Saturday, September 17, 2011

A Breastless Burden with Braces: A Beauty Blog

I know I said I wouldn't blog about it, and I haven't much, but I feel the need to address my reality here. It's been an eventful month.

The morning of August 10, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Conicidentally, I had an orthodontist appointment the same day. I have been wearing Invisalign for the past year so I could stop looking like a gap-toothed hillbilly. (I will still act like one - there's no hope for that.) Hours after I'd been told I had breast cancer, my orthodontist said "Well, I know you're about done with the liners, but I don't like the way these incisors are refusing to turn in. Want to go ahead and just put some wires on these today?"

Because I know how to party, I said "Sure. Why not?" My orthodontist apparently doesn't speak Sarcasm, so an hour later, I walked out with two separate brackets and metal wires across a few of my front teeth.  Yay, me.

I swear this is what they look like.

Then since I wasn't ugly enough, on Monday September 12,  I went to the hospital and had my breasts removed. Except officially it's called a bilateral mastectomy and they also began the reconstructive surgery. When it was all over, I was lying in the hospital, battered, bandaged and unable to do much of anything for myself. I looked at Pootie and said "Hello. This is your ugly wife. I am breastless. I have braces. And I am a complete burden." And he laughed and laughed and said "Breastless with Braces. You have to write a Beauty Blog about that." So here we are. And here I am. Breastless. With braces. Still pretty much a burden, even though I'm home.

One "beauty" thing is that my pathology results from the remaining tissue came back negative, so there was no more cancer and my surgeon considers me 100% cured with surgery. No need for any further procedure. That's solidly in the "plus" column. In the "minus" column is what I still have left to go through. I've discovered that there is a pretty common misconception about the reconstruction part of this surgical procedure, which I held myself until I got into all this. If you're curious, google it, because I'm not going to gross you out here. Suffice it to say that the reconstruction is not simply slipping an implant in and walking out the door with a pair of Hollywood Beauties. It's lengthy, it's painful, it's involved, and the end result won't be breasts. It will be a close approximation of something that passes for breasts. Sort of. From far away. With lots of clothes covering them. My nude modeling days are definitely over. I suppose now I'll have to rely on my brains to make a living.

Another "beauty" thing is the love and support I've gotten from friends and family. Man, I'm lucky. My wonderful Pootie, besides being my caregiver, my medical liason, my visitation coordinator, my - well, pretty much my everything, stepped way above and beyond and bought me a Star Projector for my hospital stay. It projects moving stars and clouds up onto the ceiling. He also downloaded about four hours of "space music" - just quiet, soothing stuff - and put it on my Nano and set the docking speakers up in the hospital room. So while I was lying awake at night, this is what I got to look at.

It was hit with the night staff at the hospital.
It made the medication a lot more interesting.

Before I went in for surgery, Happy Jenn brought us chili (David made it - it was ossum, DT! Sorry! We didn't wait for the surgery to eat it!) and brought me a bunch of light reading. I now have several copies of People Magazine. I looked at them and realized I'm sorely lacking in the popular culture knowledge department, because I don't have a clue who any of those folks are. Their lives are WAY more interesting than mine, though, so you may want to ditch this blog and go pick up the latest copy.

Meg came to visit while I was in the hospital, and brought wine (which no, I am not drinking yet) and some nice other little gifts. I was pretty doped up while she was there, but I do remember that she came. I think that was her, anyway. And our wonderful neighbor Darlene came and visited, although I slept through that. I was pretty useless as company. Hell, as introverted as I am, being even tolerable company is difficult for me on a GOOD day. And the three days I was at New Hanover were definitely not three of my better days. I feel vaguely like I should apologize, but I don't remember what for.

When we got home on Wednesday, Our other wonderful neighbors Morgan and Jesse brought over some blueberry muffins and chicken noodle soup. Talk about perfect. After almost no food for three days and cartloads of medication, my stomach was a little on the delicate side, and chicken noodle soup was just what the doctor ordered. I mean this literally, since Morgan is a physician. I'm pretty sure that means her soup had Magical Doctor Powers.

It certainly made me feel much better.

Darlene brought some groceries, some much-needed vegetables as soup and ratatouille, and help with bandages. Shannon and her girls stopped by to say hello and brought some seriously tasty lasagna cups and fresh greens for a salad. Melissa and Liza and Levi brought a tamale pie and a game that Pootie and I are planning to break into sometime today. My mother-in-law has alternated bandage duty with Darlene, and is roasting us a chicken today or tomorrow. Stephanie is on dinner duty tonight. Carol and David brought food last night, and that's way over the top considering the fact that David has spent the last year dealing with his own cancer. (He's doing better now.)

And flowers. Man, did I get some flowers.

They've brightened my mood considerably. I'm kind of stuck at the house for a while, so having them in vases around the house gives me quite a lift.

