Monday, December 5, 2016


A Kaleidoscope is a tube consisting of loosely assembled mirrors and pieces of coloured glass or paper, whose reflections produce changing patterns.  It’s a visual festival for the eye when one peers through the small opening at one end of the tube.  

 And have you been to Houston Texas lately?  There, you will discover a mosaic hub of cultures and peoples coming together in the workplace, schools, sporting events, and social gatherings, as friends, in marriage, and in family.  Learning, growing and expanding, as a community.  Houston is officially known as the most diverse city in the U.S., more so than New York, Los Angeles or Sacramento. 

What do Houston and Kaleidoscopes have to do with one another?   I see them as parallels to the mixture of colours, patterns, and cultures to the culinary term, “fusion.”  Fusion, in the world of food, is when a chef combines different cuisines into a single eating experience.  This integration of culinary traditions embraced by chefs began receiving recognition in the ‘70’s.  Those fortunate souls residing in Houston, a true melting-pot, can be viewed as a collective expression of Fusion, in the way they live and most importantly, to me and this Blog, the way they eat. 

Many of you, either deliberately or inadvertently, have experienced dishes that fall into the category of Fusion Cuisine.  One such restaurant is SushiSamba, in Las Vegas.  One of the few restaurants I’ll trek to the Strip for.  Here the blending of Brazilian, Peruvian and Japanese cuisines impart unto my taste buds vibrant and never-before, tasty pleasures.  The Signature cocktails don’t hurt either.  Consider California Cuisine, inspired by the foods and dishes of Italy, Mexico and France.  Taking a traditional dish from Italy, such as gnocchi, prepared with non-traditional ingredients from Mexico.  Think a spicy, Southwest sauce serving as a bed for those soft, pillows of pasta to bask in.  Tex-Mex and Pacific Rim are both quite common.  Less common, but perhaps, offering an even more lively party for your taste buds would be Chinese-Indian dishes.  How about Portuguese, Dutch and British combinations?

Many of us have grown up eating Fusion Cuisine without giving it a second thought.  Personally, I love my family’s back-story of Italian and Puerto Rican presentations at the dinner table.  I would never think of preparing a Thanksgiving meal without a side dish of lasagna or other pasta wedged in between roasted Brussels sprouts, smashed potatoes, stuffing and cranberry relish!

My cookbook, One 4-Ounce Serving – A Collection Of Food Stories And Recipes, has several dishes that combine cultures, old family recipes prepared with a few twists as well as adventures into a terrain of  ingredients.  The book is a culmination of my supper club gatherings with the Friends Amid Food, where we pulled together meals that will interest and delight everyone at your home table. 

One such example is my Cinnamon And Chicken With Plantains.  A savory, one-pot dish, infusing savory, garlicky chicken, embraced by an earthy sauce of broth, seasonings and cinnamon.  The plantains offer a starchy alternative to potatoes, while adding colour with upbeat consequences.  The mixture of sweet with savory and the ease of this comfort-food, dish makes it one of my favourites.  Perfect for this time of year. 

I’m not going to share the recipe you this time.  Rather I urge you to take a look and view my book on Amazon or visit my website:

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Fries, who doesn't love 'em?

The speed at which I rode my bike gave way to a warm, summer breeze that blew through my long, unruly, auburn hair.  I was coasting my way along Castro Street towards home.  Downtown was uninhabited, though it was only 7:00 p.m., but the year was 1972. Mountain View California was not yet home to the Dot-Commers crowd.

 Struggling to keep the roller skates I had tied together, laces around my neck, skates flying down, behind my arms, I tried not to lose my balance.  I loved riding without hands, arms outstretched one extending north the other to the south.  My back was erect and my head held high, I felt as giddy as a school girl.  Probably because I was a giddy school girl.

I had just finished my shift at A & W.  Working part time as a carhop, I didn’t always wear my skates, but even then, knew enough to appreciate the impending end of an era.  Though I was deep into tie-dye, bell bottoms, and belts with riveted holes from end to the other, I would, on occasion  embrace traditions of the 1950’s.  Besides as a dancer, wearing skates while working, only helped to strengthen my legs.

With less than an hour to get home and ready myself for a date with my boyfriend Kyle, I was committed to taking a quick shower.  Not wanting him to suffer breathing in my usual perfume of burgers and fries, an inadvertent aromatic I wore regularly.

I clamored into the house and tossed my skates onto the hardwood floor with a crash and a clunk.
What ever happened to my skates anyway?!

    “Hey!”  My dad called out.  “What’s the rush?”

“Meeting Kyle,” I shouted, more loudly than I had intended.

“Well you’re not leaving those skates there on the floor,” Dad reprimanded.
“Okay,” I answered in a more respectful manner.  Though I made no effort to go back and pick them up.  Instead, I scurried into the bathroom, stripped off my orange culottes and white blouse with brown piping.  This was still the official uniform for those who served Papa Burgers, Mama Burgers, Baby Burgers, with a side of fries and the proverbial root beer float. 
I just remember serving the Mama, Papa and Baby burgers.  Not sure about Grandpa and Older Brother here. 

Deciding to forgo washing my hair, I loosely pinned it up.  Suddenly, I realized, though I’d been working around food for the last 7 hours, I hadn’t eaten all day.  Lying on my bed in order to zip up skin- tight jeans, then ripping the tag off my new peasant blouse and donning a pair of clogs, I hurriedly made my way to the kitchen.   I stirred a large amount of Hershey’s chocolate syrup into a tall glass of cold milk, as my step-mother’s brother-in-law stood watching.  With a quizzical look, he asked, “Is that all you’re going to have for dinner?”

