lemon curd tarts with minted strawberries, and some thoughts on food blogging

lemon curd tarts with minted strawberries // erniebufflo.comI used to write a lot about food (see tab up top). I consider “food” a hobby of mine–mostly in the making/eating department, but the truth is, I spend a lot of time thinking about food. I read recipes just to get ideas for things I will later wing on my own. I read cookbooks like other women might thumb through a fashion magazine. I know a lot of people are all “ain’t nobody got time for that” in terms of cooking dinner most nights, but we all make time for the things that we love, and for me, I love making and eating good food. Still, somewhere along the way, I stopped writing much about food. Part of it is, I see a lot of semi-plagiarism in the food blogging community. “Adapted from” is so often mostly “lifted entirely,” and I think instead of just slightly changing the wording on someone else’s recipe (which is legal– you can’t copyright an ingredients list, only the written-out process, so if you rewrite all the steps, you’re really not infringing on someone else’s copyright), sometimes you should just skip all that and link to the person who inspired you instead of pretending you created something new.  Continue reading “lemon curd tarts with minted strawberries, and some thoughts on food blogging”

learning to love…guacamole

I7338661312_63d3beb6dd_z‘ve made no secret about the fact that I find truly picky (adult) eaters pretty annoying. Having a few dislikes is normal for anyone, but picky eating has always seemed to me to be a symptom of a larger lack of adventurousness or total control-freakery, and it just gets on my nerves. I’m even annoyed by my own dislikes. Blueberries, mushrooms, and avocado have long topped my list of dislikes, and I’ve often wished I could just *like* these things. I make it a habit to try things I think I dislike on a regular basis, just to see if maybe I was wrong and I really try to like them. I’ve learned to like mushrooms in most things, as long as they aren’t the main focus of a dish, but I still don’t like blueberries in anything except pancakes (yes, this is different than in muffins, and no, I will not eat a blueberry muffin, no thanks). Thank God my temporary postpartum dislike of coffee disappeared after a couple of months.

The weirdest thing has happened with avocado. Continue reading “learning to love…guacamole”

meal planning for the easily bored

three methods of meal planning for the easily bored.

I used to live a block from the grocery store. I never had to plan our meals further than an hour or two before dinner time, because I treated the store like my own personal pantry, running over to grab whatever I needed for that day’s meals. Now that my grocery outings involve at least one, sometimes two children in tow (depending on if Etta and I go while Claire’s at preschool), I just can’t go to the store that often. Now, I plan at least a week’s worth of meals at a time. But, since I also feel that cooking is a fun, creative outlet for me (and I like to eat good food), I try really hard not to get into a meal-planning rut– I like to rotate between a few methods and try lots of new recipes. I figured I’d share my methods, and also solicit yours.

A few key pieces of info: we are largely meat-free but not vegetarian, instead choosing to eat less meat and when we do eat meat, to eat locally/sustainably/ethically raised meat whenever we can. We do eat eggs, fish, and dairy. Also, we’re not super adventurous in the breakfast department, so I don’t have to think about that much. Cereal, almond milk, yogurt, eggs scrambled with leftover veggies and cheese, and fruit are about as varied as we get most mornings. Lunches are leftovers for adults, toddler tapas for the kiddos– they have crackers or bread, cheese, raw veggies, hummus, fruit, boiled eggs, beans, etc. that I keep in the fridge and mix up regularly. So, I’m mostly planning dinners, about 5 dinners per week with at least one leftover night and one meal out.

Method One: Tour de Pinterest

pinterest pin boards for recipe organization

I love Pinterest. For me, it’s not just some sort of aspirational fantasyland full of outfits I’ll never try and DIY’s I could never master, but an actual, useful tool. Before it came around, I, an avid food blog reader, had tons of folders of bookmarked recipes to try. The problem with that method was, no matter how descriptively I titled the bookmarks, it was hard to tell what was what. Pinterest solves that, because it’s visual, and makes scrolling through bookmarked recipes like flipping through a cookbook looking for a picture of something tasty.

