Thursday, 30 September 2010

BABY-LED WEANING: first tastes

I've been thinking a lot about control. I like to be in control of my finances, our kitchen cupboards and of course, my bodily functions. We're not talking freakishly controlling, just enthusiatically organsied. So the core principle of baby-led weaning could be challenging for me - your baby is in control of what she eats, when and how much, and you sit on your hands.

A common weaning question is 'when should I start weaning my baby?'. But there ain't no 'I' in the BLW. You simply watch baby watching you eat. When they look very interested and try and grab the food out of your hand, that's the cue to introduce solids.

Gracie is an observer. People often comment on how alert she is so my every action is quietly noted, from drying my hair to peeling carrots. And to start with eating was just another spectator sport until the sandwich incident at five and half months.

While I was eating a supermarket cheese and pickle sarnie (I'd prefer not to reveal which supermarket, we had to do a smash and grab while on the road), she lunged forward and clamped down on the malted granary bread, sucking eagerly on the mild cheddar. A few days later, she excitedly nibbled on a bread roll and then on a park outing, attacked my ham and cheese baguette.

The baby has given the nod. Give me food and make it snappy. And who am I to argue.  

Thursday, 23 September 2010


A new stage in life provides a new reason to shop. When I got married, I spent hours buying stationery, fabric and flowers. When I was pregnant, I scoured the high street for the perfect-fit elasticated jean and non-wired bra. And now it's time to shop for weaning.

Clearly a six-month-old baby feeding herself is going to be messy. In fact one of the mums at the recent BLW talk said it was "insanely messy". Embrace the mess, advises Gill Rapley, and get tooled up with a few BLW essentials - high chair, bibs and cloths.

So to the high chair (yes, I'm actually blogging about moulded plastic). My mother-in-law, Trisha, lent us her Ikea number to try for size and it's a winner - with a large tray, compact shape and cheap price tag of £10.99 for the basic chair, it's a veritable design classic. I've spotted the Antilop in many a restaurant including the stylish Canteen.

Then to the threads. Most of the bibs I've seen around look insubstantial and not up to the challenge of an overexcited baby let loose with solids, like using a hand towel to dry off after a shower. I want the bath sheet. And in Bibetta bibs, I think I've found it. I saw these in Waitrose in Cambridge when we were visiting my sister Amy and they are the bees. Neoprene body and plastic sleeves are surely the stuff of BLW dreams. Worried about stained clothes? Bring on the Ultrabib with sleeves.

And the last item on the shopping list is definitely unglamorous but infinitely essential - floor cloths. Realistically the kitchen floor is where the party will be at for the first few weeks. Squished tomatoes, regurgitated pasta and half-chewed rice cakes will be mingling like unwanted guests on our wooden floorboards. But I'm not going to be anal about it. Just wipe up and move on. 

A hot tip from Gill's book 'Baby-led Weaning' suggests a fresh cloth for each clean-up. You start with the baby's mouth and hands, move on to the high chair and then wipe up the mess on the floor. The food goes in the bin and the cloth goes in the wash. I bought two packs of basic white dish cloths from Morrisons.

So there we have it, plastic seats, bibs and floor cloths. Shopping ain't what it used to be.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

WEANING: Carmel vs Rapley

So clearly, I'm not a super mum. Gracie B is nearly six months old and I've managed just one blog posting. My fanciful notion to cook, photograph and write about my every meal was just that, fanciful. But hey, I'm not going to beat myself with a tea towel about it. Let's simply fast forward a bit, through the early newborn stage where I'd only go into the kitchen to raid the biscuit tin, past the "I'm back" phase at three months where I reclaimed the oven and discovered that you can chop veg with a baby in a sling, and onto the dawning of the weaning era.

As apparently there are many ways to skin a cat (although I can only think of one), so there are many ways to raise a child. But with weaning, it seems there are two definite camps - the Annabel Carmelites who purée and spoon feed and the Gill Rapleyites who dispense with blender and implement and let baby feed themselves. So which side will I gun for?

To help make the decision, I booked myself onto a baby-led weaning workshop (BLW for those who love an acronym) led by the chieftain herself, Gill Rapley. Leaving S with a bottle of milk and a teaspoon in case our bottle-shy daugher woke up, I headed to the Active Birth Centre one Wednesday evening and sat on bean bags with other mums.

Gill took the floor and confirmed that she wasn't a crazy loon but has baby credentials (20 years midwifery and health-visiting experience). Okay. Then she made clear that we would need to buy her book to get the full story. Hmmm. But after an hour of q&a, the main principle of BLW became clear - at 6 months a baby's digestive system can handle whole foods so make your life easier and let them eat what you do. Yeah but, no but, eh?

Here are the FAQs...

Q: Why bother?
A: 'Cos babies want to be in control of what goes in their mouths plus you're less likely to have a fussy eater later on.

