Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Year-End Picadillo

2009 seems like a blur now that it is coming to a close. When in doubt over how I spent the year, I can go back to old posts and reminisce about the guavas I steamed in vain one cold January evening or the ridiculous amount of brain power I devoted to how to make the perfect lentil puree for a nine-month-old. It’s funny to think I used to set Malanga Baby on the kitchen floor on a Mexican blanket with some toys spread around her while I did my thing. Now, she runs all over the house while I cook, so there’s no time to meditate over perfecting the process. In fact, there has been many a night on which I have burnt rice or undercooked soba noodles as a result of trying to be in three rooms at once while the stove is going. (The woman who cooked all of Julia Child’s recipes in a year certainly did not have a toddler to distract her.)

If anything is clear, however, it’s that I still subscribe to the not-so-original idea that food is a kind of home. I began my foray into off-the-beaten path baby foods with malanga, the taste of which practically brings my grandmother Aya back into the room with me when it hits my tongue. Every time I feed my daughter, I hope her palate is archiving these moments and that one day, she’ll be who-knows-where and have a big plate of, say, picadillo, and think of home.

Picadillo is a basic Cuban dish that probably varies a little from family to family. Sadly, in modern Cuba, it’s very hard to come by beef, so it’s often made with chicken or soy beef. You could try substituting ground turkey if you like. Malanga Baby enjoyed her picadillo tonight with a side of carrots and brown rice for dinner. (That’s the tomato sauce from the picadillo all over her face and hands in the picture.) In honor of Malanga Baby’s aversion to olives, I left them out of her plate.

Picadillo (Malanga Mama’s home recipe)


1 lb. ground beef (lean is best)- seasoned with black pepper, cumin &
salt OR with Goya brand Adobo (a ready made seasoning)
¼ to half of 1 onion, peeled and chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 small can Goya tomato sauce
Approx. 1/4 cup dry wine
Green olives stuffed with red pimentos
Vegetable or olive oil for frying the onion & garlic

Optional ingredients-
Goya brand "sofrito" (it's an orangey mixture sold in the Hispanic
foods aisle of major grocery stores)


1. Season the beef, set aside.

2. Chop the onion and garlic (or use garlic press). Fry the onion in a
large skillet with oil until translucent. Add the garlic and a heaping
spoonful of sofrito (if using) and cook, careful not to burn the

3. Add the beef, breaking it up well with a wooden spoon. Turn heat down
a bit. Stir beef often.

4. When the beef is nearly cooked, drain the fat from
the pan and stir in the dry wine (you may use a little less or more
than a 1/4 cup, eyeball this, the mixture should not be too watery),
cook for a couple of minutes more (if you put too much wine in, allow
it to evaporate a bit) and add the tomato sauce, stirring everything
together. Cook for a few more minutes and add the olives and raisins
at the end (and capers, if using). Taste to see if it needs more salt
or seasoning.


Rice (cook this separately)
Plantains in any form (maduros or tostones) make a nice side dish

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Great Croissant Meltdown of 2009

We have a VERY independent toddler on our hands, the kind who insists on wielding her own spoon even if holding it upside down means the food won’t make it into her mouth, the kind who pushes the booster seat away and sits directly on the chair even if she doesn’t quite reach the table and, in her most recent manifestation of independence, the kind who will not let you break her food into manageable pieces. This means that pancakes, turkey burgers, and slices of toast must all be left perfectly intact , no matter what. Malanga Mama has to control her impulses when she sees Malanga Toddler shove entire pieces into her little mouth.

Sadly, Malanga Papi didn’t understand the importance of food integrity until we took a family trip in the snow yesterday to our favorite neighborhood patisserie. We bought Malanga Toddler a croissant, one of her favorite “special occasion” foods ever since she had her first taste of one in Paris in August. She took a few licks of the croissant, shoved it around her paper plate and seemed generally happy just contemplating it until Malanga Papi picked up the croissant and broke a piece off to feed to her.


An immediate meltdown ensued. Malanga Toddler cried her eyes out as if Malanga Papi had just murdered her favorite doll. She shoved the plate away and yelled. Not only was she not going to eat the piece of croissant Malanga Papi offered her, she wasn’t going to eat any of the remaining croissant and she was going to cry and cry instead.

Malanga Papi made a quick dash to the counter and bought another croissant. Then, taking advantage of Malanga Toddler’s continued tantrum, he switched the plates on the table, putting the broken croissant on his lap. She took a break from crying to inspect the new croissant, very, very carefully. Then she deemed it acceptable. In the meantime, in a stroke of brilliance, Malanga Papi offered her a piece of croissant from the one he had on his lap, without letting Malanga Toddler see the source of the piece. She took the piece, compared it to the croissant on the table, convinced herself that her croissant was not ruined, and popped the piece in her mouth.

She ate the entire croissant this way, while croissant #2 remained pristine on the table, a comforting sight to her eyes.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Superkickin' with her "papos"

It's still 19 days away, but winter is setting in already. The early darkness is depressing enough without an active toddler who yearns to be out of doors until dinner time. What's a mother to do when her girl wakes up from a nap around 3:30 and the sun starts going down just after 4?

Well, there's the play area at the Queens Mall, as well as the two-story H&M there with the central staircase and the huge purse/accessories section (Malanga Baby loves her accessories). There's the occasional playdate, but it's so hard to plan around different toddlers' afternoon nap schedules. And, there's hanging out at the playground way past the point that the fluorescent lights come on. This last one can feel kind of mystical as the orange light shines off of the slide, but it's hard to stay outside when the temperature suddenly makes a very noticeable dip from one minute to the next.

