Learn From the Brain-Damaged Investor

Believe it or not, people with certain kinds of brain damage may make better investment decisions. That is the conclusion of a study conducted back in 2005 by a team of researchers from Carnegie Mellon University, the Stanford Graduate School of Business and the University of Iowa.1 The study linked brain science to investment behavior and offered some compelling evidence that people with an impaired ability to experience emotions could actually make better financial decisions than other people under certain circumstances. The participants with brain-damage outperformed other people in an investment game and finished the game with an average of 13% more money than the other players.

The brain-damaged participants had normal IQ’s and the areas of the brain associated with logic and cognitive reasoning were intact. The region of the brain that controls emotions, however, contained lesions that inhibited their ability to experience emotions such as fear and anxiety. The study suggested that this lack of emotional responsiveness actually gave them and advantage when they played a simple investment game. The rules were very basic: Participants each got $20 they could use to place $1 bets on 20 tosses of an ordinary coin. Each losing bet would cost $1, while each winning bet would earn $2.50. From a cool-headed distance, the right decision is a no-brainer: Given the payout and the odds of winning, of course you should bet every time. But anyone at all familiar with behavioral economics knows that’s not what most people actually do. Irrationally, we are risk averse, finding the pain of loss much greater than the pleasure of equivalent gain. And, sure enough, the healthy participants passed up several chances to place a bet—and, as fear mounted with each subsequent coin toss, were less and less likely to take the gamble. As a result, they earned an average of only $22.80. The unemotional brain-damaged patients earned $25.70, on average, because they remained unswayed by the fear of loss throughout the game.

Clearly, successful investing involves a certain degree of emotional control. Unfortunately, emotions are part of our lives and many people find it very difficult to take an unemotional approach to investing. As an investment adviser I have observed firsthand how emotions can cloud someone’s investment sense. I truly believe that one of my most important jobs as an adviser is to protect people from themselves and not allow clients to be their own worst enemies when it comes to reaching their financial goals. I take great pride in the research I conduct to select appropriate investments for clients. However, I have to conclude that an investor’s portfolio return is far more dependent on the investor’s behavior than on the performance of the funds in their portfolio.

  1. Wall Street Journal, July 21, 2005

Damien helps individuals invest and manage risk.  He is a Certified Financial Planner™ professional and a principal of Walnut Creek Wealth Management. These are the views of Damien Couture, CFP® and not intended as investment advice. Your comments are welcome. Damien can be reached at 925-280-1800 x101 or Damien@WalnutCreekWealth.com.


Incontro and the Shameless Plug

First and foremost, exactly who am I? I figure that our budding relationship has reached the point that I might adequately introduce myself as well as fill you in on a little method behind the madness.

I am a 17-year veteran of the restaurant game here in the Tri-Valley and San Francisco. I was Dining Room Manager at Ruby Hill Golf Club, Assistant GM at Forbes Mill Steakhouse and the Manager at Walnut Creek Yacht Club, where I successfully wrenched myself from Food and Beverage in the hopes of doing something “greater.”

Currently I install and train medical clinic staffs on IT operating systems in developing countries (a whole other story) which has given me a whole new appreciation for our corner of the globe.

I left the food game clutching my completed manuscript entitled, “What Seems to be the Problem?”; a satirical advice piece on how to not be “that guy” when dining out or looking for employment at your local watering hole/feeding trough. I hope to have this published and delivered to you all soon.

What exactly is my criteria for the places that I deliver to you on a monthly basis? Let this be heard: I am a lone ink slinger! Nobody paves the road I traverse. I write about things that inspire me, or at best move into my line of site and stay there for reasons that beg to be explored by the written word.  Nobody hands me my “assignment” for the month or offers goodies to write about their restaurants. I am not anonymous—Toby is my real name. I don’t hide and I’m not sure in advance what I’m going to write about. In addition, I make honest mistakes. I forget to mention names. I make inadvertent references to one place while writing about another. I write without a net. I will not write a negative review. While I am not impervious to negative dining experiences I figure that I only get to talk to you all once a month and that time is better spent exploring the amazing places our area has to offer.

