Thursday, July 31, 2014

Banana Oat Bars Recipe and A Milestone and Saying Goodbye to Curves Monroeville

Picture courtesy of Dr. Fuhrman's website.

 A Milestone and Saying Goodbye to Curves Monroeville


I did it!

I reached a wonderful milestone this month.  I arrived at my 1000th workouts after 7 years of exercising at Curves Monroeville.  Marion (shown below), the owner of the club, had so much faith in me that she made the laminated sign with my name to post in the bulletin board long before I reached this milestone. 


That day is one of my happiest and proudest moments this summer.  It was an accomplishment for me since I had to miss months of workouts due to three surgeries and recuperation as well as travel and vacations during those 7 years.

Good things do come to an end, however, and sadly Curves Monroeville will close its door come August 16.  The club has been a special place for me and for most of the members.  For one thing exercising there has effectively lowered my hemoglobin A1C (measure of blood sugar) to a normal level since I joined it in 2007.  I had made so many wonderful friends as it has been part of my routine at least three times a week.  For example this summer, it is part of the triangle of my everyday life which is composed of Mass at St. Bernadette, then Curves and finally food shopping at McGinnis Store next door to it. 

The wonderful examples as well as the support of the members have kept me grounded as far as exercising, keeping my weight in check and eating properly are concerned.  We also exchange so called "circuit" recipes and funny stories as we exercised in the different machines in the circuit.  There is never a dull moment at Curves. 

I would just like to express my thanks to the owner, Marion,  and the past and present staff members, Ellen, Elona, Karen, Nancy, Annette, Carol and Sue.  They all greeted us by name everytime we come in as well as when we are about to leave the place.  To paraphrase the theme song of the iconic TV show Cheers, Curves is the place where everybody knows your name.  Thank you everyone.  That means a lot to us to be greeted that way especially after a long hard day or facing a boring dreary morning.


Marion with her mother during the hot dog event held at the club.  Marion creatively thought of many events and generously awarded prizes to liven up things up at Curves. 


Ever reliable, helpful and smiling Ellen has worked the longest at Curves.  She also was with Curves when it was under the first owner Denise.

Nancy was first a member who eventually decided to work at Curves upon retirement as a nurse/administrator at West Penn Allegheny.  She is getting married August 9.  Best wishes Nancy!

Karen is also known as "cake baker extraordinaire" who has beautifully designed cakes for Marion and some of the Curves members including my daughter's baby shower.  She also has competed in amateur tennis tournaments.
Annette is known as the "Bird Lady" whose photos on the eagles have appeared in newspapers.  She is also credited for discovering the eagle's nest this past spring and has been interviewed on TV on the topic of the discovery and progress of the Eagles several times.

Elona joined Curves and trained for the Curves Complete program.  She has her own website on her work with preschool children.

The very joyful Sue (shown at left with a member, Amy) joined Curves as a staff member when she moved to Pittsburgh after working for several years in industry in another state. 
 
Carol was the "singer" among the staff.  She is a member of the Sweet Adelines. 


A Healthy and Delicious Snack

This recipe is one of the highest rated recipes in Dr. Fuhrman's website.  Dr. Fuhrman is a frequent guest in the Dr. Oz TV show and is a best selling author who advocates healthy eating (see the July 19 post in this my blog for more information on the G-BOMBS diet) to fight cancer, diabetes, obesity and other diseases.  This snack bar recipe does not have any sugar added and gets its sweetness from the fruits added.  The bars have the crunch and texture of the granola snacks you buy from the store without any of its artificial ingredients.  It also does not fall apart like those made from other homemade granola bar recipes.  My husband and friends love this snack and you will too.

Photo courtesy of Dr. Fuhrman's website.

Yummy Banana Oat Bars

(Recipe from Dr. Fuhrman's website.) 

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups quick-cooking rolled oats (not instant)
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 1/2 cup raisins or chopped dates
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts
  • 2 large ripe bananas, mashed
  • 3/4 cup finely chopped apple

Instructions: 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl until well combined.  Press into a 9 by 9 inch baking pan and bake for 30 minutes.

