Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Meat Bees

In sixth grade my class took a field trip to the Headlands sand dunes. We had a picnic lunch and there were bees everywhere. When we asked the park ranger who was our guide why the bees were going after our turkey sandwiches she said, in the fall when the queen bee leaves the hive to mate, the rest of the hive lose their way and need protein. Now, when I was 13 that made sense. But when I repeated it on Labor Day to group of friends after our lunch was swarmed it didn't make as much sense.  After a tiny bit of research, i.e. Google, I discovered what were called "meat bees."  Meat bees are not bees, they are yellow jackets. And yellowjackets are actually a type of wasp. Yellowjackets feed on sweet liquids and don't eat meat themselves, but they do collect meat to feed their larva. Mystery solved.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Health Update

So I'm not sick anymore. Shortly after my last post I had an ultrasound of my liver, spleen, and all other organs in that area. Which, honestly, was really scary because Dr. A was looking for swollen lymph nodes and I knew enough to know that meant CANCER.  Thankfully, I got a call saying that everything looked normal. The next step was redoing some of the blood tests I had previously because it seemed like my body was healing itself. I had made a ticket to Cleveland months before I was sick, but Dr. A told me not to leave town until I knew what was wrong, but I went anyway. I had a great doctor in high school (Dr. H), and figured I'd go see her to find out what was wrong. She was amazing! I brought all the results of all the tests I had done in LA. She looked at them and laid everything out for me. She told me every possible meaning of the results of my tests, the further testing necessary if the results of the new tests came back the same as the old ones, and what the next course of action would be depending on those results. For the first time in weeks I felt like I might actually find out what was wrong with me. Every week my fever was getting lower, and by the time I got to Cleveland (4 weeks after the fever hit) it was gone. Dr. H ran the blood tests. They came back normal. So after weeks of feeling horrible, I was better, kind of.  I still felt a little weak and my appetite was still very slight.
The only thing, it seemed, to be wrong with me was my thyroid. I have hypothyroidism. Which explained a lot of other things going on unrelated to my other illness; weight gain, fatigue, hair loss, dry skin... My grandmother had hypothyroidism, so I wasn't surprised when Dr. H said I had it too. Interestingly enough, I knew my thyroid level was a little high from a test I had done in college, and from Dr. A. But both of those doctors said it wasn't high enough to worry about. It might all be in my head, but I think I see an improvement.

Hopefully, my next blog post will be about something much more fun.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Being Sick is the Worst

I hate to use this blog as a platform to complain, but lately being sick has taken over my life.  I've had a fever for over three weeks now, and what started out as something that looked like the flu has become much more serious.  Like many Americans, I don't have health insurance (I had pre-eclampsia while I was pregnant with Burrito so I was turned down as that was a "pre-existing condition), and that dictated what I did to seek medical care. Day 3 of my fever I went to the CVS Minute Clinic as I had before for a sinus infection. That's were I was diagnosed with the flu.  For that I was prescribed anti-viral medication costing $100.  At the time I was pretty miserable, with my fever running as high as 102, so I thought I should get the anti-virals to help purge the flu bug faster.

Three days later I was feeling even worse, and that morning I vomited. I talked to my cousin the nurse and decided I should go to the ER. I went over to the Cedar-Sinai ER that afternoon. I'd never been to the ER before so I had no idea what to expect. My wait time was incredibly short. Five minutes to see the triage nurse and ten minutes to go back to a bed. At that point I was so dehydrated I couldn't give them a urine sample, in fact, it took two IVs before I could give them one. I could tell they were annoyed. They took blood and ran some tests. I had a chest x-ray, and because my neck was hurting, I even got a lumbar puncture to check for meningitis. Everything came back normal so after nearly twelve hours and a hefty bill they sent my home with the diagnosis "viral syndrome." Believe me, I was not pleased to go through all that and be told essentially nothing.

Almost another week went by and I still had a fever, so I got a referral for a doctor from Cedars and made myself an appointment.  My visit to Dr. A actually went very well. For the first time it felt like someone believed me that I was sick.  He was very upset when he learned why I didn't have health insurance. The only thing I wasn't too happy about was that he decided not to run as many tests as he first wanted to because he didn't want me to have to pay for them. I appreciated his sentiment, but at the same time, I wanted to know why I was sick. The nurse checked the prices of all the tests he wanted to do and as none were more the $20 and there were less than ten that he wanted I said go ahead with all of them. That was a friday, fever day 11. The following Tuesday Dr. A called me just as I was getting in the car to drive to a birthday dinner.  He had some distressing news. My liver enzymes numbers were up, and not just a little, up a lot.  It was a lot to take in. He suggested I get another chest x-ray because of my cough, and said he would consider running some other tests, but he wasn't sure because of their cost. I took a few days to think about it, and a week later I was back in his office. Fever day 21: Dr. A decided I didn't need a chest x-ray (I agreed), but when he was inspecting me, he discovered that my liver and spleen may be inflamed. I was in need of either an ultrasound or a CT scan. Both of which Dr. A felt were too expensive for me to have to pay for out of pocket. He suggested I go down to the Harbor UCLA medical center in Torrance (an hour away) because it's a free clinic, and he happened to do his residency there.

