Purple Stride

Please visit my family’s team page, Run MacD, and donate or share.

October 23rd is my mother’s birthday.  Today, she would be 65-years-old.  When I knew that my mother was going to die before she turned 65, I became incredibly angry.  And not for the reason you might think – not because I would lose my mother before I turned 30 or because she would never know my angel of a nephew, Jude.  I was angry because my Mom had a very simple, delightful, adorably “Reenie” plan for her 65th birthday.  She was going to ride SEPTA, the public transportation sytem in Philadelphia, all the way to the end of the line and back.  Because when you turn 65, you can ride SEPTA, anytime, anywhere, for $1.

My mother wasn’t afraid of getting old, which is why it makes me so angry that she didn’t have the pleasure of becoming an old lady.  My mother died at 63, just a month before her 64th birthday, from pancreatic cancer.

Just a little over a year ago, through a strange turn of events, I became my Dad’s second-in-command caretaker for my mother.  I don’t have a speck of medical experience, in fact I need to lay down when I have the slightest bit of blood drawn or I’ll faint, but 4 days a week I would stay with my parents and act as my Mom’s nurse, doing my best to acclimate to her ever-changing needs and keep her as comfortable as possible.  Not because she was needy or demanding – not at all.  But because her decline was so quick, and she changed day-by-day.  She had already stopped her chemotherapy at this point.  We all knew she was going to die.  We were just biding the time, helping her through the last difficult months of her life.

It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.  I would come back to my apartment in Virginia so emotionally exhausted that I hardly ever actually made it to the office.  The stress made any physical pain I was feeling, like migraines or menstrual cramps, ten times worse.  Months later, after my Mom passed away, I would be diagnosed with PTSD.

But believe it or not, I wouldn’t trade the honor of being by my mother’s side in those final months for a second.  Not for anything. Because if my Mom was going to go through this pain, I was going to be with her, no matter how badly it has scarred me.  What I went through was nothing to what she went through.

Pancreatic cancer is a beast.  Before my Mom was diagnosed, I didn’t even know what my pancreas did or where it was.  But pancreatic cancer creeps up on you like an ambush, undetected until it’s already at Stage 4.  After that, it’s a swift killer.  We were actually lucky that we had Mom with us for a year, even an extremely tough year.  12 months survival after diagnosis is rare.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but my Mom’s Stage 4 diagnosis in October of 2012 was essentially a death sentence.

But death is only part of what makes cancer so horrible – the suffering at the end of life is the other part.  When I talk to medical professionals about the fact that my Mom had pancreatic cancer, they have a consistent reaction: a sharp intake of breath, avoiding eye contact and shaking their head.  That’s because pancreatic cancer is also one of the most painful diseases out there and it is a terrible way to spend the last months of your life.

I’ve thought a lot about how to illustrate how much a pancreatic cancer patient suffers without sharing too much of my mom’s personal struggle.  I know she’s gone, but I don’t want to insult her memory by sharing things she wouldn’t want shared on the internet.  So I asked a doctor to help me describe it.  He told me that, as far as doctors can tell, the pain of pancreatic cancer is so intense that it’s comparable to breaking your back but never healing.  At the height of pain in the journey of a pancreatic cancer patient, the only relief you can give the patient is to dose the painkillers until the patient is in a comatose state.  And still the pain can break through.  I know.  I saw it happen.

But it doesn’t need to be that way – there are amazing medical breakthroughs being discovered every day!  Penn has tested, with success, a revolutionary new treatment that literally reprograms your T-cells with HIV to attack cancer cells and it’s now being tested on solid tumors like ovarian and pancreatic cancer.  A young man named Jack Andraka has created a blood test that is faster and cheaper than any other test currently used, which could help me or my siblings detect pancreatic cancer before it becomes inoperable.  But these tests and treatments take years of research and testing before they can be offered to the public.  And in order to give these incredible scientists the resources they need to forge ahead, we need awareness of this disease and more funds to sustain them.

On November 1st, my family is going to participate in Philadelphia’s Purple Stride 5k for the 3rd year in a row.  James and I are disappointed that we can’t join them, since I’m undergoing my second surgery for the year next week.   However, check out our page, Run MacD, and donate if you can – every little bit helps, and you’ll see that some team members are close to their fundraising goals.  You could help bump them over the edge!