The key to this method is to hyperorganize your pin boards. I have them divided into categories like: Mexican, Asian/Indian/Middle Eastern, Soups and Stews, Vegetarian, Seafood, Pasta, and Chicken. Then it becomes a matter of choosing 5 recipes from several different boards, so in one week we’ll have a pasta dish, a taco/enchilada/burrito type dish, maybe a homemade pizza, a stir fry, and a soup and salad night. I open up each recipe in my browser, make my grocery list on my phone and write the names of the dishes at the top of the list so I can easily find them when it’s time to cook. Then, for my own future reference, after we’ve had a meal, I go back and leave myself comments on the recipe pins letting me know if we liked it and what I would do differently if I made it again. If a recipe flat out didn’t work, I delete the pin.

Method Two: There’s an App for That

20140312-122006.jpgThis is a new thing I’ve only been trying recently. I have a couple different cooking apps on my phone, including Real Simple’s No Time To Cook and Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food. I did a week of recipes from the Real Simple app over the last week. I opened the app, chose Vegetarian and 30 minutes or less, scrolled through, and picked out several dishes.

Our meals for the last week and a half included: salmon and green beans with brown butter and almonds, red bean and spinach burritos, polenta with blue cheese and garlicky chard, and pierogi with sauteed red cabbage. Our last meal of the week was a use-up-the-leftover-veggies dish of veggie fried rice. Things I liked about this method: It was easy to find and choose recipes, none of them had a ton of weird ingredients, and they all truly did come together quickly. What I didn’t like: several of the meals just didn’t seem hearty enough, so I had to doctor them a little. The salmon and green beans were delicious, but to me, the meal needed a carb/starch, so I added lemon-y risotto. The red bean and spinach burritos were delicious, but I added cumin and chili powder to the beans and grilled my burritos in a panini pan to make them more special. The polenta with blue cheese and garlicky chard was a great starting point, but needed protein, so I added white beans and soft-boiled eggs– now I can’t imagine having that recipe without the “sauce” of a soft egg on top.

Overall, I will try this method again, but I will definitely keep in mind that I may need to add to or spice up the recipes.

Method 3: Pick a Cookbook, Any Cookbook 

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Several of our favorite Bittman meals.

I usually use this method with my Mark Bittman cookbooks, either The Food Matters Cookbook or How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. I’ll page through the book, pick a handful that look tasty, maybe a snack or dip or two, too, and make my meal plan that way. I love Bittman’s less-meatarian philosophy, and his recipes are simple, delicious, and always very adaptable to any number of variations. I’m sure this method could work well with whatever your favorite cookbooks are. A perk to the Bittman books: you can get the complete How to Cook Everything and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian as apps on the iPhone for $10ish, much cheaper than the books themselves.

There are other methods I haven’t tried, like, oh, actually looking at circulars and deciding a menu based around that, largely because I’m driven by the recipes themselves, and because I’ve already cut our grocery bill substantially by cutting most of our meat and processed foods. One of the nice things about having the Pinterest, cooking and cookbook apps, though, is that if I get to the store and notice say, avocados are 99 cents, I can call an audible and pull up a taco recipe or something and swap out one of the others.

What about you? Do you meal plan? Where do you get your menus?

MMMMonday

To all the folks who may be new around here thanks to yesterday’s Freshly Pressed feature: welcome! You may notice I’m writing about food today and not current events: that happens a lot. Day to day you might find food, parenting, DIY, current events, pop culture, feminism, politics, literature…something for almost everyone, I guess!

Now back to your regularly scheduled MMMMonday, a weekly roundup of all things tasty in my world.

LIES.
LIES.

Can I start by admitting a Pinterest FAIL? Have you seen all those “never grow green onions again!” pins that advise just putting the root ends in a glass of water and letting them regrow? WASTE OF TIME. I tried it. I mean, I grow veggies and herbs. We used to run an urban garden. I put my green onions in a glass of water on my windowsill. Two weeks of my kitchen smelling vaguely of onions and swamp water (that water got FUNKY), and only two of the bunch had grown at all. I think I’ll just keep spending the 75 cents for green onions when I need them.

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I wanted a roasted chicken but didn’t want to heat up my kitchen. Enter: slow cooker. I filled the bottom with red potatoes and a few cloves of garlic, put a chicken on top, sprinkled with salt, pepper, and Cavender’s, added a few lemon slices, and created deliciousness that didn’t require a 400 degree oven. The Pinterest component is the side dish. I used oregano instead of basil, because my basil has died/fried, but the oregano is still kicking. Really tasty!

