The first time I met Iris, she cuddled up to me on her couch and asked me to read her a book. We looked at an illustrated book of a girl’s travels in Paris, and Iris pointed out every detail. Then, she clambered between the arm of the couch and the wall, and announced that the hot dog stand was open. When I asked for a gluten-free bun, she didn’t blink. Just reached into the space behind the couch and pulled up my invisible hot dog.
“Thank you,” I said.
“Sure!” said Iris.
She was three.
When Danny first met Iris, she sat in our living room and announced, “My two favorite restaurants in Seattle are Lark and Union.” (Her parents informed us, quietly, that she had been listening to them talk about where they loved to eat. This kid picks up everything.)
Later in the day, after we had eaten gluten-free ginger cupcakes with lemon frosting (Iris gave them the thumbs up), we were all sitting around telling stories. Iris sat on the carpet in front of Danny, who was laying down with his back against the desk. When we all laughed particularly hard, and he waited a beat to breathe before laughing out loud, Iris turned to him, slapped him on the arm, and said, “That’s funny.”
(We say this every day.)
She was still only three.
When Little Bean first met Iris, she was in the ICU, connected to breathing and feeding tubes, hooked up to beeping monitors, small and vulnerable on that enormous bed. Iris entered the room, climbed onto the bed, and read Love and Kisses to Little Bean. She read this sweet little book full of blown kisses and giggling gooses with word-perfect enthusiasm and astonishing aplomb.
She was four years old.
We have read that book to Little Bean every day since.
How could we not adore Iris?
After reading Hungry Monkey: A Food-Loving Father’s Quest to Raise an Adventurous Eater you will adore Iris too. Guaranteed. If you don’t, there’s something wrong with you.
Now, let me clear about this. The author of Hungry Monkey, Matthew Amster-Burton, is a really good friend of ours. We’re excited when we see him, Laurie, and Iris come to the door, bearing food, or cilantro seeds. (Two weeks ago, Iris planted cilantro in our garden, and this week the first green sprouts arose from the dark soil.) Matthew makes me laugh in emails and telephone conversations and in person. He is, frankly, one of the funniest human beings on the planet.
How can you resist buying a book about feeding children that includes the following passage?
“Iris is very into sprinkles, in the same sense that Robert Downey Jr. was very into cocaine. Typically, if I ask her to help put sprinkles on something, one-third of the sprinkles will end up on the cake and two-thirds will end up in Iris’s stomach. ‘I’m just tasting them,’ she’ll say innocently. This is always good for a laugh but, I have advised her, will probably not work in court any better than it did for Robert Downey Jr.”
You see? You already know — this is not your typical Feeding Baby book. Thank goodness. Every other one of those I have read is sanctimonious, terribly out of touch, and boring. This is the only one that has ever made me laugh.
I read the first draft of this book, and made suggestions, and the second draft of this book, and helped to organize its structure. I’m thanked in the acknowledgments. And the publishers asked me to give a quote for the back of the book. (I never thought I’d be on the same book cover as Anthony Bourdain.) Really, I am as entangled and hopelessly biased about this book as is possible.
But still, I know a good book when I read one. This is a great book.
Hungry Monkey, as the subtitle suggests, is the story of trying to raise a kid to love food. Not to be a food snob. (I still hate the word foodie, but I’ll forgive Matthew for using it.) Instead, Matthew reminds us all: “Food is fun, and you get to enjoy it three times a day, plus snacks!”
Matthew puts food on the table, good food, and Iris shares that food. It’s not all duck confit made from scratch, although there is some of that (and we’re excited about making duck hash soon). Matthew uses jarred baby food prunes to mix with Greek yogurt, frozen hash browns, and spinach in a bag. But he also makes Pad Thai for Iris, lobster rolls, and farfalle with tomato sauce and ham. That’s one of the parts of his book I love — how real he is. There is no preaching, no hysterics about only using local and organic food, no advice. It’s simply their story, which will make you laugh. And help you feed your kid (and possibly yourself) better as well.
When I read the first draft of this book, I wasn’t pregnant yet. When I read the second draft, I was, barely. Now that the book is actually here, Little Bean is very much in the world, devouring food. Now that she is here, we’ve seen some of our lofty ideals shatter. What matters is getting food to her. Before she was born, we knew we didn’t want to give her boring old brown rice cereal. Turns out she loves it. She also loves avocado, pulled pork, yams with ginger, and the eggs from my sister-in-law’s chickens, scrambled in a little lard. Still, the only food she really loves is when we feed her from our spoons, when we’re sharing a meal together.
Hungry Monkey informed me before we started to feed Little Bean. Matthew shows it, with Iris’s story: there doesn’t have to be baby food. Just feed kids what you eat. Expect them to be picky sometimes. (We’re in the grace period right now, when Little Bean will eat anything.) Enjoy it. Don’t worry so much.
I especially loved the chapter “You Fed Your Baby WHAT?” after Little Bean leaned out of my arms to eat head cheese, and then went back for more. Matthew also did his research, meticulously. You’ll learn a lot from this book, without being aware that you’re learning. I appreciated that, in particular, for this passage from the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2008:
“Although solid foods should not be introduced before 4 to 6 months of age, there is no current convincing evidence that delaying their introduction beyond this period has a significant protective effect on the development of atopic disease…This includes delaying the introductions of foods that are considered to be highly allergic, such as fish, eggs, and foods containing peanut protein.”
For awhile, Danny and I had been cautiously avoiding all the possible allergens. After I read this passage to him, we relaxed. Little Bean enjoyed her first salmon yesterday. She sucks on lemons, avidly. And she laps up plain yogurt like it’s the finest French chocolate.
(Still no gluten. Since celiac is an autoimmune disorder, not an allergy, and she has a 1 out of 22 chance of inheriting it, we are waiting awhile yet. And no peanuts. No thanks to the chance of anaphylactic shock.)
That’s the effect Hungry Monkey will probably have on you, too. Informed relaxation, all while laughing.
Danny isn’t much of a reader. He’s a chef, someone who lives in his hands, a mover. But every morning for the past weeks, he has asked me to read him Hungry Monkey while he fed Little Bean or while we drove around town. He has laughed so hard his belly hurt, made dinners from the recipes in the book, and was genuinely sad when it was all over.
Even if you don’t have a kid, and have no intention of one in your life, you’re going to want to read this book. Hungry Monkey. Go out and buy it.
We have to give a copy of this book away. (And a lovely new hardcover, not this advance copy that Little Bean chewed to bits on the bottom.) If you’d like to own a copy of the book, leave a comment about the joys of feeding your own children, or your feelings about food when you were a kid. We’ll choose the winner by random on Friday.