Enter our evening soccer class! It's called "Superkickers" and it's the most fun I can find for Malanga Baby from 5:30-6pm. She gets to sing songs, run around a gym and do Karate-Kid-like exercises (you know, the kind that build all the muscles required by soccer but don't necessarily seem related to soccer at first) with kids from all over the neighborhood. She even gets covered in stickers at the end of every class. Now, if we could just get her to pay attention to the Brazilian soccer teachers instead of running around to her own beat, then I could tell you if I have a future futbolista on our hands or not.

"Papos" is Malanga Baby's new word for shoes, it's short for zapatos. After months of this Malanga Mama enduring nothing but the sounds of English-language words (hi, bye, puppy, baby), I finally heard the sweet sound of "agua" a few weeks ago. Now so many more variations of Spanish words are following. I love it!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

¿Que pasa, calabaza?

Malanga Baby had a great day at the neighborhood Halloween parade with many of her friends. To make the day extra sweet, I baked some pumpkin cupcakes with this recipe by Kate Merker from Real Simple magazine.

1 18.5-ounce box yellow cake mix (plus the ingredients called for in the package directions)
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree
2 8-ounce bars cream cheese, at room temperature
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
24 pieces candy corn

- Heat oven to 350° F. Line two 12-cup muffin tins with paper liners. Prepare the cake mix as directed but with the following change: Add the pumpkin pie spice and substitute the can of pumpkin puree for the water called for in the package directions.

- Divide the batter among the prepared muffin tins and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean, 18 to 22 minutes. Let cool.

- Meanwhile, using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and sugar until creamy. Spread on the cupcakes and top each with a piece of candy corn.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Fisher Price en español & other "hot" additions to Malanga Casa

Last month, Malanga Baby became quite enamored of the plastic Fisher Price counting pig that belongs to my friend in England's children. While the pig's British accent was cute, I am glad that I held off on purchasing it until we returned home. I was able to find the Spanish version on Amazon. !Arriba el cochinito!

(And yes, that's my vintage Fisher Price barn behind the pig, which I retrieved from my older brother's basement this summer. While FP gets big kudos for their "en español" offerings, their new barn is not nearly as fun as the original version.)

In food news, I've been trying to up the ante and gave the babe spicy Red Lentils the other day. She loved them. Verdict: the turmeric is the winning ingredient since she went gaga for another recipe I made using turmeric a few weeks ago. These lentils were super easy and made a nice, cool fall day meal for Malanga Mama and Malanga Papi, too. Here's the recipe.

Red Lentil Puree (from the book "The Best Recipe")


1 & 1/2 cups red lentils, picked over and rinsed
1 & 1/2 tablespoons fresh minced gingerroot
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds (I actually used powdered cumin and it turned out ok)
1/2 teaspoon anise seeds (I accidentally skipped these)
3 tablespoons juice from 1 lemon (it was basically all the juice from a small lemon)
Ground white pepper, to taste

1. Bring first five ingredients plus 4 cups water to boil in a medium saucepan: boil for 5 minutes. Reduce heat, simmer until lentils lose their shape, 15-20 minutes. Whisk lentils to make a puree, set aside.

2. Heat butter in a small saute pan. Add cumin and anise seeds; saute until butter is nutty brown. Remove from heat, add lemon juice. Stir mixture into lentil puree. Season with pepper, adjust other seasonings and serve immediately.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

On the road with Malanga Baby

I always thought that living in New York was my way of bringing the world to Malanga Baby, but it turns out that I couldn't resist the travel bug and just had to bring Malanga Baby to the world. So off we went to Horsham, England and Paris, France, where I conveniently have friends with small children. That means I was able to get out of here with just our passports, some clothes, an Ergo (especially useful for the airtrain ride to Kennedy airport and for the Metro in Paris), a lightweight stroller and enough diapers and wipes for the plane ride. Really, that's it! I carried it all myself to the airport on public transportation.

Malanga Baby had a fabulous time exploring the sand pit at a local park in England, cooing over my friend's two-month old baby and playing on the trampoline in my friend's backyard. She also adapted very well to the demands of Parisian life- lots of crowded subway riding (the NY subway is a haven of wide open spaces in comparison, even during rush hour), lots of croissant-eating (I believe she may have ingested her weight in butter- oops) and some stroller napping while Malanga Mama shopped. Malanga Baby also thoroughly enjoyed the communal bath experience with my Parisian friend's 5-year-old and 8-month-old.

The only thing I didn't get to do enough on this trip was write down all of my thoughts, but I'll try to give the highlights of what I learned along the way here:

- Sainsbury Grocery Store chain in England has a fantastic Eco-Friendly diaper line. I wish I could find these in the US!

- Boots Pharmacy in Horsham has an entire floor dedicated to baby products- cute clothes, Fisher Price toys with a British accent, not just one, but TWO lines of organic baby snacks (including Minky Moon Crescents, which Malanga Baby gobbled up) and more stuff than I could ever successfully cram into my tiny suitcase.

- If you're ever planning to take your child to Paris's Jardin de Luxembourg, make sure your pockets are heavy with Euros because it all comes at a cost. The children's park has an entrance fee. If I remember correctly, it's 2,60 euros for children and 1,60 for adults. There's a separate set of swings that cost 1,40 euro per 5-minute ride. Neither of these attractions is particularly noteworthy, but the Guignol (puppet show) was worth every penny. The shows are currently at 4pm every day and cost 4,50 euros per person, large or small. Malanga Baby was positively charmed by the show and by all the children sitting around her on the low benches.

- If shopping for the little one is your thing, head to the Rue Vavin, not far from the Jardin de Luxembourg in Paris's 6th Arrondissement. Sweet Petite Bateau onesies and pajamas are much more affordable than they are States-side. There's also a fantastic toy shop right across the street from the Petite Bateau store and lots of other baby stores up and down the same street.

