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Month: November 2016

Baldanza in New Canaan Is Very Serious About Its Comfort Food By John Mariani

Baldanza in New Canaan Is Very Serious About Its Comfort Food By John Mariani

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BALDANZA
17 Elm Street
New Canaan, CT
203-966-4000

The much-hyped phrase “farm to table” has become so empty of meaning that when you come upon the real thing, you can still be amazed at the idea. For while all food has to come from some farm or body of water, most restaurants only pay lip service to the commitment to obtain the finest provender from the most local purveyors.
Sandy and Angela Baldanza (below) have not wavered in that search, a path that began, ironically, in the fashion industry, where the couple met (he had his own label, she worked at Bloomingdale’s). They left all that behind to open Baldanza for breakfast, lunch and dinner to a very faithful and appreciative clientele who are assured that everything on the changing menu is as fresh, organic and well-sourced as possible, always at a very fair price. Indeed, their Americana Menu, served Wednesday and Thursday is fixed price at $28 for three courses. Of course, they do take-out, too, and New Canaanites in their Range Rovers pull up to the curb to collect their evening meal. Baldanza’s has even launched a range of soups they call Soup Kitchen for sale at Walter Stewart’s Market, with two percent of sales going to the Connecticut Food Bank.
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The restaurant is small, L-shaped, with a bar behind which the Baldanza’s son Alex works as bartender. It’s a comfortable, if slightly cramped, spot but it can get very loud when it fills up at night, and midday seems to be a prime time for ladies to lunch.
It is highly likely Sandy will be coming to your table throughout the night to check on every detail, and be aware that asking him a question about his culinary philosophy may elicit a very, very long answer. His passion for what he does is more than palpable.
The à la carte menu is ambitious for such a small kitchen, but almost everything I tasted along with three friends showed remarkable consistency of taste and preparation. Hand-cut tuna with Himalayan salt, skinny French fries, lamb’s lettuce and cilantro ($18) is similar to other versions around the area, but Baldanza’s tuna has deep flavor, and cutting it to order makes a huge difference, while the lamb’s lettuce and cilantro add additional savory notes.
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Buffalo mozzarella–so often a hit or miss item–is here impeccably creamy with the right pliant texture, served with organic tomatoes, a strawberry balsamic, and–surprise!–New Canaan olive oil ($15). A light lentil soup was absolutely delicious, full of vegetable flavors ($8). Crispy fried calamari with lemon garlic aïoli and roasted tomato sauce ($16) was not so special.
There are several pastas–the Baldanzas are Italian-Americans–including very good butternut squash-stuffed ravioli glossed with sage and brown butter ($24) and ricotta gnocchi, slightly too firm, with a rich sauce of tomato fillets ($24). Freshly made pappardelle comes in a fine meat sauce with freshly made ricotta ($24), while fragrant saffron risotto is melded with Gulf shrimp and asparagus, both a tad overcooked that evening, rendering the shrimp without flavor ($28).
Everything the Baldanzas make evokes the idea of comfort food, and what could be more comforting than crispy Parmesan-crusted organic chicken with kale, wild mushrooms and mashed sweet potato ($27), one of the best dishes on the menu? The same goes for a juicy double-cut pork chop, grilled and served with pan-roasted asparagus and wonderful mashed potatoes ($36).
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Whatever local fish is the best in that day’s market gets a treatment of parmesan crust similar to the chicken, with sautéed spinach and lovely, silky beurre blanc ($28), while a snowy white Maine halibut with risotto, wild arugula and a citrus wine sauce ($32) takes a delicate hand to render so flawlessly.
Sandy Baldanza raved about his wife’s carrot cake for good reason. This old classic, lost in culinary hippie history after overkill in 1970s, shows what a wonderful American idea it is to combine carrots, spices and cream cheese to such wonderful effect. The crème brȗlée was all it should be–crackling golden caramel crust and creamy, vanilla-rich center. A bowl of autumn berries and cream was as charming an idea for a simple dessert as you’ll find. Key lime pie was all right, but not a winner in its category.
This being a small place, there’s no room for a huge wine list, but the selection of whites, most under $40, is a good one, though the red wine list could use amplification. Nine wines are offered by the glass, all at a very reasonable $10. There are also a dozen craft beers.

