April 16, 2014

OK, I invented a dessert

As a riff on both Marcy Goldman's recipe for Matzoh Buttercrunch, and on Hershey's Almond Joys and Mounds Bars, favorite candies of my childhood, I invented a Passover version. Of course, you could make it any time of year; it's gluten-free and totally yummy (I think). Try it and let me know you opinion!

Passover “Almond Joy” Bars

1 cup almond meal
2 tablespoons melted butter
2 tablespoons sugar

Heat oven to 375° F.
Line an 8-inch square pan with baking parchment.
Combine ingredients for crust, and press into the bottom of pan. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until fragrant and beginning to brown.

2 large egg whites
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
Pinch of salt
3/4 cup sweetened flaked coconut

Put oven rack in middle position and reduce oven heat to 300° F.
Whip together egg whites, sugar, vanilla extract, and a pinch of salt until peaks form. Stir in coconut. Spread coconut layer over almond crumb layer. Bake until top is pale golden in spots, 15 to 20 minutes.

½ bag of chocolate chips
12 or more whole almonds

Spread chocolate chips over coconut layer. Transfer to a rack to cool completely, about 15 minutes. Decorate with whole almonds. Chill in refrigerator. Cut into bars to serve.

I think if you change three ingredients, you can call a recipe your own. I did adapt the almond crust and macaroon middle layer from:

Matzoh Buttercrunch, to give it the proper name

Here in Seattle, about 20 years ago, a recipe began circulating among Jewish mothers of pre-school-aged children while I was working at the JCC as the Jewish educator. Someone called it Matzah Roca, after the famous candy, and it began to appear on almost every seder table as "the" dessert.

On my hunt for the original author, I found Marcy Goldman, who "created Matzoh Buttercrunch when my eldest son, now 29, was about 18 months old and of course, disliked all Passover offerings, especially the desserts. I thought about something that would be easy to make and that a toddler might eat. That was the inspiration."

I asked Marcy if I could share her original recipe on my blog, and she gracefully said yes. Marcy also writes: "I feature this recipe ‘always free’ on my website… Usually I’m not given credit for this recipe, one of my most iconic ones. But in the big scheme of life, as you must know more than most people, it’s not one of the ‘big things’.  I am just pleased that so many people get such pleasure out of the recipe. But given you have no doubt, lots to handle, it’s particular kind that you sought me out and asked for copyright permission."

So for all of you who would love the original Matzoh Buttercrunch, click away!

April 15, 2014

Cooking and cleaning and so many dishes

I love Passover. Even though over recent years I have given up changing the dishes, cleaning all the cupboards, buying new foodstuffs in unopened packages, etc. I still love Pesach. It may be favorite holiday ever.

Yesterday I spent my four good hours on my feet cooking. I made my father's recipe for chopped liver. Thanks to my in-laws' generosity, I don't grind by hand but instead use the grinder attachment for the stand mixer. (Two of the best presents I have ever received!) Then I made some matzah farfel "granola" for Rik to enjoy at breakfast and for late night snacking. I did something different this year; maybe I added a little more salt? But we both agree it's spectacular this time. And I whipped up a new cake with almonds, pears, dried cherries (and a few of the fresh ones I found in the freezer left from our little trees this summer). I haven't tasted yet since it's for tonight's seder, but if it's good I'll share the recipe I found on line.

Last night's seder was fun, maybe a little short for me, but we still finished the whole thing and didn't leave until 10:30 pm. Our hosts always include his 93-year-old father who is a Shoah survivor. What a treat to listen to his Polish Hebrew, his melodies, and to watch him pound the table during Adir Hu and shout in a call and response El! B'nai! El! B'nai! I think I will incorporate this into my next seder.

Breakfast this morning was the first taste of matzah with butter and salt -- the best! I wait all year for that delicious taste. Today I baked matzah rolls (like popovers but with matzah meal, so yummy fresh from the oven!), and a batch of matzah "roca" (as we call it in Seattle), made with chopped pecans instead of almonds this time. This recipe has floated around the world and now the internet for maybe 20 years, and is the best Passover dessert ever. I've asked the original author for permission to link to her site. We'll see what happens.

Our hostess's version of the 10 plagues. Look who came to dinner!

April 08, 2014

Back on Xeloda

I am back on another cycle of Xeloda (round 15) and have one more dose of Methotrexate before I see Dr G this week. My tumor markers drawn last week are about the same as the previous time; we'll see how much they change this week after the fourth dose of Methotrexate.