- Petite Pan is another children's store not to be missed in Paris.

- Above all, children are more flexible and resilient than you think!!!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Malanga had a little lamb

Have I mentioned that I just discovered Malanga Baby loves lamb? She can't get enough of it. The first time she ate it, I fed her a pretty basic dish that I like to make when we're having guests over. (Perhaps I should say when we used to have guests over since I haven't had any dinner parties since I gave birth to Malanga Baby.) You just fry up an onion and some garlic in about 3 tablespoons of olive oil, throw in some strips of lamb (I buy the kind for lamb stew, but you could use any boneless cut), brown the lamb pieces, then add about 1 cup water of vegetable broth, sprinkle a little bit of paprika over it and let it simmer for about 30 minutes or so. 5 minutes before taking it off the stove, add the juice of 1 lemon and some chopped parsley. The lamb gets nice and soft for little mouths and is quite flavorful, too. You could serve some couscous or a lentil salad on the side for adults, but beware that the grains or lentils will end up absolutely everywhere if fed to a baby/toddler.

Encouraged by my little girl's enthusiasm for lamb, I broke out a recipe book last week that I bought in France in 2007 and had never used. (Shamefully, I buy lots of books on vacation that I somehow never get around to reading.) The book is called "Tajines & Couscous" and the name says it all. A sure place to find a good lamb recipe, and I did. So, since the lamb meatballs were also a hit, I am posting my translation of the French language recipe here, with some thoughts.

*Minty Lamb Meatballs* (Laurence du Tilly)

6 dried apricots
1 bunch of mint
1 egg
1 lb. of ground lamb meat
2 teaspoons cumin
1 clove of garlic
1 eggplant
1 tablespoon golden raisins
olive oil
1 box couscous


- Cut the dried apricot into small pieces. Throw them in a bowl and add the mint, finely chopped, the egg and the meat. Add the cumin, salt and pepper. (Note from Malanga Mama: DON'T skip the salt, like I did.) Knead it with your fingers until everything is evenly mixed. Make small balls about the size of a large nut. Put in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

- Place the olive oil in a pan and brown the meatballs on all sides. Set aside.

- Chop the garlic. Cut the eggplant in cubes. (Malanga Mama says you might want to cut the eggplant and let it "breathe" for about 30 minutes to reduce any bitterness.) Put two tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy-bottom pot and add the eggplant and garlic. Cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add a little bit of salt then add the meatballs on top, cover, and leave cooking over a low flame for about 15 minutes.

- Prepare the couscous while the above cooks.

- Serve everything together with a little bit of fresh mint and the raisins.

Notes from Malanga Mama

The eggplant releases a lot of water while cooking everything together, this is what finishes cooking the meatballs through. If you choose to skip the eggplant portion of this dish and want to just make the meatballs on their own, try frying them in more oil like in the recipe below
I also found that the eggplant absorbed a lot of the olive oil at the beginning, so keep an eye on it.

While the meatballs were fabulous, I found the overall taste of this dish a little bland. That could be because I skipped the salt (oops!), but I think a little chopped onion tossed in with the eggplant and garlic would liven this up a little.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


This is what summer in NYC looks like.

Sunday, July 19, 2009


Sunday mornings, I strap Malanga Baby onto my back and we go to the local farmer's market. I wander the stands dreaming up Malanga Baby's next meal. Sometimes it's a hit, other times it's an absolute miss, like last Sunday when I fried up some zucchini and tomato in olive oil and served them with baked scallops. I thought it was a delicious meal (and so easy!), Malanga Baby thought otherwise. I think the texture of the scallops was too difficult to chew for someone with only 7 teeth, but I'm still puzzled about the aversion to the zucchini. She used to love it pureed months ago and she'll eat tomatoes in other mixes.

Nonetheless, every Sunday morning is an exercise in possibility. Once Malanga Baby was eating table foods just like the rest of us, I fell into the routine of making the same tried and true dishes for a while- baked fish, roast beets, Spanish tortilla, soba noodles with chopped carrots and edamame, cheese tortellini tossed with peas and parmesan cheese, and arroz con pollo (chicken with rice, cooked in vegetable broth). All of these are Malanga Baby's favorites and of course, I make enough for both of us to enjoy. But my goal now is to introduce her to at least one completely new food per week, dusting off my recipe books or looking for ideas online based on what I've purchased at the farmer's market. Malanga Baby is napping right now while I have some lamb simmering on the stove with onions, garlic, paprika, lemon juice and parsley. It smells heavenly. I wonder what she will think.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

My first llama

We went to two zoos this week- the Central Park Zoo where Malanga Baby was enthralled by the penguins and the Queens Zoo where she met her first llama.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Mamey Mornings

Behold the mamey. I ate half of one of these every morning when I last visited Cuba in 2007. They were fresh from my uncle Carlos's backyard out near Bejucal, in the outskirts of Havana. My sister sliced them and served them with love and I did my best to eat my share, despite how thick the fruit felt in my throat. Before that 2007 trip, I had only ever eaten mamey in smoothies, mixed with lots of milk and sugar and served by waiters in Miami who called me "reina" or "princesa." Eating chunky slices the consistency somewhere between avocado and sweet potato was a challenge. My brother had to help sometimes when my sister wasn't looking. There we were, full grown adults acting like kids over breakfast. I love the memory of it and couldn't resist picking up a mamey for Malanga Baby when I saw them at the local supermarket this week.