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Universal health coverage will lead to a healthier and more equitable world

Universal health coverage will lead to a healthier and more equitable world

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Piece co-authored with Dr. Aaron Motsoaledi, MP, Minister of Health of South Africa. Originally posted in Mail & Guardian on December 19, 2016.

About 400-million people – one out of every 17 of the world’s citizens – lack access to essential health services. In addition, 150-million people worldwide face catastrophic health-care costs because of direct payments, while another 100-million are pushed into poverty. In other words, due to ongoing neglect to the health sector, millions of people are entrapped in the vicious cycle of poverty – poor health – and more poverty again.

We are convinced that universal health coverage, with strong primary care and essential financial protection, is the key to achieving the ambitious health targets of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) and to avoiding impoverishment from exorbitant out-of-pocket health expenses. Strong health and disease surveillance systems halt epidemics that take lives, disrupt economies, and pose global health security threats.

Universal health coverage is an ambitious goal, but it is one that can create a healthier and more equitable world for all people. It means a child reaches adulthood, and adults lead healthier lives regardless of who they are and where they live.

Universal health coverage is achievable, by or even before 2030, through strong political will, innovative service delivery, and sustained financing. Ensuring universal health coverage must be the foundation for the SDGs, aimed at ending poverty and inequality by 2030. When people are healthy; their families, communities and countries thrive.

However, let’s be clear, reaching universal health coverage will require a paradigm shift in how we implement inclusive development. This means tackling inequities through a health-in-all policies approach that also addresses the social, economic and political determinants of health. Unique approaches will be needed to meet the unique needs of each country. We must share and learn from countries to address the needs of our most vulnerable citizens.

For instance, Ethiopia’s strong political will led to the creation of the Health Extension Programme. This programme enabled the health sector to expand access to health promotion, disease prevention, and primary care across the country through innovative service delivery. The programme is a good example, as individuals can access basic health services without any barrier: geographic, financial, or cultural. It is essential that everyone receive needed health services without financial hardship.

Another example is South Africa, which has a large network of health facilities, including a robust private sector. Often out of pocket costs for patients can be through the roof. Approximately 84% of the population relies on the public providers within the health sector, but it suffers from a lack of human and financial resources.

Efforts are under way to ensure universal health coverage by introducing a national health insurance plan, revitalizing the infrastructure across the health system, and accelerating efforts to address communicable diseases.

One of the lessons we learned in introducing the national health insurance plan for South Africa was how to announce such a plan. In our case, the plan was leaked before the initial government announcement. This created a challenge for the ministry of health, resulting in a reactive approach where we were defending universal health coverage as a position rather than promoting it.

After addressing that, next South Africa launched the National Development Plan, which invested in improving the quality, efficiency, and effectiveness of care in the public sector and addressed the exorbitant costs in the private sector.

Benchmarking, exchanging, and scaling up these types of best practices are essential to achieve universal health coverage. Recent series from the World Health Organisation (WHO), World Bank, and IHP+ provide a useful foundation.

For example, the series documents Turkey’s successful financial reform for universal health coverage. In 2003, Turkey embarked on an ambitious health system reform to overcome major inequities in health outcomes and to protect all citizens against financial risk.

Within ten years, it had achieved universal health coverage and notable improvements in outcomes and equity. A key element that drove these results was Turkey’s acceptance that access to health services is a fundamental human right.

We can also learn from the country profile of Argentina and their leadership around Plan Nacer. The 2001 economic crisis was devastating to Argentina, forcing many citizens into poverty. The health system was overwhelmed and basic health indicators deteriorated.

The government of Argentina developed Plan Nacer to both reduce infant mortality and to improve the efficiency and quality of the public health system. Plan Nacer became a foundation to successfully introduce highly innovative results-based financing mechanisms at all levels.

