Homemade Fruit Snacks

img_5742

We’ve been giving Indira whole foods for a few months now, simply because she prefers them over purées and would much rather feed herself than be spoon-fed. Girl knows what’s up.

So far her favorite foods are mainly in the fruit category—oranges and blueberries ranking supreme. She adores these fruit snacks as well, and I feel good about giving them to her because they contain collagen, an essential nutrient in helping keep our bodies healthy and growing. Definitely recommend giving it a try if you’ve never used it before.

Homemade Fruit Snacks

A few notes: For the juice, I like 1/2 cup orange juice and 1/4 cup lemon juice. For the berries, frozen raspberries are my favorite. You can skip the honey/sugar if your fruit is really sweet, though gelatin has a way of reducing the overall sweetness in the end product, so a little bit extra can help. Finally, if you’re using raw honey, don’t heat it—just add it at the very end. // Yield: About 40 bite-size snacks

3/4 cup fruit juice
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 cup berries
5 tablespoons Vital Proteins gelatin (or other unflavored gelatin)

2 tablespoons honey or sugar, or a few drops of liquid stevia (optional)

Combine about half of your juice (just eyeball it), applesauce, and berries in a blender and blend until smooth. Pour into a saucepan and heat until hot, but not boiling.

Combine gelatin with remaining (cold) juice, whisking to combine well; make sure there are no lumps. Note that this is how Vital Proteins gelatin works best–you combine it with cold liquid, then whisk in hot. Your gelatin may differ so revise accordingly.

Slowly whisk hot fruit-juice mixture into gelatin, whisking until well combined. You may need to return it to the blender if there are lumps.

Pour into a small glass baking dish (no need to grease) or silcone molds. I fill one little silicone heart mold and pour the rest into a small 3-cup glass baking dish. Refrigerate for a few hours until firm, then remove with a spatula (it should come out as one piece with some careful prodding) and cut into bite-size pieces or use a cookie cutter to make shapes if you’re feeling extra fancy.

img_5743
Advertisements

Motherhood

indira-birth

(Photo taken by our doula.)

I intended to share this post six months after Indira’s birth, since the last time I was here I was six months into my pregnancy. Turns out, however, that being cute like that is not totally compatible with being a mom and having a full-time job.

But here I am anyway! I’ll try to leave all the clichés by the wayside and just tell you this: When I last wrote about my daughter—who I hadn’t yet met and was probably the size of an orange—she felt like a dream to me. Too good to be true.

She still feels like that to me today. I wake up every morning and see her smiling at me…two inches away from my face…and just cannot get over the fact that 1) I made her, and 2) she is mine. I don’t see that ever going away.

img_7406

At almost nine months old, Indira is (a tiny) 14 pounds of pure goodness. She looks like so many people—while also being completely herself—who have passed on from this life but who we carry close in our hearts. Her deep eyes are reminiscent of Suraj’s father, she has the same dimples and twinkle in her eyes as my Dad did, and her expressions are often like Suraj’s mother’s, who passed away just two months before she was born (and who was also the only person we shared our name choice with before birth). I so wish her three grandparents had had the chance to meet her, but it seems like they might have in a way greater than we know.

(All politics aside) This past year has been the best year of my life because of her. It’s also been filled with an intensity I never anticipated. MOTHERHOOD: you are by far the most complex word in the English language. I feel you, but I can’t always define you. I talk about you, but I don’t know how to write about you. You are a new skin I wear, but one I feel has been there all along. I’m still figuring you out.

So here’s my best go at putting that word into words. Eleven Things I’ve Learned About Motherhood So Far (because I couldn’t stop at ten…). I’m sure there’s only about a billion more lessons to go.

