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The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
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Poem: "Intrinsically Linked with Nurturing and Love"
This poem is spillover from the January 8, 2019 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] readera and [personal profile] alatefeline. It also fills the "Cooking with love" square in my 6-4-18 Mixed card for the Winteriron Bingo Adventure. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the Mallory thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.


"Intrinsically Linked with Nurturing and Love"

[Monday, February 2, 2015]

When Heron came home for lunch,
Mallory was wearing the green beans
and Dairinne was howling her head off.

"Oh, what went wrong?" Heron asked.

"Dairinne does not like green beans,"
Mallory grumbled, blotting at her top.
"She's sitting up and reaching for food,
so my Sanger appointment netted me
a box of free samples in baby food."

"No wonder she's unhappy,"
said Heron. "Have you tasted it?"

"Well no, I got it from a pediatrician,
it should be safe," Mallory said.

Heron dipped a fingertip into
the green paste and licked it,
then grimaced. "It may or
may not be safe, but it's
definitely disgusting."

Mallory sampled the stuff,
then immediately spit it out.
"Ugh, that's awful!" she said.

"Most commercial baby food is,"
Heron said. "It's not like babies
have much choice -- they have to eat
what they're offered, or else starve."

Mallory grabbed a cloth and started
mopping puree off of Dairinne's face.
"I'm sorry, baby. Mommy fudged up."

"Well, at least now you know,"
Heron said. "We'll work around it."

"Did they send me home with bad food?"
Mallory said, waving at a box on the table.

Heron looked in the sample box. It held
an assortment of Gerber baby foods
including cereals and purees.

"Not bad, exactly, but look at
the contents," Heron said.
"Fortified rice cereal is
a highly processed product,
not something I'd choose
for a baby's first solids."

"Then what would you
feed her?" Mallory said.

"What my Mum fed us,
which is pretty normal food
in a form that babies can eat,"
Heron said. "That way, we know
what goes into it, we avoid all of
the excess salt and sugar, and
we can make sure it tastes good."

"Okay ... how?" Mallory said.
She hoped Heron had a clue,
because she knew fuckall
about cooking for babies.

"I'll call Mum later and ask her
for some recipes," Heron said.
"Meanwhile, why don't you give
Dairinne her usual lunch, and I'll
cook something I know for supper."

"Works for me," Mallory said.

She took Dairinne to the bathroom
and got her more thoroughly cleaned up.

Then Mallory carefully stripped off
her green-smudged nursing top and
tossed it into the laundry hamper.

Fortunately there was no puree on
her skull jeans, so she could just throw on
the navy-striped top and call it good.

That one didn't match as well
as her gray one had, but it was
close enough for mommy wear.

Mallory opened her top and
let Dairinne eat lunch.

When they went back
downstairs, Mallory found
Heron cooking something
dark and dank in a pot.

"Why are you making mud
in the kitchen?" she said,
wrinkling her nose.

"It's not mud, it's
lentil dal, or it will be,"
Heron said. "It just gets
scummy while it cooks."

"Well, you're feeding her,"
Mallory said. "I'm not getting
hosed twice in one day."

"I'll be happy to," Heron said.

The lentils continued to smell
like mud for a while, but after
Heron added some spices,
they smelled a lot better.

Just before supper time,
he took out some of the lentils,
then sautéed crushed red pepper
in ghee and poured it over the rest.
He took out another dab in a new bowl,
then moved the pot off of the heat.

While the samples cooled, Heron lined
the bathtub with a towel, undressed
Dairinne down to her diaper, and
put her in the tub with a plastic tray.


Then he scraped the two blobs
of lentils onto the top of the tray.
"This is mild, and this is spicy,"
he said as if she could understand.

Who knew, maybe she really could.

Dairinne dragged one hand through
the milder batch of lentils, but she
didn't seem inclined to taste it.

"She's just playing with her food,"
Mallory said, frowning at Dairinne.

"So?" Heron said. "She needs to learn
about it. Playing is learning. If she
wants to spend a few weeks exploring
before she starts tasting, that's fine.
But let's see if she'll take a hint."

