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Monday, February 29, 2016

Question for Sanders Supporters

I posted this in my facebook page but decided to post it here too. I really would like some answers.
As I've said before, I like a lot of Bernie Sanders plans in theory. But I have many questions on how some of these plans would actually be implemented. First, a question about Bernie Sanders’ free college for all plan. According to the summary on his site, Sanders’ plan states that total tuition at public colleges and universities amounts to about $70 billion per year. Of that cost, under the Sanders plan the federal government would be responsible for 67% of the cost while the states would be required to pick up the remaining 33% .
But states are cash strapped, and education has been taking a hit in state budgets. According to data from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, states have been cutting funding for K-12 programs since the 2008 recession and most states have not restored those earlier levels. In fact, in about half the states reporting, less general aid per student is being provided now than in 2008, and In three states, including Alabama, funding cuts are 15% or more.
The cuts also affect higher education. While state funding for higher education has been rising slightly in the last couple of years, there is still a large reliance on student tuition to fund higher education. US News reports that, “Overall, half of states now receive more financial support from tuition dollars than from state or local funding. And the reliance on tuition revenue varies widely between states, from a low of 15.1 percent in Wyoming to a high of 84.5 percent in Vermont.”
Sanders’ plan calls for financing the federal portion by Imposing a Robin Hood Tax on Wall Street, a speculation fee on investment houses, hedge funds, and other speculators of 0.5% on stock trades (50 cents for every $100 worth of stock), a 0.1% fee on bonds, and a 0.005%fee on derivatives. He estimates that this fee will raise the necessary money with some left over, but nowhere in the plan does he address the problem of where the already cash-strapped states are going to come up with their share, nor of what happens to the federal funding if there is another recession or a drop in speculation, stock trades, etc.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Unhooked- Freedom and Fatigue

Today was unhooking day.  Chemo treatment number two of this  regimen is over, and I have survived. But  I have slept most of the day.  I don't know what it is about   getting unhooked from the 5-FU pump, but I am more fatigued on that day than any other, it seems. It was a shame  to be inside all day-  the sky was a beautiful blue and the sun was shining but my body decided it needed sleep more than sunshine. So this is really going to be a short  blog post.  In fact, fatigue is taking over again, so  I'm off to   bed. Maybe I'll dream of some new mischief to get into tomorrow.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

A welcome sign of spring!

The sun was shining this morning!  The beautiful azure sky  provided a lovely backdrop for the  skeletal tree branches gently swaying in the wind. But it was cold!  After  nice warm temperatures a few days ago, the rain and wind blew in  cold weather again.   Except for  checking on the seedlings in the greenhouse and  re-filling the bird feeders I didn't venture out today.

But when I did venture out to fill the feeders I was greeted by our first daffodil bloom of the year! There she was,  a lovely golden beauty, "fluttering and dancing in the breeze."  She kept her head down so as  not to lose her  hat, I  think. She was alone, but  was surrounded by several fat buds  ready to burst open and join her any day now. On this date last year we had snow, and we  may get some more this year, but for right now, I'll take any sign of spring I can get, so am very grateful to the daffodil.
 

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Wonky on Wednesday

Had my second chemo treatment in this series and have been  sort of  wonky ever since  we got home, asleep more than awake so will have to make this a short blog entry. Or not.  Sometimes I talk too much even when tired.

Yesterday was rainy and windy all day so  didn't get any work done outside except to check on the new seedlings and other plants in the greenhouse and refill the bird feeders. I had gotten most of the   living room carpet vacuumed when I  made a wrong twisting move and threw my hip out, so didn't get much more done in the way of housecleaning, either. I did get some ironing down and  some cooking, thanks in part to the lovely surprise that came via UPS yesterday. But  by the time we'd finished supper I was too tired to  do my usual blog post and went to bed early. So here's part of what I would have posted, had I been awake enough to do so :-)

When we   were watching the  Jacques Pépin cooking show, Heart and Soul, on  our local  Public Television channel a couple of weeks ago I mentioned that I had  quite a few  of Jacques' books, but not the one for that series. Unbeknownst to me, Mr. G  went online and ordered it. It came yesterday.  He   wrote on the  box, "Happy Anniversary, Birthday, and Maybe Merry Christmas." I  didn't quite know how to take that, so I asked him if he gave it to me early because he  thought I wouldn't live another  few months  to celebrate our anniversary or my birthday, but he assured me that was not the case, that he just wanted to get it while he was thinking about it and then not forget where he'd put it. I can believe that because his mother had a habit of buying birthday presents for people, hiding them away and  then forgetting where she'd put them. I can't remember how many times  she told me she'd bought me a birthday present but  forgot where it was. I got a lot of birthday presents four months late,  usually on Christmas. Since I'm convinced the apple hasn't fallen far from the tree, I accept Mr. G's explanation.

Here's a pic of the title page from the  cookbook. There are wonderful recipes, beautiful photographs of the food, and of Jacques  enjoying food and fun with his friends and family. I just discovered that Jacques Pépin is also an artist in  a medium other than food- the  whimsical  roosters are just some of his original artwork scattered throughout the book.

I used a recipe for velvet spinach from the new book.  I liked that very much.  Mr. G not so much- he says  he prefers  my  old recipe for creamed spinach. Oh, well.  The rest of our meal  was prepared using  recipes from another Pépin cookbook, More Fast Food My Way.  The Pork medallions with grapes in  pomegranate sauce were oh, so tender and delicious.  And the Apple maple topping served over butter pecan ice cream- what can I say?! Here's a pic of the apples bubbling away on the stove.  Can you smell that delicious scent of  maple syrup, apples and  just outright deliciousness- which I'm convinced has a  scent all its own.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Rainy Days and Mondays

It's been a lazy, rainy day.  Agatha and Patches sat looking out the  front door most of the morning, watching the  squirrels and birds, who were very active all day.  
video
There was both good news and bad news when I went to the greenhouse to take the cover off the seedbox.
The bad news was that   the humidity in the box  had  provided the perfect environment for fluff white fungus to  grow  in the the pots and packs of seedlings I'd  repotted last week. I've taken them out of the box now and will be setting a fan on them tomorrow to see if we can't take care of the problem. The good news was that we had more sproutage! The zinnia seeds and the second sowing of lettuce have sprouted and  it looks as though the  calendula are about to pop up, too.

