Monday, 6 August 2018

Cooking and Baking for my Family

Over the last few years I have really enjoyed cooking and baking and trying out new recipes, especially from my favourite foodblog. I have to say that I love eating and when I'm not cooking or eating I spend a lot of time thinking about food, looking up recipes and planning the next meals. I only lose interest in food when I'm either very exited or busy or very sad. After my sister got her cancer diagnosis I didn't want to think about food for while. I obviously still had to cook to feed my family, but there was no excitement. Everything seemed to be so purposeless. But when I was trying to find a way to be useful to Marina, I started to get into cooking and baking again. Unsurprisingly she had lost her interest in food preparation as well, and she seemed to be happy when I turned up with breads and cakes and healthy treats. And just in time Minimalist Baker posted this kitchari recipe which I made for her when she was unwell after her second round of chemotherapy.

Home cooking has taken on new dimensions again since I started feeding my baby boy Enda solids. This time I'm relying on two brilliant books: Baby at the Table  by the Chiappa Sisters and Planet Organic Baby and Toddler Cookbook by Lizzie Vann. A lot of the recipes from the first book are also on the Chiappa Sisters' website. I like their outlook on feeding a family: that you shouldn't cook separate dinners for parents and kids. There is still this belief in people's heads that children don't like vegetables and have to be coaxed into eating healthily. In Ireland there is hardly a restaurant that sells children's portions of their normal food: children's menus are mainly sausages and chips and maybe mushy peas if you're lucky. But if you don't give your children a chance to taste "grown-up" food when they're still young, you can't be surprised that they refuse to eat it when they're older.
(Saying all that, I have to admit that Aidan won't eat anything else but sausages and chips when we're at a restaurant which is of course our fault. We got him used to this as it made it easier for us to go out for dinner. Well, at least he's not too bad eating his veggies at home.)

Coming back to the two books on weaning: I really like Baby at the Table and it guides you very well through the first few weeks of weaning, but after that most of the recipes are just lists of what ingredients to put together in a baby  purée and sometimes it's not clear if you're supposed to cook an ingredient or leave it raw. There aren't many recipes for a baby that has moved on from simple purees but can't chew very lumpy food yet. So I'm glad I have the other book to fill that gap. There are loads of recipes that are proper meals with several ingredients and you just mash or purée them according to how much texture your baby can manage. (I still highly recommend Baby at the Table, especially because of the toddler and family sections.)

The decision to cook my babies' food myself instead of buying readymade was an obvious one for me even though it can be tough sometimes. Though I really enjoy cooking for Enda, especially now that he has properly taken to his food, it's not always easy to find the time. Often I have to hastily cook his meal while he is crying and Aidan is testing my patience by chasing the cat or climbing the back of the  armchair. But I want Enda to eat homemade food just like the rest of us. This doesn't mean that I never buy baby food: while it is possible to take homemade food when out and about it is not always very practical, so I do feed him readymade food now and again. I also keep an emergency bag of baby food in the press for those days when I don't have the time or patience to cook and the stash of frozen food happens to be empty. I just can't afford to be too proud to buy readymade food. Being a grumpy and tired mam is worse for my children.

This is something I keep having to remind myself about: Not to overdo the whole home making process. It's easy to fall into the trap of self blame. After managing to keep up baking my own bread for over a year now I always feel I've failed when I do cave in and buy a loaf from the supermarket. But baking bread shouldn't be about stressing yourself, it should be enjoyable and not a chore. So I decided to scrap those late nights of baking when all I want to do is grap a few hours of sleep before Enda wakes up for his next feed. The good thing is that I got better both at baking and at planning ahead. At the start making sourdough bread felt really intimidating and I mostly stuck to the instructions (something I do very seldom), but over time I realized that the dough still rises, even if I don't knead it for 20 minutes or proof it for four hours. Maybe sourdough starter gets easier to deal with the older it gets... I don't know. But after tackling the problem of inflated loaves I never had a sourdough bread that hasn't risen beautifully in the oven. As regards planning ahead, I always bake a big loaf of bread and freeze half of it, thereby avoiding having to throw out mouldy bread as well as always having a bag of sliced bread in the freezer that can be easily defrosted in the toaster.

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