What’s Cooking?

I am not sure what is going on. There must be something in the air. The change of seasons? The leaves on the ground? The greyness of a fall afternoon?

Whatever it is, it has me running for my oven. It has me scouring old recipe books and new magazines for comfort in the form of food. My favorite things are blogs about pies and cakes and cookies. And chicken pot pies and roasts and chili. Oh My!

My mouth waters. I’ve nearly shorted out my laptop. Really.

It’s fall people and high time to get into the kitchen, light that pumpkin spice candle and start cooking!

And I for one couldn’t be happier.

It’s tradition around here in the fall for my husband to make his signature pumpkin soup. I’d give you the recipe, but he won’t let me. It’s secret.

Last weekend he baked that ol’ big pumpkin for hours until it was soft enough to scrape down and throw in a pot with carrots, onions and a whole lot of special ingredients. He adds a little of this, a dash of that and in the end, polish kielbasa.

I know. It sounds funky, but let me tell you, the combo of pumpkin with the smokiness of the kielbasa and a kick of white pepper, well let’s just say, I am glad I married that man.

So it has begun. The season of cooking and baking and eating. Once again I am the culprit, the person who thwarts our family’s attempt at healthy eating habits.

There is really nothing better than standing at my very large quartz counter top, looking out onto my den, watching the kids play, read or sit in front of the boob tube, and cooking my ass off. Everything seems easier. The prep work isn’t menial and I love the challenge of a good recipe. I am not scared.

Martha Stewart I am not, but I attempt to channel her into my kitchen anyway.

I am ready.

I am the room mother for my son’s class and in charge of the Halloween Party. Of course I choose to bring the sweet snacks and am leaving the healthy snacks to someone else.

I am making Halloween Whoopie Pies, those little chocolate inside out cupcakes with that butter cream filling. My son said I should color the filling orange and purple to make it more Halloweenie. (I love that word, by the way.) He’s a smart kid.

And then I will make these cute graveyard brownies. Just regular boxed brownies a little undercooked, cut longer than usual and topped with a halved Milano cookie with R.I.P inscribed.  Little grave stones. It’s so clever. Not my own cleverness of course. I am a copy cat.

I also went to Trader Joe’s the other day and stocked up on some good stuff. I love to cook but short cuts are my favorite. And that store just screams “Buy me to make your life easier!” So I do.

I am making Chicken Pot Pie this week and having already cooked and cubed chicken ready to go saves me the time of having to poach my own. I hate poaching. It makes a mess because my lids always overflow and I get chicken juice all over my stove. Yuk.

Cans of marinated beans for chili, pumpkin cream cheese for muffins, and so many more items I can’t even decide where to begin.

Oh, I could go on, but I won’t.

I will, however, steer you in the direction of some  fun cooking and baking blogs that I follow. They are simple, like me and my cooking philosophy. And witty, too. These blogger gals are just straight and funny and even share their disasters. They inspire me. I like to cook and make messes, too. A lot. Just ask my husband.

So here:

www.browneyedbaker.com 
www.cookiesandcups.com 
www.bunsinmyoven.com

And then there is the Taste of Home site that I love — gives me ideas for menus and quick meals that one day I know I will get to!

www.tasteofhome.com

Anyway, Happy Fall and if you are like me, Happy Fall Cooking!

Sweet as pie!

Nerves and Pancakes

Nobody wants a mammogram. Really. I mean, it’s not like we look forward to it or anything, right?

I mean it’s a machine that squishes boobs into pancakes. There’s pushing and prodding and moving the mammaries into position. The turning of the crank as the tray comes down, down, down and flattens more what is already flattened onto the little shelf thing. You hold your breath. You wait a minute. Wait. And then the beep when the picture is taken. Ah. Release.

Then begin again. Other side. Same drill.

If you are lucky, that would be about it. Two or four big squashes and out you go on your merry way. No worse for the wear and that dreaded annual exam is over and done with. The happy gram that says “Come back in a year.”

Done.

There are naysayers about mammograms, but a mammogram at 40 is still a good thing to do. If you have dense breasts, then you need to know that too so you can get additional screenings in the form of ultrasounds or MRIs.

In the big scheme of things, your mammogram, or other screening,  is one more thing to check off your list of things to do. It’s necessary. And once it’s done, you know it is one less thing to worry about doing.

So, yes, they are necessary, but I hate mammograms. I wouldn’t NOT get one, but I hate them nonetheless.

It’s not the pain. I have a pretty high threshold for that. (My ob gyn once sewed me up following six hours of natural labor. Natural labor = no anesthesia down there. She forgot and started sewing. Yeah. If I could have gotten up, I would have slugged her.)