But if you can’t make a monetary donation, there’s still something incredibly valuable that you can do.  Please share this post on the social media of your choosing.  It may show another person caring for an ailing parent that they’re not alone.  It might encourage someone with disposable income to throw a little our way.  And it may, hopefully, raise awareness that this disease is out there and it ain’t going anywhere unless we stand up to it, together.

Thanks so much for reading.  Even just your eyes on this page, in this moment, mean so much to me.

Long live the memory of Big Reen the Machine.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Chicken Meatballs

Ground poultry has been extremely trendy in the past, oh, 10 years or so and I’ve been fascinated with how it could become so mainstream.  Because for years now, I’ve found ground poultry extremely difficult to work with.

Unlike ground beef or pork, which has enough fat to create a rather homogeneous product, ground poultry can only be described as “goopy.”  The mixture is so fluid that I can hardly use my hands to form balls or patties, and often end up sculpting  a patty with my spatula in the pan.  And forget about flipping the burgers – just cross your fingers and then try to fix it after the mixture flops into the other patties.

Yet I see copious amounts of recipes using ground poultry on the internet and offerings in restaurants.  So what am I missing?!  How am I so incredibly terrible at using this ingredient?

It seems that the missing secret was fat.  I couldn’t imagine adding another liquidy ingredient like egg to my mixtures and never did – to my own detriment.  With this delicious recipe for Chicken Meatballs, I finally caved and added the egg and the meatballs turned out perfectly.  Perfectly!  In fact, I had figured out how to take pictures with my phone by voice command and rigged it up to be able to take pictures of the goopy process of making meatballs without touching the phone, but there was really nothing to show.  The mixture comes together like any other meatball.20141013_173603

This recipe has another fabulous ingredient that I never would have thought to use myself – rolled oats in place of traditional breadcrumbs.  Add a little fiber, why doncha?  The rolled oats didn’t add any distinguishable taste but helped to keep the meatballs together while adding wholesomeness.  Count me in.20141013_180034

Chicken Meatballs

  • Servings: 16-ish meatballs
  • Print

Adapted from the recipe by Janie Hoffman on Epicurious

1 pound ground chicken
1 large egg
1/3 cup coarsley grated or minced red onions
3/4 cup rolled or “old-fashioned” oats
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
3 TBL extra-virgin olive oil
1 TBL fresh oregano, chopped
1 tsp garlic powder
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes – star ingredient

1. Preheat the oven to 475°F
2. Combine all ingredients. To save time, I put the oregano and red onion in a food processor and pulverized them.
3. Grease a jelly roll pan or other rimmed baking sheet (I used nonstick cooking spray, but your can use some oil on a paper towel, too.)
4. Roll the mixture into medium-sized balls, about three tablespoons, and place on baking sheet.
5. Bake in oven at for 12 minutes or until the internal temperature is 165°F

Pictures and anecdotes

The original recipe is from a cookbook called The Chia Cookbook and uses a “chia gel” in place of egg.  I don’t have a problem with eggs, so I went ahead and added the egg and they turned out great!20141013_173259

I used shallots for this recipe, thinking I was clever.  I am not clever.  Shallots are great because they have a slightly less pungent flavor than onions.  I learned to love shallots when I lived alone because often just one little shallot is plenty for a meal for one – then you can keep the others with their peel intact for another meal.  However, the shallots were incredibly annoying to peel to have enough for this recipe – it took forever!  However, once peeled, I put both the shallots and the oregano in a small food processor instead of mincing or grating.  I saved a lot of time this way – will definitely be trying it again in other recipes!20141013_172716

Baking tips:

Baking is easier because you can put the meatballs into the oven and walk away but the method does not give you an even brown – unless you want to turn the meatballs halfway through cooking time, which makes it slightly less easy.  Still, I prefer this to browning on the stovetop, which can be very messy.  The original recipe suggests that you grill the meatballs – I can’t because I don’t have a grill, but a very interesting idea!

To find the perfect cooking time, I used one of my favorite kitchen tools – my oven safe thermometer.  You probe the meat and a long, oven safe cord attaches to the temperature display outside of the oven.  The trick is to position the tip of the probe in the center of your meatball, so that it doesn’t touch the pan, which will be a different temperature altogether.  My model also has an alarm that is triggered by the temperature.  Set the desired temperature and walk away – the thermometer will tell you when your food is done.  Brilliant!20141013_17562220141013_17561620141013_175737

They smell AMAZING – herby, cheesy, meaty, fantastic.  The red pepper is my favorite part, which gives you lovely heat at the end of your bite.  I think they would go great with the original recipe‘s pasta and lemon sauce or pretty much anywhere you’d use beef meatballs.  We stuck them in butternut squash soup and they were awesome.20141013_180018


Butler’s Orchard Pumpkin Festival

October 9th is James’ birthday and we’re in the midst of the annual multi-celebrations for this special day.  That’s what happens when you’re as beloved as this gentleman.

