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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Product Fail #847,656 and #847,657

Ugh! Today I inspected a jar of Skippy Natural Peanut Butter, on the off chance that it was a decent product. The second ingredient is sugar, and the third is palm oil. (Palm oil is one of the most environmentally devastating ingredients in processed foods.) Thanks, Unilever. That product stayed on the shelf, and I will continue to buy the most excellent Vermont Peanut Butter, which is sublime.

And then I accidentally bought a"taco meal kit" instead of just the taco shells. My usual spicing for taco meat is chili powder + cumin + coriander + fresh onions and minced garlic. And that works fine. But I decided to try the "spice pack" that was included with my shells. And here's what stuns me: they managed to put some partially hydrogenated soy bean oil in a simple spice pack. Why, God, why?

If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. Thankfully, tossing spices into a frying pan does not a big task make.


The Most Inspiring Thing

This video is humbling and inspirational. I wish every kid having a day full of "first world problems" could see it.




Homemade Cranberry Sauce: The Easiest Dish Ever

I serve homemade cranberry sauce often, because it's such a snap to make. It's great with turkey meatballs or pan-roasted turkey breast. And of course it's excellent for the big day in November. 

Because cranberries have so much natural pectin, they will "jam up" on your stovetop with very little effort. This is a dish that will cook itself while you make dinner. And if you've been thinking about learning to make jam, this might well serve as a gateway drug. Cranberry sauce works every single time.

Note: I add very little sugar, because I like it that way. If you like a sweeter sauce, double the sugar.

Homemade Cranberry Sauce

1 12 ounce package fresh or frozen cranberries

1/4 cup sugar

splash water


Wash the berries and pick out any stems or shriveled fruit. 

Put the berries in a small saucepan, with a splash of water (to 1/4 inch depth at the bottom) and pour in the sugar. Turn on the heat and stir.

Simmer on low to low/medium for twenty minutes or so. (You will hear the berries popping.) Stir occasionally. The fruit will become bright red, and then darken to a rich maroon. It's done! Cool and serve. 


When Mom Gets Out of the Way, Great Things

I have always subscribed to the idea that children should sometimes be left to (safely) fend for themselves. But I don't know that I've been very good at following through with the ideal. And then sometimes life intervenes to prove that mom should just get out of the way.

Last night I had a somewhat fussy dinner planned. (By which I mean fussy to prep and cook--not fancy on the plate.) But my first grader had other plans. "Can we carve a pumpkin?" It's a fair question. We have 30 of them piled up from this summer's garden, including volunteers from the compost pile.

But I really couldn't say yes. "Not now. I have to dice. I have to sauté." 

"Can I do it?"

Pause. "You can start. But really--that doesn't mean I can jump in and fix it if you have trouble."


We have a $4 set of plasticky pumpkin carving tools that I never would have bought had I not tried them at someone else's house, so this was a safe enough endeavor. I put his pumpkin on the counter and drew a circle around the top. Then I went back to my unpeeled garlic, my broccoli, the filleting of a turkey breast, a hot pan...

Over in the corner he labored. I sort of registered that he'd got the top off successfully. He found the compost can and began scooping pumpkin guts into it. (Therefore seeding next year's crop in the compost pile.)

"I'm going to do one of these designs," he said, holding a pumpkin face stencil book. 

"Uh huh." Sure you are. With dinner late, I thought the likelier scenario would be frustration and a meltdown. But I was busy. I'd forgotten to boil the water. I hadn't measured out my orzo. He had produced some scotch tape and scissors. He was taping bits of paper to the pumpkin. Can't hurt himself that way, I thought. But it will never work.

There were milks to pour, a pan sauce to make, and a side dish to season. Finally, I yelled "dinner's ready." And I looked at his pumpkin.

He'd done it.

He had traced around the shapes he'd cut out of the book. I don't know how he got around the tape. I don't know how he fit them all into that little space. I don't know how he cut out those eyes without tearing through to the rim. But by the time dinner hit the table, he had the eyes and nose cut out already.

"I'll do the mouth after," he said. And he did.

Without any help at all, the little man made this Jack-o-lantern. And his feelings of victory--at doing even this modest project from start to finish--were evident. "Nobody helped me," he said. "Now can I light the candle?"

Yes, honey. Yes you can. I will try not to interfere.


We Take Gardening Very Seriously Around Here


The Best Tasting Brussels Sprout Ever

This year we hauled a ton of produce out of our big (weedy) garden, and it was lovely. But I'm still a newbie, and I still make stupid mistakes. Recently I read a short story in which the main character is contemplating "the impossibly ambitious" seed catalogs which fell through her mail slot, and now I know precisely what she meant.

The weeds? They are everywhere.

"Honey! You won't believe what I found in the garden!"

Early in the season I bought a four pack of seedlings labeled "Brussels Sprouts." I hadn't seen anything on it resembling, well, Brussels Sprouts. But, hey, not every plant works out.

