Come find yourself...

Friday, June 12, 2009

Ah, Perry...

Smile, though your heart is aching,
smile, even though it's breaking!
When there are clouds in the sky,
you'll get by!
If you smile through your fear an' sorrow,
smile and maybe tomorrow,
you'll see the sun come shining through
for you!

Light up your face with gladness,
hide every trace of sadness,
although a tear may be ever so near,
that's the time you must keep on tryin',
smile, what's the use of cryin' ?
you'll find that life is still worthwhile,
if you'll just smile!

Perry Como - "Smile"

Fifteen years ago, I moved out of Manhattan and rented a room from a sweet guy, Joe P. in Brooklyn, New York (I'm avoiding using his last name because I love him, not because I don't want to be sued).

The apartment was sprawling and two stories. There was a spiral staircase in the corner which led to a tiny bedroom in the front of the house. I rented the room for $350 a month. It was ridiculously noisy. I would wake up every morning to garbage trucks fifty feet outside my window.

The apartment was one in a series of row apartments on a quiet street sandwiched between two massive highways. On the corner was a Catholic church and a playground; across the street on the opposite side was a small bridge which extended over a dirty yet oddly pretty 'river'. I use the word 'river' loosely. It smelled like dead fish heads in summer and in the winter froze over with dirty snow and ice. On my second morning in the apartment, I bolted up in bed as the garbage trucks outside thundered past, shaking windows and rattling my teeth. My mouth tasted of rotten cotton and my body aching from the move. I looked forward to being greeted by my new Italian-American roommate, Joey.

Joey was a tiny, dark-haired and muscular guy who could not, for the life of him, stand still. He was always in a state of motion. My sister, Joy and her now husband, Ken, came to stay once and loved him, which is saying something. Joy can be very sensitive to outside stimulation and despite his frantic nature, she loved him.

It was after living with him for six weeks he sheepishly confessed his use of recreational drugs.

I was fairly naive about drugs. I knew people smoked a lot of pot and my only true experience with coke was seeing Al Pacino comically snort it up his nose (do people really think Scarface is a good movie?).

I never did find out what Joe was using, but let's just say living with Joe was like living with a gay, muscular and tan version of The Flash.

He was needy and emotional and taught at an elementary school during the day. My own personal Mr. Goodbar. He was messy and sweet and as queer as a three dollar lire and I adored him. His heart was bigger than the Brooklyn Bridge and had New York Italian charm which is impossible to resist.

I strolled downstairs to find the living room empty. It was 7AM. Joe's two fat cats rolled across the floor and nuzzled my feet. I'm not a cat lover. Back then I thought I was, but I've since had a dog and realize they are God on earth. Cats are for passive aggressive older women who have lost the desire for sex.

I walked over to the coffee machine and poured a cup of coffee when the door burst open and in stormed Joey, his hairy arms waving in the air, his tiny hairy Hobbit feet flying across the floor. He plopped on the counter four gigantic packages of butcher-paper.

"Go ahead," he whispered. "Open it up."

With shaking fingers, I opened the first package. Frank stood back and took in a deep breath. He folded his massive, bulging forearms over each other and beamed ear to ear.

In front of me were the most beautifully pink and marbled cuts of steaks and Hot and Sweet Italian sausages I had ever seen. I heard myself gasp. The smells rose into the air. Sweet and salty...a hint of smoke and musk and paprika. A deep earthy desire rose in me and I started to salivate.

The smell of freshly cut onion and garlic floated across the room as Joey diced away in the corner of the kitchen.

He pushed me aside, grabbed a large serving platter, dumped the pounds and pounds of perfectly shaped meat and vegetables atop and raced to the backyard.

It was April. I could see my breath. I knew Frank had a barbecue but he couldn't possibly be using it yet.

On that brisk April morning and every Saturday and Sunday afterward (well, Saturday and Sunday mornings he wasn't out the night before until 5AM taking still yet undefined recreational substances), Joey would cook endless reams of sausages and steaks on the grill.

(Sorry, I couldn't resist...I had to put in a pic of my favorite Italian cook, the amazing Marcella Hazan...bless you, my dear.)

In the air, floating above our heads like some wayward but joyfully confused (and hungry) birds were the sweet and low sounds of old Perry Como. I felt as if I had stepped back into some oddly new and blessed world which was so right, yet so undefined.

Row after row of houses would do just as Joey was doing. Slice bright yellow and deep red peppers into tiny ribbons (never, ever green peppers) and fry them up or cook them in foil on the barbecue. The sweet smells tumbled through the air and wrapped themselves around me like a warm flannel blanket on a cold New England day.

The tart and then savory smells of frying onions rose into the deep musk rising from the barbecue as the hot and sweet sausages cooked. You could smell the thick, smoky olive oil and the sharp garlic.

Nearly every Saturday and Sunday, 7AM, sounds of Perry Como crooning and crooning and crooning.

Joey was always a man of great optimism and hope. I loved his manic energy and his frantic style as he swerved through life. Like Perry, he always felt you should "Smile when your heart is breaking...".


One of Andy's favorite meals is sausage and peppers. He's part Italian, so the meal reminds him of his youth. I'm fanatical over Italian food. Next to French, I think there is no food more exciting than Italian cuisine. So when Andy learned his blood pressure was through the roof, I knew I'd have to find a fast, quick and lower sodium version.