Cool on a wire rack.  When cool, cut into squares or bars.

Notes:

You can add mini dark chocolate chips for a touch of decadence. 

A spicy version is also given in Dr. Fuhrman's website.
Instructions:



Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Pistachio Cupcakes from Homemade Yellow Cake Mix and Maddie and Me plus Maya Angelou


These beautiful and delicious pistachio cupcakes were made using homemade yellow cake mix.

Maddie and Me Plus Maya Angelou


Everybody admires and respects the great poet, Maya Angelou.  When she passed away I happened to be surfing the channels on my TV when I saw Oprah interviewing Maya Angelou at Oprah's station OWN.  I always was mesmerized by Maya Angelou's deep voice and equally deep insights and decided to watch the program filmed in the nineties entitled Conversations with Maya Angelou. 

In the early segment of this show, Maya gave the details of how she was invited to give the poem during former President Bill Clinton's first presidential inauguration.  She also described how she constructed the poem based on several elements found in songs and poems she had encountered in her childhood.  She also expressed that she wished she had more time to compose the poem.  One could just imagine how this iconic poem would have turned out if she did have more time.

Oprah asked her if that moment at the podium that day was the most important part of her life.  She answered, "It would be ungrateful for me to say it is not.  But it is only one of them."  It turned out what she considered the most important part of her life happened privately and not in the public arena. 

In 1953, she had a voice teacher who also conducted spiritual readings of the bible and truths at her house.  He would ask his highly talented voice students to read during those meetings and that particular day, Maya was asked to read the phrase, "God loves me".  He made her read it not once but several times which both embarassed and perplexed her.  The fourth time he asked her, her voice teacher instructed her, "Maya, now try to know it".  So Maya read the phrase slowly, heeding her teacher's advice to mindfully process the phrase.  What was revealed to her was so profound the experience brought tears to her eyes .  She finally knew what the phrase meant.  God really loved her.  Upon realizing this truth, she felt as if the skies opened up and that she could do anything. 

This particular scene in this show is one of the gifts I received this summer.  I taped the whole program and had watched this powerful segment repeatedly even sharing it with my friends who have visited me at home.

I did have another gift this summer.   It was when I knew that Maddie, my granddaughter who turned one today, loved me.   She could not talk yet and neither could she reciprocate ones affection by the usual motion of kissing you back or holding out her arms for you to take her when you hold out yours.  She does clamor for her mom, Wendy, and even cries, when she loses sight of her even for one minute.   The mother-daughter attachment is clearly there.  But she had not shown such signs of endearment with me.

We went to Idlewild Amusent Park on a Thursday two weeks ago.  Since Maddie could not meet the height requirement for almost all the rides, we were limited to taking the train and the merry-go-round only. The train took us around the beautiful scenic Idlewild grounds which I found to be very restful.  We would have taken the train again had the seats not been so low.  I made a spectacle of myself trying to get out of them. There were actually several ladies in the line waiting for their turn to ride the train watching and holding their breath as I was trying to figure out how to get off the train.  When I finally did I saw them give a sigh of relief and so did I.  Embarrassing as it was, we all had a good laugh.  Whew!

Idlewild was really huge and it took us some time to find the merry-go-round.  When we did we actually rode it twice.  The first time, Wendy and I sat on the bench with Maddie sitting on her Mom's lap.  We decided to take the ride again immediately after and this time we would try to make Maddie ride the stationary horse with us two holding her.  Wendy who was situated near the side close to the perimeter was told to move since that was not allowed and  I found myself alone with Maddie.  Maddie who by now was processing the fact she was riding the horse, got scared and she reached out her arms to me to take her which I did.  I was taken by surprise because I had never seen her do that.  I would have expected her to cry for her mom to get her.  I gradually put her back in the horse and she actually agreed to stay.