Tonight was yoga class.  The weather was horrible, rainy and foggy the whole  drive there.  I was surprised  that we had a full class tonight, but yoga folks are a determined lot, it seem.  I feel better for going, and I'm  sure most of my yoga classmates feel the same way, so we  brave all kinds of nasty weather  in order to  be trees and mountains and warriors and such.  Tonight we were stars and did moon salutations in honor of tonight's full moon,  the Snow Moon, which,  because of the rain and clouds, we aren't able to see. Oh, well, we  saluted it anyway, and are  more relaxed and fit   because of our salutations, I think.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Rainy days are good for cooking and baking

It has rained off and on most of the day.  The forecast for the next couple of days sounds like we could be in for a rough ride with the possibility of severe thunderstorms and the threat of a tornado. Looks like Mother Nature is determined to make us pay for those few nice  days we had  a few days ago.

Since  it wasn't a good day to work outside, I decided to cook. I had planned   to cook slow roasted  lamb with herb crust  and roasted potatoes  with a vegetable tian, and a maple and apple tarte tatin for dessert. It's been years since I  baked a tarte tatin but this one turned out to be not too bad. I  could have  cooked the syrup a little longer- it wasn't quite caramelized enough, although it was much darker than it appears to be in the picture. The flash makes it look a couple of shades lighter

Mr. G had peeled and cored the apples for me, and had peeled more than  I needed for the tarte, so I decided to break out my newest   kitchen gadgetry purchase and make some apple tarte tatin turnovers.  I ordered a set of three turnover gizmos from King Arthur flour. They are so cool! When they are closed up they remind me of  play denture sets. You roll out the dough, then cut a circle with one side of the cutter,  turn the cutter over, place the dough  on it, Before I  fold mine I usually moisten the edges of the  circle  to help seal  them, today I brushed on a beaten egg and also used  the egg  on the pastry before putting it in the oven to give it a nice shine. Then I  put the the filling on the circle, folded the cutter over and it automatically  closed and crimped the edges. I didn't get any pics of the finished  product before we gobbled them up.  Sorry about that.  Here are some pics of the  cutters- they came in a 4", 5" and 6 " size and can be used for meat pies,  empanadas and calzones, too.
They cut perfect  circles! Of course, puff pastry   tries to shrink as soon as you move it.
Here is the pastry laid on the top of the  form, the filling in place and the egg wash around the edge.
Close up the mold and Voila!  a turnover all sealed and crimped and ready to bake

Saturday, February 20, 2016

More yard work

The weather wasn't quite as  nice as yesterday.  The sky was overcast all day, but the temperature was mild and the wind wasn't quite as strong so it was a good day to be outside again.  So we were back out doing yard work again.  Mr. G finished raking up the pine cones and pine straw and I began   pruning the roses,   getting rid of the honeysuckle  and greenbrier vines that were strangling the roses and cutting out the forest of privet that had grown up in the flower beds. We're predicted to get rain beginning late tonight  lasting through Wednesday so we were trying to get as much done as we could before the rain got here. Of course we didn't finish but we made a pretty big dent in it. I finally had to  stop because the  thorns on the briers and roses were   getting through my gloves and sleeves and sticking me. It's  frustrating  to have to be so cautious, but the nurses warned me to be very careful gardening while on the chemo since it is so easy for a cut or puncture to get infected and one of the drugs actually inhibits  wound healing. I was beginning to think I might need falconer's gloves  and a suit of armor  to tackle the roses and briers since we had let them go last year and they had gotten  quite big and out of hand.  Also the  vines had   wrapped so tightly around some stalks of the Zephirine Drouhin that the   wood was completely dead, so she looks pretty bad right now.

We got the Ballerina, Red Cascade,  Zephirine Drouhin pruned but still have some pruning  to do on the Katy Road Pink and the Perle d'Or.  I hope the ones we did today  put off a lot of new growth  and bloom well this summer despite the drastic pruning we  gave them.  Here are some pics from previous years of a few of the roses in bloom.  I was surprised that  I didn't have  many pics of the roses among my garden photos and none of the ballerina or red cascade in bloom. The first three are  pics of the Katy Road Pink and the last is a little vase of  several different ones from the garden, along with some blooms from the buddleia - they smelled heavenly, especially the Zephirine Drouhin and the Katy Road:


Friday, February 19, 2016

Energized by the beautiful weather

Today was another beautiful day.  The temperature  got up to seventy degrees Fahrenheit and it truly felt like spring.  I got some more seeds planted, then Mr. G and I did a little yard work.  Mostly  it was Mr. G. doing he work, trimming shrubs and raking up pine cones and branches that had fallen in the wind and rain, although I served as consultant on the pruning and   bagged up  my fair share of pine cones. Then  the girls and I went for a little walk enjoying the  weather and the scents and sights, which included   some  flowers  blooming and some about to burst into bloom.
 The spring-like weather  must have energized me because I wasn't the  least bit tired   when it was time to cook supper. I  used a menu and recipes from the Pollan Family cookbook: Easy chicken Parmesan with fresh mozzarella, roasted asparagus with frizzled shallots and for dessert, raspberry pudding cake.

I began with the pudding cake, greasing a square pan and heating the oven.   I mixed up the  batter, then cooked the raspberries in a syrup along with some raspberry preserves. Here you can see the batter ready to go in the pan, and the syrup  cooking on the stove in the two top pictures. The botton pictures show the raspberry syrup poured on top of the batter in the pan, ready to go in the oven, then the  finished pudding cake.  Which, if I do say so myself, was quite delicious! 
  The chicken Parmesan with the roast asparagus  was supposed to look like this photo from the cookbook:
 But mine looked like this. Definitley  in need of a beauty makeover or a food stylist! It may not have looked beautiful  but the chicken was  very tender, and quite spicy, but not too spicy, while the asparagus, although it looks a little overcooked was very good-  a little crisp but not at all tough or stringy and very easy to chew.  i cooked some extra cutlets, so we'll probably have them again tomorrow night, along with some more  freshly roasted asparagus.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

An brief intermission in winter's long performance.

