Saturday, November 14, 2020

A New Stuffing for a COVID Thanksgiving


Thanksgiving is looking a lot different this year, so why not cook something different? This dish -- called "Savory Bread Pudding with Mushrooms and Parmesan Cheese" when it was first published in Bon Appetit several years ago -- is not really a stuffing in the traditional sense, but it has all the essential credentials -- mushrooms, seasoned bread, onions and celery. It's just baked with more eggs.

Some folks don't like anyone messing around with their traditional Thanksgiving favorites. (I know; I live with one.) But when I first tried this recipe, I was pleasantly surprised that Mr. Rosemary liked it.

It's a little complicated, something I often find with recipes from Bon Appetit. And I have been known to -- often -- just use a recipe as a guide and then put my own twists on it. But I followed this recipe to the letter, and I'm glad I did. The only thing I had trouble with was gauging the amount of bread? How do you measure 10 cups of bread?!?

My sister shared this recipe with me. She made it for her card group and got raves about it. A woman asked for the recipe was awed, however, when she read the recipe. It does have quite a few steps.

This Thanksgiving is definitely going to be different. But as a sister-in-law pointed out when the family was discussing how to spend the holiday, "Some of my most memorable Thanksgivings were the different ones."

Her comment reminded me of a couple very memorable Thanksgivings:

When I was a freshman in college, I couldn't afford to fly home, so a small group of my newly made (and also homeless) friends and I made a Thanksgiving dinner in the dorm's kitchen. None of the dishes we made were exactly like "home" but we did our best and I can still picture the candle wax dripping down the wine bottle.

Several years later, when I was the ripe old age of 23, I decided I was going to host Thanksgiving for the whole family. What was I thinking?!? But it was wonderful. Best of all, they all came! My sister brought a blank apron, and fabric pens for every one to sign. I wish I still had that.

And my nephew and I will never tell anyone that we dropped the candied sweet potatoes on the kitchen floor, scooped them all up, and ate them anyway. 

I'm not sure yet what I'll be making for Thanksgiving. Still working on it, and Mr. Rosemary isn't too picky. He did say that we had to have turkey, though. He must want to be sure and have the tryptophan for a healthy nap.

Enjoy your COVID Thanksgiving, whatever you do. Whatever you do, you're sure to remember it.

Savory Bread Pudding with Mushrooms and Parmesan Cheese

Makes 10 to 12 servings

from Bon Appetit 

1 1-pound loaf crusty country-style white bread

1/4 cup olive oil

4 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme

1 large garlic clove, minced

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter

1 pound assorted fresh mushrooms, thinly sliced

1 1/2 cups finely chopped onion (about 1 large onion)

1 1/2 cup thinly sliced celery (about 3 stalks)

1 cup finely chopped green bell pepper (about 1 large pepper)

1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley

3 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream

8 large eggs

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. Cut the bread into 1-inch cubes (about 10 cups loosely packed). Place cubes in a very large bowl. Add oil, thyme, and garlic; toss to coat. Spread cubes out on a large rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake until golden and slightly crunchy, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Return toasted bread cubes to the same very large bowl.

Melt butter in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms, onion, celery, and bell pepper. Sauté until soft and juices have evaporated, about 15 minutes. Add sautéed vegetables and parsley to bread cubes.

Whisk heavy cream, eggs, salt, and ground pepper in large bowl. Mix custard into bread and vegetables. Transfer stuffing to prepared dish. Sprinkle cheese over. (If you want to do ahead, cover and refrigerate at this point. Just bring the dish to room temperature before baking.)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake stuffing uncovered until set and top is golden, about 1 hour. Let stand 15 minutes before serving.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Let's Have Lasagna for Breakfast!


I must confess that I have eaten pizza for breakfast, but not lasagna. At least not until my sister-in-law told me about having a special breakfast lasagna. 

“Lasagna for breakfast!?!” I asked. 

“Yeah,” she answered. “It was really good.”  

