Living Well

By: Liz Scott

Liz Scott is a personal chef and caterer specializing in nutritional and dietary needs for recovery from illness and disease, including alcohol and drug dependence. She is a graduate of New York University and the French Culinary Institute in New York and holds an MA degree from Villa Schifanoia in Florence, Italy. Her personal battle with alcoholism and her dedication to the recovery community have led to new creative levels in her professional culinary career.

Going Bananas Over Pudding

Nov 12, 2011
I recently saw a news story on the development of a new weight-loss drug. It was being tested on obese monkeys and the results were quite good. Apparently the drug is able to “kill off” fat cells in the blood. And as well as weight loss (the monkeys lost about 11 percent of their body weight in one month), insulin resistance was improved as well, which is actually not a surprise given the strong link between Type 2 diabetes and obesity.

Interestingly, the story made a point of saying that the subject monkeys were not unnaturally overfed or bred for obesity. They were simply left to their own devices of boredom, overeating and inactivity in order to gain the weight – hoping to replicate, as accurately as possible, the human parallel of obesity in this country and, indeed, around the world.

I was watching this as I happened to be diving into a rather large bowl of banana pudding, something—which if you have never had the opportunity to enjoy—is pretty much one of the South’s major gifts to the world of over-the-top rich desserts. My sister-in-law, who weighs in at a tad over 100 pounds if that and refuses to eat the stuff, had made an enormous amount a few days before for everyone else, and after our dinner together at my brother’s house, sent me home with the leftovers. I’d been eating it every day since and was imagining that the bathroom scale must have been inching its way up each morning, although I wasn’t interested in testing my theory.

The Pudding Is Too Good
The problem is this–the pudding is just too damn good. For people like me who have a history of uncontrollable urges and undeniable cravings (pretty much every former addict’s past modus operandi), this stuff is just too difficult to refuse. Creamy, sweet, and flavorful, no addict with a sweet tooth could possibly say no.

Suddenly, I imagined myself as one of the subject monkeys, left idly in a small cage with a huge bowl of banana pudding and a large spoon. With nothing better to do, I’d be shoveling the stuff down as quickly as I could while attempting to keep away any marauding monkeys who might try to dip into my bowl. I would protect my stash at all costs. And revel in the resulting luxurious sugar and fat high until it was time to dip in again for another helping. Eventually, however, the researchers would put an end to it and replace my beloved pudding with a tiny pill. I’d lose interest in eating and, within a month, lose many of the fat cells I spent so many delicious hours creating. I’d be thin, like the other monkeys, and no longer a problem to monkey society or a danger to myself and my health.

The Monkeys Need a Program
Unfortunately, from what the study was able to determine, the medication would not provide a never-ending, long-lasting effect. Indeed, once the monkeys were off the fat-cell killing medicine, they resumed their old habits and began to gain weight all over again. Clearly, without a 12-step program for banana pudding (or rich desserts in general) the subjects were destined to repeat history.

And so, for all the excitement in the pharmaceutical industry over this novel drug to combat obesity, it’s definitely not a “magic pill” and, in many ways, is nothing new under the sun. Think Antabuse—the drug that induces intense sensitivity to alcohol (including nausea and vomiting if alcohol is consumed) used for decades to combat alcohol dependence. Or how about the more recent Orlistat—a drug that keeps fat from being absorbed when we ingest it only to result in horrific (and messy) digestive distress if we decide to indulge in banana pudding (among other fat-laden things).

Although helpful tools for the very beginnings of withdrawal from unhealthy substances, these drugs, as well as the fat-cell killer, unfortunately will never provide the ultimate solution, which must, of course, come from deeper within. And that “pill” seems to be the one we just can’t figure out how to make.  

At the risk of appearing like a pudding pusher, I give you…This week’s recipe: Deen’s Banana Pudding

1 box Nabisco Vanilla Wafers
6 ripe bananas, sliced
2 cups milk
1 (5-ounce) box instant French vanilla pudding
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 (12-ounce) container frozen whipped topping thawed, or equal amount sweetened whipped cream
  1. Line the bottom of a 13 by 9 by 2-inch dish with cookies and layer bananas on top.
  2. In a bowl, combine the milk and pudding mix and blend well using a handheld electric mixer. Using another bowl, combine the cream cheese and condensed milk together and mix until smooth. Fold the whipped topping into the cream cheese mixture. Add the cream cheese mixture to the pudding mixture and stir until well blended.
  3. Pour the mixture over the cookies and bananas and cover with the remaining cookies. Refrigerate until ready to serve, preferably overnight.
Image courtesy


Thoughts on Whiskey, and Other Expeditions

Nov 05, 2011
I was never a whiskey drinker, except out of necessity when all other sources of alcohol might have run dry, so I’m not sure what prompted me to watch "Expedition Whiskey" the other night on NatGeoTV. Probably lack of much else to watch as well as a mild curiosity about what they meant about turning up a more than 100-year-old relic. History always interests me so I thought it was worth at least a few minutes to glean what it was all about.

As it turned out, the relic they referred to was a crate of 100-year-old whiskey that was discovered a few years ago in the South Pole and was part of the provisions of the ill-fated Shackleton expedition that set out for Antarctica in 1907. Found beneath the base camp where Ernest Shackleton and his crew were housed, it was completely frozen— preserved on ice as it were—and believed by experts to be in a perfect state. The program followed the highlights of transporting the crate by the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust to its final location, which would be Scotland, where master Scotch blender Richard Paterson of Whyte and Mackay would judge its flavor. Much of the program featured this fellow and the anticipation leading up to his tasting.

As I said, I was never a whiskey fan, much less an aficionado of Scotch,  but I think what I found most interesting about the show—apart from the story of the Shackleton group which I believe I was somewhat already familiar with at least in passing—was the chief conservator’s comments and overall attitude toward the “relic.” In charge of the actual unpacking of the crate once the ice had melted, she was professionally in awe of its condition and materials, meaning the straw used to wrap it, the bottles themselves with their fragile, partially affixed labels, and the sound of the swooshing of the liquid as she carefully and respectfully laid down each and every bottle on a cushion of cotton. She even commented that she was trying to understand the excitement that whiskey enthusiasts must be feeling at that critical moment of the unveiling. But to her its value was as an artifact—and quite an impressive one at that. The last thing on her mind was drinking it.

I started to think about that as the show continued. It was kind of like how I now look at bottles of alcohol, whether they are lined up for sale in the liquor store or sitting on a shelf in someone’s kitchen cabinet. Artifacts. Pieces of my past life that no longer have any emotional hold over me. Yes, I’m still in awe of the power and would never tempt it. But, like the conservator, I can look at it objectively without a twinge of trepidation or a thought of uncorking its contents and taking a swig. I guess that’s what being “recovered” means and, after 13 years of sobriety, I believe I probably am “recovered,” although many would thoughtfully remind me that we are all only one drink away from sinking into the abyss once again. Still, I don’t think I could have watched a TV show like that 13 years ago. Not even 10 years ago. Last night, however, I was able to watch with the eyes of a historian, or a conservator, I should say.

In the end, my phone rang and I didn’t get to watch the show all the way through so I don’t know what Mr. Paterson’s verdict was on the flavor of the Scotch. Since most booze is supposed to get better with age, I’m guessing it was probably acceptable to him given its unusual circumstances. Incidentally, I discovered on the Internet that there were a number of other provisions found along with the whiskey crate that were not mentioned on the program. According to The Guardian newspaper, they also uncovered:
"dried spinach, mint, stewed kidneys, oxtail soup, India relish, mutton cutlets in tomato sauce, Irish brawn, marrow fat, stewed rump steaks, tripe, concentrated egg powder, kippered mackerel, minced collops, and red currants ... there's also the Antarctic classic, pemmican: dried meat mixed with fat, available in varieties for men and dogs."
I don’t imagine any kippered mackerel aficionados will be anxious to give the 100-year-old stash a taste, but you never know. By the way, Irish brawn is pickled pig’s head prepared the Irish way—whatever that may be—perhaps with a bit of whiskey to help it go down.

This week’s recipe: Smoked Salmon Kedgeree
This British dish with Indian influences started out in the 1800s as a popular breakfast offering, but is now often served as a quick and satisfying supper. Traditionally, smoked whitefish or haddock is used and if you come across these in your local deli, feel free to use them. For American palates, I have instead incorporated smoked salmon, which not only requires little preparation, but is more readily found in supermarkets. Often served with sliced hard-boiled eggs, you can add these as well, if you happen to have any on hand.

I always use white basmati rice for this dish, as it is light and fragrant, but any long-grain variety would do nicely. Fresh herbs really make this dish, so don’t skimp on the dill and parsley. Some sliced cucumbers and a toasted bagel or pita bread will round this out perfectly and make for a satisfying supper.

2 cups cooked white basmati rice, chilled
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small onion, peeled and finely diced
Salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon mild curry powder
4 ounces smoked salmon, cut into 1/2-inch-wide strips
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
Juice of 1/2 lemon

1. Place the rice in a large mixing bowl and separate the grains with a fork or your fingertips. Set aside.

2. In a large nonstick skillet, melt the butter over medium heat without browning. Add the onion, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the curry powder and stir well to coat the onion. Add the rice, smoked salmon, parsley, and dill and toss gently to combine and heat through. Sprinkle the lemon juice over all and serve immediately.
Image courtesy of BBC.


A New Flame in Town

Oct 22, 2011
I’ve just discovered a new and alluring item down here in North Carolina, where I recently relocated, as most of you readers know. Nope–it’s not a big hunky Southern guy with gentlemanly manners and muscles popping out from under his Panthers T-shirt, although that would be nice. Neither is it a delicious calorie-laden recipe for banana pudding, although I was contemplating purchasing a new cookbook I came across in Barnes and Noble entitled Paula Deen’s Southern Cooking Bible. Surely, if anyone knows how to pile on even more cream and calories when making classic banana pudding, it would definitely be her.

No, ya’ll. I’ve found a delicacy that is actually from quite a bit further South–the continent of South America in fact–called the Chilean flame raisin, and I found it in a little town just down the road in a store called The Healthy Home Market. For raw food enthusiasts, gluten-free eaters, and vegetarian health nuts (none of which describe me) it’s a real treasure trove of hard-to find organic and specialty ingredients and products. They even had an extensive line of Frontier baking extracts–one of the few companies who make extracts alcohol-free from standard flavors like vanilla and almond to more unusual selections like anise and butterscotch–something that, on the contrary, interested me very much and which I was happy to see available for us recovery bakers. But back to my raisins….

Drawn to the Bin
Quite by chance, actually, I was drawn to the bin that contained these morsels of goodness where, amidst an aisle of what seemed like a hundred other unusual dried fruits, beans, grains, and goodies, you could scoop out the amount you wished to purchase into a plastic bag, write the code number of the item on the front, and when you checked out, have the cashier weigh and price it. Of course I tried one before I scooped, which was what convinced me to buy some. And wow–am I glad I did.

Raving about raisins, you may ask? Better “get a life, Chef Liz” (or at least one of those Carolina boys to show you a good time) before you sink any further into the apparent abyss of boredom down there below that Mason-Dixon Line. Allow me to explain my enthusiasm.

When I was growing up, raisins were these hard, dark-colored, pebble-like things that came out of a small red box and were occasionally used in oatmeal cookies or spice cake. They could also be found in Raisin Bran, which was never my favorite cereal although as an adult I have learned to enjoy it on occasion.

Nice in Trail Mixes
In fact, over the years I have come to appreciate the raisin, in part thanks to the raisin TV ads, and also in part due to my profession. Golden raisins are quite nice in trail mixes and carrot cake; chocolate covered raisins can be a tasty snack, while petite currants (sort of the midgets of the raisin world) are also quite pleasant in healthy grain salads. When all types of raisins are plumped up by soaking them in some sort of hot liquid–water is really all that’s needed although many chefs will use some sort of alcohol–they can be a little more palate-pleasing with a better mouth feel and a more tender texture. For the most part, however, I have never been a huge fan of raisins and, in fact, even during my drinking days, I always thought the idea of rum raisin ice cream to be rather disgusting.

So, you see, when a foodie comes across something that blows apart every preconceived notion he or she may have had regarding raisins (or some other foodstuff for that matter) there is reason to pause and take note. I will even go so far as to say I did not “happen” upon the raisin bin but was drawn by the universe to experience this gift first hand and sing its praises to the world (or at least the four or five of you regular readers) through my weekly blog.

Here’s the scoop:
Apparently, unbeknownst to me, Chilean flame raisins have been causing a stir in


When I was growing up, raisins were these hard, dark-colored, pebble-like things that came out of a small red box

gourmand dried fruit circles since the beginning of the year. Although not always easy to find, stores like The Healthy Home Market are carrying them more and more as their reputation grows and popularity increases. Flame raisins are made from a brilliantly red, super-sweet, seedless grape varietal known as “flame grapes”–grapes which you have probably seen in your local supermarket and no doubt even enjoyed as a table grape. When dried into raisins, however, the flame grape retains its natural sweetness and remains terrifically tender and large. Plumping is not required.

The reason most flame raisins tend to come from Chile is the extremely long growing season they require. Still, they are vigorous growers and remain superb in flavor and texture for long periods of storage. Most remarkably, contrary to many gourmet-quality versions of food ingredients, their price is not prohibitive. They are simply underutilized.

Thinking of Possibilities
Since I scooped up my stash of Chilean flame raisins I have only enjoyed them in oatmeal and as an out-of-hand snack. But I have been thinking that the possibilities for these sweet babies just might prove endless. How about biting into one of these super succulent morsels in an oatmeal cookie? Or discovering them lurking in a bowl of Biryani or Middle Eastern-style rice pilaf? Let’s not forget the trail mix possibilities, or as an addition to muffins or cinnamon bread.

As someone who has always enjoyed a bit of sweet with my savory (think turkey and cranberry sauce) I was reminded of my mother’s homemade raisin sauce that she would make every year to accompany our Easter or Christmas ham. I remember watching her hunch over her cutting board with a little knife trying to halve the shriveled up raisins she retrieved from the big red box that had probably been sitting in the pantry since the last ham dinner. There was no doubt, regardless of their level of dryness, as to whether they would plump up and sweeten up by the time she was finished with them and her delicious sauce was served, but just imagine if she had been able to use Chilean flame raisins in her sauce. Wow–I think even the ham would have stood up and applauded! Next time ham is on the menu I will definitely give Chilean flame raisin sauce a try and conjure up an old tradition with a new flame.

In the meantime, do you think flame raisins in banana pudding would go together? No, probably not. But I’m sure they’d be great in Paula Deen’s Ambrosia Carrot Cake. Better get the book and give it a try. Besides, I need to work on my Southern cooking skills for all those Carolina boys who’ll no doubt be popping over (and out) before long.

“Why, ya’ll must be Panther fans! Care for a hush puppy with your ham and raisin sauce?”
This week’s recipe:

Mom’s Raisin Sauce

1 cup seedless raisins, preferably Chilean flame raisins
1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cup water
1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 teaspoons prepared mustard
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
Dash of ground mace
1/2 cup grape jelly
2 to 3 drops red food coloring
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1. In a small bowl, mix together the raisins and the flour. Place on a cutting board and cut the raisins in half.

2. Pour the water into a medium-size saucepan, add the raisins, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and allow to simmer for 5 minutes. Add the sugars, vinegar, mustard, cloves, and mace, stir to combine, and cook, uncovered, over medium-low heat, stirring often, until somewhat reduced and syrupy, about 20 minutes. Stir in the jelly, food coloring, and Worcestershire and continue to cook until nicely thickened and able to coat the back of a spoon, about 10 minutes more.

3. Remove from the heat, swirl in the butter, and serve warm.
Makes about 1 1/2 cups


Sobering Up Some Favorite Classics

Oct 15, 2011

A few readers of last week’s blog wondered why, in the recipe for Individual Baked Alaskas, I didn’t suggest a substitution for the brandy that is normally added to flambé this classic 1920s dessert.

If you are familiar at all with the alcohol-free makeovers I’ve created, you know that I usually will devise some sort of sober-safe ingredient replacement so as not to alter the flavor integrity and outcome of the recipe. This is true in 99 percent of the cases, but in this case, the use of alcohol to set alight—a bit of gratuitous brandy—just happens to be the 1 percent exception to my rule. Well caught readers!

You can leave it out without the blink of an eye – it won’t alter the recipe one jot. On the other hand, if it is simply the spectacle you are after, consider strategically sticking a few candles in the meringue and setting them alight instead for your grand dessert entrance.  

This got me to thinking that it might be worth revisiting a few classic dishes where alcohol DOES play a somewhat prominent role and see how we can “sober them up” so to speak, for our alcohol-free kitchens. In fact, if you’re like most cooks, there’s a messy little file tucked away somewhere with all your very favorite recipes accumulated over the years. Faded newspaper clippings, pages torn from magazines splotched with oil, or nearly indiscernible scribbles on kitchen napkins: They all hold a special place in your culinary memory of a dish worth remembering and repeating time and again.

But what if they happened to contain alcohol in the form of wine or spirits, and now you’re keeping a sober kitchen? Do not despair! By making use of terrific substitutions, you won’t need to toss out any of your cherished recipes.

