Ally

Has it really been 2.5 months since I've last blogged?  JHC, life these days has been...complicated, to say the least.  I transferred jobs, my mom's cancer came back and she's now in hospice and I've had some other personal issues that I've been contending with.  Some things like the job, involved making the big, scary decision to switch to another state agency and although the work is unfamiliar and it's a constant learning process, my new coworkers are wonderful and the fast pace of the work makes the day go by faster.  Other things, like my mom's health, that are out of my control...I've had to make my peace with.  I went out to Kansas City a few weeks ago, spent some time with her and said my goodbyes.  I strongly believe that it doesn't matter what age you are, you're never prepared to lose a parent.  It's one of those wounds in life that cuts really deep...luckily, I have a great father, boyfriend and friends to lean on during those times.  Especially on weeks that I have IVIg treatment...I guess I should explain what I mean....

About 6.5 years ago, I became very ill.  It's not something I talk much about on the blog (or possibly ever have?) but it's something I deal with every day.  I was diagnosed with an autoimmune condition called CIDP, Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy.  I was lucky to be diagnosed relatively quickly by a terrific doctor at Kaiser.  It was a terrifying few months of CTs, MRIs and endless rounds of blood work.  Finally after a spinal tap came back with elevated proteins they were able to properly diagnose me and start me on the correct course of treatment.  They're pretty sure that the flu shot I got a few months prior triggered it.  Now CIDP is usually treated in one of three ways: IVIg (immunoglobulin infusions), plasmapharesis, or corticosteroids.  I was fortunate that the IVIg worked for me, for some people none of these treatments work.  By the time I started treatment, I was using a walker, couldn't drive and if I fell I couldn't get up.  It was a sad, frustrating and confusing time for me and there were days that I was angry. There was no definitive prognosis. My dad came out and stayed with me for 6 months.  To this day, I'm so grateful that he was able to help me in my time of need. 

When I first started the treatments, I was going to the Infusion Center at Kaiser every two weeks, four days in a row but as time passed, gradually my treatments were reduced to two full days back-to-back.  Then they were slowly moved out to every four weeks, then six weeks and currently I'm at every eight weeks (2 days back-to-back, 7 hours each day).  The treatment slowly brought back my mobility.  It didn't come back fast or easily however.  The IVIg infusion give me these horrific migraines and often cause nausea and vomiting, this doesn't occur with everyone just with people who are sensitive to these sorts of things...like those who are migraine prone.  In the beginning, I was visiting the ER after every treatment and pumped full of Duiladid and Phenergan. They barely made a dent.  Aseptic meningitis "migraines" are 10x worse than the worst migraine of your life...and this comes from someone who has a pretty high tolerance for pain.  Over the years my body acclimated to the treatment and I no longer have to go to the ER.  Usually I can medicate at home with Dilaudid, Butorphanol, and T4's.  Phenergan and Zofran are also my best friends on those days.  Not to mention strong black coffee, it helps ease the extreme pulsating pain in my noggin.  I still get "flu-like" symptoms from the treatment- achy body, fever, and all I want to do is sleep.  My treatments are usually scheduled for Thursdays and Fridays so that I can sleep and take it easy over the weekend. Mr.S. is great about cooking on those days, rubbing my shoulders and feet and tiptoeing around- usually I'm pretty cranky. :)


How does it all work? Well, CIDP involves the white blood cells attacking the myelin sheath on the peripheral nerves, if it gets past the myelin sheath and attacks the actual nerves you can end up with nerve damage.  The IVIg treatment basically floods the body with antibodies which act like a Trojan horse.  The white blood cells start attacking the antibodies and leave the myelin sheath alone.  This gives the myelin sheath and nerves time to heal.

