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July 2009

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In addition to my two amazing children, one of the many things I took away from my marriage was the ability to cook and appreciate Jewish soul food. While I was married I learned how to cook the food of my husband’s family. We had roast chicken and matzoh ball soup on Fridays and huge feasts at Passover, table groaning with brisket, kugel, tsimmes, kasha, and other holiday delicacies. Though the marriage didn’t last, the memories and flavors survived.

For a nice (lapsed) Catholic girl, I know my way around Jewish cuisine and have come to associate this food with happy times and home. So every once in a while, even in the summer, the craving strikes and I make time for Brisketpalooza — a night of indulgence in traditional Jewish food with a healthier twist. It isn’t hard to find someone to cook for, someone whose childhood memories are steeped in rich meat gravy and chopped liver on crisp matzohs.

This summer Maine has had more than its share of cold, rainy days. I took advantage of one this week and made my favorite comfort food meal. Wherever possible, I have attempted to make healthy changes and substitutions to these classic recipes — not exactly your bubbie’s kugel, but filled with love and memories nonetheless.

Super Easy Chopped Liver

1 lb. chicken livers, rinsed

2 tbl olive oil

1 large yellow onion diced

8 oz sliced mushrooms

1 hard boiled egg

Salt and pepper to taste

Saute livers in half the olive oil until brown, about 4 minutes per side. You can finish with a few tablespoons of red wine if you have it handy. Saute the onions and mushrooms until soft and slightly caramelized. Combine in a food processor. Do not over process, it should retain body. Chop egg and combine. Serve on matzoh.

You can snack on the chopped liver while you prepare the brisket and kugel.

Perfect-Every-Time Brisket

Preheat oven to 325 degrees

5 lb. first cut brisket

1 large yellow onion, cut in chunks

1 lb baby carrots

6 celery stalks, large dice

1 head of garlic, peeled

1 small can V-8 juice

1 cup red wine

1 cup beef broth

Salt and pepper to taste

In roasting pan, place brisket fat side up and salt and pepper generously. Place vegetables around the meat and top with garlic. Pour liquid on top. Cover with aluminum foil and place in center of oven for 4 – 5 hours, or until meat is ridiculously tender. Transfer meat and vegetables to separate platters and cool. Meanwhile, refrigerate pan liquid until the fat congeals and can be removed. Puree half the carrots and the rest of the vegetables and use them to thicken gravy. When it has cooled, cut the meat to 1/4 inch slices, return to roasting pan and cover with thickened gravy. This can sit overnight to absorb the flavors or can be reheated and served immediately. Serve with remaining carrots, which will be very soft, moist and full of flavor.

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Not-So-Sinful Kugel

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

12 oz. yolk free broad egg noodles

4 tbls. Cabot unsalted butter

4 oz. softened cream cheese

1 cup Cabot Sour Cream

6 oz. Cabot Honey Greek Yogurt

1 lb. Cabot No-Fat Cottage Cheese

1/2 cup sugar

6 eggs, beaten

1 tsp ground cinnamon

Boil noodles per package instructions. Mix together all other ingredients and combine with cooked noodles. Place in a greased 9″ x 13″ casserole dish and bake until eggs are set and top is golden brown, about 45 minutes. If you prefer a savory kugel, you can substitute sauteed chopped onions for the sugar and cinnamon.

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I served the brisket and kugel with mashed potatoes and the roasted carrots. There was also a generous dollop of Rabbi’s Roots Horseradish. Their motto? ” It puts the ‘rad’ back in horseradish!” To share the repast, I invited my friend Brian Lazarus, a craftsman of refined taste and judgment, and more important, a Jewish Soul Food afficionado.

I think he approved.

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Some people are blessed with impeccable genetic material. They manage to stay thin and fit with little thought or effort. But if statistics are to be believed, most Americans struggle with too many pounds, not enough exercise, and questionable food choices.

In an informal poll of my healthiest and  fittest friends I came away with five habits many of them share to get in shape and stay there for a lifetime.