During her ride on the horse, I put my arms tightly and lovingly around Maddie as the merry-go-round whirled us on its tracks.  Meanwhile her mom took pictures and videos. Throughout the ride, Maddie did not cry at all or was she afraid.  She just soaked it all in and I was so proud of her. 



After a short stint in the kiddie pool, we went home and had dinner at our house.   After she ate,  Maddie was maneuvering around the house by crawling since she could not walk yet.  I found her beside me while I was at my computer in my office.  My husband who was following her, witnessed this and said that possibly she wanted me to put her in my lap to see YouTube shows of nursery rhymes.  We had done this together several times before and she really enjoyed watching and dancing to the music.  But before I could get her to do our YouTube session, she was out and about the whole house again.

When it was time for them to go home, her mom put her in her car seat.  My husband and I were shocked when she cried.  She did not seem to want to go home!  She had never done that before.  She usually was dying to go home and always had a smile once she got into her car seat.  It appeared to us this time she wanted to stay at our house. 

That night I had this warm feeling in my heart as I was reviewing what happened that day. I actually had a hard time sleeping since I was so happy  realizing that Maddie showed in many ways she trusted and loved me. 

A week later Maddie came to visit and when it was time for them to go home, her mom placed her in the car seat as usual.  This time she did not cry and actually even smiled at me and did a baby good bye gesture with her hand.  I know she did not cry like she did that "Maddie loves me" revelation day.   I know I might just have been reading too much of the whole thing that day but I will still always cherish that moment in the merry-go-round and the rest of that day at our house.

Happy Birthday Maddie.  I love you! 

This is the recipe of the Pistachio Cupcakes I made today to celebrate Maddie's first birthday.  I used the Homemade Yellow Cake Mix I custom made to meet some dietary needs I wanted fulfilled.




Pistachio Cupcakes from Homemade Yellow Cake Mix

I always wanted to make homemade yellow cake mix for two reasons:  I wanted to substitute some of the sugar with Splenda sugar substitute since I am diabetic and I also wanted it to be dairy free since I have a friend whose husband is allergic to dairy. 

I searched the web for a yellow cake mix recipe made from scratch and decided to base my version on the one in the blog I Am Baker.  What I then did was multiply the ingredients in the recipe by four to make a huge batch and substituted half the amount of the sugar called for with Splenda. 


To test the recipe, I used 3 3/4 cups of the homemade yellow cake mix to make the Pistachio Cupcakes. 


             

Here are the recipes for the Homemade Yellow Cake Mix and Pistachio Cupcakes.  I tested whether the cake mix actually worked by bringing some mini Pistachio Cupcakes made with the mix to a meeting.  One of those who attended requested to take some home and another person said it tasted like what they would have been if one used store bought yellow cake mix. 

I could have just measured the ingredients in the mix for one recipe but everytime I think of that I get kind of lazy.  I prefer psychologically to use a boxed cake mix but I always was bothered by the fact I really do not know how much sugar they put in or if there is dairy or shortening incorporated in it.  I finally found a way to make a big batch of a customized yellow cake mix that works.  I invite you to try it.

Homemade Yellow Cake Mix (equivalent to 4 boxes of store bought yellow cake mix)

(Adapted from the I Am Baker)

Ingredients:

  • 9 cups flour
  • 3 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 cups Splenda sugar substitute
  • 4 1/2 tbsp baking powder
  • 4 tsp salt

Instructions:

Mix all the ingredients in a large jar using a spoon. Shake the jar to
ensure all the ingredients are thoroughly mixed.   Use 3 3/4 cups to equal 1 box yellow cake mix called for in a recipe.

Pistachio Cupcakes

(adapted from Allrecipes.com and a comment made by a reviewer)

Ingredients:

  • 3 3/4 cups of the Homemade Yellow Cake Mix prepared above or one box of store bought yellow cake mix
  • 1 small package (3.4 oz) pistachio pudding
  • 1/2 cup sugar or Splenda 
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 8 oz cup of sour cream
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 7 drops green food coloring

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Line the muffin pan with paper liner.

In a large bowl mix together the cake mix and pudding mix.  Make a well in the center and pour in sugar, eggs, water, oil, sour cream, almond extract and green food coloring.  Mix all the ingredients until well blended.

Pour the batter in cupcake pans lined with paper liner or see notes below.  Bake the regular sized cupcakes for 17 minutes while the mini cupcakes for 10 minutes.

Notes:


I used part of the batter to make 12 regular sized muffins by filling half-way Paper Eskimo brand sturdy paper baking cups.  I then placed the cups on a flat pan.  I did not have to use a muffin pan.  I decided not to use any icing and just placed the cupcake flag toppers that came with the Paper Eskimo paper baking cups set.  The set also came with birthday candles of which I used one to mark Maddie's first birthday.





I used the rest of the batter by filling 3/4 full mini muffin pans lined with paper liners.   I was able to make 36 mini muffins.  When I brought some to a meeting I just placed some Cool Whip on top of the mini muffins. 





Maddie and me in zebra prints.

          

Friday, July 25, 2014

Healthy Chocolate Banana Cupcakes and Faith Sharing Groups - Finding Companions in Life's Journey


Faith sharing groups - finding companions in ones life's journey

Life is good as the LG commercial states .  But it is even better when one has wonderful companions in ones life's journey.  

When my teaching schedule permits, I attend one or more of the three faith sharing groups that are composed mostly of the Associates of the Sisters of St. Joseph-Baden who live around the Monroeville, Pa area.  When all groups were still meeting, each group gather once a month at different weeks and locations.

The members offer each other support and fellowship as they pray and study various readings that enhance their knowledge of God and His or Her unconditional love.  The goal of each group is to achieve a deeper union with God, each other and their dear neighbor.  The format of the meetings is very similar for all the groups with slight variations.    

The meeting starts with prayers and sometimes music or some singing.  This is followed by readings of passages from a particular book.  The members then share their thoughts gleaned from the readings during the discussion.   The faith sharing ends with prayers for any intentions the members might have.

The St. Bede's group met for the last time this summer at the rectory of the parish of the same name after faith sharing  under Sr. Paula for 30 years.  In each gathering, Sr. Paula based the day's reflection from passages in the bible that she read before a 20 minute silent meditation set to music. 


Sr. Paula reading a passage from the Bible as Natalie and Rose listen.
During this meditation  period, the members of this group could also use the one page handout that Sr. Paula prepared for that day which featured quotations as well as beautiful pictures or artwork.  This paper also had suggested bible verses which coordinated with the theme of the day or the season we were in. 

These beautiful  handouts (some are shown in the pictures below) are such a treasure to have and to go back to for future guidance and inspiration.  Most members have kept them in not only one but several binders.   After 30 years of meeting every month they have collected at least a couple of hundreds of these highly informative and artistically crafted handouts. 

      


Sr. Paula, thank you so much for faithfully and lovingly guiding us through these past 30 years.  Congratulations on your Golden Jubilee as a Sister of St. Joseph. 


This picture above shows the members of the St. Bede prayer group which met for the last time this summer at the rectory of the church. Sr. Paula's group has met for 30 years at different locations including Holy Rosary in Homewood, Madonna del Castello in Swissvale and Charles Lawanga rectory in Penn Hills. Shown in the picture from left are:  Lulu, Rose, Sr. Paula (the facilitator for 30 years), Linda, Dorothy, Mary and Natalie.

The Monroeville group meets at the Convent of the Sisters at the St. Bernadette Parish in Monroeville.  Sr. Ursula used to lead the group up until she retired at the Baden Motherhouse.   The discussion under her had a structured format which featured questions she prepared based on the book we have chosen for that year.  When she retired, Sr. Cynthia took over for a short time before she transferred to another state.  Right now, the group members alternate facilitating the discussion part but most of the time Natalie or Kathy has done it.  We are glad to have Sr. Bernadette join us lately.  


We are grateful to the other sisters at the convent headed by Sr. Carol for their hospitality in letting us use their convent to meet through these years.   We would like to thank Srs. Ursula and Cindy for the time and effort they put in when they led the group.  I would like also to thank Sr Marguerite for starting the group way back in the early eighties.



This is the Prayer Group that met with then facilitator Sr. Ursula, CSJA at the Sisters' Convent at St. Bernadette Parish, Monroeville Pa. In this picture above , Sr. Ursula is shown conducting a discussion of a book we have chosen for that year. Clockwise the persons shown are: Sr. Ursula, Mary Cay, Chris, Kathy, the backs of Rose, Linda and Emma.


The picture above shows the members having coffee and goodies brought by the members after the meeting. The sisters at the convent headed by Sr. Carol, the principal at the parish school, are always very hospitable to us. The person on the left of Sr. Ursula is Sr. Mary Cordia, Sr. Ursula's sister.


Standing from left to right are:  Chris, Dottie, Sr. Ursula, Kathy, Lena and Marie.  Seating from left to right:  Natalie, Linda, Emma, Donna, Mary Cay and Marilyn.


In Sue's group which meets at her house, Sue usually starts the meeting with breathing exercises which she conducts.  This is then followed by the opening prayer, readings and discussions of passages from the book or video we chose for that year.   Natalie, an associate, has led the sharing for most of the past years.  Guests speakers have also been invited on occasions.  Thanks go to Sue and her husband for providing us a beautiful and serene place to meet all these years and to Natalie for leading the discussions.

People might wonder how we are reminded about these three meetings.  It actually takes a village. Rose sent emails to the members with regards to the St Bede's group while Kathy or Linda keeps everyone updated on the meetings in the convent.  Sue's group makes it a point that everybody assumes no changes.  We thank everyone mentioned for their conscientious reminders.


The discussion follows the breathing exercise and prayer which are done at the beginning of the meeting.  From left clockwise above are: Donna, Sue, Emma. Dorothy, Elaine, Mary, the backs of Roberta, Linda, and Rose.






 Sue's group gathers for lunch after meeting during the Christmas season.  Front row, left to right:  Dorothy, Donna, Linda, Elaine, Lulu, Lena, Kathy, Rose, Mary and Natalie.  Back row, left to right: Abigail, Roberta, Sue, Emma and Jo.
We have gone through so much together as members through good times as well as difficult ones. The sharing and praying sessions keep us grounded and strengthened especially during trying times that unexpectably pop up in our lives including health issues. We have also rejoiced in our children's milestones including their graduations, weddings and birth of their own children, our grandchildren. 

After reading how many prayer groups we go to, you might think of us as the stereotyped version of a holy person. We are more what Fr. James Martin, SJ, describes in the bookmark below. We are just women helping each other be who we are. 

Crowd Pleasing Healthy Cupcakes


Depending on the group meeting, goodies are shared either before or after we have gathered for the faith sharing.   I have brought these chocolate cupcakes to all three groups and they have been a crowd pleaser. Since they are so good, the members could hardly tell they were healthier versions of the usual chocolate cupcakes.  No eggs nor oil were used in the preparation of the cake batter.  This healthy version is very moist and delicious.

The pictures I show in this post, were the cupcakes I brought for Sr. Paula as a belated birthday present, during the quarterly board meeting of the Associates of the Sisters of St. Joseph two Sunday's ago . I frosted them with the Vegan Chocolate Frosting featured in this blog on July 21, 2014.


Healthy Chocolate Banana Cupcakes

 Cake Batter:

  • 3 ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1/3 cup pumpkin puree not pie filling
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 devil's food cake mix or you can use white or yellow cake mix to which you add 1/4 cup cocoa)
  • 1/2 -1 cup mini chocolate chips (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line two regular sized muffin pans with liners.  (The liners are necessary since this recipe does not have any oil and the batter cling to the pans which make cleaning them difficult). 

