Pad Thai, Baby 

Matthew Amster-Burton was determined to raise a foodie.

What dad doesn't hope his kids will grow up loving at least some of the same things he does? We've all met those guys who buy their toddlers tiny guitars and teach their infants to shriek "Touchdown!" For Matthew Amster-Burton, it was food. Five years ago, when his wife first told him she was pregnant, he was working at what he calls "the world's greatest job: restaurant critic for a daily newspaper." Even on those days when he didn't dine out on dim sum, kimchi, kebabs, and other delights, The Seattle Times critic avidly cooked his own elaborate and exotic fare — from green-papaya salad to bacon-studded Brussels sprouts. While other adults dread other aspects of impending parenthood — sleepless nights, say, and diapers — Amster-Burton had something else to cringe about: "All I knew about baby food was that it came in a jar and looked like washed-out fingerpaints." (He found puréed meat "especially gross.") Even imagining the onset of solid foods, a few years down the road, failed to cheer him: Having spent his own childhood devoted to "pizza, burgers, and hot dogs," he was darned if he would be "trapped into eating them in rotation, out of some sense of family solidarity, until our child went to college."

Determined to sidestep that fate, Amster-Burton embarked on a project whose chronicle is his new book, Hungry Monkey: A Food-Loving Father's Quest to Raise an Adventurous Eater, which he will discuss at Books Inc. (1344 Park St., Alameda) on Friday, May 29. In the book, he charts little Iris' progress from breast milk directly to warm steamed milk flavored with almond syrup: "What a hipster." Soon it was piroshkis from a Russian bakery near his home: "Luckily," he notes, "they had a club card." Taken to a Chinese restaurant, Iris "gobbled fish and tofu." At a sushi place, "she eviscerated the spicy tuna roll, scooping out the core of fish and rice and leaving us the seaweed. Suddenly we had a baby who chose pad Thai instead of strained peas, Szechuan fish instead of puréed squash."

Smart baby. Ditching baby food almost entirely, Amster-Burton and his wife simply fed Iris portions of their own meals, stopping only to "smash, chop, or blend the food so our toothless little buddy could eat it." He didn't want to put anything on the table that Iris couldn't share, so steak was out: Even chopped, it's too chewy.

Fortified with recipes and cookware recommendations, it's a memoir about babies and food, but also about that universal — and too-often-elusive — parent-child bond. Sharing food, Amster-Burton remembers, "was the first opportunity for Iris and me to share an experience and enjoy it for the same reasons. But I like enchiladas. Iris likes enchiladas. We can agree on enchiladas." 6:30 p.m., free.


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