Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Mother of All Tummy Aches

Imagine your digestive enzymes digesting your intestines instead of your food.  Your tummy eating your tummy because there are too many enzymes and not enough food to go around. This in a nut shell is the gist of Crohn's Disease, an auto immune disease that my mom has been living with for over 30 years.  Last week she underwent emergency surgery to have over 1 foot of her colon removed, also known as a colostomy.  Needless to say it has been a wild ride for our family, and has definitely been a reality check of epic proportion.

We were on a quick trip to Atlanta when we got the call Thursday night.  We packed the car and the kids up and shot down I 75 to be there to help.  I found my mom in the ICU in good spirits, and a lot of pain, with a foot long incision running the length of her abdomen.  On the table in her room was the booklet above.  You think they could have come up with a better image than a young man downing a hot dog for a post colostomy booklet cover.

My mother's entire adult life has been round after round of terrible steroids and immune suppressants in an effort to avoid this surgery, and at the age of 61 she lost the battle...or you could say that perhaps she is on her way to victory.   My grandfather, who suffered from Crohn's as well lived as an invalid for two years, in his 40's before he had part of his large intestine removed.  Once the toxic organ was gone his body began to heal and he lived a wonderfully active life.   

I have watched my mother suffer with quiet stoicism throughout my entire childhood, moving through life head first like any proper Taurus as a successful lawyer, professor, and strong mother and now it is my greatest hope that she will be able to finally find some relief from the chronic pain she has faced for three decades.

Crohn's disease is passed on through families like a silent plague waiting to strike most folks in their 20's.  My great grandmother passed it to my grand dad, who passed it on to 2 of his three kids.  So far my brothers and I seem to be in the clear.  

But it is not just all in the family.  It is mostly prevalent in westernized countries, primarily in North America, effecting 400,000 to 600,000 people...which means there is some sort of environmental factor involved as well.  I wonder what?

It is a disease that can go into remission, and then become inflamed again due to stress and other extraneous factors.  It can be kept in check through diet relatively well, but it is a miserable diet.  Imagine not being able to eat: butter or mayo, raw fruits and vegetables, red meat or pork, spicy foods, whole grains, fried food, or any high fiber foods.  What can you eat?  Veggies cooked, grilled poultry and fish, some dairy, and lots of refined flour.

My mom would go weeks eating little more than cookies or cake washing it down with a Boost for nutrition. The alternative would be jaw dropping pain as more difficult foods passed through the hot spots in her colon.

I will be caring for her over the next few weeks, and digestion will be on the mind.  She will be on a liquid diet for a while, so look forward to some yummy soup recipes.  I plan to be a master of the stock pot before this trip is through!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Nectarivore Love


The Hummingbird Cake I baked Chef for Valentine's Day was a hit.  A smash hit.  Three layers tall coated in rich cream cheese icing topped with a toasted coconut heart.  Perfection.  An Art Smith recipe, it called for six ripe bananas, crushed pineapple, chopped pecans, and coconut.  I added a teaspoon of coconut extract and almond extract to both the batter and frosting. The batter is made mostly of fruit which makes for a more nourishment than treat, at least that is what I told myself as I shoveled it into my gob.

While making this cake, which by the way you should do as soon as possible, I got to thinking about hummingbirds.  Whenever I see a hummingbird they stop me in my tracks.  I feel as if I have spotted something special, extraordinary.   A friend of ours here has a flowering bush that an endangered species of hummingbird flocks to every year.  These hummingbirds are no bigger than a large wasp.    You would mistake them for a bug if you didn't take a closer look.  That is the thing about hummingbirds, they are so fleeting in their movement that they are easy to miss, even if you are looking.  The same could be said about love I suppose.

Being that it was Valentine's Day and sex was on the mind, I began to wonder about hummingbird whoopie.  Dirty, I know.  

It turns out that fastest way to a lady hummingbird is through her stomach.  Their mating ritual begins with a male finding the most beautiful nectar rich flowers, and then he stakes his claim fighting off all other male birds until a lady bird flits into his flower patch looking for a suck.  Once she has made her entrance, and fills up on fragrant nectar, the male dances in the air pulling out all his best moves.

Then the love birds get their groove on.  Well, I don't know if you could call it a groove, more of a quickie, given that the act only lasts 3 to 5 second.  They hump each other, there is no penetration, the sperm is passed in what is called a cloacal kiss.  Leave it to a hummingbird to conceive by kissing.

