Thursday, March 26, 2015

"My name is Beija B.....

…..and I am a survivor of breast cancer. I was diagnosed at 48 years old in Feb. of 2012 with an aggressive form of cancer which my Doctor had called Her2 positive Stage 1 in my left breast. "

It all began when this beautiful young lady started experiencing pain and tightness in her chest, around her heart in particular. But these episodes were sporadic at the beginning, recurring more often, and with more intensity, as the months progressed. Three months later, Beija came down with the flu. No biggie, but when she found that both were causing her too much to deal with, it was time to visit her physician.

Doing a full work up on her, the doctor saw no concern with her health, although her blood cell count was a little off, this could easily be attributed to the flu. Feeling somewhat relieved, Beija decided she may as well have a mammogram performed. Going home and feeling a little better, both physically and emotionally, Beija decided to stop procrastinating and get current with her mammograms. She had put it off for 2 years because of her busy lifestyle and other health issues.

So the week following her doctors appointment, she had it done. Of course there was nervousness pinching Beija's mind with regards to the results of this scan, but she was more concerned at what she could accomplish with what was left after the test on this Monday.

A mammography was performed, she had tidied herself up and now was waiting in this somewhat claustrophobic room for the nurse to discharge her. Within 10 minutes, the nurse reappeared asking Beija for another scan. She needed a more complete evaluation before this appointment was over. Once finished, and taking a moment or two looking at the image, the nurse requested the doctor on-call to evaluate.

Routine? Must be! Nervous? Of course!

It wasn't long before the image was scrutinized by the professional. As if the world stopped immediately, the doctor "explains to me that the finding on the imaging is a mass that could possibly be cancer. At that point I felt my whole life changing just by him mentioning the word cancer!"

Within a week of that tentative diagnoses, it was unfortunately confirmed through a biopsy. And within a week of that, Beija was on the table being prepped for surgery to remove the tumor that was pushing toward her heart. This explained the tightness and twinges of pain she had been experiencing in her chest. Because of the position of the tumor, Beija was able to decide between a lumpectomy or full removal of her breast. She chose the lumpectomy. As fast as her life stopped from hearing of this cancer, she could now begin to live again. Recoup, regroup and catch up. Two weeks later, a routine scan was performed in order to confirm the success of the operation. That one step forward, took one leap back when two more tumors showed up in the same area.

So back to the table and a second lumpectomy. This time, after a short healing process, the resulting scan showed Beija to be cancer free. But certainly she couldn't rest on her laurels. Her endurance would be tested through monthly chemo and blood transfusions, and it wasn't long before she was feeling, and seeing, the effects of these treatments.

Although she was losing her hair and dealing with sickness and nausea every day, she found strength and love in her "chemo buddies", even exchanging ideas on eating habits that could be tolerated throughout her tenure of treatments. "Even trying to eat a grape tasted like metal."

One of her "chemo buddies" offered pizza as the answer and what do you know? Even though she was still feeling ill, at least she found something that didn't taste like metal. " Needless to say, I had eaten a lot of pizza during my months of chemo!"

Completing chemo, followed by radiation and effects associated with these as well as other physical tribulations, Beija became a survivor.


"All during my cancer battle, I was providing personal care every day and all day to my live-in 83 year old mother Patricia, who had dementia....[I was also a single mother of 12 year old boy Dexter, both pictured below}.....My mother passed away in October, 2013. It was my mother, my best friend, who was the reason for me staying strong and surviving this dreadful disease."

Because of this strength her mother gave her, Beija used this same fortitude to care for her mother until her last breath.

Mother knows best! Mother's intuition! Both adages proving true.

I could sit here and write page upon page of a fitting, and poetical, epilogue to finish Beija's story and some may hit home while others may seem dramatic. But unless you have endured the physical scars of this disease, unless you have become stronger in ways only cancer survivors can relate to, then my words would be general, vague and simply for dramatic purposes. So I would like to end this story in Beija's own words. After all, who is better qualified to write the epilogue to your own story?

"The inability to deal with the after effects that are left behind…emotionally, financially, physically, and even socially. Only to be told you are a 'Hero' from the scars of your battle. The time it takes to rebuild yourself to become stronger. The many medical appointments to be had…just to reevaluate and cure the damage that was left behind. I’m a hero to no one but myself, but I’m a survivor among the many.

I’m a hero to no one but myself.....[although this author lovingly disagrees]

.....but I’m a survivor among the many. "

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A True Champion

I have always considered myself a good pugilist in my day. I am proud to say that I dodged when I should have and my defense was second to none. But I will also say that I never had that killer instinct that you need when battling a formidable foe. Maybe I needed a better trainer. Maybe I needed someone who could show me how to fight. Maybe I needed Marty.

Meet Marty E.

A 67 year old fighter who has had more emotional spikes than the great majority of us will, or could, ever endure.

