Saturday, April 14, 2018

How I Spend My Time At Home: Cooking!

I love food.  I like the smell, texture, look and taste.  I love to eat.  Luckily, I also love to cook.  Some people are surprised that I cook full meals for "just me" but to me, it's generally not a chore.  If I'm feeling too lazy to cook, I don't.  Most of the time, though, I cook.

As you look through these plates you might be thinking "Dear heavens, does this woman make mac and cheese every day?"  No, but when I make a pan of it, it lasts for several meals. 

Here are some recent examples:

I confess, this isn't something I made.  My neighbor, who is from southern India, regularly brings me delicious food.  Last year she fed me every single day of Ramadan so I could try the special food she makes for the holiday.  She described this dish as Indian gruel - sort of Indian comfort food.  It was delicious.

Another meal I didn't exactly cook.  In December, 2017, my friend Heidi had major surgery in NOLA (New Orleans, if you're not from these parts).  I was her rescue squirrel. As she recuperated (and I relaxed) in the hotel post-surgery, I foraged at the nearby fancy grocery store and put together this plate of goodness.  Calories do not count when surgery is involved.  Or ever, apparently, given my diet recently.

Ah, a meal I actually prepared in my kitchen.  With the help of Fresh Market.  Roasted asparagus, leftover 4 cheese macaroni, kale salad and crab cakes that had trouble coming out of the pan.  Looks shaky but was delicious.  And it had kale so must be low cal and healthy!

I can't always count on my Indian neighbor to provide me with food.  I made Butter Chicken.  It was as good as any I've had in a restaurant.  

I took shortcuts to make the curry.  I got this spice blend from a nearby Indian store.  And, instead of starting with raw chicken, I just use white meat from a Sam's rotisserie chicken. I also use canned pureed tomatoes instead of doing my own.  I grate my own ginger and garlic but you could save even more time by buying prepared.  The recipe, btw, is on the spice packet box.  Adjust the heat by how much spice you use.  The recipe makes it spicy.
Here's an easy dinner - and one of my favorites.  Crab cakes, seafood salad (from Publix), avocado and mango - both drizzled with pineapple white balsamic vinegar.

I was in a cooking mood.  Steamed green beans, 4 cheese macaroni pie and slow-roasted country style pork ribs with carrots, onions, garlic and a mango-chile sauce.

Fresh from the oven - 4 cheese macaroni pie (ricotta, cambozola, cheddar, parmesan) with some jalapeno for a bit of a kick and a key lime pie.

Clearly I like this meal, since I have it a lot.  Mac and cheese, crab cake, seafood salad and a salad of grape tomatoes, asparagus and avocado with a lemon/jalapeno vinaigrette.

This was both quick and delicious.  Shrimp sauteed with a bit of butter, lots of butter and asparagus along with a spinach salad with leftover 3 bean salad tossed on top.

I did not make this dinner.  Nor did I eat it.  It was dinner my first night in the Italian hospital.  Plain rice and plain boiled potatoes.  I tried to explain that my stomach was fine, it was my leg that had the problem.

Another go-to meal.  Chicken thigh with an orange glaze, steamed carrots, zucchini casserole and Kraft mac and cheese.  The last was because I was too lazy to make real mac and cheese.

Breakfast - homemade biscuits, bacon and homemade blueberry jelly.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

The Perfect Vacation

I love to plan trips.  Researching bargains, ideal accommodations and interesting side trips are almost as much fun as the actual trip.
My trip began in Copenhagen.  My hotel was near Tivoli Gardens, which wasn't at all what I expected but still lovely.

I was very excited about the trip I planned.  Here's the itinerary:

Fly to Copenhagen

Cruise from Copenhagen to Genoa, Italy.  Ports included: Denmark, Germany, Sweden, Holland, England, Portugal, Gibralter, Spain and Italy

Three days in Genoa, Italy

Eight days in Budapest, Hungary

Two days in the Canary Islands

Cruise from Gran Canaria, Canary Islands to Colon, Panama

Two days in Panama City, Panama

Fly home

The flights were either free (thanks to a dear friend who works for United) or inexpensive.  The cruises were "repositioning" and were a bargain.  Especially the 14 day from the Canary Islands to Panama - less than $450 for an oceanview, single cabin.