Once the male has scored, he moves on back to the flower patch to prowl for more nookie....the player.  While the little mama, pragmatic, gets down to business building a nest.  This little love nest is made of grass, hair woven together with strands of spider web and is no bigger than half a golf ball. Over a period of two days, she lays two white eggs, each the size of a single baked bean.  She guards her nest from all, including the dead beat daddy.  It takes about two weeks for the little beans to incubate and then presto, two new hummingbirds are brought into the world.  Their mama feeds them nectar and tiny insects and after a month once their feathers are grown in and they are able to fly, she shoos them away.  

Hummingbirds are loners. That is why they are so hard to spot.  They only exist in North and South America and are the only bird able to fly backwards.  They have the highest metabolism of any animal and are considered nectarivores.  Aztecs would wear hummingbird talismans that were thought to draw sexual potency, energy, and vigor.  

Imagine being a nectarivore, penetrating flowers for every meal...and having to eat constantly.  Why waste time on procreation when you make love to flowers all day long?  Just something bright to think about in the final throws of winter!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Walkin' After Midnight

Last week Chef and I joined a couple on a dinner theater double date.  We went to see Taking a Closer Walk with Patsy Cline at the Alhambra Dinner Theater.  I love dinner theater, there is something wonderfully retro about it.  For those of you who don't know Patsy Cline, you ought to...she is only one of the best female American singers of the twentieth century, which is no small feat considering she tragically died at the peak of her career in a plane crash at the age of 31.  Walkin' After Midnight, is definitely one of my top 5 love songs, and since Valentine's Day is coming up I thought this week I would write a bit about love.

There were 3 couples sitting at our table at the Alhambra that evening.  Chef and I, our friends Merle and Julian, and a pair of strangers.  While we chatted excitedly with our friends over a bottle of wine, the couple to my right barely said a word to each other the first 20 minutes they sat down.  She was relatively non-descript, all I remember is her diamond pendant and that she had a pink I-phone.  He was bald, clean shaven and wearing a starched yellow shirt.  After their strained silence, the man tried to strike up a conversation with his wife about a man standing in the buffet line. ( The buffet, our dining experience is a story unto itself I will share in the future).

"What do you think about that fella over there in the sweater vest?  I like that look.  It looks nice, but still casual."

"I don't.  I think he looks sloppy.  Too casual for the theater.  I think it is terrible."  She squawked back.

"Forget I said anything."  He replied.

I kid you not. 

I looked over at Merle and Julian, Julian with his arm thrown over the shoulder of his wife of 30 something years, laughing away about something said and thought to myself...bravo.  You two know how love is done.

Love is a strange bird don't you think?  Flies in and out of our lives.  My love flew into my life at a bar.  Go figure.  Chef and I attended a going-away party for a mutual friend at a favorite local watering hole.  We had a brief introduction as is usual at such occasions and then carried on with our evening.  Little did I know that he was smitten.

From that day on he rode his bike past that tavern every night for two months to see if I was there. Finally one night he spotted me through the open door.  He walked in, strolled up to me at the bar said hello and in the next breath asked "So when am I cooking for you?"  Without a second thought I shot back "How about Thursday night?"  It was done.  Our first date set.
I arrived at his loft apartment on the designated evening and after a tour he poured me a healthy glass of wine.  For dinner he served pan roasted scallops with lima bean succotash, pepper-cured pork tenderloin with ginger blackberry preserves, a baby green salad with rice wine vinaigrette, and Earl Gray pots de creme with tempura fried truffles.  I didn't have the heart to tell him that I did not really eat pork, so I did it, and after that first bite I never looked back.  And the fried truffles...gentlemen out there, if you want to win a woman's heart forever fried chocolate works every time.

Chef did not feast with me, but instead drank wine and watched me eat every last bite.  It was a bit unnerving to sit at a table with someone you barely know and have them watch you eat...but I found something attractive about the situation as well.  He was so intent on me enjoying the meal, and talking about the food, he was so interested in what I had to say about his craft that I found all the attention strangely flattering.  

Lets just say there was much more wine imbibed that evening, more than is healthy. I woke up in the morning fully clothed in his bed with a terrible headache and embarrassed as hell.  I assured him I wasn't that type of girl as I rushed out of his apartment.  All I remembered aside from the meal is a few brief flashes of me jumping on his bed. Yup. Not that kinda girl.

