Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Week Ahead... 12/31/12

I'm so excited because it almost New Year's Eve!!

That means that many of my good friends will be coming over. I hope everyone has a great night and an even better new year.

Menu for the Week of December 31, 2012

Monday: Herb-Roasted Leg of Lamb, mashed potatoes, layered salad, cherry pie

Tuesday: quinoa with stuff
  • prep baked beans and squash
Wednesday: first meal from Nourishing Meals (sample meal day 2) apple cider baked beans, roasted delicata squash, kohlrabi apple slaw
  • prep meatballs, potatoes, and vinaigrette
Thursday: Kale Meatballs, potato salad

Friday: Curried Spinach and Chickpeas with rice (or quinoa)

Saturday: Slow-Cooked Chicken Curry

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Friends, Pasta, and Veggies

I don't have many friends, but I'm very close to the ones I do have. What's funny is that we'll go months without talking with each other, except for the occasional comments on Facebook, but when we do see each other it feels like we haven't missed any time. Most importantly is that we're always there for each other. There isn't a thing one of us wouldn't do for the other. I love that! I feel so blessed to have them.

For the past nine years we've gotten together for the new year celebration. We gather at someone's house and spend a few nights there. In the early years we would just hang out. Now there are lots of kids so we spend time entertaining them. But, it's an experience I wouldn't trade. I wouldn't want to spend New Year's Eve with anyone else.

The celebration will likely be at my house this year (extenuating circumstances have made it so that we don't know for certain yet.) I'll probably do a fancy dinner and an easy dinner. This recipe for pasta with veggies may be the easy one! This is a standard recipe for our house because it's easy, delicious, and healthy!

Somebody likes to steal raw zucchini off the cutting board!
Pasta with Veggies
Served 4

  • olive oil
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 zucchini, sliced (2 if small)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes (multi-color ones are prettiest!), sliced in half
  • spinach, chopped (about 2 big handfuls)
  • basil
  • oregano
  • salt
  • pepper
  • goat cheese (optional)
  • pasta

  1. Start water for pasta. Cook pasta per the package directions. The veggies will typically be done around the same time as my pasta (which takes 10 minutes.)
  2. Cook onions and zucchini in oil over medium heat. (I put the onions in the pan and get them going while I cut the zucchini.)
  3. Once the onions and zucchini have started to soften, add garlic and stir for about 30 seconds, then add tomatoes and cook until soft and some liquid has released. I usually add a few tablespoons of pasta water to the veggies, as the starch in the water gives the veggies a creamier feel.
  4. Add the spinach and let it wilt.
  5. Add basil, oregano, salt, and pepper to the veggies.
  6. Serve the veggies over the pasta and sprinkle goat cheese on top.
  7. This can also be served over spaghetti squash instead of pasta; that's what I've been doing lately since I am temporarily grain free.

This recipe was shared on Diet, Dessert and Dogs Wellness Weekend, Vegetarian Mamma's Gluten Free Friday, and Allergy Free Alaska's Whole Food Fridays.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Week Ahead... 12/17/12

I'm super-excited because my blog is almost to 1,000 hits since my first post in October! If you're enjoying this blog, please consider subscribing using the "follow me by email" field on the right side. Also, consider following me on Pinterest using the button on the right.

I'm way behind on planned blog posts and have not posted a new recipe in way too long. I hope to remedy that later this week but for now I'll leave you with this week's menu.

Menu for the Week of December 17, 2012

Monday: Beet Salad

Tuesday: cuban-style rice and beans (from my nutritionist's cookbook)

Wednesday: leftovers

Thursday: Salad Spring Rolls and Lightly Curried Parsnip Soup

Friday: hot dogs and baked beans

Saturday: Slow Cooker Honey Sesame Chicken

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The C Word You Never Want to Hear and The Week Ahead... 12/10/12


The surgeon didn't have the guts to say the word to me when he told me over the phone that the lymph node was positive. It was a day later when my dermatologist called to see how everything was going. I told her the sentinel lymph node was positive. She said it... the C word we all fear. Mine was skin cancer; melanoma, to be precise. I was 28 years old.

When I was 26 or 27, I had gone to my general practitioner about a mole on my arm. She said it didn't look bad. When I was 28 a dear friend was really concerned about the same mole and asked if I had seen a doctor. I told her I had and she urged me to go back, so I did. This time the doctor decided I should see the dermatologist.

My dermatologist was concerned and removed the mole as soon as possible and sent it to the local dermatopathology lab. The pathologist was concerned and sent it to an expert at Cornell who said it was suspicious enough that I should have a sentinel lymph node biopsy and that an expert at Harvard should also take a look at the mole.

The sentinel lymph node was positive, so I had another surgery where they removed 32 lymph nodes from my left armpit. They were all negative.

At the time the standard therapy for Stage 3 melanoma was a drug called Interferon. It was a month of heavy doses that made you feel like you had the flu, followed by a year of self injections where you didn't feel much better. There was also a clinical trial for which I was eligible and was somewhat geographically close. My oncologist felt that I should undergo treatment due to my young age but admitted that he didn't know what to recommend and sent me to a melanoma specialist at Johns Hopkins University, which is about an hour away. The specialist at Johns Hopkins concurred that treatment would be worthwhile. He explained the clinical trial and recommended that over Interferon.

The clinical trial was at the University of Virginia (UVA), which was about 2.5 hours from us. I would have an oncologist from UVA follow my case through the trial therapy. The therapy was free, the oncologist was not. My husband did tons of research and was able to convince my insurance company to pay for the UVA oncologist who was out of my network.