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I did not expect to love this dish like I did. It’s basically an Asian noodle bowl, but the “noodles” are spaghetti squash. It’s also full of kale and broccoli, so it’s super healthy. The one thing I did differently was use peanut oil instead of grapeseed oil in the spicy peanut sauce, because I don’t keep grapeseed oil on hand.

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I sometimes joke that my Colorado-native hubby had to marry a Southern girl just for the okra, which is one of his favorite foods. This recipe was different than my usual fried okra, because they’re sliced sorta like fries, and are just fried in the oil solo, no batter or cornmeal or anything. They’ve got an Indian sort of spice thanks to garam masala, and I really liked it for a change of pace. I might experiment with the same flavor profile in an oven-roasted version.

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I’m a pickle fanatic, and I definitely prefer the ones you can only get in the refrigerated section of the grocery store. These come as close to those as any homemade version I’ve tried, and since they’re a refrigerator version, you don’t have to worry about canning or sealing or botulism or anything. So good!

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This recipe isn’t a new one, but it’s a fave. Tarts seem fancy to me for some reason, but this one isn’t too complicated, I swear. The interesting details: you spread a layer of dijon mustard before layering in the tomatoes, goat cheese, herbs, and a drizzle of honey. The flavors are amazing together. You should try it!

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OK, no recipe for this one. I basically just made a mint julep, and since I had some strawberries on the verge of going bad, I muddled some in along with the mint. A nice combo!

So: what’s cookin’ for you this week?

MMMMonday (on a Tuesday)

Welcome to MMMMonday…on a Tuesday.

You see, what had happened was… Claire was sick yesterday, and while hanging out in the ER (no worries, just an infection, she’ll be ok), I tried to post my MMMMonday post from my WordPress phone app. And somehow all the pictures posted, but none of the text. What follows is my recreation of that text, though surely it was better the first time.

I didn’t actually cook much “new” stuff this week because I couldn’t be arsed to go to the grocery store. Which means I did a lot of pantry-staple cooking. My pantry stocking borders on Doomsday Prepper. I feel antsy if I don’t have plenty of dried pasta, rice, canned beans, canned tomatoes, coconut milk, onions, garlic, butter, and olive oil. Those ingredients plus odds and end vegetables can be combined to create veggie fried rice, pasta with simple red sauce, and black beans with coconut rice, all of which made an appearance on our table this week.

Eventually I made it to the Farmer’s Market and restocked us a bit, and I still managed to try a few new things I had pinned. Check it out:

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These lime bars from the A Beautiful Mess blog were delicious. Can’t wait to try the grapefruit version.
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I make a lot of hummus, but after finding some beautiful eggplants at the farmer’s market, I decided to try my hand at baba ghanouj. It’s a little more labor intensive than hummus, because you have to roast the eggplant, but it’s very tasty. I made homemade pitas to go with it, and even Etta was a big fan.
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I used some of the aforementioned farmer’s market eggplants along with local squash and zucchini to make a gorgeous layered ratatouille, which I served over whole wheat pearl couscous alongside some leftover local hanger steak from a cookout with friends. A very tasty way to eat some of the summer’s best veggies. Would be delicious with a poached egg or some goat cheese on top.
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I wanted something special to serve with my odds-and-ends veggie fried rice, and was inspired by this salmon recipe. For my version, I just brushed some thawed frozen salmon with a beaten egg, sprinkled with salt and pepper, covered in black sesame seeds, and baked for about 15 minutes at 400. It was flavorful and had a nice crunch!

What about you? Tried any recipes (or other projects) from Pinterest lately? Have any pantry-staple recipes you use when you need to grocery shop to share? What ARE your pantry staples?

