By Judith Burke-Berhannan

New technology influences everything, including your child’s college application process. Websites, social media and streaming videos may be more common than catalogs as sources of information for the college-bound child, but the fundamentals of applying for college remain the same — along with the anxiety and anticipation. So how do you help your children make the most of their college search and selection process?

Talk to your child about his or her interests, strengths and goals early. During sophomore and junior year, keep college in focus by including him or her in conversations with family, friends and associates about their college experiences and take advantage of college planning and guidance resources available through your high school and library.

Help your child compile a checklist of what he or she wants in a college, so that by senior year, they can explain their reasons for applying. Research options by exploring college websites together. For example, the Stony Brook University website features a virtual tour, blogs from current students and tools to help you plan for college costs and scholarship opportunities.

The summer before senior year is an ideal time to tour college campuses and review essay topics and application deadlines. Encourage your child to complete all college applications before Thanksgiving. Remember that application and scholarship deadlines are non-negotiable.

At the same time, establish an email account for your child’s college correspondence. Colleges will correspond with applicants primarily by email, so make sure your child checks the account regularly and responds quickly throughout the application process. Remind them that all college correspondence is professional and their writing style should be formal to reflect how serious they are about applying. Make sure they use proper grammar and etiquette and don’t use any casual shorthand commonly used in text messages and on social media — in other words, no acronyms, abbreviations or emojis!

But remember, when it’s time to write essays and talk with the people who will provide letters of recommendation, step aside. This is your child’s college experience, not yours. Admissions committees can detect essays written by professionals and parents. Empower your student to take ownership of the process. Finally, take a step back and relax. Be confident that with the proper preparation and a positive outlook, your child will be successful in his or her college search.

Judith Burke-Berhannan is the dean of Undergraduate Admissions at Stony Brook University.

Acorns are littering the lawns and decks of many homes on Long Island this year.

By Ellen Barcel

“The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” Chicken Little shouted. Well, this year, the sky isn’t exactly falling, but leaves sure are and so are lots and lots of acorns. Why? Well, a bit of plant biology first and then some theories.

Over the many millions of years that plants have existed on Earth, they have evolved to survive in their unique environments. Long Island formed after the last glacier, around 10,000 years ago. Plants that evolved to survive well in acidic soil, like oak trees and pines, established themselves here — Long Island has very acidic soil. Since Long Island has occasional droughts, plants that do well in droughts also do well here.

This past year Long Island has gone through drought conditions. Seven of the past nine months (January through September) the rainfall has been below average. August, for example, received just over two inches while the average is slightly over four. June was also particularly bad with just over one inch of rain while the average is nearly four. So, the ability to withstand occasional drought conditions is very useful for plants that establish themselves on Long Island. And, yes, oak trees have a taproot that goes way down into the soil, where there is more likely to be water.

So, oak trees have two ways of growing well on Long Island: their ability to do well in acidic soil and their taproots. This year, it seems that the local oak trees have produced lots of those acorns, that is, the seeds for future generations of trees were abundant, very abundant. This abundance is referred to as masting or mast years.

Said a gardening friend of mine from Farmingville, “You can’t walk out of the house without slipping and sliding … I almost broke my neck … The deck is covered. All night you hear them falling … the gutters are full of them … when you drive down the driveway you crush them.”

So, the question is, why the abundance of acorns some years and not others? There must be some sort of survival mechanism in producing lots of acorns, but why some years and not others? There are many theories.

1. One is that an extensive crop of acorns predicts a harsh winter. This theory assumes that oak trees have some way of predicting the future. My feeling is that when a big acorn crop and a harsh winter coincide it’s more likely a coincidence than oak trees’ ability to predict the future.

2. A theory I read about many years ago is that an extensive acorn crop is a way that oak trees have of dealing with harsh conditions. By putting all their energy in a nasty year into producing acorns, they’re guaranteeing the survival of the species. This is more likely. We did have drought conditions this past year, but remember that oak trees, with their taproots, do well in drought conditions.