“Yup,” I replied smiling.  “Gotta get going.”

My dad walked in shaking his head at the brief exchange he had overheard.  Stepping up to the stove, he gave the Amatriciana sauce he had simmering a good stir then a taste.  “Chocolate milk is her favourite meal,” he retorted, adding a pinch of finishing salt then offering me a taste of the sauce from his wooden spoon.  I obliged then immediately regretted my decision.  The sample of dad’s rich tomato sauce awakened my hunger.  As I dipped my chocolate coated spoon into the pot for another taste of sauce, I noticed him eyeing me up and down.  Lately Dad had been scolding me for wearing cut-offs and skirts he deemed too short, or blouses cut too low, telling me I was sending the wrong kind of message.  Since I wasn’t in anything too revealing, Dad instead made commentary about my hair.  I smiled, leaned in to give him a kiss, tossed a wave to my uncle and turned to leave.

Folding myself into my little brown Austin America, I had dubbed “Bosco,” after another popular chocolate syrup, I drove towards Moody Road.  The sun had grown dim behind gray clouds and spots of rain began to fall on my windshield.  Neil Sedaka sang “Laughter In The Rain” on the radio and I could smell the beginnings of autumn in the air.  My favourite time of year.  I couldn’t help myself.  I joined in with Neil, and sang the chorus with heartfelt enthusiasm – “Ooooh, how I love the rainy days and the happy way I feel inside. . . .”

By the time I arrived, I was indeed happy.  Kyle’s dog Honey ran up to meet me.  I’m not much of a dog lover, but Honey was an exception.  A gentle, golden retriever, with a sweet disposition, Honey never ran and jumped on me.  Instead, she would meander her way over then sit and wait until I reached out to pet her.   “Where’s your daddy?” I asked Honey.  I looked up to see Kyle was further up the gravel road, feeding the horse he was caring for while the owners of the property were in Ireland. 

After our usual greeting of hugs and kisses mixed with a fair amount of groping, as Honey watched through soft, approving eyes, Kyle stated he hadn’t eaten all day and was ready to forage for some food.

   “What do you feel like, Deborah?”

     “I don’t know.  I’m not terribly hungry.  I just had some chocolate milk.”

     “That’s not a meal,” scoffed Kyle.

     “So I heard,” I smiled back.

I followed Kyle to the small bungalow he was renting, a studio furnished only with a twin bed, a dresser and a hot plate atop a mini-fridge set in what doubled as an open closet.  His few shirts were hanging on a pole on the right side.  He prepared a cup of hot tea for me since the weather had quickly changed and rain was now pelting down like pebbles .  Kyle had jumped into the shower and began calling out a list of fast food restaurants he thought I might like.  “How about In & Out Burger?  Burger King?  Jack-in the crack?”

     “I want to sit down and have a glass of wine.  None of those places have wine,” I whined.

“Too Taste-T? Oh wait, no wine there either, just beer.” Kyle continued.  “Frankie Johnny and Luigi’s?  Oh!  I know where they have some great fast food and wine!” Kyle exclaimed.

     “Anything but A & W,” I reminded.

We went to Clarke’s, an old fashioned burger joint with a fireplace and an extensive fast food menu.  In business for 50 some odd years then, and still in operation today, Clarke’s continues to boast an offering of burgers from All American charcoal fired, to Canadian, from French to South of the Border, Hawaiian and Turkey.  Best of all, a selection of fries for even the most jaded.  Those of us who really know pappas, pommes frites or any other name for these crispy,wedges of tubers, submerged in piping hot, clean oil not once, but twice, creating a crispy outside with a moist and tender inside, we're in our own version of gastromic heaven at Clarke's. 
The offerings at this family restaurant went beyond anything I had ever experienced.  Kyle ordered a cold brew with his Clarke’s Burger, I went with a robust Zinfandel alongside my order, which consisted of every  style of French Fry offered;  traditional, sweet potato, garlic and chili.   I assured Kyle I would share with him. 
Sweet Potatoes at their best!

Crinkle Cut 

Garlic and Fresh Parsley

Some may not know, the origin of the French Fry, is not French at all (though that is still debated) but  hails from Belgium.  The story goes; that the poor villagers living in Meuse Valley, typically fried the fish they caught from the nearby river.  During the winter months, when the river would freeze over, they took to frying up other food items in the same manner they prepared their fresh fish.  The potato being one of them.  When American soldiers were stationed in Belgium during World War I, they took to calling the fried potatoes French Fries, as French was and is the primary language spoken in Belgium.  Hence the French are given credit for creating these salty, savory sides to our burgers and sandwiches. 

I kept my promise and shared the panoramic choice of fries placed in front of me with Kyle.  Though it took two glasses of wine and three beers, we emptied those small paper boats, lined with red and white gingham paper, leaving only small bits of fried deliciousness behind.  The stirrings of hunger after tasting Dad’s sauce were quieted in a most satisfactory manner.  

* Since it is so easy to Google the wide variety of preparations for excellent fries, I thought I'd introduce, for those who aren't familiar, a recipe for one of my very favourite ways to eat fries; Poutin!


4 large russet or sweet potatoes, skins on, cut into 1/4 " wedges
2 quarts peanut oil                                           12 oz. cheese curds
1/2 quart good quality beef gravy (homemade would be better)  1/2 cup chopped fresh chives or scallions
salt, pepper, and other seasonings of choice, such as; freshly minced garlic, freshly minced Italian parsley, Italian seasoning, Cajun seasoning etc.  
Kitchen Spider or you can use a slotted spoon. 

Place sliced potatoes in a large bowl of cold water and allow to sit for about 20 minutes.  Drain the water and soak potatoes again in more clean water for another 15 minutes.  Drain potatoes completely and allow to dry thoroughly on paper towels.   

