My first time making injera (with pictures)

Pop over to Mother Earth News to read about my first experience in making injera, a traditional Ethiopian fermented flatbread that forms the base of every meal (when I say base, I mean this literally, since injera also serves as the plate!):

Teff, Ethiopia’s traditional grain, has been enjoying its well-deserved spotlight as a recently discovered superfood. Teff is extremely healthy and nutritious, and certainly worth getting acquainted with. You can find teff in health food and ethnic stores. There is a darker variety and a lighter one, and it’s worth trying both to see which you like better.

The process, in pictures:

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Starting the batter.

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Day 3: Bubbles are the evidence of successful fermentation.

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Day 4: Diluting the batter with water prior to cooking.

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I let it cook a tad too long and it over-dried somewhat, but it was still really good, and I hope to do better next time.

The battle against sugar

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It seems that sugar cravings, at least in my case, get especially bad in winter. The cool, short, rainy days make me (and my kids!) long for a pick-me-up in the form of a sugary baking session of cookies, cakes, and sweet rolls. It’s so homey and fills the kitchen with a delightful smell, and arguably what you make at home is better than any store-bought sweets – but it’s still not the healthiest treat in the world.

The winter cravings can be explained on many levels. Not only do we stay indoors more, and so have more time, inclination and possibilities for a snack, we also feel sleepier due to higher concentration of melatonin caused by the diminished daylight hours (winter hibernation, anyone?), and so subconsciously long for something energy-packed to keep us going. We also tend to eat more, and more energy-high foods, when we’re cold. Finally, at least for me, in the summer we have all these wonderful juicy fruit that make such great dessert alternatives – melons, watermelons, mangoes, grapes – while in the winter we’re pretty much limited to apples, bananas, and oranges.

Read more in this informative article from Sweet Defeat: Sugar Cravings – Why We Crave Sweets and How to Stop It:

“Fighting and putting a stop to sugar cravings can be a challenge at start. Initially, you may notice that your cravings are in a vicious cycle that only causes you to crave sugar more often. However, there are some things  you can do to set your body up for success.”

Also check out other posts on sugar and food cravings:

Conquering Sugar Cravings

Food That Makes You Hungry

Starting solids: our experience

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Image source: stuff.co.nz

I got a question about starting solids with babies; and while there are several ways to approach this, here is what has always worked for our children so far.

First off, we always introduce solids very gradually. Pushing solids is a bad idea, as is abrupt weaning/restriction of nursing to get baby to eat solids. Breast milk is a lot more nutritionally balanced than almost every kind of typical baby food.

We never bought ready-made baby food. I don’t see why anyone would buy those tiny, overpriced jars (unless you’re going on a long trip with poor refrigeration facilities). We never thought to look up recipes, either – we simply improvised. As you dive into it, you’ll see making baby food is easy and fun.

We usually start giving tiny tastes of mashed or blended fruit and veggies at around five months, though solids don’t make a full meal until around 6-7 months. Mashed banana makes a good first food, and babies love it (though a few years down the road, they don’t believe me when I tell them they once did!). After introducing each new food, we wait several days to make sure there’s no adverse reaction. After we try an array of foods, we start making mixtures and smoothies using a blender.

I know it is often recommended to give the baby cooked fruit, but generally, we gave it raw (apples, pears, plums) and only cooked/baked veggies (sweet potato, zucchini, pumpkin). I never saw that it disagreed with our babies.

Many grandparents and pediatricians think that cereals are a good choice for baby’s first food at 5-6 months, but at that point, the amylases in our digestive system aren’t fully mature yet and it doesn’t do good to overload baby with starches. Fruit and vegetables are far better as first foods.

As our babies grew older, we felt more and more comfortable to simply take a fork, mash whatever is on our own plate and give it to them. However, up to one year, we avoid foods that are considered allergenic (such as fish, eggs, peanut butter, etc).

When I make baby food, I don’t add salt or spices, but when we feed babies off our plate we don’t avoid salt, though we steer clear of very spicy foods and artificial taste additives. As much as possible, for as long as possible, we avoid giving foods with added sugar, and fake foods such as morning cereals. Sugar is addictive, and once kids have a taste of it, they grow into sugar junkies.

Gradually, our babies grew out of baby foods. Bit by bit, they moved on to soft finger foods, learned to use a spoon and cup, and joined the family table as equal members. I look forward to the expression of pleasure and interest that will appear on Hadassah’s face when she first tastes solids, but I do so love this special time of exclusively breastfeeding her.

Nursing on demand and parental authority

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There is a lady who writes in an Israeli magazine, whose articles on parenting I always look forward to. She speaks a lot about parental authority, delegating responsibilities to children, resisting worldly influences and other subjects I find instructive. Her most recent article was no exception. She lamented the fact that so many parents are encouraged to choose the so-called “child-centered” lifestyle, becoming slaves to the child’s choice of friends, clothes, toys, extra-curricular activities, and… nursing on demand.

Nursing a newborn on demand? Why, yes. “In the past,” she writes, “new mothers were told to breastfeed according to a schedule. Now it is recommended that you do it whenever the baby feels like it.”

I felt compelled to send this lady a personal email, in which I pointed out that all the examples she used in her article were good ones, except nursing on demand, which in no way “spoils” the baby or harms the mother’s authority. Quite simply, the fact that the recommendations in hospitals changed is due to finding out that nursing on demand (or rather, on cue) is actually the easiest and most intuitive way to establish successful breastfeeding – which is important not only for the baby, but for the mother’s health as well; try skipping a feeding for the sake of a schedule and you may end up with painful engorgement, complete with a plugged duct and high fever.