To begin with, at age 44, she was separated from her husband but found emotional stability with her 15 year old son. Although anxiety was a daily curse now because of her new, single motherhood, Marty was blessed that her boy was coping better than she was at times. Shortly after this breakup, she was diagnosed with beast cancer. Because of the immense mental and physical difficulties associated with this disease, Marty wanted to give her marriage one more go. Radiation and a partial mastectomy were successfully performed, but regrettably, her marriage was not as successful and she found herself a single parent once again.

For the next few months, being a single mother was starting to ease its financial and emotional grip, with the fear of cancer on the back burner, behind her son. Then one day, she felt that grasp, pulling her back into those yesterdays of fear and uncertainty. Marty was diagnosed, again, with breast cancer. This time, she decided her treatment would be fast and furious. Enough so that this bothersome bandit had no where to hide. Radiation, chemotherapy and another partial mastectomy would surely loosen that recurring hold.

By 1994, it was agreed between Marty and her physician that she was cancer free. Even with 2 partial mastectomies, she had been given a reprieve and found herself doting on her son and looking for another love. A couple of different men entered her life, but for reasons that partly involved the results of her cancer bouts, Marty and her new beaus just couldn't make it work. It truly does take a special man to stumble along with a woman, yet make sure she doesn't fall. A man that wouldn't judge her for the physical wounds but how she tried to heal from the fight. .

Her high school reunion was in 2005 and boy did she have stories of victories to tell. While enjoying seeing her graduating class again, someone from her earlier life remembered her vividly. His name was Phil and his memories of Marty stretched back to Junior High. They spent a great deal of time talking, reminiscing and she simply loved the feeling of smiling. She remembers in short, "We danced.....and he felt good". Although something sparked, it would not be for another four years that they would reconnect. Marty recalls that on August 31, her phone rang and yup, it was him.

"We talked for hours! Such joy for us. He came to see me in Pittsburgh for my birthday on October 1, then I visited him in Florida, where I always wanted to be. We were falling in love."

Sweet love, unfortunately at times, needs to be proven. Would Phil stick around if Marty was ever diagnosed again? Did he have the fortitude to cope with his new, sweet love if cancer ever returned? Could he accept her with some physical anomalies that would only be visible if intimacy evolved? Does he know a woman is more than each part separately? Or can he truly see the sum of all parts? In essence, can he love? Truly love?

October, 2010. Marty was selling her home and getting ready to move to Florida to be with Phil and hopefully answer these questions. But cancer returned, lung cancer. With a renewed vigor, she vowed to take care of it as quickly as possible, and with her new-found support, no matter how far away he was, she was on the plane. "My dream!", she recalls. "I got a condo on the the beach, on the sand for a year! Oh what fun! I spent the weekends with Phil. After a year, he asked me to move in with him. So I did!.....happy girl! "


End of story. Life was good, wedded bliss soon to follow and the beach as the backdrop for the rest of her life.........until Valentines Day, 2014. Unbelievably, Marty found another lump in her breast yet again. "After all my history, my surgeon advised a double I did it without reconstruction". She goes on to explain...."radiation affects skin so it looses it's elasticity. Dear Phil took wonderful care of much love!".

By January, this once in a lifetime man married her. "He is amazing. I survived 4 cancers, 3 breast. I amaze myself."

Marty's granddaughter, Toren, was her flower girl and with all the strength she amassed through her own ordeals, it was the tender innocence of Toren that showed her weak side. Toren was diagnosed with leukemia. "Her beautiful blond hair.....she never left my side." Toren will be continuing with chemotherapy until December, 2015. Although her immune system is suppressed for the time being, she is full of sprite, as are all children her age. She is full of love, as all around her are and Toren is full of hope, as we all should be.

Marty has found her niche, now, in life by supporting, and believing, in alternative medicine through acupuncture and essential oils being a distributor with

 "So now I am again cancer free...I am currently making my own organic deodorant and body care contribution!"

Thursday, March 12, 2015

"I am a drinker, with a writing problem."

That was a quote attributed to Brendan Behan, a well-"versed' Irish poet, novelist and playwright, which plays right into this post.

Ireland......The very first thought that comes to mind is green pastures, rolling hills and, of course, a tip of the glass. It wasn't that long ago that the Irish that immigrated to America were "cartooned" as brawling drunkards whose last dime went into the bottle

Now that times have changed, St. Patrick's Day has many declaring their ancestry as Irish, regardless if their name is Baryshnikov, St. Pierre or Polanski. In fact, more than 30 % declare themselves of Irish ancestry in the days leading up to St. Patrick's Day and when the same poll is taken 30 days afterward, only 16 % say they are of Irish stock.

Many seek any reason, really, to indulge in original Irish liquor on just one day of the year. And Ireland is known for the superior spirits that are enjoyable straight from the bottle or mingling with other ingredients to result in a tasty treat, even if you aren't a drinker.

Ireland is much like New England. Not only does liquor bring the worst out in people, but to most of the Irish, it enhances togetherness and warmth, much like rum's effect on our fore-families. Their meals are simple and inexpensive yet provide the comfort feeling we Yankees are known for.