The IVIg treatments are pretty painless.  They jam a needle into my hand or arm and run the infusion for about 7 hours.  I have to have it run at a slow rate or the migraines come on quickly.  It gets pretty boring sitting in the chair but the staff there is very kind and they give you a warm blanket and soda/juice/coffee.  I usually bring my lunch, some reading material and my iPad. A few years ago they moved me to the infusion center at Kaiser Roseville where they have free Wi-Fi.  The Wi-Fi is pretty spotty but it usually runs well enough that I can catch up on some Hulu or Netflix streaming. The second day is always the worst, I'm usually feeling pretty cruddy and antsy. (Have you ever tried sitting in a chair for 7 hours?) One of the suckiest things is that every time you need to go to the restroom you have to take the whole IV rack with you, what a PIA, and when they're pumping that much fluid in you, you have to go a lot!  Oh and I forgot, the IVIg treatments are crazy expensive! 10-20k each treatment. I have to call in before each appointment to confirm that I'm coming in, otherwise, they won't mix it up.

These are the recliner chairs I get to hang out in while getting my IVIg.

This is the handy-dandy IV rack that I get hooked up to.

The stuff is working it's magic though. Looking at me today you'd have no idea that I ever had mobility issues.  I know, of course, because I still have issues with walking long distances, walking on uneven ground and trying to go down steps that don't have railings.  Down escalators still freak me out a little but it's all getting better slowly.  I've learned not to push things...especially when it's really hot out.  The heat really seems to trigger nerve issues in my feet and legs, so I have to be careful not to overdo it.  Also, I've learned to speak up to friends and family and tell them when I need to take it easy.  It's taken me awhile but these days I "listen" to what my body tells me.

Anyhow, I had IVIg treatment last week and was feeling pretty craptacular all weekend; however, on Monday I ventured out of the bedroom for a bit.  I had a few Meyer lemons leftover from a giant batch that a friend gave me so I decided to bake some Meyer lemon blueberry bread for a friend (and one loaf for us as well).  It came out great, was easy to double and the cheery citrus taste of the bread was like a little bright ray of light on a cloudy day.  You know one of those moments when you set down the baggage you're carrying and just soak in the moment and smile.  So not to be cheesy or anything but I guess when life gives you lemons, make some Meyer lemon blueberry bread. ;)



Meyer Lemon-Blueberry Bread (adapted from allrecipes.com)

Ingredients


1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 cup white sugar
3 tablespoons Meyer lemon juice
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons grated Meyer lemon zest
1 cup fresh blueberries

Optional: 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Butter an 8x4 loaf pan and line with parchment paper.

3. In a mixing bowl, beat together butter, sugar, Meyer lemon juice and eggs (I used my Kitchenaid mixer--makes it much easier and smoother).

4. In a small bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt.  Stir it in the egg mixture, alternately with the milk.

5. On a plate, sprinkle 2 tablespoons flour.  Lightly roll blueberries through the flour so that they are lightly coated.  (This will keep them from bleeding and turning your bread blue and also from sinking to the bottom of the pan during baking.)

8. Fold in zest and blueberries. Mix gently (you don't want to smush the blueberries).

9. Pour batter into pan.  Bake for 60 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

10. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Grab parchment paper and carefully lift out.


Ally


This weekend I took Kidlet #2 to see Big Hero 6. Have you seen it yet? It's such a cute movie with some great themes running through it- coping with grief, being a "nerd" is cool and how to take the high road instead of exacting revenge - just to name a few. I also liked how the main character (Hiro) lived in a non-traditional family, as that's quite common these days. (He and his brother, Tadashi, are raised by their aunt.) I think the movie appeals to both kids and adults alike. I enjoyed it a lot and the Kidlet loved-loved-loved the movie and we discussed it at length on the way home.



Speaking of non-traditional. This weekend I also cooked this bad-ass hybrid cheesecake dish. It was so simple to make, I'm almost embarrassed to post it. But if you need an easy-to-prepare dessert for a party, I highly recommend making this sopapilla cheesecake.

If you've never heard of a sopapilla before- it's a deep-fried, puffed/pillowy pastry served with cinnamon and honey (or syrup) that originated in New Mexico.  This recipe combines a slacker-version of that with some creamy cheesecakey goodness.  It tastes insanely amazing warm but it's just as delicious when you refrigerate the leftovers- cold, they turn into a cheesecake bar. Just be warned- this recipe is not for the sugar-conscious and for god's sake don't make it with artificial sweeteners. 

I tweaked a few tiny little things to suit my tastes. (The original recipe can be found here: Allrecipes )

Sopapilla Cheesecake

Ingredients

3 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 (8 ounce) cans Pillsbury Original Crescent Rolls dough
6 tablespoons melted butter

1/2 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup cup sliced almonds


Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Spray cooking spray on a 9x13 inch glass baking dish.

3. Unroll the sheets of crescent roll dough from the cans. Roll each can's contents into a 9x13 sheet.  Press one sheet along the bottom of the pan. 

3. Using your mixer, beat the creamed cheese, 1 1/2 cups of white sugar, and vanilla extract together until smooth.

4. Pour the cream cheese mixture over the dough.  Spread so it's evenly distributed. Lay the 2nd sheet of dough on top.

5. Drizzle the melted butter over the top of teh cake.

6.  Mix the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar and the cinnamon together. Sprinkle over the top of the dessert.  Then sprinkle the almonds on top. Then use a frosting spatula or knife and lightly mixed the almonds and sugar/cinnamon mixture together.

7. Bake for 45 minutes. The crescent roll will puff up and turn a golden brown.

8.  Remove from oven and allow to cool.  Slice and serve.



Ally


Is everyone ready for Thanksgiving? I'm definitely not.  Growing up as an only child in a family that wasn't super gung-ho over celebrating holidays; I've felt a bit overwhelmed during the holiday season ever since I started dating Mr.S.  He has a big family that's really nice, but the holidays always feel a bit chaotic to me when I'm there. There's a lot of people in his house during Thanksgiving and Xmas, a lot of noise and kids running amuck.  Up until this year, I could skip events and just duck home to the cottage if I needed a breather but now that I live with Mr.S I'm not quite sure how I'm going to handle it all.  I think the panic of the holidays must have already started to show a little on my face because Mr. S suggested we get out of town for a night. So the day after Thanksgiving we're going to duck out and decompress. I'm looking forward to it. ☺

How do you all deal with the holiday frenzy? Got any tried and true tips?

In the meantime, if you get tired of turkey and ham, give this delicious mushroom lasagna recipe by the folks at Sunset Magazine a shot.  My friend Michelle made it for book club and it was so insanely good that I had to ask her for the recipe. I just made it again this weekend. Mr.S and I had half and I brought half to a friend that just had a baby. It has a wonderful earthy taste balanced by a béchamel sauce that's not overwhelming. Also it can be prepared ahead of time which makes it a holiday time-saving gem!

Mushroom and Fresh Herb Lasagna

Ingredients

12 no-boil lasagna noodles (1/2 lb.)
1 qt. milk  (I used 2%)
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup flour
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons chopped parsley, divided
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves, divided
3 tbsp. olive oil, divided
2 medium leeks, sliced into thin rings
1 1/2 pounds portabella mushrooms, sliced
1/2 pound shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
1 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese
1 cup plus 2 tbsp. coarsely shredded Asiago cheese

