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

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, 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, 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.