As my husband says, "Everybody Poops," OR Boring Health Junk and Frustrations

I haven't written since my last post because I had a cold and some tummy troubles, then we lost my granny and had to go out of town for her funeral; afterwards, we have had visitor after visitor, and now I am sick again with tummy problems and sinuses. *bleh* No me gusta, as a friend from my study abroad trip used to say when something was wrong.

If you have been following my blog, are my friend on facebook, or know me in real life, you know I love food--talking about it, cooking it, eating it. Yet food is a frenemy to me.

I was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease in 2003. That first major flare-up probably lasted about two years (counting the year pre-diagnosis when I started having symptoms), and it was a perfect storm of disease when I was hospitalized as I simultaneously had a bacterial infection from visiting the Floridian beaches and ocean that summer, H-Pylori (a bacteria that causes inflammation), and a bleeding ulcer. If you don't know much about Crohn's, it is the inflammation of the lining of the colon and is often seen as an autoimmune disease because you body basically attacks itself (along with food it views as invading enemies). Someone--I can't remember whether a nurse or a doctor--described Crohn's as if you had a really bad sunburn inside your colon. My daddy was diagnosed with Crohn's in 1989 or so, when it was fairly unknown. He suffered indescribable pain that was exacerbated by his alcoholism. (On the other hand, the alcohol helped him handle his pain). When I started having symptoms and my first G.I. test came back negative for Crohn's, I researched the disease and said, "No, I do have it." Turns out, I was right.

I lost fourteen pounds in two weeks at the height of my flare-up, which would have been great if I could have gotten out of bed for activities outside of going to the bathroom for various reasons. I was in the hospital for three weeks and three days, and it could have been much longer. Except for the last few days, I was on TPN (total parenteral nutrition)--that is, I was nourished through an I.V. All I could have were ice chips. Once I was released from the hospital, I changed my eating lifestyle, avoiding such things as raw fruits and vegetables, nuts, and fried foods. (The first time I had McDonald's after changing my diet I definitely could tell a difference in my poop.)

I have had a few minor flares since being diagnosed, but they were easily treated with short term prescriptions of prednisone and Flagyl, an antibiotic that can cause you to be very, very sick if you have any kind of alcohol, including mouth wash. Thankfully I had insurance when I was diagnosed; after I turned 19, my minor flares were treated by the Student Health Center at UCA. I came close to being referred during my last year as a student, but luckily Asacol, an expensive medication covered by a prescription program, took care of business until recently.

Once Zach got his job in November, we got insurance, which didn't go into effect until January.
Now insurance is great and all, but it's still not perfect. Out-of-pocket costs can still be very expensive, especially as I have been unemployed for four months since Zach got his job at NWACC. I know, I know, it would be A LOT worse if we didn't have insurance. (As a kid, I was on ARKids First, and it covered everything, thank God. So this kind of insurance with deductibles and whatnot is new to me. I think Zach gets frustrated with me because I don't know what questions to ask when it comes to payment plans. *lol*) We were so afraid that my Crohn's would not be covered because it was a pre-existing condition, and fortunately I had not been treated within the year before our insurance went into effect. Why is it that the people who need insurance the most cannot access it? I could go on and on with the problems with healthcare and attitudes regarding healthcare and the problems regarding said attitudes. But I won't (at least not today).

Crohn's is something I will always have, so it's important for me to always be under a doctor's care. (It's also important to go to your dentist. I'm paying for years of skipped check-ups now.) That just wasn't possible when I was in school, even when I was working. My mama has always told me that good health is your most important asset, something this country doesn't seem to prioritize. Thankfully, with Zach's insurance, I was able to find a new gastroenterologist here and get started on maintenance meds. I started having a few problems after stomach bug during Thanksgiving that continued until my primary physician put me on a short run of prednisone and Flagyl in January (January 4th, to be exact--I wasted little time getting into a doctor once our insurance went into effect.) Then she referred me to Dr. Stagg. (BTW, Dr. Stagg reminds me of Dr. Stengel, my undergraduate thesis advisor. *lol*)