3. The most likely explanation, however, is that we had mild, favorable conditions in spring for the production of oak flowers and therefore acorns. As a result we have been inundated with a large crop, a crop that has been falling and falling all over the place. Of course, there may be other factors involved. Oak trees have both male and female flowers on the same tree. Suppose there is a late frost in the previous spring, damaging the flowers that will become future acorns. Or suppose it’s been a particularly windy spring, again damaging the flowers, or excessive rain-storms. White oak trees take one year to produce acorns, while red oak (which includes pin oaks) take two. So, if the trees that are masting are red oak, we need to go back two springs to examine the weather at that time, not just this past spring. Confusing, isn’t it?

Whatever your theory, the abundance of acorns sort of guarantees fat squirrels, deer, raccoons, possums, rabbits, chipmunks and even blue jays and wild turkeys this winter, even if it is a harsh one. In the meantime, get out your broom and at least clean the acorns from your walkways so you don’t slip.

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850.

Thyme-Scented Roasted Vegetables and Beets

When the pace of family life gets busy, it seems easier than ever to forgo healthy eating plans, and the hectic autumn season is a big culprit. However, you don’t need to compromise flavor for nutrition when turning to convenient options that fit your busy lifestyle. Round out your meal with a simple side dish recipe focused on vegetables, such as Chili Lime Butternut Squash, Thyme-Scented Roasted Vegetables accented with sweet, tangy pickled beets or Caul-Slaw.

Chili Lime Butternut Squash

Chili Lime Butternut Squash
Chili Lime Butternut Squash

YIELD: Serves 4 to 6


4 cups butternut squash, large dice

1 teaspoon chili powder

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon lime zest

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

olive oil spray

DIRECTIONS: Heat oven to 400 F. In bowl, toss all ingredients except olive oil spray together. Spray foil-lined sheet tray with olive oil spray and spread vegetables over tray. Roast in oven 20 minutes.

Thyme-Scented Roasted Vegetables and Beets

Thyme-Scented Roasted Vegetables and Beets
Thyme-Scented Roasted Vegetables and Beets

YIELD: Serves 4


1 jar (16 ounces) Aunt Nellie’s Whole Pickled Beets, drained, halved

1/2 pound baby carrots

1 medium onion, cut through core into 1/2-inch wedges

8 ounces shallots, peeled, halved if large

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 clove garlic, minced

DIRECTIONS: Heat oven to 400 F. Line 15-by-10-inch jelly roll pan with aluminum foil. Add beets, carrots, onion and shallots. Drizzle with oil; sprinkle with thyme, salt and pepper; toss to coat. Roast, uncovered, 15 minutes. Add garlic to vegetables; toss well. Return to oven and continue roasting 15 minutes, or until vegetables are tender and lightly browned.

Note: 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme may be substituted for dried thyme leaves.



YIELD: Serves 8


5 cups cauliflower, grated

1 cup carrots, peeled and grated

3/4 cup ranch dressing, fat free

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 cup green onions, sliced

DIRECTIONS: In bowl, mix all ingredients together. Let rest 5 to 10 minutes to allow flavors to combine. Tip: Cut cauliflower into quarters, keeping core attached; this will keep cauliflower from falling apart during grating.

Raffaella Sordella. Photo from the laboratory of Raffaella Sordella

By Daniel Dunaief

Raffaella Sordella, whose lyrical name reflects her upbringing in Italy, takes the fight against cancer personally. That’s because she underwent surgery for a tumor in her pancreas a few years ago when she, her husband Manuel Barriola and their young daughters Victoria and Alicia were living in Boston.

“The past few years I have made friends with many people who share firsthand experience with cancer,” she recalled in an email. “I have witnessed their strength and courage and they have been an incredible source of inspiration for our work, especially at times when the glass looked half-empty.”

