Saturday, October 22, 2016

Music Therapy and Lemon Pasta with Sausage and Broccoli


During the past spring and summer, while I was in my cancer treatment  -- what I fondly refer to as as my "confinement" -- I spent a lot of time in quiet activity, when I wasn't sleeping, that is.

I did a little bit of gardening, watched some TV (mindless stuff, like Law and Order reruns and sentimental Hallmark movies), read quite a few books (the whole Millenium series, all 1500+ pages), colored a bit and played too much a lot of Words with Friends.

But one of the things that gave me the most pleasure was music. Music kept me company, energized me, soothed me, made me smile -- all the good things.

I love all kinds of music (although I really haven't warmed up to hip-hop too much) but I tend to drift to listening to my favorite classic rock picks.  My sister and brother-in-law put together a couple of playlists for me that introduced me to new stuff.

This collection of theirs has everything -- the familiar, the classic, a little jazz, a little country, a quite eclectic collection. And they put all 150 songs on an Ipod Shuffle, complete with ear pods. I also got the music on two CDs, labeled "Rosie I" and "Rosie II."

As the songs played randomly, I'd be listening to the Beatles, then U2, then Bonnie Raitt, then Pink Floyd, back to the Beatles, then Fleetwood Mac, Coldplay, or Michael Jackson.  And I met new (to me) artists -- Good Old War, You+Me, Patty Griffin, Liz Longley, Jimmy Eat World, Allen Stone, and many more.

On a good day . . . my music had me dancing.--forgive the reflection of my phone in my sunglasses--

On my especially good days, that music had me dancing as I went for walk or tended to my flower beds.

My favorite new song on the collection was a song called "I Feel Good",  by Thomas Rhett. Like the Pharrell Williams "Happy" song, it's impossible not to feel good, or dance, while listening to the song.

I feel good, today
can't nobody bring me down
I just got paid, and I think I'm gonna hit the town
Yeah my problems can wait til tomorrow, 
cause I feel good today yeah,
can't nobody bring me down...

Give it a listen and you'll see what I mean.

Music therapy was a part of  my cancer center treatment, too. During chemo days, when I wasn't listening to my own music or reading or making new friends with the other patients, we were treated to music played by a volunteer, a certified music therapist, who played her harp while we happily ate lunch.  

Phyllis played a variety of music; I recognized some classical music, but I also heard "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" and a couple religious hymns, a nice variety. 


I got to chatting with Phyllis one day and learned that she got her certification through an online course. (I also had asked her what she called her little harp, thinking it must have a unique name. She told me, "It's a harp, although I call it my baby.")
Another therapy I relished was shopping therapy. One day, my sister Lynn was gracious enough to drive me to one of my many doctor appointments, and, of course, there was lunch and shopping to make the most of the  190+ mile round trip to Pittsburgh. A must stop (in addition to Home Goods) was Trader Joe's

I'm a little kid in Trader Joe's.  I want to thow everything into my cart.  I try and restrain myself but end up buying more than I should planned on.

My best purchase that day was a package of lemon pepper papardelle.


I love the wide pasta, but the flavoring of this was simply outstanding.  Sometimes, flavored pastas are more colored than they are flavored.  This pasta was definitely lemony, not overpowering, just obvious.  And the pepper was the perfect complement.


This was a "no recipe" night:

  1. Put water on to boil for the pasta.  Cook (undercook!) according to package directions.
  2. Cook a half head of fresh chopped broccoli with 2 tablespoons of water in the microwave for about 4 minutes. Drain.
  3. Brown 1 pound of the loose, fresh sweet Italian sauage in a large non-stick pan on medium-high heat.
  4. When no longer pink,turn down the heat to low.
  5. Add the cooked pasta and cooked broccoli to the pan.
  6. Add about 1/2 cup half-and-half and 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese.
  7. Toss gently and serve.
  8. Wait for compliments.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Raspberries, Mother and Raspberry Pie


Raspberries are my favorite berry, favorite fruit, bar none. And for that, I owe my mother.

My city-to-country transplant parents bought a farm in a small town in the 1950's.  They had little to none hands-on experience adjusting to this gentleman farmer lifestyle. And there wasn't a whole lot of time to devote to it. Dad was a pharmacist, Mom, a schoolteacher, and they had seven kids. Lucky for them the kids were spread out over 20 years, though. Never were all seven kids in the house for long at the same time.

