Your guide to parenting in Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts

We've all learned that poetry doesn't have to rhyme, but isn't it ever so much more fantastic when it does? Move over, Billy Collins and Mary Oliver! Rhymes are ticklish fun, especially when they catch us off guard: witness the undying popularity of Deee-Lite's Groove is in the Heart (on my supperdish, my succotash wish grooveshark, at any rate.) Or this beloved poem, which debuted at my son's school's poetry night this year: Myself, myself, myself/I love myself/I'm not an elf. Here's another delightful and enduring poem. My big sister wrote in 1973: Baby baby is so cute, especially when she sleeps. When she sleeps/she makes sounds like peeps.

Just as we're getting primed for school poetry assignments and extra devotion to verse, one of our favorite and silliest authors, Daniel Pinkwater, busts out with this paean to Edward Lear: His Shoes Were Far Too Tight. This book is a celebration of Lear's nonsense poems, "masterminded by" Daniel Pinkwater and with crazy, colorful illustrations by Calef Brown. Since 1846 children have loved Lear's poetry. (And I know the precise year thanks to Pinkwater's effervescent, but still scholarly, introduction to the poems in this book.) Why do we so often hear Lear's The Owl and the Pussycat but not so much about The Duck and the Kangaroo (who would go to the Dee and the Jelly Bo Lee/Over the land and over the sea) or The Quangle Wangle's Hat? I should mention also that this is a big, square book–a very pleasing shape for side-by-side sharing on a sofa.

For more inspiration, read Amy Hood's poetry round up. Last April, we shared some family-favorite rhyme games and poetry books. Follow this link to 2010's list. And please share your own favorites in the comments!

The details:
His Shoes Were Far Too Tight by Edward Lear Masterminded by Daniel Pinkwater, Illustrated by Calef Brown
2011 by Chronicle Books $17

Editor's Note: Chronicle Books sent a review copy for our consideration. Kidoinfo never accepts payment for reviews.

Whether or not you're vegan, your family will find something to love at about Wildflour Vegan Bakery & Juice Bar in Pawtucket: Snickerdoodles and scones and raspberry squares and peanut butter brownies; watermelon juice and wheat grass and intense teas and coffees. It's all vegan, and much of it is gluten free. This is a welcoming haven for all.

More often than not, when you step into the calm, well-lit space, there are generous samples set out to taste. It is as if the bakers think newcomers might be skeptical of the yum factor and want to erase all doubt from their minds. One day we went in to find seven things to taste, and of course we tried them all, and each was more delicious than the next, and then were too full to order anything but tea.

Fresh juices straight up, or in blends to soothe a sniffle or grouchy mood, are beautifully presented. A sure bet for kids is watermelon juice, now in season: bright pink and lightly sweet. Wild Ginger Lemon tea is served hot and features freshly pressed ginger and lemon juices that warm you up and calm you down. Traditional as well as very advanced forms of coffee are served, with a cool slow-drip lineup of filters on the bar and a full menu of espresso drinks. Cow milks in varying fat levels are available for the dairy types.

When eating in, it's good to know that wifi is available (ask at the bar for the password) and that parents often come in with strollers and maneuver about comfortably. In fact, newborns and moms make up a good portion of Wildflour's customer population, (perhaps because wheat grass and snickerdoodles tone the pelvic floor?) as do the neighborhood retirees who used to hang out at Barney's Bagels, back in the day.  Intensely concentrating laptop people are well-represented too. This is all to say, sure, it's vegan and hip and alternative, but earlobe-stretcher plugs and black nail polish are optional. This is the place to be if you want a snack or restorative beverage, no matter what you're making for dinner.

The details:

Wildflour Vegan Bakery
727 East Avenue, Pawtucket RI
(401)475 4718
Open daily 7AM-9PM

Doing it yourself: it's pretty much what any kind of bragging boils down to. From the proud toddler who pulls up his own underpants to the grandma who mixes perfect cocktails, everyone craves a sense of mastery. That's why Vanessa Barrington's D.I.Y. Delicious has such immediate appeal, whether you're dipping a pinky toe into DIY, or you're already fermenting beer in the back of your shoe cobbling studio.