Indeed, while she fought cancer herself, Sordella and the lab she leads as an associate professor at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory battle against the deadly disease every day. Recently, she made a discovery about a gene that has been among the most studied and carefully combed genetic regions of the human genome. A tumor suppressor gene, p53 protects against tumor growth. An increasing number of findings, however, point toward the possibility of p53 mutants that promote tumors.

In research published in eLife, Sordella found just such a mutant. Looking at a variation in which the gene is truncated, or cut short, a range of cancers can develop and can cause greater threats to a patient’s health. “Despite four decades and all these papers, this is completely new,” Sordella said.

As many as 10 to 15 percent of tumors of the pancreas, ovaries, melanoma, head and neck and small cell lung carcinoma have this truncated version of p53, according to Sordella. “If you have these mutations, your colon cancer tends to become more metastatic,” she said.

Sordella and her colleagues studied the signaling pathway that regulates the activity of this gene. They have found a path that may become a target for drugs. Her lab is in discussions with a pharmaceutical company to start clinical trials. Sordella suggested that this type of finding addresses the notion of individualized medicine, in which doctors and scientists search for the specific genetic regions that contribute to cancer, looking for ways to block them, turn them off or slow them down.

In this truncated version of p53, the genes are active in the mitochondria, or the powerhouse of the cell, where the energy molecule adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, is produced. Sordella is studying how this mutant p53 can affect metabolism.

“The result is exciting because it was so unexpected,” Scott Lowe, the chair of the Cancer Biology & Genetics Program at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, wrote in an email. “The current work shows that these mutations can act as an ‘accelerator’ of tumorigenesis as well.” Lowe was a co-author on the study, who described his lab’s contributions as providing human data on the prevalence of truncated mutations in p53 in human tumors.

Researchers have dedicated considerable effort to understanding the tumor microenvironment. They are seeking to understand what a cancer might need from its immediate surroundings. Scientists studying other diseases, such as fibrosis, tissue chronic injuries, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are also dedicating considerable resources to understanding the microenvironment. The recent discovery has encouraged Sordella and her colleagues to explore the role of cancer cell metabolism, cancer cells and their interaction with the tumor microenvironment, while also exploring the druggability of downstream pathways. This form of the gene is interacting with cyclophilin D, which is an inner pore permeability regulatory. Cyclophilin D, as a result, could become the target for future drug treatments.

Lowe suggested that the “current study raises the possibility that cancers with truncating mutations in p53 would be susceptible to agents that block cyclophilin D,” but added that it “should be clear that this will require much further testing.” Still, he concluded that it “is exciting as the possibility of this approach was not previously appreciated.”

Sordella came upon the discovery of the role of this form of the gene by chance. The focus of her lab is to understand the mechanism of resistance in small cell lung cancers. She generated a model in which there was resistance to a particular inhibitor. When she conducted an expression profile, she found a shift in the molecular weight of p53. Cloning and sequencing the gene demonstrated an alternative splicing, or cutting, that nobody had described.

Sordella credits partners including Edward Kastenhuber, Marc Ladanyi and Lowe at Sloan Kettering with assisting in the analysis of the gene. Sordella appreciates the financial support of Swim Across America, an organization that raises money for cancer research and that has supported her research for several years. Swim Across America takes “great pride in each new finding as these are the building blocks for achieving the ultimate goal,” Daniel Cavallo III, the beneficiary chair of the Nassau-Suffolk Chapter of Swim Across America, wrote in an email. “All you need to do is speak with Dr. Sordella for a short time and it is so clearly evident just how passionate she is about her work,” Cavallo said. “Her hard work, dedication and commitment to the cause are extraordinary — this along with her achievements are part of why we continue to fund her research.”

As a child, Sordella said she had an interest in becoming a physicist. After witnessing the suffering and strain cancer inflicted on her family, including an uncle and grandfather who succumbed to the disease when she was 13, Sordella decided that battling this disease would be her mission. Her family, she said, instilled in her the sense of finding purpose beyond the accumulation of wealth and has established a foundation with the goal of caring for the elderly and promoting education. She hopes her work contributes to her family’s legacy. “Hopefully one day soon, I will be able to celebrate with them a new great victory in the fight against cancer,” she said.

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By Elof Axel Carlson

Elof Carlson
Elof Carlson

In politics we use the term politically correct to describe what we believe is an insincere phrase to hide a harsh reality. Thus to those who object to elective abortions as an act of murder, the term pro-life is favored. To those who feel this is a woman’s decision, the term pro-choice is favored.

What about describing the learning abilities of a child? When intelligence tests used to be applied to all children in public school starting in 1910, terms like feebleminded were replaced by terms like imbecile, idiot and moron on the low end of intelligence quotient measurements and terms like gifted and genius for the high end.

By the 1950s these low-end terms were replaced by the term retarded, but the high-end terms (flattering to parents) were retained. By the 1980s the term retarded was dropped in favor of exceptional child where the term exceptional could be used for any departure from average but usually was applied to what formerly were called retarded children.

There is less argument, however, about physical descriptions of children with disabilities or departures from average appearance or function. I doubt if those who dislike political correctness would want to replace today’s Down syndrome (or trisomy 21) with its original term mongoloid idiocy. Would you rather have your child described as having Tay-Sachs syndrome or its prior description as infantile amaurotic idiocy? Would you rather have your child described as having Hurler syndrome or its original term gargoylism?

In the 1970s terms with racist (mongoloid idiot) or insulting (happy puppet syndrome) connotations were replaced with neutral names, usually the name of a physician who first described the condition or the family in which it originally occurred. The term senile means old (and its root is found in innocuous terms like senior or senator), but in common use for senile we think of the negative side of aging — loss of mental acuity, deteriorating hearing or vision, loss of capacity to smell, arthritic achy joints, impotence, incontinence and a host of degenerative conditions.

I am old but still (fortunately) capable of writing books and articles. While being old is not a blessing, I do enjoy having an income (pension and Social Security) without having to worry each day about going to work. I have time to read lots of books. Nedra and I can enjoy traveling whenever we wish to do so. But I would not say to others that these are my senile activities.

Politicians call these slogans acts of spinning. My English teachers called them euphemisms. Psychologists call the practice reframing. Diplomats call the practice tact. Caring or thoughtful people call it sensitivity. In the vernacular it is about not calling a spade a spade.

Some find it refreshing to use the older terms and phrases because it may disguise or subtly reveal the underlying bias the terms harbor. But sometimes reframing leads to delightful wit like Alban Barkley at the Democratic convention in 1948 who responded to claims that Democrats were bureaucrats. “What is a bureaucrat?” he asked. “A bureaucrat is a Democrat who has a job a Republican wants.”

Elof Axel Carlson is a distinguished teaching professor emeritus in the Dept.of Biochemistry and Cell Biology at Stony Brook University.

'I Spy A Dragon Fly' by Rita Swanteson will be on view at the Port Jefferson Village Center through Nov. 17. Image from Mac Titmus

By Rita J. Egan

The North Shore Art Guild is exhibiting for a cause. From Nov. 3 to 27, the organization will present Artists United in the Fight Against Cancer, at the Port Jefferson Village Center. The exhibition will benefit the Stony Brook Cancer Center’s Art Therapy Program. Mac Titmus, president of The North Shore Art Guild, said 30 percent of the event sales will go toward the program. With a decline in federal and state funding, the raised funds will help the cancer center avoid cuts in the program.

‘Street Artist,’ oil on canvas by Joe Miller
‘Street Artist,’ oil on canvas by Joe Miller

The center offers therapeutic programs to provide relief from pain, fatigue, boredom and stress for both children and adult patients. Titmus said the guild invited both members and nonmembers to submit work for the exhibit demonstrating the theme Through the Eyes of a Child. The guild president said when it comes to shows such as this one the group looks for a broad theme for the artists to work with. “We always try to think of a theme that is going to inspire the artists, and being that this is something to do with young children in the oncology unit, we try to visualize how the world would look through the eyes of a child,” he said.