Although she didn’t have the recipe, she described it well. I peppered her with questions, wondering if it had lasagna noodles, a tomato sauce, what kind of cheese. 

Armed with all her answers, I went in search of a recipe. First, I went to my pretty substantial cookbook library and came up dry. None of my favorites had anything like what she described. 

So I resorted to the internet and was surprised at how many different versions of “breakfast lasagna” I found. There were recipes with lasagna noodles, crepes, pancakes, and tortillas. Some had red sauce; but most didn’t.  Some had bacon, ham, sausage, even seafood. 

I found one that pretty closely resembled what my sister-in-law had described on a website called “Just a Pinch.” Using that as a starting point, I went from there and added my own twists. 

I really don’t make lasagna very often. First of all, it’s a lot of work, and it’s far too much for two people. 

Making lasagna is an act of love. It is its own art form. It is my husband’s family’s traditional Christmas Eve dinner. It’s what my daughter requests when she comes home. 

Like pizza, I don’t think I’ve ever met a lasagna I didn’t like. You can make a good lasagna with store bought sauce and noodles, and plenty of mozzarella, and ricotta or cottage cheese. You can make a great lasagna with homemade crepes and ragu, a rich bechamel sauce, and a variety of meats and cheeses. And there are all kinds of levels in between.

This breakfast lasagna has layers of noodles and scrambled eggs smothered in a sausage gravy and lots of cheese. The eggs replace the ricotta layer in traditional lasagna. It’s still rich, and if you really need to lighten it up, you can use milk instead of half and half for the sausage gravy. But don’t leave out the nutmeg; it adds just the right touch of spice to the dish. 

The acid test was Mr. Rosemary's critique. He looked at me kind of funny when I told him that we were having a breakfast lasagna, but he was game to try it. After the first bite, he simply said, “This is good.” After his plate was clean and he wanted another piece, he said, “That was real good.” 

I have to warn you that this does take a little time to prepare and a few pans to clean up. But once the lasagna is prepped and the kitchen is clean, you can put it in the fridge overnight for the next day and sit down leisurely to a feast the next morning. If you do make it ahead, take it out of the fridge about a half hour before baking. 

I know this will be a repeat at our house. I wish I would have dreamed it up myself. Maybe I should work on that. Breakfast Chili maybe? 


Breakfast Lasagna

adapted from “Just a Pinch.” 

Serves 10-12

9 uncooked lasagna noodles

1 pound bulk Italian sausage (sweet or hot,) cooked and crumbled

12 large eggs, beaten

1/2 cup half and half

2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

12 slices provolone cheese

1 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1 green pepper, chopped

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

3 1/2 cup half and half

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 13" x 9" baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.Whisk together eggs and 1/2 cup half and half.

In a large skillet, scramble eggs over low heat until just set, remove from heat.In another frying pan, over medium high heat, cook the sausage until browned.Remove from pan and drain on paper towels.

In the same skillet, add the vegetable oil and cook the peppers and onions until softened.Add flour and cook over medium heat for 2 minutes.

Whisk together the 3 ½ cups of half and half, add salt, pepper, and nutmeg and add to onions and peppers and continue to cook over medium heat for 2 minutes, stirring frequently, until it thickens slightly. Remove from heat.

Mix together 1 cup mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. (Reserve remaining cheese for top.) Spread ½ cup of the white sauce evenly in pan. Evenly space 3 lasagna noodles over sauce. Pour 1 cup sauce over noodles. Then, evenly spread 1/3 each of sausage, scrambled eggs and cheeses over noodles. Repeat the layers two more times -- noodles, white sauce, sausage, eggs and cheese, ending with cheese.

Cover with foil and bake for 1 hour. Remove foil and sprinkle with remaining ½ cup mozzarella and bake for an additional 15 – 20 minutes. Let rest for at least 15 minutes before serving.


Monday, November 25, 2019

THE Best Thanksgiving Dessert: Pumpkin Crunch Cake

Photo credit: Dennis Littley

Trust me when I tell you that you'll regret it if you don't make this cake!

It might be too late to plan for it this Thanksgiving, but you could for Christmas. Or New Year's. Any holiday. Any day. Just make it. It's that good.

And worth every dish you'll dirty and every hour in the kitchen.

The first time I made this cake, I was in the kitchen for about 4 hours, including clean up time. And I dirtied a lot! But it was oh-so-worth-it!

You can see that not only is it a FOUR layer cake, but there's a wonderful crunchy layer in between the cake layers, and between those layers is the creamiest of cream cheese frostings. The crunch is a mixture of nuts, crushed vanilla wafers and sugar. That crunch and the cream and the cake dance together for party in your mouth.

Counting calories? Forget it. You don't want to know.

Even if you think you don't like pumpkin, you'll love this cake.The pumpkin and spicy flavors are not overwhelming. Even my Mr. Rosemary -- not a pumpkin fan -- declared this the best cake I ever made.

Here's a little confession: While my husband thinks I'm a good cook, he's not as enthusiastic about my baking. There a handful of things I've learned to bake that he likes. The toughest nut to crack was a chocolate chip cookie: They have to be soft and just the right ratio of nuts and chocolate to cookie.

And he's pretty fond of my cheesecakes. Although it took a little convincing for him to like the pumpkin cheesecake.

(And I'd probably rank this pumpkin cheesecake as the second best Thanksgiving dessert)

I have to thank Dennis Littley (aka Chef Dennis) for introducing me to this cake. It made me a minor  rock star in my own little circle of family and friends. For the complete recipe, please visit Chef Dennis's blog.

I first made this cake a couple years ago for my sister-in-law's birthday. Everyone loved it and even I was surprised at how good it was. I've made it a few times since then, always forhappy people. And I've even managed to cut kitchen time down to two hours.

This is the first time I've posted anything on my blog in a couple years, I'm embarrassed to say. I'm not really sure why I stopped.  I started writing a bit about my breast cancer treatment and after that, it was hard to jump back into things. Writing about food didn't seem quite as important to me.

I think the biggest reason I stopped was shear laziness. I still cooked, still experimented, but I stopped taking the time to take pictures. Not to just take  any old picture, but I lost the energy to make them pretty and appealing. (That's why I asked Dennis Littley if I could use his photo. Thank you!)

But I still love to write, and still love to cook, so I'll be back.

Thank you for visiting.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Caring for My Caretakers with Cannoli and Cookies

Every cancer patient credits their care to a flock of smart and compassionate health care professionals. Most of them we see; some, we don't.

I've seen a lot of great doctors over the past year -- my gynecologist, my primary care physician, my breast surgeon, my neurosurgeon, and a number of radiologists. I count myself very lucky to have ready access to so many physicians of their caliber, especially since I live in a pretty rural (some might call it BFE) area. At the top of the list of my post surgical treatment are my oncologists, my medical oncologists and the radiation oncologist. They were the brains of this outfit.

If the doctors were the brains, I have to say that the nurses and other professionals I saw on a day-to-day basis have been the heart and soul of my cancer care. Always pleasant, always patient, always attentive. Never stressed, never hurried, never curt.

And best of all, always, always. always ready with a hug.

I never doubted their professionalism, but it was the warmth they generated that made my compulsory visits more than pleasant.

And what better way is there for me to show my appreciation than to cook for them? Although I've always thought of myself as more of a cook than a baker, I have mastered a few desserts. (I've also learned the hard way that there's no free wheeling with baking, like I do cooking.)

The Radiation Team
One the last day of my radiation treatment, I delivered homemade cannoli to my radiation team. (I missed getting my doctor into the picture.) Because the technologists always made great small talk as I got my treatments, I learned that Josh (the guy on the left) loved cannoli. "You just can't get good ones around here," he said.  "Oh, yes, you can," I thought to myself. "You just wait and see."