Let me give you just a few examples of this simplicity, but with a New England influence.



Crispy Irish Maslin Bread

Maslin literally means brass, but it also refers to a variety of grains used in the baking of bread. So keeping with tradition, in a way, I am including different grains as well as a surprise ingredient that I think you will find a perfect fit.

If you don't have buttermilk on hand or just don't want to purchase it, the perfect substitute is mixing 1 tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice in the same amount of whole milk and let it sit for 30 minutes, or even longer. It will curdle, which is exactly what you want. The interaction of this with baking soda gives this perfectly salty/sweet bread that distinctive hollow sound and the flavor is will remind you of an old world bake shop, in Ireland of course.

Nonstick cooking spray
2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour, plus extra for kneading
1 cup oat flour*
1/2 cup finely crushed graham crackers
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons cold butter or margarine
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup honey or maple syrup
1 egg, lightly beaten
Extra honey or maple syrup for brushing the top

Preheat oven to 375-degrees F and position oven rack to the upper portion of the oven Grease a baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. In a large bowl, combine both flours, graham crackers, baking soda and salt. Add butter and cut in using either 2 knives, scissor fashion or a fork. Stir in buttermilk, honey and egg, mixing well. Turn out onto well floured work surface and knead for a minute, or until smooth and elastic. Brush off excess flour and place in the middle of the prepared pan. Brush the top with honey and sprinkle extra rolled oats over the top, slightly pressing into the dough. Mark the top with a serrated knife with two 1-inch deep gashes. Bake 40-45 minutes, or until very well browned all over. Remove to cool slightly before serving.


* Simply place the oats in a blender or food processor and have at it. In a few seconds on high and you will have powdered rolled oats, or oat flour.


Perfect Irish Yankee Soda Bread(Spotted Dog)

Yankee because of the sweet/tangy addition of dried cranberries and Soda because of the soda used........just kidding. This is called soda bread because of the chemical reaction of baking soda with buttermilk. It gives you the perfect rise and density found in old world-style breads while the crispy browned exterior is ideal for breaking open to enjoy.

Nonstick cooking spray
4 cups flour, plus extra for kneading
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 egg, beaten well
3/4 cup dried cranberries
2 teaspoons caraway seeds, optional



Preheat oven to 375-degrees F and position oven rack to the upper portion of the oven. Grease a baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. Cut in butter with two knives, scissor fashion or use a fork. Add the buttermilk, egg, cranberries and caraway seeds, mixing well to form a dough. Turn out onto well floured work surface and knead for a minute or so, until smooth and elastic. Form into a round loaf, brush off excess flour. Place in middle of prepared pan and spray the top with nonstick cooking spray. Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until well browned all around. Remove from oven to cool slightly before tearing into.

Bailey's Irish Whiskey Cake

Yes, I already know. There is no such thing as Bailey's Irish Whiskey. This beautifully scented, Irish cake is, however, brought to you by a Bailey and has a hint of Irish Whiskey both in the cake and on 'top'. You can, however, substitute a few drops of rum extract in the milk below or just leave out any hint of alcohol, and its' taste, altogether. The curdled milk is a great way of adding buttermilk flavor without the added expense while giving this upside down cake perfect flavor and moistness.

1/4 cup whole milk, half-and-half or light cream
1/2 cup Irish Apple Whiskey or Irish Apple Liqueur, divided
1 teaspoon lemon juice
3/4 cup(1 1/2 sticks) butter or margarine, divided
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 large, firm apple. peeled, cored and wedged 1/2-inch thick
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs



In a small bowl, whisk together milk, 1/4 cup whiskey and lemon juice and let sit 30 minutes to curdle while preparing rest of recipe. Melt 4 tablespoons butter in a 9-inch round cake pan over low heat. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the brown sugar and cook, stirring for about 3 minutes until smooth and bubbling. Remove pan from heat.

Lay the apple slices on top of melted butter/brown sugar mixture decoratively. Sprinkle the dried cranberries over the top and evenly drizzle remainder of whiskey; set aside. In a bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and ground ginger. In another bowl, beat remainder of butter and sugar on high until light and fluffy. Scrape down sides and add eggs; beating very well. Reduce speed to low and beat in the flour, a little at a time. Beat in the milk mixture just until moistened. Spoon batter over apples and even out top without disturbing the apple arrangement. Bake 35-40 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in middle come out clean. Cool cake in the pan for a couple of minutes and then run a knife around the edge of the pan to help release. Invert onto a serving platter or plate quickly and carefully. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Irish Apple Bread Pudding 'Pie'

This bread pudding is anything but typical. It is beautifully sweetened, less dense and 'gummy' than many other equivalent puddings and the sweet, caramelized crust that forms makes you want to just pick it off first then eat the rest later. Use whatever muffin you desire, I just happened to adore cinnamon but regardless of what you choose, make sure you have 5 cups total after cutting. Taitneamh a bhaint as!


