Kim Rigby's Parfections grew from a small catering job into a sustainable business and storefront in Cockeysville.
Kim Rigby's Parfections grew from a small catering job into a sustainable business and storefront in Cockeysville. (Courtesy photo, Carroll County Times)

ALS, also called Lou Gehrig's disease, is a neuromuscular disorder that attacks nerve cells along pathways in the brain and spinal cord. Recently, Dr. Arash Farhadi, medical director of the Outpatient Neurology Services and Neurodiagnostics Lab at Anne Arundel Medical Center, helped me to better understand the technical side of the disease.
Essentially, ALS causes the nerve cells to degenerate and die. The nerves are replaced with scar tissue. Simultaneously, the ability of the brain to control muscle movement dies with them, causing site specific paralysis.
The disease is devastatingly progressive. Nerves control muscle movement, so as damage spreads, the muscles that control swallowing, chewing and breathing are eventually lost. Patients in the later stages of ALS are totally paralyzed.
Because ALS attacks only motor neurons and voluntary muscle control, sight, smell, taste and the mind remain unaffected. Patients often remain alert but are no longer able to communicate, eat or even breathe without assistance.
The disease is always fatal. Currently there is no treatment or cure.
Leslie Schwartz of Annapolis is a medical social worker. Her husband is the chief medical officer at Anne Arundel Medical Center, and her daughter is a pediatric intensive care nurse. Despite being immersed in the medical world, until 2000, she had never met a person with ALS.
Each year in America, approximately 5,000 people are diagnosed with ALS, most between the ages of 60 and 65, but some as young as 20 or as old as 80. Only about 30,000 people across the country have the disease at any given time. So it isn't necessarily unusual that, at the time, Schwartz didn't have friends or relatives with the disease.
That all changed when a friend's mother was diagnosed with ALS. She frequently joined Schwartz and other Key School moms for a weekly coffee clache at The Main Ingredient. Schwartz was able to witness the rapid progression and sad conclusion of the disease first-hand. Most patients die within three to five years of diagnosis.
Wanting to comfort her friends and seeking a way to productively soothe her own emotions, Schwartz hosted a party at her home, inviting several area artisan acquaintances to showcase their wares.
What started as an evening of fellowship blossomed into the ALS Artisan Boutique.
Now in its 12th year, the Boutique has raised more than $250,000 for ALS. Money is donated directly to patients in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., and pays for equipment such as walkers, wheelchairs and respirators that can help improve the quality of life for ALS sufferers.
On Sunday, the ALS Artisan Boutique will host 55 local vendors at the Sheraton Annapolis Hotel off Jennifer Road in Annapolis. Of those vendors are five culinary companies, each showcasing handmade, all natural foods made with fresh ingredients.
What I found most compelling about each of these vendors is how the owners - all women, some of them stay-at-home-moms - found a passion and venue for their creativity. Through diligence and hard work, they are building successful companies, some of which are now thriving in large area grocers and one of which was recently featured as an outstanding local producer in Martha Stewart Living.
Each is making a dedicated effort to contribute to their community. The Artisan Boutique provides an opportunity to help others while also marketing their goods.
Here are their stories. I hope you will visit the Boutique this Sunday. If you aren't able to but still want to help, contact the ALS Association at http://www.alsa.org.

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Jane Dough

443-822-0658

Jane Flanagan, a longtime fixture around Annapolis as an expert baker, debuted her latest venture just last week. Jane Dough is a line of frozen cookie doughs, fresh cakes in a jar and scone mixes. All are made with only fresh, pure ingredients and, with the exception of red velvet, have no artificial flavors or ingredients.

The cookie dough ($16) is sold in two-quart containers and makes about 36 to 48 cookies. For now, Flanagan is offering old-fashioned, tried-and-true flavors.

"Everyone has always raved about my cookies in particular, so I enjoy offering my friends and customers the ability to just scoop out some deliciousness when the kids come home or a visitor stops by."

Flanagan sells seven flavors of cake in a jar ($6).