I haven't made cannoli very often -- it's messy, a tad tedious and a bit time-consuming. But oh-so-good. I bought the molds back in my twenties when I was way more adventurous (or bold and foolish) than I am today.  I hung on to them though, along with the butter molds, just in case the right opportunity came up -- and Josh's hankering for a cannoli was it.

The recipe I used came from Alex Guarnaschelli; how could you not trust someone with a name like that?!? They're really not all that hard to make. If you don't want to go to the trouble of buying the molds, you can buy pre-made cannoli shells on-line, although I've never done it.

Italians traditionally put lots of different things in the sweetened ricotta filling for cannoli: chocolate, citron, nuts. I like the filling best with just some chocolate chips, the mini ones, and the open end of the cannoli edged with chopped pistachios. (I never was a big fan of citron.) My best piece of advice if you're going to make cannoli is to wait until just before serving to fill them -- and don't forgo the dusting of sugar and the pistachios. Great finishing touches.

* The recipes I used for both Cannoli and Chocolate Chip Cookies are below.* 

My Chemotherapy Nurse
The first time I met my chemo nurse, Michele, she hugged me. I saw her a lot, so I got lots of hugs. She never fails to greet me with a smile. I've never seen her down, even when I knew she was having troubles of her own.  She offered me good advice and reproached me when I didn't do what I was supposed to -- like drink two gallons of water a day during chemo days.

How am I supposed to thank someone who does her job with such grace? Cookies!

I brought two dozen chocolate chip cookies one day, my go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe, the one with jello pudding in it. (Mr. Rosemary prefers his CC cookies soft and chewy and this recipe brings me the closest to meeting his thumbs up.)

She was beyond the moon about them. So I kept bringing them -- every month.  One visit, though, I just didn't get around to making them, and I could see her disappointment.  Another time, I didn't have any vanilla pudding mix in the pantry, so I substituted chocolate pudding. Mistake.  Michele's not really a chocolate lover, she told me.

"But you love the chocolate chip cookies," I reasoned.

"It's not the chocolate chips; it's the cookie!"

My chemo treatment ended 10 months ago, but I still see Michele monthly for an infusion of Zometa, a bone strengthening drug. She gave me a reprieve right before Christmas, though. "We'll have so many treats around here, then; you don't have to make them."

But when I showed up without cookies, she told me she wished she hadn't given me a pass. Don't worry, Michele, I'll keep bringing the cookies.

All the people I've met at the Cancer Center at Clarion Hospital  have been just super. I'm still thinking about things I can do to express my appreciation -- in the meantime, there's cannoli and cookies.

Homemade Cannoli
from Alex Guarnaschelli
Makes 2 dozen
For the shells:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup dry white wine
For the Filling:
2 cups ricotta cheese, preferably whole milk
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips
1 lemon
1 quart canola oil, for frying
Flour, for rolling
1 egg, lightly beaten, for egg wash
Confectioners sugar, for dusting
Chopped pistachios, for decorating the cannoli ends

For the shell dough: In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, sugar and salt. Work the butter pieces into the flour with your fingers until the mixture becomes coarse and sandy. Add the egg yolk and the white wine and mix until it becomes a smooth dough. Spread a piece of plastic wrap on a flat surface and place the dough in the center. Wrap the plastic loosely around it and press the dough to fill the gap. Flattening the dough will mean less rolling later. Let it rest in the fridge for a few minutes while you make the filling.