Alcohol Does Not Burn Off
Although we’ve talked about it before, it bears repeating that alcohol—contrary to popular belief—does not burn off in the cooking process. Anywhere from 5 to 85 percent of the alcohol added to a recipe, whether it’s wine, beer, or spirits, will remain. Additionally, the smell and taste of alcohol is a proven trigger to craving. Keeping your kitchen sober is a vital part of a solid recovery program. Those in early recovery are particularly susceptible to cues that spark recognition and desire in the recovering brain. So why tease the tiger, as they say?

Thankfully, there are so many wonderful products and ingredients available to us that we can use in our cooking that don’t jeopardize our sobriety. Flavorful syrups such as those made by Monin or Torani, unlike baking extracts, are completely alcohol-free and can be used to replace liqueurs in dessert recipes. Having said that, alcohol-free extracts are more commonly found these days even in traditional supermarkets.

No-sugar-added grape juices are great starts for replacing wine, vinegars are safe to use and great for adding acidity, while tea can play a surprisingly perfect role in recipes calling for spirits. The more we become accustom to utilizing these substitutions rather than backing away from any recipe that calls for alcohol in some form, the more pro-active we become in our recovery and confident in our ability to adapt to a new and healthier lifestyle. Here are a few examples of how some classic recipes can be made sober safe: Foster: A warm, gooey dessert made by sautéing bananas in butter, brown sugar, rum, and sometimes banana liqueur, served over ice cream.

Sober Makeover: Replace the dark rum with strongly steeped black tea and a spoonful of light molasses. Use banana-flavored syrup for the liqueur.

Cheese Fondue: A mixture of melted Swiss Emmentaler and Gruyère cheeses combined with white wine and kirsch, served with French bread cubes for dipping.

Sober Makeover: Replace half the wine with low-sodium chicken stock and the other half with a sparkling white grape or pear juice. Substitute a dash of cherry syrup for the kirsch (cherry brandy).

Shrimp Scampi: Broiled shrimp flavored with garlic, butter, white wine, and parsley.

Sober Makeover: Replace the wine with equal parts lemon juice, white grape juice, and white balsamic vinegar.

Maryland She-Crab Soup: A creamy soup made from crab meat and roe, flavored with sherry and Worcestershire sauce.

Sober Makeover: Replace the dry sherry with three parts apple juice, one part sherry vinegar, and a dash of balsamic vinegar.

Whiskey Cake: A moist, dense cake of dried fruit, nuts and spices, soaked with a glaze.

Sober Makeover: Replace traditional glaze with Irish Breakfast tea heavily steeped in simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water brought to a boil to dissolve) with a dash of malt vinegar.


Images courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.


Prohibition…When Women Got Out More

Oct 08, 2011

Like many viewers, I was riveted this week by Ken Burns’ and Lynn Novick's new three-part PBS series all about what’s been dubbed “America’s Noble Experiment”—Prohibition. There were so many things about it I liked, from the fascinating pre-Volstead Act history including a discussion of the little-known Washingtonians, an organization of alcoholics founded in 1840 and clearly a precursor of AA, to the outlandish lengths people would go to in order to get their hands on booze (Irishmen claiming to be Rabbis so they could get hold of Seder bottles of wine). Every story was an interesting one, and every bit of footage was informative and terrific to watch.

One of the things I particularly liked was how the plight of the alcoholic was always a thread through each episode and it was even the topic that both opened and closed the series. Pete Hamill’s participation was marvelous and I was glad to see him interviewed quite often, as he is a long-time recovered alcoholic and prolific writer on the subject.

Another great aspect was the way in which each detail of the 1920’s and early 30’s was so well presented that it was easy to imagine (unless we are 80 or older and don’t need to imagine) what it must have been like living during that time. Whether a bootlegger, a member of the Anti-Saloon League or a flapper at the speakeasy, each type of person and the life they led through that precarious time was vividly recreated with equal sensitivity.

Prominent Role of Women
What I found most interesting, however, was the prominent role that women played during and leading up to Prohibition. We all know about the women’s temperance movements and most of us have heard about the escapades of Carrie Nation (who took a hatchet to every tavern she came across), but who knew that the assistant attorney general at the time was a woman named Mabel Walker Willebrandt who was in charge of enforcing the Volstead Act and quite frankly, did a heck of a job considering the enormous amount of obstacles she faced within her own government cabinet and throughout America?

Then there was Pauline Sabin, the wealthy Long Islander who detested the hypocrisy of politicians who voted dry but, within closed circles, expected and were served copious amounts of alcohol. She became a force to be reckoned with and was the first woman ever to serve on the Republican National Committee, as well as founding the Women's National Republican Club. She believed Prohibition had failed Americans and worked tirelessly until the Volstead Act was repealed.

The New Yorker's Lois Long
There were women like Lois Long who wrote for The New Yorker and became a lively fixture at the speakeasies and dinner clubs with a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other. In fact, many young women were out and about on the town and in the hidden supper clubs, particularly in the big cities, doing something they hadn’t done in the past–having fun. Prior to Prohibition, you would be hard pressed to find a woman in a tavern. After prohibition, her presence didn’t blink an eye.

All of the women of the Prohibition era were remarkable in their own way and helped pave the way for the rest of us. It didn’t matter which side of the fence they were on when it came to drinking, or whether they drank at all. What mattered was that all of them, from Carrie Nation to Lois Long, were out there like the men, giving their opinions, lobbying for causes and occasionally even enjoying life out in the masses, unlike before.

Beginning in the 1920s, women were definitely dining out more and more. Places like the 21 Club were guaranteed to serve up a super meal (as well as a drink if you asked for it). Steak was a big item, as was roast chicken, scalloped potatoes and asparagus with Hollandaise sauce. Desserts were lavish. Service was impeccable. And women enjoyed the attention...and the fact they didn’t have to do the dishes.

In many ways the spectacle, both good and bad, of the Prohibition years will never be recreated. It was an experiment in controlling human behavior that failed almost before it began, but thankfully, not without the emergence of some quite amazing women who would make a mark on American society for years to come.

This week’s recipe:

Individual Baked Alaska
By far the most popular dessert of the 1920s was Baked Alaska, credited to Chef Ranhofer of Delmonico’s, who is often cited as the creator of many well-known dishes, including Eggs Benedict and Lobster Newburg. Although it had been around since 1867, when the U.S. purchased Alaska from Russia, it never lost its glamor and nearly always made an appearance at the dessert table during this time. Flaming Baked Alaskas, which were doused with brandy and set alight, fell a bit out of favor during Prohibition, but came back into style shortly after.

It’s a simple thing really—ice cream on cake with some meringue on top. But what gives Baked Alaska its appeal is the contradictory combination of temperatures and flavors. There are now many different varieties of Baked Alaska, including the individual presentations we’ll do here. They can actually be made ahead of time and popped into the oven before serving, so you may find yourself making these, with numerous ice cream and cake combinations, on a regular basis.

If you don’t have giant muffin tins, you can use a large thumb-release ice-cream scoop to make a dome (not a rounded ball) to place on top of the cake. If you decide to make these far in advance (as opposed to the night before), you’ll want to protect them in plastic wrap. Be sure that the meringue is well frozen and set before covering.

If you have a kitchen butane torch (and are always looking for an excuse to use it!), you can add a few final touches to the meringue when the Baked Alaskas come out of the oven for a real show-stopping presentation.
1 quart strawberry ice cream, softened
1 loaf marble pound cake
8 large egg whites
1⁄2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 1⁄2 cups granulated sugar
1 jar prepared chocolate sauce

1. Line a giant-size, 6-cup muffin tin with paper baking cups. Spoon the ice cream into each cup, almost to the top, and smooth over with a knife. Cover the surfaces with plastic wrap and freeze until firm, at least 2 hours or overnight.

2. Slice the pound cake into 3⁄4-inch-thick pieces, and using a 31⁄2-inch biscuit cutter, cut out six circles. Place them evenly apart on a foil-lined baking sheet. Take one of the frozen cups of ice cream from the freezer, tear off the paper lining, and place flat side down on top of the cake circle. Repeat with the other five ice cream cups. Cover each with plastic wrap and gently but firmly press the mound of ice cream onto the cake. Return the baking sheet to the freezer.

3. In a large mixing bowl, using an electric mixer, beat together the egg whites and the cream of tartar until foamy. Add the sugar, a little at a time, beating on high until the whites hold stiff and glossy peaks, about 5 minutes. Remove the baking sheet with the cake and ice cream from the freezer, and using a spoon or a pastry bag fitted with a large round or star tip, apply the meringue decoratively all over the ice cream down to the edge of the cakes, being careful to cover all spots. Return to the freezer until ready to bake.

4. Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Place the baking tray with the Alaskas in the oven and bake until the meringue has lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Drizzle some of the chocolate sauce on the bottom of six dessert plates. Use a large metal spatula to transfer the Baked Alaskas to the plates, and serve immediately.

Serves 6

Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.


How “AMC” Fell Off the Wagon

Oct 01, 2011
It’s been a week now since the series finale of “All My Children.” After 41 years of Susan Lucci’s infamous Erica Kane and her eight husbands (or is it nine?), as well as a whole multitude of quite remarkable Pine Valley residents, Agnes Nixon’s long running soap was cancelled for a foodie show.

Being a foodie myself you might think I was pleased as punch. The truth is, although I cannot claim four decades of continuous watching, I have spent the last five or six years following the trials and tribulations of the characters on “All My Children” on TiVo (busted!) and was exceedingly distraught when I heard it was coming to an end. However, I was particularly distraught last Friday after watching the precarious ending of the final five minutes.

JR, the often troubled and currently off-the-wagon alcoholic son of wealthy Adam Chandler, had just fired a revolver into a crowded party at his father’s mansion where all of Pine Valley had gathered to celebrate the return to life—I kid you not—of Adam’s


After 41 years and eight (or is it nine?) husbands, not to mention a trip to Betty Ford, Erica likes her "champagne"

identical twin, Stuart, thanks to the miraculous medical expertise of Dr. David Hayward. But that’s another storyline all together.

What bothered me was not how we were led to believe that Erica was directly in the line of fire and might suffer her ultimate demise. That would definitely be a tragic way to bow out of 41 years in a role but not an unlikely scenario considering Susan Lucci has yet to sign on for the Internet production that is rumored to begin filming in a few months. No, that was not what troubled me. Nor was it the possibility that others who were standing nearby, and with whom JR definitely had a bone to pick, might be injured or killed: his ex-wife, his ex-wife’s lesbian lover, his father of course, and several other people who had recently upset him and certainly, in his mind, justified yet another shot of whiskey. No I wasn’t worried about them. (I think they all have new contracts for other soaps.)

In all seriousness, what really bothered me—and what I can’t seem to erase from my mind—was the picture we were left with of an active alcoholic in a very dark place without a glimmer of hope of recovery.  

“All My Children” has been justly applauded over the years for the many ground-breaking topics it has tackled since its inception. From Erica’s trip to Betty Ford and her subsequent sobriety to the first female same-sex marriage, AMC has been at the forefront of the taboo and has always managed to send the right message, especially when it comes to alcohol and drug dependence.

I am afraid that by ending the series this way they are doing a disservice not only to their fans in general, but to the recovery community in particular. They have essentially fallen off the wagon. Three or four months are a long time in this fast-paced, quick-to-forget world of ours to return to the scene and somehow send any message at all, never mind the correct one. We are simply left with the image of a drunk gone mad with no guarantee that there will ever be a resolution.

I prefer to remember how JR found strength in his AA meetings when he was battling cancer. And how Erica never picked up a drink in spite of her recent traumatic kidnapping, and how she always proudly celebrated every event with a glass of “champagne”—aka, sparkling cider. Those are messages that will stick with me and which I hope will remain in the minds of viewers whether in recovery or not.  

Deciding to set an example carries with it the responsibility of continuing the example, not just employing it when episodically convenient. If the show is truly able to return next year, and the writers decide to carry on where they left off,  let’s hope they remember that and give our troubled character JR another chance as well.

This week’s recipe:

Erica’s “champagne” Cocktail
This traditional cocktail lends itself quite easily to a mock version. Alcohol-free blood orange bitters saturate the sugar cube, and a not-too-sweet sparkling grape juice or apple cider does the topping off. This is the perfect nonalcoholic beverage for weddings and other events where toasting is required. sugar cube
- Splash of Stirring’s alcohol-free Blood Orange Bitters
- Sparkling white grape juice or cider, preferably no-sugar added, well chilled
- Orange twist, for garnish

1. Drop the sugar cube into a champagne flute or other festive glass and add a good splash of bitters to saturate the sugar cube.
2. Slowly pour in the sparkling grape juice and serve garnished with the orange twist.


A Roast in Honor of Peaches

Sep 24, 2011

For all those who missed my inclusion of recipes the past couple of weeks (and I am truly sorry), this blog is for you. Today we’re talking strictly food—peaches to beexact—so turn off the tears, turn on the taste buds and get ready to cook.

Peaches are one of those fruits that, unless they are at their seasonal peak, there’s no reason to even bother. If you are a peach connoisseur or even just a peach fan, you know what I’m talking about. Mealy, dry and tasteless peaches can be found year round in your grocery and should be avoided at all costs. Succulent, sweet and juicy peaches are rare commodities that should be grabbed up and relished with glee. When you can find them, that is.

When I lived in New Jersey I always looked forward to the August peaches at the farmers market that were so incredibly delicious you could simply eat them “out of hand,” as us foodies say. No need to make cobblers or jam or pie. Just wash and eat with plenty of napkins “in hand” to catch the juice as it dribbles down your cheeks and chin.

Moving to the South assured me of at least one thing—there had to be great peaches in the late summer. Not necessarily so, as I eventually discovered. Yes, Georgia is not far off and is just as well known for its peaches as its pecans, but finding them was not as simple a task as I’d hoped. Local supermarkets seemed to carry more California fruit than anything else which, as all East coast folks know, can often be disappointing in flavor and freshness (I was once told by a California-based friend of mine that they always keep the best for themselves! Well “la de dah” for you!)

Happily, however, I recently came upon a tucked away little place not too far from me here in North Carolina that resembled one of those old-fashioned country stores. with a hand painted sign out front and a wood planked roof. Amid homemade jams, local honey, heirloom tomatoes, and home-made pies were bushels and bags of fresh local peaches. Large and yellow, I was assured by the proprietor they simply needed a day or two of ripening and they’d be ready to bite into. I took a chance and bought a $7 bag.
And was I glad I did. Yes, these were the peaches I had been longing for. Definitely the best ones I’d eaten since last summer in New Jersey— sweet, dribbly and divine. For two straight days I ate fresh peaches with just about everything from Greek yogurt to ice cream to Cheerios.

With my peach-seeking mission accomplished, I set about to unpacking more boxes (yes I’m still at it) and catching up with my work. The remaining peaches (and there were still quite a few) were relegated to the fruit bin in the fridge where they would reside until I was ready to enjoy them again. Unfortunately, the peaches had something else in mind and would not allow me my own timetable. Within one day they were screaming out for attention, their skins withering ever so slightly as their flesh became softer and juicier by the minute. “OK, you win”, I thought. “You’ve got my attention. It’s time to create.”

Roasting is a cooking method that has recently enjoyed expansion. Once limited to “roasts” and things (mostly meats and chicken), it is now accepted as a popular way to cook garlic, potatoes, root vegetables, and even other veggies such as asparagus and green beans. Roasting brings out the natural sugars present in food and adds a layer of flavor that you won’t find when boiling, steaming or even baking.

Enter the roasted peach. Not a new phenomenon, I will admit, although it may sound new and unusual to many. Chefs have been roasting and grilling fruit to increase its flavor for a few decades now (at least), although I think it never quite took off with the home cook as a technique to add to the repertoire.  Well, I am here now to tell you that if you have never tasted a peach cobbler made with roasted peaches you are in for something quite remarkable. So grab the last of your September peaches, tie on your apron and hike up the oven. Oh, and don’t forget the vanilla ice cream…. This week’s recipe:

Roasted Peach and
Cinnamon Sugar Cobbler

Classic cobbler biscuit topping can be rolled out and laid flat on top of the fruit (creating a bumpy or “cobbled” look) or is sometimes dropped by spoonfuls (when less firm) over the fruit mixture. Here, we quickly roll out the cinnamon sugar biscuit to cover the surface of the peaches, which helps to prevent too much of the delicious liquid from evaporating.