I had a colonoscopy in January. (Oh, the joys of that!) It came back with fairly good results; I had some inflammation in a few spots, but nothing major. So Dr. Stagg started me on Entocort, a steroid (Oh, the joys of that!), and an enema to treat my sigmoid colon, which is the lowest part of the colon (Oh, the joys of that!). I had a check-up a month after my colonoscopy, which I reported I had a lot of gas that was making me rather uncomfortable. I've never had much gas, so this was a little worrisome. I assumed that was from enema because it was a side effect. As things seemed to be going well otherwise, I got to stop the nightly enema. (Did I mention it was nightly? Oh the joys of that!) Once I finished the Entocort, I would start Balsalazide, similar to the Asacol I had while at UCA that fixed me up right except this med is cheaper. :)

The gas continued, and, after some research, I saw that gas was also a side effect of the Entocort. So I assumed it would stop once I stopped the Entocort. Well, I had about two weeks left when I started noticing blood in my stool while the consistency of my poop went downhill. (I wish I could be constipated one day. ;) So I have been checking in with the nurse. During my first call, my doctor decided to go ahead and start me on Balsalazide while I finished the Entocort. A week later, still no improvement. At this time, we decided that since my sinuses sometimes upset my tummy, as does a woman's monthly visitor, we will wait it out another week or so. (My cousin has a very funny name for her monthly visitor, but I can't remember it now.)

I have felt awful the last few days. I feel week and achy, the weather changes have flared up my sinuses, and my tummy feels the need to keep going. I start my job at NWACC on Friday, and then I start training for my part-time instructor position at University of Phoenix Saturday. We also have a friend staying with us this weekend. I am hoping and praying I get better in the next two days. Zach is out of town for a conference, so I am lounging around the house and working hard to take care of myself. It's really frustrating that my maintenance meds don't seem to be working and that I felt better before I started on them, which means I may be going to see Dr. Stagg sooner rather than later. At least we have met my deductible, so we shouldn't have to pay anything but co-pays now. But who knows? Every time we talk to Blue Cross Blue Shield they tell us something different from the last person with whom we spoke. *argh*


On Thursday morning we headed to Cleveland for the weekend, so not much cooking was done, BUT a lot of eating was!

Whenever we have a week of lots of social obligations or if we are going out of town for the weekend, we try to keep it light and easy the days before and after the trip. That way there isn't a lot of clean-up involved or wasted leftovers. For example, last week we had breakfast for dinner at least two times because breakfast foods are always on hand, cheap, easy to make, and very filling.

Anyway, we had some fabulous meals on our mini Spring-ish Break, including the one I'm going to discuss today. Our friend Holly works in admissions at the International Culinary Arts and Sciences Institute in Cleveland. ICASI has this fabulous student-ran cafe for which senior students prepare luncheons for the public every Saturday. It. was. amazing. AMAZING! Each student has the opportunity to be head chef (designing the menu, heading the staff, etc.) and to work at each station in the kitchen through the course of a semester. There are two head chefs--one in savory and one in pastry. I wish I knew of a place like this in Arkansas because I would be eating there all the time. We had a five-course meal for just $25, and, upon consideration regarding the quality and quantity of the dishes we were served, I have to say that it was much better than the $200 meal we had on our honeymoon in Chicago. :)

We had lunch Saturday at 11 a.m. and I have never been so glad to have skipped breakfast because we were stuffed by the time we left! Fresh bread was already on the table when we were seated. We each got to try a cheese scone, a mini buttermilk cornbread muffin, and a slice of onion ciabatta bread. I didn't take a picture of my bread plate, but I think you can probably imagine them. *lol* I had the cornbread muffin first. It was very light and reminded me of the muffins they had at Joey's Seafood/Mickey's Seafood in Conway minus the beer flavor. I don't think these were as good as Joey's (maybe because it wasn't made with the beer), but I didn't miss the heavy, grainy texture and taste of traditional Southern cornbread. The ciabatta was my favorite! I quickly dribbled on olive oil and herbs and ate it up. :) The crust wasn't too chewy (a plus for me--I don't like chewy bread), and the inside was light and heavenly. It was the perfect white bread--indescribable otherwise. I didn't pick up on a strong onion flavor, which was fine either way. I love onion, but a hint is great, too. (I just read on Wikipedia that ciabatta was first brought to the states by a Cleveland bakery. Hmmm....) I had the scone last. I liked it alright; Jenni LOVED it. I think I was filling up on bread by this point, and the cheese flavor was a little too strong for me after the plain flavor of the ciabatta. I would eat it again, but it wasn't my favorite.