MMMMonday

I’d say I’m addicted to Pinterest, but that would imply a problem. Really, Pinterest is a big solution for me. I used to have folders upon folders of bookmarked recipes, but I only ever used less than half of the saved sites, because scrolling through filenames isn’t very inspiring or appetizing. Pinterest has changed all that, because I can scroll through pictures instead of filenames. I have 17 food-related pinboards alone, each representing a “genre” of food, like “TexMex/Mexican/Latin,” “Pasta,” and “Breakfast.” I usually loosely plan menus weekly, which for me means picking out 4-5 dinner recipes, a lunch or two, some sort of snack, and maybe a special cocktail or popsicle recipe. I’ll sit down in front of my computer, open up my boards, and pick say, one “Pasta,” one “TexMex,” one “Asian/Middle Eastern” and one “Vegetarian” dinner, scrolling through the pictures to see what looks tasty to me. Then I’ll pick one or two recipes from “Salads and Sides” to have for my lunches, and something from “Appetizers and Snacks” to munch throughout the week. My husband isn’t home for dinner one or two nights a week, and on those nights I eat leftovers, and we usually go out at least once a week. I usually don’t eat breakfast, or if I do, I make some sort of scrambled eggs or a homemade Egg McMuffin.

Many criticize Pinterest for being all inspiration, but very little action. While I do have some purely aspirational Pinboards (I mean, I don’t wear most of the outfits I pin), most of my food-related pins are actually in the queue to try someday soon. I thought it might be fun to actually share the things I cook from my pinboards, and give you the links and let you know how things turned out. I’m calling this feature MMMMonday.

Here’s what I’ve tried recently:

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This salad served as my lunch a couple of times this week. I made a few changes to the recipe, namely leaving out the peanuts, adding sesame seeds, and adding a couple of tablespoons of sesame oil to the dressing. Next time I might cut down the dressing a little bit, as the salad was slightly swimming. I’ll definitely be making it again.

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I wanted to make a special meal to mark my husband’s first day in his new job, so I turned to classic Southern cuisine. The fried chicken is a recipe from one of my favorite Charleston restaurants, The Glass Onion, and even though it only sat in the buttermilk brine for a few hours instead of overnight, it was still flavorful and juicy. The okra was inspired by this recipe, except I sliced it, tossed it with olive oil, cornmeal, and Cavender’s Greek Seasoning before roasting. A flavorful, healthier alternative to full on fried okra. The tomato salad was served with a Southern Living recipe for a cucumber basil ranch-type dressing, which was a definite keeper. I even ate the cucumbers in the dressing by themselves for a snack later. Omitting the cucumbers altogether would yield a tasty dressing for other salads, too.

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This green hummus is a super healthy snack, chock full of protein-filled chickpeas and nutrient-rich greens like arugula, spinach, and cilantro. I didn’t change a thing about the recipe, and even Etta loved it smeared on a tortilla. I prefer to dip veggies, myself.

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This dinner was inspired by a sausage and spinach stuffed shells recipe. When my grocery store didn’t have shells, I decided to turn it into manicotti. My changes were adding a little tomato sauce poured over the manicotti before topping with shredded mozzarella and parmesan cheese.

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This meal was amazing. I followed the instructions to bake my squash instead of frying it, and it was still crispy and delicious. For the salsa, I used a whole jalapeno, added more cilantro than called for, and added a diced sweet pepper. I also don’t think charring the corn really added all that much to the taste, and would think canned or thawed frozen corn would serve just as well. Another thought: if you don’t want to use panko crumbs, cracker crumbs would be a good substitute. I served the tacos with black beans cooked from dried beans in the crock pot for the first time, which was so easy and cheap, I’ll be ditching my canned beans habit very soon! In the future, I may use this panko-crusted oven-frying method to make veggie “fries,” while playing around with seasonings.

No Pinterest Fails this week! What about you? Have you tried anything you saw on Pinterest lately? How did it turn out?

Bourbon Blackberry Cobbler (with cornmeal crust!)

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Last night I wanted to make an extra special dinner to celebrate my husband’s first shift in his new job. While I often joke that my Colorado mountain man had to marry a Southern girl for the cookin’, the truth is, I didn’t cook that much until about a year after our marriage. Since then it’s become a major hobby, and I can now improvise my own recipes, which is super fun, like my own imaginary iron chef challenge. I improvised this cobbler recipe based on several recipes that I know and love, and it would work well with peaches or mixed berries, too. Bourbon and peach are actually a favorite flavor combo of mine– one I use in my famous summer boozy popsicles. Feel free to skip the bourbon portion of the recipe altogether, if booze isn’t your thing, but do know that it’s really just a warm, sweet accent to the warm, sweet fruit, not a boozy punch in the mouth.