We believe the WHO can and must continue to play an instrumental role with its partners to promote knowledge sharing across countries; and to strengthen core responsibilities, benchmark successful financial models, and enact policies that make universal health coverage possible. This includes supporting national health authorities’ efforts to strengthen their health workforce, service delivery and health information systems – and to enact policies aimed at ensuring health coverage, including mental health care, is equitable and affordable for all.

Through the International Health Partnership for universal health coverage 2030, the WHO should provide Member States with the tools, guidance, and support they need, on both the policy and service delivery fronts, to ensure universal and equitable access to basic health services. Lessons learned shared across countries will only drive progress.

Finally, slow progress in universal health coverage is not due to resource constraint but is rather due to lack of political commitment. Countries who have limited resources but strong political commitment have achieved universal health coverage.

Countries that have limited resources but strong political commitment have achieved universal health coverage. For example, Sri Lanka has had universal coverage for more than 75 years. They even cover cancer treatment, fully.

The WHO is the unifying force to focus all stakeholders on advancing universal health coverage and to ensure all people can access the health services they need without risk of impoverishment. A strong, effective WHO that is able to meet the emerging challenges of implementing quality universal health coverage will lead the world in the achievement of the SDGs.

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Meet The Adorable Newborn Elephant That Just Joined Disney’s Herd

Meet The Adorable Newborn Elephant That Just Joined Disney’s Herd

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It’s a girl for Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park.

The Orlando, Florida, attraction announced Wednesday the birth of an adorable elephant named Stella.

Video shared online shows the big-eared baby taking some of her first steps inside the park’s savanna at Kilimanjaro Safaris. Accompanying her every step of the way is her mother, 28-year-old Donna, who became pregnant with Stella through “natural breeding” back in January 2015, the park said.

As unbelievable as that timeline may sound, elephants have one of the longest gestation periods ― about 22 months, or nearly two years, according to the African Wildlife Foundation.

Disney Parks

Stella was born in December at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. She’s Donna’s third child.

Stella, whose father’s name is Maclean, or “Mac,” is Donna’s third calf. Her two other girls are Nadirah, who was born in 2005, and Luna, who was born in 2010. Nadirah and Luna also live at the park.

“Stella raises the number of elephants in the Disney’s Animal Kingdom herd to 10, including three males and six females,” the park boasted on its website.

Today, only about 415,000 African elephants remain in the world. Poaching is one of the main reasons for their dwindling numbers, according to the African Wildlife Foundation.

Disney Parks

Baby Stella is seen exploring her new home alongside her mother and sister.

“Poachers kill elephants for their ivory, which is then sold and made into anything from jewelry to religious objects,” the foundation states on its website. “At current poaching rates, elephant populations may not survive 10 years in the wild.”

The struggle to protect and strengthen the African elephant population is further stressed by their slow rates of reproduction. In addition to having long gestations, they usually only have a calf every two to four years, according to the African Wildlife Foundation.

Disney’s efforts to help protect elephants include their collaboration with research and conservation organization Save the Elephants, which contributes to the Elephants and Bees Project. That project installs African beehives around rural African farms, creating a natural fence as elephants instinctively avoid the bees. That, in turn, protects the animals from the people and the people from the elephants, according to Disney’s website.

In 2014, Animal Kingdom was deemed one of the top 10 worst zoos for elephants by In Defense Of Animals after the deaths of two of their elephants. They didn’t make 2015’s list

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These NICU Babies Couldn’t Visit Santa, So He Came To Them

These NICU Babies Couldn’t Visit Santa, So He Came To Them

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For some families, taking the kids to see Santa Claus is a holiday tradition. For parents of babies in the NICU, making this trip is impossible. That’s why one hospital brought Santa to them.

WellStar Atlanta Medical Center held two Santa Claus events for its NICU babies and their parents. The man in red visited the little warriors on both Dec. 4 and Dec. 10. On those two days, the hospital hosted 19 family photos. One of those families was Rachel Speer’s.

WellStar Atlanta Medical Center

Rachel Speer said Santa was “incredibly sweet and gentle” with her twin girls.

Speer told The Huffington Post that a placental abruption forced her to have an emergency C-section on Oct. 27. Her twin girls entered the NICU on the same day after being born at a little more than 29 weeks gestation.