"This treat is similar enough to cupcakes, which remain popular, but are sometimes overdone," Flanagan said. "I wanted something convenient and also contemporary. My cakes are very portable - they are single servings that fit well into a lunch box and make a great take-and-go gourmet pick-me-up or gift."

Flanagan's scones ($10 for a package that makes 12 scones) also offer convenience, a particularly nice consideration at this busy time of year - just add heavy cream and bake.

For now, Flanagan is accepting orders online or over the phone. If you can't meet her at the Boutique, give her a call and she can arrange for delivery.

Sarah N'Dippity Salsa

"I was a stay-at-home mom with a great love of cooking," said Sarah Saab, owner of Sarah N'Dippity Salsa. "I knew I was on to something great when 99 percent of tasters in blind taste tests chose my salsa over several others."

Most salsas start with a tomato paste base that is usually watered down. But Saab's recipe uses all fire-roasted tomatoes and fresh ingredients. Her Original ($4.99) is a mild but flavorful blend that has the smooth consistency of restaurant salsa. The Me So Spicy ($4.99) has the punch of jalapenos and peppers, while the Tropiquila ($5.49) contains mango, peach, pineapple and tequila blended with real, vine-ripened tomatoes.

Wonderful for much more than just chips and dip, Sarah N'Dippity is great as a glaze for baked brie or roasted hams.

Sarah N'Dippity is just 2 years old, but already the product can be found at Wegmans in Crofton, Annebeth's on Maryland Avenue and Graul's Market in Annapolis and Cape St. Claire.

Linda Elliott

Linda Elliott is a popular culinary instructor at Anne Arundel Community College, a commercial beekeeper and a crafter of beautiful jewelry which she sells at markets and fundraising events across Maryland and the Eastern Shore.

As a child, she was deeply interested in insects and etymology, so beekeeping wasn't a giant leap. Now a member of the Anne Arundel Beekeepers Association, Elliott mentors new beekeepers and helps them address the many challenges of maintaining healthy hives. Last winter she had eight bounding hives, only to lose the majority of each in a late-season snow storm.

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Elliott prefers to not use any chemicals on her bees or their hive homes - she sells local, raw honey that isn't highly heated or even super filtered. Golden pollen and comb float through the honey - both offer a variety of nutritional and health benefits.

Elliott will bring 12-ounce jars ($16) with a honey dipper and little 2-ounce ($4.50) stocking stuffers, as well as honey tapers and place settings perfect for holiday parties to the ALS Artisan Boutique.

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Mouth Party

Mouth Party caramels are delicious candies and sauces made in small batches at a storefront in Baltimore using a family recipe and only the freshest ingredients. Originally started as a home-based business, Mouth Party was recently featured in

Martha Stewart Living

magazine and is making more than 30,000 caramels by hand each week for the holiday season.

Mouth Party offers five flavors of caramels and two sauces. The OMG Caramel is dipped in chocolate and garnished with specks of sea salt on top. For the holiday season, the company is featuring peppermint drizzled with white chocolate with crushed candy cane - both reason enough to clear your calendar Sunday.

Parfections

Known for gourmet chocolate truffles and unique chocolate barks, Kim Rigby's Parfections grew from a small catering job into a sustainable business and storefront in Cockeysville. After 11 years in business, Parfections enjoys a five-star Yelp rating and recently provided specialty chocolates for the Sailabration celebration of Team Oracle at the Loew's Annapolis Hotel.

While she sells more than 30 flavors of handmade truffles and 18 types of chocolate bark in her store (including a very unique Heavy Seas craft beer infused variety), Rigby will bring just a few of her favorites to the Boutique.

The Chocolate Bacon Bark ($6) is dark chocolate punctuated by salty bacon and a scattering of crunchy sea salt. Her signature Coffee Crunch Bark is infused with espresso and topped with freshly roasted coffee beans. If we're lucky, she may bring the Ghost Pepper Barks, which features super spicy ghost peppers slightly softened by sweet mango, papaya and dark chocolate.

She will also have chocolate-dipped dried fruits and a variety of truffles.

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