Instructions

1. Soften noodles in a pan of very hot water while you prep the other ingredients.
2. Make béchamel (white sauce): Bring milk to a simmer in a saucepan and remove from heat. Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and cook, stirring, until slightly darkened, 2 minutes. Whisk milk into flour mixture all at once and whisk until smooth. Add 1 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. pepper, and the nutmeg. Sauce should be thick enough to coat a spoon; if it isn't, cook over medium-low heat, stirring, until thickened, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in garlic, 2 tbsp. parsley, and 1/2 tbsp. thyme. Keep covered.
3. Preheat oven to 375°. Heat a deep, wide pot over medium-high heat 2 minutes. Swirl in 1 tbsp. oil and add leeks. Cook until tender but not browned, 3 to 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Scoop leeks into a bowl and set aside.
4. Swirl 2 tbsp. oil into pot. Add mushrooms, season lightly with salt and pepper, and cook over medium heat, covered, until mushrooms are tender and beginning to release juices, about 5 minutes. Uncover and cook until edges start to brown. Stir in leeks and remaining 1/2 tbsp. thyme. Remove from heat.
5. Mix Parmesan with Asiago.
6. Assemble lasagna: Oil a 9- by 13-in. baking dish. Spread a few spoonfuls of béchamel over bottom. Arrange 3 noodles crosswise in dish, then spoon on about 1/2 cup béchamel, followed by a third of the mushrooms and 1/3 cup cheeses. Repeat layers twice more. Top with a final layer of noodles and béchamel, and sprinkle with remaining cheese.
7. Bake lasagna until browned and bubbling, about 45 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining 1 tbsp. parsley and let sit at least 15 minutes before slicing.
* Make ahead: Through step 6, 1 day, chilled, or up to 3 months, frozen. Let chilled lasagna sit at room temperature 1 hour before baking. Frozen lasagna can either be thawed in the refrigerator overnight and then baked, or baked straight from the freezer for 1 3/4 hours (cover for first hour).
* Dried shiitakes will work in this recipe too. Just rinse them in cold water several times, then place them in a bowl with boiling water for 30 minutes. Drain the water off, slice off the stems and use in recipe.
Ally
Hey there! Yep, I'm still alive. I've just been submerged in life. Living with Mr.S and the kidlets has been keeping me crazy busy. Kidlets? Should I even be calling them that anymore? One's a tween and the other a teen...and with age has come the teen angst, the normal stinky teen boy smells (Sweet Baby Jesus, why do their rooms consistently smell like a combo of dirty socks, sweat and ass?) and hormones, hormones, hormones. Rampant hormones and mood swings around every corner. Please someone, tell me it gets better at some point?! Plus, Pepper has decided to go around peeing upstairs (maybe because it already smells like socks, sweat and ass?) so we've had to put a doggie belly band on him. It seems to be working but I'm constantly velcroing and unvelcroing the sucker for him so he can go out. I'm like a doggie valet. I'll have to take a pic of him wearing the belly band, it's really cute (we bought him one that has bowties on it) but man, does Peppy hate it! Talk about a really disgruntled poodle.



Anyhow, I did come up for air and do some cooking this weekend. About a month or two ago, my friend Julie posted on Facebook that she was eating a funeral sandwich. My interest was piqued, I had to ask, "What's a funeral sandwich?" Turns out it's a type of slider made with Kings Hawaiian rolls, filled with thinly sliced lunchmeat and cheese, and then glazed with a sauce.  You shove them in the fridge to marinate and then pop them in the oven. I'm not 100% sure but I think they're some kind of spin-off of the Southern funeral biscuit.

I decided to make some this week and Mr. S and Kidlet #1 LOVED them, in fact Kidlet #1 has been begging me to make them again. He even offered to wash my car if I made them for him. I could get used to this. ☺

So if you need a dish for football Sunday, to take to bunco or just something to nosh on- give these a whirl. They're super easy to make (and you can even make them the night before). Traditionally they're made with ham and Swiss but I prefer turkey and provolone, so use whatever combo you like. They all taste good with the glaze.

Funeral Sandwiches

Ingredients

12 Kings Hawaiian rolls
12 slices of turkey lunchmeat (thinly sliced)
12 slices of provolone cheese
1/2 cup butter
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon onion powder

Instructions

1. In a Pyrex measuring cup, melt your butter. Add in the Worcestershire sauce, Dijon mustard, brown sugar and onion powder. Whisk together.

