Monthly Archives: September 2014

This Is A Test…

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Oh, hi there.
It’s just me, wondering if I can blog from my phone. Because if you know me, you already know how antsy I’m going to get while I’m in the hospital.
Even worse, I won’t be able to speak all that well. And I’m p
retty sure having a pain pump at my disposal won’t help the situation much.
Okay, I’m done. Move along, please… nothing to see here.

I Need Some Bread, Man…

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I’m about to go through a real, life-changing experience.

Of course, I’m talking about my surgery and everything that’s going to happen after that. I’m going to be limited to what I can do for a few weeks. I’ll have to do physical therapy exercises three times a day and visit a speech therapist once a week and I’ll probably give our cat Frogger a real run for his money in the napping department.

The other thing I won’t be able to do is eat what I like. I’ll spare you the details, but since I have head and neck cancer, you can probably figure out what areas will be affected by the surgery.

So, I’m eating all the things I won’t be able to after next Monday. Cheez-Its by the boxful. Cold cereal with milk. Potato chips. Pizza. Shrimp. Salad. Spring rolls. Anything crunchy, chewy and the more of it, the better.

My good friend Adrian reminded me, “You will eat again, you know.”. Yeah, but I also have to be mindful of what I will be able to nosh on and as much as I love them, I can’t eat mashed potatoes every night.

Soup, especially the clear brothy types as well as the creamy ones will definitely be on the post-surgery menu. Eggs are perfect, especially since I figured out how to make scrambled eggs in the microwave. Whole grain hot cereals with real maple syrup. Baked winter squash…you get the idea.

One thing that’s missing from that preliminary list? Bread. Artisanal whole grain breads with those great, chewy crusts are out, but cornbread is cool.

I love the Southern combination of buttermilk and cornbread in a bowl, eaten with a spoon. It’s comforting, delicious and very nutritious. My friend Nathan will be thrilled to hear that, I’m sure.

And then there’s this recipe for semolina bread that I found on the Intertubes years ago. I won’t be making this on my first day home from the hospital, but it’s easy to put together since there’s very little kneading involved.

Don't...don't you want me...

Don’t…don’t you want me…

This a soft-crusted, fine-grained loaf, slightly sweet from the white flour and semolina and it’s definitely rich from the butter in the dough and the olive oil brushed on after it comes out of the oven. You can make rolls, 2 small loaves or 1 large loaf out of the dough and it freezes well. It’s really, really delicious.

Still with me here? Good. Here’s the thing…

It’s a recipe from an Italian baker and all of the ingredients are weighed in metric dry amounts. And, since I have a scale I never bothered converted the recipe to conventional American measurements.

Here’s the recipe. And if one of you has a scale and would like to rewrite the recipe into traditional American baking measurements, go for it!


Dee’s Semolina Loaf

  • 250 gr fine semolina
  • 250 gr white flour
  • 10 gr salt
  • 50 gr butter, cut into small pieces
  • 25 gr yeast
  • 300 ml luke warm water
  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
  2. Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl and whisk in the yeast.
  3. Add the warm water and mix with a spatula until a smooth soft elastic dough become together.
  4. Cover the bowl and place the dough somewhere warm to proof for 45 minutes.
  5. When the dough has doubled in bulk, turn it out on a well-floured surface and knead it for about 5 minutes. It’s a very soft dough, and you may need to add just a bit of extra flour.
  6. Shape it into a large loaf (or whichever shape you choose) and place the dough on a non-stick baking sheet. Cover the bread and let it rise until it’s almost doubled.
  7. Put the bread in the oven and bake it until it’s golden. Rolls will take about 10 to 15 minutes and a big loaf will take about 35 minutes, but that’s going to depend on your oven. Check it frequently!
  8. When it’s done, let it cool on a wire rack. Brush some olive oil on the top and try not to eat all of it while it cools.

Chasing Foxes

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So, this was the week I finally, finally, got my head wrapped around everything that’s about to happen. It all snapped into focus and it’s not going to be that bad.

Oh, it’s going to suck, big time. Both of my dental and cancer surgeries are going to happen within a few days of each other. There may not be any rest for the weary, but there will be a lot of Percocet.

I’ll be in the hospital for five or six days, and I won’t be able to speak all that well for about a week or so afterwards. A huge part of my recovery is going to be retraining the muscles in my mouth with a speech therapist so that I can speak the way I do now.

