EASY Homemade Baby Food!

This is NOT a paid endorsement.  This is my unsolicited review of a product I liked.

This is an idea that’s been around a while (both my mother and Daniel’s say they had something like this when we were babies in the early 1970s) but I hardly ever see today’s parents doing it or talking about it.

Instead of buying baby food in those little glass jars or the horrible plastic packets that have come on the market recently, instead of spending time cooking and pureeing and freezing and storing foods especially for your baby, just feed your baby some of the foods you’re eating!  If the food requires biting or chewing that your baby can’t do yet due to lack of teeth, use a convenient hand-powered grinder to turn it into baby food!  It’s very easy and allows you to make baby food anywhere, on short notice, in exactly the amount you want, without using any electricity.

Our son Nicholas did not get any teeth until he was nearly a year old and didn’t have molars for months after that, so he needed mushy foods for a long time.  We had a busy schedule–Daniel was working full-time outside the home, and I was working part-time and was a Girl Scout leader–so making healthy meals for ourselves was a bit of a struggle already, yet we needed to provide some kind of tasty nutritious mush for the babysitter to serve Nicholas at lunchtime every weekday beginning at six months old.  Luckily, we had found a KidCo food mill, very clean and in the original package, for $1 at a yard sale before he was born.

This handy gadget turns almost any food into a soft paste–but with a little bit of texture–in about one minute. It’s really wonderful! Read more…

Pittsburgh Yam Fake (a sweet potato dish for summer!)

This is the dish to make if you wish you could make New England Yam Bake, but it’s 85 degrees in your kitchen and anyway what you have handy is 2 cups of sweet potatoes that were sliced raw, frozen, and thawed (see the first Saturday of Three Weeks of Vegetarian Dinners for historical details) and now need to be used up because you thawed two 2-cup bags for Sweet Potato Burritos but the person following the instructions of your meal plan was very tired and used only the first bag he saw.

The flavor is very similar to New England Yam Bake.  The texture is different, more like scalloped potatoes, because the sweet potatoes are in flat slices instead of big chunks and are not as soft as canned ones.

This could, of course, be made with canned sweet potatoes instead, in which case you’ll need to cook it just long enough to heat them.

To make 4 servings as a side dish, you will need:

  • a glob of butter–about 1 Tbsp.
  • 2 cups sliced sweet potatoes
  • 2 Tbsp. brown sugar (less if using canned sweet potatoes–they are soaked in a sugary syrup)
  • cinnamon to taste
  • dash of salt
  • a handful of nuts (walnuts or pecans are best)
  • 4 pineapple rings, or about half a can crushed or chunked pineapple
  • 1/4 cup pineapple juice from the can
  • a handful of miniature marshmallows
  • a saucepan just big enough to hold all ingredients, with tight-fitting lid

Melt butter in saucepan.  Add sweet potatoes.  Cook, covered, over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, at least 5 minutes until they are getting softer.  Meanwhile, chop nuts.  (Even if you grabbed the nuts out of a bag in the freezer, in a warm kitchen they will be soft enough to chop in no time.)

Stir in sugar, cinnamon, salt, nuts, pineapple, and juice.  Try to keep pineapple rings intact while stirring.  Cook, uncovered, stirring frequently, another 3 minutes.  Remove a piece of sweet potato, let cool, then eat.  If it is too crunchy, cook a little longer.  If seasoning doesn’t taste right, add more of what is lacking.  If sauce seems too thin, mix in a pinch of flour.

Stir one last time, carefully scraping the bottom of the pan.  Scatter marshmallows across top surface of food and immediately put on lid.  Turn off heat.  Let stand at least 5 minutes so the marshmallows melt.

New England Yam Bake

This is Daniel’s mother Elsa’s traditional Thanksgiving side dish.  I’m posting it in July because I’m about to post a way to make a similar but non-baked dish if you crave something like this (and/or have sweet potatoes to use up) in hot weather!

We had made the original recipe many times, referencing a copy Elsa had typed long ago (with an actual typewriter!) on a small sheet of paper.  We’ve learned that it works fine in a 9″x9″ or similar size pan if you don’t have a 10″x6″, and that the “broil” step can be accomplished at the same 350-degree setting; it takes just a few minutes.

Daniel recently typed up the recipe for our recipe binder, as follows:

Elsa’s usual recipe: easy and satisfying. I’ve replaced the margarine with butter, because, butter!

1 20-oz can pineapple slices
2 17-oz cans yams (sweet potatoes)
1/4 cup flour
3 Tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp salt
3 Tbsp butter
1/4 cup chopped nuts
1 cup miniature marshmallows

Drain pineapple, reserving 1/4 cup syrup. Line sides of 10″x6″ baking dish with pineapple, slightly overlapping the slices.  Arrange yams in the center.  Pour pineapple syrup over yams.

Combine flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt.  Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs; stir in nuts.  Sprinkle over yams.

Bake at 350 for 25 min. Top with marshmallows. Broil until lightly browned.

Serves 6 – 8.

Things Not To Do: Home Organizing Edition UPDATE!

More than a year ago, I advised my readers never to start a To Be Filed pile, explaining my seven years of guilty woe over not getting around to sorting and putting away those papers.  Soon after, I reported making some progress on the pile using the power of Lent, but I admitted that I hadn’t reached the bottom of the pile when Lent ended.

After that, I did almost nothing about it, except feeling guilty and stressed-out every time I remembered that the pile was still there.