“The girls were strong and healthy when they were born, both breathing on their own and crying, but they were still so small and needed to be in the NICU for many weeks until they were old enough and strong enough to come home,” Speer said.

Speer, who also has a 1-year-old and a 3-year-old, said seeing her twins get to take photos with Santa was “great.”

“Santa was incredibly sweet and gentle with our girls, and we loved the event,” she said.

One of her twins came home a few days ago, but Speer still spends a lot of time in the NICU waiting to see when her other daughter will get the OK to head home. She told HuffPost that the nurses and the rest of the NICU staff “treat you like family.”

“They answered all of our questions, and I said on multiple occasions that NICU nurses have the patience of a saint because of how many we questions we asked over and over again,” she said.

WellStar Atlanta Medical Center

Speer said the nurses and the rest of the NICU staff at the Atlanta hospital “treat you like family.”

Speer also said Heidi Squires, a March of Dimes employee who works as the NICU family support program coordinator at the hospital, has been “amazing.” Squires has been in the position for eight years, and this is the second year she has organized Santa’s visit to the NICU babies. With events like this, Squires and her team set out to give NICU families hope and reassurance.

“The mission is to provide comfort and support to families who are in crisis,” she said. “It’s just one of the many things we do to support our families and normalize their experience in the NICU.”

With a little help from Santa, of course.

See more photos from the hospital’s holiday photo ops below.  

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Mushroom Lentil Spaghetti “Bolognese”

Mushroom Lentil Spaghetti “Bolognese”

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Mushroom Lentil Spaghetti “Bolognese”

Have you seen those lists of the new 2017 trends? You know, the ones that go around the internet this time of year predicting everything from the popularity of coconut oil to the color of pale pink we’ll all be wearing in the spring? One that caught my attention lately is that “they” are saying that staying in is the new going out. And I’m totally on board with that one. If you’ve had a busy holiday season how good does this sound: Stretchy pants, pasta, wine and and a nice dinner by the fire with twinkly Christmas tree lights in the background?

Ok, just kidding. We don’t have a fireplace and we haven’t even put up the Christmas tree because if you remember last year it was FEBRUARY before we got around to taking the thing down. But festivity aside, let’s make pasta, shall we?


Mushroom Lentil Spaghetti “Bolognese”

I’m calling this a “Bolognese” although I realize that Italian grandmothers are shaking their heads right about now. A traditional bolognese has meat and other very specific ingredients. So while this is not exactly authentic, this pasta includes a delicious hearty mix of mushrooms and lentils that get all stewy with onions, carrots, tomatoes, and rosemary among other savory ingredients.


Mushroom Lentil Spaghetti “Bolognese”

Hidden in this recipe are some unconventional ingredients. I find that balsamic vinegar and soy sauce brings out a rich flavor in the mushrooms. Sage (to me) has a sausage-like scent, so I used a bit of dried sage to bring a depth of flavor to the sauce. In addition to the lentils, I also added some finely crushed walnuts that you won’t detect but they add some richness to this no-meat situation.

I used canned tomatoes as the base of the sauce and tossed in some sliced fresh tomatoes near the end for no other reason except that I find brown foods exceptionally challenging to photograph 🙂


Mushroom Lentil Spaghetti “Bolognese”


Mushroom Lentil Spaghetti “Bolognese”

Aside from that whole not having a Christmas tree thing – Christmas came early because I got the chance to cook with KitchenAid’s new Stainless Steel Cookware set. The polished stainless steel is so fancy! The 12-inch skillet cooked my stewy sauce perfectly and these pieces were a breeze to clean. Plus, how pretty is this large pot (and Jack’s action-pasta drop shot!):


Mushroom Lentil Spaghetti “Bolognese”

Cook your pasta until al dente, toss it with the sauce and serve it with steamed green veggies if you like!