I met with her on Monday so she would have a baseline to work from. Turns out I can say “Aaaahhh!!!” for a minute and twenty seven seconds without stopping.

Sing it, cuz.

Sing it, cuz.

And that I can fit three fingers, vertically, into my mouth.

Please don’t judge me on that.

I also met my physical therapist since this surgery also involves my neck and shoulder muscles. It’s really important to make sure those muscles are strong after the surgery, and there’s a series of exercises I’ll need to do while I’m recovering just to keep everything loose and moving and grooving.

So, I did them with a 5 iron that made me look like I was a member of my high school color guard while he took notes and determined his baseline for yours truly. He also checked my strength and resistance with the golf club.

“Wow. Good. You’re strong. You’ll be fine.”

And the chest x-ray is clear. So is the EKG.

I’m just glad I passed both of them without putting three fingers into my mouth.

Or a 5 iron.

Vertically, of course.

Bread and Butter

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So, I’ve been posting about a recipe a week on here since July and since I publicize my blog on the Tweeter, I usually get comments about how good something looks or that I’m making the reader hungry. I love this because that means two things:

One, people are actually reading this thing and two, my food photography doesn’t entirely suck.

As it turns out, I love it even more when someone actually makes something I’ve put up here. On Sunday morning my friend Nathan tweeted he was making the pumpkin cornmeal bread and that it smelled “GREAT”.

He emailed me a picture.

Pumpkin Bread (1)

Yeah, baby.

And then he said, “Brushing a little melted butter over each slice makes it super-delish.” Of course it does. Everything’s better with a little melted butter, right?

That’s a question that doesn’t need an answer. Butter is just magical stuff, isn’t it? I know many people can’t, or choose not to, use it for either medical or ethical reasons, but there really isn’t a substitute for those of us who choose to cook with it.

This recipe for lemon shortbread is for those of us who love the stuff. It’s from Moosewood Restaurant’s cookbook “The New Classics” and it’s just perfect with tea. It’s not too sweet and it’s nicely crumbly as a good shortbread is. This might be really good with fresh thyme; think a savory cookie with a glass of red wine. Mmm.

And if you choose to do that, let me know how it turned out.


Lemon Cornmeal Shortbread

  • 1 cup of unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ¾ cup of confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. of fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tsps. of pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. of salt
  • 1 tsp. of freshly grated lemon zest
  • 1 ½ cups of unbleached white flour
  • ½ cup of cornmeal
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter or line a baking tray with parchment or another oven-proof paper.
  2. Cream the butter and the sugar together until smooth and fluffy.
  3. Add the lemon juice, vanilla, salt, and lemon zest. Combine well.
  4. Fold in the flour and the cornmeal carefully, and stir until the dough forms a sticky ball.
  5. Chill the dough for 15 minutes in the fridge.
  6. Cut the chilled dough in half and, with very, very lightly floured hands, press each half into a smooth disk about 6 inches in diameter and about ¼ inch thick. Carefully place each disk onto the prepared baking sheet. I use a bench scraper for this.
  7. Take a sharp knife and lightly score each wedge into 8 equal pie-shaped wedges. Don’t cut into wedge all the way down; all you want to do is create wedges for serving. This is an extremely short, crumbly dough and it’s easier to serve once it’s cool.
  8. You don’t have to do this, but I always do: take a fork and create little tine marks around the outside of each wedge. I don’t know if it’s traditional in Scotland to do this, but it looks nice.
  9. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until firm and golden. Cool for a few minutes, then very, very carefully cut through the shortbread to let it rest until it’s firm. Transfer them to a cooling rack to let them cool completely.

Enjoy!

The Great Pumpkin

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Once upon a time there were pumpkins and the pumpkins were lovely, humble things. They started showing up right after Labor Day and you bought one and carved it with a kitchen paring knife. If you felt really ambitious, you washed the goo off of the seeds and roasted them in the oven.

Then you put it on the front porch where it lived happily until Halloween, perhaps less than that if the neighborhood squirrels discovered it. And a week or so later it made its way into the compost heap. linus

I know I never, ever thought to do anything more to the standard-issue-straight-from-the-A&P pumpkin than that. It never occurred to me to make soup or bread or beer or moisturizer or even pie with it. Pumpkin pie was either something you bought at the supermarket or made from canned pumpkin pie filling, a frozen pie crust and some evaporated milk.