Making things from scratch that most people don't is a hoot, especially when it's easy. And better yet: when it's cheap. I'm sure I'll send both of my children to fine private colleges with the money I've saved on vanilla extract (vanilla bean + rum + time). D.I.Y. Delicious came into my life at just the right time: I thought I had a pretty good thing going with the bread, kombucha, and an occasional pickle. But between the covers of this book resides a bounty of secrets heretofore unknown to me: vinegar, horchata, kimchi, tortillas. Hello!

Many of the recipes here are much like science projects (but easy science projects), so they're fun to carry out with kids. Spend a bit of time getting something started, leave it alone, and come back to witness the magic that has happened. Then eat it. Want faster results? Make the crackers. Please.

Written with brisk clarity, each recipe is devoid of old-timey fun. The reader is taken seriously and at face value, as someone who would like to make her own root beer, not as a perverse hobby or for use in a zany reenactment of ye olde times, but in order to create a refreshing drink. That, in itself, tingles with refreshment. Photo illustrations are inspiring and instructive--there are step-by-step spreads when needed--and reveal work surfaces that are as blemished as those you find in the actual homes of DIY-ers.

A pleasure to read or flip through with children, it's hard not to mark every page as a must-try. Vanessa Barrington's enthusiasm for trying new things is infectious. For a peek into the tastiness and fun, visit the author's blog or the video promo for the book. (Be warned, the promo will make your kids want to DIY their own dancing vegetable movie.)

Intellectually curious eaters will be delighted to know that meringue can be made from Metamucil. For a more scientific view on meringue, bread, mozzarella, and the like, Aki Kamozawa and H. Alexander Talbot's Ideas in Food spills insider secrets of the kitchen. Divided into sections for home cooks and professional chefs, complicated chemistry lessons segue into dinner table goodness. Despite the lack of photographs and illustrations of any kind, everything is clear enough for a novice. Although explanations of how ingredients function could inspire improvisation, I'm more inclined to stick to the homey recipes in the book: bacony apple & cheddar risotto, a simple but luxe chocolate pudding, and no-knead whole wheat sweet potato bread. Take a peek at the authors' legendary blog for a taste.

The details:

D.I.Y. Delicious
by Vanessa Barrington with photography by Sara Remington
2010 Chronicle Books $25
Ideas in Food

by Aki Kamozawa and H. Alexander Talbot
2010 Clarkson Potter $25

Editor's note: Chronicle Books and Clarkson Potter sent Kidoinfo review copies for consideration. Kidoinfo never accepts payment for reviews, and we only run reviews of things we have tried and liked.

We've given it a good shot. But at this point in the ice and snow, my family's locavore enthusiasm has dwindled: we've got a bushel box of (Seekonk) butternut squash that replenishes itself overnight, a case of applesauce made by (Providence) at-risk teens, and five frozen whole (Saunderstown) chickens. That's all fine stuff, but it no longer puts a twinkle in my eye. Sometimes I fantasize that it will all be stolen by a snobby burglar while I'm out buying Happy Meals and Capri Suns.

The cure for wintertime locavore malaise, I've heard, is planning a family garden. The enthusiastic gardeners in my life began marking their White Flower Farm catalogs and making cute little seedling pots out of newspapers at the first sign of frost. I don't like gardening: it's the dirt. But I like free food, so I need a garden that requires very little touching of dirt. Last year this strategy worked perfectly. Loads of arugula, kale, herbs, and strawberries grew happily under our neglectful watch. Just like children in a sunlit handbook on wholesome living, my sons went into the garden daily to pick and eat strawberries. As if on cue, one boy even commented, "These just taste so much more strawberry flavored than the ones we buy."

Also as if on cue, in deepest winter this new gardening book arrived: From Seed to Skillet. It's aimed at home gardeners who want stuff to eat. Rich with photographs on that great-feeling fine, matte paper, this book breaks down all aspects of gardening (including planning a garden, what can spend a lifetime in a pot, and how to know when compost is ready) into simple steps, and meets the novice eye to eye: lettuce "almost inevitably leads to success." There's also pragmatic yet heart-swelling inspiration to get kids into the garden. Children "don't get much of a chance to feel powerful in the world," and a garden provides colorful, living proof that actions lead to results. At the end of this just-right book are recipes: the blueberry slump and sweet potato biscuits make me think I might perhaps learn to do some actual gardening.