Mushroom Lentil Spaghetti “Bolognese”


Mushroom Lentil Spaghetti “Bolognese”

 

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ yellow onion, diced, about 1 cup
  • 1 medium carrot, diced
  • 4 cups chopped cremini mushrooms
  • 1 tablespoon chopped rosemary
  • ½ cup walnuts, finely crushed*
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • 1 (14-ounce) can of lentils, drained
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon dried sage, more to taste
  • 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes, optional
  • 8 ounces gluten-free spaghetti pasta
  • 1 cup sliced fresh basil, optional
  • pecorino cheese, optional
  • ½ cup toasted pine nuts*
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • red pepper flakes for serving, optional
  1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the diced onion and carrot and pinches of salt and pepper and cook until they begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the mushrooms, another pinch of salt, and cook until soft, stirring only occasionally, about 8 more minutes.
  2. Stir in the rosemary. Push everything to one side of the pan to make room for the walnuts. Add the crushed walnuts and toast them for about 30 seconds, then stir everything together. Stir in the garlic, then add the balsamic vinegar and soy sauce and stir to incorporate. Add the diced tomatoes, lentils, tomato paste, sage and fresh cherry tomatoes, if using, and stir.
  3. Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes. If the sauce is very thick, add water, ⅓ cup at a time, to thin. Season to taste.
  4. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Prepare the pasta according to the instructions on the package, cooking until al dente. Drain and add the pasta to the pan with the sauce. Stir in the fresh basil and a shaving of pecorino cheese, if using. Serve with more basil, cheese, the toasted pine nuts and a few pinches of red pepper flakes if desired.
*If you are avoiding nuts, you can skip the walnuts and pine nuts and the recipe will still be delicious.

Vegan option: skip the cheese.

Gluten free option: Use gluten free pasta, my favorite is this whole grain rice pasta from Delallo.

3.4.3177

This post is sponsored by Kitchen Aid. Thank you for supporting the sponsors that keep us cooking!

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Carrie Fisher’s Most Important Role: Confronting Stigma and Reducing Shame

Carrie Fisher’s Most Important Role: Confronting Stigma and Reducing Shame

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McLean Hospital Guest Blogger
Catherine Ulrich Milliken, LICSW, MLADC, LCS

2016-12-29-1483035021-2384959-iStock600414852huffpost.jpgActress and writer Carrie Fisher died at the age of 60 on Tuesday after going into cardiac arrest on Friday during a flight from London to Los Angeles. Fisher was a longtime advocate for mental health awareness, sharing publicly her own battle with bipolar and substance use disorders. She encouraged those who struggled with bipolar disorder and substance use issues to join in community and find comfort in shared feelings and experiences. As we remember her advocacy and commitment to confronting stigma and reducing shame, let’s explore what we know about these disorders and what we can do to help.

What We Know About Co-Occurring Bipolar and Substance Use Disorders

Bipolar disorder is a serious mental health disorder affecting approximately 5.7 million adults each year (Kessler, Crum, et al., 1997)1, representing 8.1 percent of all diagnosed mental illness (US Department of Health and Human Services, 1999)2 in the United States. Bipolar disorder is characterized by sudden and intense shifts in mood, behavior, and energy levels and can present in a variety of ways, making diagnosis challenging. Like substance use disorders, bipolar disorder impacts physical and emotional wellbeing, and has been associated with higher rates of relationship problems, economic instability, accidental injury, suicide, and addiction.

Studies have demonstrated that people with bipolar disorder have higher rates of co-occurring substance use disorders than the population as a whole. Among individuals with bipolar disorder in one study, about 56 percent were dependent on substances, with 46 percent diagnosed with alcohol abuse or dependence and 41 percent diagnosed with drug abuse or dependence. People with bipolar I disorder were more than 3 times as likely to have alcohol abuse or dependence and about 7 times more likely to have drug abuse or dependence than those in the general population (Reiger, DA, Farmer ME, Rae DS, et al.1990)3.

What We Know About Treatment for Co-Occurring Bipolar and Substance Use Disorders

Having a co-occurring disorder can make recovery more challenging and requires treating bipolar disorder and substance use disorder simultaneously through a process called integrated treatment. Integrated treatment emphasizes centralized care delivered by a collaborative, multidisciplinary team, utilizing individual, family, group, peer, and medication intervention and support. Therapeutic approaches like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) have been shown to be effective in helping individuals regulate mood and behavior.

