No accounting for taste

I had such good intentions. Maybe my 2016 resolution will be to blog more regularly. 2015’s resolution worked out pretty well, after all.

The stress-less approach worked better than I imagined, and almost a year on, Leo is a much more regular eater. I’m sure almost fully weaning from my milk had helped things along, but I do think he just got there in his own time.
But for every salmon fillet, tuna sandwich or roasted carrots he deigns to eat, there’s a bowl of cereal abandoned or, like tonight, a usual hit ignored in favour of Vegemite on toast and cheese with crackers.

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The difference is that now I don’t mind. The poached chicken will go back into the tub that will then be used to make our dinner, same for the tomato sauce. The rice will be tossed into the compost box without me caring. He’ll have some yogurt, and perhaps even a square of chocolate that he’s been whining about all afternoon (damn that advent calendar and the daily dose it brings. This kid’s sweet tooth is definitely from his mum).

The tomato sauce is great, and I initially tried it with him in the hope it would hit the same flavour notes as his beloved ketchup. Whether that’s the reason he likes it, I don’t know, but it goes down well. And could, and should in our apartment, be a good vehicle for hidden, liquidised vegetables.

It’s from Thomasina Miers’ Mexican Food Made Easy as part of the “Spicy bird tacos” recipe. I freeze tiny blobs of it in a mini muffin tin and serve it with pasta, to dip chicken in or sandwiched with cheese in a halved tortilla, dry-fried to make a very simple quesadilla. And then for our dinner too, with chipotle paste and the same shredded poached (or leftover roast) chicken.

Mexican tomato sauce
Knob of butter
Olive oil
1 onion, chopped
Big pinch each of ground allspice and cinnamon
1 clove of garlic, chopped
2 bay leaves
2 tins of chopped tomatoes

Optional for adventurous kids or just the adults: chipotle paste or hot sauce of your choosing

Same as all tomato sauces really. Melt the butter in the oil, fry the onion with the spices (I go high and keep stirring, adding a splash of water if things get too charred looking). Add the garlic and bay leaves, fry more gently for a few minutes, then add the tomatoes. Simmer for as long as you can.

I blend this as Leo will pick out the onions, and add the spicy component once his portion is safely in a tub. “Spicy” is one of Leo’s new words, and its not a compliment. (Yet!)

The trials of feeding a toddler

Cooking for a toddler sucks. It’s boring and repetitive, everything I hate about food.  It’s often not even really cooking. The list of things Leo will reliably eat at the moment, in order of frequency, is:

1. Fish fingers. Bought, fried, most of the crispy bits picked off. Homemade ones are apparently not as nice.
2. Pasta (spirals or penne) with either Marmite or one particular type of pesto.
3. Homemade meatballs with as much vegetable matter as I can sneak into them. Hurrah for something I made!
4. Quite a decent variety of fruit.
5. Weetabix, usually.
6. Toast with PB and banana/scraping of jam, or Marmite.
7. Greek yogurt.
8. Roast chicken, but only fresh, not leftovers. Unless part of…
9. Satay noodles, usually with leftover roast chicken, sometimes with vegetables (courgette, mushroom, peppers). But the veg usually gets a “bluch” noise. More eaten if I feed him using chopsticks.
10. Cake. Mostly homemade, not so many vegetables in that though.
11. Scotch pancakes.
12. Biscuits. Rarely homemade.

I think that’s it.

Pretty boring.

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Satay noodles, veg picked out.

Thing is, he really doesn’t seem to care. Fish fingers again, Mama? Yum! But he will refuse something he doesn’t fancy in favour of another option. The old “he’ll eat if he’s hungry enough” doesn’t quite work for us. Often I’ll make him something, it’s given the “bluch” verdict and the sideways screwed-up smile. So if there’s something easy to hand in the fridge, I’ll make a second choice (like, 30s heating up some pre-cooked pasta) and that’ll be wolfed down. So he was hungry, just didn’t want option 1. And I get that, sometimes I don’t fancy what I thought I would and have a completely different dinner than I planned. But it’s frustrating in this pre-verbal period; I know there are going to be “but you asked for X!” scenes at mealtimes of the future but right now, I’d take that over the guessing game we play twice a day.