Q: What about choking?
A: Babies gag all the time as a defence mechanism, get used to it.

Q: What about milk feeds?
A: Let the baby feed continue to feed on demand.

Q: How can I tell if they're eating enough?
A: Trust your baby. Between six and nine months they get all they need from breast or formula milk so just let them play and experiment with different foods.

Q:Can I give them meat from the off?
A:Yup, a good idea to start with meat as iron levels in milk are starting to taper off. Just cut cooked meat into chip-sized pieces

Q:What about spice?

A:Bring it on.

Q: And added sugar and salt? How can I avoid that if we're eating out?
A: The same rules apply, avoid added sugar and salt where possible. But the occasional slightly salty meal in  a restaurant isn't going to harm them.

Wow. This was eye-opening stuff. Compared to the Annabel Carmel doctrine of purees and introducing foods one at a time, it felt free and easy, like Germaine Greer telling Mary Whitehouse to throw out her girdle, and I liked it. Okay Rapley, sign us up. Gracie will try weaning in a BLW style. And then we'll blog about it, honest.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

LABOUR RECIPE: Honey ice pops

I must be emerging from my new-mum bubble. For one thing, I’ve cooked dinner for two consecutive nights and I no longer survive on ginger stem cookies and sponge cake – I throw the odd sandwich into the mix too.

So yes, my bump has become a baby and a beautiful female one at that with skin as velvety as a peach and big expressive hands. At this time just over nine weeks ago I was devouring a celebratory BLT sandwich (made by proud father S) after bringing our daughter into the world in our very own living room. The home birth was everything we hoped it would be – gentle, calm, natural – and with one other major plus: access to our own kitchen. 

In the run-up to the birth, I became fixated on what to eat in labour. I’d recently read that Chris Evans and his wife had gone to Locanda Locatelli for a slap-up dinner while she was in early stages. Okay, I thought, this could be a seminal eating moment. 

A quick ask around the office revealed a wide spectrum of experience from “nothing, I felt too sick” to “Champagne and chocolates” (admittedly post-birth). A friend advised against steak – “too hard to digest” while others relied on M&S sandwiches. S and I deliberated and settled on meatballs – comforting, filling and fuelling. I stocked the cupboards with the right ingredients and added meat-ball making to my nesting list along with regrouting the bathroom and making cushions. None of them were ever ticked off as five days before the bub’s due date, I went into labour.

The day had started with a ravenous hunger (see my previous posting – Berry Blister Smoothie), which clearly was my body’s way of alerting me to the marathon ahead (literally, my midwife said a woman in labour uses the same amount of energy). I had a light lunch then devoured a pack of hot-cross buns then made a salad for dinner (not sure what my body was doing there – wrong signals).

By the next morning, the denial that I was in labour was turning to the realisation that YES, I AM IN LABOUR – and I don’t really fancy making meatballs. It was looking doubtful if I could prepare my other labour snack in time – honey ice pops. One of my managers had suggested it (the very same who ducked out for lobster and chips while waiting for her induction drugs to kick in and packed her favourite chocs for that perfect ‘I’ve done it’ moment). The two seemed the perfect combination - honey gives you a steady energy boost without the refined sugar crash and the ice quenches the thirst of labour.

I quickly made the ice pops, prepared the house for a home birth (birth pool inflated, piles of towels assembled and candles arranged) then headed out for supplies. Flapjacks and posh cold sausages from Flavours deli round the corner, and milk and bread from the corner shop. Within hours we were eating my labour supper – the classic meal for runners or student boozers - chicken and pesto pasta. Not original or inventive, just good stomach-lining food.

Three honey ice-pops later (semi-set but very good) and our baby was nearly with us. And for the final push – two segments of Montezumas dark chocolate. Welcome to the wonderful world of food, Gracie B.

Honey ice pops
Mix a few spoonfuls of honey with cold water. Pour into a mould. If you’re going into hospital, make ice cubes then pop out into a thermos.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

PREGNANCY RECIPE: berry blister smoothie

I woke up this morning feeling a bit moody and jaded. Was it worry about my impending labour? Angst that I haven't grouted the blackening bathroom tiles? Regrets about the colour of our Bugaboo covers? Eh, no, none of the above. The simple reason was, I was hungry.

Since becoming pregnant, I've noticed that my needs have been similar to that of a child - for food, rest and warmth. Invariably if I've been moody over the past nine and half months, it's because I'm hungry, tired or cold, simple as that. And of those three, hunger has been the biggest issue.

During my first trimester, I'd wake up ravenous, with my blood sugar level in my slippers. Toast was good, cereal was okay but repetitive (as this was only a pre-shower snack, I'd eat cereal again at work) so a smoothie seemed the best solution.