Most importantly, I was recently drawn back into the business, if only temporarily, and can be found behind the bar at Incontro, a beautiful Italian Restaurant that inhabits the old La Ultima restaurant on the main strip in Danville. While my time there mostly serves the purpose of helping my friend and GM, Jenny Finke, get her gorgeous bar established in the neighborhood, I am secretly having the time of my life. The staff is professional and worldly, the food is ridiculously amazing, and I fell in love with the bar upon first sight. Eight seats, specific selection of spirits and Italian Wines, flat screen TV, top lit wood and mirrors, and a huge picture window looking past the elevated Victorian porch and stone patio onto the main strip of Danville. The whole scene really needs to be painted by Norman Rockwell.

Incontro moved owners and property roughly a year ago literally down the street by a few miles from San Ramon. The atmosphere of the newly renovated property is old-worldly. Soft light and compartmented dining rooms allows for diners to truly feel like you are a guest in an Italian home and being served the type of meal that will allow you to feel you had your passport stamped. The wine list showcases modest, yet thorough, selections of Italian wines but true to their understanding of our community, tasting notes have been added to each selection.

I may or may not be behind the bar when you arrive, but do not let that stop you from coming in and sitting down. In a word — come for the Toby, stay for the pasta. Once again, you will thank me!

DMAE Cream – How to Prevent Wrinkles and Smooth Fine Lines

Here’s to beautiful skin for the Holidays!

Go Ahead. Sink your teeth into a delectable chocolate-fudge brownie this holiday season. Delight in a wonderful glass of aged wine. Pamper yourself with a long, heated stone massage. All three experiences promise you fantastic payoff-instant gratification. A surge of pleasure and satisfaction floods your senses seconds after you indulge yourself.

You can give your skin the same kind of quick satisfaction. In just about the time it takes you to finish a sinful dessert, DMAE complex can produce a visible and gratifying improvement to the skin. If you’ve shied away from so-called treatments because the very word conjures up visions of spending days carefully applying this and dipping in that until you finally see results, DMAE will change your mind. It’s quick, it’s easy, and it works.

DMAE is a great little acronym that’s easier to say than the tongue twister dimethylaminoethanol. Mixed in a cocktail with other nutrients like Lipoic acid and Esther C when applied topically, combined with DMAE it will dramatically improve the appearance of sagging skin. As an added bonus, DMAE boosts the effects of other antioxidants, resulting in increased smoothness, brightness and line reduction.

Unlike other antioxidants, DMAE is an antioxidant membrane stabilizer. Because of its unique structure, DMAE intersperses and becomes part of the cell plasma membrane. When this occurs, the membrane is more able to resist stress and is stabilized. DMAE also gives protection from free radicals-by preventing the other portions of the cell membrane from being attacked by free radicals. Thus, DMAE prevents breakdown of the cell plasma membrane and the resulting production of arachidonic acid and a bunch of pro-inflammatory mediators. When mixed with other antioxidants and nutrients, it has a dramatic firming effect on the skin.

Understanding Aging Skin

Before we look into how DMAE firms the skin, it is important to understand why skin sags, as we get older. Aging, particularly of the face, is characterized by many changes in the skin, including wrinkling, discoloration, broken blood vessels, a decrease in radiance and thinning of the surface. But the face doesn’t show age just because of changes to the skin’s surface. Another very significant factor is the loss of firmness and collagen. As we age, the chemicals and nutritional precursors that give muscles and collagen that hold the skin maximum tone start to diminish as a result of years of free-radical damage. Strong antioxidants and specific anti-aging ingredients reduce the aging process.

Today there are only a handful of treatments that really work to reverse the signs of aging. There are products on the market that will temporarily smooth the skin’s surface or increase its ability to maintain moisture, but these are superficial, short-term gains. The only long-lasting solutions to the problems of aging skin are those products and treatments that are scientifically tested and proven to penetrate to where the aging process actually takes place: in the deeper layers of the skin. DMAE is one of the key ingredients to keep your skin in optimum condition to repair collagen and prevent further damage while giving you long lasting results in a firmer and more youthful appearance.

At The Rouge we carry only the finest in advanced skin care with the highest concentrated ingredients and formula’s for anti-aging including DMAE, Neuropeptides and antioxidants. Please call for a skin care analysis consultation for maintenance and to find out what skin care program is best for you.

Designing with Technology

Most of us have had the curiosity or the dream of commissioning an interior designer but have left these aspiring notions only as notions. Fears will conjure naturally when pursuing a high form of luxury. The mystery of its affordability and the question of how it will truly serve a purpose in your life comes with the territory. Being well-seasoned with first-time design clients at J. Hettinger Interiors, I will completely agree but I will strive to show you its reason and logic.

Ruth, my recent Pleasant Hill client, was the perfect situation of a virgin client thoroughly guided through the process and was left breathless with screams of excitement at the reveal of her new master suite. Her only words of logic were, “I can’t believe this is all mine!”

What’s the point of a beautiful room if it has no purpose other than looking pretty? My job is to make rooms function for one’s lifestyle and enhance their way of living. Ruth is a veterinary anesthesiologist surgeon and a very busy gal who needed a soft, soothing retreat for rejuvenation. The room also needed to coexist and endure her dog, three cats and their occasional, furry-friend visitors.

Not only was Ruth’s project to be designed around a family of pets, but her dog, Dylan, is disabled. Obviously the textiles specified in the bedroom area would have to be paw-friendly. I had to be particular about what accessories to place and where. Being a pet owner myself, this was familiar ground. It was imperative that the master bath would provide a place for Ruth to easily and safely bathe Dylan. We opted to build a generous shower in place of the existing garden tub. The idea of doing this to any master bathroom would make any homeowner cringe. By pairing off beautiful materials and producing an excellent layout, I was confident that the end product would be very elegant. The glass block shower was my jumping point. This enabled me to moderately open up the room and not create a “sense of dead space” in the shower by using simple, clear glass panels. Glass block can have a charming presence in a space with classic detailing, in contrast to the contemporary settings seen in the 80s.

I carried the watery reflective character of the blocks into glass mosaics but in tones of bronze. A polished granite vanity top was specified to complete the pairing of reflective surfaces. In limited spaces, shiny and reflective materials really give a sense of openness. The cabinets have a painted finish just to echo the blonde burl wood of her bedroom furniture and to keep the bathroom light and soft. A matte finished porcelain field tile seen in the shower walls and the radiant heated floor proved to be cost-effective. It also provided a soft backdrop to highlight the glass surfaces.

Verbally expressing your vision to a client and a contractor can only take it so far. I find that the use of new technology for visual depictions is very effective in showing the client exactly what the entire room will look like and also saves time and confusion on the contractors end. In addition to conventional 2D construction drawings and rendered elevations, I utilized digital 3D modeling in this situation. A photo-realistic image of the bathroom-to-be depicting all materials and completed layout in context was presented to Ruth and my outstanding contractor, Ron Shafer, of Ron Shafer Construction. This one digital rendering put Ruth and Ron at ease and ready to push forward. Ron was seeing the built environment even before it was built. In the end, the entire project was completed in four months, just in time for the holidays and on budget.

There are key elements to undergoing any design project and making it affordable. Finding a designer is your first priority. Interview a few as they usually give a free initial consultation. Can you visualize yourself working with this person for the next few months?  Do you enjoy their company? Make sure there is a strong, reliable company behind the designer. When contemplating a remodel, your contractor will play a major role. If you have a trustworthy referral, go ahead and set a time for your designer to meet with them.

I advise referrals from your designer as they probably have collaborated in the past and can better guarantee a steady process and deliver on budget. The last thing that must be addressed is your budget. It is okay for you to tell your designer what your dreams are, regardless of how extravagant they are and how limited your budget is. There are always alternatives to every ideal proposal. Perhaps a major project can be executed in phases.  A good designer will give you options to make it happen and to make the process comfortable for you.

Throw Out That Bathroom Scale!

Listen to what Michael Wood, Chief Fitness Officer at Koko FitClub, LLC has to say about bathroom scales:

One of the biggest obstacles many people face in reaching their fitness goals sits right in their very own home. It’s not the refrigerator. It’s their bathroom scale.

Too many people focus on what their bathroom scale says as their primary indicator of fitness progress or health. Well, it’s time to throw that bathroom scale out! Too often, people get wrongly fixated on a number on the scale. It can lead to unrealistic and even unsafe goals, not to mention, disappointment after disappointment.

Think of a bathroom scale like a speedometer. It can only tell you one number—your current speed. But speedometers can’t tell whether you’re under or over the speed limit. It can’t tell you where you are, where you should be, or where you are going. That’s exactly the same as a bathroom scale. It can only tell you one number: your weight. But weight is just one element of your health and fitness “dashboard.”

Now consider a GPS device. Not only can it tell you your speed, but it can give you directions, plan out your best route and help you safely reach your destination in the most efficient way possible.

That’s Koko FitCheck: a GPS for your body! It’s a vital part of how we precisely customize and optimize your personal Smartraining “route” to long-term health.

Koko FitCheck is not a scale. It is a precision body composition tool that calculates and tracks your body’s lean muscle level. Koko uses this data to automatically customize your program, calculate Q Score, provide personalized nutritional guidance and determine your Koko “eBMI” – our proprietary, “enhanced” body mass index calculation that is an important marker of progress and a far superior way to manage your health, nutrition and metabolism than weight alone.

FitCheck. Where your Koko Smartraining experience and program customization begins.

Koko FitClub Danville is owned and operated by Val and Mike Rogers, local Danville residents. Koko FitClub is conveniently located in down-town Danville at the Iron Horse Trail Crossing.

The Music of Friends – Chamber Music

If you have had the pleasure of attending a chamber music concert, then you undoubtedly experienced the intimate expression of musical ideas that are uniquely inherent in a small ensemble. Chamber music has been described as the “music of friends” because it was and is written and played by amateur or professional musicians, for real music lovers, either for aristocratic and princely courts or in formal parties in private homes.

One dictionary definition of chamber music is: instrumental music for a small ensemble where each part is played by only one performer suitable for a small audience in a small chamber or room. Hence, because this music was suitable for rooms smaller than the great concert hall, it was called chamber music.

There are many people who prefer and appreciate the intimacy, subtlety and refinement a small ensemble offers rather than a large symphony orchestra. “It is at once one of the most enjoyable and most dignified of literature,” wrote Homer Ulrich in his book Chamber Music.  “To know chamber music is to revere it; to hear chamber music is to enjoy it.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe happily described chamber music, specifically the string quartet, as “the serious conversation of four individuals.”


Although the progenitors of early chamber music date back to the medieval period, almost all chamber music dates from around 1750, the so called beginning of the classic period. During this period the most famous and prolific composer and interpreter was Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809), who established the form and style we hear to this day. He became known as the “father of the string quartet.”  This great tradition, established by Haydn, was carried on by Wolfgang Mozart (1756-1791), Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), and many successors up to the present time.

During the 18th century, many prominent composers were in the purview of aristocrats and royalty. Haydn, for example, was the employ of Prince Nikolaus Esterhazy of Eisenstadt, (some historians say he was a Count) and was influential in European politics and art. It was here that Haydn honed his compositional skills to an exceptional degree.

The aristocracy began to decline in the early 19 century and musicians had to make their own living by selling, composing and performing on their own without the help of their aristocratic employers. This ushered in a new era of chamber music.

Chamber music was mostly amateur music played in small rooms in private houses until well into the 19th century. Unlike today, with music available at the push of a button, two hundred years ago people had to make their own entertainment including making music.

This all changed around the time of Beethoven. “Professional chamber music players became active, and the two classes, mainly performers and listeners, took a long step back from each other. It became more fashionable to listen than to play,” according to Ulrich.

Clarinet Chamber Music

Wolfgang Mozart introduced the clarinet in the chamber music repertoire. It has been the mainstay ever since. Obviously, the string quartet is the predominating medium for chamber music. But there are many other instrument combinations in the chamber music repertoire.

Clarinet Fusion

‘Clarinet Fusion’ is a brand new group in the Bay Area chamber music scene. It is a unique clarinet ensemble made of all the clarinets used regularly in bands and orchestras, some rarely used. The fledgling group has already performed several concerts to rave reviews. Many of their listeners have commented they had no idea clarinets could sound so marvelous in combination with each other. “The range and versatility of the clarinet is really quite remarkable, said Karyn Weber, founder of Clarinet Fusion and Principal Bass Clarinet in the Danville Community Band.

The clarinets used in the ensemble are: the A-flat piccolo, E-flat sopranino, B-flat soprano, E-flat alto, B-flat bass, EE-flat contra alto and the BB-flat contra bass clarinet.  Together they make a wonderful, glorious sound which is rarely heard in any other ensemble.

I was flattered when I was asked to be the director of this group of very talented clarinet musicians. Being a clarinetist myself, I didn’t hesitate to say “yes” and I am enthralled by their fine playing. The ten musicians in Clarinet Fusion, collectively, boast more than 350 years of clarinet-playing experience. Please don’t hesitate to attend a concert and hear for yourself a wonderful new sound. Clarinet Fusion is available for parties and other events. For information call 925-372-8847.

Please submit your questions and comments to banddirector01@comcast.netVisit our website at www.danvilleband.org for up-to-date information about the Danville Community Band.

Take a Deep Breath, and Do it Right!

From the moment we enter the world we breathe without giving it any thought. It’s one of those things that we know is important, but we can just do. However, poor breathing can lead to many problems. The good news is those problems can be addressed.

In my last column, on the importance of the pH of blood to your total health, I briefly mentioned that, in addition to diet, breathing properly is vital. One of my practices is in the field of “TMJ” which stands for Temporomandibular Joint, a rather poor term considering the multiple causes of the head, neck and jaw pain that must be diagnosed.  The better term would be TMD which refers to Temporomandibular Dysfunction. The temporo stands for the temporal bone of the skull and the mandiblular stands for the lower jaw. Even at that, the name does not even touch the complexity of the problem.

What brought up the TMD syndrome was that several years ago many of my most severe cases were not really improving, but just dealing with the dysfunction. I found that these patients suffered other diseases such as fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, and obesity.

Few people, including doctors, understand that breathing directly regulates body chemistry, including blood flow, oxygen availability, electrolyte balance and kidney function. How we breathe is a behavior and is subject to the same principles of learning as most behaviors. This is where Capnometry and Capnotraining come in. Capnometry is part of the science which studies the effectiveness of how you breathe.

I became licensed to do Capnotraining years ago at a center in New Mexico. Ultimately, I discovered that the center with all its experts can do a better job than I, teaching you how to breathe properly in your own home over the computer. All the information you need can be found at www.betterphysiology.com.

One very serious problem is that many dysfunctions caused by low blood CO2 mimic diseases that fool doctors into calling for expensive tests and even to false findings, leading to an unnecessary treatment plan that could have serious side effects. A basic Capnometer test could have avoided that. One of my pediatric cases had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder when the underlying cause was simply oxygen deprivation.

Given the life changing drugs used in the treatment of bipolar disorder, one can see how important it is to prevent the use of these drugs to treat symptoms that should not have existed at all and can be addressed with simple breathing therapy.

Luckily many physicians are taking a more holistic approach to diagnosis and treatment planning. From this refreshing approach has evolved the Society of Orthomolecular Medicine which has a rapidly growing worldwide membership.

It is well worth looking up orthomolecular medicine on the net. There is an incredible amount of information that could answer many of your questions. By no means is this a criticism of doctors. Our society has become dependant on instant gratification and most people feel someone else should solve their problems.

If patients can get a pill to take the symptoms away, even partially, that’s what they prefer. Among my patients probably only one in ten, or even fewer, will totally commit to doing their part to get well. Many are taking at least 15 prescriptions per day.

It is very difficult for a doctor to get excited about helping to find the total cure for what is causing symptoms when so many patients will not do their part to help. I will not treat a patient who won’t commit to getting off unnecessary drugs. My team includes a professor of pharmacology that helps with that step.

What I learned after many years of practice is if I listen long enough and encourage the patient to open up, ask the right questions, plus remain very observant to what their body is telling them; many times the patient will diagnose themselves.

I have even recruited some of my most enthusiastic, successful patients to talk to new patients when they desire to learn more. The reward I receive in giving them their enjoyment of life back is well worth the effort.

Robert Brown, DDS has a TMJ and sleep apnea practice in Danville and thoroughly enjoys discussing holistic medicine. You can contact him at 925-837-8048, at info@aodtc.com, or visit his web site at www.aodtc.com.

Fibromyalgia / Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – What to do When the Medications Don’t Work

Christine was only 36 but she felt like she was at least 60.  “I wasn’t sleeping, I couldn’t exercise without increasing my symptoms and I didn’t have enough energy to take care of my two children.”  In short, life was miserable for Christine. She had suffered increasing pain, fatigue and insomnia for five years. Her doctors had given up and she just couldn’t take the pain anymore. Christine, and thousands like her, suffer from fibromyalgia/chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), a condition that causes a cluster of symptoms that result in multiple vicious cycles that ultimately lead to a confusing constellation of problems. Mostly affecting females, it debilitates the patient physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually.

How many of these symptoms do you have?

  • Chronic muscle pain, spasms, tightness or headaches
  • Decreased energy
  • Insomnia or waking up feeling just as tired as when you went to sleep
  • Chronic stiffness
  • Difficulty remembering, concentrating, and performing simple mental tasks (“fibro fog”)
  • Reduced tolerance for exercise
  • Abdominal pain, bloating, nausea, and constipation alternating with diarrhea
  • Sensitivity to: odors, noise, bright lights, medications, certain foods, and cold
  • Feeling anxious or depressed
  • Numbness or tingling in the face, arms, hands, legs, or feet

Many women are surprised at how many of these symptoms they check off the list. After all, they have been trying to “cope” with widespread chronic pain for years, and have eventually tried to repress their pain and suffering for the sake of trying to appear “normal.” They have tried getting help from their own doctor, an assortment of specialists and even some alternative approaches without success. The patient’s dream, the perfect drug or supplement or hormone that will take it all away, doesn’t exist.

Many doctors don’t know much about fibromyalgia, so a typical office visit (if you’re lucky) consists of some reassurance, a brochure and prescriptions that cover up the pain or other symptoms without a real attempt at finding the cause of the problem and fixing it. Even though Fibromyalgia/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is accepted as “real” condition by the Society of Rheumatology, many doctors find it hard to believe that a person could be suffering from all those complaints—especially when “all the lab tests are normal.”

Extensive research done in the last decade shows clear relationships of Fibro/CFS to brain dysfunction, hormonal imbalances, gastrointestinal problems, inflammation, immune system abnormalities, and endocrine disorders (thyroid, adrenal gland, etc.). In fact, there is convincing evidence that certain areas of the brain (shown clearly on SPECT images) are abnormally active in the brains of fibro/CFS sufferers. Fibromyalgia patients also have higher levels of two substances; a nerve chemical called substance P, and nerve growth factor in the spinal fluid. There are also low levels of serotonin, the brain chemical that is low in people with depression and anxiety.

We have found that the best approach to help patients who suffer from Fibro/CFS get their lives back is to get as much information about the effected areas as possible by doing extensive testing (blood, saliva, urine, DNA)—almost never done by your regular doctor. We then formulate individualized treatment to normalize each area of concern, one at a time. My expertise in neurology, endocrinology and the musculoskeletal system is ideal for dealing with the brain, hormone and nerve issues inherent in fibro/CFS.

Back to Christine — after treatment at our office, she is now going back to work, dancing with her husband, and her kids feel like they’ve got their mom back. 

Dr. Don Davis, D.C., DACNB is a BOARD CERTIFIED CHIROPRACTIC NEUROLOGIST in Walnut Creek.  He has been serving individuals with chronic pain for 30 years. For information about how you can get a free consultation with Dr. Davis, call (925) 279-4324 (HEAL).  Visit us at WalnutCreekHealth.com or FibromyalgiaWalnutCreek.com


Giving Thanks…with a Twist

Each November the food magazines reinvent Thanksgiving. That’s their job. The problem is that your friends and family don’t want any part of it. They look forward to eating the exact same meal you’ve been serving every year for as long as anyone can remember.

Indeed, this is no time to mess with tradition. None of Norman Rockwell’s stylized grandmas ever pulled a turducken out of the oven. Thanksgiving should be the ultimate comfort-meal; a stroll down Memory Lane. But that doesn’t stop me from sneaking in at least one new dish each year, just to satisfy my own creative yearnings. And the farmers’ market is where I go to seek inspiration.

To begin with, shopping in the crisp morning air is far more appealing than swapping germs in a crowded supermarket. It is also a mutually beneficial way to show our gratitude to the people who grow the foods we eat all year ‘round. And the November farmers’ market is surprisingly colorful.

I have a passion for fiery orange persimmons — as beautiful sitting on the counter as they are unique in recipes. You’ll find two very distinct varieties at the market this month. The larger of the two, the Hachiya, has an elongated teardrop shape with a pointed tip. Because they are so fragile when ripe, they are sold while still firm and inedible. Hachiya persimmons also contain bitter tannins that make them unpleasantly astringent to eat when the flesh is even slightly firm to the touch. After a week or more at room temperature, however, the fruit is tangy-sweet and ripe when it becomes jelly-soft—like a water balloon—making it a favorite addition to moist cakes, quick breads, cookies, and steamed puddings.

No less beautiful, the squat, flat-bottomed Fuyu persimmon is shaped more like a tomato. There is no waiting period before enjoying this variety since they should be eaten crisp, like an apple. The only bad news here is that persimmon season is short, so it’s now or never.

Salad is usually a good way to introduce an unfamiliar fruit or vegetable to suspicious relatives. (Yes, salad. Not every dish at Thanksgiving needs to be drowning in dairy products or buried under a gooey cloud of marshmallows.) The following is light and colorful; and the pleasantly bitter greens provide a refreshing counterpoint to the rich foods that are so much a part of a traditional meal. Play around with the ingredients if you like, by adding a scattering of jewel-like pomegranate seeds for extra seasonal glamour, or by substituting crumbled California goat cheese for the Parmesan.

This salad can stand alone as a first course, if that’s how you roll … though Thanksgiving at my house tends to be a raucous all-you-can-eat never-ending buffet. (In the most elegant possible way, of course.) I was born on Thanksgiving, so I figure that gives me a free pass for any breach of etiquette.

Winter Greens with Persimmons and Sweet-and-Spicy Walnuts

For the dressing:

  • Freshly squeezed juice from 1 orange (about 1/3 cup)
  • 2 tablespoons sherry wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup California olive oil

For the salad:

  • 4 Fuyu persimmons, caps cut out, peeled
  • 10 cups baby arugula leaves or mixed baby lettuces (about 10 ounces)
  • 8 cups mixed chicories, such as: coarsely chopped curly endive, shredded radicchio or Treviso, and coarsely torn frisée;
  • 1/2 cup pitted and coarsely chopped Medjool dates
  • 1 cup Sweet-and-Spicy Walnuts (recipe follows)
  • 1 (3-ounce) chunk Parmesan cheese, at room temperature

To make the dressing:

  1. In a small bowl, whisk together the orange juice, vinegar, mustard, honey, salt and pepper. Gradually whisk in the oil until blended. (The dressing can be covered and refrigerated up to 1 day ahead. Whisk well before using.)
  2. Using a mandoline or other vegetable slicer, cut the persimmons into paper-thin slices, taking care to remove any seeds. (Alternatively, persimmons can be cut into 1/4-inch wedges.)
  3. In a large bowl, combine the arugula, chicories, persimmons, and dates. Drizzle all but 1 or 2 tablespoons of dressing over the top. Add the walnuts and toss gently to coat. Taste, adding the remaining dressing if needed. Use a vegetable peeler to shave Parmesan over the top. Serves 12.

Sweet-and-Spicy Walnuts

  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse (kosher) salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 cup California walnut halves and pieces
  1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Line a small baking sheet with foil and spray with no-stick cooking spray.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the brown sugar, maple syrup, salt, chili powder, and cayenne. Stir to blend. Add the walnuts, tossing to coat.
  3. Spread the mixture on the prepared baking sheet and bake, stirring once, until the walnuts are glazed and lightly browned and the sugary coating is bubbly-hot, 25 to 30 minutes. Set aside to cool to cool completely. Break the nuts into bite-size pieces. Use at once, or store in an airtight container. Makes 1 cup.

Does your holiday recipe repertoire need an extreme makeover? Check out Peggy Fallon’s upcoming class at Draeger’s Blackhawk cooking school on Wednesday, November 14, at 6:30 p.m. For more information go to www.draegerscookingschool.com, or call 1-800-642-9463 ext. 261.

The Danville Certified Farmers’ Market, located at Railroad and Prospect, is open every Saturday, rain or shine, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m.  For specific crop information call the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association at 1-800-949-FARM or visit their web site at www.pcfma.com. This market is made possible through the generous support of the Town of Danville. Please show your appreciation by supporting the many fine shops and restaurants located in downtown Danville. Buy fresh. Buy local. Live well.

October Baby

This is one serious movie; serious subject, serious story. I probably should have checked some stats but I just didn’t want to be that bogged down in the minutiae.

The opening scene of October Baby is Hannah Lawson (Rachel Hendrix) ready for her college theatrical debut. Her first college play. The curtains open and she is alone on stage. Her leading man enters the scene. She starts her lines and collapses. The movie fast forwards to her in the hospital. Her father (John Schneider) is consulting with a colleague…doctors. After a lot of testing, they tell Hannah that the medical issues that have plagued her throughout her whole life are all part of the same issue. Hannah is adopted and her parents never told her. There is more to the story and her parents finally tell her that not only is she adopted but that her medical issues are due to her birth. Twenty four weeks early and an abortion survivor, the story that was too hard to tell is now being revealed.

Hannah has been haunted her whole life by a feeling of not being wanted. Her parents love her; adore her, so exactly where were these feelings coming from? As the story falls into place her adopted mother breaks down and gives her birth certificate to her. She was born in Mobile, Alabama.

Hannah’s best friend since childhood, Jason (Jason Burkey) finds a way to help Hannah get to Mobile to help her find her birth mother or at least some answers to her many questions. The Spring Break Road Trip ends up being a bunch of college kids in a vintage VW bus on their way to New Orleans with the route through Mobile. With the help of some kind folks along the way, Hannah finds the nurse at the hospital. The nurse leads her to her birth mother. The story has many twists and turns. An angry Dad, a sorrowful Mom, a birth Mom in denial and a friend who stands by her through the whole episode makes for an interesting plot.

I have some observations (don’t I usually?). I know many women who have had abortions. Some have told me early in our friendship, some stay in denial for years. I probably have a few friends that will go to their grave with their secret. One thing I have figured out is that the pain of regret is always there. If you have read my reviews for very long, you have probably figured out that I’m conservative. Do I believe in abortion? No. Do I condemn the women who do? No. Actually, my heart goes out to them because that decision had to have been one of the hardest decisions of their lives and if it wasn’t, that alone is probably haunting.

October Baby is about forgiveness. It’s not preachy and it doesn’t condemn. There’s a line in the movie that says “to be human is to be beautifully flawed” and I think that just about sums it up. I want to let both women and men who may be carrying around unresolved issues that there is help, there is hope. There are many resources. You might want to start with EveryLifeIsBeautiful.com. Choose to Heal. Choose to Love. Choose Life.

October Baby is well done and especially thought provoking. As always I look forward to your thoughts and comments at chastings@rockcliff.com.