4 large plain or cinnamon muffins
4 teaspoons butter or margarine
3 large apples, peeled, cored and diced, divided
1 cup apple juice or water
1/4 cup maple syrup
Nonstick cooking spray
3/4 cup milk
3 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract
Juice and grated rind of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon dried ginger
Irish Butterscotch Cream, recipe below

Slice muffins horizontally about 1-inch thick. Butter all cut sides and grill over medium heat until well browned, about 2 minutes per side. Place on a plate and let cool in refrigerator for an hour, preferably overnight. Meanwhile, add 2/3 of the diced apple to a saucepan along with apple juice or water and maple syrup. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stir, reduce to low and simmer 6-8 minutes, or until it has thickened and apples are done, but still firm. Remove from heat and set aside. Spray a 9-10-inch cake pan with nonstick cooking spray liberally; set aside. Preheat oven to 350-degrees F.

Cut grilled muffins into cubes and add to a bowl along with remainder of diced apple. In another bowl, whisk together milk, eggs, brown sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, juice and grated rind and ginger. Pour over muffin cubes and gently toss to evenly coat. Transfer to prepared cake pan, evening out the top. Spoon cooked apple mixture over the top evenly and bake 40-45 minutes, or until it is firm when touched in the center with a spoon or fork. Make Irish Butterscotch Cream while pudding is baking. Remove pudding to cool slightly before running a dull knife around the edge to loosen. Cut into wedges and serve drizzled with Irish Butterscotch Cream.

Irish Butterscotch Cream

Put 1 cup whole milk, light or half-and-half cream in a saucepan with 2 tablespoons butter or margarine, 2 tablespoons each of brown sugar and Bailey's Irish Cream and 2 teaspoons honey or corn syrup. Over low heat, bring to a simmer while stirring frequently to prevent scorching. After 2-3 minutes, it will be thicker and creamier, stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla and remove from heat.


                                       Traditional Pan Haggerty

Simple? Yes! Traditional? Yes! But don't let this seemingly mundane dish prevent you from make it. There are so many things I could do to this dish to keep those "food snobs" at bay, but why play with a recipe that has been enjoyed for so long in Ireland? Us Yankees have been enjoying this dish for just as long, but called Scootin' 'Long the Shore. And as much as I would like to add this and that to our version, I decided to take the critics blows for offering a "dull and idiot simple" New England classic. My response to them? You really don't want to know!

3 slices bacon, diced
1 small onion, peeled and diced
3 large potatoes, about a pound, diced
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
Salt and black pepper to taste
Sour cream, if desired


Heat a large oven-safe skillet over medium heat. Add and cook bacon until crisp or to your liking. Remove bacon to crumble and add back into the skillet with onion and cook an additional 5-6 minutes, or until onion is soft but not browned. Drain fat and add potatoes and broth. Stir to combine, bring to a boil and cover. Reduce heat to low and simmer 8-10 minutes(according to the size of your potato cubes), or until the potatoes are firm, but tender and the liquid has absorbed. If you still have liquid after potatoes are done, simple increase heat to medium and continue cooking, uncovered, for a few more minutes until it has evaporated and/or absorbed. Preheat broiler and place oven rack at least 3-inches from heat source. Remove skillet from burner, evenly sprinkle cheese over the top and broil until as crisp as you like. Remove to serve immediately. Top with sour cream if desired.


Tipperary Apple Pudding

I remember once, many years ago, trying a Tipperary Pippin Apple and was blown away at the perfect cooking nature of it. Of course, now there are so many more to choose from but that one taste has stayed with me all these years. So in honor of my first bite of a true Irish apple, enjoy this Yankee take on the Apple Barley Pudding that is so dear to Irish hearts, and palates. I gave this a little zing that I think is spot on. For an even warmer feel, try substituting allspice for the nutmeg.

Now many of you will be asking by now, why barley in a dessert? Many centuries ago, in Ireland, barley was a cereal grain that was widely used in kitchens during St. Patrick's time, which is only summized as being in the 5th century. So barley was used as a thickener, porridge, breads, pastries and, of course through natural progression, desserts of all kinds.

5 large apples of your choice, peeled, cored and roughly chopped
5 tablespoons pearl barley
2 cups water
2 cups apple juice
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon each of cinnamon and nutmeg
1 cup whipped cream or topping
1/4 cup dried cranberries
3/4 cup cranberry juice or orange juice


In a large saucepan, bring the apples, barley, water and apple juice to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer for 20-25 minutes, or until barley is soft. Remove from heat and strain, reserving any liquid. Add to a food processor bowl, or in batches using a blender and puree until it resembles chunky applesauce.  Add liquid if needed to puree or more apple juice if the liquid has been fully absorbed. Transfer mixture to a large bowl and add sugar and spices, mixing well. Cover and refrigerate until cooled or serve warm.

