Monday, November 30, 2009

Tuna Melts, all grown up

Last year I started receiving Food & Wine magazine out of nowhere. Since I'm not one to question things, I immediately started flipping through and eyeing all the fancy recipes I would make once I had, a) a gourmet kitchen, b) no job, and c) a culinary degree. Then a few months ago I came across a tuna melt rendition that was positively refreshing: oil and balsamic vinegar in lieu of mayo? Why, yes! I love diner tuna melts, but I wanted to eschew the norm. To be all fancy-like. So this tuna melt is all grown up, and delicious to boot.

I used cheddar cheese, but I could see it with Gruyere. In fact, next time I'm making it with Gruyere. Another idea is to throw some capers into the tuna mixture, or perhaps some chopped roasted red peppers. Wow...this tuna melt is inspiring, indeed.

Oregon Tuna Melts
  • Two 6-ounce cans albacore tuna
  • 1/4 cup finely diced red onion
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon minced basil (Although a totally different flavor, I used Italian parsley and it was a perfect substitution.)
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 4 ciabatta rolls, split
  • Dijon mustard and mayonnaise, for spreading
  • Eight 1/4-inch-thick slices of Swiss or cheddar cheese (6 ounces)
  • Sixteen 1/8-inch-thick lengthwise slices of kosher dill pickle
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  1. In a medium bowl, mix the tuna with the onion, olive oil, vinegar, basil(or parsley) and crushed red pepper. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. *Heat a panini press or griddle. Spread the cut sides of the rolls with mustard and mayonnaise and top each roll half with a slice of cheese. Spread the tuna salad on the bottoms and cover with the pickles. Close the sandwiches and spread the outsides of the rolls with the butter.
  3. Add the sandwiches to the press and cook over moderate heat until the cheese is melted, about 6 minutes. Cut the sandwiches in half and serve.
*Note: Panini press, smanini press. Although it doesn't produce picture-perfect results, we used a skillet and flattened with a big ol' pot.

Delish. I started eating it out of the bowl. Would be great on top of a salad, as well.

Mid-prep. This would have been a great time to invest in those flat "sandwich" dill pickles, but since I'm sort of ghetto (or what I like to call industrious), I did my best with slicing up some spears.


(Mostly) Black Bean Chili

My favorite spices are cumin and cilantro (coriander) without a doubt. I adore them, relish them, and all my culinary dreams center around them. We've also been eating a lot of beans lately, and our all-time favorite bean is the black bean. We have black beans in veggie enchiladas, on top of nachos, in Indian dishes, and, sadly enough, Matt tops his hot dogs with them.

So it is only fitting, as the winter chill sets in, that I should make a black bean chili loaded with cilantro and cumin. This chili calls for all black beans, but I threw in a can of pink beans JUST TO GO A BIT CRAZY! We do not discriminate when it comes to beans.

This chili is meatless and takes no more than 30 minutes to cook: perfect for a quickie pantry meal after a long day at work. It's also delicious, has a terrific balance of spice, and can be made without the heat by omitting the cayenne pepper. We served with honey corn muffins I found in Real Simple, but I think it would even be better with tortilla chips (oops, that's another thing we love!).

Black Bean Chili
  • olive oil, for sauteing
  • 2 medium to large onions, chopped
  • 2 medium bell peppers
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 3 15- to 16-ounce cans black beans, drained, 1/2 cup liquid reserved (or a mixture of black beans and pink)
  • 1 32-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 1 16-ounce can hominy (optional)
  • cilantro to taste (We adore cilantro; I used about 1 cup chopped and very loosely packed, and then topped with additional cilantro.)

Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add onions, bell peppers, and garlic; sauté until onions soften, about 10 minutes. Mix in chili powder, oregano, cumin, and cayenne; stir 2 minutes. Mix in beans, 1/2 cup reserved bean liquid, hominy (if using), and diced tomatoes. Bring chili to boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until flavors blend and chili thickens, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Top with cilantro, sour cream, grated cheese, and scallions. Gobble up!

Chopping set-up. All the peels go in the compost pail, which is a nice change from the fruit fly-laden jar Matt used to keep. Thank you, Crate & Barrel.

Muffins out of the oven.

Makes awesome leftovers.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

An early "Happy Thanksgiving!" to everyone! Right now I'm baking pumpkin bread pudding (just got done melting brown sugar, butter, and cream for the caramel la la), and am caramelizing spiced pecans. It doesn't get more decadent than this. I hope you're able to partake in all the turkey, stuffing, and sinful desserts your heart desires with family and friends.

Nuthin' like like some early-morning B12

So I'm still waiting for this supposed energy I should acquire after getting a B-12 shot. Where is my energy, damnit?! I should be leaping tall buildings by now. Instead I'm sitting at my desk wondering why I have heartburn.

This morning I received my fifth B12 shot. It's a minor - albeit forever - inconvenience. Your terminal ileum is the only part of your body that absorbs B12, which is necessary for "normal functioning of the brain and nervous system, and for the formation of blood" (thanks Wikipedia!).

Because I had the whole of my terminal ileum removed (plus some) back in April, a blood test a month and a half ago showed I was B12 sufficient. Since then I've been off to my PCP for early-morning shots. I received a shot every week to get my liver stores up, and now am on monthly maintenance. Shots are necessary - the pills just don't cut it.

On the Internet, B12 enthusiasts claim it gives them loads of energy, and can even assist in weight loss. I emphatically say both these claims are untrue: I'm pudgy AND tired. (Again, let's ignore my nacho habit and lack of a regular sleep schedule.)

What I'm wondering is this: Does anyone do home B12 injections? Since it's something so benign, and I'll be doing it forever, I thought I'd ask. I also want to freak Matt out with my sharp needle.

Monday, November 23, 2009

"Oh my GOD! You chopped off ALL your hair!"

On Saturday I got my hair cut – I mean, big time cut. I now have a pixie cut – it’s as short as my husband’s – and I’ve gotten a lot of strange, albeit well-meaning, comments. Comments like, “If you were ugly it would it wouldn’t look good, but you’re pretty so it works.” Thanks? Or, “You have a lot of guts! But it looks good” (emphasis on the “but”). Someone said, “It’s so cute; it works because you have a feminine face!” Well, thank you; I’d be a bit worried if my face wasn’t feminine, so I appreciate that. Other comments were very flattering, “You look so sophisticated!” or “You look like Audrey Hepburn!” (I wish, but thank you).

The back-handed compliments made me think about the relationship women have with their hair. Why is long hair deemed sexy, whereas short hair is always “cute”? And why did I get asked – no less than half a dozen times – what my husband, Matt, thought about it? Frankly, honey, I don’t care what he thinks (fine, maybe a smidgen of care, if we’re going to be 100% honest here). And anyway, like a good husband, he’s been trained to say I always look beautiful, so I’m guessing he’s fearful of ever saying anything lukewarm. (On the record, he said he loves it, said I’ve never looked better and seemed very genuine.)

Even I fell into the, “Well, it’s perky and cute but not exactly pretty” trap. Matt said I was being ridiculous, and I hated myself for making that comment, but said it anyway. Now, it’s not like I had lush, long hair before the big cut: I had slightly-below-shoulder-length hair that was baby fine and always (always) pulled back. I put it up in a clip, puffed it at the top (not to the height of the Palin poof, mind you), and thought it looked good pulled back. So, having a cut so short that it’s essentially pulled back isn’t that far out of line. But, yesterday, at the grocery store, I made it a point to seek out short-cropped women. There were three, and two of them were above the age of 60.

I was wearing sweats and sneakers and, again, felt…boyish. Again, I blamed society and not my own insecurities. I went home and looked in the mirror – it’s a big change – but I know a lot of women who use their hair as a security blanket and decided I wouldn’t be one of them (let’s forget I never had fabulous hair). Now, I’m not without hypocrisy: I wear make-up almost daily, and that’s just as much a security blanket. But hair is just silliness. It grows back, and should be fun. Why the, “Oh my god, you chopped off all your hair!” comments?

So, today, I’m rocking it. I have a black headband on and a berry lipstick. My hair took three minutes flat to blow-dry and style. And next week? Maybe next week this 5’10” girl will wear heels…but let’s not push it.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Roasted Veggie Lasagna

I try to stay away from cheese-tastic dishes for obvious reasons, but once in a while a girl just wants lasagna. Matt and I have been making a concerted effort to eat much less - if any - meat, so this is a roasted veggie version, adapted from (Actually, Matt isn't so on-board with the no meat thing, and he told me - with devilish delight - that he opted for the filet mignon over the pasta primavera for his holiday work party. He then laughed sadistically and ran away, screeching, "Men like meat!!!")

So, anyway, when I was at the doctor last week, I was weighed, which used to be an emotionally-wrought 30 seconds, until I began barking to the poor nurse/medical assistant to not tell me what I weigh. This time I looked: I was going to the gym, my golly! Well, I had gained five more pounds from a few weeks ago. Oops! I would like to attribute it to "more muscle" (hardy har har) but then I thought about this lasagna I had just made, and those Illini Bars.

I told myself "no more lasagna! no more sweets!" but by the time I got home I was re-heating these yummy leftovers. So much for will power.