Peach Mixture:
2 pounds ripe peaches
2 teaspoons canola oil
1/2 cup granulated sugar, or more to taste
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 cup water
Dash of ground cinnamon
Dash of ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into pieces

Biscuit Topping:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
Dash ground cinnamon
3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, diced
2/3 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon cinnamon sugar

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. To prepare the fruit, coat the peaches lightly with the canola oil and place in a roasting pan. Roast for 35 to 45 minutes, occasionally shaking the pan to brown all the sides of the peaches. Remove from the oven and let cool until easily handled. Leave the oven on.
  2. With the aid of a paring knife, skin the peaches. They should be soft and caramelized on the outside, but still firm on the inside. Remove the pit and slice into chunks. Transfer with their juices to a buttered baking dish (9-inch round or 8-inch square). Set aside.
  3. In a small saucepan, combine the granulated sugar, cornstarch, and water. Heat until warm and dissolved and pour over the peaches. Sprinkle with the cinnamon and nutmeg and dot with the pieces of butter.
  4. To make the biscuit topping, combine the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon in a medium-size mixing bowl. Using a pastry blender or your fingers, work in the cold butter to form a coarse, sand-like consistency. Add the buttermilk and stir to moisten with a fork. Turn out onto a floured board and roll or pat the dough out to roughly the size of the baking pan. Using two metal spatulas, carefully lift the biscuit topping and lay it over the peach mixture. Press down slightly to create a “cobbled” look. Sprinkle the top with the cinnamon sugar and bake until the crust is golden and the edges are bubbly, 30 to 40 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

Image courtesy of


A Taste of Home Down South

Sep 17, 2011
 It was the Brooklyn accent on the other end of the phone that assured me my culinary prayers were about to be answered. Tony, of Ferrucci’s Italian Market in nearby Cornelius (just a quick drive from me and my new digs here in Huntersville, N.C.) told me in no uncertain terms that I would find a great selection of meats, cheeses, bread and other authentic Italian goodies at his establishment when I visit to shop for Sunday’s dinner party. It was like music to my Italian New Jersey ears (I even thought I heard Pavarotti singing in the background) and my mouth began to water just thinking about the deli counter.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my new locale—the people, the shopping and, yes, even the food has been terrific so far—although I must say they do eat a lot of pork down here. It’s just that you can’t always readily find certain items in the supermarkets you took for granted in the past—or should I say that I took for granted back in N.J. For example, veal shanks for Osso buco-making, or buffalo mozzarella for an antipasto spread.

Still, I suppose that a native North Carolingian (can that be right? It sounds a bit medieval…) would be appalled at the quality of smoked hams we Yankees offer up North, or the lack of Paula Deen products available in nearly every aisle—Paula being, of course, the South’s answer to New York’s Rachel Ray and her prolific commercial culinary enterprise that offers everything from monthly recipe magazines at the checkout to frozen prepared entrees (why bother to cook anyway?)

No, I am not unhappy about my food choices. I think I may just be experiencing a little of the normal longing one feels for the familiar when transplanted into a new environment.

Peter Pan Peanut Butter
I remember when I was a graduate student in Italy and I asked my mother to send me a jar of Peter Pan peanut butter every month. There I was in the food mecca of the world with delectable offerings at every turn, but I still had to have my PB in the kitchen cupboard. Truth be told, I think my roommates ate most of it. Knowing it was there, however, provided me with the comfort and reassurance I apparently needed being out of the country for the first time. After a while I discovered panforte (a delightful Italian confection of nuts and sugar) and asked mom to send money instead.  

Food memories can be awfully powerful. We all know the people who, upon discovering we are traveling to the place they are from, immediately plead with us, as if it were a matter of life or death, to bring them back some specific food item they have been sorely missing—such as bagels from Manhattan or cheese from Wisconsin. I once asked my former sister-in-law to smuggle a package of Lincolnshire sausages on the plane from Heathrow airport in London to JFK. We’ve all done it. The question is why.

You can look to neurobiology and addiction science for a detailed explanation but in a nutshell, it is because our senses of smell and taste are inextricably tied to our “feel

Our senses of smell and taste are inextricably tied to our “feel good” brain chemicals and hence our emotions

good” brain chemicals and hence our emotions. In fact, just thinking about the aroma and flavor of something attached to positive emotions can bring about the same anticipation of good feelings without even having to actually smell it or taste it. And our memory itself is enough for the rest of the body to follow suit. Try thinking about the aroma of something yummy and see how quickly your saliva glands start to work.

This is why it can be so difficult to cut loose from those nagging longings we so often feel, especially in early recovery, for whatever substance it was that lit up our “feel good” brain chemicals. Heck, we don’t even have to smell the whiskey to remember. We just need to recall the memory of the whiskey aroma to begin the dangerous neurochemical association. The problem is, without the actual whiskey those “good” feelings never actually arrive and we are left with the pangs of craving.

It’s often noted that the physical feelings of craving for a drug or alcohol are not unlike the physical feelings we experience when our bodies need food. Lightheadedness, headache, nausea, a foggy brain….  Sometimes we addicts can confuse the two when we first start out. God knows we probably never ate properly anyway, so perhaps we really don’t know the difference. 
Familiarity Can Be Appealing
Let’s face it. Starting a life of sobriety is like being transplanted into a new environment. We know it’s the best thing for us. We also know it will get easier as each day goes by. But, like so many other new things, familiarity can sometimes be very appealing, especially when the “feel good” chemicals ain’t feelin’ so good.

I have never been a proponent of the idea that people in rehab and early recovery should go without certain foods, such as sweets. Although it is true that all of us in America—whether in recovery or not—eat far too much sugar, eliminating it from our diets while attempting to get clean and sober can be truly tough and I believe an unnecessary added stressor. I know there are those who think otherwise, but when we examine how powerful food memories can be, wouldn’t it be better to utilize that power to help us understand our feelings and their associations rather than dismiss it as yet another problem or addiction?

Tomorrow when I go to Ferrucci’s to glean the tantalizing Italian offerings, I’ll be utilizing that power to make myself and my dinner guests feel really good on Sunday since I’m cooking for a bunch of transplants from the North. I am sure that just walking into the deli and smelling the array of aromas will get my “feel good” brain chemicals popping and help me to feel a little less unfamiliar south of the Mason-Dixon Line. I’m hoping they might even have some of that panforte I used to enjoy. If not, I’ll just think about its deliciously enticing spiced aroma and flavor and feel good just the same. At least I’ll save the calories.  


Gratitude and Food for Thought

Sep 11, 2011
As we take the time to direct our thoughts and hearts to the tenth anniversary of September 11 this weekend, I’d like to offer up the following excerpt from The Sober Kitchen, which I happened to write during that period. Perhaps it will provide a little of the wisdom and clarity we all seek when faced with tragic events and their aftermath, even with the passing of years. We are never too old or too wise to fall back on the amazing tools we have been blessed with in recovery. Here’s a brief reminder:

When we begin recovery, we are usually encouraged to read a daily meditation from any number of inspiring books written by people who, either through their own experience of addiction or codependence, have eloquently and succinctly put into words what many of us are feeling during this difficult time. These daily grains of insight and wisdom can often offer us hope and strength when we are feeling particularly low and defeated, while planting a seed of gratitude for our new life of recovery. As is too often the case, however, once we begin to regain our strength and become occupied with the reality of living, we tend to put down our books and neglect to take advantage of the “food for thought” they provide.

If it’s been awhile since you last dusted off your first daily meditation book, it may be time to take a second or even third look. Sometimes a particular saying or message can have quite a different impact when read with knowledge and hindsight. I know some people who have read the same ragged-paged books over and over, year after year, and are still able to reap new grains of wisdom. Others can literally count their calendar years of sobriety by the number of used meditation books on their shelves, eager to glean even more insight from yet another book as each year comes to a close.

Whichever approach works for you, reacquainting yourself with daily readings can be a great reminder in the later stages of recovery of how far you have come in your healing process and keep you focused on the positive changes in your life since you began this road to wellness.

Although there are a vast number of authors who write these inspirational messages, Melody Beattie is one with whom most people are familiar, particularly those who have struggled with codependency as she has. Her groundbreaking book, Codependent No More, changed thousands of lives by giving hope and strength to family members of alcoholics and addicts as they tried to come to terms with the devastating existence of living with an addicted loved one. Since then, she has provided the daily meditation reader with a number of excellent books of encouragement and inspiration. Here are her thoughts on gratitude:

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. It turns problems into gifts, failures into successes, the unexpected into perfect timing, and mistakes into important events. It can turn an existence into a real life, and disconnected situations into important and beneficial lessons. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.

Excerpt from The Language of Letting Go by Melody Beattie. ©1990 by HAZELDEN FOUNDATION. Reprinted by permission of Hazelden Foundation, Center City, MN.




I Felt the Earth Move…

Aug 26, 2011
Along with the majority of Americans within seismic distance of Virginia, I experienced the odd sensation of Tuesday’s earthquake in my new abode here near Charlotte, N.C. My brother and I had just taken a lunch break from unpacking boxes when the entire building seemingly moved of its own accord.

Having felt a mild earthquake in California many years ago, I was pretty sure that was what we were experiencing, although my brother readily dismissed it as someone moving furniture upstairs. Unless they were picking up the actual apartment and sliding the tables and chairs around the rooms to rearrange them, it was an unlikely explanation. Within several minutes, the actual quake was confirmed all over the media.

Here Comes the Hurricane
Now, as the weekend approaches, we are faced with another one of Mother Nature’s perilous adventures–Hurricane Irene. Living as far inland as I do, it’s doubtful I’ll be battening down the hatches for her approach (although North Carolina’s outer bank is prepping as we speak). But up in the New York area, where I only recently said my goodbyes, people are bracing for extreme flooding and wind damage as a result of Irene’s upcoming fury.

As is almost always the case when extreme climate occurrences become imminent, TV and Internet journalists tend to increase our alarm by running stories on previous disasters and how we were unprepared for their arrival. The message is, of course, to get yourself, your loved ones, your home, your car, your pets and everything else you value, ready for the brewing storm which could land at your doorstep if the meteorologists are correct (which they quite often are not).

Still, one can never be too prepared when it comes to these kinds of things so having a working flashlight, an extra case of water and a dozen or so cans of Fancy Feast is not a bad idea. If you are a baby boomer and have lived through the air raid drills and bomb shelter preparations as a child, like I did, this is pretty basic stuff. Just don’t forget the can opener.

What Being Prepared Meant Back in the Day
All this talk of dashing out for provisions and hunkering down in case we are forced to become shut-ins (at least temporarily) has brought up a few recollections on my part about what, in the past, constituted being prepared, and it usually had nothing to do with water bottles. I am sure I will be ringing a few bells right about now….

In a nutshell, the first question when faced with the possibility of immobility was always “do I have enough booze and cigarettes to get by?” (Feel free to substitute your own particular substance of use.) Inevitably, no matter how much was on hand, the answer was always an emphatic “NO,” which would prompt an immediate trip to the local liquor store or dealer, much to the objection of family members who believed that a run for milk, bread, eggs and Oreo cookies was far more important.

And so would begin yet another confrontation about drinking too much, smoking too much, or —God forbid —the “a” word, as in “alcoholic,” or you’re “addicted,” take your pick. Many of us would decide there and then that, in spite of the upcoming storm—whatever form it took from hurricane to blizzard—maybe we’d just head on over to the friendly watering hole and wait it out there with our drinking buddies and other sensible folk who know that nothing is as disastrous as being caught with an empty glass in your hand and no chance of a refill.

Thankfully, those days are over for me and for many of you too, I imagine. I actually cringe a bit when I recall how screwed up my priorities were and am even embarrassed when I see clips on the news about truly disastrous events—such as Katrina and the tsunami—where people suffered and died unnecessarily from a lack of preparedness, as well as a misguided assessment of the true repercussions. Real panic is not an empty wine bottle, but rather the empty arms of a mother whose grasp loses hold of a small child in unbelievably horrific weather conditions.

In Recovery, We Can Compare and Contrast
I think one of the great things about being in recovery is the opportunity it gives us to reflect on our past when events like the recent earthquake and Irene hit the news. Memories are inevitably jolted and, if we choose to, we can compare and contrast between the now and then, acknowledging at least a little bit, how far we have come since our active addicted days. It is something we tend not to do much, given the importance of humility and the “day at a time” philosophy we adhere to, but it is definitely worth doing periodically, if only to remind ourselves that we are a work in progress and that each day we not only have the chance to remain clean and sober, we also have the wonderful opportunity to continue improving and developing as people on this incredible and often unpredictable place called earth.

So, as Irene makes her approach—if you are within her predicted path but not under evacuation—make your list, get your provisions (yes, Krispy Kremes are allowed in this instance) and, most importantly, ask your friends and neighbors if there is anything they might need that you could get while out gathering your own supplies. Then prepare to hunker down with the family for some quality time with a good supply of candles in case the electric goes out, and a board game or two to pass the time. Before you know it, you’ll have weathered the storm, as they say, and will be back to the usual daily grind of living with yet another memory under your belt of how you fared through the latest wrath of Mother Nature—this time without the need for anything but a sober responsible mind and maybe a glazed doughnut.

This week’s recipe:

Category 1 Hurricane

The popular New Orleans cocktail gets downgraded to buzz free in this refreshing beverage featuring passion fruit juice. Guava nectar adds another tropical dimension, and fresh lime juice helps balance the sweetness.

    1/2 cup passion fruit juice
    1/2 cup guava nectar
    1/4 cup orange juice
    2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
    1 tablespoon grenadine
    Crushed ice
    Splash of club soda
    Orange slice, for garnish
    Maraschino cherry, for garnish

Combine the passion fruit juice, guava nectar, orange juice, lime juice, and grenadine in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake until well combined. Strain into a hurricane or tulip shaped glass half filled with crushed ice, add a splash of club soda, and serve garnished with the orange slice and cherry.

Serves 1


Desperately Seeking Baking Soda

Aug 20, 2011
One of the great things about moving to a new place (or frustrating things depending on how you look at it) is familiarizing yourself with the new and different. Case in point: the local grocery stores. Back in New Jersey I  shopped at several supermarkets—A&P, Shop Rite and Stop and Shop, to name a few—and knew from experience exactly where to find whatever it was I needed.

The peanut butter at A&P was in the last aisle across from the yogurt. Shop Rite’s Deli was in the far right corner as you came in and Stop and Shop’s cat food was in aisle 9.
Here in North Carolina, the most popular supermarket is called Harris Teeter and so far I have been to a few of them—they seem to be everywhere you turn. They are all quite nice and clean, have extremely polite and attentive cashiers, and offer terrific bargains on many different items. The problem is that I don’t know where anything is.

Yes, it’s true you usually start in the produce section and that is also the case here. But after that I am pretty much at a loss as to where I can find what I came for. Consequently I have taken to going up and down each and every aisle, not only to learn the location of things but to also ensure I haven’t passed any good sale items.

On one particular day, I was shopping for the ingredients for chocolate chip cookies which I had promised to make for my terrific leasing agent at my new apartment complex in gratitude for all her invaluable help. Well, to make a long story short, as I happily wheeled my cart around the corner from the bread aisle, I suddenly found myself going down what seemed like a mile long aisle filled with wine bottles and beer. The aisle itself was dimly lit (unlike the others), quite a bit wider—to amply fit two way traffic—and, in fact, not unlike the ambience of an upscale liquor store. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

To many of you this may seem unremarkable, but for me—a recent transplant from New Jersey—wine and liquor in general is not found in grocery stores except for a small area in the soda section, where you might find six packs of beer in so limited a space that if you blink as you go by you will miss it entirely. Clearly this was not the case at my local Harris Teeter.

The Liquor Aisle Held Some Allure
To further explain my alarming reaction, I should mention that wine was my drink of choice—lots of it—and I could usually be found inside a liquor store at least four or five times a week gathering my “stash” as it were. In the 13 years since I quit drinking, I think I have stepped foot into only one liquor store and that was probably to buy a pack of cigarettes many years ago before I quit smoking. Happening upon this grocery booze aisle was in many ways an unexpected reminder of the past, which I was not prepared for. And I will even confess that it held a small amount of allure. Not to drink again, mind you. But just to stroll down this memory “aisle” for old time’s sake and take a precarious look.

Fortunately, the executive decision part of my brain convinced me to move on to the next aisle and continue searching for the baking soda. But not without noting that, even after years of sobriety, we are not immune to the enormous power of memory and the potential it holds for affecting our daily lives.

I guess the moral to the story is that we should never become too confident or too complacent about our recovery. We simply can’t predict when a casual dalliance could become a trigger, which could in turn promote a slip, or even a relapse. Given the right circumstances anyone is vulnerable, which is why covering all fronts is vital and necessary. Even at Harris Teeter.

So the next time I am out doing my grocery shopping I will remember that aisle 2 holds nothing of interest for me and will simply skip over to aisle 3, where I will find the items I need for baking, as well as an impressive offering of spices and dried herbs. Now if I can just remember the correct turn off route 73 to Target I’ll really be making progress.

This week’s recipe:

The Original Toll House Cookie Revisited
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks, 1/2 pound) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated [white] sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon alcohol-free vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 cups (12-ounce package) chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

COMBINE flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla in large mixer bowl. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition; gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in morsels and nuts. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets.

BAKE in preheated 375-degree [Fahrenheit] oven for 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown. Let stand for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Image courtesy of


Doughnuts and Pickles

Aug 13, 2011

I’ve decided there’s a time and place for doughnuts. As a chef who encourages healthy eating, in the past I’ve maintained that the American proclivity (not to mention the AA penchant) for coffee and doughnuts is pretty much responsible for the downfall of Western health and the worldwide epidemic of obesity. (I never said I wasn’t judgmental.) But recently I have changed my tune.

As you may know if you have been following my blog, I moved from New Jersey to North Carolina this past week (sorry for my recent absence on RenewEveryDay site.) With all the stress and turmoil that moving can entail, I admit that I have found a bit of solace in one or two Krispy Kremes—glazed-raspberry filled to be precise. In addition, on the drive down with my brother and Bella, my cat, I also enjoyed a delicious raised maple iced variety from Dunkin’ Donuts somewhere at a truck stop in Virginia. In fact, of all the fast food I’ve been grabbing out of sheer convenience the past couple of weeks, I admit here and now that the doughnuts were my absolute favorites.

I guess the lesson here is to never say “never.”

I think as we age, especially those of us who have been sober for a good amount of time, we tend to view things in black and white. This is good. That’s bad. I love this. I hate that. My way is better. Your way can take the highway. There’s little room for negotiation in most cases.

