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!