Roasted Veggie Lasagna
  • 1 pound eggplant, sliced into 1/4 inch rounds
  • 1/2 pound medium fresh mushrooms, cut into 1/4 inch slices
  • 3 small zucchini, cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch slices
  • 2 bell peppers, cut into strips
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 (15 ounce) container reduced-fat ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup egg substitute
  • 1 (26 ounce) jar spaghetti sauce
  • 12 no-boil lasagna noodles (1 package)
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • chopped fresh basil (optional)


  1. Coat two 15-in. x 10-in. x 1-in. baking pans with nonstick cooking spray. Place eggplant and mushrooms on a prepared pan. Place the zucchini and pepper on the second pan. Combine the oil and garlic; brush over both sides of vegetables. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake, uncovered, at 400 degrees F for 15 minutes. Turn vegetables over. Bake 15 minutes longer.
  2. Meanwhile, combine the ricotta cheese, Parmesan cheese and egg. Spread about 1/4 cup pasta sauce in a 13x9 baking dish coated with nonstick cooking spray. Layer with four lasagna noodles (noodles will overlap), half of ricotta cheese mixture, half of vegetables, a third of pasta sauce and 2/3 cup mozzarella cheese (sprinkle basil, if using). Repeat layers. Top with the remaining noodles and pasta sauce.
  3. Cover and bake at 350 degrees F for 40 minutes. Uncover; sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake 5-10 minutes longer or until edges are bubbly and cheese is melted. Let stand for 10 minutes before cutting.
Check out those...knife skills.

Those zucchinis sort of look like eels.

Like you wouldn't eat the leftovers, either.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Mid-November in Valley Forge Park

Some photos from the ill-fated tick excursion. Scenic? Yes. Dangerous? ABSOLUTELY! (Melodrama has always been my strong suit.)

Here we go again...

This is not a glass jar of pee, although it certainly looks like it, and I wouldn't begrudge you if your response to this visual was one of disgust. Hey, it's normal.

I just had to post this (Matt doesn't know; he's at his weekly badminton game...and, no, you cannot make something that nerdy and endearing up). Remember my post on Matt's never-ending new projects and hobbies? This is the newest: Ginger Beer! Here is the experiment in action. I'm not sure what this concoction entails, although I had to help him locate fresh ginger and ginger (in the spice form) at the supermarket recently.

I don't really ask: I witnessed him washing this jam jar and I see him "checking" the jar every day after work. He expressed some enthusiasm that it was fermenting the other day. That's when I told him to get his stickin' ginger jar off my kitchen workspace so I could make dinner.

I'll keep you posted on the ginger debacle. Until then, you could always send me your address and I'll mail you a genuine bottle of fresh ginger beer made by a one Mr. Matt Hopkins. There will also be a liability form in the package: you think I'm taking the heat for whatever happens after you or a loved one drinks this? Mmmm...refreshing!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Indian Eggplant and Chickpeas

I like eggplant, I enjoy chickpeas, and I adore Indian food. Obviously I had to combine the three. Tada! Here's a delish combo that's easy, nutritious, and makes envy-worthy lunch leftovers ("Oh, you got a Lean Cuisine there? What's this, you ask? know...just some aromatic and savory Indian eggplant with biggie.")

I luckily had everything on-hand. You can find Garam Masala for, literally, a buck or so at your local Indian grocer. Also an excellent pit-stop for cheapo rice and other spices. (Matt would also recommend you try the "Hot Mix", which comes in several varieties and brands. It's like the spicy Indian equivalent of Doritos.)

Indian Eggplant and Chickpeas
  • 1 medium eggplant
  • 1 large onion – diced
  • 2 large garlic cloves
  • 1 26 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1 15 oz can chickpeas - drained
  • 2 cups of water
  • 1 - 2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp of chili powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp of Garam Masala
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 tsp of sugar
  • Lime juice (1/2 of a lime)
  • Cilantro
Quarter eggplant (photo below) and put on a cookie sheet. Roast at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until softened and starting to brown. Once cooled, peel skin and either mash eggplant or dice in small pieces (I chose the later).

Saute onion and garlic with spices until fragrant and softening - add in tomatoes (juice included) and sugar. Add in eggplant and chickpeas. Cook for about two minutes then add water until desired consistency (1 to 2 cups). Let cook until chickpeas are softened. Add lime juice and cilantro. Adjust spices accordingly. Let stand for a few minutes and serve with rice or naan (us carb lovers did both) and plain Greek yogurt.

Eggplant after roasting a bit. Look at them laying out like that. So relaxed.

We served with Basmati rice, naan, and plain yogurt.That's just how we do it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The end of Nature Girl as we know it

If only they were this cute...

FORGET my foray into nature: never, ever again! Early Monday morning I found a tick feasting on my sweet, sweet blood. I was half-dressed (sorry for the visual) brushing my teeth, and noticed a red blotch with a black center below my left boob (breast, bosom, whatever). I then did what any sane, rational person would: I investigated and then began screeching. Duh.

Me: “Get up, GET UP GET UP GET UP! HELP ME!!!”
Matt (under the covers, half awake): “Whatftf?” (muffled) (Okay; fine: it was 5:30 am.)
Matt: “Calm down.” (Me interrupting: “No! YOU calm down! GET UP GET UP GET UP!”)

Matt then proceeded to sloooowwwlllyyy get out of bed and ever-so-slowly look for tweezers, and then slooowwwlllyy remove the tick.