For appetizers, we had the choice of either Smoked Salmon Bruschetta or Roasted Polenta Cakes. I chose the bruschetta:
I love bruschetta, and I never pass up a chance to have smoked salmon since it is so expensive to buy it here. (In England, I LOVED smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwiches. *ahhh*) The bruschetta here was made using an herb and sea salt focaccia, which I honestly didn't notice. I don't think that is unusual, however, because typically the toppings soak into the bread anyway. I did like how the focaccia was thinly sliced and not too crisp so it neither filled your mouth or hurt it. Lately I've toasted our bread too long, so that it hurt our mouths whilst eating. *lol* The artichoke-spinach cream cheese was very tasty; you couldn't actually taste the cheese in it, which I missed a little since it was paired with the salmon. No complaints about the salmon, of course! The sauce in the picture is a roasted red pepper coulis, and it was rather tasty and just spicy enough. I also liked the texture of it--thick, but creamy. I liked just a bit on my bruschetta. The dill--at least, I think it was dill--was a nice touch. :)

In regards to soup, we could have either Hearty Peasant Soup or Potato-Leek Soup. I went with the second soup because I have been dying to try it. Zach got me a Julia Child tips and techniques book for Christmas that includes a potato-leek soup recipe as one of its base recipes. However, I've never had leeks before, and despite having heard they were very much like onions, I was afraid to buy and use them in case we didn't like them and had to throw them out.
However, I can now say that I LOVE leeks. This soup was wonderful! It was a pureed soup of potatoes and leeks, but there were enough chunks added back in that it wasn't boring to eat like other pureed soups. It would be a fine meal with bread. Also, the crispy leeks on top were a big plus! They tasted a lot like French fried onions. I could have done without the goat cheese because it's too pungent for me, but it blended well into the soup. I cannot wait to make Julia Child's recipe now! I just wish Zach had tried a bigger bite of one of ours so I know for sure he likes it. *lol*

I had the hardest time picking a salad, which doesn't surprise me because I am a little picky when it comes to raw vegetables. Growing up I tended to refuse vegetables unless they were potatoes or corn or raw carrots and celery. So I never ate salad really until high school, and I didn't start eating other veggies until I was diagnosed with Crohn's and my taste buds readjusted after not consuming anything for months. Our choices were Mesclun Salad or Romaine Salad. As much as I love romaine lettuce, I went with the Mesclun because the toppings sounded so much better.

Does this not remind you of a sea creature or alien? I'm fairly certain I wrote that in my comments. (We reviewed the meal anonymously for the students' benefit.) Now I'm a little embarrassed I wrote that. *lol* Anyway, the salad course was the weakest. First of all, I'm sure you are wondering what that hay-looking stuff is. That is a kataifi phyllo cup. We tried to figure out what "kataifi" meant, and I assumed it was shredded. According to the interweb, I am correct! Typically kataifi phyllo is used in sweets. Here, it added a nice crunch, but there was way too much; additionally it was messy when you attempted to incorporate it into the salad, sending pieces flying through the air. It would have been much better had the salad been inside/on the kataifi and if there had been less. The roasted garlic vinaigrette was tasty, but there wasn't enough salad to suit me. I'm not saying that the salad was swimming in vinaigrette; rather the vinaigrette's flavor overpowered everything else because there was so little of it. Mesclun green mix originated in Provence and should be more bitter and peppery than other salads, but I didn't pick up on this. Maybe my palate isn't refined enough? *haha* The salad included marinated red onions, radishes, and red peppers. (I like the alliteration!) There were more radishes than anything, but they were all tasty and complimented one another well.