I was so excited and the trip started off well.  I sailed on the MSC Magnifica from Copenhagen.  Nice stateroom and lovely dinner companions.  Food was "meh" and service was ok.  The ship seemed both crowded and noisy (there was muzak playing, 24-7 in all public areas).  Luckily, I discovered the haven of the nightclub.  Ironic place for solitude but in the morning, I had it to myself.  Great views and privacy.  If it hadn't been for the damn muzak, it would have been perfect.

As on most cruises, I got into a routine.  Lots of reading, eating and walking on deck.  Which was all great until that day at sea, cruising off the Iberian peninsula, off the coast of Portugal.  I decided to take a walk outdoors before lunch.  I'd walked about ten feet when I stepped in a wet spot on the deck.  I went down and immediately knew it wasn't good.

I won't bore you with the next three days.  Let's just say that if you're going to break a leg on a cruise ship DO NOT do it on an MSC ship.  The doctor insisted it was a sprain.  I insisted it was broken.  I was sent to my cabin to fend for myself.  It was painful, frustrating and the antithesis of a great vacation.  Thank goodness for the wonderful dinner companion who helped me pack.  Otherwise, my clothing would still be on board that damn ship.

Instead of the rest of the planned itinerary, my trip ended in Genoa, where I went from the ship to the emergency room.  At my insistence, since the MSC doctor was still convinced it was a sprain and I was a whiner because I didn't want to walk on what I was convinced was a broken leg.

My inside cabin on the Magnifica was small but cozy.

It was fall in Northern Europe and the weather was typically cool and rainy.  This was my typical breakfast.  Why isn't musli more popular in the United States?  And why can't I have an ocean view every morning?  I wasn't able to enjoy either the view or the food the last three days of the cruise, after I broke my leg.  It seems that MSC doesn't believe you are worthy of breakfast if you are unable to get it yourself.  Yes, they have room service, but not for breakfast if you are under a doctor's care, apparently.  And, even though I had bought a "package" of bottled water, I had to pay for water in my cabin, since that wasn't included in the package.  I DO NOT recommend MSC, in case I didn't make that clear.

Guess where I took this photo.  Venice?  Nope.  Amsterdam.
When the ship docked in Genoa, my luggage and I headed to the local public hospital in a taxi.  From the minute I arrived and they put me on this gurney, things began to improve.

A couple of x-rays, temporary cast and meeting with the orthopedic surgeon later, and I was in a room with a view of a tree.  The room was large, airy and clean and I shared it with a nice 85 year old lady with a broken hip.  She spoke not a word of English and I don't speak Italian but she seemed happy to chat away to me in Italian.  Her son and daughter-in-law took me under their wings and made sure I had everything I needed - including an afternoon cappucino each day.

Reasons (Excuses) Why I Haven't Posted

Someone recently commented on the fact that it has been months since my last post.  I have lots of excuses for that.  Here are a few:

1.  I took a long vacation.  I planned to do lots of posts with photos from northern Europe, Italy, Budapest, the Canary Islands and more.  But I experienced vacation interruptus.  Instead of a lengthy vacation I broke my leg and figured you would be as bored as I was if I posted photos of my recovery.

2.  Netflix, Hulu and Amazon needed me.

3.  I subscribed to Kindle Unlimited.  I thought things couldn't get any better between Mr. Kindle and me and then it did.  With all those free books, I felt compelled to read.  A lot.  Yes, I can read 6 hours a day and not realize where the time has gone.  It is the best part of retirement.

4.  My life is essentially boring.  Don't get me wrong, I love it but I doubt Bravo will be begging to make a reality show of my life any time soon.

5.  I made a new year's resolution to catch up on all the medical stuff I've been putting off.  I'll be boring you soon with details of all the doctors I've met in the last few months.

6.  Did I mention Netflix, Hulu and Amazon?

Sorry for the long absence.  Watch for more posts, very soon.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Cancer and Chemo

My very old friend Aletha.  Some say the chemo is making her look younger.  I say "bah, humbug".

Most of my travel this year on my free United pass has been for pleasure.  But not all.  My oldest friend (she's very, very old...3 months older than me) was diagnosed with breast cancer in the spring.  Aletha and her husband of 46 years (told you she was old!) live in Tucson, Arizona.  Thanks, Kyle Kincaid for the amazing gift of travel on United which allows me to visit so often.  By the way, David has asked if you could rescind the pass.

