Julia's Child, published by Plume/Penguin, is a book about organic food, and growing food, and feeding food to small wiggly people who don't always appreciate it.  This blog celebrates those same things, but also green living. And coffee.  And sometimes wine with little bubbles in it.


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Food Allergies and Mother Fear

I adore Feeding Eden, the new memoir by Susan Weissman. While I do not have a child with food allergies, I find the topic endlessly fascinating. From the flap copy: "What do you make for dinner when your child has such severe allergies that even one bite of the wrong ingredient could be deadly?"

I have always understood that cheerful mothering is founded upon the ability to banish the suggestion of disaster. Those catalogs stuffed with childproofing gadgets promising: "Finally! A solution to dangerous hard bathtub walls," or touting that mesh thing through which babies are supposed to suck a strawberry without choking. They always made me want to scream. Parenting is tough enough without fate suggesting extra ways to suffer.

Author Susan Weissman was dealt a tricky hand when her infant son Eden became so sick at such a young age. Allergic to a long list of foods, it took years for their family to come to a place where every day didn't seem to promise disaster. In the youngest children, allergies are so very difficult to diagnose. And Eden was born before the latest slew of allergen labeling laws, which made Weissman's road that much tougher.

The allergy details are very interesting, but Weissman really shines when she's describing good old Mother Fear. After a particularly grim (and unexplained) allergic reaction, one emergency room doctor told her not to get crazy: 

"How wouldn't I know Crazy? Let me count the ways. Despite the doctor's counsel, Crazy and I became as intimate as lovers. Crazy became my stalker, my unwelcome houseguest, and even my muse. I see Crazy int he shadows of other parents, the parents with children like Eden. When I try to tout my sanity to teachers and friends--'Oh, I try not to get too crazy'--Crazy laughs its ass off in the corner."

As I write this, one of my kids is at hockey practice and the other one is climbing a tree. A hasty trip to the ER is potentially part of any parent's day. Only willful ignorance of that fact (and carefully fitted helmets and mouth guards) allow me to forget to be afraid. Weissman, forced to acknowledge daily risk so much more often than most, exercises for her reader the delicate balance between fearful and smart.

I predict this book will be around for a long time. It will become required reading for the parents of food allergic children. And for the rest of us, it's a thoughtful conversation with our very own brands of Crazy.


Is it Lunch, or Is It a Game?

I am made slightly uneasy by the trend toward cute food.

This is difficult to admit, because I don't want to squelch others' fun. But I'm uncomfortable with the message that sandwiches are tastier if they're cut into a heart shape, or that crackers need to be adorable.

Recently, Pepperidge Farm introduced fish-shaped bread, which sells at my local store for $4.65 per pound, as opposed to $2.66/lb for the same brand's sliced bread. The fish bread promises a "deliciously soft texture and fun, crust free shape!" The cynical girl in me hears: the inmates are running the asylum. 

But my kids are 6 and 8 already, and they're both tremendously flexible eaters. So when my kindergartener asked if he could make the "tic tac toe" sandwich he found in his "cookbook" I said yes. 

A couple of years ago I mentioned to another mother that a certain type of shaped cracker had a nice, clean ingredients list. But she said "I don't buy shaped food." It was the first time I ever heard another mom share my grinchy hesitation. And while I adore food blogs, the proliferation of top shelf food styling and photography can feed our insecurities. A midday gander at Pinterest suggests every cupcake should resemble the face of a perfectly cheerful monkey, and every bowl of oatmeal should sport a raisin and raspberry smile.

If there's a gene which makes people acknowledge the appeal of cute food, I may be missing it. But--hang on--I had it too as a child. I remember begging my mother to let me make "candle salad," wherein half a banana stood on its cut surface, projecting from a canned pineapple ring. There may have been a "flame" made from a maraschino cherry and cool whip. As gross as that sounds, I once felt about it the way I now feel about fresh guacamole. (Come to mama!)