Bourbon Blackberry Cobbler (with cornmeal crust!)

Filling:

  • 2 qts Blackberries (or fruit of your choice)
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup bourbon
  • 2 T cornstarch
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 4 T butter

Crust:

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 T sugar
  • 9 T (one stick plus one tablespoon) butter, very cold
  • Several tablespoons ice water

Preheat oven to 425.

To make the filling, combine all ingredients but the butter in a large bowl and toss to coat evenly. Set aside.

To make the crust, using a food processor, pulse together flour, cornmeal, salt, and sugar. Then add the pats of butter and pulse until the butter pieces are pea-sized. Then drizzle the ice water through the spout of the processor while pulsing until the dough begins to form a ball. I tend to overdo it with the water because I’m scared the dough won’t hold together, so I find it works better to pulse a few times in between drizzles to give it a chance to really mix.

Now, here you have an option. Some folks might like this more like a pie, with a bottom crust, rolled out and folded over. If you want to roll out your crust, form dough into a disc and refrigerate for 30 minutes or more before rolling out on a floured surface to 1/4 in. thickness, draping over a 2-qt pie pan or baking dish, filling with the fruit mixture which is then topped with the reserved 4 tablespoons of butter, and then folding over the edges of the crust over top of the fruit.

Other folks (ahem, yours truly) prefer the quickest route to Cobbler Town. What I do is pour my fruit mixture into my baking dish (I used a square Pyrex, but sometimes I do individual mini cobblers in ramekins), topping it with the butter, and then taking handfuls of my dough, flattening them with my hands to about 1/4 in. thickness, and cobbling together a crust to cover the filling. No refrigerating the dough necessary.

Whichever crust method you choose, place the now full of cobbler baking dish on a cookie sheet to catch any overflow, and bake at 425 until bubbling and golden brown, 45 minutes or so. Serve warm with ice cream on top.

 

Is Michael Pollan a sexist pig? Uh, no.

IMG_1935Wow. What a question. But it’s been a Salon headline, thanks to an excerpt from a new book about Femivores, and as a result, has been re-blogged in several places. And now I’m asking too. Only I’m also going to answer the question.

NO.

I’m a feminist, I bake my own bread, and oh hey look, I dealt with all of this stuff in a post back in 2010.

To recap, what I said then is true now: yes, it’s sexist and inaccurate when food writers express nostalgia for a Good Old Days that never existed. As Emily Matchar makes clear in the excerpt of her book that Salon posted, and as is clear to anyone who watches Mad Men, it’s simply not true that our grandmothers ate better, more wholesome food than we did. My grandmother’s most famous recipe involves a jar of Cheese Wiz, for example. You’d have to go back to my great grandmother on the farm to get to something close to “slow food,” and then you’d also have to consider that she was living a life of drudgery during the Great Depression with many many mouths to feed. So yes, it’s absolutely a valid criticism of folks like Michael Pollan to ask that they please lay off the pre-feminist nostalgia.

It’s also one thing to note that feminism led many women out of the kitchen and into the workplace, and another to blame all our current food woes on that fact. Sometimes, it has seemed that Pollan has done this, but in a rather large body of writing I must charitably point out that overall, I do not get the feeling that he’s truly a sexist who thinks cooking is women’s work, as he himself is a man who cooks. Still, we need to consider that the lack of home cooking in this country might be precisely because FEMINISM ISN’T FINISHED YET, and true equality would have as many men getting into cooking as women getting out of it.

This brings me to my frustration with the “Is Michael Pollan a sexist pig” chapter/article heading. It’s like Jay Smooth’s awesome video about racism: you need to keep the conversation about what the person said/did, rather than on who/what they are as a person. Absolutely Michael Pollan has written some sexist things. But calling him, as a person, a sexist pig, even in a semi-joking headline, really goes too far, especially when there are so many actual sexist pigs out there not doing good work and fighting the good fight, save for a few statements.