Last week my husband surprised both of us, by picking this Brussels Sprout:

Yeah. Go ahead and laugh. But isn't it cute?

Luckily, my husband is smarter than I am. These past two years he's done really well with organic potatoes. This year he's harvested about... 2/3 of his plants. And he's picked 86 pounds! And a half. But who's counting? This is the biggest one so far, at 2 pounds and half an ounce:

We've had potato salad twice this week. I'm sure you're surprised.

Happy October!


A Restaurant as Old as a Memory

We visit our old stomping grounds in NYC a few times a year. Last month we made a quick trip into the city, and my husband and I had an evening alone. We walked the increasingly unfamiliar streets. Shops and restaurants have a short half life, and the meat packing district we strolled was almost unrecognizable, with its hipper-than-thou shops replacing, well, meat packers. 

"It's still here!"

So it was surprising to me to see the Mesa Grill sitting staunchly in its place on 5th Avenue in the Flat Iron. We went inside to have a drink. It was a Wednesday night, and happy faces in summery business attire crowded the tables. One time, that was me.

In the spring of 1994 I received a sudden promotion on the trading floor where I'd worked. The boss had quit, and the company was struggling with a scandal. And a 21 year-old college grad was handed the reins to a multi-billion dollar portfolio of options trades.

"Listen, Missy."

Overwhelmed, I worked many hours but still managed to feel outgunned all the time. One afternoon I was chatting with T.J., one of the interdealer brokers with whom I traded. Into his end of our direct phone line he said, "Listen, Missy. It's getting late and I'm tired of hearing you bitch into the phone. I'll pick you up in half an hour, and you can complain over dinner instead."

I didn't know T.J. very well, but his job (literally) was to change that. Making himself useful to my partners and I in the markets--and at the end of long days--was a broker's way of earning business for his firm. 

Too tired to argue, I went outside to find him waiting. I was young and completely oblivious to the NYC restaurant scene. But T.J. knew what to do. Over the next several years I would follow him into new '90s dining adventures, and taste the cooking of Bobby Flay, Danny Meyer and (T.J.'s favorite) Larry Forgione.

But that first night, I probably didn't even read the sign MESA GRILL over the door. I don't remember what I ordered, but it surely wasn't very adventurous. T.J. talked me out of my misery somehow, but not far enough that I would order dessert. "Okay," he said to the waitress. "The chocolate and raspberry thing, please. And two spoons."

And...wow was it good! We fought over the last few bites, and finally I laughed. At the time, I thought life was so difficult. But that was only youthful folly talking.

I'm older and (a bit) smarter now, at least wise enough to no longer count opportunity as a burden. What a lucky time it was to be young and so gainfully employed in the magical place that was NYC on the upswing. T.J. helped me find the fun in it. For more than seven years he was my friend--he and his wife Patty. And my husband was added to our dinner parties. There were many other business dinners, but those were the fun ones.

That was until 9/11, when he was stolen away from his family and his many work friends. I was only a couple of hundred yards away ("on the other end of our Habitrail" as he used to say) when the plane hit his building. The lives of so many of my colleagues--and all of lower Manhattan--were rendered unrecognizable that day.

But somehow our banquet is still there, against the northern wall of Mesa Grill. Last month my husband and I sat on barstools sipping champagne (a favorite beverage of T.J.'s) just a few yards from where he and I first sat sparring for raspberries. There is still the clatter of savory dishes set upon gleaming wooden tables, the sound of the cork pulling loose from a bottle, and the laughter of the young and well employed. Maybe levity comes to them naturally, but on that evening in 1994, I needed a friend to teach me how to lighten up.


Sufferin' Succotash Revisited

When I was a child, the dish "succotash," a Native American word, meant canned lima beans and corn mixed together. Can you imagine a less appetizing combination?

I actually riff on the infamy of lima beans in the novel Julia's Child, as the main character waits for her flaky farmer friend to announce what vegetable she would like to grow next. 

I mentally begged her not to suggest lima beans. There were some foods that couldn't be sold to children in any form.

Whether or not that's true, my friend Marcy inspired me to revisit succotash when she made a version which included potatoes and edamame in place of the lima beans. It was so very popular with the kiddos.

Now that our sweet corn and potatoes are ripe, I can shop in my garden for most of the ingredients. My version includes some onion, for flavor, and is roasted for convenience. I double the recipe when I need to serve a crowd.


Olive oil

1 pound potatoes, washed and diced

1 yellow onion, diced

3 ears sweet corn, kernels cut from the cob

1/2 - 1 lb. shelled edamame, fresh or frozen


Preheat oven to 400.

In a large skillet or roasting pan, toss diced potatoes with olive oil to coat. Salt and pepper liberally, then roast for 15 minutes until beginning to brown on one side.

Scrape and turn potatoes, then add onion and roast for another 15 minutes.

Add corn and edamame, cooking until the entire dish is sizzling again. Serve hot.