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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Another Thing My Children Had to Teach Me

"It's Only 5 Minutes!"We do Suzuki music here at chez Sarah. My 8yo is cruising through the Suzuki repertoire on the cello, and his 6yo brother plays the violin. 

One child, who shall remain nameless, was less willing to practice than the other. It wasn't really bad. Whenever I convinced him to practice, he enjoyed it. But the getting going was always a problem. "I'm busy right now" was the usual objection. 

This past fall, when we'd reached our one year anniversary as Suzuki-ites, I imposed a 100 Days of Practice on my children. "We're going to practice 100 days in a row," I told them. "But you only have to spend five minutes on it." I found some charts on the internet, with 100 blank squares. I bought 200 sparkley star stickers. 

After the first week, I was sure it was all a big mistake. The first moment which seemed workable for practice was always right while I was trying to make dinner. It's hard to listen to someone's D Arpeggio without burning the broccoli. The first few stars looked awfully lonely on their page.

But something happened after twenty days or so. Practice became (as I had hoped it would) a regular part of the day. It became like brushing teeth--inevitable, so why fight it?

The 100 days ended on December 10th, and by then both children had made major strides. My younger son learned music which I couldn't have imagined him playing last summer. And my older one played through most of book two within that time period. The biggest boon was the lack of discussion. I had trained all of us to accommodate practice as part of our day. And it worked.


Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I had another frustrating year trying to write fiction. I made good strides, actually, but not without the doubt and self-loathing that always accompanies work on a novel. I spent a lot of time thinking about writing, and not quite enough time writing. Then, in November, when my children were more than 1/2 way through their Suzuki blitz, I decided to do 30 days of fiction. Every day of November (except for Thanksgiving) I worked on my new book. 

Guess what? I saw results. Not only did I add more than 10,000 words during November, I felt better about the manuscript. The steady progress, slow as it was, was enough to swing my opinion about the work. Even on days when I didn't spend more than an hour on it, I still got a lift from having sat down to try.

Thanks, kids! I owe you one.


You'll Get Nothing And Like It

Last year I wrote this post for the wonderful Sorta Crunchy blog, about how our family bought no "stuff" during January. It was terrifically freeing, even if the lessons learned were not the ones I thought they'd be!

By Sarah Pinneo

“We’re not going to buy anything in January except food,” I announced at the dinner table, just before New Years.  I’d been feeling overrun with holiday excess.  January would be a perfect month to streamline—to acquire nothing, to refrain from indulgence, to fully appreciate just how fortunate we are.

This decision was met largely by yawns.

“What about ski lift tickets?” asked my seven-year-old. 

“Oh honey,” I reassured him.  “We’re still going to ski.” Or Daddy would rebel. “And buy food, and gas for the car.  Just no stuff.  We just got so many new things in this house, we’re going to take a break.”

“What is January?” my five year old asked.

“Thirty one days,” I told him. 

He waved his Mickey Mouse fork dismissively.  “That’s not so much days,” he said.

And he was right.  It was nothing at all.  My exercise in restraint was petty by any measurement.  Many of the world’s people don’t have enough money for basic necessities.  And even among those who do, there are far more dramatic experiments than mine.  There’s theAtlanta family who gave away half their net worth, and environmental activists who choose to give up even toilet paper.

Baby steps.  Baby steps.

I knew I was going for a smaller statement—I just didn’t realize how small.  Only one item even came up—my seven year old needed a black felt tip pen to complete an art project.  Though I was sure we owned four million art supplies already, no black felt tip or marker could be found anywhere on the premises.

Aha!  A teachable moment.  “I guess you’ll have to use a colored pencil.  Or buy it with your own money.”

No fool, my son.  He asked his grandparents to lend him a pen.  But that led me to explain my quirky experiment to my mother, who immediately assumed the worst.  “Honey, if you’re strapped for cash…” she began.

“No, no,” I assured her.  “It’s an experiment in delayed gratification and ingenuity.”

But it was in many ways a failed experiment.  My son’s ingenuity led him to pry art supplies from grandpa.  The rest of the family failed to notice at all—except for my frightened mother.

It wasn’t until the end of the month that I noticed all the benefits that had accrued to me.