The next day the bread man and I set out for Torrance. We got there and immediately the headache began. The hospital is under construction, and they were busy, so we had to park a 10 minute walk away from the door. We were greeted inside by a security guard and a metal detector. Right away I knew it was going to be a long day. Signing in and registering took half an hour. Then it was three more hours before I saw someone to take my temperature and blood pressure. And then, because of the nurses making a mistake, I waited another hour to see the triage nurse. At that point I was told I was the next in line for a bed, but it was going to be "a few more hours." By then I had a huge headache, was getting dehydrated (they only had canned soda in the vending machine), and feeling very dizzy and tired. To make matters worse, it felt like the nurses didn't think I was sick enough to be there. So we left. After spending four hours on a folding chair I couldn't take it anymore. I just wanted to lie down in my own bed. In the car on the way home I called Dr. A's office and made another appointment to see him so he can run the tests (it's tomorrow). Maybe it shows how spoiled I am that I wasn't willing to wait, but spending even just one more hour there would have been torture. I think at this point my health and my time are worth whatever the tests cost. And if a CT scan really is that expensive, I'll get one in Cleveland when I go there next week.

Where your health is concerned, is anything really too expensive? What is your health worth? For that matter, what is your life worth?

Monday, May 9, 2011

A Healthy Kitchen

My love of traditional style baking is at odds with my desire to eat healthily. Really  my desire to have Burrito eat healthily. I limit her sugar and white flour intake, she doesn’t have candy, and she never eats fast food. The only chips I let her eat are Sun chips.  Her juice has no sugar added and no artificial coloring.  And after a disturbing article I read about children entering puberty younger and younger, I’m considering switching her to almond milk. So all the butter, flour, and sugar that go with baking are the antithesis of what I’d like to be feeding her. 
I do, however, know that there is a big difference between something I bake at home and something I buy from a store that’s either “ready-to-bake” or prepackaged. Mine has no preservatives, or only the preservatives found in the milk and butter I used to bake which she has almost everyday anyway. And the only chemical used in my kitchen is baking powder.
I read years ago that the FDA limited the amount of red food dye that could be in food because it was a known carcinogen. Because of that I’ve always tried to avoid it. Now there are studies that show ALL food dye to have harmful effects on the body. But then how are we supposed to tint icing? Burrito turned two in April and I wanted to frost her cupcakes with pink icing. So I thought back, how did they tint things before food dye existed? Berries was the answer I came up with. Then I remembered my Aunt K’s strawberry glacĂ© pie recipe. The glacĂ© part is essentially an extra thick strawberry glaze.  It would make the perfect shade of pink icing, plus I had tons of strawberries from our weekly produce box delivery.  The glaze is made from boiling down mashed strawberries in some water, straining, adding sugar and thickening over heat with a little bit of corn starch. It’s so delicious and tastes just like candy. To make the icing I used my regular buttercream recipe but cut the sugar by half. It turned out perfectly.  I figure I can do a similar thing with other kinds of berries to make different colors (and flavors). Like trying blackberries or blueberries to get a shade of purple or blue. I have a feeling they might all just turn out to make various shades of pink... 
I think the next step in my baking to start using a whole wheat flour, or some other type of grain flour.  I know lots of people use applesauce instead of butter or oil (which can be just as unhealthy as butter if your not careful about the oil you use), but I’ve never done it. I’ve been reading about sugar alternatives, and while stevia seems like it might be the best one, I’m still on the fence. There are some nectars that seem good, but how do you adjust old recipes to go from having a solid sweetener to a liquid one? I’m sure all these questions would easily be answered if I took the time to google it , or take the time to comb through “alternative” cookbooks. But hey, I think by this point we all know that I’m pretty lazy. I mean, I’m writing this blog instead of packing for my next trip.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Instant Nostalgia


      Today I got something amazing from a yard sale down my street. It's a kitchen stool/step-ladder just like the one my grandmother had in her kitchen.  When I spotted it as we drove by, I gasped and made the Breadman pull a u-turn.  I NEEDED that step stool.  As I walked up the sidewalk, I could see there was a sign taped to it.  I crossed my fingers it didn't say SOLD.  It didn't.  However, I soon realized we didn't have enough cash on us.  Luckily the grocery store is just down the street and they have an ATM.
It's actually a really good thing I saw that chair because we forgot we were supposed to get the Burrito more milk on our way home. So it was perfect, we got milk and enough cash back to get the chair (doing it that way we also avoided any ATM fees).
The guy having the yard sale was a California surfer-type in his 60s. He said he was happy the stool was going to a nice young couple.  I was happy too.  He told me it is from the 1950s, not just a reproduction like the ones you can get at Target.  I would have been happy with a reproduction, but the fact that it's actually vintage makes it so much better.  And even better, it matches my kitchen perfectly!

