One-Pot Mac & Cheese

Who’s hungry? I almost forgot today is National Mac & Cheese Day! In its honor, I give you a clean and worthy version, one that won’t cause bloating, cramping, emotional fog and all the other attendant vagaries that can occur on a post-gluten and dairy adventure.Back in the old days, the descending of a cloying and debilitating fog is precisely what I was after. Food was a salve, escape, and distraction from all that I refused to acknowledge. I actually am quite grateful for all those cans of Franco American macaroni and cheese I hastily zapped to an acceptable state of warmth in the microwave. I’d become adept at zeroing in on the perfect number of seconds required. Too soon and it would still be cold. Too long on the timer and the noodles were too hot to touch, and THAT did not fly for someone whose wellbeing hinged on instant gratification.Overeating to cope is a multilayered problem with multi-layered solutions. Sure, clean eating and exercise went a long way, but on their own, those two techniques would have been unsustainable without a prolonged focus on inner-healing and a commitment to keep that garden tended for a lifetime. For more on that, I recommend my book, “The Untended Soul,” because if you don’t pay your soul first, life just won’t work the way God intended.In the meantime, feed yourself kind thoughts and good food. Hope you enjoy Chef Bill’s re-imaginging of one of my favorite comfort foods!

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Grain-Free, Sugar-Free Cashew Cookie Bars

…and I promise they taste good! Actually, there’s one-more accolade to add to the description – these cookie bars are also egg-free as well. It’s been a minute since I’ve gotten back to my test kitchen and concocted a new dessert recipe. A combination of boredom and a craving for something soft and sweet prompted the quest.

For years now, I’ve loved subbing white gluten-free flours with grain-free alternatives. My top two favorites: almond flour, and in this case, chickpeas! They’re wonderfully moist and their neutral flavor make it a blank canvas for alchemizing into a sweet or savory treat. I often make mock-bread with them, especially during pesto season. Sometimes, the garbanzos get transformed into a delicious, low-glycemic dessert, like my Strawberry Shortcake recipe. Most recently, I turned three cups of cooked chickpeas (also known as garbanzo beans) into a delicious dessert.

These bars bear a strong resemblance to my Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars from 2015, but with a few differences. These have no eggs, a decision I made based on advice from health experts due to autoimmune issues. I still love eggs and will never give them up completely, but when I can, I find ways around using them. Another difference: cashew butter. I ADORE it and its silky texture is ideal for baking. As always, I choose a variety that’s unsweetened and non-hydrogenated. There’s enough natural oil in cashew butter to not need any additional fats. I was skeptical as to how they’d turn out minus eggs. Turns out, they’re not needed for this one, and the textural results are soft, dense cookie bars with a slight bent toward cookie dough. If that doesn’t appeal to you, bake them for an additional ten minutes.

These bars are lovely to look at and even lovlier to eat. And they won’t spike your blood sugar and you’ll actually have done something nice for your body.

Hong Kong-style Beef & Rice

When Chef Bill saw this recipe prepared on the PBS cooking show, Milk Street, he was instantly inspired to reinvent it a bit into a healthier version that uses coconut palm sugar instead of brown sugar, lean beef instead of pork, and brown rice instead of white.

He’s a lifelong fan of Asian cuisine and knew the recipe would be a knock-out. He was right. This dish is an edible kaleidoscope of flavor profiles, an aromatic treat that’s as delicious as it is easy to prepare.

This isn’t a quickie, 15-minute meal. There’s prep time involved. But I’ve learned to befriend the process because when I’m doing the prepping and not a factory, it always bodes well for my body.

Reparation Of A Broken Vessel

I reached for one of my favorite mugs this morning, not so much because Mother’s Day is approaching, but I love its bright colors. The enameled pink, gold, and yellow caught my eye the second I spotted it on a shelf at Marshall’s one day last year. Coffee mugs are my handbags, and this one emitted cheer. As I reached to claim it as mine, I suddenly froze. Emblazoned across its surface were the words “World’s Best Mom.” Not really appropriate, I thought, given that I’d never birthed a child. Then I noticed Bill standing in front if me, fresh from a victory lap around the men’s shirt department. He’d landed the ultimate prize: a Mark Graham shirt at 70% off, and saw I was seriously eying the mug.

