Authors in the Kitchen: Sarah Pinneo

Welcome to a new feature here on the blog, Authors in the Kitchen. We're kicking off this occasional Friday fun with Sarah Pinneo, author of the recently released Julia's Child. Sarah is a food writer, a cookbook author, and now a debut novelist. (Full disclosure: she's also my bud and one helluva critique partner.)

Take it away, Sarah!

Popeye’s Spinach

I’m not as neurotic as the mom in my new comic novel Julia’s Child. At least that’s what I tell people. There are (ahem) a few similarities between us. Like Julia, my kids don’t watch TV. We don’t own one, so it isn’t as if I don’t share. But things like YouTube were unknown in this house until recently.

Enter my father. He entertains my children after school once a week, bless him. He is also more freewheeling with technology where the children are concerned, and I try hard not to mind. When in Rome, I say with a flip of my wrist. (I have to practice the wrist flip in front of the mirror, though, if my disinclination toward improvisation weren’t already apparent.)

My father has introduced the kids to the joys of YouTube, as a sort of cultural encyclopedia.  What? You don’t know about Miss Piggy? Here let me show you…

So last year they discovered Popeye cartoons. At first I was irritated. I never liked that cartoon as a child. I remember only the tattoos and the punching. But shortly after they began their infatuation with popeye, my younger child, then five, began to ask me for spinach.

At first, I forgot to honor his request. Except for the odd spanakopita, spinach wasn’t a frequent visitor on the family table. But he persisted.

I’m no fool. His first taste of wilted spinach came drowning in butter and gently sautéed garlic. He ate it all. Then he got up from the table, pushed up his sleeves, and began to flex. He told us, with a straight face, that he felt “skrong.”

And reader, his ardor for spinach has not diminished. I still use the gently sautéed garlic, but I’ve switched to olive oil. He still loves it. At our local Italian restaurant, he’s known as “that kid who wants extra spinach on his.” Now I throw it raw into salads, too. The kid even grew some in our garden this spring.

He’s asked me to buy it in cans, so he can be that much more like Popeye. But there I draw the line. “Popeye would eat it fresh, sweetie, but he’s always in a hurry.” He believes me.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I already apologized to my father for carping about the kids watching Popeye.

Popeye’s 21st Century Wilted Organic Spinach

2 to 3 tablespoons of butter and / or olive oil

2 to 3 large garlic cloves, minced

5 to 8 ounces fresh baby spinach leaves, washed and spun

“The first time I wrote this recipe, I put organic in front of every ingredient. But it looked overzealous and uptight. (Don’t say it—kind of like me.)” —Julia’s Child p. 97.

Over medium/low heat add the butter and/or oil to a 12” skillet. (Butter and olive oil blend well together, and olive oil increases the smoke point of butter.) When the butter is melted, add the garlic and sauté gently on a low temperature, taking care not to let the garlic brown.

Begin adding handfuls of spinach, turning the spinach over with tongs as you add it. This will distribute the garlic among the leaves and prevent it from overcooking. Don’t worry if your great mounds of fluffy spinach don’t fit into the skillet right away. After the first batch wilts, add more leaves on top of it and then gently turn. Eventually the spinach will all fit, and reduce in size dramatically.  When the leaves are thoroughly wilted and a deep green color, the spinach is done.

Salt and pepper to taste, serve hot.

Serves 4 normal people as a side dish, or one very ambitious kindergartener as a meal.

Sarah Pinneo’s debut novel Julia’s Child (Plume 2012) hits bookstores this week. She writes about food, family and fiction from Hanover, NH.