Me: “What is taking so long?! What is going on?!”
Matt: “I want to make sure I got the head, that’s all”
Me: “You are POKING ME!”
Matt: “Do you want to make sure it’s out or don’t you?”
Me: “I think I have Lyme disease.”
Matt: “You do not have Lyme disease.”
Me: “How do you know?! UH?”
Matt: “It wasn’t a deer tick.”
Me: “It wasn’t a dog tick.”
Matt (pausing): “Well, maybe it as a baby dog tick.”
Me: “What do you know about ticks?!”
Matt: “Humgrh whaft sbiff!” (He was back under the covers at this point.)

So there you have it. Between our collective intelligence, we neglected to save the tick and instead flushed it. My doctor refused to give me antibiotics and said I should “watch for symptoms.” I argued not everyone gets a bulls-eye rash and symptoms of Lyme disease are remarkably similar to those of Crohn’s (fatigue, aches and pains). She wouldn’t have it, told me to calm down, and said this is the accepted protocol. I told her I have enough wrong with me, I’m usually not a hyperbolic hypochondriac (that title is reserved for my father who sent me Cipro when I was in college in downtown Manhattan during the Anthrax scare following 9/11, amongst other things) but I don’t need something else to worry about, now hand over that prescription pad, mamma needs some doxycycline.

Well, she essentially told me to get out.

She did say if I started to display symptoms to give her a call and she’ll be happy to prescribe me the antibiotics. Well, well, well…I’m thinking that on Monday at about 2 pm I’m going to get a bit feverish and achy….

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A big thanks

I go to the gym and meet with a trainer weekly. I’ve been doing this – off and on – for almost two years, and the reasons are twofold: 1) She yells at me when I haven’t been to the gym for the rest of the week (which is often), and 2) I’m trying to be healthier (I’m proud to announce I now have muscle under my fat instead of just more fat). She has this powerful truth-telling force that makes me mutter all the unmentionables I’ve been eating. Friday morning I spilled to her about the Illini Bars and a late-night nacho feast I had last night…after a work event that included dinner and dessert. She chewed me out and then commanded I bring her a brownie from my next batch. She calls me grandma and asks if I brought my Geritol as I schlep my sweaty body from one machine to the next. She’s a petite wisp of a woman who could, with no doubt, take me out…without breaking a sweat. She’s not afraid to say you look puffy. Simply put, I like her.

So I was at the gym Friday morning (we meet at 6 am - the ONLY time I go in the morning is when I have to meet with her; I originally chose a trainer who only does mornings so when I quit – which I knew was 100% inevitable – my flabby ass wouldn’t have to run into them later in the day) and I realized, “Holy smoly, it’s been a year since I was admitted to the hospital!” I was in the gym shower, dancing (dancing!) to “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey (oh, just try not to dance to the most spoofed song of all time) when I realized this. In a lot of ways this moment was a revelation. I was dancing at 7 am – when I had gotten up at 5:15 am – after a work-out…and I don’t dance (well, at least not sober). So I took notice of this moment – caught myself in it (don’t you just love when you do that?) – and although things aren’t perfect, dangit, I feel GOOD. I was first admitted to the hospital on November 14, 2008.

I had been feeling sick for two months prior being admitted. First it was constipation-like symptoms, which of course was all very foreign to me (on occasion I have snickered at Metamucil commercials). Then night sweats. Then horrible pain deep in my pelvis. To make a long - and very Crohn's typical - story short, I had a fistula, large abscess, and some nasty looking bowel. Via TPN and daily bags of antibiotics through my PICC line, I delayed surgery to this past spring. If you're followed the blog since then, I started in January, after a healthy holiday reprieve, when the pain returned and I had to decide if I wanted to first try biologics, or surgery, knowing surgery can be a slippery slope. In my typical melodramatic fashion, I agonized over it for months, until something had to be done. In retrospect, surgery was the right choice. My surgeon and GI confirmed the foot of intestine they removed was not salvageable.

I'm mentioning all of this because I know my blog hasn't been strictly (or even, loosely) Crohn's related as of late, and I want to explain. I know I'm posting devilish recipes. Or relaying silly stories. But I believe this is the life-cycle of a Crohn's patient. I know I am very fortunate that my surgery has given me relief. I know this can end tomorrow, but what's the sense in living like that? Yes; pains give me pause, but I'm learning to live in the moment, and keep myself healthy. I made the decision to no longer pursue my MBA (nothing tragic there; I was one course in), but why add additional stress when I know it's a trigger (my first class ended right as my increased symptoms started). But it was hard to make this choice as I saw colleagues excel or better themselves.

Posting that zany story about my ill-fated walk in Valley Forge Park, or trying a spinning class, was a triumph for me. A year ago (and as little as about six months ago), I could not walk erectly as the pain was greater: I hobbled, my back hunched. And forget about a spinning class.

Oh, and there's the icky things too: I avoided wearing light-colored skirts or dresses as I had nasty and painful fissures that often bled as I made my seventh trip to the bathroom. I took to wearing extra-long menstrual pads daily.