After a barrage of preliminary tests, including a brain MRI and a CT scan, I was enrolled in the trial. The trial was to see if vaccine therapy was the cure for melanoma. After preliminary testing and bloodwork, I went to UVA every Wednesday for six weeks and received a vaccine injection in my arm and upper thigh. They also took blood samples - 21 tubes one week! By week five the skin at the injection site on my thigh was showing significant immune response. By week six it had ulcerated, and I had to be removed from the study. I missed the last weekly vaccine and two boosters. The ulcer was about 2"x2.5" and took three months to heal. We went through boxes of gauze pads and cotton swabs, as well as many rolls of tape.

That vaccine trial has now closed and the final report has been written. It was not the cure but they learned a lot from it and still believe they're on the right path with a vaccine. I have a common side effect from the trial in that I have itchy red welts regularly form at the injection site. I take Zyrtec every day to prevent this.

In the years since I have had regular check-ups with my oncologist (not the UVA one anymore) and have had regular scans, alternating CTs and PETs. I visit the dermatologist every six months for a check-up.

This past week, at the age of 34, my oncologist released me from his care with a magic trick and a hug! Yes, I said magic trick. At the end of nearly every appointment he would perform a magic trick of some sort; in more recent years it's been a card trick. He's really good with slight of hand. His dad was a pediatrician who always showed kids tricks, so I guess he figured that if you're an oncologist it can't hurt to end an appointment with a little levity. Anyway, as much as I like him, I hope to never see him again.

So, this past week featured the C word everyone likes to hear... CELEBRATION! It feels like this chapter is now over.

What have I learned through this journey?
  • My husband is my rock. He was my advocate the entire time and never missed a doctor's appointment. He researched melanoma and understood all the options. He would give me the condensed versions so I never had to look at the scary statistics.
  • My friends and family are amazing. First and foremost is my friend who sent me back to the doctor; I believe she saved my life. I had visitors, flowers, and meals after surgeries. My mother-in-law was my nurse after the second surgery. My uncle, sister, and a family friend each drove me to UVA for routine visits so my husband didn't miss so much work.
  • The power of prayer. Wow! I had so many people praying for me, and many who I didn't know, but knew someone who knew me. It worked! Praise God!
  • To be thankful for modern medicine.
  • Wear sunscreen and encourage others to do the same. My girl scouts hear this from me so often!
  • Life is good!

Menu for the week of December 10, 2012

Monday: Sloppy Joe's, green veggie
  • prep black beans
Tuesday: Spanish Quinoa (from my nutritionist's cookbook)

Wednesday: leftover pork loin, leftover quinoa salad, and roasted potatoes, parsnips, and brussels sprouts

Thursday: leftover ham bean soup (from the freezer!)

Friday: holiday party #2

Saturday: Slow Cooker Vegetarian Chili

Monday, December 3, 2012

Allergies and The Week Ahead... 12/3/12

My husband had allergies as a child - most of the top eight and some others. He outgrew all of them except fish (not shellfish). So, it was no surprise when my son started spitting up every time we gave him carrots. His allergist determined that he had a sensitivity because the skin test was negative and the reactions were delayed. We had a few run-ins with carrots that were hidden in things like chicken stock, and some random reactions at daycare that we attributed to carrot contamination. Our pediatrician did prescribe an EpiPen, just in case.

His first series of skin tests were positive for peanut allergy, but his next one showed negative. We decided to wait until he was two to introduce peanuts. Around his second birthday I had my son lick a spoon of peanut butter. After five minutes his lip started to swell so I gave him some Benadryl and we considered him sensitive to both peanuts and carrots.

We had gone about ten months without any reactions, so we were hopeful that he had started to outgrow the sensitivities. But, Friday evening he landed in the ER with an anaphylactic reaction. Luckily, when we realized what was going on we were about two minutes from the hospital. When we were about one minute away we realized we should use the EpiPen, but opted to drive the extra minute instead of stopping to administer it. The pediatrician in the ER informed us (politely) that we should have used it as soon as we noticed his lip swelling. If there is a "next time" (which hopefully they're won't be) we'll know. He was discharged three hours later and was back to his normal self (despite the fact that it was 11 PM and way past his bedtime.)

I've witnessed one of my sister's anaphylactic reactions, but they looked different from my son's reaction; perhaps because he didn't really know how to tell us what was going on. Here's how my son's played out:

  • We finished dinner and after about 20 or 30 minutes he had a dry cough.
  • A few minutes later his lip started to swell so we figured we'd give him Benadryl when we got home.
  • About a minute later we were putting him in the car and my husband asked if anything itched. He said his tongue and started to get upset. At this point we decided to head for the hospital.
  • A minute later he started wheezing and we arrived at the hospital shortly after.
  • Within three minutes we were in an exam room and the nurse was administering epinephrine. He received a few other medications, including a breathing treatment, while were there.
  • He was on Benadryl and an oral steroid for the next two days.

So that was our <insert sarcasm> fun and relaxing Friday night.

Menu for the Week of December 3, 2012

Monday: Curried Spinach and Chickpeas (yes, we do eat this a lot)

Tuesday: quinoa with stuff (pan-fried halloumi, butternut squash, peas)

Wednesday: spaghetti squash with veggies

  • prep meatloaf and cut potatoes

Thursday: meatloaf, mashed potatoes, wilted chard with onions and dates

Friday: holiday party #1

Saturday: We are celebrating my mother-in-law's birthday and I'm thinking about making a pork tenderloin with sauce (she loves sauces!), quinoa salad of some sort, and a veggie. Dessert will either be a pie or a cake made with almond flour (I just bought Elana Amsterdam's cookbook.)