I’d had no idea how much time my silly plan would save me.  The typical four weeks’ onslaught of catalogs went directly into the recycling bin.  “There will be more catalogs in February,” I reminded myself.  Even better—the email address that I use for commerce was opened only to stay on top of all the deleting.  Oh look—a coupon from Borders, 40% off?  Delete without opening.  Take 30% off sale prices at Lands End.  Delete.  J. Crew, Talbots?  Delete, delete.

I’m not much of a shopper.  I rarely buy much from these places.  But what I didn’t realize was how often I opened the messages anyway, and then needlessly lost a half hour of my precious time.  Eureka!  An entire month of deleting junky emails prevented me from dithering over L.L. Bean turtlenecks in size 6x-7, or trolling Replacements.com for teaspoons to replace the ones which mysteriously disappeared since our wedding 12 years ago.

It wasn’t money or closet space that I saved in January.  It was time.

And I put that time to good use.  I wrote two magazine articles, two new pitches, and 12,000 words of a novel.  I made pumpkin pie from scratch.  And not once was I lured by the promise of free shipping, or Exciting Spring Fashions.

When January ended, so did the moratorium.  But I continued to delete and recycle with glee.  At least I did until the moment my older son informed me that both his boots and his shoes were getting tight.  (This from a child who barely notices shoes, so it must be true.)

Then I wasted a perfectly good half hour on shoe sites, only to remember how hard it was to judge things from a pixilated photo.

The boy and I will just have to head to an honest-to-God store soon, when we’re both good and ready.


Food Styling Gone Wrong

One of the fun things about watching The Ski House Cookbook transform from a document on my computer to a book was the food styling. I really enjoyed watching the fabulous Margarette Adams at work. But good food styling is incredibly time consuming, and not every photo shoot has the same ideals. During the pre-holiday run-up, when my newspaper is full of retailers' flyers, there are many rushed style jobs to be spotted. 

Am I the only one who notices these things? There's some really good humor here. For example: raw peaches on a skillet at Kohl's! How practical.

And Walmart's intended puree of raw yellow squash, escarole, tomatoes and herbs, yum!:

This one may be my favorite--a juicer so marvelous that you can put an apple in it, and get orange juice out of the bottom:

I always cook artichokes whole, in a skillet, like they do at Macy's:

And sometimes the problem is just over-reaching. When you cook a whole chicken in a slow cooker (and you really shouldn't) it has no shot of ever looking like a store-bought rotisserie chicken surrounded by raw vegetables:

Well, that was fun. I'm off to style a more realistic lunch for myself. Bon apetit!


Potato Print Wrapping Paper

Yesterday my husband asked me to please not to buy any glossy wrapping paper this year. "I can't recycle it, and I can't burn it," he reasoned. "Can we get some more of that plain brown paper, and the kids can decorate it?"

Well, sure. But Santa can't pull off plain brown paper, people. Instead of arguing with his all too valid observations, I went shopping.

First stop: JoAnne's Fabrics. There were a bunch of 100% cotton fabrics on sale at half off--in Christmassy prints. At $4 a yard, it's more expensive than Santa usually spends. But it won't be thrown away. Instead, these same fabrics will reappear next year. I bought a skein of chubby yarn to tie it shut. This year, Santa wraps in fabric.

Next stop: Staples. I was happy to find a roll of what they labeled "Banner Paper" measuring 36" by 52...feet! In other words, there was about five times as much paper on this roll than on an average glossy roll of wrap. The paper is uncoated, bright white and completely recyclable. The weight approximates good quality butcher's paper. It cost $7. It was pretty much the best thing I've ever bought from that soul crushing hell known as Staples.

Next stop: my basement. I took a couple of fingerling potatoes out of storage and then dug out some 20 year old lino cutting tools. The tools have "V" shaped blades, allowing me to easily carve a design into a halved potato. But a sharp paring knife would have also worked.



I told myself I'd wait until the kids were hope from school, but I just couldn't help myself. I made a sheet of wrapping paper solo, and promptly experienced that same Eureka! I-am-a-Freaking-Genius feeling I get whenever a craft works even marginally well. 

Oh, and the kids enjoyed it too.



Children's Menu from Hell

I write about food, and children, and food for children all the time. Whenever I have a slack moment, perhaps questioning what more there might be to say on the topic, some horrible gem usually announces itself to remind me why there is still more to do.