Here, in no particular order, are Five Habits of Seriously Fit People:

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They Move. We’ve all heard that we should park in the farthest space from our destination and walk, take the stairs instead of the elevator, bike to the library rather than drive. Fit people actually do these things. They also tend to avoid the sitting or prone positions many of us find ourselves in as we talk on the phone or watch TV. My friend Taunya Foerster, who owns Edge Pilates Studio in Ft. Lauderdale, never takes a phone call sitting down. She grabs her cell or her cordless and walks or does stairs while she talks. As I wrote in last week’s post, I work on my exercise ball when I watch TV. Movement and activity will always be friends of the fit.

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They Log. Keeping a journal or diary of what you eat and how you exercise is a great way to understand and modify your food and workout choices. Knowing exactly how many calories you consume or how much and how hard you exercise will help you make healthy choices as you move forward. There are a wide variety of online and downloadable food diaries, many of which are customizable for your unique needs. FitWatch.com offers a number of food and exercise diary alternatives.

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They Read. Staying healthy and fit is an ongoing process that requires self-discipline and dedication. Educating yourself about the latest trends in wellness will make your fitness goals easier. There are abundant resources in print and online for information about exercise, healthy eating, and lifestyle choices. One of my go-to online choices is Active.com, “Your Guide to an Active Planet. It is an amazingly comprehensive site that covers individual and team sports, and has sections on health, travel, lifestyle, nutrition, and more — there’s even an Active Singles online dating service.

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They Graze. Seriously fit people have learned to consistently make healthy food choices. They have learned that eating six small, nutritionally balanced meals a day is an effective and healthy way to maintain proper weight. These frequent small meals keep blood sugar levels even throughout the day and help maintain metabolism and keep it at a constant level. Eating every two to three hours will prevent you from becoming too hungry and overeating at your next meal.

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They Plan. Whether it’s a fitness regimen, the components of a healthy diet, or getting enough rest, seriously fit people make plans and stick to them. They make lists and appointments. They announce goals and work toward them. They commit to a course of action. Seriously fit people tend to hang out with others who share their goals. There is nothing like having a workout or diet partner to help you stick to a plan.

Like any worthwhile endeavor, becoming seriously fit takes dedication and comitment. But the rewards of serious fitness will last a lifetime.

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    “Though government has an important role to play in meeting the many challenges that remain before us, we are coming to understand that no organization, including government, will fully succeed without the active participation of each of us. Volunteers are vital to enabling this country to live up to the true promise of its heritage.”     William Jefferson Clinton

In a world turned upside down by economic uncertainty, the most vulnerable are often the most affected. While few have emerged from recent financial events unscathed, many of us are still in a position to lend a hand to those in serious and immediate need. Volunteering on any level – locally, nationally, or internationally – can make a real difference, in one life or in many.

Volunteering is no longer the province of stay-at-home-moms and high school students. There are volunteer opportunities for everyone, even the busiest professionals. The internet has made finding the perfect volunteer situation fast and easy. Following are links to help you get started:

www.volunteermatch.org Since 1998 VolunteerMatch has made over 4 million volunteer matches. They represent almost 70,000 organizations that need help in areas like the environment, animal causes, health services, community, and women’s issues. Getting started is as simple as entering your zip code and areas of interest.

www.paveamerica.org PaveAmerica was founded by Alison Czelusniak in 2004 to promote America’s volunteer efforts. Pave’s website has a page devoted to helpful tips on how to search for your best volunteer match. Find it here.

www.serve.gov This compresensive website not only allows you to search for volunteer opportunities in your community, it is also a place where you can share your volunteer experiences to encourage others to participate. It also allows organizations to register and invite others to join.

www.globalvolunteers.org USA Today called Global Volunteers International the “grandaddy of the global volunteer movement.” Volunteering for a week or more where help is most needed throughout the world can be the volunteering experience of a lifetime.

www.imrhq.org International Medical Relief offers short-term volunteer opportunities for medical and non-medical workers in some of the world’s most underserved and neediest communities. IMR provides medical relief in areas where health care is limited and difficult to obtain.

