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Living: Food, Health, Lifestyle, Garden, Pets

The Free Press WV

►  At Disney World, 4 hotels in pilot program to accept pets

Four hotels at Walt Disney World Resort will allow guests to bring dogs beginning Sunday.

The hotels near Orlando, Florida, are Disney’s Yacht Club Resort, Disney Port Orleans Resort-Riverside, Disney’s Art of Animation Resort and cabins at Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground. The Yacht Club adds $75 to daily room rates for canine guests, the other three, $50.

The pilot program is accepting reservations through October 2018. Two dogs are permitted per guest room.

A Pluto’s Welcome Kit includes a mat, bowls, pet ID tag, plastic bags, puppy pads and dog walking maps. Doggy day care and other pet services are offered nearby at Best Friends, an on-property pet care facility.

Disney says dogs staying in its hotels “must be well behaved, leashed in resort public areas and properly vaccinated.”

►  You won’t believe the thing that makes great cheese straws

The South is credited with creating the cheese straw but no one knows who, where or why exactly. There is one vague story about leftover cheese being added to biscuit dough to make a snack but I don’t buy it.

Cheese straws are closer to a crumbly savory shortbread cookie than they are to flaky biscuits. These days, the term “cheese straws” encompasses a category of savory crackers in all different shapes and some even made with puff pastry.

The recipe that I grew up with was a simple dough made in a bowl with a fork. It was rolled into a ball and mashed down flat with the same fork in a crisscross pattern like a peanut butter cookie. The ingredients were few; best-quality butter, extra-sharp cheddar, all-purpose flour and a pinch of cayenne pepper. They were served as a nibble before dinner and wrapped up with a bow as a gift at the holidays. These days there are so many commercial companies making all manner of cheese straws in every possible flavor combination that “cheese straws” have become a category of cheese crackers.

Last week, I decided to make up a batch of cheese straws to serve with cocktails before a dinner party that I was hosting. The recipe that I use is a mash up of the recipe that my mother made with a secret ingredient that I discovered in Paris many years ago.

When I was in college, I visited one of my best friends who was doing a year abroad and lived with a family in a tony neighborhood of Paris. Expecting to meet the lady of the house, I rang the bell. Instead, I met Sena, the jovial family cook who was infatuated with all things American. Sena ran the house, did all the marketing and cooking and looked after my friend. She invited me in and I couldn’t wait to taste her French food. Instead, she placed a plate of the best cheese straws that I had ever tasted in front of me with some ice tea. She was beaming. I was a little disappointed. She was obviously proud of herself, thinking she was very American chic serving cold tea and cheese straws to two Southern girls.

I took a bite to be polite. Little did I know that that bite would change my cheese straw game forever. Always the inquisitive one, I had to know why they were better than all the cheese straws that I had tasted before. I complimented Sena, and then asked, “what is your secret?”

When she told me, I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. Her secret was Rice Krispies cereal. When I pressed her, she admitted that she picked up her secret many years before from an exchange student from Alabama.

I loved that I had to travel all the way to Paris, to pick up a cheese straw tip from a girl from Alabama. And, to this day, I add Rice Krispies cereal to my cheese straws. Try it. I guarantee that you won’t be able to stop eating and/or making them.



The Free Press WV

Servings: 20 servings (3 per serving)

Start to finish: 2 hours, 45 minutes (Active: 15 minutes)

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened

1 pound extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated by hand

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper or more to taste

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups Rice Krispies cereal

Mix first six ingredients with a fork or clean hands until all the ingredients are well distributed. It will be a stiff dough but it will all come together eventually. Add Rice Krispies and mix until evenly distributed — you will need to use your hands at this stage.

Cover and chill for 2 hours. Roll into small balls or logs. Place on ungreased cookie sheet fitted with parchment paper, and mash down with a small fork in a crisscross pattern.

Bake at 325 F for 20-25 minutes or until golden on the edges.

Chef’s Note: The larger you make them, the longer they will take to cook. I like them slightly darker, but if you like them on the lighter side, bake for less time.

Remove from oven and let sit on cookie sheet for 5 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack, and let cool completely. Store in an airtight container.


Nutrition information per cheese straw: 235 calories; 156 calories from fat; 17 g fat (12 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 49 mg cholesterol; 211 mg sodium; 12 g carbohydrate; 0 g fiber; 0 g sugar; 6 g protein.

