Diwali always seems to come at the right time; I suppose this says something about the wisdom of ancient religious calendars and living in sync with the cycles of the moon. Initially, Diwali felt “early” to me this year–at least in part due to the unseasonably warm weather of Houston’s mid-October–the holiday did its job as always, serving as a point of reflection and an opportunity to regroup and start again.
For some time, I’ve gone back-and-forth about the viability of this blog; I post so infrequently these days, my life very different from when I began this project in 2009.
I am a parent now, of course. And for the past year-and-a-half, I’ve been intently focused on a book project, which will come to fruition next year. I still cook a lot, but the nature of that cooking has changed–gone are the days of elaborate, “just for the heck of it” recipes that require a trip to the specialty store for ingredients. Instead, I am all about the weekly meal plans, prepping weeknight dinners in advance, stocking the freezer with casserole, pastas, or enchiladas whenever I can. Most of my writing isn’t about food anymore.
At the same time, I know that many of my friends and acquaintances come to the blog to search for recipes, which makes me grin. In truth, I often cook out of my archives, too; I don’t want this site to go anywhere. I plan to maintain it, just not to update it anymore. This will be my last post.
I’m proud of this blog and forever grateful for all of the doors it opened for me, especially the connections and friendships I made because of it. But the time has come for something new, for transitioning into the next thing, scary and exciting as that is. I’ve got the very beginnings of a new website, which I intend to use as a platform to share not-necessarily-food-related writing and provide updates about the work I’m doing, including my new book and the occasional writing course. I’ll be posting about the first course in the coming week, so, if you’re interested, you can sign up for my mailing list here.
Like most changes, this one feels bittersweet. I can’t help but think about my students, seniors all on the precipice of major transitions, edgy with the thrill and the fear contained therein. It’s easy for me to speak to them about the importance of risk, the necessity of moving outside of a comfort zone–but it’s humbling and essential for me to stand inside this space and be viscerally reminded of what that feels like.
Thank you all, for being here and for reading. I’ll miss this little blog.
Wouldn’t seem right unless I shared a few of the most popular recipes from this year’s festivities:
Naan pizzas – I buy mini-naans at Costco and use them as crust. Since they’re small, I can cook them in batches on a baking sheet and serve them warm. They are crazy-popular, and this year, I made two variations:
Butternut squash & chicken: in lieu of “sauce,” I mashed up Indian-style sweet-and-sour butternut squash, then layered it with shredded mozzarella and handfuls of diced chicken which I’d made ahead using leftovers from this recipe. Once the pizzas came out of the oven, I showered them with fresh, chopped cilantro.
Saag paneer: having cooked the greens and paneer separately, I used the saag as “sauce,” topped with shredded mozzarella and also a few cubes of paneer. Once these came out of the oven, they got a drizzle of cilantro chutney.
Even though this party was basically a happy hour situation, I still decided to make four desserts, because of course I did:
Chai snickerdoodles – I skipped the frosting, which seemed like a bit much. I’d do it again, because these were delightful and disappeared quickly!
Mango tartlets – phyllo shells have become my fancy-dessert- secret-weapon. I’ve filled them in the past with Tartine’s lemon cream, this key lime curd, and this time, with Smitten Kitchen’s mango curd. Find the phyllo shells in the freezer section at the grocery store, crisp them up in the oven, then fill them with something delicious. People will rave, guaranteed.
Pear galette – Stella Parks has never, ever steered me wrong (if you enjoy baking, you should buy her new book!) and this recipe is no exception. It was so good that I’m planning to make it again for Thanksgiving.
Saffron pistachio financiers – while these tasted great, they were a pain to remove from the pans after baking, so I’ll use liners next time.
PAST DIWALI POSTS:
*We skipped a year because a bunch of our friends got married all at once! (It was the best possible reason.)
It’s sort of an awful time of year to read blogs.