Of course now you can’t go anywhere from the middle of August through the end of October without seeing pumpkin everything. Beer, ice cream, cookies, muffins, muffin mix, frosting (eww, really?), coffee creamer, coffee, Starbucks lattes (again, eww!) and yes, body moisturizer.

I blame Martha Stewart.

And there’s nothing wrong with this, but my problem is that most things made with pumpkin are just too sweet. Way too sweet. Like, “make-your-teeth-hurt” sweet. Even some of the pumpkin beers are brewed so it tastes like “pumpkin pie in a glass”, as one brewer’s advertisement says.

I really like pumpkin beer, but that’s just…eww. Again.

Pumpkin has a great, earthy, warm, slightly sweet taste to it and that’s why it goes so well with the traditional autumnal spices that we associate with this time of year. Personally, I think it tastes better if it’s not covered up in sugar and unfortunately, most baked goods that feature it have tons of it in there.

I’d seen a recipe for a pumpkin quick bread recipe in my copy of “The New England Cookbook” awhilePumpkin bread back and when I was in the mood to bake something autumnal and sort of healthy, I pulled it out. There wasn’t a ton of sugar in it, it had only ½ cup of vegetable oil. I subbed out most of the white flour for whole wheat pastry flour (which I’m growing to absolutely love), took the nuts out, added raisins instead and there you go. It’s not crazy-sweet, it’s not loaded with fat and it keeps really well in the fridge. I had the last slice for breakfast and it was still perfectly fresh, even though I baked it 4 days ago.

This is a keeper.


 

Cornmeal Pumpkin Bread

 

  • 1 ¼ cup of flour (all-purpose is fine; I used half white and half whole wheat pastry flour)
  • ¼ cup of yellow or white cornmeal
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp. grated nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp. ground allspice
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¼ cup packed brown sugar, preferably dark brown (light will work fine)
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin (solid pack pumpkin, not pumpkin pie filling!)
  • ½ cup of vegetable oil (I used sunflower)
  • ⅓ cup of water
  • ½ cup seedless raisins (chopped fresh cranberries or dried cranberries might be good, too)

 

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°f. Grease a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan
  2. Whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice in a medium-sized bowl until well blended.
  3. Using an electric mixer or a whisk, beat together the eggs, the two sugars, pumpkin, oil and water in a large bowl until smooth.
  4. Add the flour mixture to the pumpkin mixture and whisk or beat until well mixed, but do not overbeat. Stir in the raisins. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan.
  5. Bake for about 1 hour, or until a cake tester inserted into the center of the bread comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then invert it onto a wire rack and cool completely.
  6. Enjoy!

Can I Have A YARN Scan, Instead?

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I got an email from my good friend Elliott the other day. I’d been keeping him up-to-date about everything that’s been going on and I mentioned that I was going to have a CAT scan. 

Elliott and I have been friends for 30 some-odd (some of them very odd, believe me) years and his sense of humor lies somewhere in between Berke Breathed and Monty Python.

opus

His reply didn’t disappoint me.

So why are there CAT scans and PET scans, but no DOG scans?  Is it because dogs are dumber?  And why does this sound like a bad Jerry Seinfeld routine?

 

And whenever I hear the phrase “CAT scan”, I think of something like this…

New Governement Cat Scan

Anyway, today’s my CAT scan day. I’m going to buy some sock yarn before then to make up for it. 

 

“The (sort of) French Chef”

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Is it possible to be bored with summer food?

I mean, I love zucchinis and tomatoes and ears of corn and tons of peaches and the peppery smell of basil. I love the farmer’s market on Saturday mornings, the hipster guys that sell heirloom marinara sauce for $14 a jar (really, guys?), the cranky plant dude who told me the rosemary plant I bought from him in April wouldn’t grow in my kitchen window (it did, thank you very much).

But, it’s fall. Okay, not according to the calendar, but my cooking mindset has already turned the page. I want to roast winter squash, make big pots of soup and bake huge loaves of dark, whole grain breads to go with them. I want apples and pumpkins and deep, rich, gutsy spices. I’m craving a bowl of mushroom barley soup with rye bread and butter and apple cake for dessert. I love cooking what I call “cozy food”.

This week, however, has been anything but cozy. A late season heat wave, the first consultation at Fox Chase, driving to-and-fro getting medical records sent to Fox Chase, making more appointments and nap-taking.

So, let’s have Tuna Nicoise for dinner. It’s easy, it’s quick to make and it’s not all that “foo-foo”, either.

Still the coolest woman to wield a knife. Ever.

Still the coolest woman to wield a knife. Ever.