Living: Food, Health, Lifestyle, Garden, Pets

The Free Press WV

►  Gucci goes fur-free in move praised as a game-changer

Gucci has become the latest fashion house to eliminate animal fur from its collections, starting with the spring-summer 2018 season.

The Humane Society, which supports the fur free alliance among fashion houses, said Gucci’s announcement Wednesday was a “game-changer,” involving “perhaps the biggest fur-free retailer announcement worldwide to date.”

Gucci CEO Marco Bizzarri said the brand would no longer “use, promote or publicize animal fur,” beginning with the menswear collection to be previewed in January and womenswear in February. Gucci said it would auction off the remaining fur animal items, with proceeds to benefit animal rights charity LAV and the Humane Society.

The Human Society said the fur-free policy includes mink, coyote, raccoon dog, fox, rabbit and astrakhan.

Gucci joins other fur-free fashion houses including Giorgio Armani, Hugo Boss and Stella McCartney.

►  Merck scraps disappointing experimental cholesterol drug

Merck has decided to abandon efforts to market a closely watched experimental cholesterol medicine after mediocre test results.

Merck’s decision Wednesday to not seek regulatory approval after years of testing marks the fourth time this type of once-promising drug has been scrapped. Merck had continued to study its drug, a so-called CETP inhibitor called anacetrapib, long after rivals had given up on similar drugs.

Merck raised hopes when it announced in June that anacetrapib not only lowered cholesterol, but also reduced heart attacks, deaths and other heart disease complications. But in August it disclosed the pill only cut those risks 9 percent.

That would have limited sales of the drug, if it had won regulatory approval, in part because cheap, genetic statin drugs lower cholesterol well for most people.

Living: Food, Health, Lifestyle, Garden, Pets

The Free Press WV

►  The grilled-chicken recipe so brilliant it’s got an Ivy League name

As long as she can remember, for the same two weeks every summer, 62-year-old Reenie Baker Sandsted has been in the same place: Baker’s Chicken Coop at the New York State Fair.

“It has always been a part my life,“ Sandsted says, taking a break from behind the counter one day in late August to sit at one of the picnic tables and visit with me.

By “always,“ she means always.

Before she was even working at the stand, Sandsted and her five siblings were invested in the business. “Our parents made us partner when we were born,“ Sandsted says. “It helped put us through college.“

The Chicken Coop is a state fair landmark, attracting governors, Cornell University presidents and even Bill and Hillary Clinton. That’s because of the chicken recipe and cooking method developed by Sandsted’s father, the late Robert Baker, called Cornell Chicken.

Broiler halves are basted with a vinegar and egg sauce as they’re grilled over a charcoal fire. The chicken is turned frequently and sauced regularly, until it achieves a blackened, crispy skin and the juicy meat explodes with creamy, tart flavor.

Baker developed the recipe and technique for cooking it in the 1940s, while at Pennsylvania State University. “He created it for the governor, who was visiting the school,“ Sandsted says.

Later he moved to Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, where he joined the faculty as a professor of poultry and food sciences. In 1949, he set up Baker’s Chicken Coop at the fair. The following year, the Cornell Cooperative Extension published his recipe and method, including highly detailed instructions for building a cinder-block pit (or “fireplace”) and constructing metal turning racks. The resulting contribution to the annals of barbecue would be forever associated with Baker and the school.

Baker’s goal was to help promote the poultry industry, which, at the time, lagged far behind beef and pork in sales. At first, Baker smoked the chickens in a hole in the ground, as at a pig roast. Before long, he decided it would be easier to cook aboveground, and he constructed metal racks to turn 25 half-chickens at a time.

The emulsion of vinegar, oil and eggs helps the chicken to crisp without burning as rapidly as it does with a red barbecue sauce, which, unlike the Cornell sauce, contains sugar. Equally important is the method. “No wood,“ says Travis Sandsted, 36, Reenie’s son. “Charcoal. Wood gives it too much of a smoke flavor.“

Travis, who oversees the cooking, started apprenticing with Baker, his grandfather, at the Chicken Coop when he was 19. He has been here ever since.

The pit is about 30 feet long, 4 feet wide and 2 feet deep. Travis dumps eight bags of Kingsford charcoal to start and adds five more bags every hour. The fire runs hot, about 1,000 degrees.

He puts unseasoned chicken halves skin side up in metal racks and turns them after a few minutes, when they begin to bronze. Using a long-handled barbecue mop, Travis then liberally sauces the birds. He flips them frequently to cook evenly, basting nearly every time to deepen the flavor. All the while, he tosses water on flare-ups. It takes about an hour for the chicken to finish.