The show, juried by local accomplished artist Linda Louis, will feature 98 pieces from 67 artists. According to Titmus, the artwork was chosen from 118 submissions, and the selection represents a mixture of mediums including watercolors, acrylics, photography, mixed media and more.

Healing through art therapy

Stephanie Condra, a licensed creative arts therapist who works with oncologists and bone marrow transplant patients at Stony Brook, said art therapy is instrumental in allowing patients to express their feelings during treatment and hospitalization as well as providing important coping skills. “It can be very psychotherapeutic in nature. It can do a lot of processing of thoughts and feelings of fear and anxiety and anger, as well as actively in the moment give something very positive to focus on,” she said. According to the therapist, in addition to creating art, this type of therapy provides other creative choices including working with a patient using guided visualization, playing music or even talking in imagery and metaphor. Condra said patients can experience a lot of anxiety when it comes to their treatment and future. “I think that’s one of the great benefits of art therapy, that they get much more of a choice and control in what is going on in that moment, when a lot feels out of control with the treatment.”

Finding the words through art

Joan Alpers, director of Child Life Services at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, agrees with the benefits for patients when given a choice with art, and she said therapists who work with pediatric patients also offer games and playing with objects. “It’s both providing different kind of choices to people where choices of course are being taken away, and it’s also providing the opportunity to kind of normalize an experience, where, of course, necessarily medicine and medical protocol take first stage.”

Alpers said communicating through art is an important tool when it comes to pediatric patients. “Sometimes what happens is children just don’t have the words for things. They just don’t have the capacity to tell us how they are feeling or what’s going on or put it in words. But they certainly can make us a picture or show us in their play,” she said.

Children stand in front of one of the art pieces that will be on view at the PJVC through Nov. 27.

In addition to the guild’s exhibit on the second floor of the Village Center, Alpers and Condra said on the third floor artwork from pediatric patients will be on display in the hope that art lovers will be able to relate to the need for such a program. “Kids are filled with life even when they are sick, and kids want to paint and make and do, even while they are dealing with their treatments for cancer and devastating illnesses,” said Alpers, adding, “A lot of the work that we’ll show from the kids is bright and airy and beautiful, because that’s what kids need to be and do in order to create hope, in order to make a pleasant day out of a difficult day.”

Making a difference

Titmus said even though cancer can be a difficult subject, the guild has a goal in addition to raising money when visitors come to the exhibit. “We’re hoping that they understand a little bit more about art therapy,” he said. The art guild president said the goal is to donate $20,000 to the cause. In addition to the funds raised with event sales, the guild, which includes 140 members, has already begun raising money for the art therapy program through private donations and sponsorships by reaching out to local businesses and corporations. Artists also paid an entrance free of $10 for members and $20 for nonmembers to be considered as part of the show, and these fees will also go toward the donation.

The exhibit, which is presented in cooperation with Stony Brook Cancer Center, the Village of Port Jefferson and the Port Jefferson Conservancy, will feature a reception on Nov. 12 from 4 to 7 p.m. where many of the artists will be on hand. Raffles will be sold to raise additional funds and among the prizes are four one-day passes to Disney World and a chef’s dinner from Ruvo East in Port Jefferson. Both Condra and Alpers feel that events such as this help patients by acknowledging their journeys, something that is important to those suffering from cancer. “When they hear that there are people in their own community that are there behind them, I think that’s extremely valuable and extremely important in terms of their care, their hope and their resilience,” Alpers said.

The Port Jefferson Village Center, 101A E. Broadway, Port Jefferson is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. except holidays. For more information, call 631-802-2165 or visit

Statin users tend to neglect dietary guidance.

By David Dunaief, M.D.

High cholesterol affects a great number of Americans and cuts across many demographics, affecting young and old and those in between. When we think of hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol), what do you think is the mainstay of medical treatment? If you said “statins” you would be correct.