“I really love the colors,” I said, holding it up to the light. “Do you think it’s weird that I buy this?

‘You’re a step-mom to Zach and a doggie-mom to Sophia, of course you should get it,” was his immediate response.

So it came home with us that day, and I use it regularly, often on gloomy, overcast days when I’m wanting a burst of color. And one morning as I sipped coffee, set it down, and admired it for the 127th time, it dawned on me that there’s another role I’ve played in this lifetime: that of mother to myself.

As the self-help pioneer Louise Hay pointed out in her 1984 book, “You Can Heal Your Life,” we’re all victims of victims of victims. In other words, even our parents, virtuous as they may be, can be inborn with flaws, and when any two people join forces to parent, they lock in place a unique template that combines cultural mores, personality quirks, societal values, inherited wounding, and character strengths. It’s a wildcard of a ride if there ever was one, and the results for offspring range from lingering unmet needs to deep emotional scars.

Suffice it to say, I left the nest with unmet needs aplenty. Just as I’m sure my parents did, and their parents, and on and on.

Learning how to nurture myself in order to fill in some of the missing pieces was an ongoing process. First on the agenda was feeling the feelings. The little girl who was routinely chastised for having feelings and being ‘too sensitive,’ was now free to cry, rage, whimper…whatever I needed to do. I journaled my feelings onto paper, punched them onto pillows, and when I felt strong enough, had honest talks (also known as confrontations) with others about my feelings. Also critical to the process: seeking support from like-minded people. No one does it alone, nor should you try. For many years, I nourished my needs and unburdened my hurting inner-self at 12-step meetings, therapy sessions, metaphysical workshops, and over countless cups of coffee with empathetic friends.

This wellspring of permission to nurture cemented a solid sense of self that shame, all those years ago, had once thwarted. And guess what? It was SO much more effective than dieting. It’s pretty fascinating to contemplate that only a single consonant separates the words ‘pounds’ and ‘wounds.’ It’s a reality I encourage my clients to focus on because that’s where the true and lasting healing lies.

But food, of course, cannot and should not be ignored. And for my path to wholeness, I had to start from ground zero since I never had a shot at a normal relationship with it. As a child of the 70’s, dieting was not only a pastime but a moral imperative. I couldn’t escape the mandate, even at summer camp, where I was sent to “the diet table,” a place for the chubby campers and counselors. Sullen outcasts, we sat eating vegetables and cottage cheese in a room segregated off the dining hall, and we always left each meal light on nourishment and pumped up with shame. Growing up, food was not a simple noun, but a vortex of swirling emotions that stirred both fascination and disgust within me. Food was judged, regulated, literally hidden and locked away, and largely forbidden. And I also needed it desperately to feel better.

This aggravated not only low self-esteem but my weight and I wrestled with both for decades. Until the day I decided a do-over was in order. In tandem with the inner work I was doing, I inverted the equation and transformed shame into joy, rebuke into permission, and eating in secret to eating openly and with abandon. Yup, I went overboard with quantity but I needed to. It was a necessary passage and part of me taking control and offering myself recompense for all the years the locusts of deprivation and recrimination devoured my shot at a stable existence.

To get more insights on this I refer you to my cookbook-memoir “Clean Comfort.” But with no calendar mandates for progress reports, unlimited patience, and a resolve to treat myself with the same kindness I treat a friend, the rift between food and me was healed, as was the relationship I had with my body, soul, and inner child who, at the core, didn’t really want all that revenge-eating, but instead only simple, unmitigated acceptance.

Food has a much different place in my life now. I seek pleasure from it for sure, but also nourishment. Like the hot cereal made from quinoa piled into the mug in this photo. There’s an interesting metaphor for sure with my love of hot cereal the way it mimics baby food in appearance and texture.

I find foods that are soft and creamy to be inherently comforting. And in the case of hot cereal, I make it nourishing as well as comforting. My taste buds no longer exclusively run the show. My body has an equal vote now and loves things like flax seeds, hemp hearts, and coconut oil. (See all kinds of hot cereal recipes on this site for more details).

