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Cindy’s Red Beans and Rice

“I cannot even imagine where I would be today were it not for that handful of friends who have given me a heart full of joy. Let’s face it, friends make life a lot more enjoyable.” – Charles Swindoll


Cindy is a dear friend of mine. In addition to her numerous talents, she is an amazing cook. This red beans and rice recipe is one of the many dishes the boys and I had the pleasure of enjoying –  compliments of Cindy. The following passage from my unpublished memoir, Comfort Food, provides a glimpse of what makes Cindy so special.

“Cindy is originally from Louisiana. She is a die-hard LSU fan, a wonderful hostess, and our authority on all things southern. Cindy lived in New Orleans, Kentucky, Pittsburgh, Australia, London and returned to Pittsburgh. Everywhere she goes, she embraces the culture and community. I am certain Cindy has been to more places in Pittsburgh than I, and I have lived here all my life. She is a master at assimilating into new places. Cindy will find a book club, take a watercolor class, enroll in multiple cooking classes, find the best restaurants, get involved in her children’s school and volunteer at church. Before you know it, she has a wide circle of friends and a full social calendar…Cindy is a generous, warm and caring friend. How lucky I am to be one of her ‘Yankee’ friends.”

Cindy’s red beans and rice is a special treat. Tap into your “inner Cajun” and give it a try.

“Typically served on Mondays in South Louisiana – this was wash day – and the red beans took a long time to cook, so it was a perfect dish for Mondays. The vegetables in this recipe: celery, bell pepper and onions are considered the ‘Holy Trinity’ of Cajun cooking and are used in many dishes in South Louisiana.”      – Cindy


1 pound dry red kidney beans

1 large ham shank (or substitute smoked ham hocks)

2 cups each chopped celery, onions, and green bell peppers


2 bay leaves                                                                       2 tsp white pepper

2 tsp thyme leaves                                                          1 ½ tsp garlic powder

1½ tsp oregano                                                                 ½ tsp black pepper

½ to 1 tsp ground cayenne pepper

1 pound skinless smoked sausage or kielbasa, sliced diagonally – about ½ to ¾ inch diagonal pieces

3 – 4 cups cooked rice to accompany

Cover the beans with water and let soak overnight. Drain before using. Cover ham shank with water to 2 inches below top of 6 qt. pan.  Add celery, onions, bell peppers and seasonings. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. 

Reduce heat; simmer until meat is fork tender, about 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Remove ham from pan and set aside.

Add beans to water (have water about two inches from the top) and simmer for 2 hours. Stir beans occasionally. You want the beans to cook down, to become thick, tender, but not burn at the bottom of the pan. During this time, you can pull apart the ham shank and add to pan. Continue to stir occasionally; the cooking time depends on how high you cook the beans. If you do scorch the beans on the bottom (I have many times), just transfer them to another pan and don’t ‘dig too deep’ when transferring.

Add sliced sausage to red beans and cook over a low heat for 30 minutes. Remove bay leaves and serve over steamed rice. Increase cayenne pepper or add Tabasco sauce if desired.  Adding liquid smoke in the last 30 minutes may also bring a nice flavor.


Honoring Jeff

The Sixth Annual Jeffrey J. Mabon Memorial Event was held on July 21, 2012 . At left you see Jeff loading his bicycle onto the car rack in July, 2006. A quiet and unassuming man, he would have squirmed under this spotlight. Nevertheless, he would have been honored and humbled by the outpouring of love and support. While it began as a bicycle ride, it evolved into a hike along the trails Jeff once cycled in North Park. 

It is always a wonderful and uplifting day. This year we collected donations for the Friends of the Riverfront organization. I am truly grateful to everyone who participated and donated in Jeff’s memory. Did I mention how much we all enjoyed Bruster’s “Peanut Butter Puddles” ice cream after walking the trail? YUM! 

This event was the brain child of Jeff’s friend and colleague, Russ. Russ is the person who introduced Jeff to cycling. They would ride along the riverfront, Hartwood Acres trails and North Park trails of Pittsburgh. Initially the reluctant cyclist, Jeff grew to love it. He later said it became an addiction. If only his heart could have kept pace with his enthusiasm.

The following passage from my unpublished memoir, Comfort Food discusses the impact of the event on the boys and me.

“I was surprised by how much the boys enjoyed the event. Many of their teammates and friends came, which was quite uplifting to both Andrew and Connor. Being 14 and 16, they typically would avoid the spotlight like the plague. Not this day. They actually told me later how much they liked it. I think this was because when you are grieving, you need to put that energy somewhere. You need to do something to stay sane. Because you feel helpless to change the situation, it feels good to take action of any kind. The memorial event was the perfect outlet for our grief. We were surrounded by people who loved and cared for us and we had the opportunity to donate to a worthy cause…Russ graciously allows us the privilege of choosing the beneficiary each year. This was another important step in our healing process. It may be cliche, but so true – when you help others, you actually help yourself. Thank you, Russ for this brilliant idea.”

