I’ve had several friends and blog readers ask about how we approached solid food with Shiv. I am no expert, just a mama who loves to cook, but I am more than happy to share what we did when introducing our little boy to the wonderful world of eating!
First, we waited until six months to introduce any solids. You can start as early as four months, but our instinct (and our pediatrician’s advice) was to wait. By the time we fed him his first solids, he was definitely ready to go; he had already shown interest in food that we were eating, and would move his mouth in imitation when he saw us chew.
Second, we didn’t start with rice cereal; I just couldn’t get excited about my son’s first taste of solid food being something so bland. Our pediatrician confirmed that it was totally fine to start with something else—in fact, most non-American parents do—and so we chose sweet potatoes, grown by our dear friends Sharon and Greg, for the little man’s first meal. I roasted them in the oven, removed the skins, and pureed the pulp with a little bit of breast milk. He loved ‘em.
From there, we created a kind of hybrid approach that combined traditional spoon-feeding with baby led weaning. I had read about and was intrigued by baby-led weaning (BLW) and totally respected and resonated with their end goal: baby feeds him/her self, and eats what you eat. But I didn’t feel comfortable starting with BLW whole-hog, especially because Shiv’s hand-eye coordination and pincer grasp were still developing. So, we got to that same end goal we just went about it in a slightly different way! I’ve tried to outline as clearly as possible what we did.
Our pediatrician had assured us that, at this stage of a baby’s life, they were still getting their primary nutrition from breast milk/formula, so eating solids, for them, was about exploring flavors and texture. For this reason, we integrated solids into Shiv’s routine gradually; at first, offering solids at just one or two feedings a day (out of four). Sometimes, he wanted to eat a lot, sometimes he wasn’t as interested, but we didn’t stress about it. We wanted the experience of him eating to be fun for him and for us, so we let him self-regulate and trusted that his interest would grow naturally, which it did.
We stuck to vegetables for two weeks before introducing fruit; I wanted Shiv to develop a taste and appreciation for veggies before his palate encountered lots of sweet! Every two or three days, we would introduce something new: peas, cauliflower, avocado, carrots, broccoli, butternut squash, and beets. Once it was clear he was having no adverse reactions, a vegetable stayed in the rotation, and so we started mixing them together. For example, we knew that broccoli made him gassy (it was the only food I avoided while breast-feeding), so we introduced it after the other veggies, so we could mix it with, say, butternut squash or sweet potato. At this point, we did feed Shiv rice cereal (which I made from scratch, but was kind of a pain in the ass to do), but only mixed in with vegetables, never on its own.
Though we were still spoon-feeding at this point, I began to play with the texture of Shiv’s baby food pretty early on: thickening the purees by adding less breast milk or some rice cereal, stopping the pureeing process before foods were completely smooth, and even feeding him things like roasted beets chopped very finely.
Eating solids quickly became a social activity for Shiv, as it is for most of us. He made it clear that he wanted to eat when we were eating; rather, he didn’t want to be around people who were eating if HE didn’t get to eat, which makes total sense. This worked really well for us because his feeding times had already been established at 7:00 a.m., 11:00 a.m., 3:00 p.m., and 7:00 p.m., times pretty similar to when we eat breakfast, lunch, snack, and dinner. At breakfast, he usually took his bottle first, but at other times of the day, he would eat solids beforehand.
After two weeks of vegetables and rice cereal, Shiv had his first fruit. It wasn’t a puree, though; it was a small piece of Jill’s morning banana. One of the things we have learned, both through reading and personal experience, is how far baby saliva + teeth-less gums can go toward breaking down small pieces of food! Though we didn’t remove purees right away we did start phasing them out in favor of Shiv-appropriate versions of our food: steamed broccoli & rice cooked in chicken broth, chunky homemade applesauce, small pieces of bread or crackers that he would suck on, then gum, then swallow.
Really, we proceeded by observing him and following his lead. When he showed interest in the apple I was eating, I just bit off tiny pieces for him to have. Sometimes, I would just let him gum on the apple after I had eaten into it. He also enjoyed eating wedges of juicy pear placed inside these little mesh bags; melon and other juicy fruits would have worked well, too, but it was wintertime here!