The skies during monsoon season are as dark
 as my humor.
I went to Tucson in May to be there for her mastectomy.  It was outpatient surgery that was a 2 1/2 hour event.  Aletha is a tough bird and made it through with little pain and less downtime.  I, on the other hand, whined a lot about the 3 hour jet lag.

In July I went back to provide company and moral support as Aletha continued her chemo.  This blog isn't a "here's how to do chemo" guide.  It's just my experience of cancer treatment as an outsider. Aletha may wish to write a rebuttal, which I'll happily publish.  By the way, some say I have a very dark, twisted sense of humor.  If you don't appreciate that kind of thing you might wish to switch over to reading Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.  If you don't get that reference and don't know how to Google it, you're too young to be reading this.

Because I have the mental discipline of a hummingbird on speed, I'll just list my observations in random order:

No cranky-pants in the chemo "room".
  • The "chemo room" is not actually a room.  I was expecting silence, dim lighting, televisions, privacy, Barcaloungers and snacks.  And, like, a room.    Nope, I was totally incorrect.  There are a bunch of chairs (not recliners but comfortable, with ottomans) lining a couple of hallways surrounding a nurses' station.  Florescent lights.  Noise.  Activity.  And the only food was sequestered in the middle of the nurses station and was not available to patients.   Or visitors, as I found out the hard way.

    Actually, the donuts, cookies and trifle that were there that day seemed to have been brought by patients for the nurses.  I love the naive optimism of the nurses.  Think about it.  You poke a hole in someone's chest (they call it a port but it's a chest) once, twice or more a week.  Then you inject the patient with toxic stuff.  Stuff guaranteed to have nasty side effects (nausea or hair loss anyone?)  And then you happily chow down on food brought to you by the person you just tortured?   I'm thinking you have to really have a craving for trifle to risk it.
  • The "chemo room" is not sad.   There was a lot of laughing going on.  Patients were laughing, visitors and even the nurses were laughing.  I was dozing off in a comfy chair while all around me was jocularity.  Frankly, all those happy chemo patients made it hard for me to get my nap on.  Good for them.
  • Best line from a very sensitive receptionist.  As a patient walked up to register at the cancer center, the receptionist looked up and said (with a straight face)  "Oh, so you're not dead yet.".  The patient laughed and responded "Not yet, but I'm working on it."
  • Best t-shirt worn by a chemo patient:  "I'm Available".  Worn by a guy who appeared to be in his late 70's.  He flirted like crazy with every woman in sight.  I like his attitude.
  • The waiting room at the cancer center was quiet and not nearly as fun as the area where patients were getting chemo.  I suggested they could really use a few toddlers to liven the place up.  Really, who doesn't smile when they see laughing, tiny, chubby, uncoordinated kids stumbling around?   Aletha gave me a "look".  The next day during chemo there was a toddler.  Brightened up the whole room.  I think daycare and cancer centers should partner up.
  • Free wigs!  There's a resource room in the cancer center.  There were wigs, hats, scarves and books on display - all available to be checked out for free.  But apparently only to cancer patients.  Discrimination to non-cancer patients perhaps?  Like I couldn't use a new look?  They also had an accupuncturist, massage therapist and reiki master available.  Not free but on a sliding cost scale to be accessible. They also offer yoga and support groups.

    I was especially excited about the therapy dog that was there one day.  How cool!  It was a small standard poodle and I enjoyed petting her and chatting with her owner.  It took me about 10 minutes to realize the therapy dog was there not for all the patients but she was her owner's therapy dog.  Luckily the owner was happy to share the love.
  • Cancer is not a hobby, people!  Aletha's treatment involves a variety of appointments on a regular basis.  I don't want to spill all the beans but let's just say that for your average patient getting chemo there are weekly blood draws, injections and the chemo itself.  Now, wouldn't it be handy to coordinate those appointments in case, you know, you actually have a life to get on with?  I guess they do the best they can.  And, on the bright side - in between appointments there's time for ice cream and other important tasks.
  • It is FREEZING in the "chemo room".  I took a blanket.  Aletha took a blanket.  They had blankets available on site.  But here's the deal.  It's FREEZING in just about every air conditioned building in Tucson in the summer.  I recommend just carrying a blanket with you to the grocery store, restaurants, etc.  Tucsonans seem to think keeping the indoors cooled to 50 degrees will balance out the outside temp of 110 degrees.
  • Chemo may cause hair loss.  Or not, it depends on the drug and the patient.  One thing I can tell you, chemo does NOT improve singing skills.  After chemo one day we were driving home and Aletha decided for some bizarre reason to serenade me with a Tennessee Ernie Ford song (told you she was old).  Her singing was exactly the same as it's always been. Chemo has not helped.