He’s always welcome to try whatever I’m having too: sometimes we have the same thing, sometimes we don’t. Family meals are far less stressful but in the weeks of bad sleep, they take more planning than I am capable of. I do love it when we have a family meal together , I think our weekend roast chicken is my favourite meal of the week. And he does often try new things, then just as often hands them straight back to me.

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Caveman Leo

Two books I’ve read recently made me feel a bit better about this: The Bad Mother by Esther Walker (Giles Coren’s wife, journalist and mum of two, her blog makes me smile wryly) and Zoe Williams’ Modern Parenting. Reading about other people’s experiences with toddlers makes me feel less frustrated and less alone in my frustration.

So for now, it’s fish fingers all round. Ketchup for the boy and a side of peas and homemade tartare sauce for me, please.

Cinnamon French toast

Things have been up and down with Leo’s eating, but I’ve been a lot less stressed about it all. Finally.

Making family food has worked well, even if we don’t always eat it as a family. Less waste, less cooking, less stress. But quite honestly, he’s been living on Marmite pasta, minus the cheese (Anna Del Conte by way of Nigella, like, a real recipe… Kind of.), Weetabix, toast, yogurt and fruit the past couple of weeks. Fish fingers seem to be a reasonably consistent hit, bought or home-made, so I thought why not coat meat in the same crumbs? Ha ha, Mummy. Good try.

This recipe has also been eaten on occasion, like today. But with the crusts cut off his bit, obviously.

Cinnamon French Toast

2 eggs
2 tablespoons whole milk
1 teaspoon caster sugar (or honey, or agave…)
Big pinch cinnamon (1/4-1/8 tsp depending how much you like)

2 thick slices of bread, slightly stale is good
Butter to fry (don’t use oil, tastes yuck)

With a fork, lightly whisk the eggs, milk, sugar and cinnamon in a shallow dish. Soak the bread in the mix, turning at least once. Melt the butter in the pan over a medium heat, and gently slide in the eggy bread. Carefully pour any remaining mix onto the top of each slice.

Fry for a few minutes each side, and serve. We like ours with yogurt, maple syrup and fruit.

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Photo from last month. Crusts no longer tolerated.

Chicken satay noodles

The plan to try and cook one meal for us all is in action! Dinner last night was based on an Annabel Karmel recipe for chicken satay skewers and was a reasonable hit. I had leftover roast chicken so made a noodle dish instead I’d marinating raw chicken in the satay sauce (as is the AK recipe) and it was pretty good.

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Leo had not encountered noodles before last night and was both intrigued and challenged by them, but figured out a method to get them in his mouth and ended up eating a small tangle, I think. Chicken and pepper slices remained untouched and a rogue strip of pak choi caused a minor gagging incident but all in, a success!

Best thing is that since we shared one plate (I served up one plate and we shared), I have no idea how much or little he ate. Hurrah! And I didn’t have to make dinner for myself once I got him off to bed either, it was all ready. And enough left for lunch today too. Double, nay, triple hurrah!

While Matt is away I think I’ll have a small dinner with Leo most nights, partly for ease of prep, partly because some nights he takes a lot if settling and resettling and this way I definitely get dinner! And it will be a good test of my “one dish to feed them all”  approach.

Chicken satay noodles
Leftover roast chicken, or whatever you have in the fridge: tofu, more veg, whatever you like
1 red pepper
1 head pak choi (or other greens)
2 nests egg noodles

Satay sauce
2 tablespoons peanut butter
1 tablespoon each of honey, soy sauce (I use a low salt one these days), rice wine vinegar
1 clove garlic, crushed

Mix the satay ingredients together in a little bowl. It’ll look curdled for a moment then slightly oddly, will calm down and look like thick satay after a couple of minutes.

Fry the pepper until it’s how you like to eat it (Leo tends to spit it out if it’s too crunchy, but then didn’t touch it anyway) then add the chicken and satay sauce and cook over a low heat while you cook the noodles.

I blanched the pak choi in the noodle water first, and drained it while I cooked the noodles.

Once the noodles are cooked, toss everything together.

