Saturday, February 27, 2010

How does she do it?

For those of you wondering how I find time to bake bread with a baby, here is how it done! Bread-baking does take a long time, but you have to remember - the dough is rising, resting, or baking most of the time - there is probably about a half hour of actual labor involved. Most of the time the bread is taking care of itself and I'm chasing Joe around the house trying to prevent him from yanking on the dogs' ears or dismantling the washing machine. One good thing about making bread (in addition to the lovely smells) is that the timing is not particularly sensitive - an extra ten minutes or half hour of rising is no big deal. Heck, even an extra hour or two may not be disastrous (even if your dough "overproofs" you can often salvage the bread by punching it down and letting it rise again). So it's really not that hard to schedule bread baking into your day as long as you're spending at least half of the day at home (which sounds like my ideal weekend day anyway). I've found it's not so much about finding the time as it is about keeping my baby happy and occupied while I am attending to the bread.

For most of the kneading and baking this afternoon, I wore JR in the Ergo Baby Carrier, as shown above. Joe loves hanging out in the Ergo, as long as I keep moving and he has interesting things to look at. In fact, one of his favorite kitchen activities is watching the KitchenAid Stand Mixer knead dough (it is seriously cool - the dough responds like a living thing). So I often cook or bake with him in the Ergo on my back or hip. As a result, my Ergo is covered in smears of flour and butter.

The Ergo carrier is ideal for larger babies, because it puts the baby's weight on your lower back and hips, rather than your shoulders (unlike a Bjorn or sling - and no, they didn't pay me to say this, I just love my Ergo!). It can even be used to lug giant toddlers around. Little JR is not that little anymore - he weighs 22 pounds! So he's not toddling, but he's as big as many toddlers. And he loves to be carried! So bread baking doubles as a weight-bearing exercise for me, keeping me strong and fit.

With Joe attached to my person, I am definitely a bit encumbered, but I've become expert at managing dangerous operations with only one hand, like taking piping hot, fragrant, just-baked bread out of the oven! Don't try this at home, kids! That cookie sheet is hot!

And now that Joe loves to eat solid foods, he will often sit happily in the high chair nibbling on cheerios and other food while I putter in the kitchen. These days, I don't even bother with a bib, I just change his outfit three times a day (the kid needs mechanic's coveralls, or a hazmat suit, not a bib - check out that food-encrusted high chair! we washed that cover last week!). The dogs have learned that the high chair means treats, while Joe has learned that it is fun to drop food and watch the dogs eat it. Here is Omie, opportunistically sneaking a bite while Joe giggles in delight:

See? No superhuman (or supermaternal) abilities required. The reason I have been baking a lot of bread since Joe was born is that is cooking is actually a relatively baby-friendly hobby, and breadmaking is quite a bit more forgiving than other kinds of baking. And I don't have much of a sweet tooth, so other kinds of baking don't appeal to me as much (I make up for this with my love of beer and cheese; and I do love to bake scones). And of course, I like to pretend I'm a pioneer woman.

Okay, one more photo just because this kid is so dang cute (can you see that he has three teeth on the bottom, giving him a crooked smile?):

Friday, February 19, 2010

Sprouting grains and legumes.

Inspired by my recent success with the Jewish Baker's 100% whole wheat bread, I decided to try one of his variations on the recipe - Sprouted Whole Wheat Bread. For this recipe, you need a cup and a half of sprouted wheat berries. I used red wheat berries that I bought at the Food Mill in Oakland (you can buy whole wheat berries at most natural food stores). To sprout wheat berries, just put a handful of seeds in a mason jar and cover with water. Cover the top of the jar with cheesecloth and afix with a rubber band. Soak the berries in water overnight. The next day, pour the excess water out through the cheesecloth, and then rinse the berries in fresh water. Place the jar on its side in a dark corner of the kitchen (don't use a cupboard as air flow is important). Rinse the seeds every morning and evening until the sprouts have grown as much as you'd like - for wheat berries, this is usually only two or three days. A few minutes in sunlight will turn the sprouts green, add to their nutritional value, and make them taste more wheat-grassy (sprouted wheat is wheat-grass, after all).

The exact same technique works with whole, unhulled grains (like barley), and legumes, although it may take longer for beans to sprout. Here are some mung bean sprouts that are currently growing in my kitchen (using a sprouting lid rather than cheesecloth):

Bean sprouts are delicious in stir-fry or salad. Wheat sprouts are perfect for making sprouted wheat bread, which is what I did with mine:

The sprouted wheat bread turned out a little dense, but delicious. Oddly, you can hardly taste the sprouts, except that the wheat berries are a little chewy.

Coming up next: Sunflower sprouts!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Book Review: Secrets of a Jewish Baker

My latest favorite bread baking book is Secrets of a Jewish Baker, by George Greenstein. George Greenstein owned and operated a bakery in Long Island which sold all kinds of baked goods, from cultures all around the world, including his own Jewish traditions.