The robins  from yesterday  have moved on- we saw very few today, and that was early this morning. What we did see at the feeders today were  brown headed cowbirds. I have very mixed feelings about cowbirds.  While the males are  really cool looking with their black bodies, brown heads and  short  little beaks,  they are brood parasites and may have contributed to the decline of several rare bird species. On the other hand they've developed a pretty  sneaky way of  getting  their young raised without any effort on their part, leaving them free to pursue other interests while still maintaining a biological edge. If you'd like to learn more about them, NestWatch at the Cornell Ornithology Lab has some interesting info about them.

 Today was  one of those  lovely  spring days that create a welcome interruption in the  gloomy, cold winter  weather.  Blue skies, warm temperatures,  a gentle breeze, perfect for  getting outside and  puttering around.  I'd love to say I  got my hands dirty today, but I didn't- I got my gloved hands in the dirt for awhile, though. I usually wear  gardening gloves when I'm working out in the garden, but hate wearing gloves to  pot up seedlings.  However, since the chemo has left me with a  compromised immune system and even sterilized potting soil, once opened, often contains bacterial and fungal pathogens that can cause some serious  illnesses, gloves  are  now  part of my potting attire., I wore purple  rubber gloves today when I potted up the little lettuce seedlings. The seedlings were getting their second set of leaves and were ready to come out of their vermiculite  birthplace, so now they're   stretching their roots out in  potting soil in little  six  pack type  pots.
Tomorrow  I'll probably sow more seeds in vermiculite since we are now about eight weeks away from the last frost. We're supposed to have a few more nice  days like today before the temperatures go back down and rain moves in,  so I'm planning to make the most of them. May even  trim some  shrubs and prune the roses if my energy level holds up. And the girls will be anxious for another walk- we had a nice little walk this afternoon.  We don't walk very far but  they seem to enjoy just getting  out of our yard and smelling the more exotic scents of the wider world. Needless to say, they left their own scents for the next  dog that  comes  through  to smell, but fortunately no pooper-scooper was needed today.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Blackbirds and Red, Red Robins Came Bob, Bob, Bobbing Along

Today, a full week after the chemo treatment and five days after having the pump unhooked,  I was finally beginning to feel a little more energetic.  So I made up a weekly menu plan filled with all the delicious things I was going to cook for the next week, typed up a grocery list, and we headed to Publix. Up and down the aisles we  trekked, filling up our basket, occasionally having to backtrack  to  pick up something  we'd missed earlier. By the time we wheeled our cart into the check-out lane I felt as though we had walked miles. That took care of most of my energy, and by the time I'd put the groceries away and refilled the bird feeders, I didn't even have enough energy left to boil water, let alone cook one of the delicious meals I'd planned for supper. And that is how, with  enough groceries  in the fridge and pantry  to feed a marauding army, we found ourselves once more in our typical "best laid plans" mode,  and why Mr. G went out and brought  back a pizza.  Which meant that I  didn't have to cook and he didn't have to  wash the  kazillion dirty pots, pans, dishes and utensils that I leave after one of my  inspired cooking sessions, so it was all good. The pizza   wasn't too bad, either.

When I went out to fill the feeders today,  the air was filled with the chattering and tweeting of birds. I looked up and saw  that blackbirds were  flying in to  rest in the  tree next door before moving on.  They were soon joined by a few robins and I managed to get a couple of  shots as they were landing in the tree.
 For the  past few days there have been flocks of robins  in the yard,  followed by red winged blackbirds.  These blackbirds today seemed to be regular blackbirds and starlings.  They have been swooping into the trees in waves, then  flying down and covering the ground for a few minutes before taking off in a great cloud that casts  a dark shadow as they fly overhead.

But the blackbirds weren't the biggest surprise. When I went to let poor little Agatha out this afternoon, she stood on the deck sniffing the air, her ears   perking up, then going down as large numbers of robins  flew low  above her, going back and forth from the  holly tree that overhangs the deck to the woods behind the house. Agatha, who is generally afraid of nothing,  headed straight back to the house.  She wanted no part of those huge swooping things flying overhead. At the rate the robins have been going this afternoon  they may strip the holly of berries in no time.  They have been chowing down on them most of the afternoon and knocking   just as many berries off onto the deck making a fine old mess. Here's a little video I shot of them today- notice the  moon in that lovely afternoon sky. I wish I had just a little of their energy!
video

  

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Allocating limited energy

Those little  chemo warriors must be staging a fierce battle inside my body because I'm still dragging.  I just hope they don't get too carried away and  kill off more good cells than bad cells. I decided yesterday that if I'm only going to  have a limited supply of energy to draw upon, I'll have to allocate it on a priority basis, so I decided  to concentrate primarily on cooking supper. I have managed to get out and fill the bird feeders, check on the seedlings in the greenhouse and do some spot watering out there, but have decided everything else, except for preparing  one major meal a day,  can wait until I have  more energy and can get get around to doing it without becoming exhausted!
 I turned to Jacques Pepin's  More Fast Food My Way for   menu ideas and recipes  for yesterday and today. We have dined like  kings for the past two days, I kid you not. In fact,   by doling out my energy to one major task per day, I have   gone from one course meals to two course until today I worked up to a three course meal!   Go me!

Yesterday  we began with  smoked salmon timbales:  alternating layers of  goat cheese, thinly sliced smoked salmon,  sliced apple and sliced red onion.  A lovely combination of tastes and textures.  We followed that with  broiled lamb chops with spinach and baked potatoes with chive sour cream.  The spinach was sauteed with   garlic, pimentos  and golden raisins. The menu also called for  crepes with banana rum filling, but I had run out of steam by then so we went without a dessert. The lamb chops  were delicious as was the spinach and I'll probably   cook using that recipe again.

