Thelma in high school

Does the name Thelma evoke a visual of Gena Davis and Susan Sarandon’s infamous characters driving a turquoise colored 1966 Thunderbird convertible over the edge of the Grand Canyon? Can you hear the roar of the V8 engine or feel the cloud of dust they left in their wake? Spoiler alert for those not in the know, this is the final scene from the 1991 film classic “Thelma and Louise.”

You ask what does this have to do with chocolate? Well that movie made my mom’s name famous and associated it with strong willed women; which definitively described my mom. People continually ask how I create flavors. This is the story of how a chocolate came to be named Thelma. It’s a brief glimpse of my mom’s story, selfishly written for myself and my siblings.  And for you. Perhaps it will inspire you to tell your mom’s story or bring back memories. If you are blessed to have her present in your life, create new stories. My mother passed at the end of 2011 just as I launched my chocolate company. This is my way of keeping her close and top of mind. No publisher is breathing down my neck, but this piece is long overdue in my book. With Mother’s Day around the corner, I thought it a fitting time to share it and remind us what a great gift, moms are to the world.

Mom and Dad engagement party

A child of immigrant parents and raised during the Great Depression, Thelma grew up a resourceful, resilient and strong willed. A bit of a tomboy she ran track, played handball and other sports in high school. Typical of the times, she married my father, Arthur, three years after graduating. They planned to start a family and thirteen months later my sister Cheryl was born. Three years later my brother, Scott, arrived. I showed up four years later and we moved west to St. Louis, home of the Gateway Arch.

Mom knew her way around the kitchen. She was an excellent cook, not fancy or big on sauces, but very efficient and stealth. A Russian born mother and Syrian father provided my mother an interesting palate of flavors and spices to utilize when it came to meal prep.

Never short on good Jewish cooking, brisket and potato latkes appeared regularly on dinner menus. One thing my siblings and I agree on, she made the best chopped liver. The secret sauce you ask? Her home-made schmaltz (rendered chicken fat). Schmaltz, like lard, tallow or butter each imparts its own unique flavor; no substitutes will suffice. While you won’t find rendering fat on my repertoire of cooking skills, I surmise I inherited mom’s ability to cook from scratch and authentically. And I am grateful!

Thelma & Arthur cozy on the couch.

Mom went to work part time when I entered first grade. But she kept up her religion, a trilogy of bowling league, Tuesday night mah johngg and Friday night poker with the ladies. I looked forward to the Tuesdays and Fridays mom hosted the games. Why? Brach’s chocolate bridge mix and an array of licorice candies. All the best licorice treats were on hand: bites, pastilles, hollows, soft gum drops, Good & Plenty and Twizzlers.

My mom loved everything licorice. When my parents retired to Florida, I remember sending her boxes of Black Jack Gum after I found it in a retro candy store. I did the same with tins of licorice mints. Her fondness for the flavor probably came from her roots, growing up with undertones of fennel and anise seed in her meals. Everyone in our family including grand kids, nieces and nephew all knew about her affection for the flavor that people vehemently love or hate with no middle ground.

A Florida visit with mom. (left to right) My Sister-in-law. Rosie, me, mom.

Almost a year after her passing, my family and I stood graveside for the unveiling of her headstone. Through tears, laughter and prayers we placed small colored gemstones on the marble stone denoting her life. The translucent stones reminded me of hard candy. At that point my niece Jessica suggested I create a chocolate in my mom’s memory. I don’t recall who said it but the next words I heard: licorice flavor. My family laid the gauntlet down graveside, great.

Hum, I mused, licorice and chocolate? Not so sure about this. Then it hit me: think biscotti. Anise and chocolate play together well in that crunchy cookie. Hazelnut represented my mother’s middle eastern roots and would make for a perfect finish. Surprisingly, it worked. Thelma, the chocolate was born.

At a recent wine tasting led by Chef Mark Tarbell, her pairing with a Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 was received with pleasure. I hope you will give Thelma a try. My mom would not have driven over a cliff like Thelma and Louise, but she was bold in her own way.  She told it like it was, not necessarily everyone’s taste as is the case for this flavor combination that is bold and subtle at the same time. Even if you don’t like licorice, it is worth a try.