For our entree, we could choose between Tilapia Milanese and Braised Short Ribs. I went with the ribs because its sides sounded better AND I have been craving some ribs since I tried one at Fred's Hickory Inn at our Valentine's Day dinner.

I was almost full by this point, but I ate as much as I could. The meat was so tender. I honestly cannot think how I could describe the sauce, although I do remember we discussed its vinegar undertones. I know it was a red wine sauce that was smooth and thickened--not like a steak sauce at all. The mashed potatoes were nothing special; I would have liked to have some cracked black pepper on them. *lol* But I always like pepper on my potatoes! (Salt and pepper were not provided.) Also, after having potato-leek soup, I guess they seemed redundant. I ate every bite with a bit of ribs or vegetables, so I suppose they acted as a pedestal for the dish. The caramelized root vegetables (carrots, squash, ?) were underdone and did not taste exactly caramelized. Holly and I decided they could have done without them. My favorite part? THE PARSNIP CHIPS! This were awesome! (I definitely asked if I could marry them in my review!) I had parsnips for the first time last fall; a parsnip is basically a pale carrot with a much headier carrot flavor. I wish I knew how to make these because I could eat them as a snack. I have found a recipe for kale chips on a blog I follow, so I imagine I can find one out there.

Thank heavens for the separate dessert stomach! There is always room for dessert, right? We could choose one of three: Raspberry Nouvelle Entremet, Poached Bartlett Pears, and Classic Baked Alaska. Zach and I went with the raspberry chiffon cake while Holly had the pears and Jenni the baked Alaska. For every course, we let each other try the others' dishes. The only things I didn't try were the Chopped Romaine Salad and the Tilapia Milanese. I am so glad I got to try all three desserts because it was a HARD decision to choose just one!

The Raspberry Nouvelle Entremet was truly a work of art. An entremet traditionally was something served between courses to cleanse the palate (from what I can tell). Now it seems to be a layered mousse dessert...this entremet was so sweet. :) I loved the raspberry Bavarian cream--it was an exact blend of tart fruit and sweet cream. The chiffon was light and fluffy. On top was a raspberry mirror glace, which has the taste of raspberry jam with the texture of a homemade marshmallow (with the grain of the jam). It was pretty to view, but I found it hard to break through to get a bite of everything on my fork. I liked it though. I didn't really taste the mango coulis on the plate. By that, I mean I didn't really pick up on the mango flavor. The chocolate, however, was a perfect addition, although it had hardened and had to be scraped off the plate. I loved how they decorated the plate...and the raspberries on top (and inside)!

I'm not sure what was going on with the tie-dyed side of the cake. It was pretty, but didn't exactly match the mirror glace, so it sorta bothered my aesthetic sense. *lol* It also didn't match the texture--it was crunchier or chewier than the chiffon and firmer, like a meringue cookie.

I've made poached pears before, so I wasn't surprised by the anchor of this dish. However, I definitely prefer to have sliced pears over whole pears because this one was hard to cut with my fork. The ginger ice cream was DIVINE. I also liked the twist the Romanoff cream provided. I could have eaten an entire bowl of these two creams. I also liked the tuille leaf, which was like a wafer cookie. The dots are raspberry cream, which I didn't taste. This dish was also very pretty to see.

Finally, the Baked Alaska. I've never had baked Alaska before, so I was excited to try this. I swear this is probably the best meringue I've ever had, and it reminded me of the cover of one of those cupcake books with the puppy cupcakes. :) The homemade vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry ice cream were just delish. I didn't get to taste the strawberry coulis, but I bet it was sweet!
Well, it seems we have reached the end of my luncheon at ICASI.
But this wasn't the end!
They gave us crescent almond cookies dipped in chocolate to take home! (I definitely devoured mine during Holly's Hellbombers Roller Derby game that night because I worked off this big meal cheering!) It was a scrumptious cookie.

Hopefully we will be back in Cleveland soon to visit Holly, ICASI, and the West Side Market (where vendors sell freshly baked breads, meats, cheeses, desserts, produces, and specialty items) again. Holly, thanks for having us and taking us on the gastronomic tour of Cleveland! :) Cleveland does, indeed, rock.