So as I sit on my balcony, on one of the first warm and beautiful days of the year, I contemplate with gratitude my ability to be my own mother, even as I acknowledge the irony of spending my reproductive years recovering from an unhappy childhood. I also remember all the women in my life who imbued me with maternal kindness and gave me comfort and reassurance when I needed it. The rock in this photo came from a beach on Lake George where I spent childhood summers. The beach belonged to my Aunt Mary, who was a best friend, grandmother, aunt and occasional mother-figure who melted into empathy if I was sad. She’s been gone for 20 years now and I still thank God for her.

Sometimes, when holidays such as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day roll around, there are mixed and unresolved feelings bubbling beneath the surface. It’s OK. I repeat it’s OK to have mixed emotions. They were human and so are you. There’s no perfect script to follow. And whatever you do, please don’t use sappy TV commercials as a template.

Whatever Mother’s Day evokes for you, the good news is, we can reach inward to listen…with stillness, compassion, and profound love.

Quinoa in Quarantine

God I love carbs! Yes, I just stated the obvious because…Who doesn’t? my love of starchy grains and root vegetables is the main reason I could never, back in my dieting days, do Keto or Atkins for more than a few weeks.

Not only do carbs bring me pleasure, but brown rice, oats, and potatoes also offer a cornucopia of nutrients and fiber, whether their incarnation on my table is creamy, fluffy, or crispy. That’s because they’re carbs of the complex variety, in a different league from white carbs like pasta and white rice.

Even so, complex carbs were something I regulated. It’s just the law of my middle-aged metabolism. They don’t process in my body the way broccoli does (if only).

But enter march 2020, the coronavirus makes its way around the entire circumference of the globe and we’re all told to stay home. Not such a horrible thing if you’re a homebody to begin with. But if you’re a mover and a doer and kind of attached to your job and its attendant income, this coupled with the mortal threat to one’s health can add up to a precarious and sticky situation where food, whiling away free time, and wellness are concerned.

That being said, let me make one thing crystal clear: this is NOT the time to rectify the stress-eating with a strict and horrendously cruel diet. That’s a set-up under normal circumstances. Under Corona circumstances, you’d simply be asking for a freefall into the abyss of dieters who have shamefully tumbled off the wagon.

Shame is the last thing we’re striving for here, and in a word, if you want to acknowledge any kind of goal or intention during these tumultuous times, may I suggest the concept of balance. It’s broad enough to be non-threatening and definite enough to give you something to shoot for.

I often like to think of balance in terms of things I would like not to do, as in: inhale a bag of fritos, or make donuts part of my repertoire, or order a pizza the size of a Monopoly board with a side of buttery garlic knots. It’s so much easier to clarify what I want when I’m clear on what I don’t want. Not that all of the above doesn’t have its gastronomic appeal, but I know, through much trial and error, that my body will not appreciate the ensuing after effects of poor digestion, bloating, and extreme thirst. So what’s a carb lover to do??

Enter quinoa. The undisputed champion of complex carbs. More expensive than rice or potatoes, it’s an ancient grain hailing from the Andes mountains and has significantly more vitamins, fiber, and protein than brown rice. Inspite of this impressive resume, I can feel your interest waning and I get it. I even ADMIT that quinoa on its own is a yawn. But it’s a little known fact that under the right alchemization, it can be YUMMY!

In my cookbooks and on my archives here, there are recipes for Chocolate Quinoa Cake, Quinoa Muffins, even quinoa pancakes. Recently, though, I was craving a savory treat. Something akin to polenta, but with a healthier bent.

As it usually does, quinoa pinch hit for the simple carb BEAUTIFULLY! For this particular batch, I made it thin because I wanted a base for Eggs Benedicts, but you can also spread the better into an 8×10 pan if you prefer chunky squares of polenta.  I often enhance the flavor of quinoa polenta with pecorino cheese, but fresh chopped rosemary is also wonderful.

Hope you give it a shot and enjoy the nutritious ride! Your body is already thanking you in advance!

Quinoa Polenta

About 6 servings


3 cups cooked polenta

2 eggs

2 tablespoons light oil

½ cup grated pecorino cheese

1 teaspoon black pepper


Preheat oven to 350

Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth. The batter should be very thick, but spreadable. Spray an 8×10 pan with cooking spray (or 9×13 if you want the polenta thin). Bake for 25 minutes and check to see if it’s firm in the middle. When firm, turn oven off and leave in a cooling oven for another 10 minutes to set. Serve warm.

This one is for Great Lakes Collagen: