Tag Archives: Christmas


As promised, here is the long story of my very busy December. If you’re worried, stop worrying. I want to start the new year with less worrying.

By busy, I mean no free weekends to enjoy our new house or do anything outdoorsey. I’ll pick up where I left off here, when I had to leave town abruptly before a planned road trip to Oregon to get my dog. That unplanned flight to Los Angeles had to do with the melanoma that turned up on my shoulder back in November. Okay, so it had been there for a while. November was just when I got the results of biopsy from a recent dermatologist visit.


Doc did eventually make it home to us. As a side note: on our trip to pick him up I left my phone on top of my car, it fell off, and was run over multiple times. Fortunately someone found it and it still worked! With a new screen is was almost good as new!

The funny/ironic/sad thing about me having a melanoma is that my dad has always been known as somewhat of a skin cancer Nazi among family and friends. Even though we wore much, much more sunscreen than the average kids growing up in the 90’s, my brother and I used to feel like we’d committed some kind of crime when we got sunburned. We are fair skinned, blue-eyed, and doomed to live in fear of the sun for the rest of our lives.

My melanoma (doesn’t that have an endearing ring to it?) was large enough to warrant a pretty extensive surgery to remove the area around it as well as the nearby lymph nodes where cancer cells might have migrated. I was working on getting an appointment for that procedure at UCSF but wasn’t having much luck so my dad pulled some strings at the university cancer center where he works. With less than a days notice, I was flying to SoCal.

I spent an entire day in exam rooms, alongside ultrasound machines, and under the care of several wonderful doctors. I went home with a biopsied lymph node in my armpit, three stitched-up biopsy spots where a dermatologist decided to test some of my other moles, and an appointment to return for the surgery on January 18th. All those biopsies came back negative but January 18th wasn’t soon enough for the surgery as far as my dad was concerned.

Three days before Christmas Eve, when my dad called me at work to tell me there was a opening and the doctor could do the surgery on December 22, I was not happy. I did not want to fly South to be cut open. I didn’t want to be recovering over Christmas and miss out on those last precious days before the holiday itself arrived. Reluctantly, though, I gave in and my dad made the arrangements. I know he was worried about me and it would have ruined his Christmas to have to keep worrying.


This guy kept me sane through it all.

My second visit to LA involved a pre-surgery procedure and an early morning in the operating room. The day I arrived, they injected radioactive stuff under the skin at the melanoma site (ouch!). That stuff – okay it was an isotope, lets get technical – flowed to the nearest lymph nodes, which happened to be in my armpit, and helped the surgeon find them the next morning.

I had a deeeeelicious dinner at an Italian restaurant with my dad that night and Pinkberry (a special treat) for dessert. We stayed in a hotel because my dad’s apartment is so tiny.

On surgery morning, I got to the hospital at 5 am and began the two-hour process of changing into a gown, funny hat, and socks and having 7 different people ask me the same questions. What is your name? What are you here for today? What shoulder is it on? Do you have any allergies? When was the last time you had something to eat?

I’d never had any kind of surgery requiring general anesthesia before. The whole pre-op room was super interesting, which was nice cause without all those diverting conversations to overhear and people to watch I would never have been able to stay awake to answer all the questions. At 7:30am I finally went into the operating room. That is, the anesthesiologist gave me an injection of “stuff to make me calm and happy”, which also made me forget everything after they wheeled me out of the pre-op room. I know the surgeon was there in his suspenders. That made me happy. Suspenders are cool.

When I woke up I was in the recovery room and a nurse was trying to talk to me. Waking up from Anesthesia was one of the strangest experiences I have ever had. I was so frustrated because I just couldn’t stay awake no matter how hard I tried. It took me all afternoon to wake up and a couple of tries to get out of the room. The first time I got up, went to the bathroom, and realized that my body wasn’t ready to be vertical yet. I went back to bed and back to sleep. On my second attempt, the nurse helped me get dressed and someone wheeled me out to meet my dad in his car. He got me a chocolate banana smoothie from Starbucks, per my request for a smoothie. It tasted wonderful and staid down.

My shoulder hurt. They had taken out five lymph nodes but found all of them normal. I had dressings on the top/front of my left shoulder and under my left arm. I was still so tired. Pain medication and lots of pillows helped me get through the night but by the morning it was clear that super-duper pain meds make me sick. I stopped taking them.


Some yummy eats from the past month. I’ve been making lots of pizza!


I did a lot of cooking+eating but not much exercising thanks to my wounds.