p.s. I wrote this blog sitting on my new perch as Burrito took a bath in the kitchen sink.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

200 Cupcakes

For my cousin Meg's 30 birthday I packed up my recipes, the Burrito and headed east to Baltimore. Cross-country weekend trips with a two year old are no piece of cake (pun intended), so I enlisted my brother to come with me. Leaving sunny 70˚ Los Angeles for a freezing Baltimore meant that I had to have my mum mail us our winter coats we left in storage in Cleveland after Christmas.

Once we arrived in Baltimore I discovered the party's venue location changed from Meg's husband's new bottega to our aunt's house because the number of guest doubled. That also meant the number of cupcakes we needed to make increased.

(For Meg and Adrien's wedding we had a family pie baking marathon instead of them having a wedding cake. Check out pictures here: )

I decided on a color scheme (yes, for the cupcakes) of brown and pink. I made devil's food cupcakes with bright pink buttercream icing. I wanted to make pink cupcakes, but not use food coloring to dye them, so I went to the internet and discovered a recipe for pink lady cake that uses strawberry to make a pretty pink color.
I spent the whole day before the party making cupcakes. It turns out that I made nearly 200.  To be fair they were mini-cupcakes, and I did have help spooning them into the pans from my aunt.
It wasn't that bad really, making cupcakes is pretty easy. The really challenging part was icing them the next day.

Icing cupcakes can be tricky. It was February and cold outside, so the heat was on inside the house. This made for some runny icing. I used a star shaped icing tip to make the cupcakes look like roses. Unfortunately, that also uses a lot more icing than if I had just spread the icing with a knife. Also, the heat in the house and the heat from my hand on the icing bag made the buttercream essentially melt. It was very messy and not working out. Add on top of that an angry Burrito upset that I was paying more attention to cupcakes than her and you have a migraine. I plowed right on through, and decided after the first failed buttercream attempt to just move on to the chocolate icing and ice the remaining chocolate cupcakes later.
The chocolate icing was much easier to work with. The recipe I use makes the icing resemble fudge. So the icing is nice and rich, and isn't easy to melt. As you can see, the chocolate icing really did make the cupcakes look like little roses, or it did to me, but it could have been the massive sugar high/migraine I had. And luckily, there was so much chocolate icing left over after I iced all the strawberry cupcakes, I went back and iced all but five of the remaining chocolate cupcakes.  I even finished icing all the cupcakes early. Unfortunately, while no one was looking, Burrito managed to sneak off and "sample" some cupcakes. She got her hands on six before anyone noticed her. But knowing the messes I used to get into, I'm lucky it was so few. Everyone was happy to eat her all the evidence of her mess (really she just took one bite of each and licked the icing off). I think it was a little torturous for them to even wait that long. The house had been smelling awfully good those two days. I'm proud to say the hard work was worth it. The cupcakes were delicious, looked beautiful, and most importantly made Meg happy. And in the end, making sure Meg had a good party and an even better birthday was the whole reason I got on a plane in the first place.

The Finished Product
(courtesy of Sarah P.)

Monday, November 29, 2010

Child-Free Flights

I was reading the times this morning and came across this article:
As someone who flies frequently, and now frequently with a child, I was a little upset by people's reaction to children on planes. The worst was one Ian Burfurd's reaction to screaming child. Apparently he thought the parents weren't trying hard enough to quiet their child. His solution, "...give them a pacifier, do something to make them stop." Really?! Give them a pacifier? well guess what Ian Burfurd, my daughter doesn't use a pacifier, and would yell even louder if I tried to shove one in her mouth. So stop trying to parent someone else's kid.
I understand how trying it can be to be on a plane with an upset child, I wasn't always a mother, but I have always tried to be sympathetic. Just remember that as difficult as it is for you to listen to a baby scream it's about one hundred times worse for the parent. You never know how your child is going to act on a flight. My daughter has made many cross country flights, and has behaved differently on each and every one. She is usually very well behaved, but there have been flights where she has done nothing but cried. And try as I might, there was nothing I can do about it. We do tend to fly first class, and, as you can imagine, some other passengers don't always appreciate it. However, on our last flight, the man behind me didn't even know she was there until he stood up and looked over my seat as we were LEAVING the plane. So all parents can do is try to prepare for every possible situation, but sometimes parents are just as helpless as their children.