For those of us who will surely need assistance to round out our own crops, or who don't garden at all, it's time to start researching and signing up for a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) plan. CSAs put money in the hands of farmers in time to get the coming year's crops started. You pay a chunk of money now and are paid back in bountiful produce late spring through the fall. Additionally, your family becomes, to some extent, part of the farm. Some CSA shares offer the opportunity to visit or pitch in on the farm. Others offer members dibs on the first tomatoes or the tiniest fingerling potatoes.

Kidoinfo has a list of local CSAs to help you find a plan that matches your family’s food budget and location. Does your family have a favorite farmer or Rhode Island vegetable? Please share your family's experience by posting a review.

Check the Farm Fresh RI website to learn more about the Rhode Island farming community, and for more local inspiration, visit the Southside Community Land Trust's blog. Mark your gardening calendar for SCLT's May 14th plant sale and its Urban Agriculture Spring Kickoff (featuring a seed swap, food growing workshops, food to eat, and music) on Saturday, February 26th!

Details:

From Seed to Skillet by Jimmy Williams and Susan Heeger
2010 by Chronicle Books, $30
Editor's note: Chronicle Books sent a review copy for our consideration. Kidoinfo never accepts payment for reviews.

by Katy Killilea

Some Grocery News-worthy, wholesome snacks have come through these parts recently and it would be wrong for us to keep them to ourselves. Many who'd spend their grocery dollars on these upstanding treats are the very same who grind their own nut butters and bake their own granola bars. But the goodies here have wider appeal. Almost every family pantry can welcome ready-made snacks from the middle of the spectrum that runs from M&Ms to chia seeds. The items featured here have three traits in common: the ingredients are recognizable and homey. They are meant to be enjoyed as treats. And they're totally addictive, so beware. (more…)

Reviews by Katy Killilea

Way beyond smart and funny, Maira Kalman balances quirky, colorful, mind- and vocabulary-expanding punchiness with sturdy, serious ideas. pursuit_thGouache illustrations of the minutiae that make life great are immediately recognizable in her picture books for kids (which appeal equally to adults) and her picture books for adults (which are just as worthwhile for kids). Is there any book about 9/11 as gripping and human (and this, while being a children's book) as Fireboat? Did Strunk and White not feel the absence of illustrations (basset hound, man in striped pajamas, red upholstered chair) in earlier printings of The Elements of Style? And how would we understand life and art without globe-trotting Max, the poet dog? This year has brought a cluster of additions to her joyful body of work. The new volumes are a treat for readers and Kalman admirers of all ages.

kalmancoverAnd the Pursuit of Happiness is an eye-opening American History lesson. Although it's a book aimed at adults, based on Kalman's New York Times blog of the same name, and-the-pursuit-of-happinessthe short, direct text and vibrant illustrations grab the curiosity of any-aged reader. There's nothing dry here. Did you know George Washington had a dog named Sweet Lips? Or that "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" was originally described as "...the pursuit of property," until corrected by Thomas Jefferson? This book starts with the inauguration of President Obama and takes us back to our nation's beginnings. There are, of course, ample illustrations of women in hats and vibrantly outfitted living rooms. 

(more…)

Reviewed by Katy Killilea

When Cookie magazine folded, I didn't mind the loss of the mother/toddler fashion spread. But the loss of Cookie's excellent cooking columns was a blow. Time for DinnerThey were perfect! Fantastic! Realistic, delicious, and they utilized just the right combination of nice ingredients and ordinary cupboard crud. So hooray for this cookbook from the Cookie people! Co-authors Pilar Guzman, Jenny Rosenstrach, and Alanna Stang created this book while Cookie was still going strong. As such, it has the same feel as the magazine's food writing--not just recipes, but smart recipes that take typical family challenges (picky eaters, exhausted parents) into account. Recipes here use top-notch ingredients that with small, sincere efforts become, no doubt about it, a genuine family dinner.

Favorites from the magazine are all here (meatball grinders baked in a muffin pan, sesame noodles with doctor-up-your-own-bowl options), and lots of new ideas are included as well: How to season a salmon fillet with a juice box; using a cedar grill plank indoors; making sushi in an ice-cube mold. Pushing this over the top of workaday fabulousness are photography and design that suck you right in. You can practically feel that bubbling, crisp pizza burn the roof of your mouth.

Chapter headings tell it like it is: If I Could Just Make it to Wednesday; I Want Something Simple, Fast, and Hard to Screw Up; and I Want to Use What I Already Have are just three of the chapters that have me convinced: This book will save my life. It's all here: Definitely gonna-make it recipes (even a handful dedicated to replicating your child's restaurant favorites); info on feeding a small person her very first bites; and sage words of wisdom: If there's food on the table and everyone is eating it, call it dinner.