Holiday perfection pressure only emphasizes the performative nature of what we bloggers do—curate and arrange the pretty parts of our lives and share them with you in an aesthetically pleasing format. Here are all of the things you should be baking! Here are all of the things you should do to avoid gaining weight this season! Here are all of the holiday traditions you should be cultivating with your kids! Here are all of the things you should buy for the people in your life to demonstrate your love for them! Here are all of the books you should have read this year, the photos you should have organized and turned into scrapbooks, the goals you should have met, and on and on and on. Keep Christmas in your heart but be sure to look good while doing it.
I’ve had several conversations with good friends in the last week or so about attempting to remain balanced and focused this time of year. In addition to the general cultural pressure to “do” the holidays a certain way, this time of year often brings work-related stress (hi, I should totally be grading right now) and family-related stress (and by “stress,” I mean “drama”), but for those of us who want the holidays to mean something, it can be tricky to figure out just what that is or looks like. Even—or especially—for those who celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday, as the fulfillment of a promise, it can be hard to hold sight of the center. For an excellent meditation on this, I highly recommend this thoughtful New York Times commentary from Arthur C. Brooks. We have a “healthy hunger for nonattachment,” Brooks writes, smartly diagnosing the malaise that many of us feel this time of year.
Shiv picked a book off of his shelf tonight—a pop-up book about animal habitats that was originally mine—and I noticed for the first time my name and “Christmas 1989” written on the front page, in my dad’s handwriting. It nearly took my breath. The “most wonderful time of year” is also the time when many of us miss what we miss the most.
Advent leaves room for these sets of conflicted feelings, which is one of the things I appreciate about it the most (to be fair, I also really love the decorations and the singing. I really, really love the singing.) Hymns sung during this season speak of weary eyes and longing hearts, and there’s no shortage of those these days. To echo what I wrote last week about resisting the easy, lazy, convenient, but inevitably inaccurate answer, I want to say that just because I’m not writing about being angry doesn’t mean I’m not angry anymore. I am learning, I think, that anger is a lot like grief; you have to give up on the idea that it’s going to go away, that you are ever going to solve it. Instead, you learn to make room for it in your life, to let it change you, which is what I am trying to do.
I am also trying to be mindful about what I actually want to do when it comes to Christmas and festivities and food and celebrations and presents, versus what I feel like I ought to do. Shiv helped me make some treats this weekend, which we have and will continue to gift to various special people in his/our life. We have friends coming over in a few days to help us decorate our tree, and I’m planning to repeat a very boozy and successful eggnog experiment from last year. I ordered a ham for Christmas, and I’m thinking about doing a leek bread pudding alongside, but Shiv doesn’t have any special Christmas pajamas or even Christmas outfits (gasp!), and there’s no wreath on our front door, and we haven’t put the stockings out yet, but you know what? Baby Jesus gonna get born without any help from me.
I made a big batch of this kumquat marmalade a few weeks ago when our neighbors offered to let us harvest their backyard tree; I’m including jars of it in the gift bags we’re giving Shiv’s teachers.
Also going in those gift bags are these not-much-to-look-at but crazy-delicious walnut shortbread cookies from Mario Batali. My friend Peggy’s husband, Doug, brings these to events all the time and they always disappear quickly.
These burnt-sugar espresso shortbreads that Tim posted at Lottie & Doof are totally worth the trouble. I also want to try the beautiful rosewater shortbread cookies that Heidi posted on 101 Cookbooks. Are you sensing a theme? I really love shortbread.
Last but not least, to set the record straight, I did make turkey pot pie last week; I just didn’t write about it. I used this recipe, tweaking it a little bit (white wine instead of sherry, fresh onions & carrots instead of frozen), and it was delicious. I love anything with a biscuit crust, and this recipe would work just as well with chicken.
