feel to continue to be included in their current lives when I was a part of theirs years ago.

      But now it's time I put my family first. It's a struggle sometimes, especially since staying at home doesn't mean it's automatically easier to keep the house running. I just got back 60 hours a week of my time back, and the laundry STILL doesn't get caught up. What's more comforting is that every loved one in my life has supported me in this decision. It helps considering the other thing I cry over is the fact that I no longer have a salary to contribute to the household. It's another sense of identity lost in the gaining of my SAHM identity.

      Plus, staying at home means I can wear jeans EVERY DAY. Well, sometimes, it's running shorts. But I get to say "no" to slacks every morning.

      All in all, staying at home with Baby Nerd is something I love. She is both a miracle and a blessing, and I get to see those awesome milestones as she grows. I spoil her with my home cooking and reading dozens of books. I take way too many pictures of her. I show her off in emails, text messages, and Facebook posts. It's totally worth it. Maybe when she's older and she has a little brother or sister she can drag to school with her, I'll be ready to sit at the head of the classroom again. I know I will have the itch to teach again. It's in my veins. As for now, I'll celebrate our time together as Mommy Nerd and Baby Nerd, keeping our nightly date with Daddy to watch Jeopardy.



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