Using a large Dutch oven or other large, heavy pot, heat oil to 350 degrees.  Carefully lower potatoes into hot oil with a slotted spoon or spider.  Do not over-crowd the pot, you will likely need to do this in batches.  Cook potatoes until lightly browned, about 5 minutes.  Turn off heat and remove potatoes from oil and again, place in a single layer on clean paper towels to cool completely.   

Meanwhile, heat gravy in a small saucepot until hot.   Set to side until ready to use. 

Reheat oil in pot to 425 degrees adding potatoes to pot, in batches if necessary, cooking until they are golden brown, about 5-7 more minutes.  Turn off heat and remove potatoes from oil and again, place in a single layer on paper towels then immediately season with salt, pepper and choice of other seasoning.     

To assemble: divide fries among 4-6 individual bowls.  Top each with 1/2 the cheese curds, spoon desired amount of gravy over the top then garnish with remaining cheese curds and chives or scallions.  

This dish is a one-bowl wonder!  Perfect with a cold beer or glass of white wine.  Comfort food at its best!   

* You can find fresh cheese curds, also known as "squeaky cheese"at Guido's Dairy, Lakeview Cheese or Quality Food Mart in Las Vegas.    

Sunday, September 11, 2016


Oh my gosh!  They're on my head!

     So you forgot where you put your glasses.  No big deal, you always do that.  I usually end up finding mine on top of my head.  Ever walk out to the garage to get something and can’t remember what it was you went out there for?  Me too.  “If it’s not written down, I won’t remember,”   a common response for many of us, no matter how old we are.  Certainly, you've experienced just being introduced to someone and immediately forgetting their name.  I’ve had a problem with that issue my entire life.  Do I ever remember to employ some of those “name association games” suggested to me by my business associates and friends?  No.

    Where the memory slope becomes slippery, is when frequency and duration increase to the degree, you can no longer ignore the issue.  Incidents such as not being able to recall the name of one our best friends comes to mind.  Or driving along a street we've traveled up and down for a number of years yet we've suddenly lost our bearings.  It's terribly disheartening when your sense of direction goes askew and you’re not sure which turn to take or which way to go.  Nothing looks familiar anymore.    

Or missed appointments!  Oh my gawd, the missed appointments!  Events like showing up for a party with a nice bottle of wine and the best hostess gift ever.  You arrive looking spiffy in a new outfit feeling pretty good about yourself but alas.  When the front door opens your girlfriend and her husband are huddled in the doorway looking far less spiffy in their bathrobes, hair disheveled, staring at you like you’re crazy.  Your girlfriend murmurs, “ummm the brunch is next Sunday.”  Your hostess gift instantly becomes an apology gift.  Do mistakes like these mean we have Alzheimer’s?

     When I was in the midst of parenting my four young children, they will tell you, there was more than one occasion when I stood in a parking crying because I couldn’t remember where I parked the car.  However, my lLosing things, a frequent occurrence back then could be attributed to other reasonable causes.  For example, Addison, who as a toddler, would hide my keys in the pot of one of our house plants.  Or, for some God-knows-why reason, would hide his favourite pair of shoes, which he insisted upon wearing whenever we left the house, under the door mat, in the cat box or some other oddball place.  And of course Sharon loved using every headband, hair-tie and ribbon on her Barbies.  This was most prevalent when I was pressed for time.  Rushing to get myself and kids out the door I'd go frantically looking for something to put in her or Natalia’s hair, only to find that particular drawer in the bathroom was barren.  
This was back in the days before key alarms were invented.

     Often our forgetfulness can be attributed to over-scheduling ourselves to the point of overwhelm, job stress or kids and family.  And it’s true as we age we do indeed become a bit spacier.  I always like to explain as a consequence of having SO much information, SO many responsibilities and memories in my head, it is completely understandable should I forget things now that I’m over 55.  My brain is simply saturated with data resulting in longer think times before I can pull up information.  It is, therefore reasonable to explain it isn't alway us or our fractured thinking that are the issues, it's the kids, grandkids, or spouses who may be the unintended culprits. 

     What makes general forgetfulness and Alzheimer’s different is that frequency and duration I mentioned earlier as well as the science of it all.  I've asked myself how often am I forgetting dates and missing appointments?  Do I find myself going to Costco to purchase an entire case of cheater glasses, so when I lose the first, second and third pair I still have ten more in the box to wear and lose?  Do I find myself confused while driving often enough, I’m asking friends and family if I can ride with them to restaurants, classes or meetings? Have I begun to engage in strategies and practices to cover-up or hide my forgetfulness?

     While age brings wisdom it also brings on a whole host of physiological changes.  Aches, pains, wrinkles, slowing metabolisms, increased blood pressure and plaque, plaque, plaque.  On our teeth, in our veins and on the cells of our brains.  And there’s the rub.  The science of it.  That plaque muddles  the communication between receptors in our brains, interfering with cognitive thinking and reasoning.  Not being able to pull up a  familiar word I need to explain a concept or tell a story.  Speaking in jumbled sentences, sounding more like I’m “buffering” rather than speaking English.  Resulting in others not being able to understand a damn word I’m saying.  Listening to myself I realize I don’t understand a damn word I’m saying.  All that good wisdom going to waste. 

     When evidence indicates we are not simply suffering from an over-engaged, hectic life, or unusual stress, or the typical forgetfulness associated with aging, do we find a comfy chair, pull an afghan up over our knees and call it quits?  Do we spend our days quietly reading, watching game shows or staring out windows watching the world go by?  Or do we take medications that haven’t been improved  upon for almost 20 years?  There's news about a new medication.  But as explained to me, this new pill is really just a combination of two older medications.  And, in case you don't know, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s.  Nor does there seem to be much money generated for research either. 