Maybe it’s because we know that the concept of “moderation,” at least as far as drugging and drinking is concerned, is a fallacy. You either drink or you don’t drink. You are either on or off the wagon. There is no “on the fence” position here. And that’s a good thing. But, need it be applied to every last thing we do and say?

There’s nothing wrong with moderation in general as long as we don’t use it as an excuse to pick up. Oreo cookies are not evil. A couple are fine, but a whole bag is not (at least in one sitting.) Doughnuts aren’t evil either, as long as they don’t become dinner every night. Same goes for anything in life that might carry a bit of the “taboo” when overindulged upon. Sugar, caffeine, video games, sex or even exercise can quickly go from the occasional to the overboard if we don’t monitor our use.

So why exactly can’t we moderate our drinking, you may wonder, given the possibility of moderating just about everything else?

The way it was explained to me many years ago was that once our brains crossed the line into physiological dependence, there was no going back. Sort of like a cucumber and a pickle. Once the cuke becomes a bread and butter slice, it can’t be magically transformed back into its original state. No matter what you do to it, a pickle will always be a pickle. (Pun and uncanny analogy definitely intended.)  Those who abuse alcohol, however, still have a chance in the early stages to control their use and become social drinkers. But for the addicted, moderation is no longer an option. Abstinence is the only answer.

In conclusion, I have decided to loosen up my judgmental attitude and allow for the moderate consumption of doughnuts in my life and in the life of others. I may even consider the occasional serving of deep fried pickles (a popular appetizer I have discovered since my arrival in the South) relatively acceptable when dining out. However, if they are coated in a beer batter, I will have to refrain. One must draw the line somewhere.
This week’s recipe:

Bread and Butter Pickles
The best thing about this recipe is that the traditional method of carefully processing jars and sealing the contents is unnecessary here, as these pickles require only a brief period under refrigeration and are meant to be eaten within a couple of weeks. Obviously, without the usual boiling and sealing, you can’t store these on the shelf for eating months later. But, if you happen to be an experienced canner, you can use this recipe to preserve the pickles in the traditional, longer-lasting way. For this technique, however, I have found that empty marinara sauce jars and their screw-top lids, when run through the dishwasher on a high heat wash-and-dry setting, are excellent containers to use, while ending up adequately sterilized for our purposes.

The smaller Kirby cucumbers are ideal for pickling because they do not have large and bitter seeds, as do the more common mature varieties. You will recognize them as the cucumbers used for whole dill pickles by their shape and size. Unwaxed, they do not require peeling, just like their English hothouse cousin, which could also be used here, although its cost is normally prohibitive in comparison. I have also tasted some delicious bread and butters made from thinly shaved common cucumbers, although they are less popularly used, so choose whichever you like.

2 pounds Kirby cucumbers, washed well and cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds (about 8 cups)
1/2 pound Bermuda, Spanish, or Vidalia onions, peeled, halved, and thinly sliced (2 to 3 cups)
1/4 cup coarse kosher salt
Ice cubes
2 cups cider vinegar
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon celery seeds
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

  1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the cucumbers, onions, and salt, toss well to coat, and cover the surface with ice cubes. Let stand for 2 hours, then drain, rinse well under cold running water, and drain again.
  2. In a large stainless steel pot, combine the remaining ingredients over medium heat, bring to a boil, and cook, stirring a few times, until the sugar has dissolved. Add the drained cucumbers and onions, stir well, and return to a boil, cooking for 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand for 10 minutes, gently stirring once or twice.
  3. Using a slotted spoon, distribute the cucumbers and onions among three 1-pint clean jars with lids. Pour the syrup, including the spices, into each jar, leaving 1/4 to 1/2 inch of space below the top. Put on the lids and allow to cool somewhat before transferring to the refrigerator.
  4. Keep in the refrigerator for at least 10 days and up to 2 weeks before opening. Every few days, gently shake the jars to distribute the spices. Once opened, eat within 2 weeks. Unopened, you many store them in the refrigerator up to 1 month.

Makes 3 pints

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Celebrating Sobriety Birthdays

Jul 29, 2011
Today is my friend’s birthday—her natal birthday to be precise. She also has a sobriety birthday and has successfully put together quite a string of them—nearly double my recovery age of what feels like, next to her, a very young 13.

With all the twittering and blogging this past week about the tragic death of Amy Winehouse and the discussions of so many others —known and unknown —who suffered the same fate as a result (either directly or indirectly) of substance dependence, I can always find inspiration in the hundreds of thousands of people who continue to rack up sobriety birthdays and live happy and healthy lives each day. today I’d like to talk about the importance of recognizing those milestones of sobriety that come around each year by including a blurb I wrote in my book Sober Celebrations on the subject, as well as a recipe for an amazing little orange and chocolate birthday cake I am sure you will love.
Most everyone can tell you the exact day they got clean and sober. Marking these important days with sober parties, the giving out of year “chips,” or simply a well-deserved “congratulations” recognizing the tremendous effort it took to get there is one of the great joys of recovery.  

Whether it be the 1st or the 30th, these annual “birthdays,” also called “anniversaries,” should be acknowledged and celebrated with pride. So if you or someone you know has a sobriety birthday coming up, plan to mark it with at least a little pomp and circumstance!  

Here are a few ideas for celebrating in style:
  • Start the day off right by inviting a few close friends over for breakfast or brunch. Serve up omelets, pancakes, French toast, or anything else that suits your fancy. Or leave the cooking to someone else and have everyone meet at your favorite diner for a delicious morning meal and pots of coffee. 
  • Plan a get-together for play at a bowling alley, golf course or baseball field then invite everyone back for cake and some sparkling fruit drinks to toast the honoree.
  • Take the family out to dinner, go off your diet and order everything from appetizers to desserts. Tell the wait staff there’s a birthday to celebrate and they’ll be sure to light a candle and even sing a round of “Happy Birthday.”
  • Don’t spend the day alone—attend a meeting, call up a friend for coffee or plan to visit a sober residence where you can offer hope and congratulations to others. Be grateful for the support you’ve received along the way and give yourself the pat on the back you deserve.
This week’s recipe:

Petit Orange Chocolate Birthday Gateau

Chocolate and orange are a classic combination in baking— their flavors complement each other deliciously. Usually the orange element is in the form of liqueur, whether Cointreau or Grand Marnier, but here we’ll be going directly to the source for an intense orange experience. Orange juice concentrate and zest will provide the flavor for the cake, while orange oil will enhance our deep chocolate ganache coating. Citrus oils, like orange and lemon, are wonderful to use as they do not contain any alcohol as do extracts, but are similarly concentrated. One or two drops are usually all that is needed.  
You can prepare the cake part ahead and even freeze it, well wrapped in plastic, if you like. The filling and ganache can also be prepared ahead and the entire gateau assembled the night before so it has a chance to set in the refrigerator. Let it sit, however, at room temperature for about 30 minutes before serving to soften up the chocolate a bit. Use a sharp knife dipped in hot water to make perfect slices. If you would like to decorate the finished cake, some supermarkets and all baking supply stores carry small candied flowers and leaves that you could use in the corners or on the edges. Edible flowers would also be a nice touch.  Just don’t forget to write “Happy Birthday!”

For the cake:
1 ¼ sticks (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
3 tablespoons frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed
1 teaspoon grated orange peel
1 teaspoon non-alcohol vanilla extract
2 ½ cups plain cake flour (not self-rising)
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup whole milk

For the filling:
2 ounces semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped
¼ cup heavy cream
1 large egg white

For the ganache:
1 cup heavy cream
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 drops orange oil

Candied or edible flowers to garnish (optional)

1. Make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9- by 13-inch baking pan, knocking out the excess flour. Line with a rectangular piece of waxed or parchment paper cut to fit the bottom of the pan. Set aside.

2.  In a medium-size mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar together using an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the orange juice concentrate, grated orange peel, and vanilla.

3. In another medium-size mixing bowl, whisk together the cake flour, baking powder, and salt. On medium-low speed, beat half the flour mixture into the egg mixture, then half the milk, then the remaining flour, followed by the remaining milk, to combine.  Try not to overbeat.  Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan and bake on the center rack of the oven until the top is lightly golden and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool completely in the baking pan on a rack. Turn out the cake onto a cutting board, peel off the paper, and carefully invert right side up. At this point you may freeze the cake up to 2 weeks ahead by cutting it into equal square halves and tightly wrapping each piece with plastic wrap, then foil.

4. Make the filling: In the top of a double boiler, melt the chocolate. Transfer to a small mixing bowl and allow to cool for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. In another small bowl using an electric mixer, whip the cream to soft peaks. Wash the beaters, dry well, and in a third bowl, beat the egg white until stiff. All at once, add the egg white and whipped cream to the melted chocolate and vigorously whisk until completely blended, about 1 minute. Cover and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours until somewhat set.

5. Make the ganache: In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the cream just to a boil. Remove from the heat, add the chocolate and orange oil and whisk until the chocolate is melted. Transfer to a small bowl and chill, uncovered, until just cool and spreadable, about 30 minutes. If the ganache becomes too cold to spread, simply leave it out until it has softened a bit, then stir.

6. To assemble the gateau: Using a serrated bread knife, even out the top of the cake to make it flat by cutting off slivers. Cut about 1 inch off of each edge of the cake, then cut into 2 equal size square-shaped pieces. Transfer 1 piece to a cake plate. Spread the filling evenly over the cake layer and top with the remaining layer. Using half the ganache, coat the sides and top of the gateau with a thin layer, then chill for 20 minutes. Spread the remaining ganache evenly over the top and sides and decorate with the flowers, if using. Keep chilled until 30 minutes before serving.

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Moved by Guacamole

Jul 22, 2011
I think I may have mentioned I’m moving. In about thee weeks, if all goes according to plan, I will be nestled in my new abode in North Carolina. My move is full of the promise of a new start, with the anticipation of meeting new friends and having new experiences in a new area just waiting to be explored.

Moves like the one I am about to embark upon are necessary, I think, in order to keep us stimulated and eager to experience life. The place I am going to definitely offers just that. My beautiful luxury apartment with every modern convenience sits on an impeccably manicured landscape accented with fountains, gardens and pathways along which I’ll be able to walk and observe the South’s natural wonders. When I sit at my desk writing my blogs to you, I’ll be gazing out the window at a magnificent Arnold Palmer-designed golf course that, on a daily basis, will be smiling at me with that come hither look. (I plan to answer the lure by resuming the game I once played on a regular basis—with some much needed lessons, by the way).   

Yes, there is much to be hopeful about and a lot to look forward to. I will even have my brother’s family nearby, who will no doubt provide much familial support and love that has been missing from my life the past several years. And I am anxious to reciprocate with many delicious meals and much holiday entertaining in the future, as well as my own form of support and caring.

I tell myself these positive things each day as I get ready to move.

Why Do I Feel So Blue?
So, why is it that I feel so melancholy? Indeed lately I feel like I’ve been sinking into a quagmire of memories—most of them best forgotten if you ask me. Instead of looking forward, I’ve been looking back. Instead of being full of hope, I’m full of regrets. Instead of feeling inspired and energetic, I’m feeling like someone should just throw me on top of the dumpster pile with the rest of the junk.

In essence, moving has made me recall in vivid memory every detail of every move I have ever made in my life. And that recall is mentally and emotionally exhausting.  

For instance, I’m reminded of the time when my boyfriend and I left the University of Colorado in 1978 to drive to NJ with a little U-Haul attached to the back of his car. We packed everything up in one night and took off down the highway. We had a cat that we snuck into our motel room each night (back then there was no such thing as “pet-friendly”) and I remember that Andy Gibb was frequently playing on the car radio.

I remember that we weren’t actually together anymore, my boyfriend and I. Mitch was his name. I had dumped him for a cowboy who promised to come to NJ on his Harley that summer and whisk me away somewhere. Needless to say, my Lone Ranger was a no show. Mostly I remember how badly I hurt Mitch—good old reliable Mitch —he really did love me a lot and I treated his heart like one of those stress-relieving squeegee balls.

Bob Ran Off
Then there was the time my British husband, Bob, and I packed up our flat in Surrey to move to New York City so he could start a great new job. We had just been married a few months before. I had no clue that within two years we’d be talking divorce and he’d leave me for an older married woman. I guess that was a bit of payback for Mitch.

I think I’ve probably moved at least two dozen times, not always a great distance—sometimes just to the other side of town. But I remember every one like it was yesterday. I recall all the rented moving vans and U-Hauls, the dumpsters piled sky high, the rolls of bubble wrap, stacks of newspapers, and boxes. I remember the faces of the moving company packers and unpackers, the last minute cleaning, the final room-to-room scan to be sure nothing was left behind, the tearful hugs of goodbye and even the glance over my shoulder for one last look as I drove away. For some reason, however, for the life of me I can’t remember how I felt as I was on my way to the new place and my new life. I don’t remember any hopefulness or even apprehension. My emotional recall pretty much comes up empty in that regard.

Flight or Flight
It’s funny about memories and what can spark them into vivid recall. The brain tends to remember details of things when our emotions are heavily involved. It’s a way of protecting us from danger—the familiar “fight or flight” phenomenon. If we remember that something made us scared or sad, chances are we will avoid that in the future. On the other hand, if we remember that something made us feel good, we are more likely to do it again. Just like alcohol and drugs. Same idea. Different stimulant.

So why then do we keep moving all the time? Did you know that Americans, on average, move about 5 times in their lives? If we really wanted to protect ourselves from anguish and unhappiness, we would simply stay put in one place for our entire existence. No more moving vans, bubble wrap or magic markers that go missing. No more back aches from lifting and frustration over deciding what to dump and what to take. No more empty boxes to collapse and recycle and perhaps most importantly, no more melancholy reminiscing.  

The Past Can Be Bittersweet
As a writer, I’ve decided we should look at every move like the closing of a chapter ,although some moves are big enough they merit being compared to the end of a book. Think about it. When we finish reading a book we’re sorry it’s over but we’re glad we finished. And we’ll be picking up a new book soon. But for now, that new one doesn’t resonate with our emotional memory—we haven’t experienced it yet. We’re still thinking about the ending of this last one. And I guess that’s pretty much okay. It doesn’t mean we don’t want to move on. It’s just that these breaks allow us a chance to examine a little bit of what came before—the good and the bad—as bittersweet as it may be.

Mitch has been very much in my mind of late. I haven’t seen him since 1980 and I have no idea what ever happened to him. I hope he found someone who appreciated his loyalty.

One of the things I remember most about Mitch was that he introduced me to guacamole. I had never tasted it before. Frankly I didn’t even know what it was. Taco Bell hadn’t yet made its spicy way to the East coast but in Colorado, where we met in college, Mexican food was alive and well. To this day, his recipe for guacamole is the one I use. It’s tucked away in my little red recipe book (written in the handwriting of a 19 year old girl). I make it by heart these days and people clamor for the recipe. I think he’d be proud of that. And that I remember.  

This week’s recipe:’s Guacamole

2 ripe Hass avocados
1 lime
1/2 small onion, chopped
1 small, ripe tomato, seeded and chopped
1 tablespoon sour cream
Dash of Tabasco sauce
Pinch of salt and pepper

1. With a sharp knife, slice the avocado in half lengthwise and twist apart. Discard the seed and scoop the flesh out of the peel into a medium-size mixing bowl.

2. Squeeze the juice from half the lime over the avocados and mash together with a fork or back of a wooden spoon. Add the onion, tomato, sour cream, and Tabasco, season with salt and pepper, and combine well. Transfer to a dipping bowl and serve. Moisten a paper towel with the remaining lime half and place directly on the guacamole to prevent browning if not serving immediately.

Note: Use your hand-held immersion blender for a creamy and smooth result in no time at all! If you happen to have a jar of your favorite salsa around, you can substitute 3 to 4 tablespoons for the onion and tomato. Mitch said its okay. Hold back on the salt, however, and taste for “heat” before adding the Tabasco.

Makes 4 servings

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Finding My Thrill (Again) Here in NJ

Jul 08, 2011
Well, it’s that time once again. New Jersey blueberries are ready for picking and the price is definitely right. You can get 4 pints for a measly 2 bucks if you know where to shop. No need to head for the farmer’s market. Even the chain supermarkets are carrying the Jersey varieties this month., like all seasonal fruit, are best used in baking when their natural sweetness is at its height. I can definitely attest to that having had at least one experience with tart blueberries that no amount of sugar seemed to be able toimprove. But alas, they were not New Jersey blueberries but, rather, Connecticut imposters that just couldn’t make the grade. Here in New Jersey, however, there’s no need to worry as the local summer blueberries are super succulent, large and full of sweet flavor. What you see is definitely what you get.

Blueberries have always been one of my very favorite fruits, long before there was any antioxidant connection to them or memory-enhancing bragging rights. I simply loved blueberries in all forms of presentation. Blueberry pies, blueberry muffins, blueberry pancakes…the list goes on. As a kid I often wondered why there wasn’t blueberry ice cream in the freezer section at the grocery store. What was so great about strawberry, anyhow?

Now blueberries can be found in just about every aisle of the store in almost every type of product, from blueberry açai juice to blueberry-scented candles. Heck, blueberries have even reached superfood status! And to think we New Jerseyans could make such a marvelous contribution to medicine. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, you reality show wannabes. Think we’re just all sex, shore and the "Sopranos"? Think again. Maine may be the largest producer of blueberries quantity-wise, but we’re by far the largest producers when it comes to berry size (at least that’s what Wikipedia says.)