So now it's time to celebrate the triumphs. I'm not disgusted by my thick, violet scar from surgery - it's a damn sexy battle wound and has become just as much a part of me as my belly button. (But I will not lie, I am slightly jealous of my friends three-week-old C-section scar that is barely visible, so kill me). I'm happy that I can, within reason, eat my favorite foods again - curry and all. I'm happy that I can have an early-morning work-out, and then have enough energy to dance in the shower, and feel nothing. Glorious, glorious nothing: there is not much better than having your body function as it should, and not feel it so pathetically struggle.

I've been humbled by reading my fellow Crohn's bloggers' stories; I know I have it good right now, but I won't be happy until we're all eating buttery popcorn, or even dancing in the shower to Journey.

Thank you for reading: then...and now.


(In my typical cheesy fashion, I've included a live performance of "Don't Stop Believing", below. Admit it!; it makes you smile....but MAN, those are some tight jeans...cough, cough...)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Illini Bars (Caramel Brownies)

Grandma Lamkin would be proud.

We had a work bake-off the other week, and my lovely friend Kate won 3rd place. After I spent a good two hours mourning my loss, I congratulated her and swiped her recipe.

Kate made Illini Bars, a recipe perfected by her Grandma Lamkin and enjoyed by all. Kate's grandmother is from the Midwest (Illinois to be exact), and the University of Illinois's mascot are the Illini (who knows....a quickie Google search said it's a Native American tribe and very controversial...those wacky Midwesterners).

These Illini Bars are like rich, rich, RICH caramel brownies from heaven. Well, you won't feel like heaven after eating six of them (willpower has never been one of my stronger suits), but the first few are most definitely heavenly.

Oh, and the brownie recipe uses a cake mix...I told you, those Midwesterners are wacky!

Thank you Kate and Grandma Lamkin for sharing!

Illini Bars (aka Caramel Brownies)
  • 1 package of caramels (14 oz), unwrapped
  • 2/3 cup evaporated milk
  • 1 package German chocolate cake mix
  • 3/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1 cup chopped nuts (optional)
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat over to 350. In a sauce pan, combine caramels and 1/3 cup evaporated milk. Cook over low heat until caramels are melted. Set aside.

Grease 13x9 baking pan. In a large mixing bowl, combine cake mix, butter, 1/3 cup evaporated milk and nuts (if using) by hand. Press a little more than half of the dough into the prepared pan. Reserve the remaining dough and bake at 350 degrees for 6 minutes.

Sprinkle chocolate chips over "baked" crust then spread caramel mixture over brownies. Take remaining dough and drop by little dollops/crumbles all over the brownies. Return pan to oven and bake for 18 minutes. Cool and refrigerate, then cut into squares. Keep refrigerated. Eat. Enjoy. Be merry!

The good stuff.

Eat these brownies, and you can be this sexy, too.

Ah yes...the love of my life. Doing what...he does.

Fo' shizzle, that looks good!

Diet smiet!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Your last meal?

What would you want your last meal to be? Pecan-encrusted pork chops? A little too frou-frou, uh? How about something that shouts egalitarianism from the rooftops, say a burger and fries? From McDonalds, of course. And add a shake, too.

Scratch that: let’s load on the sweets. Since it’s November, we’ll include all the pies (pumpkin, pecan, and apple to start), and maybe a decadent chocolate cake. Homemade buttercream icing – definitely.

In an era of nothing being too taboo and everyone being wholly irreverent (which I relish, if you haven’t realized), an article on Slate made me drop my soup spoon during my lunch break. It talked about death row prisoners’ last meals: can they really order anything? What do they choose to eat? Nothing was remarkably surprising about it: many chose filet mignon or, indeed, a burger and fries. The filet mignon often resulted in a hamburger steak, and the guy who requested 24 tacos was given four. Basically, if the kitchen could make it, it would, and improvise when necessary.

I am vehemently against the death penalty (for matters practical and those not so tangible), but whatever your politics, the article – and the links in the piece*—were startlingly sad for a Wednesday afternoon. What if you were the cook preparing the last meal – who were often prisoners themselves: would you add extra butter and substitute the skim milk for whole (and what does it matter now)? Add a garnish to the plate? Say a prayer as the plate was covered and brought to its final patron?

This wasn’t supposed to be a treatise on last rights, the judicial system, or any of that: I want to talk about food. For someone saddled with Crohn’s, I adore food. Right now I’m dreaming of roasted vegetables (pass the rutabaga, baby) and think there are few things more delicious than a Cortland apple or a chewy brownie with cold milk.

My last meal wouldn’t be anything fancy, but quietly forbidden in its own simple way. I would have a mound of spaghetti with fatty meatballs and the richest, most tomato-y marinara know to man, with buttery garlic bread. For dessert, I would have a sample: tiramisu, crème brulee, and chocolate truffles. If eaten today, this meal would leave me bedridden. Anything fatty is a deal-breaker and makes me run for the hills (correction, I would only stiffly walk to the hills, and only if a bathroom was located there), so the ground beef is a no-no. I think the garlic bread slathered with butter speaks for itself. Acidic tomatoes are a nightmare, and the desserts? White sugar and fatty cream (oh, luscious luscious cream) are toxic. (And boy oh boy, I love and eat all of these things a little more than occasionally.)