But for me — and I know I am definitely not alone — — the annual screenings and mammograms are nerve-wracking. There are millions of others out there like me, I am sure. 

It’s the cloud of uncertainty as you wait for results. It’s the fear of the other shoe dropping. A recurrence. Another cancer. The 1 in 8. The every 3 minutes.

I have already had breast cancer, and my annual screenings take extra time. I have had so many biopsies and lumpectomies, that when the radiologists are looking at my films and scans, I think they get dizzy from all the dots that show up.

There is a lot going on.

It’s been 14 years this October since I received that breast cancer diagnosis. And each year comes with more anxiety over getting my annual screening done.

This year was no different.

A few weeks ago, following my mammogram, while I was waiting to get my ultrasound (dense breasts, you know) the mammo tech came back in to let me know she needed more views.

It’s not uncommon for me. One breast is so small I feel for the techs when they take half of my rib cage with them onto the mammography machine. It’s not your fault, it is what it is, I usually say in response to the ever-present “I am sorry. I know this hurts.”

But during the ultrasound part, I lay there on the table and started fending off those shadowy “what ifs” that kept creeping up on me as the sonographer dragged her transducer slowly over my very lumpy “girls.” It was a new program, I was told, so that is why she was going slow. Really slow. I didn’t talk and neither did she.

She kept stopping on that one spot, the one that had me run to my surgeon last November. The one that turned out to be nothing. The one where my surgeon put a marker in to prove it is not really growing, but my boobs are shrinking. (Can they actually get any smaller? Seriously,  junior bras from Target.)

It took a looooong time. And all while I was wondering. Why is she stopping? Why is this taking so long? What does she see? Has it grown? What will happen? I had to give myself a mental slap across the face a la Cher in Moonstruck.

Snap out of it!

And so, after an hour spent at the imaging office, the tech came back and told me I was fine to go. Everything looks good and they’ll send a copy to my surgeon. Yada yada yada.

Another year.

This is my life unless or until I decide to have a double mastectomy and start over with a fresh pair of boobs. I opted for lumpectomy and radiation 14 years ago. Thankfully I did not need chemotherapy. And I didn’t need reconstruction back then.

 Now, even if I wanted to get them redone — breast-feeding did take its toll on the working one — I am not willing to undergo anesthesia for a new pair. I have kids to think about. A family.

And besides, I’m chicken. Anesthesia is scary.

So, for now, I endure the nerves that creep up every year when the mammography office calls to schedule me. And every year I am damn glad when it’s over.

During the remaining days of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, schedule your mammogram. And tell someone else to do the same.

Early detection is still the best protection.

Where Have All The People Gone?

It occurred to me yesterday, as I was driving around creation doing errands, that I can go through an entire day without talking to a single soul. Not one verbal exchange. Wow.

Here’s the scenario:

  1. Drop off children at school queue from the comfort of my own driver’s seat, wave and watch them go.
  2. Drive to the drive-up ATM machine at the bank and get cash. Again, not leaving my car.
  3. Drive on the highway to Target. (I know Target, again…)
  4. Get out, talk to no one, grab my big red card and go in.
  5. Throw too much in my cart at Target and then go to the self-checkout with aforementioned goodies.
  6. When the machine doesn’t work correctly, swear at it. The girl that hangs around the self checkout area waiting for these inevitable snafus, comes over, says nothing but swipes her card and enters a code to get the dang thing working again. Five minutes become 15 with the computerized checkout woman repeatedly telling you to remove item from bagging  area, return item to bagging area.
  7. Girl comes back and again says nothing, but this time does smile as she swipes her card and enters code again. This two more times.
  8. Tell myself I will never do that again, take my packages and mumble to myself all the way out to the parking lot. Put bags away minus the one candy bar I need for the ride home.
  9. Stop at the supermarket and do the weekly grocery shop that is not really weekly but every other day. Grab the scanner and bag items as I go.
  10. Again, head to the self check out, this time since items are in their bags, no snafus and off on my merry way.

Whoa! I really don’t have to talk to a living person at all if I don’t want to. If I had one, I could check my email on my iPhone, check Facebook, check the weather and probably even call home to check my answering machine if I had to. (Can you believe we actually still have a land line? I know, so 2010.)

The whole day would be me, myself and I.

Oh my GOD! How boring.

How on earth did we get to this? This anti-social society we have become? Our heads are buried in our iPhones, and texting has taken the place of conversation. The smiley face is cute and all, but seeing a real person’s face move into a smile is much, much better.

I don’t know about you, but I need people. I am one of them — “the luckiest people in the world” that someone wrote a song about because I need those people!

Yesterday was an anomaly. A blip on my chart of social interaction. I am usually the one who talks to everyone I see. I have something to say to nearly everyone. And I am damn proud of it!

