Thursday, February 23, 2012

Culinary Labor of Love

Chef Richard Saldivar gave us a gift last Sunday.  Talking Rock’s Culinary Society was treated to an exhibition and tasting featuring authentic Mexican food.  The recipes were honed from Chef’s personal memories of family favorites, and tested in advance by himself and his team.  When we began the event, Chef admitted to being nervous, because he wanted so much to effectively share the food he grew up with and loves.

Because of a high member turnout, instead of our usual hands-on experience in the club’s kitchen we were seated, classroom style, in front of exhibition tables.  Jayce kept the margaritas flowing, while Chef introduced the event and his assistant, Lupe.  We were also “warned” that the secret ingredient of the day would be good, old-fashioned lard.  Although Chef uses healthier substitutions for when he cooks for the general population of club members, he maintained that no substitute provides the authentic flavor that he remembers from his grandmother’s cooking.  Our attitude was, “Bring it on!”

L: Chef Richard with his secret ingredient...Lard
R: Culinary Society members during the cooking exhibition

For the next several hours, we were introduced to ingredients, techniques, and flavors authentic to Mexico.  We had corn and flour tortillas made from scratch, pork carnitas, chilaquiles (breakfast tacos), refried beans and rice, beef tongue tacos, chiles relleños, tamales de pollo (in both corn husks and banana leaves), and braised chicken in black mole sauce.  The mole sauce was a revelation.  I’ve always loved it, but I had no idea of the complexity of the ingredients, which surprisingly include (among 25 other things) a bit of chocolate and banana.  What a labor of love!

Our sincere thanks to Chef Richard, who created a memorable event and provided a wonderful handout with information and recipes.  Here’s his recipe for my personal favorite:

1 gallon lard for frying (or peanut oil)
5 pounds boneless pork shoulder or butt (cubed)
6 bay leaves
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 ½ teaspoons coarse ground black pepper
2 large onions, quartered
3 whole garlic cloves
1 whole orange
1 can Coke (optional)

Heat the lard in a deep roasting pan over medium heat.  Stir in the pork, bay leaves, salt, pepper, onions, and garlic.  Squeeze the orange into the mixture and drop in the orange halves.  Add more lard if needed, to cover all the ingredients.

Cook until the pork is tender enough to pull apart with a fork, 45 minutes to 1 hour.  (If you want to add a sweet finish to the pork, put the Coke in now and cook for another 2 minutes. Heat must still be on medium or the sugar in the Coke with burn.)  Discard the orange, onion, and garlic; strain the pork cubes from the lard using a slotted spoon.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Change of Scenery

We played golf in the snow in Prescott earlier this week.  It was fun, and a little crazy, and pretty darn cold and uncomfortable.  The next day, we escaped to Phoenix for a few days of sun and fun.  We love Prescott, but every once in a while, we need a little…more.

Last night, we had dinner with friends in Scottsdale.  This morning, we played a round of golf at the Raven Golf Club, near South Mountain.  The course was green, the flowers were blooming, and it was gloriously warm!  It was also a treat to play on an unfamiliar course – a test of my developing skills.  I didn’t lose a ball, mostly stayed in the fairway, scored one par and several bogeys.  It was an average to above average day of golf for me.

Tonight we are going to check out the Arizona Theater Company’s production of “The 39 Steps”.  We’re not looking forward to giving up the rich theater scene in Chicago, so we have to find out what Phoenix has to offer.

On the way home tomorrow, we’ll do a little big city-type shopping.  Then we’ll be ready to head back to Prescott to meet our friends for Friday Night Happy Hour at Talking Rock.

Time to have a brief lie down and then get changed for our night out!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Major Abdominal Surgery - Chapter 3 of My Cancer Story

This post is the 3rd in a series describing my journey with Colon Cancer 10 years ago.  If you haven’t read the previous installments, see the Blog Archive listing in the column on the right for the hyperlinks.

I’m about to be gutted like a fish.  It’s before dawn on January 7, 2002, and I’m checked into Memphis’ St Francis Hospital for major abdominal surgery.  Dr Thayer will be performing a hysterectomy, and Dr W Scott King will be cutting out a cancerous section of my colon.  Certainly there are all sorts of things that could possibly go wrong, but I refuse to think about them.  Ron is with me until I am about to be wheeled into the operating room.  He kisses me and reminds me of our agreement, “No toe tags!”.  I murmur that I love him, and here we go…

I remember seeing the operating room and being greeted and reassured by both of my doctors. Then in goes the anesthetic, and I slip out of consciousness. Bye, bye.