It's a big fruit, as you can see, and has served as baby breakfast for several days in a row now. Malanga Baby gobbles it up, my good little cubanita.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

So much activity, so little time

The last month and a half has been a whirlwind. Malanga Baby turned one, got four new teeth and is trying to walk, and in the middle of all of that, we moved. However, the most amusing thing by far in recent times was Malanga Baby's reaction to this hug by one of her playmates. What can I tell you, Malanga Baby? Love is complicated and scary.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

First wedding, first ocean, first orange

Malanga Baby's world expanded beyond her wildest imaginings in Key West, Florida this past week. She even had a lick of her first cupcake. It all called for a lot of clapping.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Almost Cinco de Mayo

And in that spirit, I will finally post something relating to the blog's original purpose- raising a baby in Latin New York! Malanga Baby started "Musica para mi" classes a couple of weeks ago right here in the neighborhood and we're both really happy with the class. The group is mixed age, up to 3 years, and while I was a little skeptical about this originally, it works very well. Malanga Baby watches the older kids move around and even follows after them sometimes. We sing, play with instruments (Malanga Baby loves the castinets, thus reinforcing my hunch that I've got a future flamenco dancer on my hands) and dance. Malanga Baby goes all out with the dancing, no surprise. I'm enjoying learning children's songs from all over Latin America.

I also discovered two more places to buy good Spanish-language children's books in New York, besides Barco de Papel (still my favorite)- the Scholastic Store in Soho and McNally Jackson, also in Soho. I bought a huge pile of board books for my chiquitita the other day to take with us on vacation this week. She needs beach reading, too!

Saturday, April 18, 2009


I finally took Malanga Baby to see the Jose Marti statue at the 6th Avenue entrance to the Park.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Don Quijote for Babies

After that Sancho Panza dream a few weeks ago, I was very amused to find this book at our beloved Barco de Papel bookstore. It's the perfect size for Malanga Baby's hands.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Pasta with veggies

I have discovered that pasta makes a very good vehicle for delivering veggies. In the last week, I've fed Malanga Baby spinach fettucine with a yummy garlic, asparagus, spinach, pine nut & parmesan cheese sauce and bow tie pasta with an equally yummy garlic and red beet sauce. The beet sauce was messy, but so much fun!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Meatball Baby

I should say I made Malanga Baby “albóndigas,” but the first word that springs to mind is actually the Italian one- “polpette.” The summer before Malanga Baby was born, I spent a dreamy three weeks in Italy doing yoga in Tuscany, eating scrumptious meals in various cities and cooking in my friend’s small kitchen in Naples. The activity that brought me closest to the Italian language was those afternoons shopping for the ingredients for whatever I was making. I learned that the Macellaria sold meat and that what I wanted from the local produce vendor was not a cebolla or even a sebola, but a cipolla (so many attempts to make myself understood!) and that bread crumbs, such a plain and pedestrian thing, sound like something infinitely more interesting in their Italian incarnation- pane gratuglatto. I will forever think of those brilliant, sun-drenched Naples afternoons chatting with the locals whenever I make meatballs.

I hope Malanga Baby grows up with happy memories of meatballs, too, since she seemed to gobble them up with great pleasure last night. Her method is unique. First she takes the entire meatball in her hand and gives it a squeeze, looking at it as the meat squishes and flexes. Then she pops the whole thing in her mouth, dividing it into smaller pieces with her jaw and spitting it all back out to then pick up the pieces one by one for proper eating. Our dinner was a very drawn out affair last night, but such an enjoyable one as the three of us ate our meatballs. I am thrilled to find something that Malanga Baby finds both fun to play with and delicious.

My meatball making has become a bit more refined since my Italian days now that I have access to lots of cookbooks. The following recipe is from “The Best Recipe.”

Meatballs for the whole family

2 slices white sandwich bread (crusts discarded), torn into small pieces
6 tablespoons plain yogurt (the original recipe calls for thinning out with 2 tablespoons whole milk, but I didn’t use the milk and everything turned out fine)
1 pound ground meat
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons finely minced fresh parsley leaves (REALLY FINELY MINCED)
1 large egg yolk
I skipped the salt, but did add some ground pepper
About 1 & ¼ cup vegetable oil for pan-frying

- Combine bread and yogurt in small bowl, mashing occasionally with a fork, until smooth paste forms, about 10 minutes
- Place ground meat, cheese, parsley, egg yolk, garlic and pepper in medium bowl. Add bread-yogurt mixture and combine until evenly mixed. Shape into meatballs, making sure you don’t make them too dense. I made quite a few of the meatballs smaller for little hands.
- Pour vegetable oil in a sauté pan to a depth of ¼ inch. Turn flame up to medium-high. After several minutes, test oil with edge of meatball. When oil sizzles, add meatballs in a single layer. Fry, turning several times, until nicely browned on all sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer browned meatballs to plate lined with paper towels to cool before serving.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Almost a big girl

I had a dream last week that Malanga Baby was speaking in full sentences already. Her first one was something about Sancho Panza and the caballos mansos. I was asking her to repeat it, but she thought I was silly for not listening the first time. While she's not anywhere close to speaking like this yet, she does give me the "mommy, that's baby stuff" look more and more now, particularly at the table. Long gone are the happy puree days. If it has to go on a spoon, Malanga Baby has no interest. She wants foods she can pick up and squish herself. This may or may not make it into her mouth, too, but that's not the point, if you ask her. The video below is of her eating steamed broccoli.

I'm too busy trying to keep up with this new "I am too big to be fed" development to post on here much. But the good news is that when all my other culinary ideas fail, bananas always come to the rescue. It's funny because bananas were one of the first foods I introduced to Malanga Baby and she wasn't a fan back in the day. But now that I cut it into little pieces for her, she loves it.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

We got the beet!