The farm was blessed with several mature fruit trees -- apple, plum, cherry, and pear. But my favorite thing was the raspberry patch. It seemed huge to me as a child, a rectangle I'd guess was roughly 20 by 40 feet. We did not, however, tend to that patch very well. It was overgrown  and weedy. Still, each August we'd have enough berries for a pie or two. We might have had more, but when my mother sent us kids a'picking, we inevitably ate as many as we picked.

My good-natured mother would mildly scold us and then say something like, "Well, at least there's enough for a pie."

And what a pie she made! What made her raspberry pie unique was that it had a sugary crust that separated the fruit from the pastry. It kept the pastry from getting soggy from the fruit juices. She didn't seem to try and make that happen. It just happened. I've never been able to duplicate it, try as I might.

Although I inherited many traits from my mother (her good naturedness -- maybe too good natured -- for one) I didn't get her pie making gene. She could whip up a pie crust effortlessly. I would stand by her and watch and help as I could, but I never got it right.

I've since learned to make a good crust, but not without my food processor, not without my reliance on the Cook's Illustrated Fool Proof recipe.

A few weeks ago, my sister who now lives on the homestead farm with her husband, brought me a couple quarts of beautiful raspberries. Her husband had torn out the old patch and started a new one. It took a few years, but now they have a new, much healthier patch.

I couldn't resist eating many of them fresh -- and naked. But I saved enough for a pie.  Made me think of my mother.

Actually, throughout my cancer treatment, I have frequently thought of my mom, and talked to her.

When I was first diganosed last December, after a bit of a cry and a lot of consolation from Mr. Rosemary, I asked myself, "What would mom say?"

She would say, "Suck it up (maybe not those words), make the best of it, don't pity yourself, everything will be all right in the end."

So that's how I've tried to appraoch this cancer treatment business. My mother's wisdom continues to help me, long after she's gone. I hope my daughter will be able to do the same, and be comforted in times of trouble after I'm gone, just as I have been.

Texting has become an easy and quick way to stay in touch with family and friends -- and keep them informed of my progress.  Once, I included in a text to my raspberry sister that "Mom said everything would be okay."  My quick-witted sister penned back quickly, "Good. I wish she'd call more often."

Although the pie wasn't quite like my mom's, it was delicious.  I think she'd be proud.
 

Since my mother really couldn't be with me as I made this pie, I relied on The Joy of Cooking" to guide me, another faithful resource.


Wednesday, August 10, 2016

A Herniated Disc, Gabby's Lemonade and Lemon Bars


Never has an platitude struck a chord with me so resoundingly as "When life gives you lemons . . . " has as it has this past year for me!

If dealing with breast cancer -- surgery, chemotherapy and radiation (plus another detour or two on this road to recovery . . . but more about that another time!) wasn't enough, now I have a herniated disc!

Throughout my treatment -- since February -- I have consistently complained about terrific pain in one leg.  At first, I had an ultrasound to rule out a blood clot. There wasn't. After more consultations, a couple more tests, and plenty of pain medication, an MRI revealed I had a herniated disc. I'm going to physical therapy, will get a steroid epidural shot in a couple weeks (scheduling!!!) and hope all that does the trick. If not, maybe surgery.

Ironic, isn't it, that this problem isn't directly related to the cancer treatment.

What a year! But I'm making the best of it. "When life gives you lemons . . . . "  As I said in my first post about my treatment, there have been plenty of silver linings.  There have been times, for sure, that I've been tempted to roll up into a little ball, wail "Woe is me!" to myself and wallow in self pity. But how worthless!  I've witnessed so much good, so much generosity, it would be a sin not to acknowledge and celebrate all the blessings that have enveloped me. And give back.


My friend Susie's granddaughter, Gabby, certainly is a great example of that.  When her grandmother (her mother's mother, not my friend Susie) was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago, Gabby decided to donate the money she raised at her lemonade stand to the Clarion Hospital Cancer Center, MY cancer center, too, where I'm receiving my chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

Gabby's grandmother has since passed away, but in the those years since that first venture, Gabby's little curbside lemonade stand has grown exponentially.  This year, Gabby's family had T-shirts made and the proceeds from the sale are going to the Cancer Center. The lemonade stand has also gone "on the road" and has made guest appearances at several local retailers this summer. And a Pittsburgh TV station featured Gabby on the evening news.  All proceeds from this year's events are also going to the Cancer Center. What a wonderful way to celebrate the memory of Gabby's grandmother. Gabby's making some great lemonade.