For the filling: In a medium bowl, whisk the ricotta until smooth. Sift in the powdered sugar, cinnamon and allspice. Mix to blend. In a separate bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment), beat the heavy cream until fairly stiff. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the cream into the ricotta mixture. Stir in the chocolate chips. Zest the lemon and add it to the ricotta. Refrigerate for a half hour to an hour.
                                 Norpro Stainless Steel Mini Cannoli Form, Set of 6

To roll and fry the shells: In a medium pot with a heavy bottom, heat the canola oil to 360 degrees F. Meanwhile, sift an even layer of flour on a flat surface. Flour a rolling pin. Roll the dough until it is very thin (about 1/8-inch thick). Cut the dough into fourths and work in small batches. Use any glass or small bowl that has a 3-to-4-inch diameter. Cut rounds, tracing around each one to assure the dough has been fully cut. You should have about 24 circles. Wrap each circle around a cannoli mold. Use a little of the egg wash on the edge of each round to seal it shut and to assure it won't slide or fall off the mold before pressing it closed over the mold. Flare the edges out slightly from the mold. Flaring will allow the oil to penetrate each cannoli shell as they fry. Use a pair of tongs to hold the edge of the mold as you submerge and fry the shell in the oil until crispy, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the oil, and holding the mold in one had with your tongs, gently grip the shell in your other hand with a kitchen towel and carefully slide it off the mold. Set aside to cool. Repeat with all of the circles.

To fill the cannolis:  Don't fill the cannoli until just before serving. (The shells will get soft and no one likes a mushy cannoli.) Just before serving, use a pastry bag without a tip to pipe the ricotta into the cannoli molds. Fill the cannoli shells from both ends so the cream runs through the whole shell. Dust with powdered sugar. Dip the open edges in finely chopped pistachio nuts.

My Chemotherapy Nurse

Vanilla Pudding Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod
Makes 3 dozen cookies
1 cup butter flavored Crisco
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3.4 oz. package vanilla instant pudding mix
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone baking mat and set aside.

Using a mixer, beat together butter and sugars until creamy. Add in pudding mix, eggs, and vanilla extract. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Drop cookie dough by rounded tablespoons onto prepared baking sheet.  Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until slight golden and set. Remove cookies from oven and let cool on baking sheet for two minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack and cool completely.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Do I Love My Chemo Curls?

The short answer to that question is "Maybe." It's growing on me.😉

Every time I pass by a mirror these days, I'm startled because I look foreign to myself. All my life, I've had thick healthy hair with good body and just a bit of wave. (My mother is forgiven for the Toni perm she gave me when I was 8.) I've had more cowlicks than I'd like but I've always liked my own hair.

When I learned I needed to have chemo for my breast cancer, like most people, I immediately thought of my hair. Losing one's hair is the most obvious side effect of chemotherapy. Most people do lose their hair -- and not just on your head! -- and most often it happens soon after the second treatment.

My hair started to come out in clumps right on schedule. Instead of waiting for it all to come out, I went to my hairdresser, Bobbi, who shaved my head.  She was kind enough to meet me at her shop after her regular hours. I didn't ask Mr. Rosemary to come with me, even though I'm sure he would have. I went alone. Looking back, I think I was afraid. Afraid of what I'd look like, afraid I'd cry. And I always wanted to appear brave, even if I wasn't.

Getting my head shaved wasn't nearly as traumatic as I'd feared. In fact, Bobbi made it fun. She had me laughing and thinking about what fun we'd have styling my hair when it grew back. (I'm lucky my hairdresser has also become a good friend.)

It is, after all, just hair and it would grow back.

Until it did, I was determined to make the most of it.

I have always loved hats, but often felt conspicuous in them. I once wore a great black picture hat to my niece's wedding (pre-cancer) and a couple of my nephews were reminded of a line from the movie "The Wedding Crashers" -- "Don't waste your time on girls with hats. They tend to be very proper."

Still, I wore hats a lot last summer . . . .

Chemo patients are well advised to stay away from the sun. Another great excuse to wear hats.

I did get a wig, a couple in fact. But I rarely wore them . . . . too hot, too uncomfortable for me. I felt like I was in costume.

I loved playing with scarves, and have built quite a nice wardrobe of them, but the best investment I made was buying a set of bangs. The bangs are on a Velcro strip, so I could attach them to any hat, any scarf.  Made me feel, and look, more like myself.

When I went to bed, I wore a little cap. My head got cold! (Sorry folks, no picture of that.)