Beets are a messy and wonderful thing. I roasted some for Malanga Baby tonight and she seemed to enjoy every brightly colored bite. Malanga Papi said she looked like she was wearing "old lady lipstick" afterwards. I think magenta suits her.

Roasted Beets Method

(the basic recipe came from Lisa Barnes' The Petite Appetite)

It's best to try this one while baby is napping since it will be difficult to do much else with your stained hands. I used 2 beets and this yielded about 7 ounces of pureed beets.

- Dress appropriately and use a red cutting board, if possible

- Scrub beets, remove tips & tails

- Pierce beets with a knife

- Wrap beets together in aluminum foil

- Bake in oven at 350 degrees for 45-60 minutes

- Let cool, remove skins, puree in food processor

- Dress baby in dark clothes or clothes you don't mind exposing to the risk of staining

Try serving them with ricotta cheese for some variety. Note that your baby's pee will be pink almost immediately after eating beets. And yes, the red does eventually come off of skin.

Friday, February 27, 2009

By Day in Queens

She pulls books off the shelves indiscriminately, but every once in a while, a particular volume catches her eye and she won't let go. Today it was Roberto Bolaño's By Night in Chile. She has good taste, my little girl.

Her taste in food is expanding, too. She moved on to chick peas this week. I made hummus out of them, adding a little olive oil, garlic and lemon juice (just a dash) to the puree. And tonight she tried spinach, disguised with some mango and pear. We've been working our way up to one of my favorite tapas combinations- chick peas and spinach.

Butternut squash risotto, however, didn't go over well. I gave her a little taste from my own plate and she frowned as soon as her lips touched the spoon. This was attempt number two with the butternut squash, but I'm not giving up all hope yet.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

9 month birthday

Malanga Baby is nine months old today. Nine months seemed infinite when I was pregnant, but I've practically got whiplash now looking back on the day she was born.

To celebrate the day, I took her to yoga class and bought her a "lap top." There she is above, looking as busy as her mami does on the computer and playing with the "mouse." I also took her to the pediatrician for a check-up. She is in the 95th percentile for height right now at 29 & 1/4 inches.
Feliz cumplemeses, querida!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Coconut Woman

Long before Malanga Baby was born, I had a CD with the song "Coconut Woman." The lyrics have been going through my head this week, especially the part that says,

Get your coconut water,
Man it's good for your daughter,
Coco got a lotta iron,
Make you strong like a lion!

This is because I gave Malanga Baby her first taste of coconut water a couple of days ago and she has been drinking a couple of ounces of it every day since. The thing about Malanga Baby is that at nearly nine months, she still hasn't gotten the hang of drinking water. Her sippy cup is pretty fascinating to her, but not any liquid we put inside it besides milk. When she came down with a stomach virus recently, I started despairing over ways to hydrate her sufficiently. I was reduced to mixing pedialyte in with her pureed food, not an ideal long-term solution.

So, I took a cue from a Brazilian woman in NYC who told me that Brazilians start giving babies coconut water at 6 months. I did my research, too. Coconut water is high in electrolytes and potassium. Plus, according to homemade babyfood recipes.com, it's "high in lauric acid, which also happens to be the main fatty acid found in breast milk. Lauric acid is what makes breast milk so digestible and is believed to protect the body from infection and boost the immune system."

Fresh coconuts are hard to come by in New York this time of year, so I bought the Vita Coco brand, which has no additives or preservatives. A box of delicious, nutritious Vita Coco is pictured above with the trilingual Señor Dragón, one of Malanga Baby's favorite toys.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Beautiful Lentils

"Las lentejas te suben lo bonito."
- a Sevillano, circa 1995

Lentils make you pretty, that's what they told me when I studied abroad in Spain. My señora made steaming, thick lentil stews the whole year I was there and looking back at the photos, I think I did look rather radiant.

I introduced lentils to Malanga Baby this week at the same time that I introduced a third meal per day- lunch! Both were a resounding success. And I must say, Malanga Baby is looking prettier by the minute.

I made a batch of lentils for the first time Tuesday night and tried again tonight with some modifications. Here's what I've done so far and as an added bonus, I have a recipe for adults as long as you're putting those lentils on the stove.

Baby Lentil Method- BASIC

- I use brown lentils, which tend to get mushier than green lentils. The Goya brand is good, but so is Vitarroz and probably any other brand.
- Soak the lentils for about 1.5 hours-2 hours. They really start falling apart after 2 hours.

- Bring a pot of water to boil, then add lentils. Bring to boil again, then reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes.

- When draining the lentils, RESERVE some of the water for pureeing.

- Let lentils cool, then put in food processor with some of the water.

- You can use a sieve/strainer if you want to make the puree even smoother.

Notes on the basic method:
- Using a sieve is a big pain. I did this on Tuesday and it added another 10-15 minutes of cooking time. I also lost a lot of my lentils. I got about 5 ounces of pureed lentils out of 1/2 cup of dry lentils.

- I forgot to reserve the cooking water and in fact, didn't add enough water at all while pureeing. I ended up adding some breast milk to the lentils just before serving.

Baby Lentil Method- VARIATION

Even though I added a dash of cumin to the basic recipe above, the lentils still tasted kind of bland to me. I served them with some plain yogurt to make the whole meal a little tangier. Tonight, I played around with adding some fried onions.

- Follow basic method above. Add an "onion pique" (a bay leaf attached to a peeled onion using a clove as a tack) to the boiling water for extra flavor. The lentils will absorb the flavor as they cook.

- After draining lentils, fry a few slices of onion in olive oil in the cleaned out pan you used for the lentils. Add these to the food processor along with the lentils and puree.

Since I was making lentils again tonight anyway and needed to use the rest of the onion, I decided to make myself one of my favorite lentil recipes (copied out of a book of which I don't know the name).