In case you have been living under a rock (or aren't my friend...on facebook), then you might have missed the BIG news:

I got an early birthday present!
This is my new baby, an Empire Red Artisan KitchenAid Mixer.
I had been saving up my Swagbucks Amazon gift cards since June for this, and, as of last week, I had about $145 or so to put toward it. I hoped to save up the rest or, at least, much more, to get it around Black Friday when the prices drop; we had planned all along to pay the difference. Well, I had planned. My husband had different plans. :)

Last Thursday Zach came home from work, and, in a very serious tone, said he had something to tell me:

1) he hacked into my Amazon account and used my Swagbucks gift cards to put towards the mixer because he and his parents decided to pay the difference for my birthday


2) he tried to hack into my Yahoo email to intersect the Amazon notifications.

Unfortunately...fortunately...he couldn't hack it. *lol*
(Actually I can't remember exactly what my password is for my email now because I have it saved to my computer. *oops*)

Anyway, he had to 'fess up, and I got this bad girl when she came Monday night. :)

It's going to be so handy to have when I decorate cakes. I still don't really like to eat cakes, but I love to decorate them. A. LOT. Soon I've gotta start planning an Easter cake, and I already know I want to make some French macarons, as difficult as they may be--they're just so pretty.

But I could hardly wait until Easter to use my new girl, so I flipped through the instruction/cooking booklet and found a recipe for PEANUT BUTTER COOKIES.

My aunt Grace made these often when I was growing up, most likely because they didn't call for a lot of expensive ingredients and were quite tasty. For a plain cookie, I preferred these to sugar cookies. (I liked her peanut butter fudge and pies the best; I'm just not really a cake/cookie/brownie type person. Ice cream is my favorite. Supposedly it helps increase your fertility, so I must be one fertile turtle by now! *haha* And my husband can admit that one of the perks about buying me these appliances is that I can make him sweets...but that is not the only reason he buys them for me. ;)

Sadly, I don't think we have her recipe book anymore, but I imagine most recipes would produce the same results. And, as this recipe tells you what speed to use and what not, I had to try it! (For the sake of including it here, I will not include the numbered speeds, etc.)

1/2 c. peanut butter
1/2 c. butter or margarine, softened
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1-1/4 c. flour

-Place peanut butter and butter in mixing bowl and beat on medium until mixture is smooth.

-Stop beating and scrape bowl. Add sugars, egg, and vanilla. Beat for one minute; stop and scrap bowl.

-Gradually beat in all remaining ingredients to sugar-butter mixture.

-Roll into 1-inch balls. The dough will be sticky, so flour hands to keep dough from sticking. Place about 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheet. (As you can see, I did not place this batch 2 inches apart, and mine definitely had touching edges when they were done. I like to think they wanted to be friends with one another!)

I need a smaller cookie scoop. Mine was too large for this project!

-Flatten slightly with your palm and then flatten with a fork in a criss-cross pattern. A large fork is preferred than the small one I used. You may also need to dip the fork in flour between flattening to keep it from pulling up the dough.

I ate one.
Hey! It was smooshed. :)
[I am in the process of buying some cooling racks with my most recent Amazon gift cards.]

-Bake at 375 degrees until golden brown, about 8 to 10 minutes (according to my oven). Remove from baking sheets immediately and cool on wire racks. If you don't have wire racks, you can take a piece of wax paper and generously sprinkle it was sugar, and it will do the trick. PLUS it gives the bottoms of your cookies a nice sugary crunch. :)

[2 dozen or so]

I topped the second batch of cookies with trios of chocolate chips.
Chocolate + Peanut Butter = :)

I alternated between cooking mine on a cookie sheet--Lord, we need some new ones BADLY--and on my Pampered Chef stone. I found that the cookies on the stone were chewier, which is what I prefer, but I had to bake them much longer. The recipe states that the cookies should bake between 10 to 12 on the cookie sheet, but they were already far too crisp at 10-ish minutes. I believe it's because I have a dark metal cookie sheet, which usually requires a chef to knock twenty-five degrees or so off the cooking temperature. (The same goes for glassware.)