Integrated group therapy (IGT) is a 12-session group treatment for individuals with co-occurring bipolar disorder and substance use problems. IGT utilizes many principles of CBT, combined with psychoeducational approaches, and recommends the use of mutual self-help groups. IGT integrates the treatment of these two disorders by focusing on a single disorder paradigm, bipolar substance abuse. The treatment emphasizes the commonalities and relationship between the two disorders. Substance use is recognized as a risk factor for return to bipolar disorder and vice versa4.

Important Things to Know About Co-Occurring Bipolar and Substance Use Disorders

  • A combination of genetics, environment, biology, and other factors are believed to play a role in developing these disorders.
  • Misdiagnosis is common. Proper screening and assessment is crucial.
  • Individuals often self-medicate.
  • Treatment for bipolar disorder can reduce cravings for substances.
  • Integrated treatment is essential, and medication-assisted therapies can help manage symptoms.
  • Listen, learn, and encourage treatment, notice symptoms, make a plan, stick to a schedule, express your concerns and take care of yourself.

SAMHSA Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator is a confidential and anonymous source of information for persons seeking treatment facilities in the United States or US territories for substance abuse/addiction and/or mental health problems.

Mental Health America (MHA)–founded in 1909–is the nation’s leading community-based nonprofit dedicated to addressing the needs of those living with mental illness and to promoting the overall mental health of all Americans.

Founded in 1811, McLean Hospital is a leader in psychiatric care, research, and education and is the largest psychiatric teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School.

Catherine Ulrich Milliken, LICSW, MLADC, LCS, is the program director of Borden Cottage, one of McLean Hospital’s Signature Recovery Programs which provide individualized residential care for patients with drug or alcohol addiction and co-occurring psychiatric conditions.

References

  1. Kessler RC, Crum RM, et al. Lifetime co-occurrence of DSM-III-R alcohol abuse and dependence with other psychotic disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey. Archives of General Psychiatry 1997;54(4):313-21.
  2. US Department of Health and Human Services. Mental health: a report of the surgeon general-executive summary. Rockville, MD: US Department of Health and Human Services, 1999.
  3. Regier DA, Farmer ME, Rae DS, et al. Comorbidity of mental disorders with alcohol and other drug abuse. Results from the Epidemiologic Catchment Area (ECA) Study. JAMA 1990;264:2511-2518.
  4. Weiss RD, Connery HS. Integrated group therapy for bipolar disorder and substance abuse. New York: Guilford Press, 2011.

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Shamed And Abandoned: The Fate Of Syria’s Former Female Inmates

Shamed And Abandoned: The Fate Of Syria’s Former Female Inmates

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Women being held in Syria’s government prisons report psychological abuse, sexual assault and torture. But for many, the emotional and physical suffering they experience after their release is even worse.

When Luna Watfa refused to reveal any information to her interrogators, they took her son, 17, and threatened to torture him. “They put my son’s hands behind his back, his T-shirt over his head and they took him,” she says.

Watfa, now 35, was a law student when the popular uprising broke out in Syria in March 2011. But when she witnessed president Bashar al-Assad’s forces shooting at and beating protesters, she decided to devote herself to documenting what she saw. In January 2014, she was arrested on a Damascus street by a gang of men whom she quickly recognized as government officers. “There were three cars with 12 guards. They came only for me,” she says over Skype from her new home in Koblenz, Germany. The men escorted her to her home, demanded access to her laptop and detained her son, threatening him too. “I tried to say that [they] had no right to take him,” Watfa says. “The officer looked at me and laughed. ‘I am the law, I can do anything I want,’ he replied.”

Mona Mohammed Aboud, 29, was a teacher at the start of the revolution and a vocal opponent of the regime. She has twice been a prisoner of Syria’s intelligence and security services network. During one 63-day period of detention, in 2014, she says she was subjected to torture including electrocution, beating and starvation – and she still suffers physical pain as a consequence.

