Book Excerpt

Hungry Monkey

A Food-Loving Father’s Quest to Raise an Adventurous Eater

July 10, 2009

From Chapter 2: “Discovering the First Rule of Baby Food”

We never asked Iris’s pediatrician if it was safe to share our food with her. I figured she was eating a combination of the foods recommended in baby books, and I was vigilant about choking hazards and, well, semi-vigilant about allergens.

I did buy one jar of baby food — I think it was Gerber beef with sweet potatoes, which sounded tasty and reminded me of what Baby Gloria ate for dinner in Bread and Jam for Frances. Iris flat-out rejected it. Her tastes were too global for this mush.

If I said we didn’t use any commercial baby food, however, I’d be stretching the truth. We actually bought a lot of Gerber fruit purées and mixed them with plain yogurt. I highly recommend this, even if you don’t have kids and your sudden purchase of baby food could freak out your significant other. Why didn’t I make my own peach and pear purées? Because I tried it and the Gerber was tastier.

According to my mother, my favorite breakfast food when I was a kid was Dannon Prune Whip yogurt. For reasons that seem obvious, they don’t make Prune Whip anymore. So I recreated it by mixing Gerber prune purée half-and-half with full-fat plain yogurt. Prune, pear, or peach whip with a side of Cheerios was our daily breakfast for months. Pear is the best, especially if you add a little cinnamon (or, as Iris calls it, “cimmanim”).

matthew and iris
Matthew Amster-Burton’s daughter, Iris, playing with pods of cranberry beans.

I was proud when Iris took her first steps, but not as proud as I was when she successfully maneuvered a Cheerio into her mouth. Day after day I watched her pick up a Cheerio and angle it toward her face, only to miss her mouth by several inches. At such times I had to remind myself that Iris was perfectly smart and capable for her age, and it was OK that she would lose a battle of skill with a really slow adult, or even a Cheerio.

Soon, Laurie turned us on to something even better than whole-milk plain yogurt. (“Seriously?” I can hear you saying. “Better than plain yogurt?”) Greek yogurt is made by taking regular yogurt and straining it through cheesecloth. It’s sold in single-serving containers with a bit of honey or jam for mixing (the popular brand is Fage Total), or in pint tubs. It’s impossibly smooth and rich. It’s amazing that you can eat this stuff for breakfast without causing a scandal. It’s pudding with active cultures.

Not to channel a sappy Peace Corps ad, but Iris taught me a lot more about breakfast than I ever taught her. Laurie had been telling me about Greek yogurt since before Iris was born, but I didn’t listen, because I had naive views about the limits of yogurt. After my conversion to the fermented way, I came home from Trader Joe’s with an assortment of their flavored Greek yogurts to try. Iris and I got completely addicted to their fig yogurt for a while. It has real fig purée in it, including seeds, which Iris called “bumps.”

“Yogurt” was also one of Iris’s first words, sort of. Laurie noticed at some point that whenever we served Iris yogurt, she made a noise like “eeeyoy-eeeyoy.” Eventually she settled on “yoingyoing.” So every morning I served up the yogurt and Iris bounced in her high chair, chanting, “Dada? Yoingyoing. Dada? Yoingyoing.”

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1. by msmit002 on Jul 15, 2009 at 11:29 AM PDT

I really like this book! I got the Kindle edition and I love the humor. Reminds me a lot of how I feed my 4 year-old; giving me a little validation that I didn’t permanently harm my son by feeding him larb and kimchi.

2. by helenrennie on Jul 15, 2009 at 11:32 AM PDT

Hi Matthew,

The yogurt story was so funny and so familiar that I am still laughing :) One of Sammy’s first food words was yogurt too. She used to call it “yoguk,” though lately it mutated into “yogut.” I guess she is growing and starting to say things the right way now. But I really miss the adorable names she made up for food, like kiwi is a “wizi,” and gnocchi are “yucky” (in a really good way -- that’s one of her favorite foods).

Keep up the good work! A friend of mine just had a baby 2 weeks ago. She has so much stuff that I don’t know what to get her as a gift. This post reminded me about your book and I am thinking it would make a really great present.


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