Meanwhile I am still easily fatigued but trying to keep accomplishing what I need to do. I had a busy weekend: I lead musaf services at synagogue (and someone told me my voice was "ethereal" -- that was really nice to hear!); we joined friends for smoked meat i.e. pastrami sandwiches and a to watch basketball game on TV; there was a congregational meeting Sunday morning; and our Food and Friends group met for the last time Sunday night. I did make an excellent Anarchy Cake thanks to G loaning me the recipe, but forgot to take a photo. Of course I made a few changes to incorporate some chocolate. I really recommend this recipe.

Yesterday I hacked at the ivy and trimmed back some ferns, then visited a friend in the hospital. Rik and I watched the very funny "Lone Ranger" movie starring Johnny Depp. This morning, however, it all caught up with me and I stayed in bed until noon. Now I am going to try to get the ironing done. I haven't even thought yet about what new tricks to include in Passover seder. Thank goodness friends are hosting us both nights!

Anarchy Cake (6-8 servings)

8 ounces / about 1 ½ cups sliced fresh strawberries
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar, divided
¾ cup cake flour
¾ teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
1 egg
¼ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup milk
½ teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon turbinado or granulated sugar for sprinkling on top

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Line the bottom of a 10-inch spring form pan with parchment paper, brush with oil and lightly dust with flour.

In a medium bowl, gently toss the fruit with 1 tbsp of the sugar and set aside.

In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside.

Using an electric mixer, beat the egg with ½ cup sugar and lemon zest until light, fluffy and pale. (This could take as long as 3 minutes.) Add the oil, then the milk and the balsamic vinegar, beating until fully combined. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the flour mixture. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and drop the strawberries over the top. Sprinkle with 1 tbsp sugar.

Bake for 50 minutes or until the top is a beautiful golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for about 5 minutes, then remove sides of pan. Serve warm or at room temperature. Delicious with whipped cream!

Note from Seattle Times: I’ve found that when you use fruit, the cake comes out like a cross between a torte and a cobbler. It’s a tender, low profile cake that’s not too sweet. A great emergency dessert that also works for tea time.

From Faith Willinger, "The Best American Recipes 2002-2003," edited by Fran McCullough

My Substitutions:
Sub ¼ cup cocoa for ¼ cup flour
Sub ¼ cup coffee for ¼ cup milk (to make it parve)

Okay to omit lemon zest
Sprinkle a handful of cocoa nibs over the batter
Top with coffee-flavored whipped cream
To make it for Passover, you could even sub some matzo meal cake flour for the pastry flour and use the 1/4 cup of cocoa.

April 02, 2014

Fatigue hitting me hard

The reason for the lack of posting is that fatigue has struck. Between the Xeloda and the Methotrexate, I am getting the full double whammy. I usually have about three good hours per day. If I split them up and nap between, I cope a little better, but if I use my time all at once, I hit the "wall" hard and really crash.

For instance, yesterday it was sunny and warm. I decided to walk the dogs to the drugstore and back, about 20 blocks round trip. I was dragging so by the time I got home, I could barely move. My feet hurt from the neuropathy and Hand-Foot Syndrome. My energy had completely dissipated. I was hot (it really was warm out). All I could manage was to get myself onto the sofa for a couple of hours. Then I felt better, hungry even, but those two hours were in complete fatigue. And all that from just walking the dogs!

Now I have to sign off to crash and later deal with some medical papers (bills, etc.)

March 24, 2014

Overdoing and paying the price

Sometimes I overcommit myself. It could be because I forget to measure my energy, or because I don't know what the impact of a new drug will be. This weekend it was both.

Insomnia on Friday night.
Saw the naturopath first thing Saturday morning, now his only time to see patients.
Bought 48 Theo chocolate bars for Rik's upcoming classroom unit on agriculture and chocolate simulation exercise.
Went to synagogue to meet the final assistant rabbi candidate finalist.
Napped for two hours.
Rehearsed for that evening's choir gig and scared the daylights out of my friends, who were convinced that I would collapse on them.
"Stepped up" to perform -- the show must go on!
Attended a board party to meet to final rabbinic candidate.
Crashed at home to - ta da! - more insomnia.
Barely made it to Sunday brunch but enjoyed coffee, bagels, and TK's art. Went home with four original pieces!
Napped again and went out with Rik for a hamburger.
Slept this time like the proverbial log.
Barely made it to this morning's meeting and lunch with a friend.
Napped again with both dogs. Rik joined us after school.

What's the price for this weekend? Diarrhea, fatigue, hand-foot syndrome, queasy tummy.

I think I was crazy, but I did it all and managed to have fun with everything. As an MBTI extrovert, I get my energy from being with people, cancer notwithstanding.

