Friday, July 26, 2013

Hello, it's quite hot.

What's this? Two photo-laden life-dump posts in a week? This one with even less direction? Well, aren't you lucky.

It has been incredibly hot this summer. Like, dogs-of-hell hot. We've had more 100 degree days than I care to remember with humidity, even higher heat indexes, and one weekend topping out around 108 degrees (42 C). Oy.

There have been a lot of doctors appointments lately (more on that later). A lot of days spent in some kind of haze as the earth bakes. A lot of new and old things, a lot of clay between my fingers. A lot of feeling things change. And a lot of good days, too, to go with the bad. I bought myself some dairy-free ice cream (a new favorite) and gluten free cones on a whim one day...and they made the perfect treat after an almost-flat tire in the rain the day after. 

Our colors have been saturated on the few plants that are left alive and our skies have been wild--a week of sitting clouds providing them both. Days have been lazy and slow, with a sprinkling of hurried panic, to go with them. You can feel it in the air that the summer's winding down (though not before a show of force...there's a lot of heat still yet to come).

Our sunsets, as always, have been more than enough. These summer skies are kind of a favorite of mine, and I just can't get enough. Here's to the days left ahead.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A weekend locally

...aka a very shoddy, rambling recap. Indulge me?
best snoballs this side of the Sabine...a maraschino cherry and passionfruit experiment for me;
cake batter with cream for him

Last weekend (or the weekend before that, depending how you phrase it...oh gosh) my favorite guy came into town for a visit. Even though we're pretty good about keeping our turns making the trips fairly even (we've officially hit a year of long distance...whoo?), this was only the second time he'd been to Houston for a visit. So we still had a lot of places to explore and adventuring to do together. Naturally, a large amount of desserts were involved.
The trip started with me getting sick, in true form. You know that whole coming to terms with my health thing I'm working on? Yea, it's partially things like this. Somehow, we've never had a visit without me getting sick in some capacity? How fun. But, once recovered, we more-officially kicked off the weekend with a trip to the delicious snoball stand nearby (and a flatbread experiment); both to satisfy cravings and because it was ridiculously hot. Like, consistently 100+ degrees (that's around 38 for those of you in Celsius). And because, really, when isn't a snoball good?

note: wine neither provided nor consumed by us
Needless to say, we searched out a lot of indoor activities. The zoo and city's gardens were out, and we hit up the museums last time he was in (when it was too cold to be outside), which meant that Monsters University, Oz: The Great and Powerful, and Hercules were all watched in the luxury of air conditioning instead...along with a couple of hours of American Ninja Warrior and some Parks and Rec. [Sidenote: okay, we love Ninja Warrior. I don't know what it is but we somehow got hooked on it last summer. It's like a playground competition gone way, way rogue, and it's awesomely entertaining. Also, thoroughly enjoyed all the movies...I'm a big Wizard of Oz book + movie fan and loved all the little nods to the book throughout! Okay, moving on!] Aaaaand naturally and necessarily this all was accompanied by making another batch of cookies. No regrets here. I think the second batch in a week is just automatically better. Probably what helped me start feeling less sick, too. ;)

By Saturday, we just kind of had the itch to get out, heat be [reasonably] damned. We ventured over to the River Oaks area of town and sought refuge in a local independent bookstore that turned out to be one of the better places we've ever been (if I may take it upon myself to claim that opinion). It was a small space filled to the brim with new bestsellers, a children's nook, friendly staff, and shelves of old books that just made me want to stay for hours. Seeing old, loved copies of books always reminds me of the tons filed into shelves at grandparent's homes. Plus, there were so many familiar-yet-forgotten titles around (as well as some slightly ridiculous ones). I have my own copy of Little House in the Big Woods that's been worn to shreds from so many rereads in my childhood, and old copies of the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. I even picked up the exact same version of Mother Goose nursery rhymes for my forthcoming niece or nephew, which made me excited. I'm pretty sure I taught myself how to read on that book! (and yes, I can still find my favorite rhyme in it.)

The bookstore was very important for another reason, too: we happened to stumble in in the midst of a princess party. I'm talking a pink and purple themed book reading with character cutouts, tutu crafting, tiaras for wearing, coloring, pink lemonade, and leotards galore. It was all obviously very serious business, and a lot of fun for the girls involved. (They smartly provided wine for the parents of the littles.)

Our little bookstore also just happened to be less than 5 minutes away from a large chocolate shop...which, in our search for air-conditioned glory seemed too good to pass up (right?). Is there anything better than a chocolate shop? There was a crazy amount of things they had made chocolate in the shape of: greeting cards, dentists kits (including a full set of teeth!), "human bones," even dog-friendly carob bones! We ended up leaving with a peanut butter cup (for him), the biggest dark chocolate turtle I have ever seen, two chocolate covered strawberries, and a treat for the pup, because how could we not?

Down the street, we wandered around the city's Trader Joe's, inspecting their vast and famous offerings. I have to admit, this was at least the third Trader Joe's I've been to, and the first one that didn't drive me mad. There was actually space to move! It wasn't crammed to the rim with people! I could see the produce!! Overall, I'm still pretty content with my other grocery stores, but their store design and packaging was quite entertaining to see.

and the goodbye.
I love our little weekends like this. Simple and too far between, but still nourishing and kind to us and an adventure. Always an adventure.

Houston, thanks for being good to us. Hellish heat not withstanding.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Double Chocolate and Pecan Cookies

[You can read me today over at Les Petites Joies talking about travel and all its ups and downs in a guest post for sweet Haley! Go check it out!]

I think I have a new favorite cookie recipe.