He scooped up a fingerful of
lentils and popped it in his mouth.

Dairinne watched, then copied him
using her whole hand. Then
she opened her mouth and let
the lentils drool back out.

"You're thinking it over,"
Heron said. "Okay."

"Hey, at least she didn't
spray you," Mallory said.
"I guess she likes lentils
better than green beans."

"Or she just likes spicy food,"
Heron said. "I've seen it before.
Drew dove right into solids, but
Aida didn't care for them -- until
Mum got this recipe from the mother
of a patient. In India, people feed
babies on curried lentils. It turns out
that Aida just isn't a fan of bland food."

"You think Dairinne is the same?"
Mallory said, tilting her head.

"I think it's possible," Heron said.
"You love spicy food and drinks.
Those flavors get into the breast milk.
Dairinne may not be impressed by
commercial baby food options."

Dairinne swiped a hand through
the spicy batch, tasted it, and squealed.

Then she slapped her hands against it,
spattering green mush everywhere,
a grubby grin on her face.

"You like that," Heron said.
"Tomorrow you can have more."

Dairinne mixed the two kinds
together and sampled them.

"Oh, you caught on quick,"
Heron said. "I'll have to make
you some edible finger paints."

"Edible paint?" Mallory said.
"That doesn't sound too good."

"Finn family baby paint is made of
pureed fruit, with a little food coloring
for emphasis," Heron explained.

Dairinne squealed again
and lowered her face to
the tray, licking and rubbing.

"I think she's wearing as much
as she's swallowing," Mallory said.

"Yeah, probably," Heron said.
"That's why I put her in the bathtub."

There had only been about a tablespoon
of each style, so it didn't take long for
Dairinne to get what she could of it.

After that, Heron washed her off
and dressed her in fresh clothes.

"Come on, you can watch me and
Mallory eat," Heron said. "I made
rice to go with the lentils too."

"Why didn't you give her any
of that?" Mallory wondered.

"I will another time," Heron said.
"It helps to introduce one new food
at a time. I'm cheating with the spices,
but this really is Indian baby food."

They dished up bowls of lentils and rice,
along with slabs of flat round bread.

"This stuff is great," Mallory said.
"I'd be happy to see it again."

"Good, because I'll be making
a lot of it for Dairinne, and she'll need
plenty of help to finish it," Heron said.
"Later on, we can visit Uncle Tolli and
borrow his pasta maker. Big noodles
should be easy for her to grasp."

"You think he'll let us hog it
like that?" Mallory said.

"First, we can make batches of
pasta in his kitchen to bring home
for use in ours," Heron said. "Second,
if we buy him a lasagna attachment
or a ravioli attachment, he'll be thrilled."

Mallory laughed. "He only got that thing
for Christmas and he's already attached."

"Well, it's a great pasta maker and
we have lots of Italian friends,"
Heron said. "It's a good way
of feeding high-burn appetites
and helping people feel welcome."

"Why are you so willing to go to all of
this effort when not much of the food
actually gets into Dairinne's mouth?"
asked Mallory. "You know she'll just
howl for my boobs a few hours later."

"She's small, she can't hold much food
at a time yet," Heron said. "She needs
opportunities to explore it, learn what
she likes, and figure out how to feed
herself. I'm happy to help with that."

"But you didn't feed her," Mallory said.

"If I give her something runny, then
I'll use a baby spoon," Heron said.
"Otherwise, she'll learn faster by
touching and tasting it herself."

"It's still a lot of work," Mallory said.

One corner of Heron's mouth curled up.
"Food is intrinsically linked with nurturing
and love: we all want to show our babies
how much we love them, and feeding them
is one way to do this," Heron said.

Mallory threw back her head
and laughed at his response.

She really should have known.