I negotiated the rest of the holiday season with my left arm in a sling and a limited range of motion in my shoulder. The sling mostly kept my arm from resting on my swollen armpit and discouraged movements that might have ripped wounds open. I kept the waterproof dressings on for as long as possible so I didn’t see my actual incisions for a while. When I finally took all the bandages off (two weeks post-surgery) it was worse than I thought! I almost passed out when the surgeon unveiled my shoulder incision, complete with 7 staples! Those came out last week (3 weeks post-surgery) so now I look a little less like Frankenstein.



Filed under inspiration and musings

We’ll see


Meet our Christmas tree. This is our first real, live Christmas tree as a married couple with a home. Actually, it’s our first ever. This is probably going to be the most normal, stationary, settled Christms Lee and I have experienced since we met. We always seem to be on our way someplace, in the middle of something, or at least away somewhere. This year, we’re home.


That’s not to say crazy stuff isn’t going on in these pre-Christmas weeks. First, Lee’s parents visited for a long weekend. It was a busy and excited few days as we showed them our new city, visited my parental unit in Napa, and took advantage of the extra hands to work on our house. The old, crummy chimney came out and a new one will replace it soon. Half of a mini-split heat pump is now on our roof, looking like a space ship that landed on an alien planet. We have a new coffee table – that I looooove – thanks to The Parents (yay!).

Meanwhile, I have applied for a job at the museum where I’ve been interning for two eventful months. It goes without saying that I really, really, really want this job. I wish they could hire many more of us interns so we could keep up our great teamwork. The waiting-to-find-out process os so painful.

What else? Food has been important this month. I’ve done a lot of baking, some of which has not made it to the blog. I’m still perfecting the family ginger cookie recipe so those aren’t ready to post yet. The bran muffins I made on Monday, however, were awesome. I deviated from my usual favorite bran muffin recipe and was pleasantly surprised to find that I could sweeten a muffin with only blackstrap molasses and be completely satisfied.

Our meals with Lee’s parents were all delicious but rich. A weekend of eating out is kind of overwhelming for me when I’m so used to cooking at home 99% of the time. We ate at some incredible restaurants, including The Boon Fly Cafe and Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen in Napa and St. Helena.

The plan for this coming weekend is to drive to Oregon to pick up my dog (yay!). Nothing ever goes as planned, though, and everything this week went out the window when a little crisis struck. I’m flying to southern California today for this reason but should be back Friday night so Lee and I can leave for Oregon on Saturday.


I just want the week to be over so I can relax at home with my husband, dog, and Christmas tree and do lots of cooking! We’ll see how that goes.


Filed under inspiration and musings

Cherry-Filled Sourdough


        I have a lot of food boundaries. Some of them are more like barriers (I think this term has a slightly negative connotation) and some are lines that I think it’s better not to cross. I spend a lit of time breaking down the barriers and testing the boundaries of my cooking and eating habits. Comparing now to my eating disordered past, I think I only have my big toe dipped in the food restriction waters, while I was up to my neck several years ago.
        Still, old barriers remain and I chip away at them every day. Take cheese, for example. I used to eat the most processed, light, fat-free, bleugh cheese ever, and then only in minuscule amounts. Right now, I have exactly 5 kinds of cheese in my refrigerator…wait, make that 4. I finished the feta for lunch today. I love cheese and I’ve learned to eat real-food kind of cheeses (no more nasty processed stuff) in reasonable amounts.
        I could go on but I think one confession is enough for one post. Oh, but then there’s the whole reason I started talking about boundaries/barriers in the first place: Pie filling! You know the stuff in the can that you can just pour into a crust and voila, you have a pie? I don’t think I had ever bought or baked with canned pie filling until Duncan Hines sent me coupons for their baking mixes as well as Comstock Wilderness Fruit Fillings through the Foodbuzz Tastemaker program last month.
        Canned pie filling was on the other side of pretty much every food boundary I have. First and foremost it’s a non-homemade route for baking, which I try to avoid. Second, it’s got to be loaded with high-fructose corn syrup and probably doesn’t have much real fruit in it anyway. Third, fruit pies aren’t my favorite. I’m a pumpkin girl all the way.
        As soon as I brought myself to pie filling level in front of the supermarket shelves (on the floor), Comstock surprised me. Some of the cans looked newer and were labeled “More Fruit” and “No high-fructose corn syrup”. What? Really? Huh, maybe this stuff isn’t that bad after all.
        I chose a can of Cherry “More Fruit” filling and immediately started thinking of how I was going to use it. Pie was too obvious. I wanted to make bread, sourdough bread to be specific. It struck me that the sweet, gooey fruit filling would be a perfectly odd partner for tangy, dense sourdough. Thus, the cherry-filled sourdough loaf was born!