Meanwhile, make cranberry "sauce". In a small saucepan, add cranberries and juice. Bring to a boil over medium,-high heat. When boiling, reduce heat to low and simmer 10 minutes, or until cranberries have started to take in the juice and swell. Transfer to a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. This sauce will thicken perfectly while pureeing because of the very high, natural pectin levels in the cranberries. Pour into a bowl and refrigerate until cooled.

To serve, spoon apple pudding into 3-4 serving dishes, top with whipped topping and drizzle sauce over the top.

Pearl barley has been processed, therefore it is not classified as a whole grain. But if you would like to add hulled barley(aka pot barley or barley groats) in order to obtain the fiber, simply cook twice as long, and you will need to add one extra cup of liquid because of the longer cooking time. The consistency will not be altered because of the addition of other ingredients, but if you were to cook it on its' own, it will be much chewier and sticky. And don't forget to rinse it before cooking to help keep that stickiness down.

Friday, March 6, 2015

An Inspirational Family

Bonnie C.

Breast Cancer Survivor
Fate can be serendipitous and adverse, or both. 

Imagine this. A typical mother of two beautiful daughters and an extraordinary son, Bonnie's life was simply ordinary, yet soon to become exceptional. Although her mother was diagnosed with bilateral breast cancer at the age of 69, she herself had no symptoms nor signs of any such disposition, although the thought of genetics was constantly running amok in her mind. But being a single parent for 17 years in 1992 Ohio, there were present and 'real' parenting issues to attend to, not to mention that sweet reverie of a nice gentleman walking that 'yellow brick road'.....right to her doorstep.

At 44 years of age, she found Larry walking that road, dazzling her with sunshine and filling her heart with honest, contented and supportive love that would prove itself over and over again. Agog with new-found adoration from him and lasting affection from her family, fate would show one face that would be tested 7 weeks later. Bonnie would understand the innate fear her mother endured when she, herself, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Without apprehension, she had a lumpectomy and an axillary dissection, a standard procedure to examine and remove lymph nodes.

"I had the best support system with my children, mom, sister and Larry."

With this formidable support system, her mind became eased and her life became enriched. It wasn't long before Bonnie found Larry on bended knee and her son, Matt also became engaged.

"BUT, in September 1994, I had my 6 month mammogram and a lump was found. Two days later, a biopsy showed cancer again, second primary, no metastasis."

Bonnie continues, "I was devastated and frightened. I got several opinions and after discussions with my family and Larry, I chose to have a bilateral total mastectomy with no reconstruction. This was the right decision for me. Larry had said I was more than the sum of my breasts. "

With fortitude that obviously matched Bonnie's, Larry fulfilled his connubial commitment and married Bonnie on Valentines Day, 1995.

In 2004, knowing the high risk of cancer from her mother and grandmother, Bonnie's eldest daughter Jill opted to take the bold, and unselfish, step to reduce her chance of breast cancer by 90 % by having both of her breasts removed, even without initially testing positive AND with a new man in her life. After making this decision, she had an ultrasound and mammogram done, both of which were negative. One last test was done, an MRI. And wouldn't you know it, breast cancer was discovered. Talk about yet another face of fate!

By April, 2009, Jill's surgeon informed her that her ovaries would need to be removed because of the likelihood of ovarian cancer, directly attributed to her breast cancer. "Jill fought this and, because she didn't have the gene, so she felt safe. The doctor won and the ovaries were removed. The final pathology showed stage one ovarian cancer. This doctor had saved her life." A hysterectomy was soon to follow for other medical reasons.

A shout out must go to Chris, Jill's husband. Not only was he a true advocate for his wife, but for he entire family as well. He played as much of a deciding factor in the quality of Jill's life as any doctor could.

Enough is enough, wouldn't you think?

"In August of 2009, my daughter Tricia, age 40, decided to have a prophylactic double mastectomy. A mammogram and ultrasound were negative, but an MRI showed a suspicious area. When a biopsy was performed, it showed breast cancer. Tricia had a double mastectomy and had her ovaries out."

If there was ever such a family that deserves a tribute, it would be this steadfast family. I am in a haze of reverential wonderment for these brave women and the men who stood by them. To Bonnie's son, Matthew, and Larry, we salute and praise you for supporting all the loved ones around you who were struggling. To Bonnie, Jill and Tricia, we celebrate with you. There can be no more of a fitting epilogue to the struggles this entire family than to quote Bonnie in her correspondence with The Yankee Chef.

"My daughters and I feel blessed in many ways. Surround yourself with good and loving people. Appreciate everything. Hug your kids and your husband, yell less often, tell those you love that you love them. Every day I am reminded of two things when I look in the mirror. I am a woman without breasts , but more importantly I am a woman who survived breast cancer.....We are survivors. We want you all to be survivors. Know your bodies. Be pro-active. Ask questions. Be your own advocate. We feel blessed to have each day and each other and all of you".