I guess, as a bread-baking, yogurt-making, pastured-egg eating, feminist, stay at home mom, I wonder what people think is exactly the problem in this movement, one in which people who have other options are choosing something based upon important values and beliefs. I don’t want to fall too far into the choice feminist camp, because I believe even feminists can make problematic choices, and that the personal is political, and the choices we make perpetuate a system larger than ourselves, etc. etc. etc. BUT. There are a lot of us, women and men, for whom food and other seemingly small choices are deeply important, even spiritual. We may find joy in a system of farming, cooking, and eating that is healthier for ourselves, for the workers who make/grow/produce our food, and for the planet.

Matchar writes, “As should be obvious to anyone who’s peeked at a cookbook from the late 1940s or early 1950s that promotes ingredients like sliced hot dogs and canned tomato soup, we’ve been eating processed crap since long before feminism. Yet the idea of the feminist abandoning her children to TV dinners while she rushes off to a consciousness-raising group is unshakable.”

But in a way, Matchar seems to echo this early criticism of feminists, and seems to think we’re choosing these domestic pursuits to the exclusion of other, worthier causes:

“Many smart, educated, progressive-minded people, people who in other eras would have been marching for abortion rights or against apartheid, are now immersed in grassroots food organizing, planting community gardens and turning their own homes into minifarms complete with chicken coops.”

But you know, we’re the people who have time to show up to the pro-choice rally with homemade muffins in tow. It’s like when you show interest in supporting a charity for say, animal welfare, and someone reminds you that there are starving people in the world who matter more. Well, it’s amazing how boundless my interests and passions can be. I can care deeply about the food I feed myself and my family and also about social justice and politics. And I can be part of a slow food movement while still recognizing that it has major problems with privilege, a lot of the time.

And you know, I have a feeling Matchar feels the same way, too. She mentions in her piece that she’s “been learning to can jam, bake bread from scratch in my Dutch oven (though my husband is better at it), and make my own tomato sauce from a bushel of ugly tomatoes I bought at the farmer’s market.” It’s entirely possible her book reflects my tone of largely admiration for the work of slow-foodies while also seeing a few shortcomings. It’s just unfortunate that she (or an editor?) are (even jokingly) calling one of the “good guys” a “sexist pig” in order to sell a few more copies.

Feeding Miss Etta

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I’ve posted a little bit about feeding my girls, but after a few comments on Twitter and Instagram about Miss Etta’s eating habits, I thought it might be helpful to go ahead and write a more detailed post about my semi-Baby Led Weaning table-food-eating one year old.

We started introducing solids in the form of purees around 6 months, but from the start, Etta wanted little to do with being spoon fed. She likes to do things by and for herself, and the whole thing was largely a very messy battle with her wanting to control the spoon, and very little food winding up in her mouth. By about 9 months, she was still mostly not eating food, so we decided to try “Baby Led Weaning,” which I had mostly heard of on mama message boards. Basically, Baby Led Weaning is giving kids pieces of food that they can feed themselves. I never read the books on the subject, but there are many, as well as websites, so feel free to seek that stuff out. We just started giving her steamed hunks of sweet potato and carrot, about adult finger sized, and from there eventually wound up graduating to just feeding her foods.

These days, my entire fridge is full of little tupperwares of Etta meal components. Then her meals are basically just multiple choice problems. Breakfast is usually fruit+grain+dairy, and lunch and dinner are protein+veggies+grain, with an occasional dairy item thrown in.

Fruits:

  • No sugar added applesauce (the only ingredients are apples and apple juice, but I may start adding cinnamon to give her some flavor), served in a Yummi Pouch.
  • I buy canned/jarred fruit a lot, and either give it to her to feed herself in chunks, or puree it in my Ninja Blender and serve it to her in a Yummi Pouch, often adding oatmeal baby cereal to it. We like peaches, pears, pineapple, and mixed tropical fruit in juice (not syrup).
  • Fresh fruits like pears, sliced into wedges she can hold and gnaw on. Hunks of banana or mango, sliced berries, and clementine segments have also gone over well. I’ve even bought frozen berries, thawed, and served them to her, though they were a huge mess. In the future, I may restrict berries to purees in the Yummi Pouch so she looks less like an extra from a zombie flick.