Now, as a lifetime cookie lover, that's a big statement...and one that probably comes with a lot of qualifiers. But nonetheless, we've fallen hard for these cookies at my house. You know that little dance all of us have when we put a particularly good cookie into our mouths? Well, these are definitely cookie dance worthy.

I've been both enamored and fascinated by flourless desserts since my diagnosis. I was drawn to the idea that they just couldn't possibly taste wrong, right? Since they were never intended to have flour in them to begin with, there's not the same risk that can sometimes come with replacing wheat flour with its gluten-free alternatives. You're simply making the recipe as it was intended--no change in texture, no risk in flavors, and less worry about how to make it all stick together.

I first made a version of these cookies back in March. Those ended up being slightly disastrous...tasty, but morphed into one giant thin cookie on the baking sheet. Now tweaked, I'm kind of already looking for an excuse to make these again..

Flourless Double Chocolate and Pecan Cookies
(recipe adapted from picklee)
  • 1 1/2 c bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 3 egg whites, room temperature   (how to separate an egg)
  • 2 c powdered sugar
  • 1/2 c unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 T cornstarch
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • approx. 1/2 c raw pecan pieces
  • approx. 1/3 c dried cherries--optional (or, if you're indecisive like me, make half the batch without cherries and half with!)
Preheat oven to 350. Prep two baking sheets with a thin layer of cooking spray or parchment paper.

Melt 1 cup chocolate chips--in the microwave, stop to stir every ~30 seconds, will take 1-2 minutes. Allow to cool slightly. In a large bowl, beat egg whites until foamy. Add half the powdered sugar and beat together. Gradually add the remaining sugar, cocoa, cornstarch, and salt. At this point, the mixture will start to get thick and fudgy.

Stir in melted chocolate, remaining 1/2 cup chocolate chips, pecans, and dried cherries (if using). The dough will become much thicker. Scoop out approx. 1 T sized cookies onto the baking sheets, leaving room between them. Bake for approx. 10-15 minutes, until the cookies have puffed slightly and the tops have turned slightly glossy and cracked. Note: due to the fudgy nature of these cookies, don't wait until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. It's just not an appropriate gauge here.

Allow cookies to cool. Store in a airtight bag in the fridge--they store easily and well for a week. Makes approx. 20 cookies.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

On health or something like it

[Preface: The topic of health has been rolling around in my mind lately. I've decided to write out my story, as I can see how much it's affected my mindset both since my gluten intolerance diagnosis and before. Maybe it can help someone else. Or maybe it can just help me. Either way, this will (hopefully continue to) be a little multi-part series.]

What's this? An actual serious, reflective, relevant text post? What a crazy world we live in.

I realized the other day that I can distinctly remember 8 different doctors and specialists I've seen in my ~13 years of illness (though I've long lost track of the actual accurate number). And I realized that, you know, that's pretty unusual for someone who's barely grazed her 20s. And maybe something to be reflected on.

So here we are. My story.

lots of doctors = lots of waiting rooms

It's a strange thing to wrap your head around the fact that you've been sick for more of your life than not. When you're living it, it's hard to imagine things being any other way. You don't always seem "sick". Yes, most 6th graders weren't taking 6 medications per day. Yes, most kids at the birthday party could eat the cake regardless of when it was served. Yes, most people weren't regularly seeing at least 3 doctors at a time before graduating high school.
But it was all I knew.

In 2nd grade, I first started getting sick each day after lunch--debilitating stomach pains that would send me to the nurse to lay down an hour after lunch. (I spent enough time in there that I even read the entirety of the nurse's copy of The Secret Garden in 30 minute increments.) Eventually, I was marathoned between doctors. My mom and I would be sent from specialist to specialist, testing this theory and that with different ultrasounds and scans and whatever probe they thought might explain my symptoms next when the previous one failed to provide any clarity. I don't remember most of them--just the ultrasound of my spleen they let me keep, a doctor in the children's hospital who gave me a coupon for a free ice cream cone, and the final test that brought a "diagnosis." They told me I had the same thing that had caused my grandfather's stomach and esophageal cancer a year before--and that would go on to kill him in 3 more--and presented me with a list of rules for managing it. It was a late guess for 7-year-old. It wasn't a young person's disease.

We'll call this retelling a form of self-therapy after the weight that would bring with it, shall we?

I learned how to take the pills that would rescue me whenever I felt sick without water. (I swear in the coming years we could buy enough to single-handedly keep Pepcid A/C and other pharmaceuticals afloat.) Then in 5th grade, the same year my grandfather died, I developed a pervasive, hacking, breath-stealing cough. A new specialist I resented having to see and several tests later, it was connected back to the same thing. My stomach. Newly asthmatic--or more accurately, a diagnosis of "reactive airway disease." A sudden barrage of daily medications and a doctor's note not to run in gym, and supposedly that was that. Supposedly it would be controlled. Supposedly we could eventually wean me off them all.

My body grew accustomed to the medications every few months in the coming years and they had to be cycled out. It makes sense in retrospect that the medications would stop helping, as they were simply acting as a band-aid on an undetected festering wound, but at the time it was frustrating and disparaging. And every time the doctors tried to reduce the number of pills I was taking, all of my symptoms would re-sprout. I'd end up feeling poorly enough that I'd ask for the medications back. They were my comrades in arms.
Through this all, I was aware of the fact that my grandfather hadn't had problems until he was in his 50s, and the cumulative wear still caused his death. So then, what did 50 years mean for me, at 11 and 12 and 13 with my first endoscopies already taking place?

Primarily it served to form two expectations as a sort of mantra in my mind:

My stomach would always be a problem, and probably my undoing.

And as far as my health went, there would always be something else.

I would probably always be sick.