October 2, 2019

Dear friends,
I grew up eating polenta, darling. Only we called it corn meal mush.

In my little corner of Appalachia, fried mush was as emblematic an autumn food as apples and pumpkin pie. When the evenings turned crisp, my father would get out the box of Quaker’s yellow corn meal, stir some into boiling water, and pour the thick sludge into bread pans. The next morning there would be fried mush for breakfast, crisp on the edges and dripping with butter and maple syrup (although sometimes I mainlined the calories by skipping the syrup and sprinkling the buttery slabs with sugar).

“Here’s to your mom,” Tony said after I served him a plateful last week. It brought tears to my eyes. He remembered that she had ordered fried mush the last time we took her to Bob Evans Restaurant, her favorite.

The mush I made was no Bob Evans, though. Mine was scented with sage and studded with crumbled sausage and chunks of apples. It was altogether a fancier dish. I envisioned frying slices in butter and serving them as a cushion for cider-braised pork roast, or alongside some grilled bratwurst.

Tony couldn’t wait. Before I could up the ante, the mush was gone. No matter. It was so delicious, I will surely make more before spring.

For a big loaf of mush, I roasted one chopped apple until the pieces were pliable but no longer juicy. I folded those into the hot mush along with half a pound of browned sausage and a teaspoon of crumbled dried sage from my garden. If, like my mother, you can’t abide sage, use thyme.

After pouring the mush into a buttered loaf pan, I chilled it for a couple of hours before Tony demanded a taste. It sliced OK with a warm, wet knife, but even better after it was chilled overnight.

Tony loved this with maple syrup. I recommend serving it with roast pork. Either way, it tastes like fall.


1 large firm apple (I used Jonagold)
1/2 lb. bulk breakfast sausage
4 cups water
1 cup yellow corn meal
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. crumbled sage

Line a baking sheet with foil and coat with vegetable oil spray. Peel and core the apple. Cut lengthwise into quarters and cut crosswise into pieces about 1/4-inch thick and 1 inch long. Spread on the baking sheet and bake at 300 degrees for about 40 minutes, until pliable but no longer juicy. Set aside.

While the apples bake, crumble sausage into a skillet filmed with oil and brown over medium-high heat. Drain, then blot dry with paper towels. Set aside.

Bring 3 cups of the water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Stir the corn meal and salt into the remaining 1 cup water. Whisk mixture into the boiling water. Stir until thick and smooth. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 5 minutes.

Uncover and stir in sage. Let cool for 10 minutes. Stir. Fold in the apples and sausage. Spoon into a buttered, medium-size (4-by-7-inches) loaf pan. Smooth top. Chill several hours or overnight.

Cut mush into 1/2-inch slices with a sharp knife dipped in hot water. Fry on both sides in butter in a skillet over medium-high heat until the edges begin to brown. Serve with syrup for breakfast or without syrup for a side dish. Makes about 6 servings.

Commercial weight-loss plans never worked for me. Because I wrote about nutrition, I could see right through the claims of many diets. The few that were scientifically sound were unusable because so many of the foods I ate in the line of duty were not in the diet’s database (Indonesian sate? sea urchins? ha!).

I gave up dieting years ago in favor of low-carb moderation. That worked until I fell off the wagon last fall in France and kept on eating desserts, bread and European butter right through spring. I gained 10 pounds.

Then in April my legs started to give out and I ended up in braces after a lifetime of beating the after-effects of polio. Suddenly, I had to lose not 10 but 30 pounds to give my legs a break.

OK, too much information. But I wanted you to know why I am doing something as silly as dieting at age 70. And how I found a diet plan that actually works.

I have subscribed to the Noom online diet program for 5 months now and have lost 24 pounds. I heard about it through a friend. It is psychology-based and is conducted entirely through an app online, with a daily weigh-in, psych lessons to read, a coach to help set goals and even a support group. Meals are entered and calories automatically calculated. A sensible daily intake of 1,200 calories is prescribed.

The daily lessons and support group are what keep me going. Just when I think I’ve had enough, I’ll read about something like “bundling” and off I’ll go again. Bundling, by the way, is pairing something you don’t want to do with a treat. So now I use my exercise bike almost daily while watching Miss Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries on Acorn TV.

Noom was founded in 2008 by Ukrainian-born tech genius Artem Petakov and Korean-born entrepreneur Saeju Jeong. It is headquartered in New York City and has grown to more than 1000 employees and 47 million users. A 5-month subscription that may be renewed is $137. Noom is accessed by downloading the app.

What I cooked last week:
Pork and miso soup; baked spaghetti squash stuffed with ricotta cheese and venison spaghetti sauce; tomato and prosciutto on toast; pan-grilled pork loin chops with lemon-caper sauce and a chopped Asian salad; tomato, anchovy, mozzarella and shredded Asiago open-face sandwich; blackberry jelly, thin-sliced Asian pear and rotisserie chicken on whole wheat toast; whipped cream cheese, crumbled sage, sliced Asian pear and chicken on whole-wheat toast; corn meal mush with apples, sausage and sage.

What I ate out:
Paella with chicken, sausage and shrimp, Argentinian red wine at the home of my friends, James and Terry; chicken and cabbage salad, chicken pho and tea at Superior Pho in Cleveland; house salad with grilled salmon at Leo’s Italian Social in Cuyahoga Falls

Nada. You apparently were busy.

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