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  • Have a Spooky Halloween!

    Cheddar Witches Fingers - Cheese straws in the shape of fingers, complete with a black almond "finger nail." Delicious and totally spooky.

    Candy Apples - You don't need to go to the fair to get my favorite treat because you can make these at home. Black food coloring gives them a festive touch.

    Pumpkin Caramel Sauce - Having a not-so-scary Halloween party? Serve ice cream with this pumpkin infused caramel sauce on top.

Monthly Archives: October 2012

Baby-Led Weaning Works for Us

It’s hard to believe nearly eight months have gone by since we welcomed our sweet little girl. She’s growing and changing each day, and so much of her personality is starting to show. Being the food people we are, Eric and I were ecstatic to introduce Clara to solid foods. I decided before she was born not to worry about how we’d do that until the time came to actually do it. Since I worried about so many other things beforehand, I decided to go with the “we’ll cross that bridge when we get there” mentality in regards to solid foods. I had heard and read about various methods for introducing foods, but it wasn’t until I got to see baby-led weaning in action that I really started to consider it. My friend Marlyn introduced me to the concept, and I got to see it firsthand when she, her husband and their daughter came to visit us earlier this year.

Baby-led weaning, or as my friend Aimée calls it – baby-led feeding, is basically a common sense approach to introducing solids. I wasn’t even certain I wanted to try it, but the more I watched Clara while we were eating, the more encouraged I became to attempt it. After a couple weeks of her pulling food off our plates, we finally took the plunge. I’m happy to report that it’s been a huge success. I’ll admit to us both being nervous in the beginning, but Clara hasn’t had a single problem. We have gotten a few questions like “but does she even have teeth?” (actually, she’s cutting her third and fourth right now) and “can she actually swallow any food?” and “what happens if she chokes?” Trust me, I had similar questions and researched the heck out of this before giving Clara food for the first time. What I found out is that babies don’t need teeth in order to eat solid food. Before her first two teeth came in, she did a fine job using her gums to chew the food. As to whether or not she swallows food when eating, the answer is yes, most definitely. Choking concerns are minimized by waiting until the baby is big enough to sit on her own, which Clara was easily doing by the time we started, and providing soft foods in large pieces (though, admittedly, I still looked up how to perform an infant Heimlich maneuver before we started).

We started BLW when Clara turned six months old, so it’s been almost two months since she had her first bites of solid food. With very few exceptions, Clara eats almost everything we eat. During this time, I’ve been amazed at how much her hand-eye (or rather, hand-mouth) coordination has improved. When she first started eating solids, she was a little clumsy and could only eat the parts of the food sticking out of her fist. Now, she has an easier time gripping the food and is even starting to open a couple fingers as opposed to keeping them all tightly clenched around whatever food she’s holding. She eats with intention, and it’s evident every time she takes a bite.

Clara started out mostly sucking on the foods we offered, but it didn’t take long for her to break off pieces and swallow them. Before we knew it, she was actually chewing her food! Our little girl hasn’t turned down a single food she’s been offered, and I’m hoping this means she’ll continue trying and enjoying new foods as she grows. Like I said, though, there are a few exceptions to what she eats. First – we don’t give her any spicy food. Eric and I both love spicy foods (some of which make my eyes water), so obviously we don’t share those with Clara. Second – we are mostly keeping sweeter fruits, like banana, out of her diet for the time being. We want her to develop a love of vegetables and savory foods first. Eric and I try to fill our diet with fresh, unprocessed, mostly organic foods, and we feel comfortable sharing those foods with Clara. I love that we can all eat dinner together, Clara in her highchair feeding herself, and Eric and I at the table (watching her closely) with free hands to feed ourselves.

Some of the foods we’ve given Clara are:

  • roasted carrots
  • roasted acorn squash
  • fresh tomatoes
  • sweet potato wedges
  • baked chicken
  • ground beef and chicken
  • penne with goat cheese
  • caramelized onions and roasted butternut squash
  • penne with spinach and avocado sauce
  • sliced avocados
  • applesauce (no sugar added)
  • watermelon
  • toast, cut into sticks
  • cheese grits
  • steel-cut oats
  • garlic bread, cut into sticks

Baby-led weaning is certainly messy – after all, it’s essentially letting a small child feed themselves – but it’s totally worth it. Plus, Abby is more than happy to help clean up the mess. ;) I’m so happy we decided to follow this method, and every time I watch her chubby, dimpled hand guide a piece of food to her mouth, I know that we made the right choice for our family. We want Clara to grow up with an appreciation of food, not just how it tastes but how it’s cooked and where it comes from, and I think we’re on the right track. Though Clara won’t actually be weaned for some time and continues to get most of her food from breast milk, she’s already eating more food than when we started.

Baby-Led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods
The Baby-Led Weaning Cookbook

Let me qualify this post by saying that I know baby-led weaning isn’t for everyone. It was the right approach for us and Clara, but you should obviously do what is best for you and your little ones. I mentioned this method to Clara’s pediatrician before we started and got the all clear to proceed. Like pretty much everything related to children, what you decide to do is incredibly personal. However, I wanted to share our experience since a few people have asked me if I’d be posting any baby food recipes. If you’ve done baby-led weaning, I’d love to hear about it!

We often joke that Clara’s expressions are like a baby meme generator, so I just had to do this.

Classic Beef and Bean Chili

Beef and Bean Chili
You know Eric and I love cooking together, so it should come as no surprise to you to find out that he also enjoys cooking on his own. Unlike the husbands of many of my friends, Eric doesn’t get excited to eat fast food when I’m not home. He almost always cooks something, and may even bake something if he has time. When I went to BlogHer Food last year, he made hamburger buns and barbecue. He’s certainly not going to bake a cake on his own, but he will totally whip up a batch of homemade rolls or a loaf bread. I love that about him.