Do statins deserve this central role in treatment? They have been convincingly shown in studies to significantly lower cholesterol, and they play an important role for those who have cardiovascular disease. However, should we be using statins as liberally as we have? Well, guidelines for the treatment of high cholesterol, released in November 2013, suggest that we should. In fact, if followed, these guidelines would increase the use of this medication, especially in those over the age of 60. Some in the medical community have even joked that statins might as well be put in the drinking water.

This is a medication that patients may be on for life. I don’t know about you, but that thought sends chills down my spine. We know all medications have pros and cons. Statins are no exception; they have been mired in controversy. For one thing, they have side effects. These include possibly increasing the risks of diabetes, myalgias (muscle pain), hepatic (liver) toxicity, kidney disorders and negatively affecting memory.

Statins also may reduce the benefits of exercise, and they may not be as effective in women as they are in men. Because statins are such effective cholesterol-lowering medications, does this mean that patients on these drugs may become complacent with their diets? A new study indicates that this is exactly what might be happening. Let’s look at the evidence.

Statins have been mired in controversy. Stock photo
Statins have been mired in controversy. 

Diet complacency

The “S” in statins does not stand for “superimmune to eating anything.” In a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, results show that those who are taking statins tend to eat more calories and fats and, ultimately, increase their [body mass index] by gaining weight compared to those who were not taking statins (1).

In fact, in this study that used 11 years of NHANES data, results showed that there were a 14 percent increase in fat intake and an almost 10 percent increase in overall calorie intake among statin users. This resulted in a BMI that rose by 1.3 percent in those on statins, while in nonusers over the same period BMI only rose by 0.4 percent.

In other words, if you took an average male who was 5 feet 9 inches and weighed 200 lb, the difference between statin users and nonusers would be the difference between obesity and being just below obesity. Those on statins were consuming about 200 extra calories a day. This increase in calorie consumption occurred after they were placed on statins. Their weight also increased by 6.6 to 11 lb. This is especially concerning to the researchers, since the guidelines for statin use call for a prudent diet to help reduce fat and calorie intake with the ultimate goal of reducing weight.

However, the opposite was found to have happened — users consumed more calories and gained more weight. This is an observational study with over 27,000 participants, therefore no firm conclusions can be made. However, statins are not a license to gorge at the all-you-can-eat buffet line. We already know that statins may increase the risk of diabetes. Why worsen this risk with dietary indiscretions that are harmful to your BMI?

As an aside, the authors note that this increased calorie and fat consumption may be a contributing reason for the increased risk of diabetes with statins, but it’s too early to tell.

Impact on women

We tend to clump data together from trials that focus predominantly on one demographic, in this case men, and apply the results broadly to both men and women. However, in a May 5, 2014, New York Times article, “A New Women’s Issue: Statins,” some in the medical community, including the editor of JAMA, focus attention on this tendency, noting that this may be a mistake (2).

According to the dissenters, the thought process is that women have been underrepresented in statin trials, and cholesterol may not play the same role in women as it does in men. Yet almost half of the patients treated with statins are women. These physicians were referring to the use of statins in primary prevention, or in those who have high cholesterol but who do not have documented heart disease.

Lest you think their views are based solely on opinion or anecdotal data from clinical experience, this data on women was from the JUPITER trial, which looked at almost 7,000 initially healthy female participants (3). Statins did benefit women by reducing the occurrence of chest pain and reducing the number of stent placements and bypass surgeries, but they did not reach the primary end points of showing statistical significance in reducing the occurrence of a first heart attack, stroke or death.

The caveat is that there were not a large number of cardiovascular events — heart attacks, strokes or death — that occurred in either the treatment group or the control group. These results were in women over the age of 60. This may give slight pause when prescribing statins. By no means do I think these physicians are advocating to not give women statins, just that we may want to weigh the benefits and risks on a case-by-case basis.