    She's supposed to be eating a bland diet.
    I kept dragging her to Mexican restaurants.
    That's a cheese crisp with green chiles.
    Why can you only get them in Tucson?
  • Now here is the saddest news of all.  Chemo is not a guaranteed weight loss program.  Aletha was at a healthy weight when she started.  Still is, although she may have lost a couple of pounds.  I, however, haven't lost any weight at all.  In fact, what with all the Mexican food, Jack in the Box and ice cream I "may" have gained a few pounds.  I was "chemo adjacent".  Shouldn't that mean the calories I ate while visiting Tucson didn't count?  Unfair!
  • "Chemo brain" is a myth.  Aletha tried to convince me that when she'd forget something or pulled some doofus stunt that it was because of "chemo brain".  Nope.  Just age.   And something else but I can't remember.  And maybe it was me who pulled the doofus stunt.
Jack in the Box tacos.  The breakfast of champions.
And one of the causes of my big butt.

The thing about cancer and the treatment that comes with it is that it isn't your life.  Your life goes on.  Cancer is just another speed bump.  All the other good (and bad) stuff in life still goes on.  Traffic doesn't give way because you're on your way to chemo (which sucks, right?)  Strangers are still kind...or not.   Your friends don't let you win at Phase 10.  When you tackle it like Aletha does, cancer is just another thing to beat.  And unlike Phase 10, she's going to win this one.
Schnapsie still only moves when he thinks there might be food involved.
And life goes on.  

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Oh, Canada!

June also took me to Edmonton, Alberta.  I visited my friends Ken and Roland.  As in Boston, there was no sightseeing but lots of fun and good conversation.  Yes, that's a euphemism for "Nancy talked a lot."

Roland and I considered a fly fishing trip but given the long drive, opted to stay in town.  We visited a few specialty stores for foodies and I was able to bring back cranberry horseradish and ketjap manis.  That's an Indonesian condiment that Roland introduced me to.  Imagine soy sauce but thicker, sweeter and flavored with spices.  Fabulous stuff which doesn't seem to be readily available in Orlando, sadly.

One of the highlights of the quick trip was catching up with old friends Heather and Jen who I first met when doing some work at AMA some 19 years ago.  We were so busy talking (ok, I was so busy gabbing) that we forgot to get a photo.  Also great to meet Heather's husband.

Another great part of the visit was spending time with Roland's mom Helga.  What an amazing woman! An octogenarian who looks younger than me and had great stories.  Austrian, born in Istanbul where her father was a foreign news correspondent.  Married John, Dutch, who was born in Indonesia where his family was living (back in the day when Indonesia was a Dutch colony).  Helga described her family's "itchy feet" and how she and John emigrated to Canada, separately, and met in northern Alberta.  A delightful lady who makes a mean rhubarb pie with rhubarb she grew herself.

It was also terrific to see Ken, whom I hadn't seen for 16 years.  He's a quiet sort and I was grateful that he didn't shut me up with a pillow over my face - and for the awesome wings he made.  I now know the secret to super crispy baked wings.  And no, I'm not telling.

Here are some photos:

Helga and Roland in front of some of the beautiful peonies she grows.

Helga said the trick to getting your roses to bloom like this is to cut them back a lot each spring.  She said if it looks like you've killed it, you've trimmed it just enough.  

Helga's yard is a living testament to her love of plants, flowers and gardening.  Not shown is her greenhouse and vegetable/fruit garden.

The Saskatchewan River runs through Edmonton.  Only a few miles out of the city but complete peace and beauty.

 Helga and Roland dropped flowers in the river.  This was a spot where Helga and her husband John spent a lot of time.  He died two years ago.
Montana may call itself Big Sky Country, but clearly they have some serious competition from Alberta.  Great people, great beef and OMG, that sky.
Ken, who's a professional photographer did what he could with the models at hand.  I need to demand hair and make-up before all photo shoots.