Mix the first three ingredients and then add the cake mix into the mixture.  Add the mini chocolate chips at this point if opting to use it.  Fill the muffin pans about 1/2 to 2/3 full depending on what size of muffins you prefer. 

Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Cool and frost using the Vegan Chocolate Frosting or any frosting you like. 

Vegan Chocolate Frosting, Spread or Topping

See the ingredients and instructions for preparing this frosting in this blog, July 21, 2014.

This recipe makes approximately 24 muffins. 

Note:  I used the Martha Celebration cupcake set which came with 24 liners and 24 toothpick flower decoration. I bought the set at Tuesday Morning, Wilkins Township.



The cupcakes ready to be transported to the meetings. 









Monday, July 21, 2014

Versatile Vegan Chocolate Frosting, Spread or Topping



  

Versatile Vegan Chocolate Frosting, Spread or Topping


This is an incredibly delicious recipe for chocolate frosting for cupcakes, spread for your bagels or toast  or topping for your ice cream.  Do not be misled just because it is vegan.  Trust me.  I myself was amazed on how good it was. 

Ingredients: 


3 ripe bananas
3 tbsp unsweetened cocoa
6 tbsp peanut butter
1 cup powdered sugar (If  you are a diabetic, you can use Splenda sugar substitute which I did)
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp decaf coffee or expresso (optional.  I used one decaf coffee singles dipped in 2 tbsps hot water).

Instructions:


Mix all the ingredients in a blender till smooth. 

Adjust the consistency according to how it is going to be used.  This recipe is thick enough to frost cakes even if used at room temperature and as a spread.  If using as a topping for a milk shake or ice cream,  add more decaf coffee if you opted to use it  or just plain water to thin out the mixture.

Refrigerate when not using immediately.

Some ideas for its use are shown below.  Other uses will be featured in future posts.  Watch for them.


It can be used as gifts.  Just remind them to refrigerate it when not using.


Try something fabulous for breakfast.  Try it as a very delicious spread for bagels or toast or even as a topping for homemade doughnuts.  You can add it as your ready made smoothie component that takes care of three commonly added smoothie ingredients, chocolate, peanut butter and bananas, in one or two spoonfuls, .  It is so versatile. 










Sunday, July 20, 2014

Jane's Unbeatable Brownies and Brunch with Bulletin Stuffers

"Breaking Bread" with Bulletin Stuffers


Every Friday after the 9:30 am Mass at St. Bernadette Parish, Monroeville, Pa, Deacon Mike will usually remind the officiating priest either Fr. Tony or Fr. John to announce that bulletin stuffers are needed after Mass.  There are around 2000 families that belong to our church and the number of bulletins to be stuffed are usually about the same.  The number of inserts to be enclosed in each bulletin vary from one to even four or five on a given issue.  It is easier that several volunteers help to finish the work. 

Aside from being a eucharistic minister every other Sundays, I volunteer stuffing bulletins when my teaching schedule at IUP allows it.  I am grateful to have this opportunity since I really enjoy the company of the wonderful women and men in our church who take the time every Friday to help stuff inserts in the bulletins.   There is not a dull moment during this session as stories are shared and laughter can be heard miles away.



Some of the frequent bulletin stuffers are shown above.  Starting from the bottom left closest to you, they are, Joan, Sue, Anne, me, Jean, Betty, Jane, Barb and Angie. 

One time I mentioned to Barb and the group that I have unlisted Youtube videos of various events that had occurred at our parish two years ago and they said they were interested in viewing them.  Since Barb was also interested in seeing the renovation done to my house, I decided to invite them for brunch consisting of soup and salad two Fridays ago.
The bulletin stuffers during brunch at my house.
As in most parties, there are dishes or dessert that are just so good that everybody wants their recipes.  Two particular ones were very much sought after that day one of which is featured in this post, Jane's Unbeatable Brownies.  The other one is Jean's Crescent Antipasta which I will feature sometime in the future.