2. Coat your 13 x 9 pan with cooking spray.  Split the whole package of rolls in half and place the bottoms in the pan.

3. Use a pastry brush and baste each roll bottom with the sauce.

4. Fold a piece of lunch meat and cheese onto each roll bottom.

5. Place the roll top on.

6. Brush each roll top with sauce. Then drizzle the remaining portion of the sauce over the top of the rolls.

7. Cover tightly with Saran Wrap. Place in the fridge for a minimum of 3-4 hours but overnight is even better.

8. Preheat over for 350 degrees F.

9. If you want to get fancy you can sprinkle the rolls with poppy seeds or toasted sesame seeds.

9. Bake uncovered for 12-15 minutes.

10. Remove from oven. Eat right away.  (FYI: These do not reheat well so eat 'em up!)

Ally


Can you believe October is already almost over? It's been a busy, busy month here at the casa. For one thing, I turned 40! Yep, the big 4-0. Gah!  To celebrate Mr. S. whisked me off for a fun, romantic getaway in SF the weekend before. We had a terrific time. We stayed at the Grand Hyatt, poked around Japantown, hit up the CA Academy of Sciences and even saw the Blue Angels zoom by. We also stocked up on a few bags of our favorite coffee from Philz.  Mmm!

View from our hotel room
 
Claude, the albino alligator at the CA Academy of Sciences
 

Philz, It's the Best!


On my actual birthday day, I woke up to this awesome scene in the dining room:

 
 
...plus a dozen balloons in my car. 

Then for dinner, Mr.S. planned a lovely night out at Mulvaney's with our friends, Michelle and Pete, for me. Followed by the most luscious, delicious salted caramel cake from Freeport Bakery. If you haven't tried this cake, get yourself to Freeport Bakery right now! It'll make your toes curl, it's soooo amazing. Seriously, it's like cake heroin. Sweet, sweet cake heroin. Ummmm yeah, so let's just say there were no leftovers from this cake in our house. ☺

On a healthier note, I've been making this baked hummus dish a lot on Sundays.  Mr.S and the kidlets have been immersed in watching the 9 billion football games that are on TV. So while they're watching that, Pepper and I are usually watching, "The League," on Netflix in the other room.  (If you haven't seen this show, check it out. It's absolutely hilarious...and this comes from somebody who equates watching football to going to the gyno. Neither are fun.)



 Regardless of what we're doing, we all seem to love snacking on this dish.


Sunday Funday Baked Hummus (adapted from Iowa Girl Eats 5 Layer Baked Hummus recipe)

Ingredients

10 oz. Sabra Roasted Garlic Hummus
3 Jennie-O Hot Italian Turkey Sausages (removed from casing)
2 medium leeks, white & green parts only (cut the leeks in half lengthwise, then slice thinly)
1 Tablespoon olive oil
salt & fresh ground pepper
1 teaspoon McCormick's onion powder
1 large clove of garlic, minced
6 oz. Trader Joe's Feta with Mediterranean Herbs


Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Stir up the hummus so the roasted garlic bits get incorporated into the hummus. Spread the hummus mixture evenly into the bottom of a 10x7 baking dish.

3. In a large pan, brown your turkey sausage.

4. Add in your sliced leeks and garlic. Season with salt, fresh ground pepper and onion powder. Sauté until softened.

5. Take sausage-leek mixture and layer it over the hummus.

6. Sprinkle with feta.

7. Place in oven for 20 minutes.

8. Serve hot with chips or warm pita bread.
Ally
109 E Street, Davis, California 95616.  (530) 753-3196
http://www.yakitoriyuchan.com/

It’s finally open!

Six months ago, my friend Kerry gave me the heads up that the design company she works for, Benning Design, had been hired to work on a soon-to-be-opened yakitori place in Davis. The owners, a Japanese couple, anticipated opening Yakitori Yuchan by fall. Since then I’ve been eagerly (and patiently) waiting to eat some yakitori without having to drive to the Bay Area. Last night, I finally got my wish. My friend and I popped in during their soft opening and had a very pleasant dinner. The interior is quite pretty- a beautiful artsy bamboo lighting fixture takes center stage, there’s lots of color splashed throughout the restaurant (I love the bold, sunset orange-red that highlights the walls), and the sake bar is pretty badass looking with its upside down, hanging dispensers.

When you sit down the server gives you a menu and a small list. The list is for marking what kind of skewers you’d like to order. Each order comes with 2 skewers. Yakitori Yuchan offers several different kinds of chicken, pork and veggie skewers. On some of them you can choose to have it with shio (salt) or with tare (a basting sauce made from mirin, soy sauce, sake and sugar).  