What we all love in a good, basic Sausage and Peppers recipe is the cutting taste of vinegar and the sheer power of hot and sweet colliding together into gastronomic bliss. Since a powerful Sausage and Peppers meal is very assertive, I always like to serve a homemade bread with the meal and a simple mashed potatoes. The bread and potatoes cannot compete with the dish - they are the ultimate character roles.

FOOD FOR MOOD FACT: There have been many studies which have shown vinegar improves not only blood sugar and insulin levels BUT also has appetite-reducing qualities.

Anyone who has read this blog knows I'm all about how food affects the chemical composition of our brains. We need to know how foods we eat alter the production or release of neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers that carry information from one cell to another.

Neurotransmitters are the brain chemicals that make us FEEL.

We all know blood sugar levels directly impact our moods. We feel good after we eat, because our blood sugar increases. Not rocket science.

BUT...when blood sugar levels sink, our moods takes a dive (and we take everyone down around us). We get pissy, angry, aggressive and plain annoying.

Fiber provides stable blood sugar and energy by slowing the rate at which nutrients are absorbed into the bloodstream. Foods such as RED BELL PEPPERS are high in fiber and low in sugar, so they help to regulate our blood sugar and thus, our MOOD.

Eat lean protein at each meal (like CHICKEN). Protein stabilizes blood sugar and provides the brain with the amino acids essential to FEELING ALERT. Same principal with foods such as beans and nuts and cheese.

We all know eating olive oil is good because it's a good fat. But why is it 'good'? Because it has the delightful omega 3's. Many, many studies now show deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids may contribute to depression and mood swings. Restoring the body's natural balance of omega-3s may help alleviate (and prevent) many types of depression, even for those who don't respond to traditional antidepressants.

Onto the food!

Mikey's 30-minute Sweet and Succulent Italian Chicken and Peppers Weeknight Feast with Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Crispy Italian Bread

I find most 30 meals are NOT truly 30 minute meals. Unless you're a sous chef at the Waldorf, 30 minutes turns into 60.

When I come up with a 30 minute meal, I time myself in my kitchen and make sure I can make the meal at a fairly fast pace and not be annoyed or frustrated (which happens often). So this is what I'll say about this 30 minute meal - you can make this in 30 minutes, but you will be moving a bit.

But it's worth it.

I created this so we could have our own lower-fat, lower-sodium and lower-calorie version during the week, but not sacrifice flavor. I add a lot of vinegar to this and short-cut it a bit based upon many I've made over the years.

Let's cook!


Serves 4

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 4 medium chicken breasts (about 2 1/2 pounds)
  • 2 large yellow onions, sliced very thin
  • 1 red bell pepper, sliced very thin
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, sliced very thin
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 5 cloves garlic, sliced thin
  • 1 cup jarred pepperoni peppers, sliced thin
  • 3/4 cup white wine vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 large russet potatoes, peeled and diced into 1 inch cubes
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream, or milk
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • Salt and LOTS of pepper to taste
Store bought crusty Italian bread served on the side...

Let's cook!

One of the major issues I hear from people all the time is how they overcook their chicken. Traditional recipes for this meal say you need to get bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts for maximum flavor. I disagree. These breasts ARE tasty but they take time and effort, whereas the boneless, skinless, when cooked RIGHT, are just as tender and tasty.

Here is what you do:

Before cooking, place your four breasts (trimmed of all fat) on a cutting board, cover with a double layer of Saran Wrap and gently pound the fat tips of the breast with a mallet (or a frying pan, if you don't have a meat mallet) until they are of equal thickness.

DON'T OVER POUND so they are extra thin. You just want them even thickness so they cook the same.

Prep your meal. This is key.

PRE-COOKING POTATOES: Shave the skins off of the potatoes. Cut into one inch dice. Put in a pan of COLD WATER until the water just comes over the potatoes. Put the flame on high.

Russets have a very strong and sturdy taste and starch content. They are great with this meal, versus a red or golden. You can, of course, make this with either, but Russet holds up much better for such a strong dish.

Cut your onions and peppers BEFORE the chicken. Put in a bowl near the stove.

Cut up the garlic, the jarred peppers and put in a medium bowl with the basil, oregano and red pepper flakes.

Measure our the vinegar.

NOW Let's cook!

PAT DRY the breasts (this ensures the salt and pepper sticks). Cut into one inch dice, put in a bowl and generously pepper and lightly salt.

Heat up 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a 12-inch NON STICK skillet until it smokes - very important you wait for it to smoke.

Cook the chicken cubes for 5-7 minutes, only until they are browned all over. Remove from skillet on a paper-towel lined plate.

Put in the last tablespoon of olive oil in the now empty skillet and WAIT for it to smoke as well. Throw in your peppers and onions with a dash of salt (extracts from the vegetables), cook 5-7 minutes.

As the peppers and onions cook, check on the potatoes. You want them fork tender. If they are done, drain and put back into the pot you cooked them in.

Add the cream and/or milk, butter, salt and pepper and mash WITH A FORK. Taste as you season. Watch the salt! These can be lumpy so you don't need to go crazy. Just mash until you like them.

When the onions and peppers are tender, add the garlic, jarred peppers and spices and cook 1 minutes. Smells good, huh?!

Now, add the vinegar, cook 5 minutes so it thickens, add the cooked chicken to heat it up (you don't want to cook the chicken or it will be tough!

Put four tablespoons of potatoes on a plate, add a few scoops of the yummy chicken and sausage mixture, tear off some bread and you have dinner!

These make GREAT left-overs the next day. Heats up so well and is very tasty and filling.

Bon appetit!

Mikey Bryan
Your Food Therapist!

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