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Well, my fabulous subscribers, the day has come to move The Live Better Blog to it’s own space!  We’ve outgrown the free space here at WordPress, and have our own domain now at www.thelivebetterblog.com.  Please stop by, say hello, and drop us a comment about what you’d like to see from us in 2014 – we’ll see you over at our new digs!

Blackberry as metaphor…

The end of the blackberry season is here, sadly.  With the last pickings of the few round stragglers in my garden, my mind wandered a few years back when life was a bit more difficult than now…but I had my faithful, fruiting friends to keep me company.  Feel free to comment if you wish :-)

Sometimes you just have to go out and pick blackberries…and everything will be alright.

Blackberry as Metaphor

I trod out from the kitchen back door and drag my feet, one after the other, with the singular goal of hiding myself in the garden.  Tired and feeling more crushed than usual by my load of small business owner stress, I am trying to find the quiet place in my head as I traverse the unmown grass. Ah, the “back forty,” I think to myself.  There is no phone there, no unpaid bills, no uninspired students, and no cranky employees.  There is naught, save my faithful, beautiful, silent blackberries.

They sit in a small, stoic group, observing the rest of the garden.  When I planted them years ago, I had no idea they would become almost five feet tall with canes as thick as my thumb.  I joked with friends that these bushes were my environmentally friendly IRA; with blackberries being one of the richest sources of anti-oxidants in the blue-black fruit family (and the most expensive), these consistently multiplying plants would ensure a comfortable retirement paid for by fancy restaurant menus and health food stores… hopefully before I’m dead and buried.  They are green, lush, vibrant, and loaded with hundreds of berries.

Offshoots from the main canes droop heavy with fruit, all in various stages of ripeness.  Small and hard green newcomers hide among their plump purplish siblings, waiting their turn to mature and become luscious.  Fruition can happen in days or sometimes even hours; that time lapse makes quite a difference in how responsive those berries are when you “go a pickin’.”  Blackberries have minds of their own.  They won’t budge until they’re ready. Try to force them and they will resist, leaving you with crushed, wet leftovers in your fingers.  Like the rest of Mother Nature, they have their own schedule and don’t care what you want.  No matter how badly you want them.

I walk around the bushes, seeking only the berries that wish to rest in my hand. I caress them lightly with fingertips, as if inviting them to join me for a nap in my palm. Some protest and request an extra few hours, maybe another day of basking in the sun, before accepting my invitation. I can hear whispered promises from their half-green brethren hiding beneath the leaves.

Any time you invest yourself, your time, money, blood, sweat and tears in a venture, you begin to expect the fruit from those labors.  I think it’s a vestige of the Protestant work ethic instilled in us by America’s founding fathers, and it’s an expectation that dies hard with me personally.  Having spent every day for the last seven years living, eating, breathing and sleeping my business (just like I had plowed, fertilized, weeded and watered these berries), I expected to reap the benefits of my hard work.  But where I had a bowl overflowing with berries in my hand right now, I had nothing to show for it all in my bank account.

I sit down on the cool earth and pop a few blackberries in my mouth.  The flavor is sweet but tangy.  I let the small seeds bounce between the back of my front teeth and the tip of my tongue, and I realize how lucky we were to have any berries at all.  The winter before last had been a hard one; the snow was so deep that the wildlife couldn’t forage.  Rabbits had decimated the canes, chewing them down to the ground.  Since Doyle blackberries bear on second year canes (the ones that became rabbit food), we went berryless that year.

Pruning, however, encourages new flushes of growth.  This bit of trivia flashes through my memory as I roll another berry around in my mouth and check the base of the plants.  The number of canes resulting from that winter’s cunicular feasting was triple what we normally had after a standard pruning at the end of the season, and the yields were exponential in comparison to previous years.