Wishing y’all some merry mixed in with everything else. xoxo—Nishta
In January, I decided to take a break from blogging. When I started this blog in May of 2009 (!), I made myself a rule: keep writing the blog as long as you’re having fun doing it. We all have plenty of obligations and non-negotiables in our lives; the last thing I wanted to do was add another item to my to-do list. I never wanted the blog to feel like something I had to do instead of something I wanted to do.
I had an email conversation with a dear friend the other day, along these same lines. We were sharing about the ways that seemingly positive, healthy choices and commitments can quickly become oppressive if we aren’t careful. What starts off as good self care–“I feel better when I exercise regularly”–can end up adding guilt and stress–“Oh shit, I haven’t worked out in three days and I’m really tired and now I’m going to gain weight and I feel like a bad person.”
Maybe this sounds melodramatic, but I think we all do it. At least I do. I am definitely someone who thrives with some structure in place, but I will all-too-easily convert that structure into rules and expectations that I then hold myself up against, judging myself unfavorably in the process. Seeing all of what I’m not doing. Thinking in “shoulds”: Oh, I should really be reading that super-intellectual book instead of these addictive, dystopian young adult novels. I should bake something to take to the family that just moved in down the street. I should make an appointment to donate platelets, because I haven’t gone in a year…etc.
So, when this blog started to feel like a “should,” I took a break. It’s been a good break, a needed one, and I gained the distance and perspective that I was hoping for, and I’m back now, excited to re-think this space, to re-engage with it and with you, on a “want to” basis and not a “should.” My original plan wasn’t to return until April, but, you know what? I missed this. And it feels good to be back.
Part of what put me in a bit of a rut, I think, was feeling locked into a particular format: story, photos, recipe. It’s a good format, of course, and I’m not planning to abandon it entirely, but I’d like to do other things with this space. My next post will be about our family’s Friday night ritual. And for April, I’ve lined up a slate of guest posts from writers and friends (friends who are writers, really) about poems that they consider game-changers. It’s going to be a month full of poetry nerdiness, and it’s going to be awesome.
Please know that I will definitely still be writing about food, and sharing recipes, but I’m also just kind of going to do whatever. More joy, less obligation. More brandishing butter knives while standing on step ladders.
Something about this time of year–the early evening darkness, the cold weather–makes me even more voraciously hungry for reading time than I normally am.
Books are also one of my favorite holiday gifts, both to give and receive, with the tantalizing prospect of a bit of time off hopefully allowing all of us to sit in a comfortable chair with a good book. If you’re on the lookout for some suggested reads, you might check out my reading lists, recently updated to reflect some favorite new reads & divided into categories: young adult (ages 13-15), younger adult (ages 10-12), book club favorites, classics, contemporary fiction, and contemporary nonfiction.
As with food, my eyes are always bigger than my appetite when it comes to books; I love adding to my “to-read” pile. What books have you read this year, new or old, that you recommend?
Last but not least, I’ve had several inquiries from folks asking how they might acquire a signed copy of my book, The Pomegranate King. I’m happy to announce that you can now do just that! Click here for more information or to place an order; I’d be honored to be one of the holiday presents you give yourself, a friend, or a loved one.
Last Saturday, I threw my seventh Diwali party.
Actually, it would be completely inaccurate for me to say that I threw this party and imply that I did it by myself. Hardly. One of the things I have finally learned is that not only can I not do everything by myself, it’s much more fun to let incredible people in my life help.
And so, friend-of-a-friend Laura designed the most perfect invitations, out-of-town friend Rebecca not only drove with her husband from San Antonio for the party, but also brought custom-made food labels that matched the invitations perfectly, Megan & Maconda made the house and backyard tables look exquisite with vintage glass, floating candles, and the loveliest arrangements of pink flowers, Greg & Sharon handled plates and napkins, finding the loveliest designs, and tied sparklers into bundles for the gift bags, and continued the tradition of being the deliverers of my last-minute “Oh crap I forgot this!” items.
