Friday, January 28, 2011

Third Time's a Charm: Chemo #3

Halfway there!  There is something to be said for having some experience, not that I am recommending you earn a chemotherapy notch in your belt unless truly necessary.  Rounds one and two were dramatically different in how I felt afterward, but being the bald (mostly, I still have some fine baby hairs and a few funky tufts in the back that look like a bad day at the Hair Club for Men experiment) optimist I am, I figured I'd weather round #3 without a hitch.

The week before this treatment I ate like I was going to the electric chair.  Seriously.  When the funky period passed I craved cheeseburgers: Skyway Drive-In - Jimmy Buffet's favorite, plus B-Spot, Michael Symon's joint, and I went to a Red Robin for the first (and possibly last) time.  Refrigerated ready to bake chocolate chip cookies, whole batch just for me, check.  Wine tasted normal (yeah!) If it sounded good, I ate it (or drank it).

I capped it off with the 6 course feast at Dinner in the Dark on Monday.  I would have been terrified to eat that dinner before round one, but that's where experience comes in handy.  I knew I could live off the memory of that meal for at least a week.  Which sadly, I have.

The day of  (Tues), and day after chemo (Wed), I ate this this detox soup  from the Guten-Free Goddess.  Despite it's terrifying color, it was actually pretty tasty, and probably the last thing resembling anything green and healthy I've eaten since.

Thursday, I was starting to feel a little wobbly, but decided to go to my strength training class.  My usually small class has had a few male additions, plus a visitor, and I barely lasted through the warm-up before the overly crowded room combined with claustrophobia and growing vertigo, sent me to the bikes instead.  I managed to eat a bowl of soup with a friend at Panera afterwards.  I think I had a Lean Cuisine Mac and Cheese for dinner.

Friday the fatigue was really setting in and my stomach was an unhappy, sour, knotted mess.  I decided to try and sleep it off and spent most of the day in bed.  After hours of mental debate - because at this point every possible thing resembling food sounds disgusting, tastes disgusting, and smells disgusting. Even opening the refrigerator to get to my filtered water dispenser gave me a little wave of nausea. I settled on a small cup of organic applesauce and a small cup of tapioca for dinner.  And a handful of Tums for dessert.

Saturday I'd hoped to go to the monthly indoor winter farmers markets, but despite the sunny, but bitterly cold day, I was still more than a little wobbly.  I managed a mini-rally to attend to the mounting cat hair on the carpet, dishes collecting in the sink, garbage that needed taken out, and sheets that needed changed.  I can go about 4 days maximum in a semi-comatose state before it looks like there has been a party I missed around here that really needs cleaned up.

Sunday I went out for a mediocre breakfast because I was craving pancakes but didn't feel like making them myself.  This town could really use a decent weekend breakfast place that uses organic, local ingredients and puts a little thought into the menu.  Even better if if it doubled as a commercial kitchen incubator where local food artisans could crank out their wares during the week.  I've had high hopes for a couple of restaurants that have opened nearby that serve breakfast (and aren't the ever popular Bob Evans or Cracker Barrel), but the food has been insipid, and the service pretty awful. I'm not naming names because this isn't a restaurant review blog, but check out my friend Tom's blog for the local low down on restaurant eats, good and bad.

I went early to beat the hordes of seniors who favor the place I usually go, where if I'm lucky I'm not seated near the nearly deaf ones who alternately complain about the weather, then describe their medical issues in detail, but the near zero temperatures kept most of them at home.  By the time I got home I was back to feeling pretty much like crap, and decided to go back to bed.

There's a few days that are a blur as far as what I ate.  I think over the weekend the Wendy's burger and baked potato craving hit.  Why Wendy's over the superior Skyway Drive-In?  Because squishy white buns are preferred at this stage to buttered and grilled buns. I got a couple of potatoes (I've baked them myself the last few rounds, but the smell of them baking made me queasy), the burger (which was dried out and basically sucked), and a large chili.  At one item a meal, this covered me for three days.  I didn't realize the chili had green peppers in it until now.  Chili wasn't the best idea, but I could only manage a few bites anyway, so it wasn't a deal breaker.  And I detest their new fries.  Not that I was a huge consumer of fast food ever, but I didn't mind a jr. burger and small fries every once in awhile.

I keep getting up each day expecting to feel better.  The best way I can think to describe it is that it's like in the Wizard of Oz when it turns to color from black and white.  Halfway through the cycle, and it's still black and white.