I happen to love all things lemon-y. So it was natural for me to make -- on one of my baking therapy days -- lemon bars.  Since Mr. Rosemary is a chocolate, not lemon, fan, after sneaking a few off to the side for myself, I took them to our neighbor Dude, last weekend where his family was gathering. They were scarfed up in no time. I wish I would have saved a few more.

These take a little time and effort. Squeezing fresh lemons for juice and grating their rinds is well worth that extra effort. There may be easier ways to make lemon bars, but this was a little therapy for me, after all.

These have just the right amount of tart and sweet -- and the shortbread crust is melt-in-your-mouth delectable.

Pretty close to making lemonade!



Lemon Bars
from The Pioneer Woman
2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon Salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

1-1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
4 whole large eggs
Zest and juice of 4 medium-sized lemons
Powdered sugar, for sifting

For the crust: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9-by-13-inch pan with butter.

Stir together the flour, sugar, and salt. Add the butter to the bowl and use a pastry cutter to cut it all together until the mixture resembles fine crumbs. (Or pulse together in a food processor a few times.) Press firmly into the prepared pan and bake until golden around the edges, about 20 minutes.

For the filling: Stir together the sugar and flour. Crack in the eggs and whisk to combine. Add the lemon zest and juice and mix until combined. Pour over the baked crust and bake about 20 minutes.

Allow to cool in the fridge for a minimum of 2 hours, then sift powdered sugar over the top before cutting into squares.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Protein Power Plus | Beans 'n Greens


" . . . and be sure and gets lots of protein!"

That's one of the first admonitions I got from my chemotherapy nurse. That and "Drink a gallon of water the day of and after chemo" and "Wash your hands -- a lot." And "Flush. Twice."

I am obedient.  Never got called to the principal's office. No detention. Got a speeding ticket once. I don't even remember getting "grounded."  Always playing it safe. (Pretty boring, eh?)

So when someone tells me to do something, it's a pretty good bet I'll do what I'm told.

But "Get lots of protein" is a little vague.  So . . . . . I researched!

We all need protein to form and maintain muscles, tissues, red blood cells, enzymes, and hormones, to carry many body compounds and medications, to maintain fluid balance, and to fight infections and strengthen the immune system, especially important for those of us undergoing chemo.

To come up with a quick estimate of your protein requirement:

  • Take your weight (in pounds) and divide by 2
  • The number you get is the approximate number of grams of protein you need daily

So -- hypothetically speaking, of course -- if I weigh 120 pounds, I divide 120 by 2 to get 60. I need 60 grams of protein for maintenance, more while undergoing chemo and radiation. I shoot for 90 grams daily. I can easily get to 60. Ninety is a stretch most days, though.

My favorite quick and easy sources of protein are yogurt and protein drinks. I also keep the fridge stocked with cottage cheese and hard boiled eggs.


So, if I have my favorite yogurt (coffee flavored) and a protein shake, I'm a third of the way there!

But woman (especially one who likes to cook, even when she's running low on energy) cannot live on yogurt and protein shakes alone. I also eat lots of hamburgers, steak (so glad we bought half a cow for the freezer; also glad I'm not a vegetarian!), chicken and tuna.

I've always liked beans and greens; Mr. Rosemary, not so much. So now I had a great excuse to cook some for myself.

 
Beans and greens ain't real pretty -- at least mine wasn't.  But it sure tasted good! Any kind of greens will do -- kale, spinach, escarole, beet greens, or any combination. I used a combination of baby kale and baby spinach. Some recipes I consulted for advice used Canadian bacon; I used regular 'ol bacon.
Just meant more protein to me!

Beans and Greens with Bacon
adapted from Epicurious
1/2 pound bacon
1 small onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic minced
7 ounce bag mixed baby kale and spinach
1- 15 ounce can cannellini beans, drained
1 cup (or more) chicken broth
dried crushed red pepper

In large frying pan saute bacon over medium high heat until crisp. Remove bacon and chop into small pieces. Set aside. Remove all but 2 tablespoons grease from pan.