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For years my running group and I would gather on Sundays for a long run, afterward treating ourselves to muffins the size of an infant’s head, divine muffins that were nonetheless loaded with sugar, fat, and empty carbohydrates. We rhapsodized about our breakfast treats, but always left feeling a little guilty, no matter how many miles we logged.

On race days we would up the ante. After we raced, we’d get together at one of our houses and have a potluck brunch. In addition to the mutant muffins, there were other sinful treats. My specialty was a Breakfast Strata — a lazy person’s version of quiche — with eggs, cream, and cheese, layered over bread and topped with sausage or bacon. The strata was rich, dense and flavorful…and a festival of fat and cholesterol. Again it was true, the effort during the race mitigated some of the effects of the ingredients, but as an athlete committed to healthy eating, I knew I had to find a better way.

A recent post on Twitter reminded me of how much fun it was to get together with my friends after a hard workout. City Running Tours posted a tweet announcing they were offering a five mile running tour of New York City combined with bRUNch. A run followed by brunch at a local restaurant — what a great concept. Their tweet reminded me that I wanted create a newer, healthier version of a great idea.

Last Sunday I invited a group to meet and run or walk along my favorite six-mile route, ending at my house. When everyone made it in, we dived into my own take on bRUNch which included a revised, heart healthy version of the Breakfast Strata accompanied by fresh fruit and yogurt. The Strata traded bacon for fresh, sauteed veggies, the cream for fat-free half & half. The eggs were the Omega 3 enriched type and I substituted Cabot’s 50% Reduced Fat Cheddar for the regular cheese. Even the base layer, formerly bread cubes or even cubed bagels, got a healthy makeover. For the new Strata iteration I used fiber-added whole grain English muffins.

In spite of its name, bRUNch doesn’t have to be about running. There’s a real feeling of almost festive accomplishment when you get together with friends after a good workout, weather it’s running, 18 holes of golf, or a killer doubles match.

Following is my bRUNch Strata — healthier, yes, but every bit as delicious. Hope you like it!

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8 large eggs, organic, Omega-3

2 cups fat free half & half

2 cups Cabot 50% Reduced Fat Cheddar, shredded (I used 1 1/2 cup 50% regular and 1/2 cup 50% Jalepeno.)

4 multi-grain, fiber-added English muffins, toasted & cubed

2 tbls. extra virgin olive oil

6 oz. bag baby spinach

8 oz. mushrooms, sliced

1 large yellow onion, diced

1/2 tsp. dried mustard

8-10 leaves fresh basil, chopped

salt & pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

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In 9 x 13 cassarole, add first layer of cubed English muffins.

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Sautee onions and mushrooms in olive oil over medium heat until onions are translucent and beginning to brown. Add spinach and wilt. Remove from heat.

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In bowl whisk together eggs, half & half, mustard, salt, pepper, and basil.

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Spread vegetables over English muffins.

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Top with all but 1/2 cup of shredded cheese. Pour egg mixture to cover and sprinkle remaining 1/2 cup of shredded cheese to top.

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Bake for approximately 30 – 45 minutes, until top is golden brown.

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Let stand for 10 minutes and serve with fresh fruit drizzled with Cabot Greek Style Honey Yogurt.

In a society that worships youth, Baby Boomers — those of us born between 1946 and 1964 — remain a significant and formidable demographic. The Boomer population is 78 million strong and its influence on business, lifestyle, and culture is indisputable.

Boomers are even putting their inimitable stamp on social media and networking. We represent the fastest growing population of users on Facebook and Twitter. We are Linkedin, we Skype, we date on eHarmony. Boomers are texters, bloggers, and avid file sharers.

While it might be convenient to lump Boomers into a single group, it’s important to remember that we’re a cohort that incorporates wildly diverse lifestyles and attitudes. Really good Boomer-oriented websites must take into account the stages, not just the ages, of their Boomer users.