Like his grandfather before him, Travis doesn’t marinate. “We just brush it on,“ he says.

In its heyday in the 1950s and ‘60s, the Chicken Coop sold an average of 2,000 chicken halves a day. The fair has grown a lot since then, and visitors are tempted by countless options, so these days the Coop serves about 1,000 chicken halves a day.

Although the fair, which runs the last week of August and the first week of September, is over, Cornell Chicken can be sampled throughout Upstate New York, where it has become part of the culinary landscape. Schools, volunteer fire departments and civic organizations commonly make Cornell Chicken for fundraisers.

Barbecue joints throughout the undulating region sell it, too. One measure of the depth of the dish’s reach is, paradoxically, the citizenry’s offhand near-obliviousness to its origin. “Younger generations of Finger Lake residents don’t even recognize this as a regional specialty so much as the default way to cook chicken outdoors,“ wrote Sarah Laskow for the website Atlas Obscura.

She’s right. I ate at a number of barbecue places where the proprietor insisted that the recipe was handed down from family members.

“It probably has been,“ Reenie Baker Sandsted told me. “They probably grew up eating it at home and think it is something their dad or mom created.“

To be sure, like any recipe, Cornell Chicken is modified slightly by its maker. One cook might add a touch more thyme, another more marjoram. But common to all is the vinegar, oil, egg emulsion.

It’s easy to make at home. Travis, though, maintains that it won’t turn out quite the same because the home cook doesn’t have the wire-mesh rack for ease of turning the chicken, the same distance from the coals or the same level of heat. He’s right. I’ve made it a few times. My version isn’t quite as tangy and the skin isn’t quite as crisp, but in the same way that my bucatini all’Amatriciana is pretty close to, but isn’t a dead ringer for, Mario Batali’s version – even using his recipe – I think my Cornell Chicken does its maker proud.

Baker is also credited with inventing chicken bologna, chicken hot dogs and, notably, chicken nuggets. But Cornell Chicken may be his most appreciated legacy, at least in Upstate New York.

He died in 2006, but the Chicken Coop remains a family affair. The operation is reaching into its fourth generation. Travis’s 6-year-old son, Mason, helps make the sauce. “He already cracks eggs one-handed,“ Travis says proudly.

Sandsted’s two sisters also work at the Chicken Coop. And her daughter, Sarah, returns each year from Haiti, where she works for an organization that makes shoes from rubber, to spend her two-week vacation at the business.

“The smell of the chicken is like time travel,“ Sarah says. “It reminds me of growing up in Upstate New York.“


4 to 8 servings

A staple at fundraising events by civic organizations and volunteer fire departments in the Finger Lakes area of New York as well as barbecue restaurants there, this chicken is a vinegar-based creation of a professor at Cornell University in the late 1940s. The basting sauce, mixed with eggs and cooking oil, creates a creamy texture and tangy flavor that mates beautifully with yard birds.

Here, the recipe is adapted for easy cooking, deploying the sauce as a marinade and using leg quarters for uniform cooking.

You’ll need an instant-read thermometer.

MAKE AHEAD: The chicken needs to marinate in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours and up to 8 hours.

From columnist Jim Shahin.

2 large eggs

½ cup canola oil (may substitute peanut oil)

2/3 cup apple cider vinegar

¼ cup store-bought or homemade poultry seasoning blend (see NOTE)

1 tablespoon coarse kosher salt (optional)

½ teaspoon ground black pepper (optional)

4 chicken leg quarters (drumstick plus thigh)

Beat the eggs in medium bowl until blended, then whisk in the oil in a slow, steady stream, to form a thickened mixture. Whisk in the vinegar, then the poultry seasoning; if you are using a store-bought seasoning blend, add the optional salt and pepper.

Pour into a gallon zip-top bag, then add the chicken quarters and seal, pressing out as much air as possible. Massage the pieces through the bag; refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to 8 hours.

Transfer the bag of chicken and marinade to the counter; let it sit at room temperature for about one hour before grilling.

Prepare the grill for indirect heat. If using a gas grill, turn the heat to high (450 to 500 degrees). Once the grill is preheated (about 10 minutes), reduce the heat to medium (375 to 400 degrees). Turn off the burners on one side.