    Be warned Baby-Boomers, we are aging.  If you haven’t already experienced Alzheimer’s directly via a family member or friend, I hate to be Debbie-the-downer, but it’s likely you will. What to do, what to do.  As a chef, I am a proponent of using food for healing, in conjunction with medication if one so chooses and a good dose of support from family and friends.  

The chef in me went right to work researching foods deemed beneficial for slowing the build-up of brain plaque.  I found there are many, seasonings and spices too.   Smart food choices consumed in conjunction with regular exercise seems to be the remedy or proactive approach to staving off most illnesses and diseases.  I believe this to be a simple recipe to living an active life and staying relevant.  

     Turmeric, blueberries, salmon, kale, legumes, spinach, olive oil (uncooked), oranges, sardines, coconut oil, and yes, red wine.  All those foods rich in Omega-3.  Beginning to sound familiar?  Even coffee and dark or bittersweet chocolate (in moderation) contribute to healthy minds and bodies.  Foods to stay away from include sugar, fats, sugar, red meat, sugar, and sugar.  Get the idea?  
One of the best antioxidants you can eat!

Nancy taught me to add this spice to my freshly brewed coffee.
I've always added cinnamon to my freshly ground beans along wth turmeric.
    I’m going to be honest, while Nancy and I hiked our way through the Central Italian country-side, we did start each day with a good, strong cup of espresso and a pastry (yes, I know).  But remember, we were hiking 5-10 miles every day so we were working it off.  There are no GMO’s in the produce we enjoyed, no preservatives in the bread we ate, no super-sized, heaping platefuls of food on our plates but there was always wine with lunch and dinner.  And to note; there are far fewer aged adults with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) in the general population of Italy than the U.S.  Obviously what we eat matters, so do chosen methods of processing our food.

     Nancy and I made that trip along portions of the Franciscan Trail, hiking between 7,628 steps per day to upwards of 21,717.  By my calculations we covered 80-something miles, bringing those of you who followed our Food, Faith & Alzheimer's blog along with us.  All in an effort to shine some light on the plight of AD.  We're certain we brought to the forefront some real awareness and understanding, thereby reducing the stigma associated with the progression of this disease.  We also did our best to acknowledge the wide band of compassion and strength within the caregivers of those diagnosed with AD.  Nancy and were thrilled when we heard from those of you who interacted with us via FB, Twitter and our Blog.  Your interest and comments kept us going.  Getting up every morning with sore muscles, aching feet and bad hair.  It didn't matter.  We grabbed those walking sticks and all that other fun paraphernalia  we purchased and kept hiking for Alz.  
Purchasing our gear before the trip.

Look how happy we were eating all that GMO/Additive free Italian food!!

The presence of AD doesn’t immediately sentence your loved one to a world of yellow-sticky-notes, or aimless wandering of the neighborhood wearing bathrobe and slippers in the wee hours of the morning.  Nor does it have to mean giving up on life.  It does mean there is a "new normal"  we must adjust to and understand things will be different.  How different depends on so many factors; your health prior to the diagnosis, eating habits, overall attitude, and support system.  All I know is during that two weeks, the strenuousness  of our daily hikes through Italy, the exposure to a slower pace of life and the beauty of our surroundings was some of the best medicine Nancy and I could’ve been prescribed. 
Nancy enjoying a little break.  

    Nancy and I don't know for sure how successful we were in getting everyone to talk about, Google into, or care and contribute to the cause, but one thing’s for sure, Alzheimer’s is not going away anytime soon.  Whether you are currently affected by this dis-ease now or are beginning to signs in yourself or a loved one, you can still help.  Please visit the National Alzheimer’s Association’s website at:

But first, try these brain healthy, Italian-inspired recipes.

Recipe for Ribollita (translated as "re-boiled" in Italian)
This soup is rich in iron and Omega-3 foods, all important to good brain health


2-3 Tblsp olive oil + more drizzling on bread                           1 yellow onion - small diced
2 carrots - cleaned then shredded w/potato peeler             2 celery stalks - small diced
4 oz. pancetta - small diced                                                             4 garlic cloves - minced
2 Tblsp tomato paste                                                                          1 15-oz can whole tomatoes
2 tsp minced fresh rosemary                                                           1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1/2 tsp fennel seed                                                                             salt/pepper to taste
1-2 bunches Lacinato (Tuscan Kale) - ribs removed,rough chopped
1 15-oz can cannellini beans - rinsed                                           3-4 cup low sodium chicken or veggie stock
1 bay leaf                                                                                                 6-8 slices day-old, crusty bread, cubed
approx. 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese w/rind removed


In a large Dutch oven or soup pot, heat olive oil over medium heat.  When oil is shimmering, add in onion, carrot, celery and pancetta; cook until onion is lightly browned and pancetta is crisp, about 5-7 minutes.

Stir in garlic and tomato paste.  After about 1 minute add canned tomatoes one at a time, squeezing each tomato to break it up as you drop it into the pot.  Stir in the rosemary, thyme, fennel seed.  Stirring up all the good bits of flavor from the bottom of the pot, season to taste with salt and pepper.  Cook another 5 minutes.

Add kale, beans, broth, bay leaf and parmesan rind.  Bring soup to a gentle boil, reduce heat to low, cover allowing soup[ to simmer for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, spread cubed bread onto 1 or 2 sheet pans lined with parchment paper.  Lightly drizzled bread cubes with olive oil, then season with salt, pepper and Italian seasoning if desired.