Lentils for adults


- 1 cup lentils
- 1/2 onion, sliced
- 1 small crate cherry or grape tomatoes- halved or quartered
- 5 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 teaspoons sumac (a Turkish spice)
- sea salt and black pepper to taste


- Boil lentils as above in basic method.

- Drain lentils, clean out pan and fry onion in 2 tablespoons olive oil.

- Add the lentils, tomatos, sumac, remaining olive oil, salt & pepper and mix together.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Tools of the Trade

While I have been using google.es and google.br a lot these days to look up the preparation of guavas, passion fruit and the like, there are a few basic things I couldn't do without in my baby food-making kitchen. These are:

My OXO steamer basket. It's the perfect size for the amount of fruit or veggies I need to steam for several days' worth of puree. I like that it's collapsible and super easy to clean.

Baby Cubes. I have them in one and two ounce sizes for easy mixing and matching of meals. Make sure you don't fill them above the line or they'll pop open in your freezer when the liquid in the fruits and veggies expands. To defrost, I either leave them in the fridge overnight or put them in a pan of boiled water for about 10 minutes.

My mini food processor. No link here as any food processor or blender will do, but I bought a mini because I can keep it on my counter top. My regular food processor is too large for this and also has many small parts that I still haven't quite mastered.

Lisa Barnes' The Petit Appetit. Great ideas for different foods to try by stage.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Malanga Baby Gets her Groove on

Here's a video of Malanga Baby dancing to the album "Si Para Usted" to get your weekend started right.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


For the second night in a row, she ate the piwi! That’s pear mixed with kiwi. I have to admit that I didn’t make up the term, but it’s perfect. The pear is a great way to cut the kiwi’s acidity. I wish I had thought of this with the guava last week.

Last night, I scooped the kiwi flesh into the food processor and made it as smooth as could be before combining it with some pear puree. Tonight I just mashed it into the pear puree with a fork. It turned out well both ways. Malanga Baby was positively riveted by all the little black seeds in her plate.

My favorite baby food site warned that kiwi could cause diaper rash, or worse still, a rash in the mouth. Happily, we haven’t had any of that.

Banana supposedly mixes well with kiwi, too. Would that make it biwi?

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Of Maracas & Manzanas

I made two discoveries recently. One is that maracas make for great diversion while out to lunch with Malanga Baby. Her Leap Frog Learn & Groove Counting Maracas allowed us to eat at a local Peruvian restaurant today where the service is on the slow side. These maracas light up, play music, count and sing the colors out in Spanish and have a plastic surface that is easy to clean. While I kept fearing Malanga Baby would smack herself over the head with them, no such thing happened.

My other discovery is that apples are the secret to making everything palatable to Malanga Baby. She will eat most things, but wrinkles her eyebrows or screws up her mouth when she's not as excited about a certain food, like carrots. Freshly steamed carrots are such a beautiful thing to behold that I refuse to give up on them. Tonight, I was inspired to try them with some apple mixed in and voila, she ate them without complaint. Apples go well with blueberries and sweet potato, too, combinations Malanga Baby gulps right down. This week, I think I'll try to mix apples in with butternut squash, a veggie she rejected outright on Thanksgiving and hasn't tasted since. Here's hoping...

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Guava was a bust. Malanga Baby never even tasted the three round, fragrant guavas sacrificed just so I could write about the process here. They were too acidic to my own palate and belly and I worried about the effect on her young digestive system. Plus, my mother and a few on-line sources said they can be constipating, which scared me almost as much as the acid content.

Nonetheless, I will try again one day when she’s ready to handle oranges and the like. Guava is high in Vitamin C, has more lycopene than watermelons or tomatoes and more potassium than a banana. I found my guavas at the Whole Foods (where else?), but was quite disappointed when I discovered the flesh was white and not pink. Apparently, this is a common variation, but this may just be an example of something I should shop for outside New York City. Maybe during our trip to Miami in May?

Guava Puree Method

First, pay $5.99/lb. if you don’t happen to live in a guava-friendly climate. The dent in your pocket is softened by the heavenly smell the fruit brings to your home.

Next, disregard all advice from Colombian baby food sites to boil the guava in 2 cups of water. I was quite torn about this, but my gut told me to steam them just like I do every other fruit. It might have been interesting to do a head-to-head test of both methods, but not at $5.99/lb.

I peeled the guavas, quartered them and removed the seeds before dropping them in the steamer basket. I left them to steam for about 10 minutes. Steaming seemed to make them sweeter and more like the pink-fleshed guavas I have tasted before.

The 3 guavas pureed quite evenly in the food processor with only a couple of tablespoons of water.

P.S. Happy Birthday to José Martí!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Reasons to grin

It has been a big week for Malanga Baby. She's got: a new tooth (the second one), a new President, the ability to crawl and a new food to love- green beans.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Malanga Baby can’t say more than ma and ga (that’s her papi) right now, but she may as well have said quin-what when I fed her quinoa tonight. I’m a little sad that this Andean power protein wasn’t a hit since it seems to have everything going for it: easy to digest, as much protein ounce for ounce as meat, and lots of fiber, calcium and iron (babies need more iron than breast milk provides starting at 6 months). Best of all, it’s relatively easy to cook and doesn’t require pureeing. I just mixed it up with some sweet potato-apple puree and fed it to Malanga Baby.

Perhaps it’s worth trying other combinations? Personally, I like my quinoa with chili, but Malanga Baby is a little young for that.

Quinoa is best introduced to babies between 8-10 months.