Although all these pictures show me smiling, I surely didn't smile all the time. I think I was lucky going through chemo during spring and summer; I know if I was going though all that now, in the doldrums of a gray winter, I might not have been smiling as much.

Good friends throughout my treatment were very uplifting . . . .

Dick and Mary Lou are just two of our friends who made me laugh. I took this group selfie at our neighbor Dude's annual fish fry. Every year on the first day of trout season in April, he hosts a great neighborhood party. He and his brother and friends deep fry walleye, fresh french fries and chicken wings. More buddies play good old-fashioned sing-along music.  The combination of great weather, good food, music and friends -- and plenty of beer flowing -- is unbeatable.  (Dude doesn't go fishing, by the way, not on opening day. He'll wait til the crowds go away.)

I finished my chemo at the end of June, my radiation in September and, yes, my hair started to come back. Mr. Rosemary told me he didn't think I needed to wear hats and scarves anymore. He liked my fuzz; he called me "Peaches" so I had to call him Herb.

A friend who also went through chemo at the same treatment center I did told me about another patient, a very outgoing woman who had terminal cancer, who admonished her for wearing hats and scarves:  "Lose the rag! Be proud of your beautiful head!"

As my hair started to return, I sent a couple pictures to my Florida daughter who told me I looked "distinguished." Her boyfriend said "presidential." Another daughter told me, "Now you really do look like Isabella Rosellini!" (An older Isabella, you understand, not in her super model days!)

My first big "coming out" without a scarf was at my sister Anne's 80th birthday party. It was the first time several family members had seen me and their compliments were plentiful -- and sincere.

I've been back to Bobbi three times for haircuts since October.  I'm not used to managing these curls. All I can do is wash it and slather on some gel . .  and go.  Very freeing.

Will the curls stay? Don't know.  Many people have different experiences. Some people who've had curly hair say it comes in back straight. A lot of people see more gray. (Me, too.) Many of those who get the "chemo curls" say they fade after several months.  We shall see.  In the meantime, I'm just enjoying this wash and go.  And getting back to normal, even if it is a new normal.

Speaking of getting back to normal, I want to apologize to my faithful readers and followers for being absent for a few months. I immersed myself in getting back to normal -- buying and making Christmas presents, organizing closets and drawers, plain old cleaning, all things I wasn't able to do well for months.

But in the midst of getting ready for the holidays, I got another scare -- I needed to get a follow-up diagnostic mammogram after my routine annual screening. There was a "suspicious" area on the other breast, giving me several days of anxiety, even though I tried to talk myself out of it.  But I still couldn't help wondering:  Would I have to go through this again? Turns out there was not a serious problem, so I'm good for another six months.

I continued to be bothered by a herniated disc, too. I got three steroid shots over a period of a two months. The shots helped tremendously, but I continue to experience some pain, especially in the morning. With continued stretching and walking the herniation should continue to shrink. And the Naproset helps a lot. I really don't want more surgery. 

And I missed blogging. I've still been cooking. Even taken several pictures. Have a couple blog posts in draft stages. But mixing blogging about food and cancer in the same post started to seem a bit contrived to me, even though I wanted to do both. (I even thought about sharing a recipe about spiralizing, making "zoodles," along with this chemo curl diatribe! Aren't you lucky.)

I've also been plagued by procrastination. Yesterday, for example, I was bound and determined to finish this post finally. But -- wouldn't you know it? -- our internet service was down for the day.

So, today, I was going to finish for sure. After I cleaned up the kitchen and made the beds and started laundry and paid bills, etc., etc. After I made a broccoli salad for dinner, but, what the heck, why don't I make broccoli soup for lunch? And while I'm at it, why don't I brown some beef for enchiladas later? Of course, then I had to clean up the kitchen again, fold the laundry I started.

It's 2 o'clock and I'm finally sitting down and re-reading what I wrote. I better hit "publish" before I chicken out again. No recipe today . . . and no more pictures of me, either!

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.