A while ago I received a container of hot peppers of various interesting shapes and sizes. One day I selected a smooth, green jalapeno, chopped it into tiny bits, and added it to a stir fry. Another time, I sliced a thin, 4-inch, bright red pepper into 1/2 inch segments, marinated it in some olive oil for an hour or so, and then poured the oil over roasted eggplant sprinkled with curly parsley. That gave the sweet eggplant a pleasant bite. No further inspirations were forthcoming, and the rest of the hot peppers sat on the second shelf in the refrigerator, moving closer to the back with each passing day.

Then I received another container of hot peppers. Now what?! What was I going to do with all those hot peppers? It seemed like such a shame to let them grow moldy, and then toss them into the compost. I happen to really like heat, and my love of spice goes back a long way. In fact, when I was a kid my parents had friends, Ted and Freda, who grew acres of hot peppers on their farm in Muncie, Indiana. When we drove out to visit them one summer, I earned the nickname “Hot Pepper” after having carefully compared bites of all the different types. I didn’t want to waste those hot peppers.

Then I remembered about “s’hoog,” a fiery condiment that we had tasted many years ago in Israel. [The ‘h’ in shoog is pronounced as a guttural, like the ‘ch’ in Chanukah. If you can’t make that sound, try calling it skoog.] S’hoog is a wondrous specialty of the Middle East. Everyone makes their own version, and everyone’s version is unquestionably the best. We had one friend who would occasionally stop by to share with us a taste of s’hoog from his small, precious jar, inevitably given to him just that afternoon by his mother. A taste, by the way, is all you need.

A bit of s’hoog makes cheese and crackers very exciting. A spoonful stirred into a pot of soup will make your tastebuds dance and sing. It tastes very good mixed into humus or baba ganoush, and I wouldn’t hesitate to try it on scrambled eggs or in tomato sauce.

So, for the very first time, I made my own s’hoog. It came out more like a paste, a little bit thicker than I remember the Israeli versions.

Wearing rubber gloves, I sliced off the stems of all the hot peppers and then placed them, seeds and all, in the oven at 450F. I shook the pan occasionally, and turned off the heat when the peppers began to develop brown spots and turn a little dusky. Then I slid the peppers into a food processor.

I added a teaspoon of salt, 2 teaspoons of white vinegar, and 1/4 cup of olive oil to the peppers, and then pulsed the processor until the peppers were pulverized. Afterward, I spooned small amounts(one-half to one teaspoonful) of the hot pepper paste onto a small baking sheet, and then stuck the sheet in the freezer. A few hours later, I collected all the frozen lumps and put them into a glass jar, which I returned to the freezer.

Now I have flavor in a jar. Flavor, by the way, is a great way to satisfy tastebuds. The more flavorful food is, the more satisfying. And the more satisfying your food is, the more satisfied you’ll feel when you finish eating it. Through the coming fall and winter, any time I want to turn a soup, stew or other dish into something more powerful, all I have to do is turn to the freezer and shake out a spoonful of s’hoog. Or two or three, depending how adventurous I feel.

For more on hot peppers and capsaicin, the chemical that causes the burn, check out this interesting article from the New York Times.

When My Friend Bob Turned His Health Around

A while ago, I ran into my old friend Bob, and I was delighted to see a much slimmer, trimmer, happier-looking guy than I had seen the previous time. He and I had had a conversation about six months earlier, and I had suggested increasing the protein in his breakfast, and switching out the soda for unsweetened iced tea. That’s all. We hadn’t talked since.

Now I was looking at a proud, fit, healthy-looking man who looked like an athlete! I asked if he would be willing to share his methods. Of course, he said, and promptly sent the following list.

