Now that we survived “the end of the world, as we know it,” (December 21 on the Mayan calendar) as well as Christmas and Hanukkah, I think it’s time to turn to the New Year.

It’s a time for resolutions. I’m guessing the top New Year resolution is “to lose weight” – but I’m not going to make that mine, mostly because like many people I’m already obsessed with my weight and appearance.

When thinking about what I want to do differently this New Year, I think about my work day. I have found myself not being the best time manager: I am still at the office most days until 6 p.m. (I arrive at 6 a.m.)  So, my first resolution is to leave work each day no later than 5 p.m.

This leads me to my second resolution, and that is to exercise regularly. I exercise for a few reasons. Besides the obvious one of “burning calories,” I like that I have more energy after I exercise and it gives my brain a rest. So, my plan is to exercise at least five days a week and try a new exercise every month. I have my sights set on yoga right now – I’ve been talking about it for a while, but I need to take action.

My third resolution is to spend time each week, one-on-one, with a close family member or friend. They know who they are. Because I have been working so many hours I have not had quality time with many of them.

Three resolutions are plenty for me, because like my sister Jackie tells me, “You can’t focus on more than three items at a time.”

To kick off the New Year, I plan to ensure my good luck by eating Blackeyed Peas on New Year’s Day. It’s an old Southern tradition: Eating Blackeyed Peas and some cooked greens ensure wealth and good luck in the New Year. The greens symbolize greenbacks (or dollars) and the Blackeyed Peas are the coins.

My favorite all time Blackeyed Pea recipe is Habanero Chile Chili, which we developed more than 20 years ago in our test kitchen.

I like spicy food, so I use a whole Habanero Chile, although you can substitute Jalapenos or Serrano chiles  if you want. Another traditional New Years’ recipe is Hoppin’ John.

Whether or not you make New Year’s resolutions, I wish you good luck and health!


Here is the Habanero Chile Chili recipe below:


3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 pound lean round steak, cubed
1 cup chopped yellow onion
1 cup chopped red and/or green bell peppers
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 16-ounce can kidney beans
2 cups chopped tomatoes
1 16-ounce can tomato sauce – low sodium
1 cup beef broth
1 11-ounce package Frieda’s Blackeyed Peas, cooked, drained
1-2 Frieda’s Dried Habanero Chiles, rehydrated, seeded and minced
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped
1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 Frieda’s Bay Leaf
1 cup niblet corn – low sodium
Salt to taste
Shredded sharp Cheddar Cheese
Warm tortillas


Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large Dutch oven. Brown the steak in the oil on all sides. Remove form the pan with a slotted spoon. Drain the drippings. Heat 2 tablespoons oil. Sauté the onion, bell pepper and garlic in the oil for 3 minutes. Stir in the beef, undrained kidney beans, tomatoes, tomato sauce broth, blackeyed peas, Habanero chiles, cilantro, basil, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce and bay leaf.
Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat. Simmer, partially covered, for 35 to 45 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Stir in the corn and salt. Cook for 5 minutes longer. Discard the bay leaf. Ladle the chili into bowls. Top with shredded cheese. Serve with warm tortillas.

Last week, my husband Garry and I took a 5 day mini-vacation in San Juan, Puerto Rico. If you haven’t been there, I highly recommend it, as it is a short flight from Miami. JetBlue Airways recently built their own terminal at the San Juan airport, as it has obviously become a high traffic destination. 

Photo Credit: Flickr/Cogito Ergo Imago

In preparation for our trip, I asked a produce industry friend who lives in the U.S. Virgin Islands for some recommendations of places to visit. She emailed me a great list of farmers markets. So when Garry and I woke up in San Juan on Saturday morning, we decided to head off to Old San Juan for a farmers market held at the San Juan Museum.

San Juan Museum

Because Puerto Rico is a U.S. Territory, they use U.S. currency. That made it so easy to travel there – no need to “calculate the money” in your head. And, in the big cities – San Juan and Ponce – it’s common for most people to speak both English and Spanish, so it’s easy to communicate.