OPENING THE FLOODGATES:
At this point in the process (3 weeks after his very first solid food), we saw our pediatrician for a check-up, and these were the only restrictions she set:
Wait until 9 months—eggs
Wait until 12 months—cow’s milk, honey, peanuts, & shellfish
Other than that, it was “game on” for things like meat/fish, beans/legumes, yogurt made with whole milk, etc. Essentially, Shiv began to eat what we ate, and we basically stopped making special food for him. I would—and still do—separate out a small portion of food for him before adding something like red pepper flakes, but I did not hold back on non-heat and spices or herbs; I cooked as I normally would. Shiv’s first protein was sockeye salmon that we poached gently & flaked off; he began devouring my mom’s homemade Indian food, from daal to tiny homemade dosas dipped in coconut chutney. He ate LOTS of yogurt, sometimes plain and sometimes with a little homemade fruit puree (usually blueberry) mixed in.
We’ve given him goat’s milk cheese but tried to avoid large quantities of cow’s milk cheese; we’ve avoided peanuts but not hyper-manically (and he’s had all kinds of other nuts); he’s eaten things cooked with butter and he had plenty of things made with eggs before the nine-month mark when we gave him his first plain egg—poached and served on buttered toast–which you see him eating here .
Note: the medical background information we have for Shiv’s birth mother doesn’t indicate any history of food allergies; if it had, we probably would have been advised to proceed differently by our pediatrician. At the same time, we know nothing about his birth father’s medical history, so we could have run into issues, but luckily we haven’t yet.
Our little boy loves to eat. He hasn’t rejected a single thing we’ve given him, though he does show preferences. Apparently, he IS related to Jill, because he’s a tiny carnivore who loves all kinds of meat, though he’ll happily down piece after piece of sautéed zucchini or Swiss chard. He seems to favor savory over sweet, though he does have a definite thing for strawberries. Bone marrow, medium-rare ribeye, Thai food, guacamole, polenta, pancakes, bacon—this kid’ll eat it.
Only in the last month or so has Shiv really developed the facility and desire to feed himself; before that, we were feeding him off our plates with our fingers or his baby spoon. Now, we make him his own little plate and set a couple of “finger food” sized pieces in front of him, which he grabs and gets into his mouth. Two pieces of equipment have proven invaluable during this stage of the process: the baby Bjorn bib and our Stokke Trip Trapp highchair. I’m not being paid to endorse either product, we just really love them both. The bib has a pocket that “catches” food that doesn’t quite make it to his mouth, and the Trip Trapp slides straight up to kitchen table, so he is right there with us when we eat. (The chair is expensive, I know; what’s cool about it is that it stays with baby as baby grows, converting into a booster seat and even eventually an adult chair, so that he can someday take it to college or have it in his first apartment.)
There’s no way of knowing whether Shiv would have been naturally adventurous on his own—I have no idea how much credit we can take for developing his palate, but I am really thrilled with the results, however we got here. We’ve spent $0 on commercial baby food, and we don’t have to worry or wonder what to cook for or feed him—we just plan our meals the way we normally would. This also makes traveling with him, whether to someone else’s house or on a vacation, much simpler; I know we will be able to find food for him no matter where we go.
There are a few things I like to keep in his diaper bag, just for emergencies/convenience’s sake: banana-flavored Baby Mum-Mums (I think they’re so weird, but he loves holding and eating them), Cheerios/their organic equivalent, and dried prunes (these are great if you are traveling and baby gets constipated).
When it comes to liquids, we’ve been pretty strict. Other than his bottle, he drinks water. We tried a sippy cup when he initially began eating solids, but he ended up preferring small sips of water from a regular cup, and now sucks from a straw as well. Next project: eating with a spoon!
This, of course, is what worked for us and our baby; by no means is our way the only or best way to do things. Still, it has been—and continues to be—so much fun to cook for and eat with this little guy, and I look forward to the day when he helps cook his own meals (and not just chew on the spatula) .
NOTES ON MAKING BABY FOOD:
I already had a food processor, and loved using it for baby-food making, but you could also use a blender or immersion blender. As someone who hates gadgets that only serve one purpose, let me emphatically say, you do not need some special “baby food maker.” That’s ridiculous. Save your money.
The only special piece of “equipment” I bought were these ice cube trays that come with lids (bonus: they are made in America & are perfect for freezing other things once you’re done with baby food!). They were really handy for making large batches of baby food ahead of time and freezing half, so that we could rotate fruits/veggies. The lid prevents freezer burn and flavor transfer; once the cubes are frozen solid, store in a Ziploc bag. That way, you can thaw just a few at a time.
There are TONS of resources online about making your own baby food/ideas for introducing texture, etc.. Here are some of my favorites:
Getting Started with Solids, Purees, & Baby-Led Weaning (really comprehensive guide by HelloBee)
Wholesome Baby Food (recipes by stages)
Designed to Nourish (recipes by stages)
Cooking for Clara (ongoing series on Food52)
What a damn week it’s been.