Over medium heat, in same pan, saute onion until soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for another 2 minutes.  Add greens to pan and toss until wilted. Add about 1 cup chicken broth and cook until it's reduced. Add beans and cook until warm. Sprinkle with red pepper and serve.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Private Benjamin, Friends and Rosemary Asparagus Soup


There's a scene in the 1980 movie "Private Benjamin" where Goldie Hawn's character, Judy, while marching through the mud and rain during basic training, aches for her former spoiled life and whines, "I want to go out to lunch!"

I may not exactly whine about it, but I rank "going out to lunch" as one of life's best simple pleasures.

Mr. Rosemary will go out to lunch with me if it's just part of a day-long shopping outing, but it's just fuel for him. So, going out to lunch has become a "girly" thing for me.

Throughout my cancer treatment, I've been lucky that my girlfriends have been happy to oblige. We developed a nice little habit: The day before my chemo treatment, when I was likely to feel my best, was "go out to lunch" day. Mostly we just sampled local restaurants. We included a movie matinee a couple times or maybe a bit of shopping. (Don't go to a brand new restaurant two days after it opens! Give them some time to work out the kinks!)

But once, we had a lovely lunch at a friend's -- Mary's -- home.  The main course was a rich and creamy asparagus soup. There was a strawberry and spinach salad, warm bread with little pats of butter, fresh flowers on the table, a chocolate cake for dessert, all on the hostess's vintage china. Perfect.

(And who forgot to take pictures?!?)

It was Susie's soup that stole the show for me.  Not only did I have seconds then and there, I got to take the leftovers home. (Did I share, you wonder? Of course not.)

I've had cream of asparagus soup before, but this was special. At first, I thought maybe because it was because Susie used her own asparagus. But when she gave me the recipe, I saw it had rosemary in it. Usually, rosemary is pretty potent -- (not me, silly, the herb) -- even in small doses, but it lent a subtle flavor that didn't overpower at all.  More perfect.

The cast of characters at our ladies' lunches has varied, but thank you Mary, Susie, Connie, Liz, Missy, Lindsay, Rose and Katie.  Thank you for helping me forget, even for a few hours, that I was a "cancer patient." For a few hours, I was just one of the girls.  And that made me feel special.


Rosemary Asparagus Soup
from Susie McLaughlin
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 cloves chopped garlic
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon all purpose flour
2 cups chicken broth
1 15.5 ounce can white beans, drained
1 pound fresh asparagus, chopped (save tips)
1 cup heavy whipping cream
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 pound crisp bacon, chopped (for garnish)
Parmesan cheese (for garnish)

Heat olive oil in a large skillet and cook onion, garlic and rosemary until softened. Add butter and flour and cook until flour is dissolved.

Mix broth, white beans, asparagus, cream, salt and pepper into onion mixture and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until asparagus is tender, abut 10 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and let mixture cool. Pour soup in batches into blender or food processor until smooth. Then pour through strainer. Steam the asparagus tips in a little water in microwave and add to soup before serving. Heat on low before serving. Sprinkle with cheese and bacon.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Celebrating Independence from Chemo Day! Deviled Eggs Day


Independence Day is a little special for me this year because I finished my last chemotherapy treatment for my breast cancer this past week.  It’s a huge hurdle to have crossed.

And although I’m still feeling the after effects, although I still have more treatment to go, I’m taking a break from anything serious about it and simply celebrating!

We went to my sister-(and brother)-in-law’s for a party over the weekend and even though I was granted a reprieve from contributing anything, I decided surely I could manage deviled eggs.

But I couldn’t leave well enough alone and gussied them up with candied bacon.  A little over the top, perhaps, but I’m celebrating!




Bourbon Candied Bacon Deviled Eggs
Makes 2 dozen
For the Candied Bacon:
2 tablespoons brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon maple syrup
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons bourbon, optional (oh, go ahead!)
4 thick-sliced bacon strips
For the Eggs:
12 hard-cooked large eggs
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Dash of hot sauce

Preheat oven to 350°. In a small bowl, mix the brown sugar, the mustard, the syrup and salt. If you want, add the bourbon. We're celebrating! Coat bacon with brown sugar mixture. Place on a rack in a foil-lined 15x10x1-in. baking pan. Bake 25-30 minutes or until crisp. Cool completely.