        It may look like a cherry pie collided with a loaf of bread to produce this bizarre offspring. I like to imagine both things flying through the air in my kitchen…but that would be messy. Instead, I simply made a small batch of wet dough with my sourdough starter, layered half of it on the bottom of a round baking dish, poured in about half the can of fruit filling, and then made a ring around the edge of the filling with the remaining dough. After some more rising and some oven time, I had a sweet, doughy thing that I didn’t know how to eat. Fork? Hands? Hands won but it was messy.
        The sourdough is very sour (I used a lot of starter) and the cherries are very sweet. Together, though, they are the perfect winter breakfast or brunch flavors. One reason I chose the cherry filling was that cherries are no longer in season so I can’t actually make a cherry pie from scratch right now. That’s the perfect excuse for using a canned convenience food, in my opinion. Cherry pie filling is such a Christmasy color that it’s nice to have it around this time of year, even if it isn’t made from seasonal produce.
This isn’t really a recipe, since I totally improvised the sourdough bread and I think everyone who makes sourdough has their own way of doing it. If you have a starter, make a whole grain dough with a high moisture content and open a can of pie filling. If you don’t have a starter, put it on your Christmas list!


Hearty Cherry-Filled Sourdough Bread

1 batch of your favorite sourdough, made with a little less flour or more water so it’s wet enough to spread over the bottom of a pan.
1 can Comstock Wilderness Fruit Filling (More Fruit, no high fructose corn syrup!)

Prepare dough, allow it to rise once. Punch down.
Coat the inside of a baking dish with oil and then stone-ground cornmeal, semolina flour, or regular flour.
Divide dough in half and gently spread half of it over the bottom of the baking dish.
Spoon about half of the can into the center of the dough in the dish, leaving at least an inch of dough around the edge of the filling.
Lay the rest of the dough all the way around the edge of the filling so that it makes kind of a barricade between the fruit and the sides of the baking dish.
Cover dish and allow bread to rise for another couple of hours, or until the top dough circle has expanded to almost cover the filling underneath.
Preaheat oven to 425 degrees F. Bake bread for 25-30 minutes, or until it’s golden-brown on top and the edges have pulled away from the dish somewhat.
Cool on a wire rack until the dish is no longer hot to the touch, and the fruit filling is somewhat set (not too liquidy). Then remove loaf from dish and continue to cool on rack.
Slice like a pie and serve!

The only thing that would have made this better is chocolate. Why didn’t I think to add chocolate? You could always spread some Nutella on each slice or sprinkle dark chocolate chips onto the bottom dough layer before adding the cherries. Now that would be decadent!


Filed under Bread

Baking out of Season

I get annoyed with myself when I make something wintery in the summer or something summery in the winter. Out-of-season ingredients tend to make me cringe and I feel guilty for not making use of the bounty available. Sometimes, though, you just have to have pumpkin pie in July.


Okay, so I didn’t make pumpkin pie. I made applesauce bread. There was a jar of applesauce in the fridge that needed to be used…and there’s still a little left in that jar. There is also still half a carton of heavy cream left after I tried to use it up in this recipe. Guess I’ll just have to bake more!

I like this recipe. I’m surprised that I like it, actually, since Paula Deen’s style is usually a little too heavy for me. I like that she only calls for 1/4 cup of sugar but, in retrospect, I think that’s because she meant for me to use sweetened applesauce. I don’t remember when I last bought sweetened applesauce.


With only 1/4 cup of brown sugar this bread is not at all sweet. It’s spicy and fruity, though, and I was happy to find that the heavy cream added plenty of richness. It was a perfectly adequate substitute for butter, and hey, compared to butter, cream is light!

Other than throwing in my needed-to-be-used cream, I also healthified the flour in this recipe. I tried graham flour, something I had only read about until I found it in the bulk bins at my local co-op. Graham flour + wheat germ turned out a grainy bread with a crumby, crunchy crust. I approve! If you don’t have graham flour, whole wheat will make a fine substitute


Applesauce Bread
Adapted from Paula Deen

1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup brown sugar (add more if you want sweet!)
1 1/2 cups graham flour
1/2 cup wheat germ
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
2 large eggs
optional: 1 cup raisins, 1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a medium bowl, blend flour, wheat germ, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices.
In a separate, larger bowl, beat cream and sugar together until sugar dissolves.
Add eggs, beating well, then add applesauce and vanilla extract. Stir until fully combined.
Pour dry mixture into wet. Stir until well blended but do not over mix.
Fold in nuts and raisins, if using.
Pour into greased and floured 8x4x3 inch loaf pan or some combination of smaller pans (I used 2 mini loaf pans and 2 mini Bundt pans).
Bake at 350 for 60-65 minutes if using larger pan or 30 minutes for smaller pans.

Ahhh, smells like fall!

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Filed under Bread