My mom cooked a full half of the food served, wowing everyone with her chicken tikka masala and stuffed eggplant (yes, I promise to blog about those soon!), looked like a million bucks in the deep purple sari she wore, and charmed everyone who met her for the first time. Diwali marks the one-year anniversary of her living here in Texas, just 1.96 miles away from our house, and I couldn’t be more grateful to be able to say that. Jill, loving spouse of shocking efficiency, rendered the back yard a twinkling retreat, perfect for the day’s fall temperatures, helped clean the house, wrangle our child, and served as always-gracious host to the almost-forty people who walked through our door.
For his part, Shiv romped, flirted, played ball (pictured here with Rebecca’s husband, Aaron), and pointed up at airplanes passing overhead (his latest thing). He had a blast, and I hope everyone else did, too.
When I threw my first Diwali party, I didn’t think too much about why I was doing it or what I was hoping to get out of it; I had just lost my dad, and throwing the party seemed a way to honor him and the rituals of my youth, plus it gave me a project, something to do, which is helpful when you are grieving. Since then, though, I’ve thought (along with Jill) more deliberately about the intention behind the tradition we’ve created.
Our hope is to create something magical, to render our home a sacred space, one in which strangers can meet and connect, feel and share joy, and leave well fed not just in stomach but in soul. To me, Diwali is, in its essence, an affirmation of the belief that love is the strongest force in the universe; that, no matter how hopeless things seem, human goodness will always triumph. And each year, the people who we are lucky enough to have in our lives show up at our house and serve as living proof of that belief.
We billed this year’s gathering as an open house/happy hour, so we had plenty of beer, wine, & cocktails on hand. The two cocktails I served—Lucky Dogs & Cider Sidecars—proved to be incredibly popular and were easy to prep ahead of time.
For food, we had: the aforementioned chicken tikka masala & stuffed eggplants from my mom, a sev puri station that included sprouted mung beans (also a hit, also done by mom), some tamarind-glazed lamb meatballs that I made, roasted chickpeas, a cucumber/onion/tomato salad, carrot achar (pickle), onion pakoras (fried by—you guessed it! my amazing mother) served with tomato chutney, and saag paneer pizza, which was the hands-down runaway hit of the night.
Here’s how I did them, step by step (I was able to fit 3 “pizzas” per baking sheet & work in batches):
1. Garlic naan (Storebought from Whole Foods—I’m not THAT crazy!)
2. Homemade saag slathered on top (I made mine in the slow cooker overnight, which helped it thicken, keeping it from being too watery.)
3. Generous handfuls of pre-shredded mozzarella (don’t use fresh mozz, it’s too watery)
4. Cubes of homemade paneer sprinkled on top.
5. Into a very hot oven–500°–to get the cheese all melty, and then a few minutes under the broiler to brown everything.
6. A good slather of homemade cilantro chutney after the pizzas came out of the oven.
7. Cool slightly, cut into wedges, & serve hot.
(No pictures, they disappeared too quickly!)
Today, it’s your birthday: your first one. Today we celebrate one year of you, three-hundred-and-sixty-five days of a whole different and magical world for all of us who know you. Your arrival, as your Gigi puts it, was “a total game-changer.”
This time last year, we sat in a hospital room with your Mama D, who was heavy in her pregnancy with you, tired, and ready. We spent much of the day waiting nervously on the sidelines, trying to comfort her while also wondering to ourselves how things would work. There is a lot of waiting involved in a birth, as it turns out, but it is not exactly idle wait time during which one can read a magazine or book. Nor is it really suited to conversation, because so much in those moments is uncertain; this thing that’s about to happen, it’s going to make everything different; it’s going to alter the color of your universe, but you don’t know how yet, so you don’t know what to say about it or in what ways to prepare.
Then, all of a sudden, you were making your entrance—sailing out into the world, a squalling, curly-headed thing and we were there to see it.