 Tonight, we went for three courses- and made it!  We began with a mushroom veloute.  The recipe called for both white button mushrooms and tree ear mushrooms, but our local Piggly Wiggly is not known for  offering   less well-known varieties of  mushrooms - I don't think I've ever seen a dried morel in there, let alone a tree ear. Despite the omission, the  veloute was quite good, and I had made enough   that we'll be able to have some for lunch tomorrow. For the main course we had  what Jacques  calls "Instant beef tenderloin stew."   This is probably the first time I have ever cooked  a stew without braising the meat and vegetables in some sort of broth.  Diced potatoes, baby carrots, button mushrooms, chopped onions and garlic are cooked in butter and olive oil in a covered skillet  until tender, at which point baby  peas are added- I used frozen peas. The beef tenderloin  is cut into  1 1/2 inch pieces and sauteed in another skillet, then  removed when  browned.    A small amount of white wine and chicken broth are then added to the skillet, brought to a boil  then everything is combined   and served.  It was    very tasty and quite filling and I was surprised that the meat turned out to be as tender as it did. We finished up the meal with an apple. pecan and apricot crumble that was  easy- peasy to put together and had been cooking in the oven while the rest of the meal was being prepared. 

So that is  how I've  allocated my  limited amount of energy.  I'm hoping that  the fatigue will lessen  in a day or so and I can actually get more accomplished. Time will tell.  Meanwhile, I'm off to bed. 




Friday, February 12, 2016

The untethering

I actually slept for five hours straight last night! That may not seem like such a wonderful thing to many of you, but ever since  I first began treatment back in May of last year I've been lucky to sleep for two hours at a time.  The usual pattern is sleep a couple of hours, wake up, stay awake unable to go back to sleep for about an hour, then sleep another  two hours or so. I guess I could   ask the doc to prescribe something but  would rather  just try to work around the erratic sleep pattern and continue to pace myself to keep from getting tired and worn out during the day.

Anyway, once I woke up this morning,  I got up and let the dogs out and in then went back to sleep.  The facial flushing from yesterday has pretty much gone away, leaving me  with nothing more than a slighly rosy complexion-  a lot better  than the deathly pallor I had on  Wednesday after the infusion session!  When I woke up again, my pump was showing "High P" which usually means one of the clamps has closed up.  As it turns out, the clamps were all open but  I had  rolled over onto one and  forced it almost shut.  Once I   untangled myself from the tubing it began pumping normally again. Don't know how long it had been  closed, but  it had slowed the process down some. It finally    went down to the  "1" and started flashing, signalling that it's time to unhook. It's really  handy that   the clinic has a program to train a family member in unhooking the pump, and it's great also that Mr. G. was willing to take the  training. But as he pointed out to me,  he'd worked at a veterinary clinic  when he was a teenager and assisted in all kinds of things  including spaying and euthanasia procedures. To be perfectly honest I think he could have picked   different procedures to mention if he really wanted me to feel better about the whole thing!   But anyway, putting thoughts of euthanasia out of my mind  ( he still does need me to do  some stuff, remember ) I watched him get unhooking kit ready as I sucked on a peppermint, and then  we began the process. First  he removed the battery from the pump,  then closed  the clamp on the lower tubing unscrewed the  lower tubing from the cap  at the end of the  short tubing still attached  to the port. After putting on the gloves   included in the kit, he wiped off the  cap with an alcohol swab,   checked the first syringe, filled with a saline flush, for air bubbles, screwed the  syringe to the   cap and  pumped in the saline. Then  he repeated  the procedure with the  heparin syringe.  I suck on a peppermint during this part because it seems to help cover the smell and prevent the weird metallic taste I get in my mouth. The heparin   prevents  clots from forming in the catheter that runs from the port into your vein.  Then he closed the clamp on the short tubing, removed the syringe, and began to remove the clear dressing  over the port.  Once that was off , he pulled the needle out, swabbed the  needle site and we were good to go. No blood was spilled and I survived! We both survived, actually!

For some reason, the fatigue is worse after the unhook than at any other time, and after eating breakfast I stayed up long enough to snap a few photos of the huge flock of blackbirds that flew in and settled in the front yard before they took off together in an enormous  black cloud that cast an ominous shadow as they flew away. I love to watch them  come in then all rise up  as one and fly off again.
After that, I crashed and slept most of the afternoon.   Mr. G decided not to go fishing after all since the wind had been blowing a little stronger than predicted, so no fresh trout for supper. Which is OK because I probably wouldn't have had the energy to cook it anyway. 

Remember the pasta I cooked last night? I dreamed that Hillary Clinton   came to  our house, got some out of the fridge, heated it in the microwave and was sitting at the table eating it. I told her she shouldn't have heated it in the microwave because it dried out the pasta and made it rubbery, but she said it tasted fine to her. That was it- no idea why she was in the kitchen or what she'd come for. I can only assume she read my blog  today and decided she had to try that pasta! Oh, those drug induced dreams! One of the perks of chemotherapy, I'm sure.

By the time I got up all the bird feeders were empty and the sun was about to set- the usual  time for the birds' last feeding frenzy of the day.   Mr. G, bless his heart, volunteered to  go outside and fill the feeders.  As I watched him through the  windows and saw the trouble he was having trying to figure out how to  open up the feeders to fill them, then fit himself under the  low tree branches, I figured he may not volunteer for that job again!

And that was my lazy day.  Thank goodness Hillary Clinton left enough  pasta for our supper, because  left-overs were the order of the day, I'm afraid. I'm hoping  my energy level will be back to normal tomorrow because I really don't want to eat leftovers again!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

My 5-FU pump is now a heat pump!

Day two  of being tethered to the portable 5-FU infusion pump. I've found it's easier for me to wear it like a  handbag across my chest than around my waist. The strap  rubbed across my collar bone, though,  making it sore, so Mr. G cut a foam strip and taped it to the strap which takes the pressure off. I haven't felt as much fatigue today, but did  take a nap this afternoon and have been pacing myself.

The one really uncomfortable thing has been heat building up in my face-I had forgotten  that from last time.  It felt as though I was running a fever and  slowly heating from the inside out, although the temperature reading I took was perfectly normal, maybe even a little low. The heat finally manifested itself this afternoon just before supper  when my face and neck  turned  bright red as though I'd been out in the sun too long.  It felt like  I had just opened the door to a very hot oven and stuck my face inside! Maybe this is how chemo brain  happens-  so much heat builds up inside your head that your brain cells begin to boil! I kid you not- it got THAT hot! Needless to say, I decided NOT to cook anything for supper that required heating in the oven! Besides, I needed something  that could be put together quickly so  there would be plenty of time  to eat and then watch the Democratic debate tonight.