I use the Arrowhead Mills brand, which needs to be thoroughly rinsed before cooking to remove the bitter saponin coating. I just pour one cup into a strainer and rinse it in the sink before transferring it to a pot. I had Malanga Baby strapped to me in a carrier while I did this and I danced and jiggled in front of the sink to Julieta Venegas’ wonderful CD Limón y Sal (one of my daughter’s favorites). She was quite entertained.

To cook, add two cups of water to one cup quinoa, bring to a boil, then simmer for about 15 minutes, until all the water is absorbed. Malanga Baby and I played in the living room during the simmering process. She’s practicing her new crawling skills right now so she wasn’t too concerned that dinner was a little delayed tonight.

Quinoa is quite fluffy and soft once cooked, so I didn’t puree it, but the little grains seemed to get everywhere during the feeding process.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A little piece of Brazil in winter

Malanga Baby was less than thrilled with the cauliflower we started on this week. (I know, I know, who gets excited about cauliflower? But it’s high in vitamins C and B and has tons of potassium!) I was going to give her one more night of it, but then I walked into Whole Foods today, encountered a beautiful pile of passion fruits, and knew I had to get one for my daughter to try. It was a taste she was hard-wired to enjoy since I drank tons of calorie-rich passion fruit milkshakes when I was pregnant.

There were just two problems. The first was that I had no idea what to do with the fruit itself since I made said milkshakes from frozen passion fruit pulp (conveniently located in the Hispanic section of my local supermarket, along with frozen maduros and the like). The second, and most important, was that I was certain none of my baby cookbooks said a word about passion fruit and all I could find in my usual go-to source was that it is a bit acidic. So I posted my questions to a national baby message board. I got two responses: 1) “My parents are South African. Apparently passion fruit was one of my first solids. Scoop, mash, and feed is what they did.” And 2) “Lots of seeds. You can eat it all. Crack it open and scoop it out.”

Next step, start Googling in Spanish and Portuguese. I found what I was looking for on a Brazilian site, Guia do Bebe. It had a recipe for pear-passion fruit juice for babies. The combination sounded wonderful and Malanga Baby already likes pears, so I altered it a little. Instead of merely straining the pears for juice, I made a pear puree with a hint of passion fruit. It smelled overwhelmingly like passion fruit and Malanga Baby couldn’t get enough of it!

She’s holding the passion fruit in the picture above, and wearing a child-size apron I bought her as an impulse purchase today. Yes, it’s way too big for her right now, but I plan on her spending lots of time with me in the kitchen for years to come.

Passion Fruit-Pear Puree Method
Make pear puree according to the method in Lisa Barnes’ The Petit Appetit Cookbook: cut and core pears and place in a steamer basket above two inches of lightly boiling water. Cover and steam for 10-12 minutes. Let pears cool, then remove skin and place in food processor, adding cooking liquid by tablespoons as necessary.

Cut open the passion fruit and place contents in a sieve to strain the juice into the food processor with the pears. The puree will take on a nice, summery passion-fruit color.

Eat the seeds and bits of pulp remaining in the sieve yourself for a yummy snack!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Libros, libros, libros

The biggest Spanish-language bookstore in NYC, Libreria Lectorum, closed its doors on 14th Street forever at the end of September 2007. I didn’t know I was pregnant yet, but Malanga Baby was already with me as I browsed those long aisles divided by geographic regions, by topic, and even by gender one last time. Ramón, the employee who happily chatted with me about the cooks at various Cuban restaurants around the city as easily as his book recommendations, was quiet, more serious than I had ever seen him. Our sense of loss ran deep.

But I’ve still managed to stock Malanga Baby’s library with Spanish-language children’s books. My friend Jaime, a Mexican living in London, sent me a copy of the The Little Prince in Spanish for my birthday when I was pregnant. I got into the habit of reading it out loud to Malanga Baby in utero. After she was born, I realized that the small Spanish-language bookstore in my own neighborhood, Barco de Papel (owned by yet another Cuban Ramón in the NYC book business), carries a nice selection of children’s books. It was there that I discovered the fantastic author-illustrator team of Antonio Rubio and Oscar Villán. Malanga Baby loves their book Cocodrilo, but we also have Luna and Miau. They’re all the perfect size for little hands and are fun to read out loud.

And, of course, there are some wonderful translations out there of American classics. Aida Marcuse did a masterful job with Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham. The very phrase “No me gustan nada los huevos verdes con jamón” brings a smile to Malanga Baby’s face every time. As much as I love browsing in bookstores, I’m happy to note that these books are widely available on Amazon.com.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Swim, baby, swim!

Malanga baby and I hit the piscina this weekend for her first baby swim class. She seemed confused and on the verge of crying at first, but was kicking and splashing by the end of the 30-minute lesson. She got the same joyous look on her face in the water that she gets when she is flying through the air on a swing in the playground.

I was pretty happy, too. It was my first time in a pool since my pre-natal swim classes (with amazing Andrea of Aqua Moms in Manhattan). One of the things I miss most about being pregnant is swimming every Thursday night.

I started looking for swim classes for Malanga Baby back in the fall, but didn't have many leads. I found one place in Forest Hills, Queens through Google that seemed to take younger babies, but they never returned my calls. Then I tried the local Y, but their fall session was starting when my daughter was just under six months and they were very strict about the six month age requirement. So we had to wait. Unfortunately, the bathing suits I bought on clearance in September no longer fit her. I did, however, find that Baby Gap has their full spring line out now, including bathing suits. So here we are, swimming away. I predict that Malanga Baby will love the beach come summer.

Classes at the Y seem like a good deal financially and we didn't have to become members to sign up. A very helpful tip I picked up from another mom in the neighborhood is to bring Malanga Papi along to the Y. It was very helpful to have another pair of hands to get Malanga Baby ready and to hang out with her when I had to change in and out of my own suit. And, of course, he could be the parent to go in the water with her if he wanted to, but in our case, he didn't.