Roland was more successful at holding it together than I was.  Ken, the giggles were totally your fault.

Ken also maintains the beautiful garden in the backyard.  Those Albertans make up for the tough winters during their beautiful summers.
The difference between someone from Florida and someone from Alberta - they thought it was a bit too warm.  I was happy to have a down throw.  I apparently have no blood.

Ken prefers being behind the camera...or under a throw.

Boston in June

June brought a trip to the Boston area to visit another old friend (our relationship is old, not us).  Donna lives in Winthrop, just outside Boston and has an awesome wrap-around porch.  The porch offers a great view of Boston Harbor and the planes landing and taking off from BOS.

We didn't sight see.  We hung out and caught up.  We did a bit of flea-marketing at Todd Farm in Rowely, which was fun.  I found a fabulous old blue sign that spelled out BEACH in giant, cursive letters.  It would have looked great on the wall behind my pool but shipping a six foot long, three foot high, one foot thick sign would have been a challenge.

Mostly, we, along with assorted family members, hung out on the porch, enjoying the company and the view.  It was a great trip and United came through on flights.  Got me there and back with only a couple of minor delays on the way home.

Here are some photos:

I loved watching the planes landing and taking off.  This one is landing.

After perusing the flea market we stopped for breakfast at the Agawam Diner.  Donna and Diane opted for breakfast but when I heard the special was roasted lamb, made by the Greek owners I was hooked.  Stuffed with cloves of garlic before roasting, the lamb was perfect.  For a great food and service experience you have to try the Agawam Diner.  Get there early, though, or be prepared for a wait. 

Sunrise, looking toward Winthrop.

Sunrise on the porch, looking toward the Boston airport.

For years, I've loved the chai tea (or, "tea tea" if you will) that Donna always has on hand.  She normally had the David Rio "Elephant Vanilla".  Recently, though, they came out with "Flamingo Vanilla" which is decaf and sugar free.  And just as delicious.  World Market was having a BOGO sale so I now have a cabinet full of Tea, Tea.

Nurse Nancy Visits Tucson

I had a great trip to Arizona in March, 2017 and went back in May.  The second trip was a bit bittersweet because while it's always great to see old friends, it's not quite so much fun when one of them is having a mastectomy.

But my friend from high school, Aletha, didn't let a bit of surgery get her down.  We prepared for surgery by throwing diets out the window (ok, she did - I eat like a 12 year old left alone all the time).  We had Mexican food for breakfast.  After her nuclear injection prior to surgery we celebrated with ice cream.  And at the same time bought our favorite candy bars, because they were there.

We also laughed, a lot.  When we went to Target to buy some things she needed for normal life, I bought bubble juice, silly string and Phase 10.  She and I played Phase 10 (made by the makers of UNO, easy and fun for all ages).  Then we taught her husband David and made him play.

The surgery was outpatient.  I believe that the way our health care is going they'll be doing heart transplants at drive-thrus soon.  Aletha came through 2 1/2 hours of surgery with no problems.  After 45 minutes in recovery, we took her home.  She napped a bit, took her one and only pain pill and we just chilled.  The next morning, we went out for breakfast and then it was pretty much business as usual.

Lousy reason for the visit, but still a good time.  I did learn that flying standby a couple of days before a holiday weekend can be dicey.  Went to the airport on Wednesday, May 24.  Flights were full so after a few hours, rented another car and hotel room.  Thursday, May 25 I got on the plane.  We sat at the gate for awhile before they said the flight would be delayed due to mechanical problems.  And delayed it was, for 20 hours.  So another rental car and hotel room.  If you rent a car at Alamo at the Tucson airport, please tell my friend Buddy hello for me.  He gave me a very nice free upgrade since he felt bad for me.  On Friday, May 26 I got on the delayed flight to Houston.  It didn't look good from there.  I was 36th on the standby list and there were five seats available.  Somehow, a miracle happened and I got on.  Thank you, United.

Here are a few photos.

I love saguaro cactus.  Oh, wait - those are cell towers, cleverly disguised as cactus.

One of my favorites dishes - Jack in the Box tacos.  If Jack knew how much I loved them, he'd open a J in the B in Lake Mary.

Antidote to stress at 6:00 a.m. before surgery?  Silly String fight!

You gotta love a town that has 24 hour drive-thrus with good Mexican food.  Aletha and I stopped in for breakfast.