We thought you were going to be a girl; that’s what the ultrasounds had told us. We were blessed to have the chance to be there for the last one, to stand in the room and hear your heartbeat, see your floating image on the screen, as seemingly unreal as pictures from the moon. Your Mama D was so generous with us, handed over the rolled-up print-out for us to tack to the fridge, the computerized “It’s a Girl!” supervising our readying of the house and our life for you.
It didn’t matter to us one way or another, your gender. We had told your adoption agency that we were happy to be the parents of any child, and we meant that. So when you arrived, our little boy, the adjustment was easy, a matter of rolling words off of our tongues—We have a son—but also yielded a slightly frantic conversation that night, on the way home from the hospital, to figure out what we were going to call you.
We only had a girl name picked out: Jaya, my middle name, which I’ve always loved. But boy names had us stumped. We knew that your middle name would be Carroll, Gigi’s last name, and that you and I would share a last name, Mehra. For a little while, I thought about naming you after my father—your nanaji, whom you never got to meet. He died almost exactly six years before you were born, and though I am going to continue to do my best to make him present in your life, it will never not ache in my heart, his absence in your life.
Though he was a great man—generous, hardworking, unfailingly optimistic—and would have made a fine namesake, we ultimately decided not to call you “Subhash.” It’s a difficult name to pronounce and spell, and difficult, too, to carry the weight of someone else’s name and still find a way to make it your own.
Instead, we thought, we could give you your grandfather’s initials: SCM. That, then, meant we were looking for an Indian boy’s name that started with an “S.” I hate to admit that the origins of your name were so un-glamorous, but we literally consulted the internet and started scrolling through names on a website; your Gigi at the computer, me on the phone with your Nani. Then, as fate would have it, they both suggested the same name to me, at the same time: What about Shiv?
My friend Lisa recently wrote a beautiful essay about Shiva, the Hindu deity after whom you are named. I am including it here because she captures so powerfully what we hoped to give you when naming you after him; Shiva is a god of contradictions, both a warrior and a dancer, creator and destroyer, powerful and tender at the same time. To give you his name is to give you the belief that you, that all of us, are beings with great capacity—the capacity to experience conflicting emotions simultaneously, to tackle life with strength and grace, to be with difference without judging or fearing it.
As the great American poet, Walt Whitman, a favorite of your Aunt Coco and Uncle Dave, said: “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself; I am large—I contain multitudes.”
You, my son, already contain multitudes. You are the product of three mothers: one who birthed you, two who are raising you. You are Louisiana-Tennessee-India-Texas. You are black, white, and brown. You are gentle, loving, fierce, and wild. You were born into a society that is at once more free and just as flawed as it’s ever been. You are part of a family that represents a new America, a family that most people champion but many resist.
Here’s something that I want you to know, for whenever you read this letter and for always—your birth mother did not “give you away” or “give you up.” What your Mama D did was just the opposite; she gave you to us. If she gave up anything, it was her own desire, her own aching, irrational side that struggled, mightily, to let you go. In the forty-eight hours we spent with her and you at the hospital, all at once a strange kind of family, she was brave, gracious, and unbelievably strong. She brought you into this world and placed you into our arms so that we could give you the kind of life that she wanted for you, but could not provide. It was the most unselfish, truly loving act I’ve ever witnessed, and don’t you dare ever let anyone tell you otherwise.
There’s no way for me to know what you will have encountered by the time you read this letter—that’s part of the breathtaking experience of this thing called “parenting,” which as far as I can tell is like steering a ship into near-total darkness—but my hope is that you are living open to the world, hungry for experience and knowledge, quick to comfort those in need, and eager to listen and observe.
Don’t forget to eat some vegetables, read lots of books, and carry joy and gratitude in your heart.
I love you,
So I wrote this book.
I wrote this book! [Ordering information at the end of the post]
“This book” has been a long time coming and a long time in the making; in its very first, very rough incarnation, it was my Master’s thesis. My father died during the summer between my two years of graduate school, which meant that my second year was largely devoted to trying to make sense of life without him, and the loss of him, and loss in general, via my writing. Needless to say, that version of this book was kind of a mess.
