postmodyrn Eats! : The Deceptive Simplicity of Feeding Your Baby
It’s been my experience, that as much of a food guru as you think you are, there are few food-related moments that are as humbling as attempting to feed your own kids. As a classically trained chef and nutrition consultant, I spend a decent amount of time thinking about ways to enhance the quality of our family meals by incorporating different textures into a dish, and building layers of flavor. My philosophy, regardless of who I’m cooking for, has always been to treat each individual component of a dish with respect, and incorporate quality items in a way that not only brings out their natural flavor profiles, but also that doesn’t alter the nutritional value too drastically. In other words, I try to choose high-quality, seasonal foods, and cook them as simply (and deliciously) as possible. When it comes to this kind of cooking, there are few things that can bring you back to the basics (and knock your ego down a few notches) quite like the process of making baby food and feeding a child.
Don’t let the simplicity of the process deceive you. When you’re tasked with feeding a six month old, you’re working with one ingredient at a time, looking to maximize natural flavor, nutrition, and presentation (usually songs are involved – it’s part of the experience!), knowing that your chances of complete failure are quite high. In many ways, it’s cooking at its simplest, its finest, and its most frustrating. That said, few experiences are more bonding — and more valuable — than feeding your child homemade food that will help them grow and thrive. Something I try to always keep in mind at feeding time, as things inevitably begin to unravel.
The experience of feeding a baby for the first time can be quite stressful, and requires a decent amount of patience, work, thought, and effort. The first day I fed Emilie solids (gently steamed sweet potatoes), she screamed the entire time and spat out about 95% of the food. Additionally, every time I would spoon the potatoes into her mouth (while singing songs, making silly faces, and telling all of my best jokes) she would frown and shake her head as if I were trying to poison her. I remember thinking, you love to suck on your own toes, and spend the majority of your waking hours trying to grab and eat my hair. How are mommy’s homemade sweet potatoes the worst thing you’ve put in your mouth?
To make matters worse, my older son was around, and adding his two cents to the moment. My husband and I had been working with Lucas on how to be respectful of others. So, basically trying to be aware of someone’s reaction to something you might say or do, and try to be considerate of other people’s feelings. This lesson was not lost on him as I’m trying to shovel food into Emilie’s screaming mouth. “Mommy, you’re not being RESPECTABLE right now,” was repeated approximately ninety times.
Oh, the joys of parenthood!
Again, just try to remember, the benefit of establishing good eating habits from the beginning is one of the most important things you can do for your baby. And while you’re in the kitchen, why not make something delicious and healthy for yourself. The 10-15 minutes it takes to steam or roast some fruits and veggies for baby is just the amount of time it takes to whip up this healthy, homemade pumpkin seed pesto that I like to make in large batches (it keeps well), and layer with some heirloom tomatoes which are just coming into season, fresh basil, and creamy burrata cheese after the kids have gone to sleep.
Aside from tasting really delicious, the ingredients in this dish have tremendous health properties. Pumpkin seeds are a great source of antioxidant and mineral support. They are a particularly rich source of the mineral zinc, which plays an important role in cell growth, wound healing, and the breakdown of carbohydrates. Also, pumpkin seeds are high in Vitamin E, but are unique in that they are one of the few seeds to offer this vitamin in a wide variety of forms. The heirloom tomatoes are a rich source of vitamins A and C, carotenes, and carotenoids, especially lycopene, a carotenoid believed to prevent against heart disease and cancer. As tomatoes redden, their carotenoid content increases. (Note: refrigerating tomatoes delays this process and destroys flavor, so keep your tomatoes on a shady counter.) Lemons are very high in Vitamin C, one of the most important antioxidants found in nature. Garlic provides anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antibacterial properties, and has been shown to combat heart disease and high blood pressure. Lastly, the antioxidants in olive oil help raise good cholesterol and lower bad cholesterol. The more peppery it tastes, the more of these polyphenols the oil contains.
Most importantly, this dish is light, seasonal, and presents beautifully whether you make it for company or just for yourself after a long day. Because some days you just need to have a glass of wine, eat some good food, and reclaim your sanity. (Just hold the sweet potatoes, please!) So, there you go. Cheers!
RECIPE: Heirloom Tomato, Burrata, and Pumpkin Seed Pesto Stacks
2 large heirloom tomatoes
1 ball of burrata cheese (fresh mozzarella could easily substitute)
½ cup roasted pumpkin seeds
1 large or 2 small garlic clove(s), minced
Juice and zest from 1 lemon
Approximately 1/3 cup olive oil, plus more to drizzle over finished stacks
2 handfuls fresh basil leaves
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper
- To make the pesto, combine the pumpkin seeds, garlic, lemon juice and zest, basil, olive oil, salt, and pepper in a mixer and blend until you are happy with the consistency. (I like mine quite thick, and pretty chunky) Taste and adjust the seasoning. In a bowl, fold in the grated parmesan cheese.
- Cut the heirloom tomatoes in thirds horizontally.
- Create your stacks by putting the bottom third of your tomato in the center of your plate. Season lightly with some salt and pepper, then add a few pieces of burrata. Top with some pesto, then repeat with the center slice of your tomato. Finish with the last slice of tomato on top.
- Garnish with any of the following: a drizzle of olive oil, a few pumpkin seeds, some chopped basil, lemon zest, and/or some fresh ground pepper.