Most of the women who attended the brunch are also members of the Ladies of Charity organization in our parish.  They visit the sick in the hospital, take care of the parish food pantry and also grieve as a group during the wake and funeral Mass for our parishioners or their families.  They also conduct a bake sale during our Parish Festival which will actually be held two weekends from now.

                                                   

If you think they are serious, ultra holy and no fun type of women.  Think again.  They are just as crazy and irreverent like you and me.  Look at what one of them sent to my cell phone after the brunch as her mantra.  


 

Jane's Unbeatable Brownies

(Recipe was generously provided by one of the bulletin stuffers, Jane Flaherty).

This is an awesome recipe for brownies.  It has the wonderful combination of crispy texture on the outside and moistness in the inside.  It also seemed lighter than most brownie recipes I have tasted before.

Ingredients:

  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup butter melted
  • 1/2 cup cocoa
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt

Procedure:

Beat together the eggs, sugar, butter and cocoa.  Add vanilla, flour, baking powder and salt, mixing after each addition.

Pour into greased and floured 9 x 13 inch pan.  Sprinkle with 1/2 cup chopped walnuts and 1/2 cup chocolate chips, if desired.

Bake at 350 degress for 30 minutes.  Let cool for 45 minutes before cutting.



Saturday, July 19, 2014

Three Ingredient Strawberry Bruschetta and A Small C Part IV - The Certainty of Uncertainty


A Small C - Part IV The Certainty of Uncertainty -Dealing With The Aftermath of Radiation Therapy


After undergoing the radiation treatment which ended in February, my taste buds which was deadened by exposure to X-rays gradually came back and I could taste food as they should taste.   I also noticed my energy was back.

I still had to deal with dry mouth (which I still have up to now) which was remedied by using Biotene toothpaste.  I also had an open gash on my right shoulder due to the burning effects from the radiation.  The use of Aquaphor cream immediately closed the wound in a couple of days or so. 

I noted however that my neck had a lopsided accumulation of fluids which I found out was due to the lymph nodes around the area of my ear down my neck being zapped during the therapeutic sessions.   I found gentle massage partly helped redistribute the liquid equally around my neck.  But this swelling gradually disappeared.

I had an attack of what I call "radiation remorse". Should I have gone through it or should I have just not done anything or even just resorted to natural healing I asked myself. 

This worry was compounded by the fact that I felt some pain on my lower arm which I mistakenly attributed to lymphedema which I knew can be utterly inconvenient if full blown in its condition.  I found out later that this latter concern is unfounded since for one thing the  pain gradually disappeared. My oncologist silenced my worry by explaining that lymphedema in the arm was only brought about when lymph nodes in the armpit had been hit by radiation.  He pointed out the only the area that was exposed to radiation in my case was around my ear down my neck on the right side. 

This feeling of "radiation remorse"  was brought about by a TV show wherein the visiting doctor indicated that too many CAT scans (for example four a year) which also uses radiation should be avoided since this might cause cancer. This alarming message triggered my radiation remorse.  I was angry since there was no turning back, I just had the treatments.  By being realistic and weighing the risk and benefits of radiation however I was able to get over the "remorse". 

I had a very rare form of cancer but luckily at its earliest stage.  Being so rare it is considered an orphan cancer type and really nothing for certain is established in terms on how to deal with it at its severe late stages.  Chemotherapeutic agents which are usually used in conjunction with other types of late stage cancer are not as well researched yet with sweat gland cancer.  For me to gamble with not doing anything with mine at its earliest stage would be more dangerous than undergoing radiation even though it has its possible own risk.  By shunning radiation therapy I am taking chances of not avoiding the escalation of the small cancer to the late stage one.  Once I rationalize my decision, my complicated mind was at peace.

But I still had to contend with a common concern and question among cancer survivors, "Will it come back?" When I visited Dr. Jonas Johnson for a follow up visit, he gave me the best insight into dealing with this question.  Of course the answer I wanted was a 100 % guaranteed assurance that it would not.  He did not mislead me and I am grateful for that. He said, "Let us be philosophical about this".  For me that was enough to pacify me.  I dug deep inside of me to deal with the uncertainty of the future.   