Cut eggs in half lengthwise. Remove yolks, reserving whites. In a small bowl, mash yolks. Add mayonnaise, sour cream, syrup,  mustard, pepper and hot sauce; stir until smooth. Chop bacon finely; fold half into egg yolk mixture. Spoon  into egg whites. Sprinkle with remaining bacon. Refrigerate, covered, until serving. 



Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Breast Cancer, Blogging and a Coffee Cake

Dealing with breast cancer is a pretty good reason for not blogging, don’t you think?

Actually, I’ve been debating with myself and others for several months about whether I should “go public” about my breast cancer.  Mr. Rosemary and I are both pretty private people when it comes to intimate matters, especially matters of health.

When I posed the question aloud at a small family gathering about whether I should shift the focus of my blog, my brother-in-law Mike, who’s usually pretty reticent, and pretty private himself, said, without missing a beat, “Do what YOU want to do.”

I’ve missed writing here.  And I’ve still managed to cook and try new things.  But my heart hasn’t really been in writing about the food  I’ve made -- or taking respectable photographs -- because my mind’s been so much more on other things.

Why can’t I blend the two?  Of course, I can.

When I started this blog, it was a place for me to write -- about anything.  Since I like to cook and to experiment, and I collect recipes and cookbooks like a fiend, it seemed only natural that my writing drifted towards food.

My story is not unique. Tens of thousands of women (and men) have had to deal with breast cancer. And thousands have experiences far more troubling than mine.  I know I’m one of the lucky ones.

Still, I feel compelled to write about my journey.  But where to begin? I’m well into my treatment and it’s been several months since my first suspicious mammogram. 

I might as well dive right in.

What an education I’m having!

Here are just some of the things I’ve learned (in no particular order of importance):

  • ·         Gratitude
  • ·         Humility
  • ·         The power of music, prayer and a good read
  • ·         The importance of protein and handwashing
  • ·         The value of research
  • ·         The cost of medical care
  • ·         The blessings of distraction
  • ·         The appeal of yoga
  • ·         The agony of waiting
  • ·         Simple pleasures
  • ·         The incredible generosity of friends and strangers
  • ·         It’s okay to cry. It's also okay to get angry.
  • ·         (But you better get over it.) 

Most importantly, I’m learning what’s important – and what’s not.

It’s pretty scary to “go public” but my hope is that maybe somebody will learn something, especially me. I feel like I'm standing before my sixth grade class making my first speech.  Maybe you can feel my sweaty palms.

One important lesson I’ve learned is that there are plenty of silver linings about going through cancer treatment. They're platinum.

One of the best silver linings is the good food people have brought us.  How do I know so many good cooks? From chicken noodle soup to apple pie to ginger chicken to chili to French toast casserole. 

This past Mother’s Day, we “hosted” a brunch. I use the word hosting loosely because it was merely at our home. 

Everybody else brought the food.  My sister-in-law Diane brought a scrumptious coffee cake.  It’s a very simple cake, one my non-baking self has made several times since easily.  I want to try making it with a layer of fruit as Diane suggests, but I’m hesitant to mess with my success. 

I did alter the recipe once and added almond extract and almonds to the cake. It was okay, but I'm sticking with the original. (I even took a cake to my cancer center to share with the staff and other patients.) They loved it, too --all gone.


Sour Cream Coffee Cake
For the cake:
1 cup oleo or butter, softened
1 ½ cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup sour cream
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt

For the Filling:
½ cup sugar
½ cup chopped nuts (optional)
1 teaspoon cinnamon

For the Batter:  Cream the butter and sugar, then add the sour cream, vanilla and eggs. Mix well. Add the dry the ingredients and mix well.
For the Filling: Mix all the ingredients together in a small bowl.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease Bundt pan or springform pan and add half the batter. Top with the filling. Carefully spoon the rest of the batter on top of the filling to cover. Bake 50 – 60 minutes, until lightly golden.

Optional: Place very thinly sliced apples or peaches and place on top of the filling. May need to bake longer if you add the fruit.
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Blogger's Note:  If you know someone who's been through or is going through breast cancer treatment, I hope you'll share this blog with them.  Bloggers love comments, too; it's like mother's milk.