“There was no such thing as living. Just hell and hunger,” she says. “The security forces are not trying to kill you; they want to keep you alive – but only just.”

Watfa and Aboud are among the thousands of women in Syria who have been detained by the regime since the beginning of the uprisings. There are no official figures on how many women have been held in government prisons, or by any other group in the country. But a report released in November by the Syrian Network for Human Rights said that more than 8,400 females, including 300 girls, are currently in government jails. Around 5,000 more are reportedly being held captive by militant groups such as the so-called Islamic State and Jabhat Fatah al-Sham. Many of these women face brutality and sexual violence while in detention. But the struggles they face upon their release – ostracism, shame, broken relationships and health issues – can often be even harder to cope with.

When she was in al-Khatib prison in Damascus, Watfa was once beaten so badly she could not walk for three days. She wasn’t raped, but she and others were the targets of sexual harassment, she says.

“The guard started to put his hand on my breast and opened my shirt. I screamed at him and said I would tell the officer, so he left,” Watfa says. “When I did tell the officer, he did nothing, as usual.” She was later transferred to Adra Central Prison in northeast Damascus, where she stayed until her release in 2015.

Aboud was imprisoned after being tricked into meeting regime security forces who befriended her on Facebook. She, too, was eventually transferred to Adra Central Prison. There, she says, the male guards would approach the prisoners for sex. “The warden would tell the detainee that he could secure her better food and send messages to her family provided that she slept with him,” says Aboud.

But upon their release, both Watfa and Aboud discovered that some things are worse than the grinding horrors of detention.

In part because of the presumption that female prisoners have been raped, many are ostracized by friends and family once they get out. “My family was torn over whether I had been raped or not,” says Aboud. “The first question asked by the lawyer who was assigned to my case when it appeared in front of the anti-terror court was whether or not I had been raped. My answer was a conclusive no,” she says.

Aboud’s parents said they believed her, but limited her movements once she was back home. “Other relatives broke away from me and would not visit us in Damascus for a long period of time afterward,” she says.

Fearing another arrest, she found support from a network of Syrian media activists (that she asks not to be named), who helped her escape across the border to Turkey. She lives there now, in the city of Gaziantep.

Sakher Edris, from the Working Group for Syrian Detainees, says his team often sees female former prisoners suffer social rejection and the breakdown of relationships after they get out. “Many of the detained women are either divorced after their release, married forcibly to a person they do not like or, as a reaction to society, take off their hijab and travel to Europe, staying away from their parents and communities.”

Often unable to discuss the perceived shame of imprisonment with friends or relatives, many female ex-detainees lack access to healthcare and support networks. “You feel that [the regime] did not take anything from you, but they took your soul,” says Watfa. “What hurt me the most was the fact that when I was released and saw my kids again, I did not feel anything. In prison, they [the guards] tortured me – OK – but this was not the worst thing. The worst thing was that they took my feelings.”

For the first three months of her detention, Watfa did not know whether her son had really been arrested, as she had been led to believe. When she finally got the chance to ask her son what had happened to him that day, she says, “He told me that they put him in the bathroom [in our flat]. They said, if you breathe and your mother hears you, we will punish you hard. So keep silent and don’t breathe or move. For one month after, he couldn’t speak about what happened. It was very bad for him.”

Civil society groups are helping women ex-prisoners from Syria access psychological help in places such as France, Turkey and Germany. But the need far outweighs the supply, and some experts say the possible consequences for the future of Syrian society are grave. Sema Nassar, author of a report on the subject for the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network, concluded that the detention of women in Syria is contributing to the “disintegration of society” in the country and forced migration. “It contributes to increasing the refugee flows to neighboring countries as well as to Europe, since many women, rejected by their family and community, see themselves forced to leave the country upon their release,” she says in the report.

Among female former detainees there is determination to find a glimmer of light in the dark chapters of their past. Watfa and Aboud are both working to lessen the stigma for women who have been imprisoned, encouraging them to report their experiences. “For me, still the greatest aim – greater and more important than fear – is not betraying my friends in Adra prison,” says Aboud.