My friend Jackie received this children's menu when she stopped mid car trip with her young toddler at a roadside Perkins Restaurant. This image has the same effect on me as one of those Highlights Magazine puzzles has on my children. Can you spot at least ten things wrong with this picture?

When Jackie posted it on her facebook page, someone immediately picked up on the menu's tagline: Breakfast is Just the Beginning... "of a lifetime fighting obesity & diabetes," a friend quipped. They're not even pretending (a la McDonalds oatmeal) to address the health needs of their most vulnerable guests.

File this under: laugh and cry. 


Dear Dentist: What's in those Sealants?

My children were handed this pamphlet at the dentist last week. It's a basic tri-fold number discussing the merits of dental sealants. It attempts to cover the basics: What are sealants? When should children get sealants? How are sealants applied?

Although this might have passed muster ten years ago, doc, you've omitted a critical piece of information. Nowhere in this pamphlet is the question addressed: of what are the sealants made?

From the post-WWII period up through the blythe '90s, we were a society that felt pretty good trusting science, technology and innovation. But poor regulation of big chemical companies and a toothless* FDA has me feeling like a paranoid crank. 

In Julia's Child I make the joke that the days of secret ingredients are over.

"But remember when it was perfectly acceptable to advertise a secret sauce? Remember that?"

"That was before the finger-in-the-chili days, wasn't it?"

Secret sauces and mysterious dental fixitives are over for me. Many dental sealants are made with BPA. I know more than one parent who has rearranged the kitchen to eliminate BPA lined cans and water bottles only to find the same ingredient in the dentist's office. How long will it take before the publishers of chipper dental pamphlets understand that things have changed? A page has been turned. If you want my interest in your product, it's no longer sufficient to show me smiling children with healthy teeth. I'm going to need a little more information.


*I crack myself up.


I Cannot Give My Child a Dog

My younger son, age 6, has made every effort to demonstrate his love for animals, and his will to care for a pet. His desperation reached a new level last week when I found the following heartbreaking note in his room:

Dear Santa, Please could you leave behind a reindeer for me to take really good care of.

This is a kid who wants a dog so badly that he's now exploring all other conceivable options. (He wants a dog or a baby. The request for a baby is... beyond the scope of this blog post.)

The little man in question is the most nurturing child I have ever met. There is no doubt in my mind how well and with how much empathy he would treat his pet, and I'd love to give him the chance. But unfortunately both of his parents are severely allergic to dogs and cats. Even the tiny and hypoallergenic poodle who is a member of our extended family sets us off.

Even knowing that I'd have permanently itchy eyes and an ongoing sinus infection, there are days when I consider giving in. Though I have no trouble saying no to my children's aquisitive desires, this one knocks me back. As Adam Gopnik wrote recently in a New Yorker essay:

The unwritten compact that governs family life says somewhere that children who have waited long enough for a dog and want one badly enough have a right to have one.

I kind of agree with him. But there's no way to try this out. Giving away a beloved pet because mama can't breathe sounds even worse than never getting the dog at all.

What would you do? Any advice on how to stop feeling guilty about this? My best idea: we're thinking of getting chickens in the spring. At least they live outdoors.


Winner! Worst Toy of the Year

The Campaign For a Commercial-Free Childhood, an organization that I adore, crowns a "Toady" every year. The prize is for the Worst Toy of the Year.

This year's winner, with 43% of the vote, is a tablet computer for infants. For the bargain price of $479, your baby can be the first kid on the block to learn to tune out his parents in favor of a baby version of Angry Birds. (Okay, not really Angry Birds. Instead it plays Itsy Bitsy Spider.)

The runners up were spectacular in their own special ways. There was the Coca-Cola version of Monopoly, helping to spread the love for corn syrup with each roll of the dice. And a toy microphone which teaches your child the lyrics to sexy rap tunes.

In contrast, an post by GeekDad at Wired this week picks the 5 best toys of all times: 1. A Stick 2. A box 3. String 4. Cardboard Tube and 5. Dirt. I love his disclaimer for #1: I have received several samples of Sticks from one manufacturer for review.

I. Love. It. But that still leaves the question of what my children ought to find under the tree this year. What are your favorite crunchy mom suggestions? Because dirt is tricky to wrap.

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