If using a charcoal grill, light the charcoal or briquettes; when the coals are ready, distribute them to one side of the grill. For a medium-hot fire, you should be able to hold your hand 6 inches above the coals for 6 or 7 seconds. Have ready a spray water bottle for taming any flames.

Place the chicken quarters skin sides up on the indirect-heat side of the grill; discard the marinade. Close the grill lid and open its vents halfway. Cook for about 40 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reads 165 degrees, turning the chicken as needed. For crispy skin and a little char, move the chicken, skin side down, directly over the coals for the last 3 to 5 minutes before removing it from the grill.

Serve warm.

NOTE: To make ¼ cup of your own poultry seasoning blend, stir together 2 tablespoons fine kosher salt, 1 tablespoon ground sage, 1 tablespoon dried marjoram, 1 tablespoon dried thyme, 1 teaspoon celery seed, 1 teaspoon onion powder, 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper and ½ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper in a small container.

Ingredients are too variable for a meaningful analysis.

►  Not just any old skillet hash will do for your dinner

You may know a skillet hash as the last stop for leftover spuds. But I encourage you to pick up a few pounds of buttery-tasting, yellow-fleshed potatoes just for this version. They become tender within a half hour without any pre-cooking, yet they will hold their shape and allow for those money-shot crisped edges.

This hash is simple, and it relies on the flavor imparted by a smoky sausage and fresh rosemary. Keeping a vacuum-packed link on hand – we used a turkey sausage here – seems like a good plan for omnivores who like the tastes of fall. You could easily build on that theme by adding chopped apples with a touch of maple syrup. Or roasted Brussels sprouts and an Instagrammable fried egg.

There’s something to be said, though, for letting the basic trio of potato, meat and onion stand on its own.


4 to 6 servings

Leftovers taste great cold or warmed up in a skillet next to sunny-side-up eggs.

Yellow-fleshed potatoes will taste nice and buttery. But waxy red potatoes will work as well; see the VARIATION, below.

Serve with a salad.

Adapted from “The Farmhouse Chef: Recipes and Stories From My Carolina Farm,“ by Jamie DeMent (University of North Carolina Press, 2017).

2 pounds Yukon Gold or Dutch Baby Gold potatoes (may use red-skinned potatoes; see the VARIATION, below)

3 small or 2 medium onions

¼ cup grapeseed oil

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

13 ounces smoked Polish turkey sausage (may substitute cured/cooked andouille sausage)

Leaves from 2 stems rosemary

Scrub the potatoes, then cut them into ½-inch chunks. Coarsely chop the onions.

Heat the oil in a large cast-iron skillet over high heat. Once the oil shimmers, stir in the potatoes and onions to coat. Cook for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring several times to avoid scorching. Season with a good pinch each of the salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, cut the sausage on the diagonal into ¼-inch slices. Finely chop the rosemary.

Reduce the heat to medium; stir in the sausage and half of the rosemary. Cook for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring often to keep the sausage from scorching, until the sausage and some potatoes are crisped at the edges. Add the remaining rosemary in the last minute or two of cooking. Taste and season with more salt and/or pepper, as needed.

VARIATION: If you’d like to use red-skinned potatoes, cook them with the onions for the initial 10 to 12 minutes, then add 1/2 cup water to the pan; once the water has evaporated (and the potatoes are more tender), continue with the recipe as directed above.

Nutrition per serving (based on 6): 310 calories, 13 g protein, 33 g carbohydrates, 15 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 35 mg cholesterol, 600 mg sodium, 7 g dietary fiber, 4 g sugar

Living: Food, Health, Lifestyle, Garden, Pets

The Free Press WV

►  COOKING ON DEADLINE: Red Lentil and Chicken Slow-Cooker Sou

I am a Football Mom. A New York City Football Mom, so Football Moms from, say, Texas or California might smirk at me a little. That’s OK. I recognize the difference.

But no matter how competitive the league, there is always food involved — for the kids before and after games, and at the game itself for parents and friends who show up no matter the weather.

And what could be more welcome in any of these situations than a robust, hot, rib-sticking soup?

This soup has tailgating or sidelines or post-game meal written all over it. It’s thick from the lentils, and fragrant with cumin and coriander. If you are familiar with Indian food, it might remind you of a soupy version of dal, with satisfying small cubes of chicken nestled throughout. And it’s made in a slow cooker, which means that if you are serving it after you come home, it’s right there waiting for you, like a warm hug.