If you're unfamiliar with yakitori, here's a textbook definition:

ya·ki·to·ri:  /yäkiˈtôrē/, noun


“Yakitori, grilled chicken, is commonly a Japanese type of skewered chicken cooked over a special kind of charcoal. The term "yakitori" can also refer to skewered food in general. Kushiyaki, is a formal term that encompasses both poultry and non-poultry items, skewered and grilled.”

Here’s a few that we tried:
  
Eringi  (grilled King Trumpet mushrooms with a garlic sauce – the mushroom has a nice “meaty” texture to it when grilled)




Negima (grilled chicken with spring onion)




Chicken Liver (one of my favorite skewers to order- I love the dense meat and slightly iron-like taste)




Grilled chicken drizzled with a wasabi cream sauce ( the sauce had a nice horseradish bite to it but was not overwhelming)




Pork wrapped around a quail egg (perfectly cooked, chewy pork wrapped around a tiny, hard-boiled quail egg)





We also got several appetizers to share:

Nasu dengaku  (miso glazed eggplant)



Takoyaki ( creamy octopus “balls” sprinkled with bonito and drizzled with sauce)




Garlic Brussels (grilled Brussels sprouts with a delicious miso sauce, sprinkled with bits of fried garlic and pepper threads)




And a yaki onigiri  (fried riceball)

All of the skewers were delicious. I also loved both the nasu dengaku and the Brussels sprouts dish, I could have eaten another serving of each. The fried bits of garlic and teensy sliced pepper threads made the savory dish absolutely addicting. Next time I’d also like to try the fried pumpkin with curry sauce and the squid app. One thing about the service that I really liked was that the dishes are brought out in waves as they are ready, in true izakaya fashion. This gives you an opportunity to relax, chat and knock back a drink in between dishes. (They have a nice choice of sakes to make your way through.)

If you get a chance, I highly suggested checking out Yakitori Yuchan. Yakitori is the perfect food to nibble on while socializing. It’s also great if you’re doing a no or low carb diet as most of the skewers are meatcentric. 

Note: Yakitori Yuchan currently opens for dinner at 6pm and is closed on Mondays.




Ally

Ever have those periods in your life where everything speeds by like someone pushed the fast forward button? One minute you’re kickin’ back, a Lady of Leisure, and the next minute, MONTHS have flown by and you’re like, “What the heck? What just happened? How did I get here? Why am I so exhausted?”  That’s what this year has been feeling like to me. Working full time really wears me out. Being a stepmom for a teen 100% of the time and a preteen 90% of the time is a lot of work and very tiring. There's dinners to be made, girl woes to solve and helping with homework...endless homework.  Not to mention moving households pooped me out big time. (I’m STILL unpacking.)  Don’t get me wrong, all of it has been rewarding but I swear I could sleep for weeks. Especially with the rainy weather we’re having today. Crawling out of my cozy bed this morning was excruciating.  Anyhow, tired as I am, I am looking forward to some cooler, crisper autumn weather.  No, not because of the Pumpkin Spice lattes hawked by Starbucks (I hate the stuff, it’s vile) but because it’ll be soup weather soon. There’s something relaxing and luxurious about cooking soup. I can’t wait!  In the meantime, on weeknights when I’m depleted of any and all energy, I've been making super easy recipes and I do mean SUPER EASY. Like this one that I clipped from the Bee recently for mushrooms.  (It originally was featured on food.com.) It’s about as simple as you can get.  (I did add in some freshly ground pepper and a dash of Worcestershire sauce to suit my taste.)

Quickie Mushrooms (perfect topping for steak or roasted pork tenderloin)

Ingredients

½ stick unsalted butter
¼ cup sherry
½ envelope of Lipton onion soup mix
½ lb. sliced cremini mushrooms
Dash of Worcestershire sauce (optional)
Sprinkle of freshly ground pepper (optional)

Instructions

1. Melt butter in skillet over medium heat.

2. Stir in sherry.

3. Add in soup mix, then mushrooms.

4. Add Worcestershire sauce and black pepper (both optional).  Sauté to desired texture.