Tamping down exercise benefits

If exercise is beneficial for lowering cardiovascular disease risk and so are statins, the logical presumption might be that the two together would create a synergistic effect that is greater than the two alone — or at least an added benefit from combining the two. Unfortunately, what seems straightforward is not always the case.

In a small, yet randomized controlled trial, participants who were put on statins and monitored for cardiopulmonary exercise saw a blunted aerobic effect compared to the control group, which exercised without the medication (4). In the treatment group, there was a marginal 1.5 percent improvement with aerobic exercise, while the control group experienced a much more robust 10 percent gain.

The reason for this disappointing discrepancy is that statins seem to interrupt the enzymes that are responsible for making the mitochondria (the powerhouse or energy source for the cell) more efficient. The most troubling aspect of this trial is that the participants chosen were out-of-shape, overweight individuals in need of aerobic exercise.

Whether or not a patient, male or female, is placed on cholesterol-lowering medication, one thing is clear: There is a strong need to make sure that lifestyle modifications are always emphasized to help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease to its lowest levels. But the quandary becomes what to do with statins and exercise. And statins, as powerful and effective as they may be, still do have side effects, may reduce exercise benefits and may not have the same effects for women. Thus, they may not be appropriate for everyone. A healthy diet and exercise, however, are appropriate for all.

References: (1) JAMA Intern Med. online April 24, 2014. (2) (3) N Engl J Med. 2008 Nov 20;359(21):2195-2207. (4) J Am Coll Cardiol. 2013;62(8):709-714.

Dr. Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, visit or consult your personal physician.

Zoyzia grass is a tough, easy to grow lawn grass but turns brown with the cold weather. The small green sprouts are probably onion grass. Over time, zoyzia grass chokes out weeds. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

Last week, we looked at the history of lawns. Since we live in suburbia, and since lawns are part of our gardening experience, let’s take a look at what grasses we grow and what needs to be done in autumn. Each of the grasses below has its advantages and disadvantages.

Zoysia grass, a native of Asia and my personal favorite, needs little in the way of fertilizer, spreads easily through underground runners, choking out weeds, and once established is somewhat drought tolerant. Its major disadvantage is that it thrives on very warm weather, meaning that come winter, it turns brown. Some people dislike this feature enough that they will dye the brown grass green. Me, I just ignore it.

I know that come next spring it will green up and be very easy to care for, something that really appeals to me. If you do add some fertilizer in the spring, make sure you wait until the grass has actually greened up so it can take up the fertilizer. Since it is a warm-weather grass, plant it is spring, not fall.

Kentucky bluegrass is a cool-weather grass. Like zoysia grass it can spread through underground rhizomes. Being more cold tolerant, it stays nice and green much longer than other grasses. However, in the heat of summer, it needs lots of water and it’s also not very shade tolerant. Kentucky bluegrass may have been cultivated in Kentucky, but, it, too is an import from Europe and the Middle East.

Ryegrass is also a cool-weather grass. It’s a tough grass, used in sports fields. It is, however, susceptible to a variety of diseases and winterkill. It’s common in lawn seed mixes and originated in Europe, Asia and North Africa.

Fescue grass, a native of Europe, is also a cool-weather grass but has the advantage of tolerating some shade. According to Oregon State University, it was not widely planted until the 1940s and ’50s — interestingly, the time of the growth of suburbia. Because each grass has some different characteristics, you will frequently find grass seed mixes. If you notice that many of the popular grasses are cool-weather grasses, it will come as no surprise that autumn, with its cooler weather, is a great time to refurbish your lawns. You’ll have less heat and therefore require less added watering.

If you want less work, you can buy sod. Like most everything it has its advantages and disadvantages. One advantage is that it is already sprouted. Disadvantages include cost (it’s more expensive) and you don’t get to select the variety of grasses available. Sod is ideal for refurbishing small areas.