Following, in no particular order, are the five sites I’ve bookmarked as the best for Boomers.

www.boomergirl.com This site for Boomer women was founded in 2007 “to give women in mid-life a voice.” Boomergirl compiles news, information, and advice in blogs and podcasts…there’s even a daily Spanish lesson.

www.boomj.com This social networking and information site got its name by combining Baby Boomers and Generation Jones. The site describes Baby Boomers as born between 1946 and 1953, who “associate their youth with Howdy Doody, Davy Crocket hats, and later, Woodstock and Vietnam War demonstrations.” Jonesers, born between 1954 and 1965 who are “the actual children of the sixties (more wide-eyed than tie-dyed); Jonesers were weaned on The Brady Bunch and Easy Bake Ovens and later were the teens of 70′s heavy metal, disco, punk and soul.”

www.cranky.com An off-shoot of Eons, cRANKy bills itself as the first age-relevant search engine, kind of a Google for Boomers. Here’s how they explain it: “When you search, cRANKy shows the four highest-rated search results based on Eons editors’ and members’ ratings. After visiting a site, cRANKy will invite you to rate it. Added together, members’ ratings raise or lower a site’s ranking. The reactions and opinions of the community determine how Eons ranks sites, making cRANKy the world’s first age-relevant search engine.”

www.eons.com If you’re 50+ and new to social networking, Eons might be just the site for you. You must be over 50 to join, but when you do you’ll find an online community of your peers sharing everything from exercise advice to recipies to dating tips.

www.aginghipsters.com With its paisley infused logo, this site even looks like a product of the sixties. Aginghipsters is a clearing house for information on music, culture, and lifestyle for Baby Boomers. Its casual, straightforward format reflects the spirit of the generation.

And as a bonus, here’s one more that all of you 50 and older have probably visited at least once.

www.aarp.org I know, I dreaded that card showing up on my doorstep hours after my 50th birthday, too. There’s nothing that punctuates the actual aging process quite like an AARP card in your wallet.  Still there’s no disputing that AARP.org is one of the most comprehensive news and information sites for Baby Boomers. Trust me. I’m over 50!

Hanging out with my son recently — he’s on summer break from grad school at Emerson in Boston — has been a revelation in so many ways. For instance my computer literacy and social media skills have skyrocketed. But more important, he has helped me understand the importance and impact of buying locally and regionally grown foods and supporting businesses close to home, no matter where you live.

That said, living in Maine can make a commitment to eating locally a challenge. Our short growing season limits choices in colder months, but come summer time, we have a bounty of fresh local foods to choose from. A trip to the Portland Whole Foods Market today reminded me of how many local and regional growers and purveyors are represented on the shelves of supermarkets, shops, and farm stands around town.

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You can find a fairly comprehensive list of Maine farm stands here.

Most markets are getting better about identifying the origin of fresh produce, making it easier to buy within the closest circle practicable. For me this means buying Pennsylvania mushrooms rather than California. Apples from Maine, instead of Washington. Tomatoes from my garden or somewhere nearby.

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And, of course, locally grown fresh produce is one of the true delights of summer. The good news is that local foods don’t disappear with the autumn harvest. More and more local and regional suppliers are providing fresh foods or creating frozen, canned, and bottled products year round.

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Making the commitment to buy locally or regionally whenever possible is one more step we can all make to global sustainability.

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Besides, knowing the people who make the food you eat is just plain fun. Beth George and her husband (and my MECA colleague), Tim Kane started the Spelt Right Bakery, a small Maine company that specializes in baked goods made with organic spelt flour and other organic and all natural ingredients. Watching Spelt Right grow has been an exciting and instructive process, and Beth and Tim’s commitment to a quality product and to their community is inspiring.

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Last night we celebrated my “Buy Local” trip to the market, with h’ors doeuvres on the deck. Simple fare to be sure, but delightful nonetheless. We made a toast to the season with a bottle of Maine Mead Works Honey Maker Dry. made from Maine wildflower honey and other local ingredients.  We complimented the light but full-bodied taste of the Honey Maker with a wedge of Cabot Creamery‘s ridiculously delicious Clothbound Cheddar.

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What a lovely way to end a day close to home.