March 18, 2014

Dinner for seven

Most of our good friends have teenaged children who we've known since birth and/or earliest childhood. Yesterday, two of them who are in college and home for a visit, decided to make dinner for Rik and I and their families. What a treat!

When we talked on Sunday about trying to get together during their visits home, we assumed it would be over food, but I expected to do the cooking. It totally surprised me these lovely young people wanted to be the chefs.

After much texting among the three of us, it all got figured out. I had rice paper wrappers, sweet chili sauce and other condiments on hand. They brought over vegetables, rice noodles, and tofu. While J taught himself how to use the mandoline in order to shred vegetables, A sliced and shredded and then began frying the tofu slices.

The parents came over with A's younger sister (one mom had to leave and we sadly didn't get to see her other son). We ate homemade banitsa, more bread like than usual and no apparent cheese but so yummy, and Thai spring rolls (rice
paper filled with carrots, cucumbers, tofu, rice noodles, peanut sauce and chili sauce). I had picked up a bottle of sparkling apple juice to celebrate S/T and Rik's and my shared anniversary date.  I pulled out some Graeter's ice cream for dessert and we gobbled up the remaining hamentashen made by yours truly and J and his mom.

When your family of origin lives far away and you don't get to see your own niece and nephews frequently, it's especially wonderful when the children of friends step into that role. This is not the first time other people's kids have wanted to cook for us or spend time with us, just because they enjoy our company.

I call this "family of the heart."

March 10, 2014

PET/CT results and new plan

The results of my recent PET/CT scan are the typical, some good and some not-so-good. Nothing has grown a lot, but I do have some new mets. Dr G has decided it's time to add a new drug to the cocktail.

After repeatedly going back and forth over ixibepalone (Ixempra), he checked on the likelihood of peripheral neuropathy this drug causes. 88% of people taking Ixempra develop neuropathy! That is way beyond what I consider an acceptable risk and is inconsistent with trying to balance treating my cancer and living with it. Fortunately Dr G agrees.

In 1999, when I was originally diagnosed with early stage breast cancer, I chose to receive CMF -- Cytoxan, Methotrexate and 5FU -- instead of Adriamycin. My thought at the time was that if my cancer came back, I'd still have a strong drug to go to. And since my paternal grandmother had stage IV breast cancer, I kind of suspected mine might return at some point.

Now Dr G has decided to give me Methotrexate again, since it did a relatively good job in 1999 and was quite tolerable. It comes in IV and oral forms, and he is trying to get my health insurance to approve the oral tablets. If they do, I will take M twice a day on one day, then repeat a week later. It's greatest side effect is that it causes low white blood counts, potentially putting me at risk for infection. I don't know if I will also receive Neulasta to boost my white count.

Now I am waiting for approval and the meds to arrive. In the meantime I started round 14 of Xeloda, went back on Avastin after my second cataract surgery, and continue with Aromasin and Faslodex.

Cancer treatment is very complicated!

February 26, 2014

Lots going on

We have been very busy lately!

Last week we visited Rik's parents and enjoyed some Florida sunshine at the same time. Although the temperature was in the 80s, thankfully my lymphedema arm did not swell from either the long flights or the heat.

On Sunday we re-stocked our fridge at Costco and ended up leasing a new 2013 Nissan Leaf. It was a very busy day…

On Monday I had the second cataract surgery. All went well, and I didn't ask for more Versed, so I remember many details of the surgery. Remembering doesn't seem to bother me. We went out for breakfast at Skillet Diner, which continues to not quite live up to expectations, although breakfast was better than any other meal I've eaten there. The biscuit I ordered with my eggs was enormous and fluffy.

Tuesday was a lay-low day since I was "resting" for a PET/CT scan. No exercise and I was supposed to eat a high fat, low carbohydrate diet starting 24 hours before the scan. The scan was the next day at 11 AM, so I could eat a regular breakfast. I ate some leftover chicken for lunch. After my post-op check with the opthalmologist surgeon, we went to the grocery store and bought lamb chops for dinner, with which I sautéed some greens.

What I always seem to forget about this diet is that not eating carbohydrates (no bread, potatoes, etc.) leaves me feeling hungry. I ate some peanut butter at 11 PM and then fasted until the exam was over today at 2 PM. Believe me, eating breakfast after fasting for 15 hours was delicious no matter where you go!

I get the PET/CT results next week from Dr G. He's told me not to start another round of  Xeloda until after I see him and we speak about next steps in treatment.

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I dance with cancer. Oy!