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Grains/starches:

  • We are big fans of toast+spreads, both for breakfast and dinner. Toast is usually a halved multigrain English muffin or multigrain bread. Spreads include guacamole, butter, hummus, jam, pumpkin butter, tahini, almond, and peanut butter. I cut the toast into strips of about adult finger size, and she goes to town. 
  • Tortillas, spread with any of the above spreads, or as a cheese quesadilla.
  • Earth’s Best baby crackers or graham crackers
  • Veggie pastas, like the kind with spinach and tomato in it, either plain or tossed in some simple tomato sauce (this is messy). Bowties and Penne seem easy to hold.
  • Spinach and cheese raviolis, cooked and cut into quarters.
  • Rice
  • Mashed potatoes, though this is a messy proposition and usually necessitates a bath as she smears it in her hair.
  • Roasted potatoes.
  • The occasional French fry.

Proteins:

  • BEANS! Etta loves beans. I buy organic canned beans (I admit, I’m not stressing about BPA in canned foods at this point, though I buy BPA free items whenever possible), and she likes kidney, pinto, black, and garbanzo beans. I just rinse them and keep them in a container in the fridge. She gets a handful at a time. Hummus on toast, as mentioned above, also counts as a serving of beans. Warning: you will see the bean peels when you change a poopy diaper. Do not be alarmed!
  • Cooked chicken, shredded or cubed. She usually only gets this if we’re having chicken for dinner.
  • Fish. So far she’s just had salmon when we were having it for dinner, but she was a fan. She loves flavorful stuff.
  • Scrambled tofu. She loved scrambled eggs until we had a pretty strong allergic reaction, and she likes scrambled tofu almost as much, particularly flavored up with chili powder and cheese.

Veggies:

  • Frozen mixed veggies have been a staple. They’re easy to steam in the microwave and store in a tupperware, and she gets to try a large variety. I often add butter or olive oil and some sort of spices or herbs, because I’ve discovered through serving her bits of our meals that she really loves flavor. Peas, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, zucchini, squash, butternut squash, edamame, and lima beans are all easy to get in the freezer section.
  • Sauteed, steamed, ora roasted fresh veggies are great too– whatever we’re having for dinner, she often gets some. Zucchini seems to be a fave.
  • Halved cherry tomatoes. She loves these. The acidity often irritates the skin on her face and hands though, so I can’t give them to her as often as she’d like. She noms all the goodness out and spits out the peels.
  • Weird stuff, like hearts of palm from a salad we had, are always fun for her to try, and she often ends up loving them.

Dairy:

  • YOGURT. I make homemade yogurt, and she eats it in a Yummi Pouch.
  • Cheese. Cubed cheddar, jack, or mozzarella are easy, as is pre-crumbled goat cheese and feta. She loves them all.

When I have several of the above components, meals just become a simple matter of pulling out the containers and giving her a little of each category. Any time I don’t think she’s eaten a lot of the food, I give her a pouch of yogurt or apple sauce to round out the meal and fill her up. So far, she’s pretty willing to try just about anything, and she’s not very picky. I will be sure to update with a new post once we’re further into toddlerhood!

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homemade yogurt: one step closer to hippiedom

I know blogging’s been sparse around here lately. I fell off the vegan wagon and the blogging wagon at about the same time. It’s a good thing though: I’m studying feverishly to try and pass the last step between me and an MA in English Literature: the dreaded comps exam. So, expect blogging to resume something resembling regularity sometime after the first week of April, at which point I’m sure I’ll have cute Bufflo Gals’ 1st Birthday photos.

Meanwhile, I’ve got a new routine going in my kitchen, and it involves living organisms.

No, I’m not raising goats or something out in our rented back yard. I started making my own yogurt and now I don’t even know who I am anymore. I distinctly remember a friend saying she made her own yogurt one time, and thinking to myself, “that’s nutty. Just buy the yogurt, ya weirdo.”

But then I got my almost-one-year-olds off formula, discovered they love whole milk, and discovered further that they REALLY REALLY love whole milk yogurt. And that YoBaby shiz ain’t cheap.

Yogurt faces.
Yogurt faces.