For those in Phoenix, Thelma will be available at all our markets for sampling and purchase this weekend. Wishing everyone the very best Mother’s Day.

If you are interested in creating a signature chocolate for your company or to recognize a loved one, contact b Naked at 480-947-3900.

Sue Berliner
Founder, creator & owner
b Naked Chocolates

Copyright Sue Berliner 2018 All rights reserved.


Fast food: the tastiest and healthiest fried chicken

Fried chicken Friday’s. Crispy, scrumptious and home made, much better than Colonel Sanders offerings. While growing up, Mom cooked up a batch every Friday before her weekly ladies’ poker night. As busy as she was with working, three kids, a husband and managing the household, she made time to prepare fresh cooked dinners at least five nights a week. Micky D’s or Kentucky Fried visits just did not happen on my mom’s watch.

It has been about 25 years since I enjoyed mom’s tasty recipe with a crunchy coating, herbs and spices so several years ago I stumbled upon my own version I dubbed Crispy Chicken.

Friends love it. The cool part, no additional fat, deep frying mess or calorie loaded crust. Crisp outside and tender, moist, flavorful chicken on the inside.

I was craving it for lunch so whipped up a batch and started writing this column while preparing it. It is super easy to make, even for those cooking challenged.

I use a method call quick broiling. This is one of the healthiest ways to cook most meats, poultry and fish because you are cooking both sides at the same time and fast. This helps to retain nutrients. But it was my chef friends who turned me on to this method because of the awesome results.

Tasty, healthy and quick food from your own kitchen can happen, and that is without a microwave. A great resource for other quick and healthy cooking methods can be found at, plus an encyclopedia on the world’s healthiest foods. Better yet, order the book The World’s Healthiest Foods by George Mateljan.

So here is what you need to make the tastiest healthy fried chicken ever.

Naked Crispy Chicken

One pound boneless skinless chicken thighs or drumsticks
Sea salt
Fresh cracked pepper

Seasoned cast iron pan (an all stainless steel pan will work as well, but it must be high heat tolerant with no plastic handles (+500 degrees )

Preheat broiler to high. Place cast iron pan under broiler about 6 inches from the heat (you can line your oven with aluminum foil to protect from grease splatter). While pan is heating up, 7-10 minutes, pat chicken dry. If you are using drumsticks peel back the skin to reveal the meat. You can remove the skin. Season with salt and pepper on both sides.

When the cast iron pan just starts to smoke, briefly remove the pan from the oven and place the chicken in the pan. Replace the pan back in the oven. You will not need to turn the chicken. The oven should have good ventilation. I recommend turning on the oven fan.
Cook for 15-20 minutes. The chicken is done when the meat releases clear juices. Remove from the pan and place on a serving platter and let rest five minutes before serving.
Leftovers can be reheated on the stove top to restore the crispiness

Season the chicken with Italian spices or your favorite spice combination. I once created a blackened version. It was kickin’, but be careful here. It can be a great method for testing your smoke alarms. I did. The house filled with smoke and I realized the alarms did not work.

Substitute chicken breast. Breasts cook in 7-10 minutes depending on the size. It will be nicely golden colored but not crispy like the dark meat, but you will love how it tastes and tenderness.
Note: Remember to use oven mitts when ever handling cast iron. Singed palms can ruin a good meal and make cleaning up a challenge.

Here is the clincher, especially in tight times.

A pound of organic free range drumsticks costs $1.99 with boneless thighs selling for $4.99 at Trader Joe’s. That is about 5 pieces a pound. I recently found Costco carrying Coleman Natural Foods’ organic boneless chicken breasts for $6.00 a pound, 2 nice size pieces a pound.

An 8 piece bucket of Kentucky fried goes for $11.99 and includes 2 thighs, 2 legs, 2 breasts and two wings (do wings even count?). Another aha moment. In 30 minutes or less, I can cook up 5 legs, 5 thighs and 2 breasts for $12.98 (natural would be even less than organic).That is about double the volume (sans the wings) for a buck more.

My idea of fast food: quick to prepare, crispy, tasty, healthy and a great value. Colonel Sanders, I think the SWEAT Princess may have you licked.

If you try this recipe, let me know me know how it goes. Can you shift a few drive through dining moments to cooking and eating at home? What might the impact be?