My stomach is a mess.  It feels like there is a handful of sour apple Jolly Rancher candies melting in there with some Atomic Fireballs thrown in like the ball bearing in a can of spray paint.  Not being able to eat is only the tip of the iceberg.  It also makes watching TV challenging, particularly cooking shows and gory medical dramas, and it's difficult to read, which basically leaves lying around covered in happily snoozing cats as about all I'm good for. 

Early in the week I woke up craving turkey with mashed potatoes and gravy, which I took as a good sign.  A friend was kind enough to pick up the family size feast I ordered from Bob Evans that I thought would last for days.  I warmed a big plate for lunch, but after a few bites, the craving passed.  I couldn't stomach anything that night for dinner.

I was pretty much living on my two scrambled eggs for breakfast and a piece of toast.  One night I thought, a couple of over easy eggs for dinner would work.  Except I didn't quite get the whites fully cooked, which I discovered after the first bite, and resulted in a piece of toast for dinner, and the eggs in the trash.  So there's no danger of me becoming the Forest Gump of eggs; I'll stick to scrambled.  On the really bad days I can't even stomach the thought of ketchup on them.  On the good days, I consider the condiment a vegetable.

My ten day oncology check-up was yesterday, and I was still feeling less than spectacular.  But my bloodwork was good, I even got a full copy of my post results side by side from all three rounds, and she went over them with me.  Appointment for round four made.

I was almost out of eggs (!) and headed straight to Brunty Farms to stock up, and hit the market for a few things.  I finally started feeling better in the afternoon, but after a solid week of struggling to eat anything it wasn't like all the sudden I was starving and couldn't wait to shovel in food. 

I'm not proud of my Lean Cuisine, Wendy's, Bob Evans craving ways, but despite the best laid organic, free ranging chicken soup plans (I've got a freezer full of it), the reality is that when you are rocking in that little post chemo boat trying to keep your eyes on the horizon, you do what you have to do to get to the shore.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Dinner in the Dark: Palate Restaurant

Beverage Pairings
Last night I attended my first Dinner in the Dark, held at Palate Restaurant in Strongsville, with a group of local foodies and bloggers.  A - MAZ - ING.

No, we weren't blind folded and served scary foods; the 'dark' part refers to the fact that until service starts you don't know what you are going to be served, or the chefs that are going to be be preparing the six course, beverage paired menu.

Dinner in the Dark was created by chefs Brian Okin (Verve), Ellis Cooley (Amp 150), and Jeff Jarrett (Palate Restaurant) to bring together Cleveland's chefs and food lovers to share their passion and compassion.  Ticket proceeds benefit a local charity chosen by the participating chefs.  Last night's benefiting charity was the the Cleveland Sight Center.

Along with my favorite pie baker, Diane Sikorski from Humble Pie Baking Co., and her husband Steve, my dining companions included two fellow local bloggers, Nancy from Fun Playing with Food, and Tom from Exploring Food My Way, so there was a lot of photography at our table (with superior equipment to my toss in the purse camera), so check their blogs for the details I've missed.  Expect better photos from them as well.

We started with a cocktail of Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon with Pinot Noir Syrup, Rose Water and bitters.  I'm not a hard alcohol drinker, but this was really delicious.  The floral notes and the syrup really balanced the bourbon.  (I didn't finish it or I probably would have fallen asleep by the third course). 

The amuse bouche was a delicious little tart filled with smoky caramelized onions and figs, topped with a bleu cheese ice cream and a crispy sweetbread. Created by Adam Bostwick from Melange.

Amuse Bouche: Onion Fig Tart, Bleu Ice Cream, Sweetbread
The first course was a delicious wild mushroom bread pudding with herb smoked onions, topped with the heady aroma of truffle oil.  Even Nancy, a non-mushroom lover, cleaned her plate.  This course was created and presented by Jeff Jarrett from Palate.  It was paired perfectly with Boffa Dolcetto D'Alba, Piedmont.

Mushroom Bread Pudding

Next up, a clever take on a reuben with slaw, a tasty kimchi with tart Granny Smith apples and a mini calves tongue sandwich on rye created by Matt Mathlage from Light Bistro.  The sandwich was wrapped with a piece of parchment paper to give a bit of a 'fast food' look according to Matt, but more than a few dinners were a bit perplexed at first (including) me, thinking that perhaps the wrapper was some kind of edible garnish.  Served later, with more drink pairings, the paper may have created some interesting reactions.  It was paired with Piedmont beer, quite successfully. 

Kimchi with Calves Tongue Sandwich
The salad course was prepared by my favorite Cleveland chef/mad scientist, Steve Schmioler, from Crop Bistro.  (Side note - I am so looking forward to celebrating my birthday in Crop's new location near West Side Market).  Steve's contribution was a local yellow and red beet salad topped with a spectacular blood orange gelee along with goat cheese with touch of gorgonzola with pistachios.  The combination of ingredients and textures was delightful and refreshing.  The pairing of Pinot Noir worked well with the earthiness of the beets.  There was some serious debate at the table about licking the plates clean, but no one wanted to go for the blood orange mustache.