Be that as it may, there is actually an underlying reason for my blueberry raving today. You see blueberries actually remind me of the summer that I knew I had to quit drinking. I had tried, as a last resort and as one last vestige of denial as it turned out, the old geographic solution to cut back and gain some control over the alcohol. I knew that if I simply went to work somewhere else for the summer—away from New Jersey—in a new environment with new colleagues and new circumstances, I would be instantly cured of any possible dependence I might have been developing. I even changed my drink of choice from wine to vodka (and we’re all too familiar with that remedy).

Unfortunately, my best-laid plans actually backfired and I ended up spending much of that summer in a hospital bed recovering from numerous breaks as a result of a rather nasty car accident late one night on the way back from the local watering hole. Just the day before, I had baked a blueberry pie from the local berries (the tart Connecticut ones mentioned above), which had been a culinary disappointment. It may have even been used as an excuse to drown my sorrows, who knows? Frankly, I can’t remember all the details.

I guess the point I am trying to make here is, as it’s been said about different people and places, “you can take the girl out of Jersey, but you can’t take the Jersey out of the girl.” I might go a step further and offer up this adage as well, “you can take the bottle away from the alcoholic, but you can’t take the alcoholic away from the bottle,” barring. of course. any type of intervention or, god help us, the end of denial and the readiness to recover.  

So, in the end my blueberry thrills are a little bittersweet but I still welcome them each summer. They remind me of a very low point in my life, but they also provide me with wonderful and delicious culinary memories too (except for that pie of course). The strange thing is that next month I will be leaving New Jersey and moving to North Carolina to relocate closer to my family and start a new life. If it’s really true what they say about the geographical fix, I am tempted to buy and wear a T-shirt that I found yesterday on a rack next to the blueberries at my local supermarket. It read in bold letters “Jersey girls don’t pump gas.” I’m not sure how far that will get me down South, but I’m willing to give it a shot. This week’s recipe:

Blueberry Crumb Buckle
The buckle is the first cousin of the cobbler, with the fruit mixed into a batter and baked like a cake. I’ve added a crumb topping here to add some texture and interest and the result is not unlike a crumb cake studded with berries.

Crumb Topping
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, diced
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Buckle Batter
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon alcohol-free vanilla
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
2 cups blueberries, picked over for stems

Whipped cream or ice cream for serving

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9 x 13-inch glass baking dish.
2. To make the crumb topping, combine the butter, sugar, flour, and cinnamon in a small mixing bowl, using a pastry blender, fork, or your fingers to form a crumb-like consistency. Set aside.
3. To make the buckle batter, with an electric mixer beat together the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl until light and creamy. Beat in the vanilla. In a medium-size mixing bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. With the mixer on low speed, add the eggs to the butter mixture, one at a time, then the dry mixture in batches, beating well to combine. Fold in the blueberries and spread the batter evenly in the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle the crumb topping evenly over the batter and bake on the center rack of the oven until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 40 to 50 minutes. Let cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.

Makes 6 servings


A Fourth of July Texas BBQ

Jul 01, 2011

For giant sized fireworks on Independence Day, nothing beats an authentic Texas style BBQ. While your neighbors are grilling the usual hotdogs and hamburgers, you’ll be offering up a spicy array of traditional Texas fare to make them green with envy as the tantalizing aroma of kicked-up spareribs wafts over the fence. And they won’t believe all the exuberant “Yee Haws!” they’ll hear are possible without even a drop of alcohol!

While you’re grilling up the finger licking good Spareribs with Sarsaparilla Barbecue Sauce, your guests will be dipping into the zesty, black-eyed pea Texas Caviar while sipping away at a super refreshing “Pink Champagne,” Texas style. The hoopla will truly begin, however, when you bring to the table your medley of traditional, good old Texas BBQ dishes including a Creamy Mac ‘n’ Cheese Salad and the real deal Garlic Butter Texas Toast. By the time you are slicing Granny’s Peanut Butter Cream Pie for dessert, your cowhands will be wondering if the fireworks haven’t already started! Needless to say, I won’t be dieting this weekend. Enjoy!  

Texas Pink Champagne

Start things off with this novel, refreshing drink that makes the most of the state fruit of Texas–the red grapefruit. Texas produces two of the world’s finest varieties: the Ruby Sweet and the Rio Star, important crops since the early 1900’s. They are enjoyed in many recipes as well as on their own, and here they’ll add a lovely pink hue to lemon-lime soda for a super thirst quenching drink on the Fourth.

Fresh squeezed is, of course, the best to use, but feel free to purchase a carton of ruby red grapefruit juice in your refrigerated section. In a pinch, you can substitute pink grapefruits or their juice, or even the red-colored blood orange for those who shouldn’t mix grapefruit with certain medications. In any case, strain the grapefruit juice, fresh or refrigerated, to remove the pulp so the appearance of your “pink champagne” is less cloudy.

Make this up just before serving to maximize the fizz of the soda. Having everything well chilled will eliminate the need for ice in the glasses unless it’s a really hot day. Champagne flutes, in this case, are a bit too dainty for a Texas BBQ! Choose tumblers or Collins glasses instead—or festive red, white, and blue plastic cups.

8 cups (64 ounces) ruby red grapefruit juice (about a dozen whole grapefruits juiced), strained and chilled

Two 32-ounce bottles lemon-lime soda, chilled

1. Stir together the grapefruit juice and soda and serve ice cold in tumblers or cups.

Keep unused portions refrigerated.

Serves 10

Texas Caviar with Corn Chips

What to serve with Texas pink champagne? Why, Texas caviar of course! This famous dip made from black-eyed peas has many variations, but one thing is for certain, all Texans agree it must be made in advance and allowed to marinate so the flavor is at its best when served. Two or three days are probably enough—just keep it in a covered container in the refrigerator and give it an occasional stir. Usually quite spicy, the level of intensity is up to you in the quantity of jalapenos you add as well as the cayenne pepper. Remember, however, that it will get hotter and hotter the longer it is allowed to sit.

You can replace one can of black-eyed peas with the equivalent amount of canned white hominy, delicious cooked corn kernels that have had the hull and husk removed, popularly used in Hispanic cuisine. I love them and am always looking for an excuse to use them in a recipe, but sometimes they are difficult to find so I am excluding them here. The usual things to scoop up your “caviar” with are tortilla chips (or Saltine crackers – a Texas favorite). But any type of large corn chip will go well, Fritos Scoops! being my favorite here.

Three 15-ounce cans black-eyes peas, drained and rinsed

One 4-ounce jar chopped pimentos, juice included

2 to 3 jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced

3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

4 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced

½ medium-size green bell pepper, cored, seeded and finely chopped

1 medium firm, ripe tomato, seeded, and chopped

¼ cup finely chopped fresh parsley leaves

¼ teaspoon or more red cayenne pepper

1/3 cup light olive oil

½ cup apple cider vinegar

Salt and pepper to taste

1. In a large mixing bowl combine all the ingredients and stir together with a rubber spatula. Transfer to a covered container and refrigerate, stirring occasionally, for 1 or 2 days and up to 1 week.

2. To serve, mound the caviar on a large round serving platter and surround with the corn chips.

Serves 10

Grilled Spareribs with Sarsaparilla Barbecue Sauce
You can be sure that the Fourth of July will find some type of ribs on the grill – baby back or beef, rubbed or smoked – all cuts and methods are popular barbecue fare, but true Texas rib aficionados will be turning to the common pork sparerib for the most uncommonly delicious and flavorful result. Spareribs come from the lower portion of the ribs and are usually fattier, contributing to their flavor. A normal rack can weigh about 3 to 5 pounds (mostly bone) and in general, one pound per person is an adequate portion-size. Therefore, three racks will serve ten people nicely, but if your BBQ guests are known to be big eaters, err on the side of extras and throw in one more. When racks are cut in half they are called slabs, which are easier to work with, so cut each rack in two and trim any excess fat before beginning.

Dry rubs are a great way to enhance the flavor of all meats that end up on the grill so plan to rub the slabs a day ahead. Smoking is another way to enhance flavor and many experienced grill masters swear by it. It can be an intricate and long process, however, so to get the best of both worlds, we’ll be roasting the ribs first in the oven and then finishing them on the grill over some smoky wood chips. A last minute baste with the delicious accompanying barbecue sauce will add a final layer of flavor.

Many basting and barbecue sauces contain alcohol in the form of beer or bourbon since their tenderizing properties can contribute to a better result. Here, sarsaparilla soda, a popular beverage of the Old West, will perform the same function and add a subtle sweetness to the sauce. Birch beer or root beer could also be used. Try to find a good quality soda that is made from pure cane sugar rather than high fructose corn syrup for the best flavor and finish. The sauce can be made up to a week ahead and refrigerated until the Fourth of July.

For the dry rub:
1 cup granulated sugar

3 tablespoons sweet paprika

2 ½ tablespoons coarse salt

2 tablespoons ground black pepper

1 ½ tablespoons garlic powder

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste

3 or 4 racks pork spareribs, cut in half and trimmed of excess fat

3 cups hickory wood smoking chips, soaked in cold water for 30 minutes

Oil for the grill

Sarsaparilla Barbecue Sauce (see recipe below)

1. In a small mixing bowl whisk together the dry rub ingredients. Massage the rub into the meat sides of the sparerib slabs, wrap well in plastic (2 slabs together is fine) and refrigerate overnight.
2. Preheat the oven to 275 degrees. Unwrap the slabs and place, slightly overlapping, in 2 large roasting pans. Bake uncovered, periodically pouring out the rendered fat, until the ribs are tender, 3 to 4 hours.
3. Preheat a charcoal or gas grill to medium-low and place the soaked wood chips over the coals or in a smoker box. Lightly oil the grill grates and place the ribs in a single layer on the grill (work in batches if necessary) and cook, turning occasionally, 20 minutes. Baste the ribs with the barbecue sauce during the last 10 minutes of grilling. Transfer to a cutting board, slice down between the rib bones to make individual portions, and serve immediately with extra barbecue sauce for dipping.
Serves 10

Sarsaparilla Barbecue Sauce

2 cups sarsaparilla soda

2 cups ketchup

½ medium-size onion, finely chopped

¼ cup apple cider vinegar

¼ cup fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon light molasses

1 tablespoon brown sugar

2 teaspoons chili powder

1 teaspoon each ground cumin, paprika, and garlic powder

½ teaspoon each ground ginger and coriander

Salt and pepper to taste

Dash cayenne pepper or more to taste

1. Combine all the ingredients in a medium-size saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to medium-low and allow to simmer until thickened and reduced by half, about 20 minutes. Stir to prevent sticking.

2. Taste for seasoning, including sugar and lemon juice, adjust if necessary, and cool before storing in a covered container in the refrigerator. Use to baste spareribs and as a dipping sauce (see above.)
Serves 10

Creamy Mac ‘n’ Cheese Salad

This cool and creamy macaroni salad is the perfect compliment to your smoked and spicy ribs. Dotted with bits of delicious orange cheddar cheese, your guests will be reaching for seconds and thirds before the meal is through. The secret to its creaminess is a double dosing of mayo and milk, one the night before and the other just before serving.

A small dice of cheddar cheese is what you are after and sometimes you are able to find pre-diced or crumbled cheese, as opposed to shredded, in packages, which will save time. If not, simply slice the cheddar chunk into 1/4-inch-thick slices and crumble with your fingers. Half a pound of solid cheese will yield about 2 cups diced or crumbled. Mild, medium, or sharp is fine to use, whichever you prefer.

1 pound elbow macaroni, cooked, drained and rinsed under cold water to cool

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 medium-size celery stalk, peeled and finely chopped

½ cup sweet pickle relish

1/3 cup chopped pimento

1 ½ cups mayonnaise

½ cup sour cream

½ cup milk

Salt and pepper to taste

1 ½ cups diced or crumbled orange cheddar cheese

1. In a large mixing bowl combine the cooked macaroni, onion, celery, relish, and pimento and stir gently to combine. In a small mixing bowl whisk together 1 cup of the mayonnaise, all the sour cream, and ¼ cup of the milk. Add to the macaroni and stir well to coat. Season lightly with salt and pepper, and stir in the cheese. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

2. Remove the macaroni salad from the fridge and stir to loosen (mixture will be somewhat dry.) In a small mixing bowl whisk together the remaining ½ cup mayonnaise and ¼ cup of milk, and add to the salad, stirring until creamy. Taste for the addition of salt and pepper, and serve immediately.

Serves 10

Garlic Butter Texas Toast

No Texas-style barbecue would be complete without Texas toast, the Lone Star State’s answer to garlic bread. Huge slices of firm white bread, slathered with garlic butter and plopped on the grill, Texas toast is the perfect accompaniment for your Independence Day party.

Buy whole, unsliced loaves of bread, sometimes called Pullman loaves, or look for thick pre-sliced packages occasionally available in the bread aisle. Sourdough and Italian varieties of bread also work well, but to be authentic stick with the above. These take a few mere minutes to grill, so they can be done just before sitting down to eat. You can also embellish them a bit by sprinkling some shredded cheese on top for melting or add chopped fresh or dried parsley flakes to the butter mixture.

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

6 garlic cloves, peeled and mined

Salt and cayenne pepper to taste

2 loaves firm white bread, cut into 1-inch-thick slices


1. In a small mixing bowl, stir together the butter, garlic, salt, and cayenne pepper. Spread a thin layer of the butter mixture on both sides of the bread slices and toast on the outer edge of a gas or charcoal grill until lightly golden, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Serve immediately.

Serves 10

Granny’s Peanut Butter Cream Pie

Here’s a super finish to your Fourth of July Texas barbecue and a dessert that will no doubt be requested in the future on a regular basis. Surprisingly light and fluffy, but full of creamy flavor, this no-bake peanut butter cream pie is so easy to prepare you may decide to make two just in case!

Regular commercial creamy peanut butter is the one to use here as the healthier, more natural types have a tendency to separate. Pre-made graham cracker piecrusts make this a breeze to prepare, but you can certainly make one from scratch if you prefer. In addition, you can also try using the prepared chocolate cookie crusts, which would go equally well with the peanut butter flavor. Purchase a good quality hot fudge sauce and just before serving, heat it in the microwave and drizzle over the top of the pie or over each individual slice. When you serve up this incredible finale, don’t be surprised to hear a universal “yum” and “yes, please” no matter how full of ribs your guests may be!

1 cup creamy peanut butter

One 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened

1 cup sugar

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1 cup whipping cream

1 teaspoon nonalcohol vanilla extract

One 9-inch prepared graham cracker pie crust

One jar hot fudge sauce

1. In a medium-size bowl using an electric mixer, beat together the peanut butter, cream cheese, sugar, and butter on high speed until smooth and creamy, 2 to 3 minutes. In another medium-size mixing bowl with clean beaters, beat the cream and vanilla together to form stiff peaks. Stir 1/3 of the whipped cream into the peanut butter mixture to loosen it, then fold in the rest. Pour the mixture into the pie crust and spread evenly. Refrigerate overnight.

2. When ready to serve, heat the hot fudge sauce in the microwave according to jar directions and, using a fork, dip and drizzle the hot fudge over the top of the pie, or over each slice of pie. Serve immediately.
Serves 10

All recipes from Sober Celebrations: Lively Entertaining Without the Spirits by Liz Scott, 2007.


Yesterday I Held a Friend’s Hand

Jun 24, 2011

Years ago I used to get terrible panic attacks if I felt trapped or stressed so when a friend of mine called yesterday to ask me to accompany her to an MRI testing center as moral support, I quickly agreed. Some people have terrible issues with these tunnel-like, claustrophobic-inducing machines, particularly if they are claustrophobic to begin with like my friend. Having someone in the room during the testing can provide just enough security that if something goes wrong at least someone you know can speak up. It also has a very calming effect - sort of like a natural tranquilizer.

The test itself would require only 15 minutes. The actual coaxing and calming of the patient to get into the cubicle would be another story and, I imagine, from the way the technician handled himself, the people who run these things become quite experienced with all types of potential fears and problem people. Consequently they were prepared to spend a bit of time getting us ready before they actually began the test.

Laying flat on the table was not an issue. It was when the platform began to move into the testing cubicle that we felt a little trepidation. With arms outstretched, my friend tried to halt the oncoming machine wall about as successfully as one might try to halt a 12-wheel trailer-truck on the highway. However, clearly alert to our dilemma, the technician stopped the moving table and told my friend quite patiently that she was not going to be able to do that with her hands. “Then I’m not going in,” she barked at him. At this point I was still seated in the back of the room, but was well aware that the time had come for action.

As I grasped her right hand, I suggested we move slowly forward into the cubicle–just a little bit at a time. The technician agreed and we inched our way in. I told her what gorgeous legs she had sticking out the other end, which made her giggle, and at that point I figured we were definitely on our way. We were handed earplugs to muffle the typically loud sounds that the MRI makes during its reading and the test began.

It Didn't Matter That I Couldn't Hear
My friend suggested that if she kept talking it would take her mind off the process, so for the first five minutes or so, she related a story to me from her divorce. The problem was I couldn’t hear a word she said, but I occasionally directed a laugh towards her right ear and even a few “oh yes, I know what you mean” comments. Then it was my turn to talk above the clanging and banging of the machine. Not knowing whether she could hear me either, I related the saga of my imminent move to North Carolina and what the fabulous apartment looked like that was waiting for me. She smiled through it all and squeezed my hand periodically, so I assumed she heard all the details, especially how I’d miss her.