This is pretty mild so if you like a stronger flavour, have some (sweet) chilli sauce or more soy to hand for the adults. I reckon Matt would have spiced his serving up a bit but I liked it as it was.

Update: I had it for lunch the next day. Leo wouldn’t touch it. Ah well!

Can’t eat, won’t eat

Ah, I had such good intentions! I really did. But blogging with a baby is challenging, and this kid is definitely a challenge at the moment. Leo is now 19 months and a tornado of energy. No idea where the energy comes from mind, given he hardly eats. (Actually, I do know. He is still a massive milk monster, nowhere close to weaning off the boob.) Which makes blogging about our food adventure together difficult.

Before he started on solids I had visions of us enjoying meals together; sharing a roast dinner with him gnawing on a chicken leg, roast potato in the other hand, or slurping down bowls of noodles, or just splitting a sandwich. Nope. Not this kid. Pot of Greek yogurt and a banana please!

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Greek yogurt, of course. Orange segments now banned because of the horrendous nappies they lead to

We started down the baby led weaning route and quickly stopped when I found I spent a lot of my time preparing and cleaning up after him and very little of it went in his mouth. I know, I know, that’s the point of BLW. They eat what they want, they’re exploring texture and smell and flavours, but he just didn’t seem to be getting any nourishment and I panicked. BLW takes balls if you have a reluctant eater.

So we did chunky purees and porridge in addition to finger food and that worked well, but still only a few spoonfuls at a time, certainly far, far less than a lot of similarly aged babies. And I tried not to worry or get stressed but it was really, really hard. I didn’t try to persuade him to eat, no zooming aeroplanes or spoonfuls “just for mummy” but I did sit there silently willing him to pick up a stick of courgette, or take a bite of a mini burger. Sometimes he did, a lot of times he didn’t and I’d just feel myself getting more angry at him, unfairly, for what felt to me like turning his nose up at my lovingly prepared dinner. I love cooking for those I love and this felt like a massive rejection. Irrational but true.

So come new year, my one and only resolution was to stop worrying about what he ate and just roll with it. He really is full of energy, bright and inquisitive, and almost the 75th centile for weight. So no reason to worry from a health perspective, just a societal one. And who cares what society thinks, eh?  (Yeah, me too.)

Sounds so simple, but it’s been a hard month. Colds and teething haven’t helped matters, putting him off food  and making nights more disrupted than usual, so I’m even more tired and with a bit less patience come tea time. And I’ve realised the waste of both my time and the actual food was getting to me so I’m taking a new tack. Starting yesterday, we are going to eat the same foods as much as possible, so if he doesn’t eat it, we will (and want to!).

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Lunch at IKEA (chips, and a bit of waffle for pudding)

My collection of cookbooks has a growing family section now, and I might (big might) start planning a week’s meals and shopping accordingly so that we don’t get caught short (lunches are often a bit of a fail, and I’m still hungry a lot since he still has so much milk).

And I’ll be honest here about our adventures in eating (or not as the case may be), and not be so concerned about the lack of original recipes. So hopefully more blog posts about the reality of weaning a baby, and the occasional recipe thrown in for good measure.

Buttermilk berry pancakes

Berlin has been a big adjustment in many ways, and one of the biggest had been how we shop for food. I realise I was spoilt with my weekly delivery of fresh, local, seasonal fruit, veg, fish and meat from the wonderful Farm Direct but going back to supermarkets and local markets has been a shock, and that’s without considering the language barrier.

We are lucky that where we live there are few decent supermarkets within an easy walk with Leo in the carrier and Granny trolley in tow, and weekly midweek and Saturday markets too. But I’ve got to be honest and say I find it a pain that I can’t get everything in one shop; the supermarkets aren’t as comprehensive as Sainsburys et al and of mixed quality (although the dearth of ready meal aisles is a refreshing change), and the markets aren’t as seasonally driven as a UK farmers market, and don’t do much in the way of organic/higher welfare meat.

But there are upsides too. The Kollwitzplatz Saturday market has great apples and juice, eggs, organic vegetables and some really good lunch stalls. And I’ve recently stopped by on a Thursday to find some very different stalls including a free range chicken farmer, so I need to make an effort to get there soon and try some. I like the proliferation of BioMarkts, now that I’ve got my head round what they do and don’t sell, and get most of my dairy products at the Denns on my street. Although almost nowhere sells milk in any container bigger than a litre!