WHERE: YMCA, check your local branch for locations & times
THINGS TO BRING: Baby bathing suit, parent bathing suit, swim diapers (available year-round on diapers.com), towels, lock for locker, flip-flops for pool area, another parent or friend to have a pair of dry hands to help. Bathing caps are available on site for $7 or $8 each. These are required at the Y.

WHERE: Aqua Moms in Manhattan, check local gyms in other cities
WHY I LOVED IT: There's nothing better than the feeling of floating when you're carrying around all that extra weight. It also greatly relieved joint swelling and just generally made me feel good and refreshed. An added benefit was how well I slept the nights I swam. I like to think that I also toned up the muscles I needed to push Malanga Baby out and later carry her around all day in my arms.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Mama, yo quiero saber…

What it is, when baby can eat it, how to find it & how to make it…

Malanga is a root vegetable. It’s very easy to digest and is extremely hypoallergenic , so it’s an excellent food to introduce to babies’ developing digestive systems. It’s so gentle that I can eat it when my tummy is feeling a little off and it satisfies my hunger better than Saltines and plain broth do. The taste is hard to describe, but it’s much more flavorful than potatoes or yuca (cassava).

My love for the malanga is a given at this point, but when I started feeding my daughter solid foods, I had no idea when I could introduce it to her. Web sites like wholesomebabyfood.com, while full of charts and recipes and detailed information on appropriate age ranges for a just about every other vegetable, didn’t say a word about malanga. (Although I was happy to find passion fruit under the “exotic foods” section of that web site.) Conversations with my mom and other relatives didn’t help. To hear them tell it, my cousins and I we were all walking, talking, sleeping through the night and eating a full range of fruits and vegetables by six months of age.

So here’s my best guess based on what I’ve read about other baby food in general and the malanga in particular: my daughter is ready for it now, at seven months, three weeks old. I wouldn’t introduce it as a first food at six months because I just couldn’t get any confirmation that it’s ok to start with a starch that early. Potatoes, for example, are only recommended for babies ages 8 months and up. However, the fact that malanga has such low allergy potential and has much higher nutritional content than a potato made me give it the bump to “ok to introduce just before 8 months of age.” That's just me. If you happen to have a Cuban or Puerto Rican pediatrician, ask him/her.

So now let’s get to the technicalities: how to shop for malanga and how to prepare it.
SHOPPING: In New York, I tried Whole Foods because I am somewhat obsessed with Whole Foods and fantasized about an organic malanga. To my knowledge, there's no such thing. The folks at WF had no idea what I was talking about, although they did steer me over to some yuca (not organic). Best bet: any of the grocery stores in my primarily Latin neighborhood of Jackson Heights. If you're serious about coming out here to buy one, I would say that the Trade Fair has a much better selection than the Met. In fact, the selection was so vast that I had to make a quick call to my papi to find out whether I wanted a white malanga or a yellow one. The answer is white. The color refers to the inside. On the outside, it should look long and hairy, like the picture above.
The malanga should be hard. Watch out for any soft spots or moldy growth.
Note that it is also called YAUTIA. Malanga and yautia are one and the same thing. One long malanga should yield you a good amount to try with baby. Two is good if you know you like it and want to make puree for the whole family. Three is excessive. Last night, I bought three.

PREPARATION: Wash your less-than-attractive little malangas at home and get ready to peel them right in the sink. Those hairy skins reveal a very slippery surface underneath and you don't want them flying out of your hands and bouncing all over your kitchen. Set some water to boil on the stove while you do this.
Next, cut the malanga into equal-sized, thick rounds. It tends to start falling apart in the boiling water if you cut it too thin or in small cubes. Drop these into a pot of boling water and check it after 10 or 15 minutes. Be sure to inhale the delicious smell they release as they boil. The malanga should have gotten good and soft by fifteen minutes, but if not, my aunt Silvia says to turn off the heat and just leave them in the pot with the hot water until they get softer.
Remove the malanga with a slotted spoon and proceed to mash or puree. The malanga will mash quite easily (if not, see above, it will need to cook more), but I put it in the food processor with some of the cooking water for my daughter to make an extra smooth puree. For older children and adults, no food processing is necessary. Just mash away with a fork.
For babies: You can add some breast milk or formula to the puree.
For adults: Add salt & pepper if you like.
RESULT: Malanga Baby & I had a delicious meal last night. She seemed to enjoy her first taste of malanga and I made enough to have a plate full myself with leftovers. I don't yet know how well the malanga freezes in the baby cubes, but I'll report back when the time comes to remove them from the freezer.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Why Malanga?

A curious thing happened the first time I travelled to Cuba, nearly ten years ago. I went in search of family and history that I had no personal memory of since my parents left Havana before I was born. I sought to connect to my sister who had grown up on the island through our common language, Spanish, but all words seemed to fail me when faced with the overwhelming emotion of meeting her for the first time. There I was, feeling so hopelessly foreign in a place I thought my deepest senses would recognize, when I was served a plate of mashed malanga for dinner one night. That malanga on my tongue unlocked the flood gates of memory. It brought back my mother and grandmother in the kitchen of my childhood, spoon-feeding me, caring for me, bringing me up "Cuban" as best as they could in a place like Philadelphia. The malanga was, in a sense, a big part of my portable homeland.

This portable homeland is what I want for my daughter. She is now part of the second generation of our family born in the United States, but in a city like New York, I have all the resources at my disposal to raise her to celebrate her heritage. I just have to do a little research. And task number one is to figure out how to feed her malanga, because this vegetable doesn’t appear in any of my baby food recipe books. Nor do mamey or guava for that matter.