I opted to do a redux of  a Pollan cookbook recipe from a couple of weeks ago: Creamy spinach pasta alfredo with crispy pancetta. I had bought diced pancetta so didn't need to cut that, but I  was able to  use my brand new chef's knife to chop the spinach and mince the garlic- worked like a charm, and was very comfortable to use, just as the  description said.
The  pasta  turned out very nicely, was  a one-dish meal (except for the extra pot to  cook the  pasta, as Mr. G pointed out to me after he'd washed the dishes).  I also used a spoon form the new utensil set I bought with the chef's knife. The long handle on the spoons allows you to  stir   without  getting steam burns,  an important  consideration for clumsy cooks, and unlike my  long handled spoon with the metal handle,  the  handle stays cool to the touch. Here's a pic of the  new utensil set- $4.95 for the  set- a bargain , I thought.

And here's a pic of the pasta, ready to serve.  It went together  quite quickly and we  had time to eat in a  leisurely fashion before   time for the debate.
The pump comes off tomorrow.  The time should run out early since I was hooked up a few hours earlier than usual.  Maybe Mr. G will be able to unhook me  and still have time to get in a little fly fishing tomorrow.  The weather is supposed to be a little warmer and the power company will be turning the generators off   at the trout stream   mid-morning. Some fresh trout for supper tomorrow would be a good thing, I think! 

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Back in the Infusion room, but it was a good day


Today was the first day of my  new round of chemotherapy to try to shrink the  liver tumor that  metastasized from  the original rectal tumor. When  I finished up the  eight  FOLFOX plus Avastin treatments  in September a CT scan showed that the liver tumor had actually shrunk while on that regimen, but it grew while I was   receiving chemoradiation for the rectal tumor in November and December, so the tumor seems to be quite chemo sensitive. The oncologist wanted to get me back on chemo  as soon as possible to shrink it back to a size amenable to ablation. Since the rectal tumor has shrunk to almost nothing and seemed stable, the  colorectal surgeon also saw the liver mets as a major problem, so they decided to delay surgery and go after the liver lesion with chemotherapy again.

Low white blood cell counts had been the major side effect of the  Folfox  treatments, which delayed  a couple of rounds last  spring and finally ended up with my having to take Neupogen shots between treatments to raise the counts. That was not much fun! The Oxaliplatin also causes quite a few nasty side effects, including  neuropathy in your hands and feet, which I got but it wasn’t  a major problem. This time, I’m getting the FOLFOX without the OX- just the fluorouracil (5-FU) and levoleucovorin (Fusilev),  no Oxaliplatin.  But I am getting the bevacizumab (Avastin) along with them.

It was 24°F when we left for the clinic this morning!  The wonderful Mr. G had braved the cold to start the car a little earlier so it was nice and warm inside. We needed to leave during rush hour to get there in time, and were afraid we’d run into traffic congestion, but it didn’t happen and we were actually fifteen minutes early!  I was weighed, had my blood pressure checked, gave a urine sample and had some blood drawn for testing. My blood cells, both red and white, were high enough to begin the treatment, thank goodness! There weren’t many patients in the infusion room and I was able to pick my favorite chair with the most essential amenities: close to an end wall with a plug for my Kindle recharger, and the chair closest to the bathroom. 

I settled in reading a book on my Kindle and got all cozy under my blanket as the infusion nurses hooked up the IV tubing to my port and began infusing. The first IV bags hooked up contain drugs to lessen the effects of the later drugs: dexamethasone, a corticosteroid that is an anti-inflammatory that acts to reduce swelling, prevent allergic reactions, treat nausea and stimulate appetite in certain cancer patients. Then come the anti-nausea drugs, palonosetron hydrochloride and Fosaprepitant dimeglumine (Emend).  Last, they hook up the Fusilev, then the Avastin. When they have dripped out , the nurse  injects a  syringe filled with   5-FU directly into the  port catheter tubing.  This is called a bolus injection and  is a booster for the 5-FU   infused via the portable pump for the next 46 hours. Once the portable pump was hooked up, I was all finished, got the card for my next appointment in  2 weeks and was on my way home, feeling pretty good but became very tired as the chemo fatigue hit. In fact when we got home today there was a package on the porch, but I was too tired to open it.  I headed straight for the bedroom and took a nice long nap. Agatha and Patches joined me on the bed and hogged my covers.


The birds had emptied two of the feeders while we were gone, and  some of the   plants had dried out as the sun heated up the  greenhouse. When I woke up I actually felt perky enough to  refill the  feeders and water some plants. And I checked the package that had arrived.
It was  Kitchen Gadgetry! As you may know, the wonderful Chef’s Catalog closed up shop after 36 years.  Before they   did, I bought a couple of things at terrific prices in their going out of business sale. That’s what was waiting for us on the porch.  One of the items was  a 5.5 inch Zwilling Pro Ultimate prep knife, described thusly by Zwilling:
“This amazing prep knife will become the go-to knife in your kitchen. It excels at a multitude of tasks—peeling and chopping vegetables and fruit, slicing meats and cheeses, butterflying chicken breasts, deveining shrimp and much more. The well-designed blade allows for plenty of knuckle clearance when you’re chopping on a cutting board yet is small enough for in-hand paring tasks, such as peeling and trimming apples and potatoes. Cooks with small hands will appreciate the compact size of this versatile knife.

The user-friendly ZWILLING Pro prep knife was created by renowned Italian designer Matteo Thun and made in Germany by ZWILLING J.A. Henckels, the company that sets the standard for exceptional cutlery worldwide. It features a unique curved bolster that supports the professional grip, with thumb and index finger on the blade, for safe, precise cutting and less fatigue. The redesigned blade has a broader curve in the front to facilitate the rocking motion of Western cutting, with a straight back that’s ideal for Asian chopping. The full length of the blade can be used when cutting.”

What cook with small hands could resist such a wonderful tool?  Not this one!
I also bought a set of utensils, but more about them later.  All in all, it was a pretty good day. And I got more good news- the foundation that helped with my chemo co-pays last year is out of funds for colorectal cancer and couldn’t help again, but the patient financial counselor at the clinic had submitted my info to another foundation and they DO have funds, and approved me for co-pay assistance. What a relief that is!