  1. Giving birth is the most transformative moment of your life, no matter how it plays out. My goal going in was a non-medicated birth (meaning no drugs of any kind), and I did a lot to prepare for that, but oh dear God it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I understand 110 percent why people get epidurals. During my 24-hour labor (pretty average for first-time moms), Indira kept flipping in the wrong direction/position, which caused back labor that I can’t even begin to describe and that no bath, ball, or labor position could ease. I probably would have quit if I hadn’t been in what felt like another universe. Truly. With each contraction, I went to some other place—I couldn’t speak; all I could do was ride it out. Towards the end, when it was time to push, I remember thinking that no, I couldn’t do it any longer, I just needed to sleep and try again tomorrow (ha!). But Suraj, my mom, our doula, and our midwives all assured me that we were almost there. Forty-five minutes later, they placed this tiny little baby with jet-black hair on my chest and the world stopped. I MADE A HUMAN BEING AND SHE IS PERFECT. All the pain that came before, and after, that moment was suddenly eclipsed (sparing you the details on the after, but if you’ve given birth, you know what I’m talking about).
  2. The first few months are HARD. There is beauty, there is haze, there are tears of every kind—happy ones, sad ones, scared ones, I-don’t-know-why-so-just-let-me-sob ones, the list goes on. No one gets any real practice for parenthood and then suddenly you’re IN IT FOREVER AND THERE’S NO GOING BACK. You’re ready to dive in, but you’re also like omg can I swim?!
  3. But you do. You always swim. No matter how hard it is, you somehow keep going. “Quit” and “motherhood” are incompatible terms.
  4. Two more incompatible terms? “Maternity leave” and “accomplishing things”—other than, of course, keeping a human being alive. It took me a long time to be okay with this, especially as someone who rarely sits still. But it’s true—you’ll never remember the laundry or the dishes, but you will remember the sweet snuggles, and they’ll never seem like enough. If I could have taken a year off, I would have.
  5. It can take awhile to feel like yourself again. The postpartum period is a funny one. For me, I think it was harder than pregnancy. Hormones don’t just automatically readjust (especially if you’re breastfeeding), your body can take more time to recover than you realize, and you’re also learning to navigate a new identity—all while sleep-deprived. In traditional cultures, new mothers were often pampered and kept secluded (with their baby) for 40 days or more; can we bring this practice back please?
  6. Breastfeeding is natural and beautiful and easy… NO, no, it’s not (and if it was for you, consider yourself very blessed). Seriously, anything that requires support groups, consultants, and 24-hour hot lines should tell you something. For me, breastfeeding was a much more traumatic journey than I ever expected. I had always imagined being my child’s sole source of sustenance, in that first year at least, and when we learned that that was just not possible for me (due to insufficient glandular tissue, something I had never heard of prior), it came as a huge blow. Feeding people is my love language and not being able to communicate in it stung deep. It still does, to be honest, and I still get emotional about it. But I also know how lucky I am that my child can be fed regardless. Breastfeeding is much, much more than just ounce output, and I remind myself of this on a daily basis.
  7. There is no ONE right way to do anything, despite what the Internet tells you. The right way is whatever works for your child and your family. Your baby hates being swaddled? Skip it. Can’t handle cry-it-out? Don’t do it. No time to mash up your own pureés? Buy them. Just because something worked for someone else doesn’t mean it’s law. Also, is it just me, or does your sixth sense for recognizing this type of thing really come alive in motherhood? It’s like a mom superpower.
  8. No matter how long you stare at your child, it doesn’t seem like enough. While they’re sleeping in your arms, you’ll be looking at photos of them on your phone, and you won’t think there’s anything weird about it. Then your partner will join you and you’re both like Yeah this is totally normal.
  9. Support is a lifeline. Yes, you are in a beautiful little cocoon for those first weeks/months… but wait, there’s no food in here, everything is covered in a layer of dust, and it’s very hard to actually get out. I was so thankful for my mom and family who came to visit (and help) during that time, and friends who came with coffee, or to check in, or just sent a text reminding you that the world was still moving.
  10. Strangers disarm and turn into compassionate, goofy people when they see children, babies especially. You hear stories about grandchildren and grown children, get countless smiles, and witness grown men making silly faces for your kid while waiting in line or sitting at a restaurant. The world becomes a little softer and it’s really heartwarming to see.
  11. This final one is a big one. There are times when you will feel like you are not doing anything well enough. I’ve felt this acutely since returning to work. I can’t spend enough time with my child, or I’m not catching up on my workload fast enough, or, a favorite of mine, When am I supposed to cook dinner?! And I only have one kid! So, suffice it say, we are all learning as we go and whatever you are doing, whether it’s with zero kids or five, is ENOUGH.

I hope to be back to this space again soon, maybe even with a recipe, but if that happens three months later than what I had planned, well, see point #11. Someone’s already calling…

img_7433

Ten Things I’ve Learned About Pregnancy (Six Months In)

25 weeks

No makeup, yoga pants, loose shirts. Best kind of life.

I go back and forth on how much to share about my pregnancy here. Everyone’s journey down this road is a personal one. But at the same time, it’s also a highly social experience. People seem genuinely interested in how you’re doing, how you’re feeling, what you need, and so on (that or they’re really good actors).