My son enjoyed the work of cutting ham and cheese into thin strips with a real knife, and didn't make a stink when they kept breaking. The cheesy Xs had an advantage on the diagonal of this sandwich, but then they melted under the broiler. Even that didn't ruin his fun. 

And then? He ate the whole thing.


Meet Zak and Little Duck Organics

From time to time I post about entrepreneurs I met while researching Julia's Child. Meet Zak Normandin, "dadpreneur" of Little Duck Organics.


Normandin started his company, as many do, because in the baby and toddler aisle of the grocery store “there wasn’t anything appealing to me.” His premier product, Tiny Fruits, are just what the name describes: dehydrated fruit, with nothing added, cut small enough for babies and toddlers. 

He didn’t like the ingredient lists he saw on a lot of products. “I saw added cane sugar as the second ingredient on a lot of these products. Why does a six to eight month old need sweeteners?” Tiny fruits are verified to be non-GMO, and they’re completely organic, and gluten free. The package says “100% Fruit” because that’s all that’s in there.

“I started everything in my basement,” Normandin recalls. Like many other entrepreneurs, his funding was bootstrapped, too. “I leveraged every credit card that I had.”

The gamble paid off, and now Little Duck has gone national at Whole Foods stores. It is also available at Market Basket and Big Y.

Normandin makes starting a company look fun. He had never run a food company before, but had always been interested in branding, and it shows. This is my favorite tagline:


“I’ve always liked products with a story, something to root for,” he says. Well, Zak, I’m rooting for yours!


Locally Produced Gin? Come to Mama

You all know how much I like to write about local entrepreneurs, and to taste their wares. Could it be that I have a kind of localvore karma built up by now, after a steady diet of Vermont grass fed beef, naturally raised poultry and local cheeses? 

I think I must.

Imagine my pleasure at finding samples of Barr Hill Gin and Vodka at the so-called Discount Liquor store in tony Manchester Center, VT. I didn't actually taste the gin then as I was on my way to the delightful Northshire Bookstore for a reading and signing. It's not a great idea to turn up at ones' own bookstore events tipsy, even if tipsy on glorious local hooch.

The distillery's website describes the gin as: "a celebration of our special connection to the land. We use pure grain spirits as a canvas to showcase juniper berry and raw northern honey. Added just before bottling, the raw honey imparts unique floral qualities that vary with season and blossom."

The grain comes from Buttermilk Farms, which also grows the oats we like to use in our homemade granola. The bottles are sealed with (what else?) bees wax.

And the gin is wonderful. "Almost a shame to add tonic," my husband insists. 

It's a shame for him, perhaps. But I find it delightful.


My Book Tour!

Dear readers,

Thank you for your support! I'm so happy to finally say that Julia's Child is for sale in bookstores. The book tour kicks off tonight, and will run throughout February. I would love to meet you at:


1/31 The Norwich Bookstore, Norwich, VT

2/6 Water Street Books, Exeter, NH

2/9 The Book Rack, Newburyport, MA

2/17 Northshire, Manchester Center, VT

I can't wait to see you there!


Can Crunchy Laugh at Itself? Yes, Yes It Can

Although my sympathies are very much in line with all that is ecologically conscious and green, I often find the discussion to be too serious. It's true that important topics require weighty discussion, but even eco-nerds like me require a little humor. To that end, Julia's Child is a funny book. But this video, if you haven't seen it already, is simply hysterical. Can Crunchy laugh at itself? Absolutely.


Vermont Peanut Butter: Take Me to Your Leader

I was one of those kids who ate peanut butter every day of my childhood. By the time I reached voting age, I couldn’t even look at the stuff. But lately my view has changed, and all because of some truly excellent peanut butter products I discovered right here in New England. Vermont Peanut Butter of Morrisville, VT has become one of those products that I can’t help but push on my friends. Like SmartWool socks, only tastier.


The founder of Vermont Peanut Butter is not a mompreneur but a dadpreneur. Chris Kaiser describes himself as an “athlete turned financial planner turned mountain hippie.” (And you wonder why I love Vermont.)