Crohn’s be damned, what would your last meal be? Please leave a comment for a hungry girl!

*The article has links to the state of Texas’ correctional website, which records the final statements of inmates, which were strikingly sobering. Some inmates reiterate their innocence. Almost all denounce what they did and allude to God. The most unsettling statements say, “Warden, I’m done now” or “Warden, I’m ready”. I don’t know why I read so many – it’s the worst form of voyeurism I guess – but definitely thought-provoking.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Women versus wild

Pawlings Farm, which we stumbled (literally) upon

I live right outside of Valley Forge National Park in suburban Philadelphia. For those non-Revolutionary War nerds, this was the site of a famous Continental Army encampment (you remember in grade school learning about the freezing soldiers, right? Well, the Park Service website says that's all wrong and it was created to be a parable about American perseverance or something...suddenly the tales at Valley Forge are far less romantic).

The park is beautiful and has vast stretches of meadows and forests surrounding the Schuylkill (thank goodness for spell check on that one) River. I often walk with Penny on the river trail, which snakes along the water and has patches of river access, and where she very non-gracefully plops her fifty pounds in the water for a cold bath and drink.

On Saturday Penny and I decided to go off-trail, to traverse the unknown, to follow our noses and commune with nature. Well, Penny and I have no business communing with the outdoors. Really; we should be quarantined to the house.

First of all, we got lost. It's hard to get lost in Valley Forge, as it's only 5.4 square miles. We thought we'd (well, Penny) would follow our noses. "Off-trail, I say!" as I removed her leash and she lurched forward. "Isn't today beautiful?" I said to her. Too bad she was gone: she ran forward, out of sight. Oops.

After barking her name, she re-emerged, coated in mud and water. The dog is drawn to any sort of water: be it a lake, river, pond, or a murky puddle. She is not particular, and not very lady-like, either. She plops her body in the puddles, swishing the mud to and fro, and always looks very pleased with herself. I told her to have some respect for herself, to get her act together, and stick to the clean flowing rivers, but she is not one for humanoid reason.

Once we got her back on the leash, we took off on a footpath covered with fallen leaves. We saw deer and a sleek and sexy little red fox. We stared and they stared back. We were invigorated and announced to the world that we were going to be outdoor people/dogs. I was going to be the type of granola-crunchin', Birkenstock-with-sock wearin' person who shops at REI and L.L. Bean and has things made out of Gortex and a water purifier and , oh!, a canteen. I was going to be that girl. Right now I'm the girl who swears on all things from Anthropologie and Barnes & Noble, who prefers to buy her fish flash-frozen, and who owns maybe 15 skirts and one pair of shorts. But I was going to renounce all of that. I was going to be Nature Girl. Even though I'm married, I was going to be the object of desire to all of those mountain-bike guys who traverse the trail. It was decided.

Until I tripped.

Matt's mp3 player fell from my pocket and down the little embankment where it nestled on a tree trunk. I landed on my butt, which was fortunate, as I have a nice amount of padding. The ground was damp and I saw a spider. And some brown sort of bug. I had a scrape on my finger (god forbid!) and hit a bush as I went down. It was not a graceful sort of fall: the sort of fall a lady makes. Legs were splayed, a thud was probably heard. Hell, maybe even the ground shook. I went down in slow motion and I remember Penny being pulled back on the leash and I clearly recall her looking smuggly at me. I mean, no sense of concern at all! I was wet and muddy. A leaf was stuck on my butt and I tasted dirt in my mouth. I got up and, aloud (this is important now), I reprimanded Penny for pulling me and "making" me trip on a hidden root. "I am your mom! You should respect me and not pull! Do you want a Meaty Bone?! Well, DO YOU?!" This is an important detail too: at that moment I started scratching my butt. Vigerously scratching. It was wet and itchy and caked with mud. So there I am, scratching my ass and talking to my smug-lookin' dog, when a mountain biker EMERGES from behind a tree. No, let me rephrase: a cute mountain biker. The type of mountain biker who was going to love me once I became all naturey and all of that junk.

"Hi, are you alright?" he asks. I scoff, I laugh, I giggle inappropriately and say it was nothing, now damnit, please, ride on so I can live out my embarrassment alone. After he left I swept my hand over my hair and realized I had a large twig in it. Really; it was all too perfect.