Saturday, February 28, 2015


Every once in a while I would like to honor those who have survived breast cancer. This post will be one of many that I would like to share with everyone, and it gives me an opportunity to write in a way that I haven't attempted before. I have asked many breast cancer survivor groups to share their stories with me, not only for my blog, but for my new book being edited presently. I truly would like to hear from as many of you as possible as it relates to your story of survival as well as surviving siblings, spouses, children or parents whose family member couldn't win that frightful battle. Of course many of you know of my mothers struggle(Mary's cousin) with breast cancer, but her story will be told in my next cookbook that is dedicated to her and all survivors and those who could not survive breast cancer.
I would like to begin with another lady who is close to home as well.....

Meet Mary M G of Maine

Breast cancer Survivor- 1 year

Mary was born in 1965 to my great aunt Rita Barbara Meeks. Aunt Rita was my mothers' aunt and had a cancerous tumor removed from her breast while in her late 30s. She recovered, only to have cancer return in her kidney(which she had removed), lung(she also had removed) and esophagus. Aunt Rita died March 1, 1991 from the esophageal cancer and she is truly missed by all those who knew her. I often think about her as being joyous and comforting to us children when my Mom passed on.

Her daughter, Mary, my cousin, has endured tribulation as well from this devastating affliction. Although Mary led an active, fulfilling and cautious life, that other-worldly voice still found time to whisper in her ear that dreaded 'C' word. Rich, her husband of 26 years, doted on her as passionately as if on their first date.
It was the day he came home from another, solo mountaineering trip that his caring persistence paid off when he found a lump in her breast.Always the mountain climber, adventurer and caring father and husband, he knew of Mary's genetic susceptibility when it came to cancer and often double checked his wife's self-examination.
"I'll never forget how his hand snapped back, like it touched something hot when he felt it.".

 Although Rich was concerned, Mary was hopeful that this oblong lump would disappear on its own, so she decided not to pursue another opinion, even though Rich was vehemently suggesting otherwise.

A few months later, because of a chest cold, she visited a doctor. After this checkup, and getting ready to leave, the physician asked her if she had any questions. She mentioned that her husband had found a lump and she may as well have it finally looked at if he had the time. Within 2 weeks, Mary, Rich and the rest of the family received word of her breast cancer.

She reflects "As soon as I heard it, a calm washed over me, tears fell silently, and my first thought was not why me, but why not me." After all, Mary's mother and her aunt died of cancer, and she had lost her brother from a different illness. "If I am cured through treatment, great. If I end up passing, then I was okay too because I would be in God's presence with Mom, Eddie, and everyone I loved that went before. "

Chemotherapy was ruled out as treatment for Mary, but she did have 2 surgeries to remove the tumor and lymph nodes, followed by 3 months of radiation treatment.

She survives today, cancer free, but not without her and her three children going through another tribulation. Her husband who had been so cautious, determined to never leave Mary's side throughout every doctors visit during those emotionally frightening days throughout her ordeal, was to be embraced by Mary's mother, aunts and brother before she would be reunited with them. Rich took one last adventure to the high mountains of Canada, all alone as he enjoyed. After failing to check in with his wife at a predetermined day and time, the Canadian government fount him on August 16, 2013, dangling from his climbing gear, unresponsive.

This day is significant in her family. It was Mary's mother's birthday and the same day of her cousins death from breast cancer.


Friday, February 13, 2015

There Is Always A Reason

Remember when our parents sent us off to school after eating a rather large bowl of hot oatmeal? Or if you are(or were) a cook, you always had that small double boiler filled with stringy, gloppy oatmeal we plopped in a bowl for a customer?

The origins of oatmeal is referred to as beginning with a research scientist at British Adhesives and Sealants Association mistakenly finding oatmeal was great as an adhesives during a botched experiment trying to find the best industrial glue.

Although the British Adhesives and Sealants Association is real, the story is not. BUT, I must add that in Cambridge, England, contestants vie for the Golden Spurtle every year. The.spurtle is a 15th century wooden, fancy club for stirring the beloved English oatmeal, or porridge. This is the Golden Spurtle World Porridge Making Championship and is, by far, the most anticipated food even in all of England.

Although looking back, I find the flavor of plain oatmeal that took Mom 15-20 minutes(the true Scottish method) to make in the morning boring and almost too bland to eat, it filled our bellies. The only sweetener was sugar and then we added some milk to it so that it wouldn't ball up on us. I enjoyed eating it, however, but my kids would NEVER touch it now, at least not the way we had it growing up.

The main reason(besides the inexpensive cost) is that oatmeal stays with you for hours and hours after ingesting, especially Steel-Cut oats(see below). THAT is why our parents so gladly fed us this "porridge" before school and I will gladly say thank you for caring.

But now that we are older and cooking it ourselves, there are many of us who are still vague on the differences between the varieties. Here is a quick rundown and then I will add two fantastic recipes using rolled oats.


Rolled oats are simply oat groats that have had their inedible husks(chaff) removed, then they are steamed and rolled into flakes. They then are toasted for shelf stabilization. Oat groats, also called berries, contain the fiber-laden bran, endosperm and the germ itself. I remember well my Dad eating Wheat Germ often, which was the germ of the wheat plant. There are also different types of groats, such as wheat and rye, but seen much less often, regrettably.