Sunday, February 07, 2016

A discourse on dinner and dentures

Today I had to abandon part of my planned dinner menu. I was  using another of Annabel Langbein's menu suggestions. But I forgot one crucial  fact:  She is younger than Mr. G and me and probably has all, or at least most, of her own teeth. I began cooking the poor man's version of  Osso Buco-  with beef shanks rather than the more expensive veal shanks.  To accompany it, Annabel suggested saffron spinach risotto,  beet, fennel and goat cheese salad with balsamic glaze, and for dessert,  pear and prune custard  cream.

The osso  buco  was coming along nicely when I began to prepare the salad.  Annabel wrote that the secret to   beets and fennel in a salad  is to slice them  very, very thinly with a mandoline. So I peeled a beet, as instructed, and  sliced it almost paper thin.  Then I tried to chew a piece.  It was like  trying to eat paper! I have seen those commercials for denture adhesive  where some smiling person declares, "I can eat anything!"  HA!! It simply ain't so, at least not for Mr. G and me.  I cannot tell you how many times I have  had to make a hasty exit from the dinner table because my bottom denture has decided to  assert its right to freedom and tried to escape from my mouth. It makes dinner conversation nigh on impossible and causes those across from me to wish they'd never  accepted the dinner invitation to begin with! And it doesn't matter what kind of adhesive I've used, or how recently I had the dentures relined-  at some point, while eating some foods, they are going to become totally unbalanced,  begin to rock, and   attempt an escape. The  thinly sliced raw beet had this effect, so I decided to abandon the raw beet and fennel salad and use them in a cooked dish  in the next few days instead..

The osso buco was  coming along nicely, but I decided to check on  the beef shank  after an hour.  Good grief!  It was mostly bone, sinew and gristle, with very little edible  meat.  I trimmed off the inedible  parts and decided we needed more meat. I had a few meatballs left over from last night's meatballs in Moroccan tomato sauce, so  tossed them in.  The  spinach saffron risotto was delicious,  the  osso buco caught Mr. G's fancy and he got seconds of both.

 I experimented with an Asian pear in the pear and prune custard, which was a mistake. It wasn't  all that bad, but next time I'll use Bartlett pears or something similar, I think. At least I've satisfied my curiosity about what Asian pears taste like, how they hold up in baking, etc.

It  occurred to me as we were finishing supper that I hadn't taken any pics tonight.  It's a good thing I'm not a serious food blogger! I did take some pics the other night as I prepared a meal of cod in olive tomato crust and skillet broccoli, but didn't  post about that meal because my muse had gone on a walk-about. But if you're curious, as several people on facebook seemed to be, about  what a cod loin is, or even if a cod can have loins, here are some pics of the ingredients prepped, processed into a paste, then used to coat the cod loins  before they're placed under the broiler for a few minutes. That  meal was  quite tasty and I should have posted about it instead of complaining  about an AWOL muse!





Saturday, February 06, 2016

Snowfall on Memory Lane

I ran across an old scrapbook from  1957/1958 today. I was in  eighth grade that year, and must have had ambitions to be a fashion designer or or a writer.  The scrapbook was  filled with  sketches  of ballgowns that I described in  glowing terms: "A billowy white satin sailor design floor lenght(sic) evening dress with blue velvet trimming." Another was a mermaid  one-shoulder  dress described as "A lovely  lime-hued evening dress with a mermaid skirt and Grecian inspired bodice. In crepe threaded with gold."  But the  pièce de résistance was "A most fabulous creation.  Pink satin evening dress with pinafore-style top and gathered skirt with hand embroidery on white satin." Since I can't remember ever being particularly interested in fashion, and absolutely loathed wearing pink , or satin, for that matter I found this discovery most interesting. I do remember wanting to be an artist, but that was probably because my brother was an artist and had won a scholarship to art school.  Looking at my sketches now, I see that artistic  talent did not run in the family.  Several years later, one of my high school art teachers told me as much. It crushed me!

What I was a little better at, evidently, was studying and writing.  The scrapbook contained report cards, ribbons won at poetry festivals, penmanship certificates, a newspaper clipping showing me smiling out from a group of oratorical contest finalists. I had made a note in the margin that I had finished second.Also included in  the memories was a letter from the Birmingham News congratulating me on winning an honorable mention in  the newspaper's  creative writing contest.
I have no idea  what    I had submitted but have a vague recollection of winning   some sort of honorable mention for a poem I'd written about winter and children playing in the snow. Which is interesting, since I don't remember seeing snow even  once during the entire time we lived in Birmingham  between 1952 and 1959. I do remember that  when we left Alabama for Illinois in November 1959,  the weather had been so mild that  I didn't even own a heavy coat.   Illinois was quite a shock and we had to go shopping for  a coat and  warmer clothes before I could start school.
 Now we have snow at least once every year.  In fact there are  predictions that we may get some flurries the day after tomorrow. I hope  we don't get anything more than flurries because as nice as snow is to look at, it creates havoc down here. Now we do have snow on a fairly regular basis, I've gotten cranky  in my old age and can't think of anything poetic to say about it. Here is a collage of snow pics from 2011 to 2015.


Friday, February 05, 2016

My muse has deserted me on this leg of the trip

I  have trouble posting when  my muse disappears, and that  is the case now.  Despite what most folks may think, there are times when I have nothing to say. Usually  that doesn't stop me from talking, as Mr. G would be only too happy to tell you, but writing is another story. 

 Maybe  I'm preoccupied knowing that next Wednesday I'll once more  be hooked up in the infusion  room receiving more chemo and this time next week I'll  be tethered to the portable chemo pump again. This leg of the journey  through life is just  a bit difficult, but I'm going to try to keep my thoughts lofty in order to keep the fearsome Laistrygonians, and the Cyclops, and the angry Poseidon  of the chemo treatment at bay and not let them raise up before me. So tonight,  to close out this week of freedom,   I'll  share one of my favorite poems,  Ithaca written by C.P. Cavafy,  and read in English by Sean Connery.  Enjoy.