“I love peanut butter,” says Kaiser. “I’ve always eaten it, I’ve always made milkshakes with it. I’ve always made crazy sandwiches with it. To make a living you have to sell something. I thought wouldn’t it be nice to sell something that makes people really happy?”

Vermont Peanut Butter does that by making its product far from ordinary. My favorite flavor is called Good Karma. It has—brace yourself—dark chocolate in it. It was not the first flavor I tried. We went through a few jars of the high quality Creamy variety first. Kaiser sources all his peanuts from small growers in North Carolina and Virginia which practice organic farming. The ingredients in Creamy are: dry roasted peanuts and sea salt.

It took me awhile to try Good Karma, because I didn’t want to add sugar to my kids’ lunches. But when I finally stopped to do the math, I realized that the jam I put on their sandwiches had more sugar. Vermont Peanut Butter's tag line is “We’re Nutty About Nutrition,” which makes Kaiser a man after my own heart. For a nerd-mom in-depth analysis, see my personal nutritional comparison, below. Kaiser has taken the unusual step of adding whey protein to his flavored varieties, boosting the protein in Good Karma from the natural 7g to 10g.

But the taste! It’s amazing. Spread some on a little toasted sourdough, and you’re in heaven. And I haven’t even tried Maple Walnut yet. There are flavors with dried fruits, and one with honey.

It feels good to support a young Vermont business. Kaiser sold his first jars in July of 2009. I discovered Vermont Peanut Butter in my local food co-op in 2010. But now the company is going coast to coast, in Whole Foods, Shaws and Hannafords. They even have a distributor in… Italy. Take that, nutella!


Sarah Is Nutty About Nutrition, Too

VT Creamy Peanut Butter: 1g sugar (from the nuts) in a 2 tablespoon serving

Jam has about 13g per tablespoon!

Good Karma has only 4g sugar in a 2T serving—and one of those grams comes naturally from the nuts

Nutella, by the way, has a whopping 21 grams of sugar, and sugar is the first ingredient


The Freshest Thing Under the Sun: Petit Organics

My new novel, Julia's Child, will be released at the end of this month. It tells the story of a fictional mom and her comic efforts to launch an organic toddler food company. While doing research for the book, I met some truly amazing real-life moms who run organic food businesses. This is the first in a series of posts about the "mompreneurs" out there making it happen for real and for true.


Meet Michelle & Rehana of Petit Organics


File this under: where were they when my boys were babies?

Meet Rehana Zamfotis and Michelle Marinis, two New York City moms with five kids and one growing hyper-local business between them. Their unique company, Petit Organics, is the only one in New York to deliver homemade organic baby food right to New Yorkers’ apartment building doors. Never frozen and never canned, the fresh food they make includes recipes like Broccoli, Carrot & Quinoa and Pear, Oat & Cinnamon. For the youngest babies there is Simply Zucchini and Simply Apples, among others.

Before starting the company, Marinis was in the high-pressure commercial real estate business. She saw her child for about an hour each evening. And then, because she wanted him to have fresh baby food, “I spent four or five hours every Sunday in the kitchen steaming food for the week,” she said. By the time her second son came along, she was overwhelmed.

Marinis couldn’t believe that in New York City, there wasn’t a convenient fresh baby food option. When she mentioned her crazy idea of opening a baby food business to Zamfotis, her friend surprised her by saying “let’s do it.”

Zamfotis was willing to quit her marketing job to make the idea a reality. “I was so tired of the daily grind of pushing intangible products.” Along came something she believed in. “I wanted to be a part of it.”

Marinis and Zamfotis have made sure to allow their business to grow slowly. “We’re taking baby steps, if you will,” says Zamfotis. “We’re small right now,” she said “except for Michelle. She’s 38 weeks.”

Even as their families grow, the gentle pace of business growth keeps things under control. “We do it because we love it,” says Marinis.

And it shows. You can read more about the company here.

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