Last year was the first time I made this soup, lugging it in the slow cooker to the game. My family thought I had gone one step too far — that setting up a vat of soup on the sidelines was going to seem pretty weird. They were pretty wrong. The ladle was passed from person to person, heavy-duty paper cups were filled, and not a drop was left.

The soup thickens upon sitting, and if you refrigerate it and heat it up the next day, you may want to add more broth or water.

And I would definitely add the fresh parsley at the end.

The football game is purely optional.




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Start to finish: 4 1/2 hours

Serves 12


2 onions, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 large fennel bulb, cored and chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)

2 large carrots, peeled and chopped (about 1 cup)

1/2 pound dried red lentils

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts, diced small

5 cups less-sodium chicken broth, plus more if needed

1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1/2 cup roughly chopped fresh parsley, plus more to serve if desired


In a large (5-quart or more) slow cooker, combine the onion, garlic, fennel, carrots, lentils, cumin, coriander, chicken, broth and tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper.

Cook on high for 4 hours. Stir in another cup or two of broth toward the end if it’s thicker than you want it to be. Taste and adjust the seasonings as needed. Stir in the parsley and serve. Sprinkle servings with additional parsley if desired.


Nutrition information per serving: 207 calories; 24 calories from fat; 3 g fat (0 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 55 mg cholesterol; 288 mg sodium; 21 g carbohydrate; 5 g fiber; 5 g sugar; 25 g protein.

►  Smartweed is a weed even if it quite pretty up close

I paused my shoveling of horse manure the other day to rest my eyes on a most attractive plant growing at the edge of the pile.

This semi-vining plant had swollen, slightly reddish joints — almost like knees — to which were clasped lush, lance-shaped leaves. Individually, the flowers were small, each a round knot about the size of a millet grain, but they clustered together along the last couple of inches of each stem like colorful droplets.

I quickly reminded myself that the object of my admiration was a weed: smartweed. Once again, that line dividing weeds from garden plants blurred.

The Free Press WV

No, I’m not about to transplant smartweed to my garden. I do realize that much of its attraction was finding beauty where it was unexpected.

Smartweed (also known as knotweed) is the common name given to a whole genus of plants, Polygonum, which translates as “many knees.” Many members of this genus are, in fact, garden-worthy plants.

That said, a number of members of the Polygonum genus are also weeds.

Although it’s a weed, that smartweed I saw gracing the manure pile is easy to root out. Unless you neglect weeding unduly long, allowing the plant to root at its knees, a single yank quickly removes an abundance of greenery.

Not nearly as easy to shoo away are two smartweeds recently trying to take up residence in my garden. The first newcomer is Virginia smartweed, with relatively large leaves and a flower spike that rises to a couple of feet high. That flower spike is mostly stem, with tiny white flowers spaced widely apart. Virginia smartweed is not pretty, and is more reluctant to leave my garden than smartweed. The roots balk when yanked, so the stem breaks, leaving a significant part of the plant still in the ground and growing.

The other newcomer is wild buckwheat, a delicate, ugly vine with nothing particularly distinctive about it except that the ripe seeds resemble buckwheat grains. (Buckwheat is a relative of smartweeds.) Unfortunately, being innocuous is what allows wild buckwheat to insinuate itself into my garden, twining its fine stems around the coneflowers, monkshoods and honeysuckle vines. Once found, wild buckwheat is, at least, easy to yank out.

“Mile-a-minute” is a name given to two smartweeds that are among the worst weeds anywhere. The first is a vining plant with prickles on its stems and leaves. With those prickles and its vining habit, it easily leaps up on shrubs, small trees and structures. The other “mile-a-minute” is sometimes called Japanese or Mexican bamboo because of the resemblance of its thick, hollow, jointed stems to true bamboo. This perennial weed is attractive, with large, heart-shaped leaves, and frothing masses of tiny, creamy-white blossoms appearing in August. Still, it’s a frighteningly aggressive plant.

Yet another smartweed frightened me a few weeks ago when I visited a public garden and saw what looked like that first smartweed that caught my eye near the manure pile, except this other plant looked like smartweed on steroids. Rather than billowing on the ground below knee level, it was 6 feet high.

I was set at ease when I learned that the plant’s name is heart’s-ease, that it is a cultivated smartweed, and that it was once a popular garden plant. It’s also been called “kiss me under the garden gate.”

Heart’s-ease is an annual that is reputedly easy to grow, readily self-seeding once it’s established. Uh-oh.

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