Thursday, February 04, 2016

Artichoke intimidation


I don’t have a bucket list but if I did, cooking and eating a whole artichoke would have been on it.  And it would have been marked off as “Done” today!  I’ve always liked artichokes, but have always been a little intimidated by them. Well, actually, intimidated a lot by them, with their thorns and scales.  They remind me of some sort of warrior vegetable dressed in scaly, thorny , spiky armor malevolently  daring me to try and get at its delicious little heart. But the little heart is what I’ve always enjoyed about them. And fortunately, it has always been  a comfort to know that  someone else was brave enough to wrestle the warrior and  put the hearts in a can or marinate them in a jar for me to enjoy.

The California Artichoke Advisory Board  reports that “One large artichoke contains only 25 calories, no fat, 170 milligrams of potassium, and is a good source of vitamin C, folate, magnesium and dietary fiber.” They also note that according to some recent studies artichokes contain an unusual amount of anti-oxidants, in the form of phytonutrients and that a  study done by the USDA ranked  artichokes as the number one vegetable in anti-oxidant count. The phytonutrients  in artichokes have  positive effects on the liver and are also useful in curing hangovers! There's an awful lot of good stuff packed in those mean looking little warriors.

After seeing an enticing  photo of  an artichoke drizzled with shallot vinaigrette  in Annabel Langbein’s  cookbook, I decided the time had come  to  cook and eat an artichoke.  So when we went grocery shopping at Publix  the other day, I put two in the cart. Interestingly enough, our check-out person  confessed that he wouldn’t have the slightest idea  how to go about cooking or eating  one of those things, so apparently I am not the only one intimidated by them.
Annabel Langbein's  beautiful  artichoke

I was going to cook them last night, but  with the kitchen gremlins camped out in the kitchen, that didn’t happen.  I needed to use up some smoked salmon that was in the fridge,  and decided to make smoked salmon carbonara for tonight's supper. I thought the artichokes with vinaigrette might be a good appetizer.

Guess what?  Artichokes aren’t intimidating after all.  Their fierce appearance is a false front; their spiky armor  is transformed into soft delicious petals when cooked. I followed Annabel’s instructions for trimming them and boiling them, put them on a plate, pressed   scraped the  tender flesh from the bottom of the leaves with our teeth before  finally reaching the tender little heart.  Eating an artichoke is not something to be done in a hurry.  It is better enjoyed as a leisurely activity, so you can savor each delicious  morsel of  goodness.
My   artichoke lotus, without benefit of a food stylist's  talent. ;-)
down slightly on the top and they transformed into lotus-like flowers on the plate. I drizzled them with some of the vinaigrette and we used the rest as a dip for the leaves. We pulled the tender leaves off, dipped them in the vinaigrette and

Tonight’s supper  was  very satisfying and  had the added bonus of  helping me overcome my fear of artichokes. If you are  intimidated by artichokes too and have  been afraid to cook one “from scratch”  you should  try  it. Let's stamp out the fear of artichokes!

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Cooking Under a Chaotic Sky


My new soil heating cables came today.  Just in the nick of time, too, since after several  mild, warm days the temperature is  taking a dive tonight and tomorrow night. I got the new cable  buried in the seed starting box and  as I  stepped up on the deck to  go in the house  late this afternoon, looked up at the western sky. It was quite beautiful with so many   shades of grey and  white, but there was something   a little unsettling about it, too. I got a sense of chaos from it. And chaos is about  what I got when I cooked supper tonight. In case you were wondering, Murphy's Law is alive and well and operating in my kitchen!
The plan was to attempt an entire menu from the Annabel Langbein cookbook:  Artichokes with vinaigrette, Chicken  and leek gratin, Garlicky vegetable  toss, with pear and hazelnut pies for dessert. It was going to be so beautiful and so delicious, just like on her show where she whipped it all together in a half hour.  Oh, yes, that was the plan. Suffice it to say,  it was another  plan gang agley.

We ended up not having the  artichokes- and there were no snow peas in the  garlicky veggie toss. They were in the fridge, but they didn't make it into the  saucepan.  I thought the chicken leek gratin turned  out nicely but Mr. G didn't care for it- he said the Provençal crust topping   had an off taste to him, maybe because  I had let it burn slightly. I also overcooked the zucchini in the veggie dish,  mis-measured the ingredients when I was making the pastry for the pies which made the  pastry more bread-like than pastry-like, and then I  dropped the compost pail, scattering the  contents all over the floor. But the icing on the cake, was the hazelnut butter for the pies. 
The instructions called for  roasting the shelled hazelnuts until  they smelled fragrant and the skins start to split. Well, evidently  my nose   was stopped up because I never smelled them and by the time I remembered they were in the oven, they were pretty over-roasted. But the skins were holding tight. Annabel said  to let the nuts cool, then  rub them in a clean dishtowel to remove the skins. What she didn't tell you was to start this  a week ahead of time, because it is not a quick and easy job, and the skins   do not want to be cast off, they are quite clingy. By the time I had finished, there were  nut skins all over the  counters, all over the floor, all over EVERYwhere!I finally got most of the skins off, whizzed the nuts in the food processor, added some salt and vegetable oil and Voila!  We had hazelnut butter.  Of sorts.
Then I rolled out the pastry into rounds,  peeled and halved a pear,  cored it, then sliced the halves lengthwise almost to the top so they formed fans when pressed down slightly.  I mixed the  hazelnut butter with some confectioner's sugar, spread the mixture onto the pastry rounds, topped each round with a  pear half and popped them in the oven. The recipe called for glazing the pears with  apricot jam  after baking, but my neighbor had given me a jar of pear honey she had made so  I used that. They didn't look too bad, and tasted fairly decent, so all was not a complete disaster. I did try to clean up most of the mess I'd made in the kitchen, but did leave enough mess for Mr. G to mutter over. I think he's be most disappointed if he didn't have anything to complain about when he's washing dishes! I don't know if I'll try any of those recipes again.At least not until I get some  kitchen elves to serve as sous chefs.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

A political rant, because sometimes, you just have to say it.