Growing from seed is more time consuming and you need to make sure the seeds are well watered. But, growing from seed is cheaper. You can also get seed that has a covering that absorbs water and contains nutrients. This latter seed is more expensive, but it’s the kind used along roadways where there is no one to tend the new planting.

Since most of the grasses in lawn mixes are cool-weather crops, they grow well in September, October and November (and even a mild December). Remember, according to Suffolk County law, you can’t add fertilizer to your lawn past the end of October. The lawns won’t take up the nutrients — they’ll go into the water table, polluting it and running off into local waterways. In spring, you can’t add fertilizer before the beginning of April for the same reason. Use pre-emergent weed killer in early spring if needed.

A soil pH of 6.0 to 7 is ideal for lawns. Since most of Long Island’s soil is substantially below this level, that is, more acidic, you need to periodically add lime to raise the pH. Read the package directions for each manufacturer’s ideal timing, frequency and amount.

Make sure you remove fallen leaves from your lawn to keep the lawn healthier. Some old-school gardeners will scatter grass seed on bare spots in their lawn just before the first predicted snow fall. This way, the seed is ready to germinate come spring. Water will be provided by the melting snow. Remember that come winter and snow, try to avoid getting ice melt on the lawn.

Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk ( has an extensive selection of horticulture fact sheets that can be downloaded, including Healthy Lawns, Lawn Care Without Pesticides, The Homeowner’s Lawn and Repetitive Overseeding.

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850.

Pumpkin Cheesecake with Gingersnap Crust

Pumpkins are readily available in fall, when people carve jack-o’-lanterns out of pumpkins for Halloween or serve up pumpkin pie after a hearty Thanksgiving dinner. But people who are unsatisfied with plain old pumpkin pie can add something new to their repertoire this fall by cooking up the following recipe for Pumpkin Cheesecake with Gingersnap Crust, courtesy of Lori Longbotham’s “Luscious Creamy Desserts” (Chronicle Books).

Pumpkin Cheesecake with Gingersnap Crust

YIELD: Serves 8 to 10

Pumpkin Cheesecake with Gingersnap Crust
Pumpkin Cheesecake with Gingersnap Crust



1½ cups gingersnap cookie crumbs

½ cup finely chopped hazelnuts

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

¼ cup sugar


1½ pounds cream cheese, at room temperature

½ cup packed light brown sugar

¼ cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs

2 large egg yolks

1½ tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

1 cup solid-pack pumpkin purée (not pumpkin pie mix)

½ cup créme fraîche, homemade (see below) or store bought, or sour cream

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS: Preheat the oven to 350 F. Lightly butter an 8- or 8½-inch springform pan. To make the crust: Stir together all of the ingredients in a medium bowl until the crumbs are moistened. Press the mixture over the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Bake the crust for 10 minutes. Let cool completely on a wire rack. Increase the oven temperature to 425 F.

To make the filling: With an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the cream cheese, brown sugar and granulated sugar in a large deep bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs and then the egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the flour and pumpkin pie spice and beat on low speed until just combined. Add the pumpkin purée, créme fraîche and vanilla, and beat until just combined. Pour the filling into the shell.

Place the cheesecake on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 250 F and continue baking for 1 hour. Turn the oven off and let the cheesecake cool in the oven for 2½ hours. Then transfer to a wire rack and let cool to room temperature. Refrigerate, tightly covered, for at least 10 hours, until thoroughly chilled and set, or for up to 2 days.

To serve, run a knife around the side of the cheesecake and remove the side of the pan. Serve slightly chilled or at room temperature, cut into thin wedges with a sharp knife dipped into hot water and wiped dry after each cut.

Créme Fraîche (Makes about ½ cup) ½ cup heavy whipping cream ½ cup créme fraîche or sour cream with live culture Pour the cream into a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid and spoon in the créme fraîche. Let sit on the counter, with the lid slightly ajar, until the mixture thickens, from 4 to 24 hours, depending on the weather. Refrigerate, tightly covered, until ready to use.