Monday, February 4, 2013

Homemade Almond Milk (and Almond Meal) and High Chairs

This week, man.
Work is in full swing, thankfully going well, but the weather has been brutal. I'm trying to pretend it's not happening.  Ellie makes it easy. I am making a concerted effort to be really present with her when we're together, just sitting and being with her. I remember my aunt telling me that when they brought their twins home from the hospital they spent hours just staring at them.  "You don't need TV anymore!" she told me.  It just gets better and better to be with your children as they get older, and they thrive on your attention. So that's what I do during the daylight hours. I spend as much time shining my attention on Ellie as I can.  I always try to carve a little time out of each day for me, be it a short yoga practice, a run, reading, or watching Netflix, but that usually happens after she goes to bed. Her increased independence is a great thing, but I'm learning that it means no less supervision from me.
Our big task recently has been to work on setting up her dishes in a Montessori-style kitchen area. She has a play kitchen. It's now stocked with just one of each of her necessities, plate, cup, a pitcher for water, and this flatware is on its way. We're working on keeping these materials just for eating, but still accessible. My biggest battle is letting housework go so that I can be with her. I haaaate having dishes in the sink or clothes piled up, but that stuff would take over if I let it.
I just revamped her closet in her bedroom and will show it to you soon, but today I'm actually going to talk about FOOD! Can you believe it?
I had wanted to make my own almond milk for a long time so when I saw Angela's post I decided it was finally time to try.  Surprisingly, I didn't get to drink any of the first batch because my husband liked it so much. I made it again and have stashed it in the back of the fridge so I actually get some. 
It was a breeze to make and the byproduct, almond meal, is easy to put to use.

Homemade Almond Milk
(very slightly modified from Oh She Glows
1 c. almonds (preferably organic, check this list to avoid almonds that have been fumigated)
3-4 c. filtered water
2-4 large dates
1 tsp. vanilla extract (or one vanilla bean)
1/4 tsp. salt

Start by soaking your almonds. I used 1 cup of almonds that were pretty old. Thankfully they did just fine, so it seems that almond milk is a good way to get rid of your less-than-fresh almonds.  Soak for a few hours, preferably overnight, until the almonds are nice and plump.
Drain and rinse. 

Put 2-4 large dates (I used medjools) into the bottom of a blender.  
Add the rinsed almonds and enough water to almost fill the blender. For me this was 4 cups. 
Add a splash of vanilla extract and a pinch of salt.  Blend on the highest setting you've got.
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Bonus if you have a cute assistant.  Toddlers are obsessed with buttons and Ellie dances every time she hears the blender or food processor.

In the end it will be frothy and creamy.  
There is such a thing as nut milk bags, but we just used cheese cloth over a fine mesh sieve. It took some time and a little muscle to get all the milk out. It probably would have done just fine on its own but I'm impatient. 
The milk will keep in the fridge for a few days, maybe up to a week, but I doubt it'll last that long. It's not too sweet and very creamy.  If you or someone you love is avoiding dairy, this is an excellent milk alternative. Even if you do drink milk, almond milk can be an inexpensive option to add to your rotation. We made two batches back and back because we like it so much. It tastes best ice cold. 
(Seriously, this is all I got to photograph because we drank it so quickly.)  
One bonus of the process is that it creates almond meal which can be used in a variety of recipes. I've made these macaroons with great success (which mostly consisted of me eating the dough) but decided to make these cookies instead.  They were just ok.  I started with the leftover almond solids from the cheesecloth.
And dehydrated it at 115 overnight.
Then I gave it a whir in the food processor.
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I didn't think they were going to come together, but they did.

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Like I said, the cookies were fine but not good enough to want to make again. Next batch I'll try the macaroons again for sure. The cookies are gluten-free, so they might be worth a try if you or someone you love avoids gluten.

Lastly, my friend Linda asked me to talk about the high chairs Ellie has used.  We've had three main high chairs: a traditional wooden high chair  which was built by my great-grandfather, a plastic booster seat with tray, and an adjustable high chair.  We also used a "weaning table" in the spirit of Maria Montessori. She did very well with this in the early days of learning to eat, but it's more important for us to have her at eye level so she usually only uses this table for snacks.
They each have benefits and drawbacks.  The wood chair is sentimental.  It's bulky but we liked having her up at table level with us.
(A very Baby-Led-Weaning moment, trying spaghetti. More enjoyable as a toy than food.)

The drawbacks of the wood chair are that it had a very large footprint, like most high chairs, and was difficult to clean. We could have skipped it entirely and had no problem.

The booster seat was great because it was light, easy to clean, and again put her at our height.  It has a tray that attached which made it easy to bring her outside to eat.

Remember summer?! Ugh. Watermelon!. 
The drawbacks of the booster were that it tipped over easily, even when she was just on the floor, and the height was never quite right.  It is valuable if you go out to eat often, but many restaurants offer chairs for little ones. Given that we only spent around $15 for it, this seat was worth it, but I don't think essential.

If we could go back to the beginning and do it all over again, I'd have ordered this chair.  It's an adjustable high chair that will fit Ellie her whole life (unless she someday exceeds 240 lbs....) There is an infant attachment that works for the littlest kids.  She is able to climb into the chair whenever she's ready to eat, a habit she first formed very well with her weaning table.  (Staying at the table was another matter, and it's much better with the chair.) The weaning table gives her the same sense of independence, but she clearly loves to engage us in meal time and it's vitally important to me that we all sit down at the table as a family.
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We asked for the Kikaroo chair for Christmas. There's a more expensive version, the Tripp Trapp, but I've never seen one to compare them.  We have been more than happy with the Kikaroo.

I hope that was helpful to you new parents (snuggle Benji for me, ok Linda?) and that you'll consider trying some homemade almond milk. Like so many other things, the store bought stuff just doesn't compare to homemade.
How are you these days?  Is it starting to feel like spring where you are, or still solidly winter? We're still in hats and gloves. I can't wait for barefoot days.


Sweet and Savory Eats said...

Love the recipe for the almond milk! Now I just need some cheese cloth:)

Karrey said...

I bet that almond milk is delicious! I really want to try making cashew milk. The recipe I've seen for that recently doesn't even strain out the solids, so they end up drinking it more like a smoothie than milk. YUM.

I wonder how C would like that chair you've got. We might have to keep that in mind for when we've finally got a dining table set up.

Linda said...

Thank you for the high chair round up. At 5 months, Benji is now showing interest in sitting up but is still unable to support himself on his own. I'm really interested in the Kickaroo or Tripp Trapp but geez, both cost so much and the accessories are additional costs. Do you think the Kicakaroo will work for a young baby like Benji without the tray? Or, do I really need the tray?

Linda said...

..and the infant insert.

Alicia said...

Karrey, cashew milk sounds DANGEROUS. I've been wanting to make raw cashew cream, which sounds pretty similar. C is welcome to come give the chair a try!
Linda, I honestly think Benji would be fine in this chair pulled up to the table and you can skip the tray. I'd just pull him right up to the table! That's the best part about it. I hope you go for it and apologize so much for taking so long to get back to you. I bet he's a master at sitting up now!

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