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.