Another problem: though Claire loves to be spoon fed (she lives on purees, after all), Little Miss Feeds Herself wants no part of me lovingly spooning yogurt into her mouth. If I let her try to spoon feed herself, every end but the end with the yogurt gets in her mouth, and it’s an epic mess. If I try to feed her myself, it’s an insane battle of waving arms and yelling at me as she tries to grab the spoon while I’m trying to stick it in her mouth. About every 5th bite gets in there, which is nuts.

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So, to solve the “my kids eat 8-16 oz of yogurt per day” problem and the Etta loves yogurt but eating it with her hands is difficult problem, I have discovered two solutions.

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The first, as I mentioned before, is making my own yogurt. I basically follow this process from Annie’s Eats. I heat half a gallon of milk to 180 degrees to denature the proteins in it (which is apparently important). Then, I pour it into a Pyrex glass bowl and cool it to between 110 and 120 degrees. Then I add a couple of tablespoons of yogurt (at this point, I use the last bit of my homemade yogurt, but my first batch used plain Stonyfield Farm whole milk yogurt), and stir. Then, I preheat my oven for one minute (which gets it to about 120 degrees) turn it off, and turn on the light. Meanwhile I put a lid on the Pyrex and swaddle the whole thing with a few kitchen towels.

I leave the Pyrex in the oven with the light on overnight, for about 12 hours. In the morning, when I wake up, I go in, take off the lid, and it’s yogurt. Well, yogurt swimming in whey. So, I line a colander with either a couple layers of cheesecloth or a thin dishtowel like a flour sack towel, and set it in a bowl (you could just do the sink, but I’m saving the whey because I’m crazy and want to try making whey ricotta cheese), and strain the yogurt until it’s nice and thick and creamy. Half a gallon of milk left overnight yields 1.5 quarts of yogurt and 2 cups of whey. Scraping it off the towel with a spatula is really as tough as the work gets here.

What the yogurt looks like when I take it out in the morning, pre-straining.
What the yogurt looks like when I take it out in the morning, pre-straining.
Straining yogurt through a colander lined with a flour sack towel.
Straining yogurt through a colander lined with a flour sack towel.
Resultant strained yogurt and whey.
Resultant strained yogurt and whey.

Taste-wise, the homemade yogurt is just as good as the plain whole milk yogurt I was buying. It works great as a sour cream substitute, too. To serve it to the girls, I usually mix it with some pureed fruit and some oatmeal baby cereal so they get a complete breakfast. For snacks or when they need a little something after dinner, I just stir in a smidge of agave syrup for sweetness (because they can’t have honey yet).

This brings me to: how do I get the yogurt into the girl who won’t be spoon fed?

I had seen on Pinterest some reusable baby food pouches that are basically the same as those Plum baby food pouches, except the spout is on the side and the top is like a Ziploc bag. So, after searching on Amazon and reading some reviews, I decided to go with the Yummi Pouch (consider this a mini-review, I guess) because they were cheaper than the Little Green Pouch, which I was also considering. They are awesome, y’all. I just fill them with 4 oz. of yogurt, zip up the top, hand it to Etta, and she knows exactly how to hold it and suck the yogurt out of the spout, a feat she figured out within seconds of having the first drops squeezed onto her tongue and realizing that sweet yogurty goodness was inside that thing.

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The Yummi Pouches claim to be dishwasher safe, but I’m not sure I trust my dishwasher to hold it open enough to get clean. So, I’ve been washing them by hand using a bottle brush, and drying them on my bottle rack. Works fine. One tip I did read in one of the reviews: the lids are easy to lose, but are the same diameter as the disposable baby food pouches, so if you use those, just save the lids in case you lose the lids to your pouches. I’ve tried the lids from a GoGoSqueez applesauce pouch and they worked just fine!

Overall, my newfound yogurt-making hobby is saving me money– a 32 oz. container of Stonyfield Farm plain whole milk yogurt costs me $4ish, while an entire gallon of milk, which yields 64 oz. of yogurt, costs the same. So the homemade is literally half the price, with none of the trash of the packaging. And since I also mix it with fruit purees, we can compare the cost to the YoBaby yogurt, which would be almost $11 for the amount a gallon of milk yields in homemade yogurt! Maybe I’m not as crazy as I once thought my yogurt-making friend was!

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