I'm going to owe a lot of people big when this is all over with in a few weeks. It's the kind of debt I'm very happy to repay. Thanks to everyone for the kind thoughts, well wishes, food, flowers and assistance. I feel very loved and cared for and am grateful for the help in all its varying forms.

I'm feeling a little more like myself every day. And that's a beautiful thing, too. But it will be a while before I'll be looking in the mirror.

Here's Dr. Morgan's Magical Chicken Noodle Soup, if you know someone who needs a little post-surgical comfort. Or maybe just has a cold.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Labor Day Dinner: BBQ Chicken, Squash Gratin and Grilled Okra

For Labor Day I think you're supposed to have something like this, or burgers, or hot dogs - there's a rule somewhere. Like wearing white. But who pays attention to that? I mean, summer is FAR from over down here. Unfortunately.

But for this year's Labor Day, we invited Jack and Beth over for a little barbecue and cards. (We didn't eat the cards.)

I made a squash gratin, grilled some okra (you heard me) and a derivation of my grandmother's barbecued chicken.

Marc taught me to make the squash gratin a while back in one of his cooking classes at Marc's on Market. It's just alternating layers of yellow squash, zucchini, sliced onion, sliced tomato, a drizzle of olive oil, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper and some panko crumbs and parmesan cheese over the top.

For the chicken, make a dry rub of 2 Tbs. brown sugar, 2 tsp. dry mustard, 2 tsp. chili powder, 2 tsp. paprika, 1 tsp. salt, 1/4 tsp. of black pepper and a dash of cayenne pepper. Sprinkle that over the pieces of a cut up whole chicken.

Now you can put this chicken directly on the grill, but I like to put it on a foil lined roasting pan topped with a piece of parchment. I'm lazy and I hate cleaning the grill. And there's something about that blackened, charred stuff being a carcinogen, and I sure don't need any more of that in my life right now.  Put the chicken on about a 400F degree grill (medium high heat). And put the squash in the oven at 375F at the same time. Both are going to need to cook about 40 minutes.

Now you can cook the okra at the same time as the chicken if you've got room on the grill, but it only needs about five minutes. This is a close approximation of the recipe in last month's Fine Cooking. I tossed whole okra in olive oil and salt and pepper and put it on a perforated pizza pan and just put that on a hot grill (400F) for about 10 minutes. I made a dipping sauce out of sauteed shallots, a quarter cup of mayo, 2 Tbs. of tomato paste, a teaspoon of paprika, and a pinch of salt.

Pull everything off the grill, and take the squash out of the oven.

We all helped ourselves to dinner.

Hey, Beth!!
After dinner, I served ice cream with Abby Dodge's Nutella Brownie Bites.

And we settled in to a pretty good game of Hearts. Jack tried to smear us.

Check that cocky grin.
Pootie was losing big, but managed to pull out a tie with Jack in the end. That's what happens when everyone teams up against you. Sorry, Jack-man.

If you'd like to play a round of Labor Day Dinner in your own kitchen, here are the .pdfs.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Hurricane Shrimp

I suppose everyone remembers Irene, the much-overhyped hurricane of last week. Here's what we had for dinner the night she swatted at us. Yes. That's how far behind I am.

But first, this is what Irene looked like.

Jim Cantore was nowhere to be seen.

And here was the "devestation".

The horror.
Needless to say, we got off light.

Meanwhile, back in the house, where we still had lights and air conditioning and all the creature comforts, this is what I cooked. We weren't exactly roughing it, but I didn't have a whole lot of time, since we'd spent a good portion of the afternoon putting our outdoor furniture in the shed and prepping the yard for heavy wind and rain.

I diced a small onion and some pancetta and sweated that in some olive oil, then added a can of Great Northern beans. Then I chopped a bunch of kale and put that in to simmer with the beans.

Once the kale was cooked, I added some artichoke heart quarters, a diced tomato, and some black olives.

I let that simmer and got the shrimp ready. I'd gotten them fresh from Carolina Farmin', our new grocery around the corner. MAN, that's going to be convenient.  We even bought a little wheelie cart so we can walk and buy our groceries. Just like the big city people do! Except without the noise and all the people.

Anyway, I put a pan over medium-high heat and let it get hot, then drizzled in about a tablespoon of olive oil, then tossed in three minced garlic cloves and a pound of peeled and deveined shrimp. You have to devein those guys - there's nothing worse than chomping down on a bunch of sandy grit. A generous pinch of kosher salt and a pinch of red pepper flakes is all they needed, along with a little tossing around.

Then I served the beans, topped them with the shrimp, and added a sprinkling of fresh-grated parmesan cheese. Because there's not much parmesan cheese can't improve.

Serve with unnecessary candlelight. (We didn't lose power until 4:20 AM.)

It got the Pootie Seal of Approval.

He was more enthusiastic than it looks.
Here's the .pdf, if you want to have your own hurricane. (I'd recommend skipping the weather part.)