Place sheet pan/s into 400 degree preheated oven then bake until golden brown, about 5 minutes.  Set aside to cool.

When you're ready to serve the soup, remove bay leaf with a slotted spoon, then ladle soup into individual serving bowls.  Top each bowl with a few seasoned bread cubes (croutons) and a handful of grated or shaved parmesan cheese.

                                                                                                                         Makes 6-8 servings

Recipe for Lemon Panna Cotta w/Blueberry Compote


1 envelope unflavoured gelatin  (about 1 Tblsp)                     2 Tblsp cold water
2 cups heavy cream                                                                              1 cup half and half
1/2 cup bakers sugar ( super fine)                                                  1 teaspoon vanilla paste
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice                                                      zest of one fresh lemon

2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries                                                  1/2 cup water
1/2 cup granulated sugar                                                                     1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
2 Tblsp cornstarch combined w/2 Tblsp cold water                 remaining 1/2 of lemon zest
fresh mint leaves - for garnish if desired.


Begin by "blooming" the gelatin in a small bowl with the 2 Tblsp of cold water, allowing gelatin and water to sit for about 15 minutes.

In a heavy saucepot, over low heat, combine heavy cream, half and half, half of the lemon zest, and sugar , stirring constantly until sugar has completely dissolved.

Remove pot from heat and whisk in gelatin mixture.  Whisk in lemon juice and vanilla paste.  Temperature of cream mixture should be warm enough to dissolve gelatin.  If not, place saucepot back on low heat to ensure gelatin has dissolved.

Pour mixture into individual ramekins, through a fine sieve or strainer to catch any bits of undissolved gelatin.  Chill in fridge at least 4 hours.

Meanwhile, prepare blueberry compote by simply combining clean blueberries, water, sugar and lemon juice, into a small saucepot over medium heat.  Stirring frequently, bring berries to a low, gentle boil.  In a separate small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and water, until mixture is smooth.

Slowly whisk cornstarch mixture into blueberry mixture and simmer until mixture has thickened slightly, about 5-7 minutes.  When compote has thickened gently stir in lemon juice.

To serve; removed each serving of panna cotta from ramekins onto individual serving plates.  Pour warm or chilled blueberry compote over each serving.  Garnish with remaining lemon zest and fresh mint if desired.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Our Faith

Picture it, 1974, a gorgeous June day in Palo Alto, California.  My interim boyfriend (Michael and I were on one of our many breaks) lay sprawled out on a blanket in Mitchell Park, enjoying over-stuffed deli sandwiches from Hobee's. Mine a tuna and avocado on toasted whole wheat, Brian’s; ham, turkey, provolone and cheddar on a soft and chewy baguette.  We share a bag of spicy chips and sip our sodas savoring our late afternoon lunch. We are protected from the glare of the afternoon sun, by the shade of a Cottonwood tree.  Swiping away at bits of airy cotton-fluff freed from the grips of their branches floating down and away from us, as though they are riding along an invisible lazy river.
Good ole Mitchell Park!

I strayed from my usual lettuce and mustard sandwich that day

I’m in my second, maybe third, year of college, majoring in dance.  In addition to classes I spend much of my time auditioning for dance roles in musical plays and working part-time as a waitress at Florentine’s.  At that time it was one of the best Italian restaurants in Mt. View and the most fierce competition for another, smaller Italian restaurant, which is still in operation today, Frankie, Johnnie and Luigi’s Too.   

Brian, is married.  It’s the ‘70’s and “open relationships” are perfectly acceptable, I found this out from a girl who was seeing Michael.  Bu Brian is considering separation, so I can justify seeing him. He is about 14 years my senior.  Quieter and more cerebral than the men I usually date, Brian is really rather cute, with a trimmed beard and is only slightly taller than me.  I find Brian to possess a wonderful sense of humor and best of all, he is one of the smartest people I'd ever met.  He was an astronomer and worked at the Nasa Ames Research Center at Moffett Field. 

On that particular afternoon we were engaged, as we often were, in a conversation that entailed Brian educating me on some aspect of his extraordinary job.  Usually, I am an adept listener, asking pertinent questions at the appropriate breaks.  But that day’s conversation took a different turn. 
Brian was excitedly telling me about a new star he and his team at the Ames Research Center had recently discovered.   I asked him to explain how one goes about discovering a new star, or planet or even black holes.  Brian patiently and matter-of-factly told me, "Initially we don't actually see the star, rather we see evidence of its existence."

  “You guys don’t actually see anything?” I asked.

     “Not at first and sometimes, not at all.  But because everything in space is made up of energy, stars, planets, black holes, etcetera, they impact and influence their surroundings,” Brian’s voice took on a very professorial tone.

     “What do you mean?”

     “Here’s an example,” he went on.  “There is often a magnetic pull or push emanating from the unseen star on the celestial bodies surrounding it.  After watching for a period of time, we see patterns of movement and changes that can only be explained by something affecting those stars and planets we can see or know exist.  This demonstrates evidence of the unseen heavenly body, so we know it’s out there.”  Brian smiled, satisfied he had helped his liberal arts girlfriend grasp a concept not usually explored in the world of dance.

    “You’re sure it’s there?” I inquired with some skepticism. 

    “Well, we run experiments and tests.  We watch and document our findings for a good period of time.  But yes, once all the evidence has been weighed and sufficient reports have been written and reviewed, we declare our discovery.”

     “Hmmm,” I mused.  “So, what I’m hearing you say (popular phrase in the '70's) is that you don’t actually see this new star, but based on other visible and tangible evidence you have certainty that the star is there, right?”