Remember that these aren’t exactly my recommendations; they’re Bob’s interpretation of my recommendations. In other words, they are what worked for him, and that’s what counts. He called it a “loose adaptation” of my food guidelines. There is some great stuff in here, and some very special pearls besides, which are italicized for you. Here, with Bob’s permission, and in his own words, is the approach he used to turn his life around:

  1. “I no longer use anything artificial in my coffee – only raw sugar or honey. No artificial, flavored creamers – only real half & half or milk.
  2. I’ve significantly cut back on bread and pasta. and I am certainly much more conscious about other sweet carbs (cookies, brownies, cake, although I have not deprived myself).
  3. I’ve replaced my office snacks (used to be Little Debbie’s snack cakes) with almonds, peanuts, and cashews, and apples or baby bell cheese. Only occasionally do I have food cravings anymore. I realized a couple of weeks ago that I have really been addicted to carbs for most of my life.  
  4. Although I still do not eat breakfast regularly, when I do it is fruit, yogurt, or eggs. I will occasionally have a “healthy” muffin from Whole Foods, but rarely do I do bagels anymore. Also, I graze a lot more, and usually only have one or two meals a day. I eat only when I am feeling hungry, and I frequently will try to have a glass of water first, to see if I am just thirsty.
  5. I have cut back significantly on diet Coke.  I still do drink it once or twice a week, but not daily.”
  6. Over the last 6 weeks, I have been going to yoga 2-4 times a week, and I have also been adding in at least one or two sessions/week (30-45 min each time) of cardio – usually the stationary bike since I’ve had back pain in the past, and some minor core and upper body strength training”
  7. “Six months ago I weighed 235 lbs. Today I weigh 209 lbs, and I was able to play 2 hours of basketball with my son and his friends. And, my blood pressure is now in the normal range.

Is it any wonder that Bob feels better?


The first time I had this dish was two years ago, in Santa Cruz, while celebrating the wedding of a wonderful couple. In keeping with an old family custom, and so that we could easily identify the affiliation of each guest, one side was instructed to wear gold and the other white. Guests mingled to create a sea of gold, yellow, cream, beige and white, all joined together to form a new and beautiful family. It was a sight I hope never to forget. The simple beauty of this recipe continues to reminds me of the love and joy of which we all became a part on that beautiful October day. Continue reading


Some days, all you can think about is a little something light to drink. Most of us limit our tea choices to what’s available on the shelf at the grocery store, but the fact of the matter is that you can make tea blends yourself if you ever decide that you would like to try. This particular recipe, with its tart and satisfying combination of Vitamin-C-rich plants and slightly astringent saffron, is from QuitoKeeto, which also displays the most drool-worthy, if pricey, selection of kitchenware and housewares on its site. Check it out and you’ll see what I mean. Continue reading

My Dad’s Thing About Ketchup

My dad is on a mission to get people to eat less ketchup. But it’s not because of the ketchup. It’s because of the high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). He has an especially hard time wrapping his brain around the fact that most national brands of of ketchup list HFCS either first or second in the ingredient list. Yuk. So he asked if I would post an entry about this. And here it is, Dad! Continue reading

YOUR HEALTHY PLATE: Nearly Magical Tomato Sauce

Thanks (and I really mean that!) to my daughter and her friend, among whose many talents I would definitely include garden building, we now have so many tomatoes it’s hard to know what to do with all of them. It’s a wonderful problem to have. I’ve actually been dreaming about dehydrated tomatoes, pickled tomatoes, marinated tomatoes, skewered tomatoes, roasted tomatoes, sliced tomatoes, and … sauced tomatoes. Continue reading

Sugar: Fructose and More

I recently read an article about high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), the inexpensive sweetener that is used extensively in highly processed products, like ketchup, barbecue sauce, breakfast “cereals,” soft drinks and sports drinks, muffins, cookies, cakes, and tons of other products that you might not even think of as sweet, like bread and baked beans. This week, a few random musings about sugar, mainly fructose. Continue reading

YOUR HEALTHY PLATE: Vegetable Borscht

I wanted to share this vegetable borscht now(!) so that, hopefully, you’ll have time to make it the week (freeze), day (refrigerate), or at least the morning before you plan to serve it. Which means that, at the very least, you’ll want to make this recipe first thing in the morning to give its flavors time to blend. Besides its deliciousness, another one of the great things about this recipe is the fact that it meets the requirements of a great many different kinds of nutritional approaches. There’s nothing like making many people happy, all at the same time. And that’s not something that should be taken for granted, either! Continue reading

YOUR HEALTHY PLATE: Judith’s Eggplant Caponata

We went to a dinner party last week and ate the most elegant dinner, courtesy of my wonderful friend Judith, who mixes a mean martini, makes magic with shallots, has a good knife, and knows how to use it. I highly recommend you give some thought to adding this eggplant caponata to your upcoming holiday celebrations. It’s quite spectacular. Continue reading