Beet Salad, Blood Orange Gelee
The fish course, an brown butter poached artic char served atop a smoked corn and truffle risotto with a basil sauce, was Matt Mytro, creator of Stove Monkeys, offering.  Not being a fan of salmon (I've tried...), I wasn't sure how I was going to like this, but combined with the risotto and the sauce, it was outstanding, as was the pairing of Demetria Chardonnay (Santa Barbara).

Artic Char, Smoked Corn Risotto
The final savory course was a spicy espresso crusted veal strip loin served atop a jalapeno croquette with a hidden surprise of pepper Jack cheese, along with haricot verts with a cherry glaze whose secret ingredient was Dr. Pepper.  The chef was Chris Quinn, the corporate chef from US Foodservice, who generously donated much of the food for the dinner.  The steak was smoky/sweet, but well balanced, and paired nicely with a red table wine.  The chef posted the recipe on his blog if you want to try it at home.

Espresso Veal Strip Loin
Finally, dessert was presented by Matt Anderson from Umami Asian Kitchen in Chagrin Falls, who said he wanted to make something non-Asian.  His dessert of lightly cooked local apples, paired with Lucky Penny goat cheese combined with sorghum and walnuts, was an interesting, light finish to the meal.

Dessert Course

There was a silent auction for $400 in restaurant gift certificates as well as a raffle to benefit the Cleveland Sight Center.  Dinner tab - a steal at $65, plus tax and tip.

There were amazing microgreen garnishes on many of the dishes hand delivered from the Chef's Gardens, whose lucky employee Mike and his wife stayed to enjoy the feast. 

We'd paid upfront at the suggestion of waitress to make a speedier exit, but as we waited for the silent auction results, a surprise final treat was delivered to our table - Peanut Butter and Jelly Popcorn with Peanuts.  The grape jelly had been reduced to it's concord grape flavor, and combined with the peanut butter and peanuts was a delicious, playful combination.  

News channel 5 WEWS was on hand to do a story. Check out this clip for background on why the Cleveland Sight Center is near and dear to Chef Jarrett's heart.

Channel 3 WYKC was there as well, their clip here.

To see the secret menu, plus bios of the participating and founding chefs, visit Local Food Service here.

For one of my dining companions photos, including the cocktail and popcorn visit here. 

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Best Pork Chop Ever

Tired of dry, tasteless pork chops?  Odds are the supermarket versions are cut so thin that you almost can't help but overcook them.  Make friends with a good butcher - you want them at least an inch thick; I like 'em even thicker.

These are the first chops from my CSA pig from Brunty Farms. 

I rubbed it with a little olive oil, seasoned it and let come to room temp while the grill heated up.  I seared it on both sides on direct heat, then moved it to the middle burners which were turned off.  Lid down they probably took about 20 minutes to come to around 145 degrees, which is when I pulled them and let them rest.

I made some Blackberry Jam with a Hint of Bourbon from the blog Vanilla Garlic yesterday, so I glazed one a bit with that. 

Served with a garden/csa/farmers market collection of veggies.

No fooling, this was probably the best pork chop I have ever eaten in my life.  Awesome, truly awesome.

*This is an old post from last summer that somehow never got published.  But I still remember how awesome those chops were.  

Monday, January 10, 2011

Winter Farmers Market at Lucky Penny Creamery

Try Before You Buy!
Northeast Ohio winters are long, snowy, and until recently, not known for an abundance of farm fresh food available during the winter months.  The Countryside Conservancy winter markets, now held at the easier to navigate Old Trail School, have expanded to twice monthly (except January), and now if you are closer to Portage County, another weekly option is being held at Lucky Penny Creamery in Kent, in conjunction with Salt of the Earth Farm.

The inaugural market, held last Saturday, on a sunny, but briskly cold day, brought plenty of cabin fever suffering folks, including me, out for some food and fellowship.  The market will be held on Saturdays from 9 am to noon through May, when the outdoor market season begins.

Vendors will change from week to week.  This week there were local apples:

I love this shot of local apples
Grass fed meats and free range eggs:

Grass Fed Meats and Eggs

Pierogies from Posh Pierogies - I got Chicken Paprikash.

Posh Pierogies
Hand made breads:

 Waffles and other delights from Ms. Julie's Kitchen:

Some snazzy slate art:

Jams and Jellies:


And let's not forget the delicious Lucky Penny products, plus be sure to check out the goat of the week.  This week's is Kayla, a fiesty 3 year old who likes to jump fences!