     “Yup,” mumbled Brian as he took another manly bite of his sandwich.
Brian's favourite 

     “Oooh, my gosh!”  I exclaimed sitting up straighter.  “It’s just like Faith!  Having Faith in God when most of us don’t actually ever see God.  Yes there is a mountain of evidence, and I mean that both figuratively and literally, God exists!  Wow!  This is so cool, Brian!”

     I sat smiling from ear to ear that I was able to draw such a relevant parallel between Brian’s science and my religious perspective. I then watched in horror as Brian began choking on the monster bite he had taken.

   “Wait.  What?  No!” Brian sputtered back.

    “Wait, what, yes, Brian," I spouted back.  "It is exactly the same thing.  Based on what you just told me about stars not actually seen, but declared to exist, you can’t absolutely deny the evidence of God’s existence.  You've even said some things in nature, science just can’t explain.  The unexplained origin or destruction of certain life forms.  The mathematical patterns in botany, geology and the human body.  The beauty of a sunset.  The birth of a new baby.  The way many life forms have adapted to the changes in climate and topography.  Based on what I see there is evidence of God all around me, every day.  So, like you and your peers, I can say with certainty, that God exists.” 

     Brian was quiet for several minutes, then replied, “Well, first know, Deborah, science can't explain everything, yet.  But my Cosmic Muffin  guess I can’t argue with probabilities.”  He tossed what was left of his sandwich into our picnic basket and laid his head on my lap.

While Brian was never involved in organized religion or had the upbringing I had, nor felt inclined to walk into a church, I knew I had given him some food for thought. 

  Back then, as now, I have known that Faith is something you feel, something you trust in.  An intangible concept but one that offers most of us some comfort and reassurance.  If you’ve ever known the relief that comes when you listened to your gut and didn’t board that plane, or buy those expensive shoes or marry that person, because if you had, the story would've had a less than happy ending, then you know the feeling.  It is one of confidence in your own thought process and deductions.  Faith is a demonstration of our core beliefs even when others may not agree, in spite of what they believe in or understand. 

I learned about religious Faith as a child, attending church and reading the Bible.  But it was later in life when I finally understood how personal Faith can give me strength when my inner resolve is waning or I'm navigating my way through this maze called parenting.  Faith has been and will continue to be a source of comfort for me when I feel alone and incompetent.  Of course, Faith does not have to be religious in nature.  I have Faith in my son’s ability to sustain the changes he's made and his current path in life.  I have Faith in my Grandson’s goodness, intelligence and kindness.  I have Faith in my mother’s humor and strength, that it will only help us both in the weeks ahead.  I have Faith in my daughter’s love for her fiancĂ©e and his love for her.

During our entire hike along the Franciscan Trail, Nancy and I were ensconced in Faith.  I could touch it as well as feel it, Faith was palpable. Whether Nancy and I were standing before the entrance of the cave where Saint Francis of Assisi slept or focused our eyes on the scrap of cloth that carried a still bright red blood stain from his experience of the stigmata.
Umbria, Italy - Preparing for Ceri Festival

Festival in full swing!
 Or even as we stood squeezed together on the balcony of a medieval castle,observing the celebration of the Ceri Festival amid the brightly colored flags symbolizing the three Saints, Antonio, Giorgio and Ubaldo, Faith really was, all around.  So deeply touched by the mystical power of it all, both Nancy and I were humbled at almost every turn.  So it didn't seem to strange or pious the day we made the 7-mile hike through the woods of ancient Oak trees in absolute silence.  We felt Faith mixed with reverence as we brushed our Taus against the burial site of Saint Francis in Assisi.
Silent but smiling Hikers 
Saint Francis of Assisi original burial site

Our Faith was renewed.  We felt recharged.  We felt such closeness to all humanity, animals, and nature.  St. Francis especially honored God's children and animals, Nancy and I were in awe and inspired.  St. Francis, it is said, is the one person in all of history who was most dedicated to imitating the life of Christ and who carried on Christ’s work in His way.  St. Francis was known to preach to birds, squirrels, snakes even, according to one story, persuading a wolf to stop eating the locals of a small village. 

In honor of Faith and St. Francis’s love of animals, I am going to pay tribute to my many friends and family members who love animals as much as he did by sharing two recipes.  One for some yummy dog biscuits along with a little snicker-snacker for wild birds.

Recipe for homemade Dog Biscuits

3 1/4 cups whole wheat flour                    1 1/2 cups wheat germ
1 cup cornmeal                                          1 cup rye flour
1 tablespoon garlic powder                       2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/8 cup warm water                                  1/2 cup dry milk powder
2 cups low sodium tomato juice

Process                                                                                  Preheat oven to 300 degrees
Dissolve yeast in 1/8 cup warm water.  Stir in tomato juice.
In a separate large mixing bowl combine all remaining dry ingredients, whisk together.
Stir water/yeast mixture into dry ingredients.  You may need to use your hands to continue mixing.  Then knead the very stiff dough for 6-8 minutes.
Roll out onto a lightly floured surface to about 1/2" thickness.  Then using bone or other shaped cooking cutter, cut out biscuits.
Place on parchment lined sheet pans and bake for 1 hour.  Turn off oven and allow biscuits to continue drying at least 4 hours.

Biscuits can be stored in an air-tight container for 1 month.

This bird was flitting around the Newark airport, where Nanc and I hung out for 9 hours!!