In the years that followed, I abandoned and then returned to the mess, adding, trimming, and trying to shape it into that elusive thing—a memoir. But this book didn’t want to be a memoir; it wanted to be a collection of essays. Once I figured that out, things started to fall into place. As a grad school professor of mine once advised, “Form is the structure of the mind at work.” Indeed.
Following Jill’s successful bout with cancer, I recommitted myself to the book project, and made a concerted effort to discipline myself to write every day, or close to it. Inspired by Jill’s own ridiculous discipline and foray into novel-writing, I made great progress and came very close to being finished when Jill and I received a particular email this time last year, telling us that a birth mother had selected us to be the parents of her child. In the flurry of activity that followed, the book project took a backseat to the baby project.
How many times is my life going to prove that the way I think things are going to look are never, in fact, how they end up looking? And that life’s way is usually far bigger and richer than my imagination’s? I always thought that I would write a book first, then have a baby. But as it turns out, I finished writing my book while on maternity leave with my sweet baby boy, and I’m releasing it into the world just a few weeks shy of his first birthday.
The Pomegranate King is a deeply personal collection of twelve essays (five of which I previously published here) on topics ranging from growing up in Memphis to grappling with identity to grieving a parent to falling in love to making meaning out of all facets of life. One early reader said:
This is the kind of book that makes you gasp out loud when you read a particularly beautifully written line, that has you scrounging for a pencil to underline a perfectly turned phrase. It’s a book for people who love language, who love food, … in fact, it’s a book for people who love, period.
I couldn’t ask for a better endorsement than that.
I hope you will consider reading and sharing about The Pomegranate King. I am grateful to all of you who have read and supported my writing work here on the blog for the last four (!) years; the discipline of a regular posting schedule and the pleasure of interacting with such a lovely audience have been absolutely essential in helping me complete this project. Last but not least, I welcome feedback from all of you, should you choose to read the book. A piece of writing is not real until it’s read, and I will be grateful for your honest reviews on Amazon and/or Goodreads. I truly hope you will enjoy reading it!
Here’s where you can find my book-
Order a copy directly from the publisher (print only)
Visit my Amazon.com author page (contains links to purchase the book’s Kindle and/or print versions, allows you to “look inside” the book)
Visit the Goodreads page for my book (lets you add the book to one of your shelves, allows you to read an excerpt of the book)
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)
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.
We talk a lot about magic this time of year but sometimes forget that this magic is not a given. It’s created.
My awesome and amazing friend Courtney, who came to visit us this week from Oregon, likes to remind me that perfectionism is a tool of the oppressor. To this truth I will also add that comparison is the thief of joy. To go in either of those directions leaves no room for magic to show up.
I am the guiltiest of guilty on this count. I am so very prone to fret, to worry, to feel the need to plan it all out and then feel like the plan is somehow not good enough. I all-too-easily become my very own Grinch.
When my perspective feels three sizes too small, I find that the simple act of saying aloud or writing down the things that are bothering me helps. Often, once I get those things outside of my head, they lose some of their power and I am able to see them for what they are, and get myself back to myself. From there, it’s often making something with my hands, looking at or listening to something beautiful, writing a note or email or even a simple text message of appreciation to a friend that will distract me until I realize that I’m not so worried or fretful anymore and actually able to enjoy this time that can be so magical.
So whether it’s ice skating and hot chocolate, crafting and baking, taking a trip to see Santa and driving around the neighborhood looking at lights, watching goofy or bad or classic movies while planted firmly on the couch, consuming a parade of food and drink, tree trimming, carol-singing, church going, present-opening, old-photo-viewing, storytelling, or something else altogether that occupies your next few days, I hope very sincerely that they are joyful and bright, and that you are able to spend them with people that you love.
From our family to yours, Merry Christmas!