As a middle school teacher, I hear a lot of bullshit about “kids these days.” You know: they’re so lazy, they’re so entitled, they’re addicted to their phones, they’re ignorant, they lack the most basic kinds of skills, they always want the easy answer.
These things may be true, at least to some extent, in regards to some kids—but when I look at the way the Boston Marathon bombing played out this week, it wasn’t kids who were guilty of those things. It was grownups.
I want so many things for my students, and in this world in which they are coming up, I most especially want them to be able to think for themselves. I want them to be thoughtful consumers of media. I want them to question; I want them to know what it means to have a reliable source. I want them to understand the dangers of jumping to conclusions, of lumping people into categories, of not bothering to do the research so you mistake one country for another.
There is always danger, but there is also, always, beauty. Alongside the speculation and false reports came symbols of defiance and stories of courage; though there were many who reported or tweeted or posted things before checking to see that they were true, there were also many who spoke as voices of reason, who reminded us of how we do things around here, of what gives us the right to sing our national anthem so proudly.
It’s a question, you know, that last line—“O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave / O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?” It’s not a statement.
I discussed this with my kids on Friday. When people talk about this line, they usually refer back to the fact that Francis Scott Key was literally looking to see if the American flag was still flying over Ft. McHenry during the War of 1812. And ever since then, we still look for the physical presence of our flag for reassurance, whether it be that famous photograph taken on Mt. Suribachi at the end of the Battle of Iwo Jima or the raising of the flag post-9/11 by firefighters standing amidst rubble.
It means something to us when our flag flies, or when it flies at half-mast. It is a reflection of us, of our spirit, or zeitgeist. And when we ask if that star-spangled banner yet waves, we are not simply asking about a piece of fabric; we are asking if we will remain committed to being who we have said that we will be. We are reminding ourselves and each other to stay true to who we are: the land of the free and the home of the brave.
OSSO BUCO MILANESE WITH SAFFRON ORZO
recipe slightly adapted from Mario Batali via Food & Wine
Osso buco is traditionally made with veal, but we used pork shanks the local meat share we receive once a month from Jolie Vue Farms. We love our Jolie Vue share for many reasons, but one that I didn’t anticipate when signing up was the way it’s made me a better cook. Instead of starting with a recipe and going out to buy what I need, I receive different cuts of pork, beef, & chicken each month, and learn to make meals around them. I’ve learned to cook and enjoy things that I never would have otherwise, including osso buco.
This is an involved dish (more time-consuming than anything else), but the results are pretty stunning. Braised dishes are great for company, because once you put it in the oven, you’re pretty much done. Just plan to budget at least 3 hours from the start of your prep to actual serving time (a bit longer if you plan to make your own tomato sauce).
If you plan to make saffron orzo to go alongside, wait until your meat is completely cooked, then remove it from the oven and leave it covered while you cook the orzo. That way, everything will be nice and hot—but not too hot—and ready to serve at once. Top the osso buco with the gremolata just before serving, and don’t skip it! The texture from the pine nuts and flavor of both the lemon zest and parsley add so much to the overall taste. As you can see, even the smallest member of our household was a fan.
for the tomato sauce:
This recipe makes more than the two cups called for in the osso buco recipe, but there are many, many things you can do with the leftovers: make pasta or pizza with it, poach eggs in it for breakfast, gift it in a mason jar to your neighbor, etc.
¼ cup olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
¼ cup finely shredded carrot
1 T finely chopped thyme
Two 28-oz. cans whole peeled tomatoes with their juices
Heat oil in a large saucepan until shimmering. Add onion and garlic and cook over medium heat until softened and just starting to brown, stirring occasionally. Add carrot and thyme and cook, stirring, for another five minutes.
Pour in the tomatoes, along with their juices, and break them up with back of your spoon. Bring the mixture to a boil, then turn the heat down to medium-low and simmer until thickened and reduced in volume, about thirty minutes. Season with salt.
for the meat:
2 ½-3 lb meaty pork shanks cut into 3”-thick pieces
salt & pepper
¼ cup olive oil
Preheat the oven to 375°.
Prep the shanks by drying them thoroughly with paper towels, seasoning both sides generously with salt and pepper, and dusting all over with a light coating of flour. Heat the olive oil in a large enameled cast-iron casserole until shimmering. Add the shanks and cook over medium-high heat, turning to brown on all sides. You want them to get a nice, dark sear, so this step should take 10-15 minutes.