Recipe for Wild Bird Suet

1 cup vegetable shortening           1 cup chunky peanut butter
2 cups cornmeal                            2 cups quick-cooking oats
1/3 cup granulated sugar               1 cup all purpose flour

Melt shortening in medium saucepot along with peanut butter.  Stir in cornmeal, oats, sugar and flour.
Press mixture into an 8 x 8 square pan or silicone ice trays and allow to cool.
If you used the 8 x 8 square pan when mixture has firmed and completely cooled, cut into squares and place inside mesh bags then hang outside and watch the happy birds come flitting around from all over.  If you used the silicone trays, then simply push out the individual squares and place inside mesh bags then hang outside and watch the fun.

Monday, July 25, 2016


Necessitites - Passport, Adhesive For Any Unforeseen Dental Issues, My Little Brother
   I’ve been out of commission since the several weeks of our return from Italy.  I’ll explain in upcoming blogs why but for now as I snuggle down and get comfy, cozy at my desk, the memories of our hike along the Franciscan Trail are as clear as the water in Lake Tresamino, in the Province of Perugia.  Now, while it’s true, Nancy and I have each traveled rather extensively during our lifetimes; few trips had as great an impact as this one.  Everyday was an experience steeped in spirituality and reverence.  We climbed to elevations that gave us glimpses of nature so vibrant and moving, it was as though we were walking through an artist’s dream.  But it was all real.  And the food.  For someone who works in that great soup bowl known as the culinary arts, I have always replied in a sheepish manner and an awkward “no” when answering the question, “have you ever been to Italy?”   This was even more embarrassing considering Italian is my most favourite cuisine to cook and to eat.
     As you may have gleaned from previous blogs on our Food, Faith & Alzheimer’s site, Nancy and I did our homework and beefed up our workouts in preparation for this trip.  We showed up to our Saturday morning walks wearing hiking boots.  Our friends faces indicating perhaps the boots were a bit of over-kill considering we hike only 3 miles in a well groomed and manicured park.  We outfitted ourselves with everything from walking poles, to rain ponchos to mole skin pads.  We researched the history of Saint Francis of Assisi, The Poor Clares, and of course, I reviewed some of the wines, ingredients and dishes indigenous to Central Italy. 
     Now I have always known meatballs are not standard fare atop a plate of spaghetti in Italy; they’re usually a stand-alone food item (on the side).  I’ve also known typical Italians do not allow pasta to swim, certainly there are no near drownings in any kind of sauce, as we do in here in the U.S.  Nor did I know so much beef, pork, duck, sausage and bison (yes bison) were consumed in Italy, at lunch and dinner.  Both Nancy and I were aware of the fact that true Italian pizza is much lighter than the stuffed crusts, or 5-meats or better yet, the ever-popular hamburger and fries topped pizzas currently sweeping our nation.  But I didn’t know the crust would be thin and light yet not so crispy as make me feel as though I’m eating pizza on a matzo cracker. And Alfredo sauce?  Should Nancy and I had entered a restaurant in Italy and innocently ordered Pasta Alfredo, our server would’ve worn a puzzled look on his or her face.  A reply of “Who’s Alfredo? Or, “He does work here,” would have been politely uttered.   So, if we had a real hankering for Pasta Alfredo, and nothing else would suffice, we would’ve had to ask for “Pasta di Bianco.”  We have since learned, Pasta Alfredo is an American-Italian restaurant dish.  In Italy Pasta di Bianco is typically prepared at home and reserved for when a loved one needs to eat something simple and easy on the stomach.  
No Speecy, Spicy Meatballs here!
     We certainly didn’t know all the details of farming and food production practices in Italy. Most of my research confirmed Nancy and I wouldn’t have to worry about gluten free, GMO’s or other food additives.  They just don’t modify their crops, soil and produce the way we do here in America.  Upon learning that tidbit, Nancy grew as excited about The Food as I was.  Even better, while hiking through Spello, we learned about the engineering triumphs of the Romans regarding the building of the many aquifers that to this day, bring the Italians and their visitors the crispest, clear and clean tasting water ever!  We were surprised to discover it was the Etruscans who taught the Romans many of the engineering feats the Romans went on to improve and perfect.
    So it was, after a 20+ hour flight and the loss of an American day, Nancy and I finally arrived in Rome.  Following everyone’s advice and pulling on our own travel experiences, we knew giving in to fatigue and going to sleep was not allowed.  So we quickly dropped off our luggage at our hotel and took a cab into Vatican City.  It was packed!!  I felt as though we were standing in Times Square on a Saturday night after the shows let out. 
We found an opening!
The pushing, the shoving, we did our best to meander like the tourists we were beneath the hot Roman sun.  By now our fatigue was competing with our hunger.
       We stopped at the second restaurant we found.  Deciding to dine al fresco, sitting under the veranda we ordered our first meal in Italy.  The anticipation was palpable as we fanned ourselves with our menus.  My heart was pumping as I waited for my ravioli and Nancy her spaghetti.  I leisurely took a sip of my red wine and watched Nancy as she did the same.  We were in public so I couldn’t spit it out.  Nancy’s face scrunched into such a twist; if I didn’t know better I would’ve sworn she had just bitten into a rotting lemon.  We sent it back.  The second wine selection was only slightly better.  But we were soon distracted as lunch arrived.  I’ll put it this way, when you’ve been sitting in airports and economy seating for a day and a half and you’re dead tired, eyes so dry they feel like sandpaper and you’re trying to quiet a grumbling stomach, you’ll eat almost anything.  Which we did.  As we shuffled our back to the bus stop we saw many more restaurants and found where we should have eaten! Oh well, next time. 
The first of many slurps to come. 
     That lack luster meal is now a distant memory. Every pasta dish, cut of beef, braised bison, sweet pastry, rich deli meat, ripe cheese, GMO free vegetable and lustrous gelato from that day forward was a transformative experience in gastronomy.    The Region of Central Italy is known for its velvety olive oils, the “king of chesses,” Parmigiano-Reggiano and Mortadella, the deli meat I ate until I was saw stars in this Hog Heaven of cured and seasoned pork. 
     The following day we left Rome and Nancy I and embarked upon an epicurean adventure that rivaled  expectations.  Antipasto platters boasted riches in meats, cheeses and breads, olives and citrus fruits all served with wine, of course.  high end grocers or our Farmers Markets, yet all regularly available in every corner market in Italy.  And truffles!!  Yes! ~ Those beautiful, dark and shriveled, umami gems.  Truffles on pasta, truffles on pizza, truffles on Panini!!  We even participated in a truffle hunt with one of the biggest, strongest, most handsome, outdoorsy Italian men (and his dog), I have ever met!!  So much ,fun! 
I hold in my hand, an elusive gem - the black truffle
 Always wine, with lunch, then again at dinner.
I fell in love. Twice.