The traditional tuna nicoise calls for tuna, steamed baby potatoes, green beans, tomatoes, anchovies, oil-cured black olives, hard boiled eggs and a soft lettuce (like a butter, Boston, red or green leaf ) and it’s all dressed with a classic French vinaigrette. It’s a composed salad, meaning that every salad ingredient is arranged on top of the lettuce individually with the cooks’ eye towards artistry. I remember watching an episode of Julia Child’s “The French Chef” where she made this dish. The lettuce was tossed with the vinaigrette and laid out on a big platter. Then every element was placed on the lettuce, so that no matter where you sat at the table, you’d be sure to get a nice portion of everything.

My recipe isn’t nearly that “foo-foo”, but I do make my own vinaigrette. And I do fuss a bit and make a composed salad. I also swap out the potatoes for chick peas because it’s easier, and drop both the anchovies and the olives; I love them, but my boyfriend doesn’t.

I don't think Julia would mind this.

I don’t think Julia would mind this.

The original recipe calls for “oil-packed tuna in cans”, but you can use whichever seafood tickles your fancy. I’ve used domestic oil-packed tuna, which is fine, and if you want to use a water-packed one, go for it. We also like smoked trout and I’ve used leftover poached salmon. As long as it’s good, you really can’t go wrong.

And please, please don’t use a bottled dressing. It takes no time at all to make the one I’m giving here.

With some great bread and fruit, it’s done. Now say “Bon Appetit!” in your best Julia Child, and you’re good to go.


 

Tuna Nicoise

  • 2 cans (about 12 oz.) of tuna packed in olive oil, drained.
  • 1 pound of green beans, trimmed, sliced, cooked and drained
  • 1 can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 4 hard boiled eggs, peeled and sliced into quarters
  • Really ripe tomatoes, cored and sliced (if it’s not tomato season, grape tomatoes are fine)
  • About a head of lettuce, cleaned and dried and torn into bite-sized pieces
  • French Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
  • salt and freshly ground pepper

 

French Vinaigrette

  • 2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
  • little bit of honey
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ tsp Dijon mustard
  • small pinch of salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • ½ cup of olive oil
  1. Put everything into a little glass jar, screw the lid on and mix it up for about 30 seconds or until it’s all well blended.

 

  1. Place the lettuce into a bowl, and toss it with just a bit of the dressing and some pepper. Lay it out on a plate or platter and put it in the fridge until later.
  2. When you’re ready to eat, pull the plate out and lay out the rest of the salad ingredients on the lettuce. Drizzle with the rest of the vinaigrette. And please use a light hand with it. Please don’t drown this with the vinaigrette or Julia’s ghost will haunt you forever.

Bon appetit!

 

Alphabet Soup

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“You know, this isn’t yours.”

Those aren’t exactly the words you want to hear while you’re being registered as a new patient anywhere, let alone a cancer hospital. But, Penn Dental did, indeed, give me the wrong CT results CD; that can only mean somewhere, out there, is a perfectly healthy person being told they have cancer.

To whoever that might be, I’m very, very sorry.

However, that was the only snafu in a pretty lengthy orientation visit, the first of many to Fox Chase in the Burholme section of Philadelphia.

I met my ENT surgeon, his fellow, my nurse navigator, 2 RNs, my radiology oncologist and his resident. My ENT is the departmental chief and my RO is equally as impressive. I’m definitely in great hands.

But before any of this can get started, there’s a lot to be done. CAT scans, PET scans, oral surgery. And the quicker all of this happens, the sooner I’ll have surgery.

cat scan cartoon

Because there will be surgery and probably radiation. Head and neck cancer patients don’t receive chemotherapy, so I’ll get to keep my hair.

Kidding, just kidding. Radiation isn’t a walk in the park, either. None of this is.

But that’s a few months away and I’ll have some time to wrap my head around all of this, even as things get started. I have a CAT scan scheduled for next week and then I get to see my ENT a few days after that to go over the results. Then we can start putting my treatment plan together.

In the meantime, I have to get medical records sent, faxed, emailed or flown up there by carrier pigeon. I need to see the oral surgeon and figure out what we’re going to do and when it might happen. It doesn’t look like, in the words of my ENT, it’s “galloping away”, but the sooner we get this party started, the better.

Did I mention my ENT is chief of the department?

I got The Boss. I love it when that happens.

So, off to tackle the to-do list. I really don’t want the boss to yell at me.