After trial and error, I came up with this berry blister or feed-me-now smoothie that takes only minutes to make. As well as milk, berries and banana, I added some linseeds (to, erhem, keep me regular), wheatgerm (for folic acid), grated fresh ginger (for immunity and nausea) and Manuka honey (for good digestion).

And sure enough, after a few gulps this morning, I was back on top pregnancy form. Hope it works for you...

Berry blister / feed-me-now smoothie

Vary the ingredients according to your taste and what you have in the fridge/freezer. Soya milk and yogurt both work well. I keep a large piece of peeled root ginger in the freezer and grate straight into the mixing jug.

Makes 1 highball glass

1 large handful frozen berries
1/2 glass milk
1 small banana or half a large banana, sliced
1 tbsp linseed and wheatgerm (I mix the two in a tupperware tub and use for smoothies and to top cereal)
2cm grated ginger
1 tsp honey

1. Put all the ingredients in a food processor jug and blitz until smooth. Pour into a glass and drink up.

rosie eats tip

A quick way to peel knobbly root ginger is with the back of a teaspoon.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010


What does my bump have to do with soup? Not a lot. This is the gratitutous bump shot because at some point in the next few weeks this bump is going to become a baby and equally importantly I want to show off my gorgeous new apron (the print is called 'Utility Rose' from the V&A online shop). And I've just started maternity leave and I own a tripod.

So I've basically spent ages setting up the bump shot and not much time making lunch. I prepared a cheese and fennel sandwich and quickly discovered why that combination hasn't made it into Pret yet - it doesn't work. So I've made a quick soup. And when I say quick, I mean rapido, vite, express, speedy gonzalez. I pared back the process to the utter basics - chopped veg, cooked in stock, blitzed in a puree then eaten in a bowl. Wham, bam, thank you mam. Sweated onion? Sorry no time. Minced garlic? Forget it, I'm hungry now.

But don't get me wrong - I don't want to sacrifice flavour just to have a quick lunch, so I added chilli flakes for a kick and served the soup with a good dollop of yogurt (the calcium nod) and some toasted seeds (more flavour and a bit of protein). And don't worry about precise measurements, just make sure your chosen veg are covered by good flavoured stock.

Quick soup: carrot and butternut squash
A back to basics method that works well for most root veg. Heston, look away now...
Makes 2-3 bowlfuls
1 small butternut squash
2 carrots
Pinch chilli flakes
Chicken stock
Plain yogurt
Sunflower seeds, toasted
1 chappati

1. Peel and chop the veg into evenly-sized pieces. Make enough chicken stock so the veg is covered. Add the chilli flakes then leave to simmer for 20 mins or until the veg is cooked through.

2. Transfer to a food blender and blitz until smooth. Pour back into the pan adding a little more chicken stock if it's too thick and warm through.

3. Heat a non-stick frying pan with no oil. Add the chappati and cook for 2-3 mins on each side.

4. Serve the soup with toasted seeds, yogurt and halved chappatis.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

PREGNANCY RECIPE: mushroom pâté

My friend Anna says I should eat more protein. She's training to be a pregnancy nutritionist so I'm happy to take her word for it. And she's right - I find myself chowing down on carbs at most meal times but the carb-high or carb-coma depending on which way it takes me doesn't last. Protein is the key to feeling fuller for longer and helping your baby build essential tissues (am I becoming a protein-bore? I seem to talk about it in every posting).

The biggest protein dilemma is at lunchtimes. Yes, I could cook off chicken breasts or salmon steaks and take them to the office but I never seem to get round to it. And certainly, I could take in last-night's leftovers, but I'm a sandwich girl at heart. So the solution to my protein problems appeared to lay in a sandwich filling and seeing as I had a load of mushrooms in my veg box, a mushroom pâté seemed the answer. 

Having done a bit of research on the pregnancy health benefits of mushrooms, I discovered that they're a good source of folate (the naturally occuring form of folic acid) as well as my heart throb, protein. Put together with soft cheese (the low-fat tub I bought oddly had more protein than the full-fat stuff) and a bit of tarragon for extra flavour and you've got a sandwich spread to make your lunchbox sing. I hope it hits your p-spot.

Mushroom and tarragon pâté
Serve with brown bread doorsteps and a bit of green for iron – lamb’s lettuce, pea shoots or spinach all work well

Makes 6-8 servings
10g unsalted butter
Good dash EVOO (extra virgin olive oil)
200g chestnut mushrooms, sliced
2 portobello mushrooms, sliced
150g low fat soft cheese
1 sprig fresh tarragon

1. Gently heat the butter and EVOO in a frying pan then add the mushrooms. Season well with sea salt and black pepper. Allow the mushrooms to sweat for 10-15 minutes until softened but without browning. Remove from the heat, pour off a little liquid then allow them to cool.

2. Remove the leaves from a sprig of tarragon and finely chop. When the mushrooms have cooled, put them in a blender with the soft cheese and tarragon and blitz until smooth. Taste and season again if needed.