This is the village where I ate 3 slices of pizza!
And the pizza!  So light, so soft, and so tasty.  With only one or two toppings and just a smattering of sauce, if any.  My new preference is just a bit of olive oil.  The photo above is the village where I had 3 slices of pizza at lunch.  Nancy's eyes popped out of her head when she saw eat like that! 

This was the most impressive deli counter I've ever encountered!

And the Produce!  Heirloom tomatoes, beans, peppers and squash that looks as though they were on steroids! But of course, we know they are not.  We saw food wonders only found in our most high end or local farmers markets.  I was drooling up and down every aisle of this particular market.  

One of our delightful meals in the medieval village of Gubbio

     Coffee, tea, espresso?  For years I have been brewing my morning coffee in a French Press.  I took a break for a short while as my last husband preferred drip coffee.  When I’m not home brewing my own coffee, I enjoy going out for Starbucks and when in California, Peet’s.  But no Starbucks or Peet’s in Italy, at least that we saw!   The coffee, strong and hot, is as far from dirt-tasting, coffee flavored water I’ve had served to me from one of those drip pots.  Nancy and I did our best to adhere to Italian coffee etiquette by having our macchiato or lattes in the morning only and keeping to espresso in the afternoon.  One of the other things (now I have countless) I love about Italy, is everyone pretty much greets their day in the same way, a good, strong cup of coffee and a pastry!!  I absolutely love pastries in the morning.  Yes, yes, I know, a healthy breakfast sustains energy and jump starts my metabolism, but a sweet cinnamon roll, fruit tarts, or cheese croissant are my definition of how to best promise light and happiness to my day. 
Every day!

Yes, we hiked 5 to 10 miles every day and still came home 5 pounds heavier.  Obviously.  
     We consumed our meals in people’s homes, Masonic temple dining rooms, old wine cellars, caves beneath homes, sidewalk cafes, and once, even outside on the sidewalk!!  No standing over the kitchen sink or trash can while hurriedly eating a sandwich or slice of something.  It is true, in Italy, meals really do last anywhere from two to three hours!  A far cry from the hurry-up and go mentality we subject ourselves to.  I recently found out school children here in Clark County School District are given 10 minutes to eat their lunch!  No wonder their table manners are, in general, lacking.  Who has time to chat and visit, let alone digest or even chew, when you have to be up and out of your dining chair in 10 minutes? 
An old and still active Monastery.  This room was once the wine cellar and now functions as the dining room.  
That is where I had the most incredible cannellini soup I’ve ever had!  Did I mention we had wine with every meal?  As for the meal themselves, lunch and dinner really are dining

     As an official outsider of the Clean Your Plate Club, I finally gained admittance on the evening we were served our final meal in Arezzo.  It was with great shock and surprise when Nancy witnessed my reaching for the robust bowl and serving spoon for a second helping of a tomato, red onion, cucumber and day-old bread concoction.  For it was here we were served my favourite Tuscan dish, Panzanella.  Hearty yet light, this industrious salad is ever so slightly dressed with olive oil and a drizzling of Modena Balsamic, and then topped with a few strands of basil.  This old peasant dish is a veritable garden of delightful colors, flavors, and textures, I absolutely loved it.  It is so simple to prepare and enjoyable to eat, here is my recipe for Panzanella.

Recipe for Panzanella


3 cups day old French bread cut into bite-sized cubes
¼ cup olive oil
salt/pepper to taste
1 tablespoons Italian seasoning or herbs de Provence
3 cloves fresh garlic – minced
Another ½ cup olive oil
½ cup good balsamic vinegar
1 small red onion – thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups each red and yellow cherry tomatoes – halved
1 English (Hothouse) cucumber - peeled and medium diced
7-10 leaves fresh basil – chiffonade


1)    Arrange bread cubes in a single layer, onto a parchment-lined sheet pan and drizzle lightly with olive oil. Sprinkle bread cubes evenly with Italian seasoning or herbs de Provence, salt and pepper.  Using your hands mix bread cubes to ensure all sides are coated with oil and seasoning
2)    Place in oven 350 degree, pre-heated oven. Toasting bread until light golden brown, about 20 minutes.
3)    Meanwhile, in small mixing bowl, whisk together ½ olive oil, balsamic vinegar and 1 of the minced garlic cloves.  Season to taste with salt and pepper then set aside. 
4)    When bread is done and has been allowed to cool, place in large serving bowl
5)    Add halved tomatoes, diced cucumber, red onion slices, remaining 2 cloves minced garlic and 1/2 the basil leaves
6)    Gently stir in olive oil and vinegar mixture to coat.  You may not end up using all the olive oil and vinegar mixure.  Garnish with remaining half of basil. 

May be served cold or at room temperature

                                                                          Makes 8  4-ounce Serv