Rolled oats can be easily turned into oat flour by putting some in a food processor or blender and pulsing until a powder is formed. If you find yourself without breading for seafood or anything that requires flour as a coating, try giving some oats a whirl in your processor or blender as a substitute. You will be glad you did.

There are four different types of rolled oats.


The thinnest of them is the instant oatmeal you see on grocery shelves.

Next is the Quick Cooking Oats, a tad thicker. Used in many recipes calling for oats.

Then we have the Regular(Old-Fashioned) Rolled Oats and lastly...

Extra Thick Rolled Oats. You remember, the kind our parents made us eat before school!?!?


Then what is the oatmeal found in baby food jars? That is oatmeal that is pulverized so that it is a powder. Mixed with boiling water and then cooled, it is the base of all baby food. Sound too simple NOT to do at home, rather than paying .50 a jar, huh?

Generations ago. our fore-families ate porridge, which was much like baby food oatmeal powder, just not as finely pulverized.

Then there are steel-cut oats(aka Irish and Pinhead), which is the same thing as sliced oat groats, but chopped fine before steaming. Steel Cut are not recommended for baking because they do not soften much at all, resulting in quite a chewy texture. BUT, I must confess, I enjoy the texture of Steel-Cut for my morning breakfast because it simply stays with you for hours and hours. And out of all the different types of oats, these are best for controlling blood sugar levels as well, taking the longest to break down in your body, thereby controling sugar "spikes".

Quick Question...

Why has oatmeal been a family favorite for treating itching, bug bites and other minor skin ailments?

Answer: Because it is the ONLY food item in the world that contains avenanthramides. Averanthramides are alkaloids that are proven to be an anti-inflammatory, anti-irritant and is a great anti-oxidant compound.

And lastly. With all the talk about gluten now-a-days, I am often asked if oatmeal is gluten free. You bet it is. But because it is often processed in the same area as gluten rich grains and even grown in the same fields as wheat, it is best to check the package just to be on the safe side, but all in all, oats are gluten free.


Now how about two great recipes that give rolled oats a new attitude?

Yanked Oatmeal-Raisin Cookie Cake

The ooey, gooey goodness of oatmeal cookies is only made better with the addition of chocolate. This recipe is so great during our long winters here in New England. Although dryer and more crumbly than other cakes, this cookie cake should be enjoyed hot and with a mound of whipped cream or ice cream topping each serving so that no crumb is left behind.


Nonstick cooking spray
1 1/2 cups old fashioned oats
3/4 cup flour
2 tablespoons cocoa
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 stick(1/2 cup) butter or margarine, very soft
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup plain yogurt
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup chocolate covered raisins or cranberries
Whipped topping or ice cream if desired

Preheat oven to 350-degrees F. Spray the bottom and sides of a 9-inch cake pan with nonstick cooking spray: set aside. In a large mixing bowl, blend the oats, flour, cocoa, cinnamon and baking soda. In another bowl, with an electric mixer, beat the butter and brown sugar, on high, until smooth. Add the yogurt, eggs and vanilla and continue beating for an additional 10 seconds, or until smooth and fluffy. Mix the wet with the dry, combining very well. Fold in the raisins, pour into prepared pan. The mixture will be very thick, but still slightly thinner than cookie dough. Bake 25-27 minutes, or until firm but still slightly soft and the edges have pulled away from the sides slightly. Remove from oven to cool slightly before slicing and serving hot with whipped topping or ice cream.

Apple Dipper Oatmeal Cookies
If you enjoy dipping wedges of apple into peanut butter, then you are going to love these cookies. The instant cider mix is found in supermarkets everywhere here in New England, but you may need to order it online if you live elsewhere, but at least look. During the winter months, it is widely available. These cookies are so delicious, moist and packed with apple flavor, you won't be able to put them down.

1 cup sugar
2 cups oats
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup butter or margarine, melted
4(.74-ounce)packets apple cider instant drink mix*
1/4 cup peanut butter, chunky or smooth
2 eggs, beaten with 3 tablespoons water


Preheat oven to 350-degrees F. In a large bowl, blend the oats, flour, sugar, apple cider mix, baking soda, nutmeg and cinnamon. Stir in the melted butter, peanut butter and egg mixture until well incorporated. Drop by the tablespoon on an ungreased cookie sheet, leaving 2 inches between mounds, and cook 13-15 minutes. The cookies will be done when the underside is lightly browned and the edges are slightly crisp. The cookie itself will still be soft, making it hard to determine when to pull them from the oven. When the centers are soft but not soupy, then they are ready. Let cool in pan for 3 minutes before carefully transferring to plates to completely cool. the cookies will firm up once cooled.

Makes about 25 cookies

* I used alpine Spiced Apple Cider Drink Mix but any variety can be used. If you would like, substitute 2 teaspoons apple extract, or flavoring, or even melt down some apple hard candies.