Which brings me to buttermilk. I really struggled to buy good buttermilk in the UK (Ivy House stuff via Farm Direct was ace but came in in a litre bottle, which I never used up) but it is everywhere here: pure and simple or flavoured, in big yogurt cartons or in a bottle to drink. The Germans do love their buttermilch! And with such a lot of the stuff to go around I’ve perfected my pancake recipe and they are a staple in the FT wohnung now. (Oh yeah. We are all FTs now. Another thing that happened last year!).

Leo started eating solids at Christmas but he’s been taking food at his own pace and only really got into food at about 11 months. It’s been difficult not to fall into the trap of trying to trick him into eating, or get stressed when he isn’t interested in doing so, both as a mum and a big fan of good food and eating! But last time I made these he got properly stuck in which pleased me greatly. The recipe feeds us and him; I usually make a few little ones for him and about 6 bigger ones for us. Leftovers also freeze beautifully.

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Buttermilk berry pancakes
Dry
140g wholemeal flour
60g plain/550 flour
4g bicarbonate of soda
3g baking powder
Wet
400g buttermilk
1 egg
Tiny drop of vanilla extract
10g butter melted
Fruit
Berries to taste (fresh or frozen)

Making the batter
This couldn’t be simpler. Weigh out the dry ingredients and whisk to distribute the raising agents. Then add the wet ingredients (but not the berries) and give the while thing a good whisking.
Leave to rest for a few minutes while you heat up the pan.

Cooking the pancakes
I use a 20cm non-stick pan to cook these, and have the oven on low (like, 50°c) and pile them up on a plate in there while I cook the next one.
Get the pan reasonably hot, don’t bother adding extra butter if it’s a non-stick pan but add a little if your pan is not.
Add a dollop of batter to the pan using a small ladle or big spoon, as big or small as you want. I make little ones for L, big ones for us.
Sprinkle some berries into the batter and poke them down a bit into the pancake (this way they won’t burn too much when you flip it).
Cook until the bubbles that rise up are popping themselves and flip it over. Cook for a few minutes on that side, then transfer to oven / hungry toddler/ your plate and continue until all the batter has been used.

An Autumnal variation
Add a grated apple and half a teaspoon of cinnamon in place of the berries. Delicious.

Previously on Doesn’t Do Dishes…

Well goodness. It’s been a while, but I think I’m back. I say “I think” because with a small human now monopolising my time it’s hard to know how often I’ll be able to swing by with some new culinary insight or tantalising treats. But I’m going to try.

Where were we?

I had just got a job at Bea’s of Bloomsbury…. I worked there for a year and absolutely loved it. I was lucky enough to work with a crazy, fabulous, talented pastry team who were happy to teach this noob the ways of the kitchen and I left with more cake skills and kitchen experience than I dared hope for, and on the high note of having made a few wedding cakes.

I left because I felt a year was long enough. I saw how things changed throughout a year, the peaks and troughs of busyness, the seasonal events and the stress they can bring, and how to run a cake kitchen effectively. I also saw how different the kitchen was to the office world in terms of people management, support and career progression, and it have me something to consider should I ever run my own place.

I also left because M and I bought a house, and it needed work done to it, which I wanted to do myself. And getting up at 5am had slightly lost its charm…

But I only had a few months of late mornings….Leo came along in June 2013 and it’s been a mad, fun, stressful time since.

Oh yeah, and we moved to Berlin!

So here we are, three of us plus the cat in a Berlin apartment, exploring what Berlin has to offer, figuring out what flour to buy to make bread, and asking the great unanswered questions like why can’t you buy Rice Krispies here? (Seriously, anyone?!). As well as introducing a one year old to the joys of eating well! And doing a LOT of clearing up as a result.

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I might not be posting as often as I used to, the posts might look a bit wobbly as most will be typed one-fingered on my phone during naptime and the photos will probably be taken on said phone too but I’ll endeavour to make it sooner than every two and a half years!