As a somewhat introverted person, I’m never quite sure how to answer or what to say, but that of course doesn’t mean that pregnancy-related thoughts don’t swirl around my head on a daily basis. So, I’ve compiled my top ten observations so far. If no one else reads them, at least I’ll have them here to look back on years from now, when I’m sitting at my desk wondering how it all went by so quickly.

Ten Things I’ve Learned About Pregnancy (Six Months In)

  1. Pregnancy is ten months long, not nine (40 weeks = 10 months). That was news to me. Granted, the first two weeks are basically a freebie (spoiler alert: you’re not technically pregnant for them), but still, it’s ten! Which brings me to point #2.
  2. Ten months is kind of a long time (two months short of year!). It’s also kind of short (a whole human gets made!). This perspective changes on a daily basis. One day you’re like “Holy crap, I can’t believe I have seven more months to go…” and the next you’re all “Ahhh, I only have two more months to figure out what the hell goes on a baby registry and how to find a pediatrician…”
  3. Everyone’s pregnancy is different. Some love it, some hate it, some are sick, some are not—it’s kind of a crap-shoot and I don’t think you can (or should) judge anyone else based on your own experience. Personally, I’ve loved being pregnant so far, but I’m also not totally surprised that I do. I’ve wanted to be a mother since I was about four (my mom will fondly recall that I’d have her write out exact feeding and changing schedules for my dolls…) and as crunchy as it sounds, I feel honored to be a woman and to have this opportunity.

    Kid Essay

    My dreams are coming true, people.

  4. That said, totally weird things happen to your body when you’re pregnant. Seriously, pick the strangest thing you can think of, type it into google with “+ pregnancy” and the answer will be “yes, this is common” and the solution will be to “wait until you’re done being pregnant.” Itchy skin, varicose veins, crying uncontrollably when someone on Homeland dies, you name it.
  5. If the amount of time I spend staring at my own belly, as well as other people’s bellies/babies on Instagram, is any indication of how much time I’ll spend staring at my own kid, I will likely be 100% unproductive at all other things in life come birth-day.
  6. Picking out a name is both fun and exhausting. You realize how many names you associate with specific people (and therefore reasons why you can’t possibly name your kid that), what biases you have toward various letters of the alphabet, and how two people with two different accents (that would be your mom and dad, kid) can say the same exact name in two completely different ways. That last one is usually quite entertaining.
  7. For the most part, you put your hands on your belly in public to make it clear to everyone that you are indeed pregnant and not just hitting the burgers and fries really hard. At 6+ months, I am still waiting for my belly to officially “pop,” so I find this especially helpful in convincing people that there is in fact a baby in there.
  8. You eat whatever you want, whenever you want, and basically have zero qualms about it. Before becoming pregnant, I thought perhaps I’d become even more virtuous once that positive test popped up, but no. Your body knows what it wants and can handle, and there is absolutely no way you’re going near a salad if you don’t want to. This was very freeing for me. While I’ve continued to eat healthfully, I also haven’t been hard on myself for wanting toast three times a day (I’m looking at you, first trimester) or a brownie at 3pm. General balance is fine by me.
  9. The best place to go for advice is your mom-friends. The internet and its 50 million reviews and 25,000 baby wraps are great and all, but asking like-minded friends is really the Cliffs Notes version of all that. (On that note, thank you friends, mom, and sisters for always replying to my texts.)
  10. If you’ve picked a good spouse/partner, you become even more thankful for him (or her). Especially when he talks to your belly. ❤

Three more months!

 

What’s Really(!) Been Cooking + Blueberry Muffins

When I last wrote, I was about 16 weeks pregnant and headed home to share the surprise with my family at the Thanksgiving table (and what a surprise it was!—they were elated of course). Up until that point, Suraj and I had only shared the news with a handful of people, as we really wanted to wait to go “public” until I had the chance to tell my family in person.

Now that I’m well into my second trimester and feeling great, here we are. I am due the beginning of May—just four months away! Eeek! My pregnancy has been wonderful so far and we both feel blessed that everything has gone so smoothly. It’s amazing to me how natural the process and changes have been, and how your body just knows what to do. And those baby kicks, oh, they are just the sweetest, aren’t they?