The very down-to-earth, honest and wonderful Dr. Jonas Johnson.  He is actually the head of the UPMC EENT Institute.  I am grateful to my friend Eileen for recommending him to me.
Nothing in life is certain except uncertainty.  I just have to take life one day at a time and to live fully while I am alive and to die only when I am dead as one matra I read says. Worry will not help me to accomplish this.

It has been two years now since I discovered I had cancer and I have been cancer free according to my last visit with Dr. Johnson indicated.  Having to share this episode in my blog was very difficult for me but as I said previously I am hoping it will help someone in the same situation.   Thank you for your patience in reading the series of essays on this emotional subject.

I do have a souvenir of my radiation treatment which I decided to keep, weird as it seems.  It is the "mask" I had to use to allow my face to be stationary as the technician handling the computer system accurately "targets" the area around my ear down my neck during the radiation treatments.  It freaked out my husband when he saw it since it does remind one of the costume worn by Anthony Hopkins in the movie, Silence of the Lamb. 

I brought it to IUP where I had a good use for it.  Every time I start my lecture on radiation on the last days of my CHEM 101 lecture these past two years, I always show this mask to my class. As I did that first time I shared my cancer in the same class,   I use this now as a "show and tell" teaching tool to emphasize the relevance of chemistry. 

This mask was custom fitted for me in December before the start of the treatments in January.  It was very comfortable.  As I lay down on the bed during the treatment, I usually prayed  the rosary to pass the time.  I knew the radiation was done when I reached the end of the fifth decade.  The treatment was really short since I do pray the rosary really fast.

I never would have thought that the discipline I have embraced as a young girl in college will save my life along with the help of competent doctors, radiation technicians, nurses, family, friends and of course, God "who always takes care of all of us". 

Important Message:  Please have a physical exam every year. 

The parotid mass on the right side of my face was detected at its earliest stage by my very competent and alert primary physician Dr. Jennifer Stasko during my physical exam in October, 2011.  She felt the mass as she examined and pushed underneath my neck towards my ears. 

I did not feel anything out of the ordinary before and even after this was detected.  I could swallow, open my mouth wide and you could hardly see any difference between the right and left side of my face.  The mass could not be visibly detected.  In fact the anaesthesiologist on the day of the operation kept on asking me to open and stretch my mouth since he could not believe there was anything wrong with me.
 

This is my primary physician, Dr. Jennifer Stasko, who I owe my life to since she was the one who detected the parotid mass at its earliest stage during my yearly physical exam.

Easy, Delicious and Versatile Recipe with a Secret Ingredient


I am really not very good with keeping a secret.  So here it is- the secret ingredient is none other than coconut butter.  I recently bought a bottle of Artisana brand Organic Raw Coconut Butter from Marshall's, yes Marshall's.  I would admit it is pricey at $9.99 for a 16 oz bottle but it is worth it in quality and taste.  If you want to make your own coconut butter, the blog, Chocolate Covered Katie, has a recipe for Homemade Coconut Butter using only one ingredient, shredded unsweetened coconut.



Since the coconut butter is naturally sweet and very tasty, one does not have to add sugar or vanilla to it in this recipe.  This bruschetta is not only easy to prepare and delicious but it is also highly versatile.  It can be served as an appetizer or as a dessert.  I am warning you it is sinfully delicious and addictive.  Other fruit like kiwi, plums, pears etc or their combination with strawberries can be used.

Three Ingredient Strawberry Bruschetta


Ingredients:

  • About 1/2 loaf French baguette cut into 8 slices around 1/3 inch thick
  • 1 cup sliced strawberries (or other kinds of fruit like kiwi, pears, plums etc or combination of fruit can be used)
  • 1/4 cup coconut butter

Procedure:

Toast the French bread slices.  Immediately spread about 1/2 tbsp coconut butter to the still hot slice so it is easier to spread the coconut butter and top with the sliced strawberries.  Enjoy!