Once browned, transfer the shanks to a plate.
for the braise:
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, sliced ¼ inch thick
1 celery rib, sliced ¼ inch thick
2 T chopped, fresh thyme
2 cups dry white wine
2 cups tomato sauce (use jarred or see below)
2 cups chicken stock
salt & pepper
My shanks didn’t yield an overly large amount of fat, but you can spoon some out of your casserole if you’ve got more than a few tablespoons. Cook the onion, carrot, celery, and thyme over medium heat, stirring, until softened. Add the wine and bring the mixture up to a boil, scraping the bottom of the casserole to remove any fond (a.k.a tasty brown bits).
Simmer until the wine has reduced by half, then add the tomato sauce and chicken stock and once again bring to a boil. Place the shanks back in the casserole, plonk on the lid, and slide the whole thing into the oven.
Braise for between 2-2/12 hours, until the meat is very tender and easily falls away from the bone when pressed with a fork. Once it’s ready, remove it from the oven but keep it covered while you make the orzo (see below) and gremolata.
for the gremolata:
¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley, minced
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
Toss the above and sprinkle over the osso buco just before serving.
for the saffron orzo:
2 cups chicken stock
1 ½ cups orzo
generous pinch of saffron threads
1 T olive oil
Heat the stock in a heavy-bottomed pot until it’s too hot for your finger. Remove from heat and add the saffron, letting the mixture steep for about five minutes. Return the pot to the heat and bring up to a boil again, then add the orzo.
Stir occasionally until all of the liquid has been absorbed, about 7-8 minutes. Remove from the heat, drizzle with olive oil, and serve.
We went to Oregon, to take the little boy on his first plane ride, and to see our dear, dear friends Courtney and John. Traveling between Portland, Eugene, and Pacific City and reveling in the northwest’s spring and the company of folks we love so much did my soul much good. I wish I had taken more pictures, of crocuses, daffodils, cherry blossoms, of all the good meals and the glorious shelves at Powell’s, of every texture, from the charming, windswept ocean-side to the snow-capped peak of Mt. Hood, but I was too busy soaking it all in to stop.
There was cooking and much good talk, and there was the ocean, and a baby who learned how to crawl (!). There were long hours reading in a sunny chair, and there was lots of coffee and an overly-ambitious puzzle, and absolutely no schoolwork of any kind. There were sunset walks and big breakfasts and naps and dyed eggs for Easter. And then there was a very exciting email informing us that we had secured a court appointment with a San Antonio judge who was gay-and-lesbian friendly and willing to finalize our adoption.
So, just a few days after flying home, we drove to the Bexar County Courthouse and stood in the judge’s chambers on a Friday morning and became Shiv’s legal parents for ever and ever, raising our right hands and promising to love and care for our son for the rest of our lives. It was the very first time our relationship has ever been acknowledged in any legal way.
Without getting into the nitty-gritty details, I will say that up to that point, we had encountered some resistance and difficulty in securing legal status for our family. While we are lucky that our state does not ban same-sex adoption outright (as some do), it does not necessarily make it easy, either. Ultimately, thankfully, with the help of our wonderful lawyer and the assistance of our adoption agency, it is all said and done.
I grew up with a set of fairly gentle circumstances when it came to the impact of my sexuality on my daily life. Yes, I’ve been called a “dyke.” No, I could not bring my girlfriend to my senior prom. Yes, my parents and I fought for many years, and I struggled with my identity and my sense of comfort in my own skin. But compared to what most before me—and some after me—have lived (or not lived) through, I know how tremendously lucky I am.
This adoption was really the first time I have felt the limits of what is available to me as an American in a same-sex relationship. Sure, I knew the laundry list of inequalities on paper: no federal protection against job discrimination, no legal status for partners as next-of-kin, inability to file taxes as a couple, inability to collect a partner’s Social Security, inability to take FMLA for a partner, and on and on. But that was abstract, on paper—annoying, but distant—things we had to work around.
But now that I have stood in a room with my love, with our son, and have tasted a sample of what many people take for granted every day—the ability to stand in front of a legal authority and show all of your cards, to not have to hide your personhood, your commitment, your love, or your family—it is no longer abstract. It’s my life, and the reality my son will grow up into. Jill and I are now legally related to Shiv, and it is my deep hope and intention that, before too long, he will be able to witness the moment when she and I stand in another courtroom and become legally related to each other as well.