I’ve been traveling quite a bit lately – first to Alabama to visit family and then to Connecticut to visit friends – and Eric made this chili while I was gone. While we were FaceTiming, he showed me the Dutch oven with this in it and I immediately requested that he save a bowl for me. Had I been home, I would have suggested making some type of southwest chicken chili, mostly because standard chili recipes never really appealed to me. Eric made a great decision choosing this recipe, though, because it clearly won me over. In true Eric fashion, he substituted beer for the water called for in the original recipe. Like any chili recipe, you can adapt this one to suit your personal tastes. Use the high range of jalapeño peppers to make it spicier. Try different types of beer to see which you like best (though make sure it’s something you’d be willing to drink). Mash more or less of the beans to change the thickness of the chili. Whatever you do, don’t leave out the chocolate! It gives this chili a depth of flavor that cannot be achieved without it. When you’re craving a delicious, no frills chili, this recipe can’t be beat.

Beef and Bean Chili


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Sausage, Red Pepper & Arugula Pasta

Sausage, Red Pepper & Arugula Pasta

Before Clara was born, several people told us that we’d stop cooking as much when she arrived. There have been a few days we got takeout instead of cooking, like when she hit her first big growth spurt and I felt like all I could do was feed her the entire day, but Eric and I are still cooking more than some people expected (clearly those people don’t know us very well). Making fresh meals is important to us, so we put a lot of effort into doing it as often as we can. We may not be making as many involved recipes these days, but even a quick homemade meal is better than eating out every night. Now that Clara is getting a little bigger, we love having her in the kitchen with us while we prep and cook dinner. She especially likes it when I dance around the kitchen with her while Eric is cooking. I love that we get to spend time together in the kitchen, and obviously the delicious results are a big perk. The thing is – it’s not that difficult to have a homemade meal on the table in a short amount of time. Recipes like this one make it easy for us to have a homemade meal and still finish in time to read to Clara before bed.

I made a few changes to this recipe after making it as written. The original recipe used loose sausage, which sort of sank to the bottom of the sauce, so I swapped it out for sliced sausage. Eric preferred it the other way, though, so make it whichever way you think you’ll like best. I increased the amount of pasta and cream, and doing so resulted in a sauce that I thought was the perfect consistency. This pasta is much lighter than I thought it would be, even with the increased amount of cream, thanks to all of the arugula. I used to shy away from wilted greens, and I honestly have no idea why. Every recipe I’ve tried with them has been awesome. In this recipe, the arugula adds a wonderful peppery bite and helps to brighten up the pasta. This recipe doesn’t require much, just a few fresh ingredients and a little time in the kitchen. So now when I get some naysayer that asks me how often we get takeout now that we have a baby, I’ll kindly point them to this post.

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Espresso Dark Chocolate Coconut Cookies

Espresso Dark Chocolate Coconut Cookies

I’ve been in a baking mood lately. There’s something about fall that makes me want to get in the kitchen and bake something, even if it’s not necessarily a fall dessert. Now that Clara is mobile, though, it’s not as easy to dedicate a solid hour or two in the kitchen unless she’s napping. While that eliminates more involved desserts, cookies are still quite manageable. Cookie dough is a breeze to whip up, and you can be eating a sweet treat in next to no time (even before nap time is over).

These cookies have everything that I love packed into one dessert – espresso, chocolate and coconut. They’re like a cookie version of the coconut mocha frappuccinos I enjoyed so much over the summer. They’ve got that ideal cookie texture – thick and soft, with just the right amount of chewiness. Eric, who typically isn’t a fan of coconut, couldn’t get enough of these cookies. I used coconut flakes instead of shredded coconut, and I think that swap led to Eric enjoying these more than he would have otherwise (since it’s the stringy texture of coconut that turns him off from coconut desserts). This recipe calls for coconut extract, which gives these cookies an extra boost of coconut flavor. Even with a little girl who hasn’t been too keen on napping lately, I’ve always got time for a batch of homemade cookies.

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Pumpkin Butterscotch Blondies

Pumpkin Butterscotch Blondies

This time last week, I came home from our vet’s office in tears. Our dog Abby had been sick for three days, and the prognosis wasn’t good. She was in awful shape – weak, not eating, not wagging her tail – all things that are way out of character for our loving, energetic girl. Last Monday was our third office visit with her in four days, and I was so upset when we left that Eric had to leave his car there and drive us home in mine. Those of you that don’t have pets may not understand this, but Abby is part of our family. She’s been with us since she was just a little four and a half pound puppy, and we sometimes (and by sometimes I mean more frequently than I should admit) refer to her as Clara’s big sister. As you can imagine, we were both distraught (though, admittedly, Eric handled it much better than I did). We had to leave her there so she could receive treatment via IV, and I was so glad to have her home and snuggling with us that night.

After a long ten days since that first vet visit, I’m happy to say that our sweet Abby is doing much better. She’s not completely back to normal, but she’s on her way there thanks to the wonderful veterinarian and all the people that treated and took care of her. Everyone at the office was so kind and helpful that I wanted to thank them properly. What better way to do that than baked goods? Not to mention, I definitely needed the time in the kitchen to clear my mind and cheer me up.

These pumpkin bars are full of awesome, which makes sense since pumpkin and butterscotch are involved. Add white chocolate chips to that combo, and you’ve got a pumpkin dessert that’s hard to resist. These don’t have quite the same texture as other blondies I’ve made, but that’s largely due to the fact that pumpkin seems to make every baked good a little fluffier than it’s non-pumpkin counterpart. I know not everyone is a fan of nuts in their baked goods, but I think these would taste fabulous with pecans or walnuts mixed in. This is a great recipe to have for fall gatherings because it’s simple and perfect for sharing.

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