The irony of a massive bounty after an exceptionally lean time was not lost on me; in fact, I was counting on it.  After all, what else had I been doing to Absolute Haven from the very beginning of the recession but pruning? We cut back on our spending, trimmed our excesses, found more fertile advertising grounds and pruned out the unproductive services.  In essence, we prepared the spa for a bumper crop of new clients and profits; now all we had to do was be patient and wait for that new growth to flourish.

It’s amazing what a small, unsubstantiated hope can do for one’s attitude. All of a sudden, the reality of my future appeared far less bleak.  I ate another berry with the corners of my mouth upturned in a slight smile.  The cycles of civilized life really do pattern those of nature more often than not; aside from the unconditional love of my husband, there is nothing I find to be more consistent than the laws of Mother Nature.  If those tenets held true, it meant Absolute Haven would emerge from this recessional setback as a more vibrant and profitable business.

I began to walk back to the house with my bowl full of blue-black profits, considering the potential outcomes of the aforementioned notion.  With most of the local salons or spas out of business or in decline, Absolute Haven already had less competition. Maybe the spa would make enough money to pay back, at last tally, the $18,000 it owed me.  Hell, we might even be able to move out of the in-laws’ into our own home before we qualify for a retirement community, I mused to myself.

As I stepped into the kitchen, the most amazing thing occurred to me… my mind was clear.  No endless business monkey-prattle that plagued me day and night, disturbed my sleep, and left me restless.  No noise that makes my husband sigh sadly when he sees my eyebrows furrowed.  No racket, only silence.

And when I looked deep inside that empty, quiet space, there was only one thing left I could see; my recipe for blackberry cobbler.

Jenn Jennings:

These just looked so delicious, i couldn’t help but share. Enjoy!

Originally posted on Allison Eats:



Since going primal, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss baking. Its been a huge part of my life as well as my choice meditation method for years. However, after getting a few primal dessert recipes under my belt I’m beginning to feel right again, and am also in awe of how awesome sweet treats can be even if they don’t rely on dairy, grains or processed sugar. Who knew that nuts had so much potential?

These cookies are pretty basic and very easy to prepare. They can be made using any nut flour (the original recipe uses a combo of almond and coconut), and rely on the powers of coconut oil to give them their form and texture. Since coconut oil is liquid when warm, but has a jelly-like consistency at room temperature, it makes for the perfect binding agent. And if you’re not…

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Vacation Joy #72

ice cream! ice cream!

no artificial anything in mine, and amazing flavour…

I must say, I only have a few weak spots in this cold, hardened exterior of a woman, and one of them is ice cream.  That sweet, frozen cow juice is probably my all-time number one dessert option, fills any void in my life I may have at the moment (or ones my shrink missed by the time I ran out of money), and brings me back to a gastronomic meditation spot no matter where I am.

Take the case of yesterday, where I (and my long-suffering husband of nine years, Bobby) happened to be stuck in Massachusettes traffic at rush hour, with a bunch of massholes (the inconsiderate drivers of said state), trying to figure out how to get back to my sister’s house in Providence without going to Canada along the way.  It was becoming…annoying, to say the least, and the fine dinner we had in Salem was still technically unfinished in my mind – we had skipped dessert to avoid the traffic we were currently crawling in. I wanted dessert.  I wanted out of traffic.  I wanted what I wanted, and so, tasked my smartphone to find me an ice cream establishment.  I knew the risks were great that I would be slapped with a list including Friendly’s, McDonald’s and the like, but no risk was too great compared to our dropping gastank level and my mounting irritation ( I was on vacation, dammit!  I didn’t decide to ignore my business for an entire week to sit in frickin’ traffic!).

Fortunately, my phone understands my artisanal food standards and alerted me that a homemade ice cream joint was around the next exit.  My joy was increased as I cross-references the place with reviews and found I had struck possible pure gold – they had some interesting flavors, great reviews and…oh my heavens…could it be? BAKLAVA ICE CREAM!  I ripped the steering wheel from Bobby’s hand and demanded he use the all-wheel drive to roll over the cars on the offramp.  They had baklava ice cream!  Hear me?!?  This was going to be legen-dairy!

this is the place – not a chain, one store only. truly artisan.