What I love about this book: 

  • The introductory material is wonderful. In addition to being helpful, it's fun to read! (Okay, yes, I'm a serious bread nerd.) Lots of helpful tips for getting more professional results at home. 
  • When he says "breads from around the world," he means it! While I am most interested in the basic white and whole wheat bread recipes and the Jewish recipes (challah and bagels, yum!), there is plenty of more exotic fare here - from focaccia to naan. 
  • Each bread recipe has separate instructions for kneading by hand, with a food processor, and using a stand mixer. We recently bought a KitchenAid Stand Mixer, and I am trying to use it for everything. Like a beautiful, classic handbag, it becomes less expensive (in terms of amortized value) the more you use it, right? That's my theory, anyway. So far I have used the stand mixer for three recipes, and hand-kneaded one recipe. Not only does Greenstein include different instructions for different kneading methods - the recipe proportions vary as well, reflecting the greater or lesser capacity of the food processor or stand mixer. Every bread I have tried from this book so far has turned out beautifully, and I would make it again.
  • At the end of the book, Greenstein includes "Twelve Menus: A Morning of Baking," where he gives instructions on how to simultaneously bake six to ten loaves of bread (in theory, enough for your family for the week), plus a variety of muffins and other baked goods. Breaks for breakfast, lunch, or dinner are incorporated into the instructions (e.g., "now is a good time to eat those muffins with butter and assorted spreads!"). I doubt I will ever try to bake this much at once (in my house, we have a hard time eating two loaves of bread in a week), but this section strongly appeals to my inner-pioneer-woman.
Just pulled the 100% Whole Wheat bread out of the oven, and it's the fluffiest whole wheat bread I've baked to date (better than this bread, although it uses similar techniques). Wow. I attribute this success to the huge amounts of buttermilk. And the Jewish baker, of course. Yum.

Edited to add: The 100% Whole Wheat bread and the Sprouted Wheat Bread are not only delicious, but keep amazingly well too. The loaves are still fresh and moist even after four or five days. Again, I can only attribute this to the buttermilk. Perhaps it acts as a mild preservative, being fermented and probiotic and all?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Joe's first snow!

We had an absolutely wonderful weekend in Tahoe!

Joseph Roscoe loved cruising the furniture, playing with his friends, exploring the fireplace,  eating solid food (!!), and brief trips outside! He hated putting on his warm gear, getting put down for naps (but he napped like a champ), sharp snow blowing in his face, saying goodbye to everyone, and the three hour drive home.

I loved baking challah from my new favorite bread making book, Secrets of a Jewish Baker (review coming up!), eating both fresh and french-toasted challah, chatting with our friends, taking long naps, snow-shoeing along Lake Tahoe, reading my book in the evenings, and snuggling with my boys by the fire. I hated packing for the trip, trying to get Joe into his warm gear, saying goodbye to everyone, and the three hour drive home.

Rebecca made a bosomy snow-woman:

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Some more thoughts on baby feeding.

We have been practicing a modified form of "baby-led weaning" with Joe, not because we set out to do so, but because spoon-feeding him is like trying to get a cat to swallow a pill. Joe has a love/hate relationship with the spoon. Sometimes, he hates the spoon, and pushes it away with his hands, while frowning and clamping his jaw shut. Other times, he loves the spoon, and grabs it out of your hand as soon as he sees it, flinging it around and sending food everywhere (see above) before putting the handle of the spoon into his mouth. Getting (the right end of) the spoon into his mouth with food still on it? Impossible.

Now, I know that all babies are different, and they become interested in solid foods at different times, yada yada yada, but you know, I'm a first-time mom, and we are capable of stressing out with extremely minimal provocation. Joe was eating considerably less solid foods at eight months than he had at six, eating time had become a bit of a struggle, and I was baffled.

So finding out about "baby-led weaning" was incredibly reassuring. Here, "weaning" refers to the slow process of weaning from milk to solid foods, and does not imply weaning the child off the breast or bottle. The idea is very simple - rather than spoon-feeding your baby, just give her appropriate food and let her feed herself. If she's ready for food, she'll eat; if she doesn't eat, she's not ready, or not in the mood. No big whoop. No struggle.

Well, duh.

Of course, my mother had said pretty much this exact thing: "I never used spoons! My babies hated spoons!* I just gave you a banana, let you squish it all over yourself, and hosed you off afterward!" And no, this is not the first time one of my mother's tidbits of hippy parenting advice turned out to be the basis of an entire parenting "movement"! Note to self: Listen to your mother.

Well, now that I just throw finger foods in Joe's general direction, he is eating so much more! Or maybe I'm just worrying less? Either way - it's great. I'm sold.

So now I give Joe pieces of soft foods. and let him have at it. He loves baked butternut squash, baked sweet potato, cooked pasta, bananas, avocados, cooked legumes, and raw tofu. You can bake squash or sweet potato or apples, then cut them into pieces, and freeze them in a bag or Tupperware. Later, microwave them just to thaw them. Or you can offer table foods, as appropriate. This approach is much easier than pureeing your own baby food (which I have also done), and it avoids the dreaded spoon. As your baby becomes better at chewing, you can introduce harder foods like puffed grains, broccoli, and teething biscuits.

Obviously, you don't give your baby tiny things that he will choke on, and you supervise him, etc. Babies do not feed themselves neatly, so you'll want to put a plastic sheet under the high chair (or utilize the services of two dogs, as we do). Also, the whole process takes a while. If I do this while making a meal or doing chores, I often find I'm more patient and have a better attitude about it.

So far, so good. I have only one hang-up. I'm supposed to give Joe a spoon and let himself try to feed himself non-finger foods such as yogurt. You know, in an exploratory way. Giving him the spoon is no problem - he grabs it out of my hand anyway - but letting him feed himself? It might help if he could get the hang of putting the working end into his mouth. Until then, I'm going to be "hosing him off" a lot.

The best part of feeding Joe? When he tastes something and then scrunches his face up like that was the most disgusting food ever - he had no idea anything could be so gross! - and then promptly shovels more into his mouth, like he needs to taste it again just to make sure it's totally vile. This never gets old.

* Not all babies hate spoons, but hating spoons apparently runs in my family. Along with not sleeping through the night until adolescence.