The rest is history.  We are 5 years and 2 kids into a life together, and don't need a reason to celebrate love...but why not?  Last year we started a new Valentine's Tradition, I cook him the meal of his choosing and he buys me a pair of plants.  Then it was a five course, this year he took pity on me and has requested only 3.

Bib Salad with Green Goddess Dressing
Roasted Eggplant and Sausage Rigatoni
Humming Bird Cake

We will celebrate on Sunday night, because my man works every Valentine's Day.   He is usually home from work by midnight, so who knows...maybe we will go walkin'.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Beer Tasting

I am a beer snob.  A major beer snob.  If I am going to suck down liquid carbs, then they damn well better be in the form of an excellent brew.  Chef and I were recently invited to our first Beer Dinner.  A four course beer and food pairing; the beer provided by Intuition Ale Works and the food purveyed from local sources, mainly Black Hog Farm, and crafted by the team at Chew restaurant in downtown Jacksonville.   This meal, this extraordinary dinner, knocked our socks off.  The menu:

1st Course
a local seafood trio  
cured st. augustine snapper, citrus smoked appalachicola oyster, kimchee mayport shrimp ceviche, cauliflower, apple
beer: willow branch wheat 

2nd Course
oeufs en meurette
farm egg, potato confit, black hog farm ham, shotgun shack vinaigrette
beer: shotgun shack black rye ale

3rd Course
black hog farm pork belly
house-made sauerkraut, pickled mustard seeds, candied apple gastrique
beer: people's pale ale

4th Course
black hog farm chicken thigh
brussel sprouts, house-made bacon, cauliflower, chicken jus
beer: i-10 i.p.a.

We arrived at this dinner and didn't know a soul other than a gentleman named Allan, a player in the restaurant scene in these parts, who organized the event, and the fellas running the show in the kitchen.  Chef and I have two totally different ways of mingling with strangers: I do, and he doesn't.  We headed to the bar where beers were lined up for grabs, and grab we did a glass of the willow branch wheat ale. 

I love wheat beers.  Bright, yet rich and full in flavor.   They are also warmer in color, golden.  The willow branch wheat glowed, it was almost orange. (The picture above does not do it justice) Wheat beers are usually paired with citrus, so it made a perfect compliment to a seafood course.  I have never had local oysters, which was a treat, and the cured snapper was perfection.  After the first course it was confirmed, our first beer pairing was going to be exceptional.

Lately I crave poached eggs.  There is nothing I love more than yolk running all over my plate.  The second course of this meal featured a poached egg which had a dark hue, similar to that of the beer.  The beer, Shot Gun Shack rye ale, was a deep brown, almost black.  Eating while drinking dark beers is hard for me.  Dark brews, like Guiness for example, remind me of gulping a pot roast. I find them so filling I rarely can drink more than 2 pints.  The beer served this evening was deceiving.  It looked heavy, but was so light to drink with hints of coffee it was genius to pair it with eggs, potatoes, and ham...the perfect hair of the dog breakfast!

The People's Pale Ale.  The name itself is brilliant.  If there is one type of beer most people will drink it is pale ale.  This was paired with pork belly, which in my book you can never go wrong with...but the highlight of this meal were the pickled mustard seeds which topped it and the homemade sauerkraut.  I was sitting next to a chef and across from my Chef and let me tell you, these men were gushing like middle school girls over the mustard seeds and kraut.

Last but not least...a chicken thigh followed up by a surprise stout panna cotta for dessert, paired with a delicious i.p.a. . Panna cotta and beer...who knew?  Only one of my favorite desserts, a classic, done in a totally original way.  It was incredible.

One of the most lovely things about this dinner was that the farmers from Black Hog Farm who provided most of the ingredients were also in attendance.  I always feel so lucky when I get to meet the folks who raise the food at any meal, and this young couple was really inspiring. 

Heck, this entire meal was really inspiring.  Original.  It opened my eyes to how beer and flavor profiles work together.  Chef and I always seek out dining experiences that change our perception, and this was definitely one to be remembered. The gentlemen in the kitchen at Chew rocked this tasting.

And let me tell you, this beer snob will make her way to Intuition Ale Works sometime in the very near future.  I need to learn more about this beer tasting business.  Beer is something we tend to take for granted as we slug it down.  This meal made me think about beer in an entirely different light.  Chef and I are going to have to indulge in a little research and development on this one!