My husband managed to restrain me and keep control of the vehicle, and navigated us to this promised land of dairy delight.  I was busy imagining how baklava ice cream would taste, detailing in my mind the subtle nuances resulting from combining two of my favorite sweetnesses (is that even a word?) into one cold taste orgy.  I was drooling like Pavlov’s dogs by now.  Bobby held my hand, telling me everything would be all right, that we would be there soon, and please stop drooling on his shoulder.  Following the smartphone’s directions, we soon landed in the parking lot of milk, honey and baklava ice cream…

…which was a pretty dumpy-looking strip plaza.  Massively underwhelming would have been a massive understatement, but since some of the best food I’ve ever had came from place that looked condemned by the board of health, I hopped out of the car and ran to the opened the door.  I was greeted by a blast of sweet coldness, the smell of sugar, and a huge menu board that had at the very bottom…baklava ice cream.  Ordering soon commenced, and after the longest three minutes of my life (jeeze, can’t this kid dip any faster?), I was in possession of two scoops of that much lauded, never eaten anywhere else, nobody in Jersey has thought to create this yet, baklava ice cream.  The spoon in my hand was my golden ticket.

there are funky papier-mache things hanging around there, unless I was hallucinating by then.

All sexual references aside (and no disrespect to my husband), this ice cream was the most amazing experience I had ever had (involving food, that is).  I was not disappointed.  It surpassed the toasted coconut and cinnamin roll ice cream we had in Annapolis, the Indian spice ice cream I had in Princeton, and the peppermint stick ice cream I had in Santa Barbara.  The flaky pastry chunks, honeyed nut swirl, and sweet cream ice cream base were perfectly blended.  And this was not pre-pelletized baklava, ala Ben & Jerry’s cookie dough, oh no… this was actual baklava, crumbled into the mix. Tres fantastique!

The inside was much nicer than the outside.

I tried not to make too much of a scene licking every last drop from the waxed paper cup, and regained my composure as the religious ecstacy of my taste buds began to calm down.  I apologized for dampening Bobby’s shirt while I blotted him dry with the extra napkins, and avoided the stares of the other customers who were wondering if all Jersey people were like this, and not like Snookie.  We walked back out to the car and used the last drops of gas to get back to Providence.  The traffic had cleared, the wife was satiated, and the husband didn’t have to break out the tranquilizer gun again.

Ice cream truly fixes everything.

Happy Birthday, Joanne! (you can kill me later)

Today is my sister Joanne’s birthday.  I guarrantee you she isn’t having a party, or going out to dinner, or doing anything for herself.  In fact, she probably has dissuaded everyone from even thinking about celebrating the fact that she exists.  Continue reading

A quick update & questions

Who’d a thunk Sluggo would go beatnik?

(Warning: this is a free-form blog post, so bongo drumming and finger snapping is encouraged.)

I finally had a moment to cut loose a bit!  Had a wonderful lunch with a friend, dinner last night with more friends, got caught up on all the local gossip conversation, and today I may even get to work Continue reading

Jenn Jennings:

Just a little tasty something (since I have a public health paper due and no time to blog this week – sorry!)

Originally posted on Three Clever Sisters:

I know:  more gingerbread.  But I had to share here a post I wrote over on Honest Cooking.  After all, is there such a thing as too much gingerbread?  No, I didn’t think so.

I always think there’s something sumptuous about the idea of spices.  Hundreds of years ago, when spices were rare enough to be plied as currency, preparing food laced with a cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves must have been more than merely welcoming–it was a statement. Today, of course, spices are no longer such a precious specie–cinnamon is an everyday flavor, nutmeg almost as much, and cloves we even use for decoration.  Still, somehow that legacy of luxury seems to linger, and I think that must be why I always feel a bit profligate when I add spoonfuls of these potent powders to a batter or dough.

Funnily enough, though, the end product is more about comfort than extravagance.  Take gingerbread–laden…

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