You make people’s days brighter when you say kind words to them, or smile and say hello to them. I know it makes me feel better anyway. Especially in our 24-7 connected world where we don’t have to interact with people anymore.

People! I miss you!

So I won’t be heading to the self-checkout anymore. And as for the ATM, I think I will walk into the bank unless it’s raining from now on. And while it’s probably really cool, Santa can keep his iPhone for himself this year.

Today, even though I drove one of my kids to school (the other had an early morning activity) , I parked and walked with her into school. I kissed her goodbye at her classroom, waved to some kids and then went to deliver my son’s lunch to him in his classroom. I said “hi” to people I passed. And then gave my son a big hug and kissed him goodbye.

It was a nice social start to my morning.

And then I went home and sent a zillion emails to a zillion faceless people I need to contact.

Oy.

Anyway, what about you? In our age of 24-7 connectedness, iPhones and texting, are you STILL a real people person?

Pick Your Color

Usually at this time of year, I send out an email blast urging all my friends and family–  and anyone whose address I may have — a reminder that, since it’s October and Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it’s a good time to get a mammogram or screening, do a self exam and tell another person, or two, to do the same.

I am late but plan to do that task sometime today.

And to mark the first day of October yesterday, I proudly wore my pink Lucy shirt, one that features a cartoon girl kick boxing — to represent kicking breast cancer’s ass. I won it on a breast cancer blog two years ago during an October breast cancer giveaway.

I am a firm believer in using the color pink as a way to spread breast cancer awareness. At least in October, when people see that color, it is a way for them to stop and give themselves a once over — for a woman to make sure the girls are working properly and for a man to stop and check himself as well.

Yup. I can personally attest to the fact that men can, and do, get breast cancer. My dad died of metastatic breast cancer in 1990. My neighbor was luckier. He discovered his lump, had surgery and radiation and is doing great.

Although the color pink is not first in my day-to-day fashion choice, I do have a lot of pink things now. It wasn’t until many years after I was diagnosed with breast cancer that I had the good sense to come out in public and say “Yeah, I had breast cancer at 30 and I am here to tell you that early detection is the best protection.”

So I bought a bunch of pink things, registered for some breast cancer awareness walks (which I loved) and decided to be an advocate for the disease. And at 44, I am now a 14 year survivor and am trying to do my best to spread the word.

I will never forget my first Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. I looked out to a sea of pink — more than 3,000 women and men on the campus of the University of Massachusetts in Boston — wore the hue in some way shape or form to walk the 40 miles for themselves or someone else. It was moving. And while it probably would have been moving had there not been any chosen color, looking out and seeing all those people in some shade of pink made me cry. And my friends who were doing the walk with me were awe-inspired as well.

Recently I have heard and read that the use of the color pink to denote breast cancer awareness has come under scrutiny by some who say it is more of a marketing or packaging gimick than anything else.

To that I say phooey.

I personally think that the creation of Breast Cancer Awareness Month with the pink ribbon and use of the color pink is a great idea. It’s a chance for people to help people with out doing anything other than wearing something pink. It’s a chance to see manufacturers give something to a charity for doing nothing more than presenting a different choice to their customers. It’s a chance to say ‘hey, we care.’

So, while I think it’s a great idea, I realize not everyone does.

But I am sure everyone does know someone who has had, is fighting or has died of some form of cancer.

So whether you choose pink, or blue for colon cancer, or orange for leukemia or any color for cancer in general, when you do that, you are creating awareness for something near and dear to you.

Dear people, don’t judge me because my cancer color is pink and the most recognizable. And please don’t NOT buy a York Peppermint Patty or a Yoplait yogurt or any other product that goes pink for October to spite the marketing. Buy the product you want and, if its packaging is pink for BCA, maybe, just maybe, you’ve helped someone in line behind you think about getting a breast cancer screening.

I think about it this way — breast cancer awareness and the color pink wouldn’t be so big if there wasn’t such a huge population of women and men who have had the disease.

In my immediate family, four out of six of us got the diagnosis. I have two sisters-in-law both diagnosed, one first cousin who had it and last year, we lost a second cousin to the disease last year. In my little town, I have personally met 8 women and 1 man who were diagnosed. I found out that two friends from high school were diagnosed with it last year and  recently heard that breast cancer claimed one girl from high school whose family is now motherless because of it.

There are countless others and then there are the friends and family I know with leukemia, skin cancer, ovarian cancer, brain cancer, throat cancer, oral cancer and kidney cancer.

Cancer is cancer is cancer is cancer.

So if you ask, I will wear the awareness color for the cancer you are passionate about during your cancer awareness month. I’d even buy a product that changes its packaging to promote an awareness.

Mine is still pink. And I am proud to wear it.