But Penny and I are resilient. No, let me rephrase that: I AM resilient. I am woman, hear me roar! That mutt is a pushy, pully little demon. I mean, I had my torso "spliced open like a fish"! (Okay, fine, I use any chance I can to reiterate what my surgeon once flippantly said. Like this: (Poor) Matt: "K! Clean up your peanut butter and jelly down here!" Me: "Matt! Relaaaax! Okay, treat me with some reeespect: I live a hard life. Did you know - here it comes - my stomach was spliced open like a fish?! Uh, do you!?! Some people aren't as lucky as you and don't have perfect health!" Matt (muttering): "Oh no, here we go again...." Oh, and by the way, I never did clean up that peanut butter and jelly. Look, if you are saddled with a chronic illness, use it to your best advantage, okay? It's done no favors for you, so exploit the hell out of it.)

So Penny and I got situated and got moving. The twig was out of my hair, my butt had a sufficient scratch, and my favorite new song was playing on Matt's Zune ("Home" by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros). Then Penny and I got lost.

"Where are we?" I asked her. She was eating some grass a few yards away; the dog is always filling her mouth with something questionable off the ground. I had picked-up a map I got when we came upon Pawlings Farm, which was a, (ha!) back in the 1700's (gorgeous and eerie, and above is a photo I swiped from the internet). The map didn't help much as we were not on a marked path, as we were being total nature renegades. I also don't think I was holding it correctly.

I decided to "keep on course", because, well, why the hell not. If the park is 5.4 square miles we had to reach something at some point. (And for the love of god, hopefully not that mountain biker.)

After what I thought was three hours (but was really 45 minutes I approximated once I did reach home and looked at the clock), we reached Betzwood, which is a boat-launch/picnic area on the river. Penny and I thought we should celebrate with some naturey food: you know, trail mix and water. Except I didn't bring trail mix or water. Or anything, except for the mp3 player and some bags for her poop. Oops. We sat down and surveyed the scene: it was an unusually warm November day and a family was having a BBQ on the outdoor grill, a few picnic tables down. I told Penny to make like a stray dog and snatch some of their food. She just continued to eat some grass by my feet. No surprise there.

And that was our Saturday. We made it back to the house at 3:15. I left the house at 12:30, so what I thought was a 4-5 hour debacle was just over 2 1/2 hours. Well, that just figures.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Those little terrors

This, THIS, is why kids scare the bejesus outta me.

You know you have traveled via train too many times when you notice the same graffiti tag over and over, or the same Amtrak guy who punches your ticket (well, he’s hard not to miss: he has spectacular dreads), or hiss in mock anger when “your” parking spot in the Amtrak garage at 30th Street Station is taken by a Jeep (Lower Level 2 by the elevator).

I’ve traveled the hour and a half from Philadelphia to New York so many times over the last month for work I’ve developed my own set of creature comforts: if traveling during lunchtime I always get the Bombay Chicken Salad from Cosi. If coming home at dark I always listen to Ray LaMontagne – no exceptions – on my mp3 player (he is relaxing, and I am tired). When waiting at Penn Station to board I always buy a fruit cup. I go to the bathroom exactly 25 minutes before my train is scheduled to depart. While in there, I often change out of my hose and into flip-flops.

This past week I was at the train station by 5:30 am. Meaning, I was up at 4:00 am. Meaning, my Dunkin’ Donuts receipt read 5:55 am as I bought my tasty flatbread egg sandwich. Boy, I sure do like to complain. On these early mornings, Matt sleeps in the guest bedroom so he can snooze to his regular 8 am (I was at my destination by 8 am). I say goodbye to Penny in the dark as she stands at the top of the stairs, peering down at me as I’m fumbling with my bags and suit jacket, and hop into the car as BBC World News is still being broadcast.

Now, for the most part, my job is an 8:30 to 5:30ish provincial sort of gig. Autumn is busier, and it’s during these times I start to think: How do they do it? I’m talking about working mothers (and fathers). When I get home, I have enough energy to humor Penny for a minute and ask Matt if he got the mail. Even when I don’t travel, I’m out the door by 8:15 am and in again at 7 pm. Because babies are on the brain (and, no, Mom, I am not pregnant) I’ve started wondering how late day cares are really open, and doing the math on those day cares and diapers. It’s absolutely terrifying!

About a year ago I read Leslie’s Bennett’s A Feminine Mistake, which basically states it’s imperative that women continue in the workplace throughout motherhood to secure their, and their children’s, future. What if your husband left you, those slimy worms? Or dropped dead? Her argument wasn’t out of feminist ideals, but pure practicality (and okay, maybe a pinch of feminist ideals). Before I read that, I knew I was going to be a working mom. And yes, even if out of pure practicality. I don’t want to worry about paying the heating bill (which can peak at $400 a month in the winter, and that’s with closing off the vents in most rooms, keeping it at 64 degrees when it is on, and turning the heat completely off when we are not home). And, by golly, I definitely want to be able to buy the pricey Greek yogurt I love, or go out to dinner at someplace other than T.G.I. Fridays. Matt and I did the math: we could “manage” – however uncomfortably – on his income. But that’s today, without an expensive addition to the family. So I’m going to work, if only to afford going out for sushi or indulging and buying the name brand (notice how all my examples involve food).