OK, I've had it up to here with all the Hillary bashing and the talk about how Bill Clinton's policies were the worst thing that could have happened to women, to blacks to the poor, to immigrants, etc., etc. and how Hillary will just be more of the same. Bill  Clinton was not a perfect president; he made some mistakes, some pretty bad ones, actually.  But  he also  kept  a lot of things from becoming really horrendous for a lot of people in this country. Where were you people in the 1990s when Newt Gingrich was ramming his "Contract with America" down our throats? Where were you when a Republican Congress was insisting, and refused to budge, on cutting food stamps by $24 billion over six years, with $3 billion more cut by banning food stamps to legal immigrants and insisting on no food stamps for unemployed workers not raising children, without any hardship exemptions? Do you remember when Congress also refused to budge on allowing legal immigrants to receive social services, declaring that legal immigrants who had not become U.S. citizens could not get Federal welfare benefits and social services during their first five years in the U.S.and insisting that food stamps and SSI benefits be cut off?

Do you recall that President Clinton vetoed two welfare reform bills put forward by Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole before finally signing a third one in which he had managed to force some compromises from Gingrich and Dole. Congress had called for letting the states determine how to allocate food stamp money and determine eligibility requirements for the program. Clinton managed to preserve national standards and the guarantee that the poor will obtain food stamps.  He also won the fight to guarantee Medicaid coverage- another program the Congress wanted to turn completely over to the states. Clinton also succeeded in strengthening day care support for children of welfare recipients. Congress had been demanding much deeper cuts than the cuts that were in the final bill signed by the President.

How many of you remember the  "Taking Back Our Streets Act" of 1994 proposed by   the Republican Congress, that sought to establish a mandatory minimum sentence of ten years for state or federal drug or violent crimes involving possession of a gun, or the repeal of the Crime Control Act that had provided funds for drug courts, community justice programs and social prevention spending?  Clinton did what he could to get Congress to compromise before signing some of these bills to prevent a total gridlock in Washington. Maybe he could have fought harder, dug his heels in, refused to compromise, etc. Then you’d be complaining about something else he did or didn’t accomplish.
I remember those years  too well, and I remember  how frustrated and angry I got every time I saw Gingrich with his smarmy smile and his hateful, nightmarish proposals. Clinton vetoed 35 bills between 1995-2000 and although the Republicans challenged 11 of those vetoes, they were able to override only one. But Clinton was an adept  politician who knew how to use the threat of a veto to get the Republicans to back down from some of their more nightmarish  proposals, and he threatened  a veto on  140 bills in order to get those concessions. Without those concessions, the poor, the middle class, the American worker, the immigrant population would have most likely been much worse off. So no, I don’t think Bill Clinton was the worst thing that happened to  a lot of people, nor do I think Hillary, if she were  elected, would be either.  She has already shown that she knows who and what she’s dealing with and has demonstrated her ability to stand up to them under some of the most adverse conditions.  In my opinion,  she has both the domestic and foreign policy experience to be the next president  and commander-in-chief and I  will continue to support her.

Monday, February 01, 2016

A recycled post about our calico cat and other contrary critters

This is a post from March 2006 about  Patches and our old rooster, Sam.  Although  Sam   met his demise  several years ago when he lost a fight with an enraged  'possum, Patches, described as  an aging cat in 2006, is still with us- even more aged. She's still feisty, but moves a little slower now.  She  can't groom herself as she once could, and consequently developed some terrible mats that looked  awful  and must have been  very uncomfortable.  She wouldn't hold still for us to do anything about them for more than a few minutes at a time, so they continued to get worse.  I finally found some  super  little cat  grooming combs last week and Patches actually seemed to enjoy having me me  comb out about  95% of the mats over  several days.  She finally got  tired of the whole process today though and  hissed at me. So I'll have to be   very careful as I attempt to groom her daily. I'm afraid if we don't keep the loose hair combed out we'll have more mats.  Anyway, she's still as ornery as ever.  She  gets along OK with Agatha now, but barely tolerates poor Victoria, who has never  done her any harm.  Cats can be so contrary. 

Anyway-- here's the old post. Patches still looks pretty much as she does in the pic, except for being a little thinner- probably because of losing  so much hair this week:

This is Patches- an aging calico Manx. She is almost fearless, even in her old age. She does NOT like Sam. And Sam does NOT like her. She also does not like the very big black cat who sometimes turns up behind the fence. No matter how badly she wants to go outside she will always pause at the door and look around to make sure the coast is clear. If Sam or the black cat are anywhere in sight, she'll retreat back inside. Hawks, possums and other critters do not phase her, but in her mind, Sam and the black cat are truly her mortal enemies.

Now I just assumed that Sam didn't care for cats in general, seeing as how if poor Patches does happen to be outside at the same time he is, he comes at her the same way he goes after Mr. G. but turns out I was wrong. I think Sam knows that Patches and Mr. G are in tight and he sees Patches as an extension of Mr. G.

Even though I'm the one who most often feeds her and changes her litter box, Patches cares much more for Mr. G than she does for me- she gets on his lap and rubs up against his legs. But she ignores me for the most part unless she's hungry or wants to go out. She doesn't ask nicely, either- if I'm not moving fast enough to suit her, she hisses and gives me that evil look that only cats can give.

As it turns out Sam does NOT hate all cats- and here's how I discovered that interesting bit of information. A month or so ago I had lunch with some fellow soapmakers, and ordered calamari, which I love. It took an inordinate amount of time to get my order and when it came, it looked lovely and smelled wonderful. But when I bit into it, I surmised that the delay in being served had been caused because they were out of squid and the chef sent someone out into the parking lot to harvest rubber from tires, because I swear, that's what I was trying to chew! Since everybody else was already almost finished with their meal, I decided not to send it back, but asked for a rooster bag and decided Sam and the girls might enjoy having a go at it.

So that evening, when I let Sam and the girls out, I tossed the calamari out with their regular corn. They picked at it, tossed it around, and generally played around with, so I came back inside. Next time I looked out, Sam was sitting on the deck rail, intently watching something. I followed his gaze, and saw Hentietta and the big black cat, sharing the calamari as nice as you please. Pretty soon, Sam and the other girls joined them, and there they all were- three hens, a rooster, and a big black cat, feasting away together like they were the best of friends. I figure Sam has recruited that black cat to help make Patches' life miserable, and he repays the mean critter by inviting him to dinner every once in a while!