As we got ready to leave, I commented about how difficult it was to hear in there. She agreed and admitted she only heard bits and pieces from my story, such as “large patio,” “gas stove,” and “cat box,” but it didn’t matter because it was really all about just being there with her. She was so overwhelmingly grateful to me. For the rest of the afternoon I felt really good knowing that I had done something nice for someone else and had helped her get through a very difficult moment by simply being a friend, holding a hand, and shouting into a tunnel.

It's Courageous To Ask for Help
I started to think about how courageous it was of my friend to ask me to help her. Would I be so brave? Before I quit drinking I would never ask anyone to do anything for me. “I’ll do it myself” I would usually announce with a dismissed wave in the air with one hand and a wineglass clenched in the other.

Asking for help is not something we addicts feel comfortable doing, as we all know–especially if it even hints at weakness on any level. We’re stronger than that. Heck, we’re stronger than everything. At least with this drink in my hand.  

Finally admitting that “I can’t do this alone” has indeed been the main obstacle to recovery for so many people. What’s truly great, however, is that once we get past that obstacle, we learn that it’s not only okay to ask for help, it can even be brave and wise, not to mention giving and selfless in an odd sort of indirect way. That’s because when we ask for help we are giving the helper an opportunity to feel helpful.

Everyone Wins
Sounds pretty stupid really—even a bit manipulative, I’ll admit. But I’m not talking about people who constantly impose on our good nature with “needy” behavior. I’m talking about people like my friend. I’m talking about what happened today and how it made me feel. Think about that the next time you are afraid to ask for a little help. It’s all good. And it’s all helpful. For everyone.

So, in honor of my friend who, when not holding my hand during an MRI, is often seen holding (and eating) her favorite food – a sweet potato – I offer up one of my favorite renditions of this super healthy tuber. And in honor of the MRI that inspired me, I give you the microwave version:

The Ultimate Sweet Potato

1 large sweet potato
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon sugar
1 tablespoon Honey Nut Butter (see below)

1. Using a fork, poke a few holes in the sweet potato and wrap loosely in parchment paper or plastic wrap.
2. Cook on HIGH in the microwave for 5 to 7 minutes, until fork tender. Allow to rest for 2 minutes.
3. Transfer to a serving dish, cut an opening down the long end of the sweet potato, and squeeze the ends together to open up.  Season with a little salt and pepper, sprinkle the cinnamon sugar over, and top with the honey nut butter. Serve immediately.

To make Honey Nut Butter, combine 1/4 cup softened unsalted whipped butter, 1 tablespoon chopped pecan pralines (or any other sugar-coated nuts you may prefer), and 1 tablespoon honey. Mix well and chill until ready to use.



Getting Oiled Is Good for Your Brain

Jun 17, 2011
  We now have another reason to celebrate the wondrous qualities of olive oil. The results of a new study conducted in France concluded that people who routinely use olive oil in their cooking, salad making and as a food enhancer are 41 percent less likely to suffer a stroke than those who never use it.

Olive oil has always been regarded as one of the key elements in the much touted healthful Mediterranean diet, but these results, which were primarily gathered from older folks who are more likely to suffer a stroke (over 65 years of age), are particularly significant as they point to a very viable preventive measure for brain health. Although there are different types of strokes – caused by a blockage or a result of high blood pressure – much of what puts us at risk are the same diet, lifestyle, and medical markers that increase our risk of heart problems. So, since we already know that olive oil is an excellent addition to the diet for heart health, it is really no big surprise that it is also very helpful in stroke prevention.

Still, unless you come from an ethnic background in which olive oil is a standard element in the kitchen, such as Italian or Greek, it is still – despite all its accolades – a relatively novel component of the American kitchen. And without Rachel Ray and her constant “EVOO” (extra virgin olive oil) pushing, it is doubtful that a whole younger generation would even know what to do with it.

In my family there was always a gallon-size tin can of olive oil–Filippo Berio, I think – under the sink, from which my grandmother refilled her small bottle that sat on the counter. Extra virgin was not a term I remember seeing on the label and I somehow doubt that my “nonna” and even, in turn, my mother knew there was such a thing, much less what it meant. Good olive oil was simply good olive oil and was preferably of Italian origin (if you were also of Italian origin, which we were).

Greek families I knew also kept their gallon tin under the sink and opted for olive oil imported from Greece, which I could tell because of all the Pythagorean looking letters all over it. Unreadable to me, I’m not sure what brand it was but the Greeks liked it so it was no doubt very good. And that was pretty much the extent of olive oil use in the Sixties’ American household. In fact most families were still doing the bulk of their cooking with Crisco while salads, if eaten at all, were primarily topped with some
kind of mayonnaise-based concoction from a Better Homes and Gardens recipe.

Many Varieties Are Available Today
Today we can buy olive oil that originates from many different countries and in a variety of “pressings” – the first “virgin” cold pressing being preferred, as it is richest in flavor as well as antioxidants. We can also purchase “light” versions or blends for instances when the flavor of olive oil may be unwanted (as if!), which I believe is essentially a ruse to sell off the less desirable pressings that not even the Italians would use. Be that as it may, calorie-wise, there is no getting around the fact that a mere standard tablespoon of olive oil of any variety carries a hefty 120 calories and 14 grams of fat along with all its marvelous benefits. Let’s put this in its proper perspective however.

One tablespoon of butter has 100 calories and 11 grams of fat, 7 of which are saturated. For those who have been living on Mars, this is the bad stuff. Saturated fat, particularly of animal origin, clogs arteries, causes heart disease, stroke and may even be implicated as a contributor to Alzheimer’s disease. Olive oil, on the other hand, contains 10g of monounsaturated fat, the really, really good stuff that is of plant origin and which is probably, in part, responsible for the healthfulness of the Mediterranean diet. Butter contains none of it. This isn’t to say that butter doesn’t have a place in our diet and our kitchens. As a chef, I could never give it up, particularly in baking.

Try It With Bread
However, there are times when olive oil can actually step in for less desirable fats as well as butter, so that we can begin to reap the many benefits it offers. And this is just what the results of the French study have determined. People who opt for olive oil on a regular basis, whether it be in cooking or in salads, are usually using it instead of something else that is less healthy. Rather than slathering your bread with butter, try dipping it in a little olive oil with a sprinkle of sea salt. Add a drizzle to your pasta dish just before serving. Use it to roast potatoes, sauté fish or steak, and try to retire the bottled dressing habit—at least a few times a week—to enjoy the freshness and full flavor of greens simply dressed with olive oil, vinegar and salt and pepper. Before you know it, you’ll be reaching for that olive oil bottle without even thinking and making a trip to Costco for that big gallon-size tin to tuck under your sink.

This week’s recipe:

Lemon Zesty Pasta Shells with Tuna and Artichokes
Remember the old summer picnic macaroni and tuna salad, smothered in mayonnaise and saturated fat? This alternative will have everyone coming back for more without the guilt! Although pasta salads that have so-called Italian dressings have been around for a while, they always seem to be plagued by mushy pasta and way too pungent vinegar. This recipe has the delicious flavor of olive oil and lemon juice, and grated lemon rind is the secret ingredient that makes this salad so refreshing and unique.
Tuna that is packed in olive oil is ideal here, but a solid white in spring water, well drained, will work nicely too. Artichoke hearts that are marinated in olive oil are the best choice, but must be drained before being added to the salad. Be sure to add plenty of freshly ground black pepper and don’t skimp on the lemon rind—it really enhances the flavors of this salad.

8 ounces (1/2 box) medium-size pasta shells
One 6-ounce can tuna packed in olive oil, drained
One 6-ounce jar artichoke hearts, drained
2 tablespoons small capers, drained
1/2 cup pitted black olives, drained and sliced
Juice and grated rind of 1 lemon
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves

1. Cook the pasta shells in boiling salted water according to the package directions. The pasta should be al dente (firm to the bite, not mushy.) Drain well and rinse under cold running water. Set aside to drain completely.
2. In a large mixing bowl, break up the tuna slightly with a fork. Cut the artichoke hearts into small pieces and add to the bowl. Add the well-drained pasta shells, capers, olives, lemon juice and rind and olive oil and toss carefully with a rubber spatula to combine. Sprinkle with a little salt, give a few good grindings of black pepper, and add the parsley. Again toss carefully and allow to sit for 10 minutes.
3. Taste for the addition of more salt and pepper if necessary, drizzle a touch more olive oil, and serve.

Makes 4 to 6 servings


Feeling the Heat; Solving a Mystery

Jun 10, 2011

It seems like only yesterday that I was complaining about the absence of warm weather. Well, now that we are in the midst of a super sultry heat wave, I have to admit I am feeling a bit nostalgic for the cool temperatures of days passed. Unfortunately, near 100- degree weather is what Mother Nature has decided to grace us with in the Northeast this weekend, so to all those who must suffer through it, I wish you adequate working air conditioners, no power outages, and a cool, refreshing swimming pool nearby. And lest we forget…let’s all be thankful that we no longer drink as it would only add enormous stress to our already overheated and dehydrated bodies.

On the subject of drinking in sweltering conditions, I was recently watching a Masterpiece Mystery repeat of Agatha Christie’s Poirot – the one that takes place at an archeological dig in Syria called “Appointment with Death,” and where most of the participants were happily drinking martinis, brandy, and other libations while sweating profusely in the horrific heat of the desert. As most of them were English, it reminded me of the 1932 song by Noel Coward about how only “mad dogs and Englishman go out in the midday sun…” I would guess it’s because, with an alcoholic drink in their hands, they become impervious to the effects of the extreme heat – not an unknown danger to be sure.

Poirot, however, being Belgian, seemed to know better and opted for his usual herbal tisane or ice water instead. He was markedly less drenched in sweat throughout the program, although one could attribute that to the others being very much on the “hot seat,” as it were, as suspects in the murder of Lady Boynton. Be that as it may, I was prompted to consider the obvious question: “What should one drink when the temperature soars?” I knew the answer was in my refrigerator, but somehow I guessed it was not simply contained in a bottle.


Voila!”  The Answer Stared Back at Me
I opened the refrigerator door and in classic Hercule Poirot fashion, my “little gray cells” began to detect and discern, as my eyes panned the contents. Suddenly, as if on a hunch, I thrust open the fruit bin and examined the contents. “Voila!”  The answer stared back at me with enticing delight. Beautifully ripe, golden, and fragrant—the fresh pineapple I had purchased at the market a few days before was now ready for its debut.

I grabbed it by its dark green-leaved top and, before shutting the fridge, quickly collected a couple of other inspired ingredients to complete my refreshing creation. As I cut away the pineapple’s thorny outside with my 12-inch chef’s knife, the amazing tropical aroma filled the kitchen, while juicy puddles formed on the cutting board, which I carefully poured into a bowl and saved. Some quick chopping and a little assistance from my food processor, as well as a quick strain through a fine mesh sieve, soon resulted in the finished product, which I poured with unabashed anticipation. As I took my first sip, I knew the mystery had been solved. I dare say even Poirot would have granted me a “well done, mon ami, well done.”

This week’s recipe:


1 cup fresh pineapple chunks

1/4 cup cream of coconut


Splash of orange seltzer

Pineapple spear, for garnish

1. Puree the pineapple in a food processor fitted with the steel blade until smooth and foamy. Strain into a cocktail shaker, add the cream of coconut and ice, and stir or shake until combined and well chilled.

2. Strain into a martini glass, add a splash of orange seltzer, stir, and serve garnished with the pineapple spear.

 Serves 1



Cattin’ Around as June Blooms

Jun 03, 2011

June is bustin’ out all over. So are cats…on the Internet. At least that’s what the latest iPhone commercial has been telling us and I believe they must be right. Everywhere we click, another adorable little cutesy-pie furry munchkin is doing yet another adorable cutesy-pie thing to behold. The latest is the mama cat lovingly hugging her wee little kitten – both fast asleep. I refrained from clicking on this YouTube video for about 2 weeks until I couldn’t resist any longer. After all, it had over 19 million hits and I needed to know why. I ended up replaying it 4 times and each time I heard myself blurting out “awwww” even louder than the time before.


Sir Walter Scott, the great Scottish novelist and poet, said, “Cats are a mysterious kind of folk–there is more passing in their minds than we are aware of.” I know I agree with the first part of that–they are indeed a bit of an enigma with their strong sense of independence, yet devotional attachment to their humans at often unexpected but very appreciated times.

As far as having much “passing” in their minds, however, I would tend to disagree. I don’t think it’s because they are unintelligent. Far from it. I think it stems from the fact that they simply don’t “sweat the small stuff.”  Food, sleep, a clean litter box, and an occasional play with a feathery thing on the end of a stick are the things that matter. Unlike their humans, who couldn’t exist without filling their minds with a hundred nonessential worrisome thoughts, cats just seem to know better. If I had to sum up their attitude towards life in one quip it would be “When in doubt, take a nap.”

I recently bought a new catnip-filled toy for my cat Bella. When these types of toys are fresh from their packaging, the scent is quite strong, although to humans it just smells a bit like dried oregano. And to set the record straight, contrary to unsubstantiated claims, catnip has no drug-like effect on people. But to most cats (there is a small percentage who do not react at all), it possesses an alluring aroma that quickly gets their attention. Every cat reacts somewhat differently to catnip’s intoxicating effect; some race around the house as if on amphetamines; others nod off as if under the influence of narcotics. Whatever their reaction, it is usually brief and before you know it your cat is back to its usual concerns of the day–food, sleep, and litter box duties. It doesn’t go through pangs of withdrawal or try to bribe you into buying another catnip toy to prolong the euphoria.

We really have to hand (or paw) it to our feline friends. They seem to have it all figured out–life that is. Heck, they even have a special cuddle day all their own: tomorrow, June 4th is National Hug Your Cat Day. Perhaps Sir Walter was right. Maybe there IS a lot more going on in that cat brain than we give them credit for. Unlike dogs, who wear both their intentions and emotions on their sleeve, so to speak, one has to dig a bit deeper into the feline psyche in order to fully appreciate how wise they really are.

Be that as it may, make a point this weekend to give your cat an extra special cuddle and, if you don’t have a cat of your own, then watch the “mama cat hugging her kitten” video on YouTube and I guarantee you’ll feel just as warm and fuzzy as if you had a feline in your arms. Then, have a cup of the herbal tisane below, and–what else?–take a good long luxurious nap.
This week’s recipe:

Catnap Tisane
Tisanes, which are simply infused hot beverages made by steeping medicinal herbs in boiling water, have been around for centuries and have utilized the healing properties of everything from Echinacea to sassafras. Here chamomile, long treasured for its nerve soothing qualities, is combined with peppermint and catmint for a great relaxing drink. Prepare the following mix to have on hand so you can quickly steep a cup at a time when needed.

Serves 1

2 teaspoons catnap mixture
6 ounces boiling water
Twist of lemon
Honey to taste

For the catnap mixture:
1 cup dried chamomile
1/2 cup dried peppermint
1/2 cup dried catmint (catnip) *

Place the catnap mixture in a tea ball or use loose and steep in the water for 5 minutes. Remove tea ball, or strain, and add the lemon and honey to serve.

To make the catnap mixture: Combine the herbs in an air tight container and shake gently. Store in a dark place at room temperature.

* Before you start digging into Fluffy’s catnip stash, visit your local health food store where you will find high quality organic herbs perfect for tisane making.


Trying To Remember; Wanting To Forget

May 27, 2011

Like today, it was the Friday launching the long Memorial Day weekend and the group of us who actually showed up to the rehab outpatient evening session was discussing our plans for the weekend. Carl, our counselor, asked us how this weekend would be different from last year, apart from the obvious (no drinking or drugging). In fact, he queried, what did everyone do last Memorial Day weekend?

The five of us sat looking off into space, somehow hoping that an actual vision of last year’s festivities might appear. After a while, it was clear there was no use trying to recall. We were all dumbfounded. We simply couldn’t remember.

Why We Can't Recall What We Did, Said, Experienced
This group revelation immediately prompted a discussion of why it is that when we drink heavily, we often cannot recall what we did, said and experienced. Carl went on to explain. While alcohol affects all aspects of memory, it appears to have the most impact on the transferring of information from short-term memory to long-term memory. And this happens in a dose-dependent manner, meaning that the more alcohol someone consumes, the less information is transferred into long-term memory.

So someone who is intoxicated might not have a problem remembering something that happened two minutes ago, but may have difficulty remembering that same event the next day—and certainly the next year. And if an individual consumes enough alcohol, the formation of long-term memory becomes so impaired that little or no information is transferred into long-term memory and this is experienced as a "blackout," where entire blocks of time cannot be remembered.

Clearly, our group’s memory of Memorial Days past was less than “memorable” thanks to our addiction. Whatever we did, it probably involved drinking, burning something on the barbecue—if not setting alight someone’s blouse—and generally being our obnoxious, inebriated selves. If we really want to know, we can ask our family members and friends who witnessed our escapades and who will reluctantly, with a sneer of disgust, no doubt give us the play-by-play of an incident (similar to many other incidents, I’m sure) that they would probably prefer to forget.