Tuesday, January 27, 2015

REAL Comfort Food

After studying and writing about New England food and it's history for decades, I have lately been bombarded with "scientific" links to what is and isn't comfort food and the meaning. I have also read an article stating that a person receives the same gratification from a granola bar(in a comfort food sense) as one would any other comfort food dish. Even more articles are written with carbohydrates and sugars being the basis of a comfort food.

That was it!!! I have decided to lay to rest, once and for all (I hope), what comfort food is and why comfort food is. But first, we need to distinguish between comfort food and what I call "Jersey" food.

The latter could be a greasy cheeseburger, french fries smothered in chili or gravy, a big bowl of fiery red chili or that foot-long hot dog with all the fixings. Pizza, ice cream, hot cocoa, a fresh crisp apple or your favorite sandwich are generally associated with Jersey food as well.

Jersey food is any food that you can don a casual shirt or blouse and enjoy, without fear of any standards, an item of food that is decadent, sloppy, delicious or finger-licking. If it drips onto your shirt, fine! If you end up licking ALL your fingers, fine! If you just need to throw a cap on or pull your hair back in a pony tail and sit down to order at a greasy spoon, then that is what Jersey food is all about. Relaxed, unpretentious and sloppily good.

Comfort food, on the other hand, has always meant a food that brings both your taste buds and mind-set together in a place that has been visited before. A place where comfort sets in at the mere thought of a particular food item that may range from a simple home baked loaf of bread to something as complex as a Baked Alaska. A place that immediately brings you to a place that is comforting, secure, tranquil and homy. Remember that meatloaf someone in your family made and you enjoyed it as a child?

And when you are a child, you had no worries, never wondering how bills were being paid or if you would have clothes to wear or would be able to keep a roof over your head? Even if you did have to worry about such things, there may have been a food item that brought you to a safer place as a child.

They all go hand in hand. It was that blanket of 'security' that always covered you when growing up.

It was without consideration that you would have love, a bed and a meal. So these are part of who we are. Something that is not controlled, but controls us. When you think of that beloved meatloaf, it instantly brings all those other factors along with it. Meatloaf, love and comfort. It has nothing to do with serotonin, chemicals in the brain, sugar or carbohydrates, pure and simple.

Do you honestly think that a granola bar gives you that same, secure comfort? I don't even classify these bars as jersey food! What an insane "scientific" find!!!

I like to accept the moniker Comfort Food King that a chef labeled me with many years ago with pride because, not only do I try to bring families back to the table, but I sincerely try to create new comfort foods that can be passed from one generation to another. And the only way to do that is from home, at the table, make if simple yet different and above all, tasty.

Certainly I add my own touch in the way of fruits and New England staples, but because I am a Yankee, there are certain items that are comfort ingredients to us, like maple syrup, molasses, apples, Cheddar cheese and the like.

To really swell up my e-mail and responses, I will tell you that barbecue(for example) is not a comfort food, unless it brings you back to the days of your childhood or home. Barbecue is that type of food that is a Jersey Food, and for goodness sake, know that I am not talking about the state of New Jersey, you should read the ENTIRE article before e-mailing or posting replies in the negative.

Many studies have been undertaken to find out what makes comfort food....well, comforting. And the general agreement among physicians and scientists is the correlation between serotonin and that feeling of enjoying comfort food, They state that it influences almost all of our brain cells that are related to mood, desire, appetite, memory and learning. And when we are deficient in serotonin, then these functions are altered or affected in some way, even being attributed to depression.

There is one HUGE problem with this method of thinking and prognosis. THERE IS NO WAY TO MEASURE SEROTONIN LEVELS IN THE LIVING BRAIN!!!!!

So as much as most of these shallow thinking scientists may theorize(based on absolutely zero evidence), our longing and desire for(as well as the end result of enjoying) comfort food comes from heredity and the uncontrollable desire to revert to a protective, motherly time in our lives. Those simpler times when family actually sat down and enjoyed each others company during a meal. The time when 'homemade' actually meant something and not just used by every manufacturer trying to sell a product.

I can give you a great example of the term comfort food that truly epitomizes its' meaning. Just think about one time where you were either on a vacation, business venture or any foray that took you away from your home. No matter how much fun you had, no matter how thrilling the time was and no matter if you had ANY complaints or not, the second you walk into your home after being away, the words "I am glad to be back home!" is uttered without thought. And why do you think that happens? This whole article is summed up with that seven word exclamation.

So I would love to hear from you with regards to not only what your favorite comfort food is, but why.

What is MY comfort food? It would have to be real Mac and Cheese. Made with sharp Cheddar cheese, dryer than normal with a cracker crumb baked on top. Why? Because Mom and Dad made it for us numerous times as a child and it certainly brings back memories of all of us around the supper table AND the restaurant kitchen where I would often eat while helping my family.

Although......Grammy's blueberry cake rivals it!