The details:

Time For Dinner
By Pilar Guzman, Jenny Rosenstrach, and Alanna Stang
$25 Chronicle Books

By Katy Killilea

A child's lunch box is a tiny, portable piece of home. Like a happy home, it is best kept clean and comfortable and filled with good things to eat. Finding the right format for your child's lunch need not be tricky, and waxed paper and a bag might be all anyone actually needs. lunchbots-stainless-steel-lunch-14-1However, lunch box goods get cleverer and more beautiful each year, so they are fun to choose and can quash the new-school jitters.

The cost of outfitting a lunch box shouldn't exceed the cumulative cost of the food that will go in it. But like boots, cabinetry, and masking tape, it's worthwhile to consider higher-cost options. Metal containers are pricier than their plastic counterparts, but are very durable and can be safely washed/crammed into dishwasher by clumsy/careless people in your household. Among other lunchtime items, Eco Lunch Boxes offers a lidded, sandwich-sized container of stainless steel, accompanied by a small leak-proof dish that fits inside and reliably contains liquid components ($22 for the set). Lunchbots is dedicated completely to stainless steel lunch containers and offers a basic rounded rectangle for $13. (Spotted locally in Wakefield at the Alternative Food Coop.) An eight-ounce cylinder from Kids Konserve ($18.50 for a set of two) will last to accompany your child to college, but let us bar our minds any images of what might be stored in it then. (more…)

Reviewed by Katy Killilea

KMMheadshot

What a disruptive shock of connection Hand Wash Cold gave me! Written by Karen Maezen Miller, a Zen Buddhist priest who is also a mostly at-home parent, there's no chance I would have finished it if it were what it seemed to be: another pop-Buddhism mommy book. Based on its publicity, I thought it would be skimmable, maybe kind of cute, mostly a waste of time. I thought–best case scenario–it might make me see with new eyes that mountain of laundry that springs up beside the washing machine within moments of being eradicated or guide me past the itchy failure of socks loss. This is not that kind of book.

There's no escape hatch offered here. No Real Simple-esque laundry-room photo spread or encouragement to hire a housekeeper so you can concentrate on your heart's desires. Instead of carrying your mind away in a spirituality-laced haze, the book leaves you more than ever in your own home with your dank heap of towels. Which is chilling. Or nauseating. Or maybe calming. It depends on your frame of mind.

In addition to laundry, Maezen Miller also writes about marriage, children, dirty dishes, weeding, and leaf-raking: "I am unable to accept my MacArthur Genius award at the present time because I am scooping leaves from the pond," she imagines herself saying as she rakes endless autumn leaves. This is precisely the prickly feeling I get while crouching to reach way back into the dryer: my real life–my MacArthur Genius award–is being held hostage by this blah.

And the blah takes up such a giant hunk of my attention. Maezen Miller says, "Looking for greater meaning in life, some people think that housework is beneath them. Cooking and cleaning are beneath them...Sometimes they seem so far beneath me that I can’t see the bottom." For those trying to square the hunk of time spent in drudgery with the belief that their life matters, this book is much needed food for thought.

Author photo credit: Denise Lynnette Andrade.

The details:
Hand Wash Cold
by Karen Maezen Miller
2010 by New World Library $15

New HampsIMG_0261hire was a winter-only destination for us, before our kids knew enough to state preferences. Driving through the snowy mountains, we would laugh as we imagined the dorks who'd arrive in summer to take children to the Storyland theme park, instead of bundling them into a pulk for some (nothing dorky about it) Nordic skiing. This year I learned to appreciate New Hampshire in the summer. Hiking, swimming holes, and moose-spotting: Rhode Islanders are fortunate to have this exotic, woodsy, affordable playground so close by.

Regarding Storyland: driving along Route 16 through Glen, the colorful exterior calls out to anyone between the ages of two and ten, or whatever age a child becomes too cynical to have fun with a theme. Storyland is small, but not suffocating. Wholesome, but not saccharine. It's everything a kid wants, but not more than a parent can bear: shows, nauseating rides, clean bathrooms, affordable snacks, and live pigs. Buy a ticket (about $25 per person) after 3PM, and get a pass to be readmitted the next day–a great deal for those who can't get enough Bamboo Chutes.