Metyrapone Takes the Edge Off High-Stress Memories
Speaking of forgetting, this week the results of a study were released involving a new drug that may prove beneficial to people who actually remember things far too clearly for comfort. Called metyrapone, it has the ability to reduce levels of cortisol, the stress hormone which, among other things, is partially responsible for our storing and retrieving of memories and may prove helpful to those who are debilitated by post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). When it was administered to a group of volunteers after watching a particularly disturbing video of a bloody accident, the participants were less likely to recall the specific “negative” details of the story a few days later, as opposed to the “neutral” or less emotional aspects of the accident. In a way, the drug appeared to be able to “take the edge off” one’s memory of a previous high-stress event.  

I started to think about who in particular could benefit from a drug therapy such as this. Victims of sexual abuse and violent crime? Most certainly. Family members, particularly children, subjected to a loved one’s disgusting and even cruel drunken behavior? Yes, again. Soldiers witnessing relentless death and massacre, not to mention, in some cases, unspeakable atrocities of war? Absolutely.

Today we are much more aware of the effect that war has on the human brain andpsyche. My father was a navy veteran of WWII and, according to my mother, for years after his service ended he woke with nightmares of battleship attacks and comrades being maimed and killed. Ironically, when he talked about his war days, it was usually with fond memories of places and faces, and a distinct pride in the navy specifically, and the war effort in general. Eventually the nightmares eased and just about ceased. I don’t know if time or the aging process helped “take the edge off.” Alcohol surely didn’t, as my father rarely drank. But many war veterans did, and still do, to find relief for their PTSD. Maybe this new drug will be able to provide an alternative and allow our brave men and women of the service to lead as reasonably normal a life as one can after witnessing such violence and destruction.


Dad Was a Jovial Presence (and a Great Cook)
My Memorial Day weekend group session I mentioned above took place quite a number of years ago, and since then, thankfully, I’ve had many sober and memorable Memorial Day weekends to recall. But this weekend actually marks the 25th anniversary of my father’s burial at Calverton National Cemetery in Long Island. We lost him after a sudden, and all-too-early, heart attack. I remember that since it was Memorial Day weekend, there was much going on there when we arrived. Flags everywhere, young and old veterans in uniform, marching bands, color guard, and all the commemorative regalia you would expect. Although it didn’t ease the extreme sadness I felt that day, somehow it reassured me that my father was being laid to rest in just the right place.

Thankfully, after so many years, it is those happy festivities at Calverton that I remember now, rather than the intense grief. And, of course, there are all the wonderful memories of my dad from throughout the years. He was a great cook and always relished being in the kitchen (no doubt a connection there!). He had a great smile and jovial demeanor, too, and always tried to see the best in people.

Maybe instinctively, our brains somehow know it’s pointless to remember too much negativity and a far healthier thing to recall the positive. In order for life to remain vital and forward moving, a certain amount of repression may be necessary. And for some, especially our war veterans, whose intense memories may get in the way of living, a little help to forget may be an important step in being able to remember what matters.

Memorial Day is, of course, meant to honor those who died in the line of duty and did not have the opportunity to return home with any memories at all. They paid the ultimate sacrifice while the rest of us are left to never forget how senseless war can truly be.

This week’s recipe:

Dad’s Memorial Day Potato Salad

3 pounds red or white potatoes

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

Salt and pepper to taste

1 medium red onion, peeled and diced

1 medium celery stalk, trimmed, peeled, and diced

1 cup of mayonnaise

1/2 cup sour cream

Water for thinning

Paprika for sprinkling


1. Wash and place the potatoes in a large saucepan, add a good pinch of salt, cover with cold water, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer, partially covered, until the potatoes are fork tender, about 30 minutes. Drain and allow to cool somewhat until they are easy to handle. 

2. Using a sharp paring knife, remove the skin and any eyes or blemishes that are present.  Cut the potatoes in 1-inch chunks and place in a large mixing bowl.  Sprinkle the sugar and vinegar over, season with salt and pepper, and using a rubber spatula, carefully toss the potatoes to coat.  Cover and refrigerate until the potatoes are completely cold, about 2 hours.

3. Add the diced onion and celery, mayonnaise, and sour cream, and gently stir to combine. Stir in a bit of water to “loosen” if necessary, sprinkle the top with paprika and refrigerate before serving.

Serves 8



All Jumbled Up

May 20, 2011
This weekend is my neighborhood’s annual garage—or jumble—sale. Each participant has their own sale at their own residence, but collectively the group pitches in for statewide advertising, town permits, and a directory for treasure seekers that indicates what each home has for sale (in general terms, of course) from baby clothing to antiques to household electronics. It will take place on both Saturday and Sunday, rain or shine, and the organizers have arranged for the Lupus Foundation to pick up all our unsold donations on Monday morning. What better way could there be to spring clean, make a little cash, and do a good deed at the same time?

It sounded like a great idea at the time when I signed up four weeks ago. It is now Friday and–to be honest–I haven’t done an iota of preparation. All my stuff that I had planned on going through is still tucked away in basement boxes, stacked as high as the ceiling, not to mention the disarray in the garage itself that needs careful sifting. I never even looked into borrowing some tables to display things on and I most certainly did not buy any cutesy little price tags to label my wares.

What happened? Clearly, I didn’t take into account how busy I would be these past weeks with my work and other obligations and how much effort was truly involved in setting up the sale. In a nutshell, I bit off more than I could chew. A habit that, although universal, is particularly common amongst us recovering folks in more ways than one.

We Over-Commit Ourselves
One obvious way is how we over-commit ourselves. With the best intentions we make promises that we probably already know will be difficult to keep. Still…we make them—to friends; to family; to causes; to garage sales…. Maybe it’s our way of trying to make up for all the disappointments we caused in our active days. (By setting up more situations to disappoint?) I know, it sounds crazy. But I’m sure that in some corner of our recovering brains, it makes perfect sense. I’ll leave the psychological explanations of why we do it to the treatment professionals and instead, try to address what it is we could do when we find ourselves up to our eyeballs in obligations with a mouthful of never ending cud, as it were.

As a chef, I of course decided there must be an analogous answer in the realm of food. Besides, how was I to segue into the recipe of the week?

My Adventures in Weight Loss
For those of you who have been following my recent adventures in weight loss, you’ll know that I’ve been attempting to make better and healthier food selections in the form of salads, vegetables and lean proteins. Making smart choices in the first place is, of course, the ideal way to approach just about everything in life. But, what about when you’re faced with something on your plate that’s not what you expected, or is more than you expected, or—to drive the analogy even further into the ground—is clearly a result of “the eyes being bigger than the stomach” (not unlike my problem with the jumble sale).

Do we surreptitiously scrape the plate into the trash bin and hope nobody notices (Oh, was the jumble sale this weekend? Silly me…I completely forgot!) Or do we violently throw the overloaded plate against the wall in a fit of anger and resentment (Garage sales – bah humbug! What a waste of time!)

There used to be a book out called Everything I Know I Learned From My Cat. It’s all about the simple and valuable lessons of life that we can glean by observing our furry feline friends. Well, I have a new take on the theme: “Everything I know I learned from Weight Watchers” (or Jenny Craig, or whatever diet you subscribe to) the most important lesson being: portion control. Want to join in on the office pizza order? Have just one slice, not four. Don’t want to insult Aunt Helen and her cinnamon babka? Enjoy a few bites. Can’t possibly finish that huge Cobb salad? Ask for a doggy bag. Good lessons for sure.

Keep Thinking Portions
And when it comes to life’s daily trials and tribulations, keep thinking portions. Promised to help your dad with the yard work? Offer to clip hedges for an hour while he rakes. Need to “be there” for your friend who just got divorced? Plan one night a week for dinner and a long chat. We can’t be everywhere, being everything to everyone. At the same time, however, if we bite off something, we really need to chew and swallow it before we reach for the next bite. Simple really. So here’s what I plan to do this weekend.

I’ll skip the garage sale on Saturday and instead spend the afternoon diligently going through boxes in the basement and putting prices on my treasures to sell on Sunday, which promises to be better weather-wise anyway. I won’t even attempt to sift through the stuff in the garage. I’ll wait until the summer and have another jumble sale on my own. And Sunday night, I’ll happily move my unsold items to the curb for the charity pick up and call it a night. On Monday morning I’ll treat myself for a job well-done by sleeping in and ignoring the alarm clock. That, by the way, is something I learned from my cat.

This week’s recipe:

Mrs. Fisher’s Jumble Cakes
(This recipe is found in the first cookbook by a former southern slave, What Mrs. Fisher Knows about Old Southern Cooking: Soups, Pickles, Preserves, Etc., published by the Women’s Cooperative Printing Office in San Francisco in 1881.)

• 1 teacup [cup] of butter
• 1-1/2 teacups [cups] of sugar
• 4 eggs
• 1-1/2 pints [about 3-2/3 cups] flour
• 2 tsp. yeast powder sifted into the flour
• 2 tsp. of cinnamon
• 1/2 teacup [cup] finely chopped almonds  

Beat the butter, sugar and eggs together then add the flour with yeast sifted in. Put cinnamon and almonds in and work the whole up well [meaning mix everything together until well blended].

Roll on the board to thickness of half an inch. Divide dough evenly among family members [meaning a dozen or two]. Roll dough into ropes about 1/2 inch in diameter and cut out a finger’s length [approximately 3 inches] and join together at ends, so as to be round. Grease pans with butter and put to bake until done [350 degrees F. for 15 minutes].

Serving size: 1 “portion”


Confessions of a Produce Addict, Or...

May 13, 2011

How a beet-high flush beats a pair of pears every time.

I’m happy to report that since my last post, I have continued to enjoy creative and healthy salad each day for lunch. I was not offered, and consequently did not indulge in, any carrot cake or cherry pie, although a slice of wonderfully alluring cinnamon babka cried out to me and I admit I answered its irresistible call. Okay, so nobody’s perfect.  

This week my new found determination to eat more fresh vegetables and fruit, however, led me to visit a number of supermarkets and grocers I don’t normally patronize, simply to scour the produce sections for some inspiring, local and seasonal ingredients. I was delighted to come across a number of terrific items I could use, such as cute little baby bok choy for stir frying, delicate mâche lettuce for salads, and reasonably priced, perfectly ripe cactus pears (also called prickly pears for a very obvious reason) which I know is an acquired taste but it is one that my Sicilian grandmother helped me obtain at an early age and, since then, I seek them out as often as possible and sing their praises whenever given the chance. one of these odd looking creations can be a challenge to the uninitiated, but once you get past the rind (by cutting off both ends and carefully peeling it away) you come to the most beautiful, deep-pink-colored fruit to ever grace an eating table as your reward. Take a bite and let the fruit practically melt in your mouth. Don’t try to bite the seeds. Swallow them whole as they are a great source of fiber. The seeds are indeed the main reason that the cactus pear is the lowest-rated fruit on the glycemic index (I think as low as 5!) which makes it one of the healthiest things on the planet you can eat as it’s loaded with nutritious antioxidants without being disruptive to blood sugar, as many other fruits can be. But, as they say, “I digress …”

The true pièce de résistance, as it were, still awaited my discovery and glee. There, nestled ever so gently between the crisp rainbow chard and the delightfully devilish dandelion greens, were bunches of fresh gleaming, golden baby beets, still attached to their vibrant stalks and leaves. Wet and dewy from the produce mister, they called out to me and yes, I answered their siren by carefully placing them in a plastic bag and gently adding them to my cart atop the head of escarole for their bed.

I first got to know these delicious morsels a few years ago when I catered a sober wedding for a terrific couple in recovery. They became part of a first-course salad—the beets that is—which also included butter lettuce leaves, shaved red onion and morsels of creamy gorgonzola cheese. Dare I say, they were the stars of the show—the beets of course—but to be fair, Erin and Bob did make a stellar bride and groom.

As I headed toward the checkout, I imagined the many ways I might tease these gems into releasing their wondrous flavor. Roasting, perhaps with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil? Diced and sautéed with a little butter and fresh thyme? Then I remembered. I’m supposed to be eating healthier with the aim towards losing a bit of weight, which unfortunately in this case means less fat (oil and butter). Okay, I would just gently boil them in lightly salted water until fork tender and then decide their ultimate gourmet fate.

While my little golden beets simmered away (after I removed the stalks and scrubbed the excess dirt from their tiny crevices) I planned the rest of my meal. A broiled tilapia filet with some dried herbs and lemon, and a large tomato salad with onion and a drizzle of olive oil (a little is okay!) and vinegar would be ideal. The beets could easily join the salad, or perhaps I would slice them thinly and season liberally with fresh ground pepper, layering them decoratively around the filet. A cactus pear or two for dessert would finish the meal off in colorful antioxidant style.

To my delight, the beets were done in record time and a fork inserted in the flesh confirmed their tenderness. I drained them and set the colander aside to rest briefly.

When they had cooled just enough to handle comfortably, I used the back of a paring knife to gently remove the thin veil of skin still loosely attached, revealing my golden prize in all its nakedness. Still warm to the touch and fragrant with its unique aroma, I did the unthinkable and instead of transferring it to the cutting board, I quickly popped it into my mouth. Although always an admirer, for the first time I understood why beets have been used for centuries to make sugar. This little beet was nothing less than a bonbon from the candy store bursting with sweetness. I knew at that moment I was forever smitten. Any intervention would be useless.

Needless to say, the remaining baby golden beets never actually made it to the dinner plate. Shamelessly, I lasciviously peeled and devoured them one by one. I’ll confess I felt a strange similarity to sneaking the forbidden drug or drink and selfishly relishing my beet high all to myself. I suppose in some ways, a leopard never really changes its spots (as my mother loved to say)—it just finds a different camouflage. Mine was clearly found in the produce department.

I don’t really recall the rest of the meal. I was still reeling in a drunken beet stupor to take much note. In fact, I don’t think I ever got around to peeling those cactus pears for dessert. There was no need - it would have been like gilding the lily. The meal was already perfect. Not even a full house of cinnamon babka could match the beets-high flush at my table that night. And that’s saying something.

This week’s recipe:

Baby Golden Beets au Naturel

1 bunch baby golden beets, root tip and stalks removed

Good pinch of Kosher salt           


1. Scrub any dirt from the beets under running water and place whole in a medium sauce pan. Fill with cold water to cover and add the salt.

2. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to low, and simmer gently until fork tender, about 12 minutes. Drain, cool slightly, remove remaining skin, and serve immediately.

Image courtesy of



Revisiting My Salad Days

May 06, 2011

Ah yes. Those salad days of yore. A time of youthful inexperience, innocence and indiscretion, when nothing mattered but the pleasure of the moment. Today that’s pretty much how we define this euphemistic expression, but when Shakespeare coined it in Antony and Cleopatra, his words were less affectionate: “My salad days; when I was green in judgment, cold in blood.”

If we were to ask those family members and friends who suffered through our years of addiction, it is likely they would agree more with Shakespeare than the dictionary. Let’s face it: when we were actively seeking and using our drugs of choice, our judgment was greatly impaired, even seemingly naïve, while our actions were often cold and calculating. We would do virtually anything to get what we wanted, consumed by a disease that had a tight hold on our entire being. No, I’m not particularly interested in revisiting those salad days, although usually I will tell my story to groups in treatment before my cooking demos to illustrate that recovery is indeed real and possible for everyone, even an alcoholic chef.

No, today I’m strictly interested in the kinds of salads created in the kitchen. Salads that we eat — or should be eating—full of all kinds of fresh and healthy ingredients. Salads that may even help us lose a bit of weight after the long, cold winter of enjoying copious quantities of high carb and caloric comfort food. (Say that five times fast with your mouth full.)

It's Time To Lose Weight
Last summer I finally quit smoking. It has been about 10 months now and, as expected, some unwanted poundage has definitely emerged. Enough to prompt my doctor to admonish me about my weight and suggest to me that I join Weight Watchers. The nurse glared at him in horror at the thought–“she’s a chef, she doesn’t need that!” It may actually be true and I thank her for her confidence in my abilities. But as we all know, a little support is never a bad thing so I am looking into some online and face-to-face meetings for much needed understanding and cheerleading. In the meantime I have decided to formulate my own diet plan (which I do for other people all the time) and start eating lighter and healthier, beginning with salads.

All this week I had a salad for lunch instead of my usual sandwich and chips. I let the grocery store inspire me with fresh ingredients like baby arugula, yellow cherry tomatoes, and crisp cucumbers. I stocked up on handy items like canned chickpeas, sliced beets and olives to add to the mix. For protein, I added some diced roasted turkey one day and some Asian marinated sliced steak another. I even included a little fruit to add a bit of sweetness–seedless grapes, sliced mango, and diced pear all found a place. For dressing I went ultra light with just a drizzle of olive oil and a splash of vinegar. With the medley of flavors already included, the dressing was simply the little bit of glue that was needed to tie it all together.

Make a Note of the Ingredients
I know what you’re thinking. Leave it to a chef to dream up such wonderful salad combos. How could I possibly do it myself? For those who don’t have the time or feel they haven’t the ability or inclination, check out all the ready packs of salads in your produce section that have everything in them you need, including the dressing. If you come across a combination that you particularly like, make a note of the ingredients and next time purchase the separate parts to make the whole. You’ll find it to be not only far more economical but much better tasting to boot. And go light on the dressing. That’s always the calorie killer that will turn your healthy lunch into a high fat and sugar monstrosity.