* * *

Notes:

"Food is intrinsically linked with nurturing and love: we all want to show our babies how much we love them and feeding them is one way to do this. At the same time, we can feel a sense of rejection when our child turns down the food we have prepared for him. These emotions, combined with unrealistic expectations of how much food babies should eat (see page 142), mean that many babies—and older children—are regularly persuaded to eat more than they need."
Gill Rapley, Baby-Led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods and Helping Your Baby to Grow Up a Happy and Confident Eater

Babies go through predictable stages of food over time. At some point, they move from milk to semisolid and then solid foods. Note that in T-America, "baby-led weaning" more often means "baby decides when to stop drinking from breasts/bottles" while "baby self-feeding" refers to introducing pureed, finger, or other soft foods when the baby starts reaching for food, and then letting the baby direct most or all of the eating activity instead of always being spoon-fed. In a culture that supports breastfeeding, most toddlers lose interest between ages 2 and 3. In L-America, many parents bail out after only a few months. There are many reasons for letting babies guide this process. Here are some lists of "safe" or "best" foods to begin with. Vegetables and grains are popular starting points.

This is a typical sampler of commercial baby foods. It's all highly-processed stuff, but these are in wide use and often handed out by doctors and parent support groups.

Many people believe that homemade baby food is healthier, because commercial baby food labels often lie and the food has poor nutrition. Toddler food in particular tends to overload salt. In reality, salt should be used in very small quantities -- if a food tastes salty, that's too much, unless you've been sweating like a pig. Other problems include excess sugar and outright toxins. Often the results taste terrible. For people who still want to buy baby food, certain categories like organic and paleo are somewhat more promising.

Making your own baby food is easy with the right recipes. Here are some more for cereal. Bear in mind that different cultures have very different ideas about what makes a good baby food. In India, it's dal like Heron makes here; in Mexico, it's beans and rice; in many Asian cultures, it's some kind of rice. Not everyone is obsessed with commercial baby food like L-America is. I was raised by hippies, which means they bought some commercial food for convenience, but a lot of what I got was whatever the family ate hit with a potato masher. Check out these international baby food recipes.

Here are some recipes for baby foods based on lentils. This is our household recipe for lentil dal. It naturally has two spice levels: anyone wanting a less-spicy dish simply takes out their portion prior to the last step of pouring on the top dressing. While the milder version is a good starting point, Dairinne definitely takes after her mother and will demand the spicier version a lot sooner than most babies would. When you cook green or black lentils, they form a scum that you're supposed to skim off, and they often look or smell a lot like mud for a while. When finished, lentil dal comes out in a chunky mash. You can puree it if you really want to, but that's rarely necessary. It's usually thick enough for a baby to eat by hand or spoon if you don't mind the mess.

Messy play is important for child development. There are many recipes for edible paint suited to infants and toddlers. The best is just pureed fruit, with a little food coloring if desired. Sensory pudding and spice painting are also good options. Food play can lead to a lifelong fascination with the properties of food. Just the other day I noticed that Oui yogurt has, not a perfectly smooth surface on top, but one with subtle wrinkles that appear when the light hits it just right. I spent a couple minutes tilting the jar back and forth, looking at the ripples, and thinking about how the surface would have behaved when culturing to create that effect. I even touched it to determine whether the ripples were tall and firm enough to feel. (They weren't.) It is this scientific curiosity about food that enables me to invent recipes, because I know what it does. Also when giving babies an opportunity for messy play -- or most meals -- you may as well strip the kid first because it's less to wash.

Child feeding and food play can be assisted with suitable trays. A flat smooth tray is most versatile -- it can be used alone, with dishes, with fingerpaint paper, etc. A divided lap tray is basically a unified set of dishes with legs. A feeding mat has a wide flat base with raised cups to hold things. (Designed for babies, these also work great for anyone who struggles to eat from ordinary dishes that move around, and they're a lot cheaper than most adaptive equipment.) To maximize options, buy a smooth tray and a feeding mat that fits into it.

Mallory loves Milk Nursing Wear because they offer dark colors, not just girlie pastels, and the clever cuts look good while providing easy access for breastfeeding. See her gray and navy stripe tops. These resources are crucial for the success of less-feminine breastfeeders. These are Mallory's skull jeans.

Tolli has a Marcato Atlas 150 pasta machine. The proposed attachments are for pappardelle / lasagna noodles and ravioli. Most babies like noodles, and large ones are easy to pick up and gnaw on.

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