About four hours later, I slowly come to.  Ron is there.  I don’t have any pain, thanks to morphine (which is really,really good stuff).  I’ve made it through surgery.  Dr King advises that we now know that the cancerous tumor did not breach the wall of the colon.  That’s excellent news.  But he took samples from surrounding tissue, which has to be sent to Pathology for evaluation.

All I want to do is sleep, thanks to the drugs.  I won’t get any solid food for days, because they have to give my re-sectioned colon a chance to heal.  I’ve got a catheter to deal with my urine output.  Nurses are keeping a close eye on my vitals.  One examines my carved and stapled stomach and comments, “Oh, they were able to let you keep your belly button.”  I remember being relieved about that.   It would be weird not to have a belly button.

Ron refuses to leave me for the night, so they provide a cot for him to stay with me in my private room.  I am so thankful to have him there.  This whole drama is almost harder on him than on me.  There’s so little he can do right now, other than to be there for me.  As the week unfolds, Ron sleeps at the hospital then goes home to get ready for work in the morning.  He comes to see me at lunchtime and returns after dinner to keep me company and spend the night.  I know he’s exhausted, but he says he’s too worried to sleep at home, alone. 

I’m making progress every day.  The day after surgery, they have me move to a chair to sit upright for a while.  I can’t believe how exhausting it is to do such a simple thing.  After just a few minutes, I am begging the nurse to be allowed to get back into bed.  But within a few days, I’m shuffling down the hall for exercise.  The human body has amazing healing abilities.

A friend from work sends a small gift of scented bath products, which a nurse’s aide uses to give me a sponge bath.  I am so grateful for the thoughtfulness of the friend and the gentle kindness of the aide.  On the weekend we have a surprise visit from dear friends who have heard about my illness.  They have flown in from Dallas for the day, just to see for themselves that I am OK.  Ron and I are humbled by their concern and their unfailing friendship.

As the week winds down, I am being weaned from the serious drugs, becoming more mobile, and desperately craving solid food.  The doctors won’t release me from the hospital until…bluntly put…I have a bowel movement.  I get the OK for the diet change required to get the critical process in motion.  By the next day, I have achieved the milestone.  After being examined by my doctors, I am approved to go home to continue my recovery.  We leave with a handful of prescriptions, a bunch of guidelines for what I should and shouldn’t do over the coming weeks, and appointments for follow up visits.

The results from Pathology have shown that I will require further treatment for my cancer.  Out of seven lymph nodes tested, one showed cancerous activity.  My cancer has been identified as early Stage 3.  Serious, but treatable.  In two weeks, I will meet Dr Margaret Gore, my Oncologist.  She was recommended by Dr King, whose wife’s Breast Cancer was successfully treated by Dr Gore.  That’s all the recommendation I need.

I don’t quite know what’s ahead, but I’m ready to face it.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

A Thank You Card

Mom and my sister Althea conclude their visit to Prescott and Talking Rock Ranch today.  We’re driving to Phoenix so they can catch their flight back home to Manchester, New Hampshire.  I’m sending a grateful “Thank You” out to our friends here who have opened their homes, their arms, and their hearts to my family to make their visit so successful.

A parent needs to know that their children are happy, and that their future seems secure and bright.  It’s important to Mom to have experienced where and how we live, so that she can visualize things when she is far away at her own home.  For Althea, it’s nice to have a place to come visit where she can be comfortable and have a change of pace.

It delights me that our Talking Rock friends were so welcoming.  We enjoyed the impromptu gathering at Connie’s house, along with Sharon’s chili and cornbread.  Mom is tickled that people picked up on her childhood nickname, and now call her “Diz” instead of Dolores.  (I’ll remember Detta spotting Mom at the club and yelping, “There’s Diz!”) The Hiking Club included Althea on their weekly trek; and Althea also had a chance to be introduced to Pickle Ball.  Holly was so kind to invite us over for a preview of her paintings, which she is preparing for a gallery exhibit later this month.  It was fun to join the happy chatter of ladies at Coop’s after golf earlier this week.  The staff catered to our special requests at the club, designed to make Mom comfortable.  Althea was greeted like an old friend by those she had met on previous visits.  All of us enjoyed sharing Happy Hour and the sunset on our back patio with Connie, Wayne, Gus, and Rochelle.  Mom got lots of warm Arizona sunshine and friendly hugs that she says she has stored up to last her through the winter.

My mother and sister will take memories of warmth and laughter back to New Hampshire, and will have a place in their own hearts for Talking Rock.  I’m not the least bit surprised that our wonderful friends reached out to gather them in…but I am pleased and grateful.

Thank you, sincerely.