 Healing comes to us from many different directions. Keep your heart open to all the opportunities that come your way. 

Laugh More

“Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.” – Mark Twain

While driving home from the grocery store last week, I saw a bumper sticker on my friend Marianne’s car that read “Laugh More”. Of course Marianne would have this on her bumper. She is one of the most beautiful, positive, light-hearted people you will ever meet.  When you are in Marianne’s company, a sense that the world is perfect just the way it is washes over you like a gentle wave.  And yes, you usually find yourself smiling and laughing.

This bumper sticker got me thinking about how seriously we take life at times and how it can be detrimental to our health and happiness. It is so easy to get locked into our daily routines and expectations. When something goes “wrong” we become unglued, frustrated and angry. Rigid in our adult roles, we lose our sense of humor and levity. When you walk down the street, how many people do you see with a smile on their face? I have observed that many have a hard, tight face with steely eyes. Very serious indeed. I wonder how often they have a good laugh? My guess is not often enough.

When I hear the children in my neighborhood laughing, a smile comes to my face. It makes me feel good. It is the most natural thing to do, so why don’t adults laugh more often? At what point did we lose our ability to truly enjoy ourselves and express our happiness? With all the serious issues facing our country and countries all over the globe, people may ask what there is to laugh about. No doubt there are serious matters to be resolved, but why give in to despair? A gloomy outlook serves no purpose and usually makes things seem much worse than they are.

 Do you remember the last time you had a really big belly laugh? Do you remember how good you felt afterward?  If you don’t, try to be a little less serious about yourself and your life. Have some fun and laugh more. 

How to move a mountain

“The person who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.” – Chinese Proverb

Often times we are overwhelmed by a task, project or deadline. It can be as simple as cleaning out a garage, planning a party or weeding a garden, or as complicated as moving to a new state, writing a book or completing a doctoral dissertation. So distressed by the task before us, we don’t even want to begin.

It is as though we are standing at the base of mountain. Looking  up at at the distant peak, we  stop cold – paralyzed by fear and dread. Exhaustion sets in before we take the first step.  Just the thought of navigating this behemoth makes us tired and frustrated. So, what are we to do?

When I felt exasperated by the process of writing a book, creating a website and blogging, my friend, Lori suggested that I employ the method by which she (a busy mother of four) completed her dissertation. I call it “Lori’s 10 minute rule”. The rule is beautifully simple. Work 10 minutes a day on your project. That’s it. Commit to working 10 minutes a day, every day and you will be surprised how much you can accomplish. I can say first-hand that this approach works. I think it works for two reasons. The first is that mentally we can digest the idea of “only” 10 minutes. It feels manageable, so we are more likely to take the important first step to start. The self-imposed pressure to do it all in a day is off.  Ahhh – we can relax! The second is that once we start and get involved in the project, we often work longer than our allotted 10 minutes. We don’t have to, but we may if we choose to do so. One day we look around and notice we made it to the peak!

If you are faced with a daunting task, I encourage you to give “Lori’s 10 minute rule” a try. Take a deep breath and move one stone.

“Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”

My son, Connor makes a delicious pasta sauce. The recipe is loosely based on a recipe found in the movie “The Godfather”. He made his first batch at age 13. I snapped this picture as he took it off the stove. It is our family’s most requested sauce recipe.

The following is an excerpt about Connor and his sauce recipe from my unpublished memoir, Comfort Food.

“Connor developed a passion for cooking.  It became a wonderful creative outlet for him.  He found a recipe for spaghetti sauce from one of his favorite movies, “The Godfather”.  When the family is “going to the mattresses”, Clemenza gives Michael a lesson in making sauce. Connor made it for us one Sunday.  It is quite good.  Jeff actually liked it better than my sauce. It became our standard family red sauce.  Across the bottom of the recipe card, Connor wrote a great line from the movie, delivered by Clemenza following a “hit” – “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”  This is so typical of Connor.  He has the uncanny ability to capture the essence of things in a subtle and often comical way. When I saw those words, I laughed out loud.  I will keep that card forever.”