I’ve still been cooking up a storm, with perhaps a bit more of a focus on carb-y things, cheese, and eggs because those give me the most comfort. I also adore avocado, peanut butter, and clementines (aka our baby’s favorite food), but all of those things I liked before so no major surprise that I love them even more now. All in all, I’d say we are eating very well! (Though you can best believe I am ordering sushi the moment we leave the hospital…)

Keeping with the carb theme, I figured I’d share a simple and (somewhat) healthy recipe for blueberry muffins. I’ve been loving having these at tea time, spread with a little butter. I make a full batch, then freeze half for future snacks and breakfasts. They stay moist and tender from the sour cream, a key ingredient in baked goods, in my opinion. Enjoy!

Muffins

Blueberry Muffins
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated and Smitten Kitchen
You can use full-fat yogurt in place of the sour cream, but I really think the sour cream makes them the most soft and tender. // Yield: 9 to 10 standard muffins

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg
3/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I used half spelt flour)
1 1/2 teaspoons powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup fresh blueberries
Raw sugar, for sprinkling on top

Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a muffin tin with 10 paper liners or spray each cup with a nonstick spray.

Rub the sugar and lemon zest together, using your hands, in the bowl of an electric mixer. This helps release the lemony goodness of the zest. Just a couple minutes will do the trick and it will smell heavenly.

Add the butter to the sugar and beat with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add egg and beat well, then sour cream and vanilla.

Put flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a sifter and sift half of dry ingredients over batter. Mix until combined. Sift remaining dry ingredients into batter and mix just until the flour disappears. Gently fold in your blueberries. The dough will be quite thick.

Fill your muffin cups ¾ full (I like to use an ice cream with a spring release for this) and sprinkle raw sugar on top. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until tops are golden and a tester inserted into the center of muffins comes out clean (assuming you don’t pierce a berry). Serve warm, split and spread with butter.

Foraging Nettles

Nettle Plant 1

My mom comes to visit at least once a year. She stays a few days, and, unasked, does all my laundry, mending, cleaning, and so on. She claims she “enjoys” doing these things and of course I do nothing to dispute that.

We do try to add in a few activities and outings other than chores when she comes to stay, of course, and those usually include checking out new places/museums/shows, eating semi-fancy meals out, and cooking Indian food at home for her (she is a big fan).

A few years back, she came to visit around Mother’s Day and I felt like I really had to up the ante. Knowing she loves the outdoors as much as I do, I signed us up for a “Wild Coastal Edibles” walk, which I found while browsing my local conservation area’s website (not being a native New Englander, I’m always looking for new parks and areas to explore). The walk was led by author, environmentalist, and wild foods enthusiast Russ Cohen, and for four hours on a Sunday morning, he took us around Marblehead, Massachusetts and taught us all about the wild plants and weeds right under our noses that we could safely pick and eat without harming ourselves or the overall vegetation. We picked garlic mustard, chickweed, dandelion, sassafras (smells like root beer!), nettle, elderflower, kelp and kombu (seaweed), beach peas, and so much more. After the walk, he treated us to a spread of foods he had already prepared using some of these foods. The knotweed crumble bars still haunt my dreams—they were so fantastic. Needless to say, Mom and I loved the walk so much that we still talk about it. If you ever find one of these walks in your area, it’s definitely worth checking out!

After the walk, I bought a couple of books on wild edibles and an app (“Wild Edibles Forage” by “Wildman” Steve Brill) for my phone, but most of what I know I learned on that walk. Foraging is just so fun. It gives you a chance to learn about what’s around you and really interact with your environment and the bounty it can provide. You also sometimes happen to run into cool people doing the same thing as you—old Greek and Italian men in particular (usually hunting mushrooms or wild greens). Foraging is an age-old tradition and I’m all about bringing it back into style.

Since moving to New Hampshire last year, I’ve found a few different edibles around where I live. Most I find just by walking or cycling by and seeing them. I then take a photo and/or inspect the plant for positive identification (usually using my app) and make sure it’s in a place where it’s okay to pick. Many plants, even in parks, are fine to pick responsibly, so long as you are only helping the situation—for invasive plants, this usually means pulling out the whole plant, so it doesn’t keep spreading; for non-invasive plants, this usually means picking only part of the plant, so it can easily keep producing/reproducing. Check with your local park for their rules and regulations. It goes without saying that any edibles on someone’s property should only be picked with permission (though I usually find this is readily given… especially in the case of dandelion greens and other weeds). And be sure no spray has been applied to the plants.

Trio of Greens

From left: garlic mustard, dandelion, stinging nettle (note gloved hand!).

In summer, my favorite thing to pick is berries—blackberries are especially plentiful in the New England area, as our elderberries, which I hope to post about in a few months’ time, when they’re ripe for picking. In spring, stinging nettles are my top pick (literally). It took me a long time to finally find them, but when you do, you know—usually by getting stung by their tiny hairs (the pain is temporary and nothing major). They grow near a stream on a dead-end road I walk in my neighborhood. I feel comfortable picking them from there because it’s rural road with hardly any traffic and the land is conservation area.

Nettles, once cooked, taste like an earthy spinach, and go exceptionally well with pasta, eggs, or anything creamy. They are one of the most healthful foods on Earth, with more protein than any other green. They’re also very high in iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, manganese, carotenoids, vitamins C, K, and B-complex, and more. Nettles have long been thought to help treat the chronically ill, especially those with iron deficiency, and have also been used as a diuretic aid and an anti-inflammatory. This link provides more info should you be interested.

Nettle Plant 2

Ready to be picked! I’ll snip the top 5 to 6 inches (or 2 to 3 sets of leaves) of these plants.

I know ramps are the current darling of foraging and farmer’s markets, but I would not be surprised if nettle took over the spotlight very soon. If you’re interested in picking your own, here’s what you need to know.

Where they grow: Partially shaded, moist, rich soil. Disturbed habitats, fields, open woodlands, edges of trails, thickets, and riverbanks. Nettles can be found in most of the continental U.S., Canada, and Mexico, as well as most of the temperate world.

Road

My foraging spot (the little nook to the right is where the nettles live).

When to collect: Early spring, before they flower and become inedible (which is close to late spring/early summer). You can also try collecting them in autumn, when new growth appears.

How to identify: Stinging nettles sting. This causes minor skin irritation (like a bee sting) but disappears within an hour. I was actually pretty excited to get stung the first time because it meant positive identification, but one sting was enough. You should always wear gloves and long sleeves when collecting them.

The stem of a stinging nettle plant has tiny, almost indistinguishable hairs (these are what sting) and is ribbed, four-sided, and hollow on the inside. They grow from 3 to 7 feet tall, though you want to collect them when they’re young, around 2 to 3 feet (as pictured). The leaves are heart-shaped with a toothed edge and pointed tip, and appear in pairs (meaning one right across from the other on the stem); I find the leaves are one of the best ways to find and identify them. When the plant flowers, the flowers are small and green. At flowering stage, they’re past their potential for picking, but you can at least mark the location for next year.

How to collect: Wear long sleeves, pants, and gloves. Using scissors, snip off the top third of the plant, or the first 5 to 6 inches, right above a leaf nodule/pair if you can so it’ll grow right back (and you can collect again). This the most tender part of the plant.

Bag of Nettles

Ten minutes of work yields a full bag!

How to prepare: Rinse thoroughly in several changes of water to remove any dirt and bugs. I like add a little white vinegar to the water too, just to make sure I’ve gotten everything off. I use tongs for swirling/washing so I don’t touch the hairs.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add a tablespoon or two of kosher salt. Boil the nettle for about 5 minutes—this will completely deactivate the stinging hairs and make them perfectly safe to eat. You can also steam the nettles for the same amount of time instead of boiling; some say this helps them retain their flavor better than boiling.

Chop up the wilted greens and sauté with garlic and olive oil (and other greens if you like—I like broccoli rabe, but you may want to use something sweeter, like baby spinach, to offset the more forward flavor of the nettle) and add to pasta. Or make pesto. Or add to soups. Or eggs. Basically any place you add or like greens, nettles can go! The leftover cooking water (broth) is also deeply nutritious and can be used in soups. You can freeze the wilted nettle for future use as well.

Wilted Nettle

Wilted (cooked) nettle.

With this year’s first batch, I made this Greek wild greens and feta pie (pictured below), using a combination of nettle, dandelion greens, and garlic mustard (pictured above) in place of the chard. It was wonderful. We packed a few slices for a beach picnic, ate some for breakfast, and the rest I shared at work—they were gone in seconds. Last year, I made a big batch of this nettle pesto and froze it for quick weeknight pasta meals.

I know that foraging can seem a little intimidating, but I find the best strategy is to pick one or two plants to look for, and focus on those (get the kids involved too!). And if you happen to get “muggled” as my friend puts it (i.e., funny looks from someone who has no clue what you’re doing), use it as an opportunity to help spread the word! People are genuinely interested, and often end up sharing a great story about how their grandparents used to do the same, or where they’ve seen an untouched patch of berries or an apple tree. Embrace the plants, and the people too!

Wild Greens Pie

Greek wild greens and feta pie (hortopita).