Three weeks ago, we went to a used-furniture store and found three things we needed, including a tall shelving unit that almost perfectly fits the awkward space between the filing cabinet and the bookcase in our bedroom!  At last, some motivation to get organized and put away some stuff!  But first, a trip to Ohio and some errands and things….

About ten days ago, I dealt with the entire remaining To Be Filed pile in one session. Read more…

I don’t wear makeup.

I used to wear makeup.  From age 12 to 16, I added more types of makeup to my daily routine each year, and I went through that daily routine even if I wasn’t planning to leave the house.  I continued for a while into college before I realized that the insanely stressful life I was leading there did not allow time for makeup and many other students did not wear it–but I felt that college was an exceptional situation, so I still wore makeup to church, to my summer jobs, and whenever I went back to visit the town where I grew up.  After college, I wore makeup to work and church and social events very consistently at first, but over time I began to wear less and less, until at age 31 I quit almost completely.  Why? Read more…

Things Not To Do: Temporary Shoplifting Edition

By “temporary shoplifting” I mean “walking out of a store with merchandise you have not paid for, then realizing and voluntarily returning to the store to pay for it.”  Everyone makes mistakes, of course, but here are some Things Not To Do if you want to avoid the risk that this almost-crime will get the police’s attention before it gets yours:

  • When you have decided to buy a shoulder bag, do not hang it on your shoulder while you continue to walk around the store.  Especially, do not hang it on the same shoulder as your purse or any other bag you are legitimately carrying.  Doing this vastly increases the odds that you will forget about the new bag when you are leaving the store.
  • Do not allow your seven-year-old child, even if he is for some reason behaving like a bizarre cross between a self-appointed Office Max tour guide and an over-caffeinated Lady Elaine Fairchilde, to lure you 30 feet away from the checkout desk to look at a bunch of random items and develop iron-clad 17-point arguments explaining why you will not buy them for him, while the other parent pays for all the stuff.  Especially if you not only are still carrying an item of merchandise but also never told the other parent that you had decided to buy it. Read more…

A Different Party Favor–thrifty and earth-friendly!

Our seven-year-old Nicholas recently had a party.  He also has attended several kids’ parties this year and has come home from every one of them with a bag or bucket of items that he considers treasures and his parents consider crap–you know, cheap plastic toys made in China and low-quality, over-packaged candy and gum.  We didn’t want to buy any of that stuff for him to give away, but neither did we want to have a lame party with no goodies to take home.

Several weeks before the party, Daniel and I decided we were not going to be able to fix two pieces of broken furniture that had been stashed in our basement ever since each of them had a sudden dramatic collapse in which two legs came off.  One of them was an antique end-table we’d bought at an auction.  The other was a Gothic-style chair with a high, arched back filled in with carved wooden tracery, which his grandparents had found in their basement, mysteriously–they couldn’t recall how it got there!  Both were beautiful pieces of woodworking, so we couldn’t bear to put them out for the trash, but we were skeptical about our abilities with wood glue or carpentry techniques, and we have so many chairs and end-tables that we didn’t really need these.

I did some searching online, and that’s how I discovered the Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse.  This excellent organization takes donations of assorted stuff that might be useful and sells it to people who want to use it.  I spoke with someone there who agreed that our broken furniture might become part of someone’s art project.  When Nicholas and I brought in the broken furniture, we saw PCCR’s store for the first time.  It’s great!  So much cool stuff!  We had fun browsing…but I wouldn’t let him buy anything because we are trying to clear clutter out of our house.  He was very disappointed.

Then, when we needed party favors, we realized we could get them at PCCR!  We knew just what to get.  For only $1 each, we could give every guest a very special gift that any seven-year-old would be thrilled and honored to receive: Read more…

Kirn Family Kale


More than three years ago, I posted many ways to eat kale, beginning the article with an acknowledgement that many people think it’s just a garnish and that, personally, I grew up knowing kale as a notorious vegetable used by my maternal grandmother’s family, seasoned with cloves and cayenne pepper and cooked “until the wallpaper peels,” to frighten away people unworthy of joining our family.

Last week, a friend pointed out to me that, although I have posted many kale recipes, I never have shared that one.  I hadn’t noticed!  I don’t actually make it very often; traditional though it may be, it’s very . . . intense.  With only three people in the household, we prefer to convert a big bunch of kale into something we can eat in large quantity, whereas this recipe makes the kind of side dish of which most people want a few tablespoons alongside blander foods.

Anyway, here is the recipe for my family’s hazing vegetable.  The quantity depends on how many people you’re serving, but for a whole onion you’ll want at least 1 pound of kale.

  • Fresh kale
  • 1 onion
  • 3-4 cloves
  • 1 tsp. salt per pound of kale
  • 1 tsp. bacon drippings per pound of kale (can be omitted to make a vegetarian version)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar per pound of kale
  • cayenne pepper to taste

Thoroughly wash the kale and remove tough central stems.  Cram it into a pot.  (The leaves will wilt, so you can cram in as many raw leaves as will fit.)

Peel the onion and poke the cloves into it.  Add it and the other ingredients to the pot.  Add enough water to fill most of the gaps.

Bring to a boil, then turn down heat.  Simmer, covered, a long time, while you are making other foods.  It will have a very strong smell, sure to drive away unsuitable suitors.

To quote my mother, “The result should look like what washes up on the beach after a hurricane.”  That is, it should be very dark, very soft and floppy, like seaweed.

Set aside the onion.  (Maybe you can use it in a soup or something?  I did this once.  A lot of the flavor will have cooked out of it, and a lot of kale juice will have soaked in.)

Pile kale in a serving dish and place on the table in a calm, matter-of-fact fashion.