In November, Watfa received the news that her children would be allowed to join her in Germany, under family reunification laws. “They are here,” she says in a recent WhatsApp message. “Everything is great. I can rest much better now.”

With additional reporting by Mohammed Hassan al-Homsi.

This article originally appeared on Women & Girls Hub. For weekly updates, you can sign up to the Women & Girls Hub email list.

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Billie Lourd Inherited ‘Strength’ Of Carrie Fisher And Debbie Reynolds, Stepfather Says

Billie Lourd Inherited ‘Strength’ Of Carrie Fisher And Debbie Reynolds, Stepfather Says

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Billie Lourd, daughter of Carrie Fisher and granddaughter of Debbie Reynolds, lost both of those family members this week. While Lourd has yet to comment publicly on the sudden deaths, her stepfather Bruce Bozzi shared a supportive message over Instagram on Thursday.

Alongside a photo of the 24-year-old’s graduation from New York University in 2014, where she is shown posing with Reynolds and Fisher, Bozzi offered words of praise for all three women.

“It’s an honor to be your Stepfather,” he began, recalling the big day. “[At] Yankee Stadium your mom and I laughed our asses off, as she kept one fantastic line coming after the other,” he continued.

“I promise I will always be [a good stepfather] & the strength of these women live so vibrantly in you. I’ve been lucky enough to see this for a decade! Many decades to come…..heaven just got a shit load more fun!!!!”

Bozzi married his longtime partner, agent Bryan Lourd, in October. Lourd was married to Fisher, who died Tuesday, in the early 1990s before his divorce from the “Star Wars” actress revealed him to be gay. 

Lourd became the managing director of CAA, a top talent agency whose clients include Jennifer Lawrence and George Clooney; Bozzi’s family runs the high-end Palm chain of restaurants. 

With parents and grandparents like those, it’s not surprising that Billie Lourd went into acting herself. She currently stars as Chanel #3 in Ryan Murphy’s “Scream Queens” alongside Emma Roberts, Jamie Lee Curtis, John Stamos and her rumored boyfriend Taylor Lautner. She’ll also be reprising her small role from “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” in the upcoming “Star Wars: Episode VIII,” set for 2017 release.

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Debra Messing Shares Sweet Memories Of Her TV Mom, Debbie Reynolds

Debra Messing Shares Sweet Memories Of Her TV Mom, Debbie Reynolds

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Debra Messing, who co-starred with Debbie Reynolds for eight seasons on “Will & Grace,” wrote a moving post about what it was like having the icon as a TV mom for so many years. 

“Debbie went to be with Carrie. She always worried about her,” Messing wrote in an Instagram post on Wednesday. “Carrie left too soon and now they are together again. My heart is literally broken. For 8 years she was my mom. She was pure energy & light when she came on stage.” 

Messing, who played Grace Adler on the show, spoke of Reynolds’ incredible work ethic, adding that she performed 340 days out of the year. She also praised the iconic actress for her role in “Singin’ in the Rain.” 

“A Legend of course, the epitome of clean cut American optimism, dancing with Gene Kelly as an equal, a warrior woman who never stopped working,” she wrote. 

The “Will & Grace” star ended her message on a beautiful, emotional note for her beloved friend, reminding all of us that while Reynolds is sadly gone, she’s back with her daughter. 

“I lost my mom a few years ago. She loved that Debbie was my TV mom,” Messing said. “I hope they find each other and hug and kiss and my mom says, ‘I got you, Debbie. Carrie’s waiting for you.’ RIP Bobbie Adler. ❤”

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The Genius Way To Get Your Home Holiday-Ready In A Pinch

The Genius Way To Get Your Home Holiday-Ready In A Pinch

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Getting your home ready for the holidays can often feel like an overwhelming headache, but oftentimes all it really takes is nothing more than some sugar, spice and a dash of creativity. That’s why we’ve teamed up with Curate Snacks and Cinema and Spice to bring you a new video series celebrating traditional holiday festivities ― from milk and cookies to holiday movie night ― with a delightfully curated twist. In this episode, we’ll show you how to punch up your home this holiday season using your five senses.

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