IMG_0115But this is New Hampshire, where everyone is outdoorsy or at least takes a stab at being so. For a backcountry experience without the weight of tent, stove, and dinner ingredients on your back, consider hiking to an Appalachian Mountain Club hut. Some of these are especially recommended for families with young children. A relatively short, easy hike to the hut won't wear a family out too much to enjoy the woodland destination, and parents will be at ease knowing shelter and food await. We were able to reach the hut at Lonesome Lake in under ninety minutes of croc'd shuffling (hiking boots, or at the very least sneakers, are required for everyone but the very most idiotic hikers), examining crazy mushrooms and resting on perfectly-sized boulders for water breaks along the way. The chilly lake was inviting after the just-strenuous-enough hike.

Hut cuisine is wholesome and delicious, prepared by rosy-cheeked twentysomething super-beings, and served family style at long tables. With a sheet and pillowcase from home, the spartan bunks are comfy enough for tired people, and a mountaineer's breakfast with generous doses of maple syrup sets hikers up for a new day of exploration. (About $90/adult and $50/child.)

Balsams-wide-shotIf you prefer your rugged natural beauty with a side order of thick towels, a massage, and a staff to take your children hiking or mountain biking, head way, way up north. In Dixville Notch, a sneeze from the border with Canada, is The Balsams Grand Resort Hotel. Lodging comes with three lavish meals, boats, tennis, golf, entertainment and children's activities. Included for families is Camp Wind Whistle: kids 5 and older can spend any hours (or all hours) between 9:00am-4:30pm, and some evening hours, with camp counselors in age-appropriate groups. Become a facebook friend of The Balsams for up-to-the-minute deals. (Barring a special, the cost is $200 and up/adult and $75 and up/child.)

For a last-minute trip and potential bargain, Nordic Village Resort in Jackson hits the spot. Condos of all sizes, many with hot tubs and gigantic plasma screen televisions, are managed by one central agency. Great deals can happen for seat-of-the-pants travelers. Thoughtful additions like communal-use rowboats, hidden swimming pools, evening magic acts and s'mores-making give what could be just a heartless condo conglomerate a vacation-y feeling. Conveniently located for hiking, swimming holes, and Storyland. (A fairly luxe condo can sometimes be found for under $150/night.)

IMG_0122Heading north on Route 93, the big-ish small town of Littleton makes an ideal stop. Littleton Food Coop might be the love child of Eastside Marketplace and the coop in Wakefield–a perfectly balanced grocery store for those in need of lovely prepared foods, chia seeds, local honey, and cold Diet Coke. For a slightly insane treat, visit Chutters, official Guinness World Record holder for Longest Candy Counter. Rows and rows of scoopable candies ($10/lb) compete for attention with giant samples of fudge and a Fill Your Own Pixie Stick station ($6/yard). If jaw-dropping exposure to sugar isn't on the itinerary, the Village Bookstore has an extensive children's section that includes stuffed animals, games, and marionettes. Next door, the Chang Thai Cafe has dreamy Massaman curry ($11).

If there's more than one adult in a family and the children don't like to look at sheets, Adult B might do well to take the children to any of fifty-two amazing swimming holes or to Echo Lake beach for a mellower swim. This will allow Adult A to see the Garnet Hill store in Franconia, where clothing and sheets can be found at prices 75%-90% lower than expected. This little shop is open only on weekends and Mondays, and is conveniently located next to Wendle's Cafe (offering the perfect coffee, lunch, wifi combo.)

Just up the road from Franconia in Sugar Hill is my new favoriteIMG_0100 New Hampshire destination: Polly's Pancake Parlor. It's so much better than it needs to be. Open only May through October (woe to skiiers), P.P.P. showcases local ingredients (including organic grains, ground into flour on-site) prepared with such care and in such a variety of ways that we ate there five days in a row, stopping only when we ran out of vacation. The locally smoked bacon with Polly's own maple syrup is the perfect gateway food for confused vegetarians. Other favorites: cornmeal pancakes with coconut. Artfully arranged blueberry-nectarine bowl. Habanero pepper maple sugar, sprinkled on eggs. ($4 short stack, $3 side of bacon, $2 scrambled eggs.) Any of these is perfect fuel for hiking, swimming, or sheet shopping.

What do you like best in New Hampshire? Share hits and misses with your comments.

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