The architecture of Old San Juan is quite colorful and beautiful. It reminded me of photos I have seen of towns in the Bahamas, France and Italy.

Photo Credit: Flickr/Breezy421
Photo Credit: Flickr/Breezy421
Photo Credit: Flickr/Jeff Gunn

Turns out the theme of the market that day was “Festival of the Banana.” Everything was organic and most of the vendors were selling vegan food!  I was in heaven!

My Spanish is a little rusty, but it was interesting to hear the various speakers get up and describe the different bananas and banana products.

In the corner of the market was a colorful pop-up tent with a banner, “Terra Madre” (translated:  Mother Earth). There was a gentleman giving 10 minute massages and a women at a nearby table taking donations.  Or so I thought…

Turns out, the women taking the money was Dr. Elizama Montalvo, a U.S.-trained physician who relocated back to Puerto Rico four years ago with her husband, Bartus.  Bartus was giving the massages – he is trained in acupuncture and Shiatsu massage. They were offering massages for small donations to Slow Food.

Elizama and Bartus

I had a fabulous discussion with Elizama about her training at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, New York, at the Department of Social Medicine. After living in New York for so many years, she and her husband moved back to her homeland, Puerto Rico.

Both she and Bartus are vegan, and she told me that Dr. T. Colin Campbell, the author of The China Study, was in Puerto Rico last week leading a seminar on a whole foods plant-based diet. As I have mentioned before, Campbell’s book is an easy read and the authoritative work on how diet can improve your health. All I could think at that moment is “there are no such things as coincidences!” How did this woman and I have so much in common?

On our last day in Puerto Rico, Garry surprised me. He opened his suitcase and pulled out three “California” t-shirts. He told me that he always buys t-shirts from the States and takes them on foreign trips to give as thank you gifts to people he meets on his travels.

So, as we were leaving our hotel – The La Concha Resort in San Juan – I took one of the t-shirts and presented it to Felix, the doorman who had helped us many times during our visit. When we handed him the shirt,  I could see tears come to his eyes. He said one of his lifelong dreams was to visit California! You can see from the big smile on his face, this t-shirt made him very happy.

Felix and Garry

Puerto Rico is an island of many surprises: Wonderful food, mild weather, interesting cities. But most of all, friendly people!


This year, Hanukkah starts at sundown on December 8 and lasts for eight nights. Like many families, mine will gather the following weekend to celebrate this Festival of Lights. There will be more than 30 of us, and each family unit will bring their menorah (candelabra). Before dinner, we will say the traditional Hebrew prayers, tell stories and we will light all the candles. It is a beautiful sight, as we turn off all the lights and do this tradition only with the lights from almost a dozen menorahs.

Then dinner will be simple, with the main dish being fried potato pancakes — called latkes. Some like them with sour cream, others will top theirs with fresh applesauce. We’ll have beef brisket and roasted chicken, steamed green beans and a big green salad. And because it is a tradition, we will also serve fried jelly donuts for dessert. You can find out about this tradition here.

But one tradition will change this year. We are not doing our annual gift exchange. Usually we each purchase a gift worth $15 to $20 and pull names. We have a lot of laughs.

This year, our entire family decided to start a new tradition. We will each take that money that was previously used to purchase a gift, and make a family donation to support Israel. With all the recent violence in the Middle East, showing our support in this way, at this time of giving, feels good and makes sense.

I wonder how many other families will consider breaking tradition. Instead of giving gifts to family or close friends — gifts they probably don’t need — consider making a donation to a worthwhile cause that is important to you.

So far this year I have written checks to my local food bank and Share our Strength, which was started by chefs who wanted a vehicle to donate unused food.  At our company, we are also having a canned food drive.

As we enter the season of giving, I hope you will think about how you can make a difference to those who are less fortunate. Maybe start a new tradition by teaching your family to truly be grateful for all that you have and make someone else’s life a little better.

I think that is what this season is all about.