So that’s my plan and I’m sticking to it even if I fall off the wagon one day and succumb to an offer of carrot cake or cherry pie with ice cream. I’ll simply head back to my kitchen and create another delish and healthy lunch to keep me on track. Hopefully, I’ll be revisiting those salad days, over and over again.

This week’s recipe:

Spinach Salad with Blackberries and Almonds

This unusual combination of sweet blackberries, crunchy almonds, and creamy goat cheese will have you hooked on first bite and provide a good dose of anti-oxidants at the same time.

1 1/2 Tablespoons olive oil

1 Tablespoon raspberry vinegar

Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

4 cups baby spinach, washed and dried

2/3 cup fresh blackberries

2 Tablespoons sliced almonds

1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese

Handful croutons

1. In a small bowl whisk together olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Place spinach in a large bowl. Pour dressing over, toss well to coat, and transfer to a large platter or individual plates.

2. Distribute blackberries, almonds, cheese, and croutons evenly over spinach and serve.

Serves 2



The Brunch Bunch: Resurrecting Your Inner Host

Apr 29, 2011
It occurred to me that my Easter and Passover menus might have sparked a bit of trepidation if you are feeling stressed by the idea of entertaining family and friends. But the advent of spring and the concept of renewal is as good a time as any to resurrect the spirit of hosting, which can be one of the most empowering—and surprisingly enjoyable—endeavors of early recovery.

April 28, 2011 Clearly, if you have any doubts as to whether attending or hosting a holiday party will jeopardize your recovery, skipping festivities may be the safest thing to do. But, if you feel like doing a little entertaining, throwing a holiday or spring brunch party can be a great way to ease into a newly sober social life. 
Of all the types of get-togethers you could host, a brunch is where guests are least likely to expect free-flowing alcohol. Chances are even your drinking guests will defer to a nonalcoholic refreshment or cup of something hot, especially if the weather is not yet summer-like. Here are a few tips to keep in mind in order to make your brunch a success:
  • Small is best. Don’t overwhelm yourself with more than eight or ten guests. Only invite as many people as you feel comfortably able to handle, even if it’s just three or four. Be sure each guest knows that you are not drinking any longer so they do not suddenly appear at the door with a bottle for the host. Your nearest and dearest friends and family will respect your tremendous effort at recovery and will not want to jeopardize your health, so don’t be afraid to tell them that booze will not be served.
  • Specify the hours. On your invitation or in verbal communication, state the exact time of the party. For example, 11:00 A.M. until 2:00 P.M. This not only helps you organize your serving, but also narrows the time frame for what might initially be a somewhat stressful endeavor for you, especially if this is your first time entertaining sober. Short but sweet is a good place to start. 
  • Stick to paper and plastic. Make clean-up easier by using disposable plates, napkins, utensils and cups with holiday designs and colors that add to the seasonal festivity. Remove all drinking glasses related to alcohol from your cupboard, if you haven’t already, in case someone unknowingly grabs one to pour a drink. A sudden visual trigger, especially during a stressful event, could pose a problem. 
  • Provide plenty of nonalcoholic beverages. There are so many new alcohol-free beverages to choose from these days including microbrewed sodas, tea blends and sparkling fruit drinks. Offer these or try your hand at making a zero-proof cocktail that is unusual and celebratory. Also have available individual cans or bottles of fruit juices and water and, of course, coffee—both regular and decaf. Borrow a coffee urn or rent one from a party supply shop and make the coffee half an hour before arrival time. If it’s cold out, consider adding an urn of hot water to make specialty teas or cocoa.
  • Don’t attempt to cook everything. Remember that you don’t have to make everything from scratch. Supplement your cooking with store-bought selections. For example, buy bagels and croissants if you are busy making frittatas or omelets. Or, if you enjoy baking muffins and scones, consider buying ready-made quiches or heat-and-serve hors d’oeuvres to supplement. Choose a menu that can be prepared ahead, with little left to do before people arrive.
  • Enlist some help. Ask a close friend or spouse to help you during the party by bringing out food platters or clearing empty plates and cups. This will lessen your job and allow you to mingle and relax with your guests. An occasional check-in from a sober buddy or sponsor—someone close who understands your trepidations—can be invaluable. Don’t be afraid to ask for emotional support.
  • Enjoy yourself! Parties were designed for fun, so be sure to enjoy your own. If you’ve never “partied” without the alcohol, this will be a great way to convince yourself that good times don’t depend on it. And don’t forget to give yourself a huge pat on the back when it’s over for a job well done!
Fuzzy Wuzzy Mocktail
Peach and apricot nectars, as well as a splash of orange and lime, come together to create a mocktail that’s ideal for serving at brunch and particularly delicious with croissants and muffins.  
Serves 1
1/2 cup peach nectar
1/3 cup apricot nectar
Splash of orange seltzer
Dash of Rose’s sweetened lime juice
Orange slice and maraschino cherry, for garnish
Stir together the nectars in a medium-sized glass and add a few ice cubes. Add a splash of orange seltzer and a little Rose’s lime cordial, stir, and garnish with the orange slice and cherry.

Spring in My Step, If Not in the Air

Apr 08, 2011
Here in NJ, although Spring officially began nearly three weeks ago, there is little evidence that it is in the air—or anywhere else for that matter. Except for the brave hyacinths and daffodils that have emerged in spite of the cold ground and yes, even snow, that we were subjected to a little over a week ago, I have yet to see many hints of Spring’s arrival, much less its fever. Mostly I am still hiking up my thermostat for warmth and spending my nights between flannel sheets. Even my cat is sleeping nearly 24/7, as if it were still January.

Having had a particularly brutal winter–true for many areas of the country–it’s no wonder we are impatient for a change in season. Unfortunately, the current climate trends are not cooperating and I’m running out of gleeful anticipation. So here’s what I’ve decided. I’m going to dip into my magic recovery toolbox and pull out the “act as if” card. If Spring won’t oblige I’ll simply pretend its here.

Today—despite the dismal cloudy weather and imminent cold rain— I am donning my linen capris and sandals along with my pink T-shirt and heading off to the local garden center to pick out some pansies for my window boxes, after which I’ll stop in at a

nearby café where I usually sit outside and sip a cool mocha frappe. I’ll be the one wearing sunglasses with my face directed up at the sky, “as if” basking in the bright sun. Then I’ll take a walk with a spring in my step as I look into the windows of the antique shop, smile at all the passersby and maybe even hum a few bars from “Walking on Sunshine” or some similarly exuberant song. Okay, maybe we’ll draw the line with the obnoxiously exuberant song, but I think you get the message.

I’m continually amazed at the valuable lessons we folks in recovery have at our fingertips to utilize throughout our lives, each and everyday. I’ve often thought there should be a Twelve Step program for curmudgeons or people who have forgotten how to simply live in the moment and take life a day, hour, or minute at a time. If attendance were mandatory I am sure the rooms would be crowded beyond capacity.

So, if this weekend you are finding yourself wishing for something you don’t yet have, try pretending you already have it and enjoy all the good feelings that come with believing. Hoping for that new job? Walk tall and briskly like you’ve just been hired. Waiting for money to arrive? Feel the confidence of being rich in all the ways that matter. Hoping she says “yes”? Feel the glow of love in Springtime. Although if you live in NJ you’ll have to imagine Springtime, too. No matter. I’ve got enough spring in my step for both of us. Besides, I’m walking on sunshine…   



We Won’t Get Fooled Again

Apr 01, 2011
Yes, it’s that time again–April Fool’s Day–when friends call us up to announce you’ve won the Power Ball lottery, just to take it away a few seconds later. “April Fool!” they blurt out. Gee thanks. Very funny. Ha ha.

Since April Fool’s Day falls on a Friday this year, I wonder if some people might consider the next two days to be April Fool’s weekend. Sort of like Memorial Day weekend or Labor Day weekend. Can you imagine the kinds of antics and farces people might dream up if they knew they could carry a joke through the entire weekend? Perish the thought.

Some of us are particularly gullible when it comes to being fooled. I was recently fooled by the website that claims to breed the miniature giraffes that have become famous thanks to a weird commercial for DirecTV. There’s even a webcam on the site so you can follow Vladimir the Bull giraffe on his daily adventures in the barn, when he’s not off impregnating female miniature giraffes. His role as sire is quite important as there is apparently a waiting list of 95,000 or more if you hope to be the proud adoptive parent of a baby miniature giraffe. Okay…I admit it. I’m pretty naïve when it comes to anything having to do with cute little cuddly animals. But I’m sure (at least I’m hoping) that I wasn’t the only dumb bunny out there. The internet is certainly rife with all kinds of claims that are probably not true, but once people start repeating these claims, they can sometimes morph into downright unmitigated fact, regardless of any bona fide evidence. Which kind of brings me to my topic today.

We used to call them “Old Wives’ Tales”–those supposed facts that have been handed down to us that we accept as the gospel truth without realizing we’re being fooled just like the “old wives” (or is it the tales that are old?) who repeated them. Case in point: “Alcohol burns off when cooked.”

"Where's the Proof?"
I’ll be the first to admit that when I was told this in cooking school, I swallowed the myth hook, line and sinker. I was even skeptical when my rehab counselor told me otherwise years later. “Where’s the proof?” I asked. Well, as the old wives also said (they must get it right sometimes), the “proof is in the pudding” or, in the case of a 1992 study titled “Alcohol retention in food preparation,” it is in just about any dish you care to make with wine, beer, or other spirits.

The study revealed that between 5 and 85 percent of the alcohol added to a recipe, depending on the cooking method and some other kitchen particulars, remains in the final dish. In fact, flambéing—that spectacular show of flames that professional chefs love to do—usually retains about 75 percent of the alcohol. Its not the alcohol that’s burning but the fumes that are igniting that explains why a bottle of alcohol exposed to the air will lose more of its potency from evaporation than from any other process. It also explains why drinkers don’t send back the flamed Ouzo or other flamboyantly lit beverage they ordered with a complaint that it had suddenly become alcohol-free.

I’ve heard from many people in recovery how they were alarmingly fooled when their order of Chicken with Marsala actually gave them a buzz when they got up from the table, despite the insistence of the waiter and chef that the alcohol burned off in the cooking. Interestingly, the food scientists who did the study, which was published in Journal of the American Dietetic Association, concluded that eating some foods prepared with alcohol might end up being equivalent to drinking a quarter of a glass of wine or more.

Although clearly not enough to get us drunk, it’s definitely enough to awaken those sleeping brain cells and perhaps steer us in the wrong direction. No, a minor slip such as this is not by any means a predictor of relapse if we are vigilant about working our program. But, why risk it? Frankly, I don’t care for the taste any longer —as well as its numbing effect on my palate.  

Ask for a Substitute Like Grape Juice
So, the bottom line is, if you happen to be out dining this weekend, by all means try to fool your dinner companion with the miniature giraffe story. But don’t allow yourself to be fooled by a well-intentioned waiter or chef who still believes that the white wine added to your veal entrée has disappeared. It hasn’t.

What’s more, the aroma and flavor is there too. Why else add it to the recipe? If you are particularly keen on ordering a dish that happens to be prepared with alcohol, ask politely if they could make it without the wine or even replace it with a substitute liquid like a little grape juice with a splash of lemon. With all the people who suffer from food allergies, restaurants have learned to be more accommodating, so don’t be afraid to ask.

On that note, I see that Vladimir is back on the webcam, so I’ll have to sign off for now…. Awww, look at him in the bubble bath!  

Trading the Bottle for a Muffin Top

Mar 25, 2011

The results of an intriguing, although not particularly surprising, study were released a couple of months ago that link obesity to alcoholism. Apparently if you have a history of alcohol and drug dependence in your family, it is more likely you will also be coping with weight issues. My first reaction to this news was: well—DUH!—take away the booze and we all start eating more carbs and junk food and before you know it—VOILA! —the old muffin top appears over our jeans.

When I took a step back, however, and refrained from making it all about me, as we addicts often do, I started to really think about what this study implied and had a kind of light-bulb moment regarding my family. Feel free to substitute your own family members in the following scenario:

Neither of my parents were heavy drinkers. But my dad, who struggled nearly all his life with his weight, used to get up in the middle of the night, make a batch of delicious homemade fudge, and proceed to eat most of it in front of the TV until he fell asleep.

It was my maternal grandfather who had a problem with alcohol and drank himself into an early grave just after the Depression. My mother, who was nothing more than a social drinker, spent the majority of her life in codependency mode between her father’s problem, my oldest brother’s drug addiction that resulted in his early death, and my own alcoholism. She did, however, voraciously play the state lottery every day (a genetic connection research has already revealed.)


Recently I visited my remaining living brother, who rarely drinks but struggles with his weight and an overactive sweet tooth. Post dinnertime will usually find him asleep in the recliner in front of the TV. I won’t deny I’ve followed suit more often than not after a carb-rich meal.


So, why mention all this? 

Since food appears to activate the same reward center in the brain as drugs and alcohol do (as well as gambling and risk taking) there’s a good chance that many of us may be trading one addiction for another as a form of self-medication—at least on some level and particularly in the early and more difficult years of our recovery. What I think we should take from this is perhaps a better and more compassionate understanding of our families and the shared genetic struggles we apparently all deal with in various forms. Who knows? Maybe we could even help each other instead of pointing fingers.

Although it's unlikely that your overweight brother will suddenly trade his addiction to Krispy Kreme donuts for White Label Scotch, thereby prompting you to intervene with Twelve Step experience (although stranger things have happened), you may be able to provide support by approaching your weight problems together and sharing with him what you know about taking on an addiction.

I guess the bottom line is that this study reinforces the fact there are more similarities than differences in our crazy, often times dysfunctional families than we care to admit and maybe, if we change our perspective just a little, a good deal of mutual respect and healing could result if we acknowledge that connection.

Happy connecting…



Keeping Diet Simple With the Glycemic Index

Mar 18, 2011

The other day I saw no less than 20 new diet and self-improvement health books on display at the bookstore guaranteeing a new you in 10 days, 10 weeks, and even just three hours (wow, I like that one!). In reality, how much we eat and how much we exercise is really the key to sustained weight loss. Without creating long-lasting healthy habits, we’re pretty much doomed to yo-yo dieting.

Those of us in recovery we have the added dilemma of food cravings–those “must-have” feelings that often occur when alcohol and drugs are removed from our lives. Sugar and carbs are most commonly craved, while some people relish spicy food that releases endorphins and makes us feel better. By the way, there’s an article in the March/April issue of Renew, "Why We Crave Sugar," that sheds light on the subject. Suffice it to say, however, that trying to diet and satisfy cravings at the same time can be a tough prospect, but it’s not impossible. With a few helpful nutritional tools under our belts and some ideas for healthy snacking, we can conquer our cravings and improve ourselves at the same time.

One of the most valuable tools we have is the Glycemic Index (GI), which has unfortunately been manipulated and redefined to fit popular diets like South Beach and Atkins. Contrary to the sensationalized victimization of carbohydrates, not all carbs are bad! I thought it would be worth trying to sift through the fluff and get to the facts, so here goes:

The Glycemic Index tells us how much our blood sugar rises after eating a particular carbohydrate. On a scale of 0 to 100, with pure glucose set at the top, carbohydrates are classified as low (55 or less), moderate (56 to 70), and high (greater than 70). Those carbohydrates that are rapidly digested and cause quick spikes in blood glucose are not particularly good for us because they can put stress on the pancreas, which must produce a flood of insulin in order to bring glucose levels down to normal. For diabetics, in particular, who need to monitor their blood sugar levels, high glycemic-rated foods can be particularly disruptive. And, for all of us, quick rises and falls in blood sugar can negatively affect our moods and our appetite. Hundreds of foods have been tested for a Glycemic Index rating, and there are numerous publications and online sources where you can view a complete or partial list.

In general, highly processed foods that are easy to digest often have higher GI values, while those that are in a more natural state tend to be lower on the GI scale. Fiber and fat content, as well as acidity, all affect the rate at which carbohydrates are metabolized and, ultimately, predict their GI rating. Since we normally eat foods in combination with one another, we can lower the effects of a high glycemic-rated food by consuming it with lower glycemic-rated carbohydrates, protein, fat, or fiber. This means that basically no food is really off limits—it is the combination in which we eat these foods and the overall balance of high and low GI-rated foods that will determine whether or not the final effects on our blood sugar—and ultimately our moods and appetite—are detrimental or acceptable.

So how does this translate into actual eating? Good question.

Well, basically it means that an oatmeal cookie (made with whole grains) is healthier to eat than a sugar cookie (pretty much all refined white flour). Same goes for whole wheat bread as opposed to white bread, and Raisin Bran Flakes rather than Cocoa Puffs. Just try to imagine how far the actual food you are eating is from its original state. The more processed something is the less it looks like it did in nature and, consequently, the less healthy it is to eat. Pretty simple really. Within the healthy choices, some are more healthy than others. But for the most part, if we try to include a good amount of whole grains, vegetables, and fruits in our diet, the better off we will be. And that’s a good enough new start for anyone who may also be coping with the challenges of recovery.

If a complete makeover in the diet department is too daunting a prospect but you’re still feeling the need to make a change, keep it simple. Resolve to eat one less donut and one more bran muffin. Or switch your snacking from Chips Ahoy! to Nutri-Grain. Whatever you do, congratulate yourself for the effort. It’s all part of the new you.
I’m really excited about starting up the conversation with you on one of my favorite topics—eating—and look forward to your comments in the days, weeks and years ahead.

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