In addition to having friends over for dinner, James and I had decided to go on a food adventure – apple-picking, which neither of us have done.  Unfortunately, the orchard we had decided to visit had already harvested all their apples by this weekend but was hosting a “Pumpkin Festival” throughout October, where both pumpkins and red raspberries could still be picked.  Knowing that there would probably be a lot of families there, we decided to go anyways.   We’re both children at heart and often find ourselves at family-friendly places like museums and zoos because a) they’re mostly free here in D.C. (thank you, Smithsonian!) and b) we love to learn.  We also find ourselves having many philosophical conversations about parenting.  Since we have 3 new babies in our families combined, we talk about babies and families and parenting a lot.  I guess not the worst thing in the world for two young adults considering having our own family someday.  (James is turning 29 and I’m about to be 30.  Are we young adults anymore?  …Please do not answer this rhetorical question….)

When we arrived, and paid our $11 per person, we found that while this festival was probably a highlight of the Fall for most children, there was not much we could do.20141004_143434

We did enjoy some delightful Fair food: James had a hot dog with BBQ beef on top and a lemonade big enough to swim in.  I’m experiencing some pretty intense acid reflux from my gallbladder removal, so I enjoyed some delectable butternut squash and apple soup.  It was most likely made with chicken broth, which imparted a delectable savory-saltiness to counterbalance the sweetness.  I loved it!  There were tons of delicious treats to be had: apple cider donuts, caramel apples, soft serve ice cream, but alas, another sad fact of getting older is that we knew better than to spoil our appetites when we had pulled pork, mac and cheese and peanut butter layer cake waiting at home for us. 20141004_143152

We visited the petting zoo and enjoyed that quite a bit (we’re a little bit obsessed with the idea of having a pig as a pet.)20141004_145540After watching delighted children enjoy games and hayrides for a while, we exited the festival in search of the raspberry picking.

This was definitely our favorite part of the Butler’s Orchard experience.  James could remember a time when he went blueberry picking as a young child in the dead-heat of summer, but I had never done anything of the kind.  We boarded a wagon pulled by a tractor and went through a silly little “haunted” forest where there were some pretty hilarious displays of gravestones, ghosts and goblins.  The forest opened up to the raspberry fields.

You may have noted from other posts in this blog that I am trying to get more berries into my diet.  They’re low-calorie and their bright color suggests that they’re full of disease-fighting antioxidants.  Also they taste amazing!  So I try to eat them in my yogurt every morning.  A great way to start my day with fruit, too.

Raspberries are incredibly expensive, even in season, so I don’t eat as much as I’d like.  They also spoil very quickly at home, so they’re not very convenient, and therefore I hardly ever buy them.  However, they’re my favorite fruit, hands-down, and James said we couldn’t pass up this opportunity.

All raspberry bushes!

It was a fantastic experience!  I wish I had taken more pictures, but we were a little bit rushed because we were having company for dinner.  First of all, we were given absolutely no instruction on how to pick the raspberries.  You get on the wagon, they drop you off in the field and that’s it.  We noticed that some berries had turned black and shriveled, while others looked plump but were white.  We assumed that we should stay away from these.  We concentrated on the bright red ones like you’d find in the store.  When you pull the raspberry from the bush, it pops off without a problem, and there’s a small, snow-white core that stays on the bush.

I know now why these berries are so expensive.  You can see from the pictures that the raspberry bushes are huge (practically as tall as me), and very green, meaning there aren’t many raspberries on each bush.  We are picking at the end of the season but you really need to look for the berries – some bushes only had one or two ripe berries left.  James and I picked for about 15 minutes and had about 3/4 of a pound of raspberries to show for it.  The harvest must be incredibly time-consuming for big distributors like Driscolls, explaining why raspberries can sell for $4.50/8 oz.  I paid about $3.75 for my 3/4 lb., which was practically a steal!20141004_154022

It was a short-lived adventure, but one we’d love to try again.  Learning where your food comes from is an eye-opening experience that makes me appreciate the journey of my sustenance.  If you can, I suggest going out to discover one of your local farms and what activities they might offer.