So, getting back to the crux of the matter: how DO they do it? How do they get home, put the day’s attitudes and egos behind them, and start on job two? I really want to know, because this is quite discerning for someone who is so innately lazy. And lazy we are. When Matt and I moved into our house two and a half years ago, we took down a shelf in our living room that resulted in a 2 x 2 hole in the wall. Well, it’s still there and I’m certainly not going to repair it. When I wake up in the middle of the night having to use the bathroom, I will myself back to sleep so I don’t have to leave the covers. When I walk Penny I don’t go as long as I should and chalk it up to, “She’s a dog; she doesn’t know if we made it to Frank’s house or just Willie’s”. (And, yes, Frank and Willie are both dogs, and Willie is a wretched little white furball.) But see! My laziness is hurting my family. We can’t even properly care for a dog. Penny has been getting frustrated with her lacks of walks and has begun to sit at my feet, staring intensely. She then does what can only be described as dog snorting and sighing as she inches up to my knee, never breaking her stare. It’s equally heart-breaking and annoying.

Now, I know Penny is a dog, but Matt and I are already experienced parental guilt, so I figure we’re pretty much doomed. When I have a Crohn’s flare, I am exhausted and ornery. Scratch that: I’m always ornery. On the other hand, Matt is the happiest-go-lucky guy I know, so we get a point there. He also rarely gets mad, even if you continuously flick his ear, not that I have ever done such a thing. However, he’s not one for babies (he once said he dislikes them because “they don’t do anything,” which was a really astute observation on his part), but loves little kids and finds them humorous and full of life and wonder. I sort of think they’re obnoxious and loud. I’m hoping we even each other out.

One thing we can both agree is on is that raising a child, and the demands it entails, is absolutely, 100% terrifying. Matt goes about it like this: “Yeah, the first few years are going to be awful. We’ll be tired all the time and not happy, but I think after five or so years it gets better. And it will be good when we’re old”. That is the Tao according to Matt.

So, until then, I’m just going to ooo and aww at parents who do it. And this is all not to say we don't like kids or want to have the little munchkins. We like them (enough), and I think we'll make great parents. But, until then, I’m going to indulge in my child-free ways and enjoy these last few years before I have to baby-proof a damn thing.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Better than the movie: Ratatouille with Feta

All week dinner goes a little something like this: protein, grain, vegetable. Invariably, that means a a chicken breast, rice, and one of the following: salad, asparagus, or broccoli. Sometimes we go a little crazy, with soup or enchiladas or pasta (I know, it's c to the razy!!). So when Sunday comes around, I eschew the normal and opt for something a bit more savory.

I am fortunate to have a particular brand of Crohn's that can handle most food. I adore vegetables, and for the most part, they're equally amorous. Lately I've been partaking in whole grains and aromatic curries. Mainly, my dishes need to be low-fat (for example, I gobbled two servings of lasagna at a work baby shower earlier this fall and spent the afternoon plotting bathroom breaks around meetings).

Semi-recently, I've added acidic tomatoes to the ol' repertoire, and although I can't make it a daily endeavor, they are a weekly indulgence. In that spirit, tonight I chopped and baked some ratatouille. For those not in the know, ratatouille hails from Nice, France and is a baked dish where eggplant takes center stage (I love myself some smooth and supple...okay, I'm done), and accented with squash, onions, tomatoes, peppers and herbs. Oftentimes you slice the eggplant. In my dish, I diced everything up, sauteed it in a pan with some olive oil, and then baked, adding a twist with some crumbled feta at the very end (quite possibly my favorite cheese). It's totally rustic, which is my way of saying you really don't need to measure anything and you can't go wrong. I served mine with some some crusty French bread and a viewing of The Amazing Race (Sundays at 8 pm Eastern - and my favorite team is, OF COURSE, the Harlem Globetrotters: Big Easy and, uh, the other guy...I also have some love for the cute gay brothers).

Ratatouille with Feta
  • olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 lb. eggplant, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 1 yellow or red pepper, sliced
  • 2 medium onions, roughly sliced
  • 2 medium zucchinis, sliced
  • 2 tsp. thyme
  • 3 Tbsp fresh basil, chopped (or 1. tsp. dry)
  • 1 can "Italian" diced tomatoes
  • 1 16 oz. can stewed tomatoes, drained
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 1 tsp. white wine vinegar
  • 2-3 oz. feta cheese, crumbled (optional)
Butter a 9 x 13 inch casserole dish. In a large saucepan, heat olive oil and saute garlic, eggplant and peppers until tender. Add onions, zucchini, thyme and basil and cook for about 2 minutes. Add tomatoes, broth and vinegar and spoon mixture into the casserole dish. Bake at 350 for an hour. If desired, top with feta and bake for five additional minutes until cheese begins to melt. Enjoy with egg noddles or fresh bread.

Luscious, luscious vegetables. Gimme gimme.

Fresh outta the oven.

There is no better excuse for crusty bread.