“Fat Clemenza’s”/Connor’s Pasta Sauce Recipe

1 pound hot sausage links, cut into 2 inch pieces

1 pound lean ground beef

3 large cloves garlic, minced

2 – 28 ounce cans crushed tomatoes

1- 12 ounce can tomato paste

1 whole onion, peeled

Pinch of sugar

Garlic salt, kosher salt and pepper to taste

1 to 2 Tablespoons oregano

12 ounces of water

1 ½ cups dry red wine

1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese

½ cup fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced

Brown the hot sausage in a large deep pot on medium heat. Remove the sausage from the pot and drain excess grease, leaving a small amount in the pot.  Add ground beef to the pot and brown. Return the sausage to the pot with the ground beef. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the garlic. Cook for about 2 – 3 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, wine, water, sugar, garlic salt, oregano, onion, salt and pepper. Cover and cook for 30 minutes. Add cheese. Stir occasionally. Reduce heat to low and simmer for an additional 2– 2½ hours.  Add basil and cook for another 15 minutes. Serve over pasta of choice. Serves 8 to 10.



The Golden Thread

     “Friendship is the golden thread that ties the heart of all the world.” John Evelyn


I have been blessed with so many wonderful friends. Their love and support carried me through the dark days of grief and brought me back to life.  Comfort Food pays homage to those friends and their numerous acts of kindness.  As I say in the book, “Everyone was so genuine, so loving, so kind and so very generous. I cannot describe the love I felt and the comfort these wonderful people provided…Suspended between the life I had and the life that was waiting to be embraced, a cocoon of loving gestures encircled me. At times, the outpouring of affection was overwhelming. I drank from a cup that never emptied.”

 Friendships are vital to our happiness and well-being. Not only when we are grieving or are in need, but everyday. Our friendships are gifts to be treasured and we must handle them with care.  Research confirms what we all know to be true – friends are good for the health of our body, mind and spirit. For example, “The famed Nurses’ Health Study from Harvard Medical School found that the more friends women had, the less likely they were to develop physical impairments as they aged, and the more likely they were to be leading a joyful life. In fact, the results were so significant, the researchers concluded, that not having close friends or confidants was as detrimental to your health as smoking or carrying extra weight.”*

 Do yourself a favor and make time for your friends. Have fun and enjoy each other. Do something silly. Do something creative. Do something just for fun. Do something helpful. Do something that makes you laugh. Just do something – together. You will be so glad you made the effort.



 * UCLA Study on Friendship Among Women – An Alternative to Fight or Flight, 2002 Gale Berkowitz,

Independence Day

As we celebrate our nation’s independence tomorrow, let us also celebrate our personal independence from all things that prevent us from being all we can be. Let’s make the conscious choice to be free of all old, limiting thoughts about ourselves that keep us stuck. Let’s choose to welcome new ideas, positive energy, and new opportunities,which enrich our lives and feed our souls. Like our brave forefathers, we can choose to overcome obstacles and create a new, prosperous world. It is a choice and we are always free to make that choice. Happy Independence Day!



“It is never too late to be what you might have been.” – George Eliot

Let go, or be dragged

My friend, Lori and I were walking through a bookstore in Shadyside last week.  On the shelf was a small wooden plaque that read “Let go, or be dragged.” Those few, powerful words jumped off the shelf at me. The words are simple, but the message is profound. It reminded me of times in my life when I did not let go of people, situations, opinions and old habits. Ouch! 

When we cling to our ideas of how life should be and refuse to accept things as they are, we are dragged through life – often times kicking and screaming. Life then becomes a series of struggles. We find ourselves wondering why things are not working out for us and why we are in a “funk”.

At first, it feels like letting go is the most difficult, painful thing to do. Our mind fights it tooth and nail. As Eckhart Tolle says in Practicing the Power of Now, “It is almost as if a limb were being torn off your body.” The truth is that letting go is liberating. We can then allow ourselves to go with the flow of life and see where it takes us. I don’t know about you, but going with the flow sounds a heck of a lot easier than being dragged.

A final lesson from Jake the Wonder Dog


As you know from my previous post, Jake taught me many important lessons throughout his life. When he left this world on May 19 – his 12th birthday – he taught me yet another important lesson. It was a lesson about how to let go gracefully when it is your time. Over the past few months, Jake showed signs of slowing down. When he no longer wanted to climb into the Jeep for a ride, or chase his beloved tennis ball, my heart sank.  I knew he would not be with us much longer. Being intuitive -as all dogs are – he must have sensed it was his time to go. So, what did he do? The day before he died, he took one last walk with his best friends, Jack the Yorkie, Jack’s mom Jen, Shilah the Golden Retriever and her mom, Beth and me. This was our “six pack” for countless walks. He seemed perfectly normal on our walk, giving no clue the next day would be his last. The two of us later went out in the back yard and just hung out in the grass for awhile. I got the impression he was drinking in all the sights and sounds of his favorite space. His behavior was pretty normal the rest of the day. The next afternoon, he walked down the steps, went into this cozy crate where he felt safe, and slept away quietly.  Jake did not make a problem out of it. He just let go peacefully.  My mother said “He went out like a gentleman.” I could not agree more. When it is my time, I hope I have the opportunity to spend a day enjoying my favorite things with my favorite people and that I am able to let go with such grace.