Farm Fresh Chevre
And goat milk fudge.  The chocolate with a swirl of Cajeta (caramel sauce made from goat milk) is absolutely to die for.

My Personal Fudge Stash
There was also fresh hot coffee and a book swap.  I traded a couple of cookbooks headed for the library shop for ones on Cuban cooking and breakfasts.

Looks like a good time, doesn't it?  Lucky Penny Creamery is located in the former labor temple at 632 Temple Avenue in Kent.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Baby Arugula, Fennel, Blood Orange and Olive Salad

Fresh Salad Ingredients!
Yesterday marked the 10 day mid-point of chemo round two, and to say that round two was easier than round one, would be a enormous understatement.  The 10-14 period is when the white blood cell count is at the lowest, and is when you go visit the oncologist for a a check on those counts.  After a finger stick (I applied the anesthetic cream to my port for naught I found out), the blood tech milked my reluctant to bleed finger like a cow for several minutes,  until she coaxed enough blood out for the test.

My oncologist checked me out and actually hung out for a bit while the results were being processed (she usually flies in like a bee, alights briefly, then moves on to the next flower).  Someone asked me this week how I would know if all the treatments worked.  So I asked.  The answer: "We don't".  There is no blood test, or exam, that says "Congratulations, we poisoned the heck out of you, and there's no cancer here".

She also confirmed that you have demonstrate your worthiness of getting the Neulasta shot by doing the exact thing it's supposed to prevent, which is crash like the Hindenburg.

My counts were good, and I was declared in good enough condition to head into round three soon.

How did it go post number two?  The first couple of days, more or less normal.  By the weekend, the fatigue set in.  Fatigue is not normal tired. Fatigue feels like every ounce of energy is vacuum sealed out of you, leaving an empty, motionless husk that takes considerable effort to move.  When that sets in, the appetite goes, and nothing sounds appealing.  Showering seems like a monumental task. You aren't really moving anyway, so an every other day schedule works.

After a few days, the fatigue loosened it's grip, and I just felt kind of low-grade crappy.  I exercised at home and didn't go out at all most of the week.  If anything sounded remotely appetizing, I ate it.  One day a cheeseburger sounded good, another a plain baked potato.  Eggs are the only thing that I can consistently count on, and thankfully, you can scramble a couple in a matter of minutes.

Thursday I had a bit of cabin fever and a sudden craving for mall bourbon chicken (!).  So I made a brief visit to Barnes and Noble, then swung by the mall for my fix.

Friday, I put on make-up and real clothes (still have eyebrows and eyelashes so far) to go to the doctor, and figured why waste that effort, so afterward I had lunch with a friend (I was actually hungry - really hungry!), and we did a bit of shopping.

Which brings me to the point of this post, that pretty selection of fresh food stuffs.  Vegetables and anything remotely resembling fresh items had long been absent, and I was looking forward to dinner.

I got a nice little piece of fresh grouper:

Grouper from Kate's Fish at West Side Market
I opened a bottle of wine.  I had a tiny glass when a friend stopped by this week, but for the most part, wine doesn't hold much appeal.  I was hoping this lovely bottle I brought back from my favorite Finger Lakes winery would do it, but it was just meh tonight.  Maybe tomorrow.

Dry Rose from Red Tail Ridge

Baby Arugula, Fennel, Blood Orange and Olive Salad

1 small pkg of baby arugula, rinsed and spun
1 quarter of a fresh fennel bulb, shaved thin on a mandoline
1 blood orange, peeled and sectioned
1/4 c. pitted kalamata olives, chopped
Shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano
White Balsamic Vinegar
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper

Saute the fennel in a bit of olive oil until slightly softened; set aside.  Arrange arugula in salad bowl, top with fennel, orange, and olives.  Drizzle with vinegar and oil.  Season to taste.

The salad turned out great.  You could leave the fennel raw, but I wanted to take a bit of the edge off, so I sauteed it, then let it cool.

Baby Arugula, Blood Orange, Fennel and Olives
The fish however, was a disaster.  I pan roasted it, but I totally overcooked it, and even worse, I made the stupid mistake of not immediately putting the Stay Cool Silicone Pot Holder by Trudeau (Random Colors) on the skillet when I took it out of the screaming hot oven, and you guessed it, went to grab it.  Fortunately I only got a tiny blister on my finger for my stupidity.  I don't really have spare white blood cells to fight self inflicted infection.

So I was a little rusty in the kitchen, but I am looking forward to getting a week or so back in there before round three.  Bon Appetit!