Project: Art for the Heart

Phase 4:  The Art of Healthy Choices

Those of us who have the ability to control the factors that go into our personal health and well-being, should be grateful for that freedom.  We should take advantage of it, and make the best choices possible. Many of the artists of the Enrichment Center (EC), and others with disabilities, do not have that freedom or ability, relying on friends, family, and social services to make choices regarding food, activity, environment, etc.

James and Shirley Brizendine are two artists who take full advantage of their freedoms, and make some great choices to enhance their well-being.  James and Shirley have been married for 39 years, and artists at the Enrichment Center for the last 12 years.

Shirley & James Brizendine at the Arts Center, during the "Rescue the Arts" campaign. 2011.
Shirley & James Brizendine at the Arts Center, during the “Rescue the Arts” campaign. 2011.

In addition to spending their days at EC, James and Shirley make decisions to increase their well-being every day.  They are active folks, walking their dog, to the shops in their neighborhood, and to church each Sunday.  At home, James paints and practices guitar, while Shirley draws and makes beaded necklaces.  They count themselves as fortunate that their current home is in a safe neighborhood, and they are close to family who live nearby if they need assistance.  Their neighbors are helpful and friendly, and there is a church within walking distance.  For Shirley, church is an important element of well-being.  For several years, she and James lived in apartments with no church nearby.  Now they walk to church each Sunday. Their blessings are so numerous; James and Shirley may run out of fingers and toes to count them all.

When asked about the first and best heart-healthy change people could make, James says, “Cut out the junk food.”  Shirley adds, “Yeah.  And eat more vegetables.”

Cooking is often a limited option for many people with disabilities.  Working with knives and heating appliances can be dangerous. As a safety precaution, microwave heating of ready-made meals and leftovers may be the full range of cooking options available.  Many people with disabilities rely on family and friends to shop for their groceries, and cook their meals.

James and Shirley do their own shopping, and prepare their own meals.  Lasagna, spaghetti, pizza, soup, carrot cake and cookies, James and Shirley cook almost everything “from scratch”.  They like to cook, and cook together.  It’s not a chore; it’s a privilege.

We asked James to suggest the recipe that they use most:  Peanut Butter Cookies—a treat.


1 cup Shortening (or margarine or butter)
1 cup Brown sugar
2 Eggs
½ cup Peanut butter
1 teaspoon Vanilla
3 cups Flour
1 teaspoon Baking soda
¼ teaspoon Salt


Mix shortening, brown sugar, and eggs. Add peanut butter and vanilla, salt and flour. Roll to size of large marbles. Press slightly with fork and bake in hot oven at 350° for 8-10 minutes or until brown.

James & Shirley Brizendine's recipe for homemade Peanut Butter Cookies
James & Shirley Brizendine’s recipe for homemade Peanut Butter Cookies

The wonderful thing about cooking and baking from scratch, is that you can use ingredients you already have on hand, which may be cheaper, or even… healthier.  James and Shirley substitute margarine or real butter for shortening. If they don’t have enough margarine, they may add more peanut butter. James admits that they run out of brown sugar, which they replace with “white” granulated sugar.  (I substitute egg replacer for the eggs.)

No matter what ingredients you use, these homemade cookies will be free of preservatives, with no extra junk thrown into the mix to make them “chewier,” “fresher,” or “low-fat.”

Cut the "junk" out of your sweet treats. Make them from scratch!
Cut the “junk” out of your sweet treats. Make them from scratch!

What? You don’t like Peanut Butter Cookies? Well then, leave out the peanut butter, reduce the flour to 2 and ¼ cups, and add oatmeal… or chocolate chips… or walnuts… or dried fruit… or whatever you like. Summon your inner artist, and get creative.  Don’t forget to count your blessings, and make healthy choices like James and Shirley.

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