She wrote back. Her response was polite but self-assured. “Our mothers breastfed on schedule,” she said, “and we turned out a lot better brought up than the current generation of children.” True? Perhaps. Cause and effect? Not in the least.

I responded and said that, indeed, our mothers were told to breastfeed on schedule – and not coincidentally, it was a generation of formula-feeders. My mother-in-law, for example, was told to breastfeed her newborns every 4 hours. No more, no less. Baby is crying? Let him cry until the set hour. Baby is sleeping and you are thinking of taking a nap yourself? No way – wake him up to nurse. Unsurprisingly, her milk “just ran out” after 1 month, after which she had to give her children’s cow’s milk (as formula wasn’t readily available), and  many years later told me how she “was one of those women who just couldn’t produce enough”.

I also heartily recommended this lady to discuss the matter with a lactation consultant, and to consider all the facts. After all, it is a pity if a new mother who threw feeding schedules out of the window reads her article and thinks, “what if I’m spoiling the baby? What about my ‘authority’ as a parent?”

Imagine the following situation. It’s nearly evening, and I’m busy making dinner. A five-year-old is hanging around and says, “Mom, I’m hungry.” “Dinner will be ready in an hour,” I say. “But I’m still hungry,” she insists. “Alright, then,” I say, “if you feel you really need to eat something right now, you can get yourself an apple.” She proceeds to do so, and settles down with her little snack while I continue making dinner in peace.

Does the exchange above make my household “child-centered”? No. Does it make me less of an authority figure as a parent? No. Would it be better if I barked at my little child, “wait for dinner!”? Again, no. By the way, those who have been reading this blog for a while know I’m very much in favor of regular family meals. But if I get myself an unscheduled snack, sometimes before dinner or right before bedtime, and find it acceptable, why should I refuse when it comes to my children? I’m not speaking about things like sweets and cakes, of course, but about an apple before dinner or a slice of cheese before bedtime.

So what is the difference when we’re talking about a baby? A baby is completely dependent. She cannot get up and get her own snack. She cannot communicate her needs in words or negotiate. All she can do is signal to me that she needs to be picked up and fed – which, if the baby is exclusively breastfed, can only be done by me. So there is no getting around the fact that I must, indeed, nurse when the baby needs it, not when it is most convenient for me. This has nothing to do with authority, and everything with meeting the most basic need of a tiny human being.

Think of a novel concept: scheduled diaper-changing. After all, why must we be slaves to the baby’s whimsical schedule of bowel movements or wet diapers? Why must we hurry with a new diaper in hand every time? As parents, we are the leaders, and thus the baby must follow. She must learn that she is part of a family, and adapt to the family schedule. Thus, from now on, diapers will be changed – regardless of how wet or dirty they are – five times a day, at set intervals, and once at night. Try this for a few days, and you will see how your baby soon stops crying because of a messy diaper!

Sounds ridiculous? Of course. But in my eyes, this concept really is no different from feeding on cue vs. feeding on schedule. Some day, your baby will be able to go to the bathroom without your help. Some day, she will open the fridge and make herself a sandwich. But babies need their parents to provide those primary needs, and it is the parents’ job to do so.

Easy Homemade Chocolate Spread

My latest MEN post features a recipe for homemade chocolate spread that is delicious, easy to make, and far better for you than anything store-bought. It contains exactly four ingredients, and one of those is water.

“Do you like chocolate spread on toast, pancakes or waffles? My kids are ready to eat it by the spoonful if we would only let them, but the kind of commercial junk that passes for chocolate spread in the industry doesn’t have a place on our pantry shelves (Nutella, for instance, contains about 55% sugar and 30% oil, leaving only 15% for anything else).”

The detailed recipe is here.

Home Remedies In Your Kitchen

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“I love exploring various home remedies, and am a strong believer in everyone raising a patch of medicinal herbs in the yard, on a balcony, or even in a row of pots on the windowsill. Mint, rosemary, sage and lavender are all easy-to-grow, delicious-smelling herbs with a variety of uses, both medicinal and culinary.

But are you aware of the fact that not just herbs, but many staples which you almost certainly have in your kitchen, can also be used in a variety of safe, effective and healthy home remedies?”

These humble health-promoting compounds include black tea, salt, baking soda, and more.

Read the rest in my Mother Earth News post here.

Also, there are now two more places where you can follow me: Pinterest and YouTube. I plan to upload regular video snippets of our daily projects, so stay tuned! You can watch my first little video here:

How to juice a pomegranate

The pomegranate is a delicious fruit with many health benefits, but it can get really messy. When I want to treat my family to fresh, antioxidant-rich pomegranate juice, I seed and juice my pomegranates in the following easy, low-tech way:

1. Cut the pomegranates in half (as shown in the picture, bottom right).

2. Hold the pomegranate halves above a large bowl and seed. I do that by knocking on the outer peel with the handle of a heavy knife – a technique taught by my father-in-law. You can also just remove the seeds with your hands.

3. Once you have the bowl of pomegranate seeds (see picture, top right), mash them with something flat and heavy. I use a beer stein for this purpose – put it on top of the seeds in the bowl, bottom down, and press. The juice will flow.

4. Strain the juice by placing a strainer over a second bowl and pouring the contents of the first. Often, you will have residual juice after the first straining, so press some more.

The fresh pomegranate juice should be consumed as soon as possible so that its unique properties aren’t lost. It gives an antioxidant boost and is also an astringent, great for upset stomach and diarrhea.

The peels go on the compost pile and the remaining seed pulp to the chickens, who love it, so nothing is wasted!