What is comfort food?

Nigella Lawson answered that question pretty well in her old show.  Lamentably, I can't seem to catch her new show.  Anyway, she made everything from macaroni and cheese to tom yum gum soup to answer that question, and broad strokes like that are what made her the best thing on food tv besides The Two Fat Ladies and Molto Mario.  I distinctly recall the Hangover show, where she concocted and downed a Ramos Fizz, returned to bed, and later made a fetching pitcher of Bloody Mary before proceeding to whatever was the theme that day.  That might have been the mac and cheese, come to think of it.

Mcco12 asked what mom will be cooking for this terrrible stretch of road.  This led me to once again realize that I need to write down some of her recipes, even if I know how to make them.  I don't make the dishes often and she's always a phone call away, but one day things may change.  She's the only link to a particular regional dish that my step-grandmother used to make, and although I've had numerous versions of that stew, none approaches the flavor of Lola Puren's.  And my mom has that special touch—the one that makes a perfect gravy out of the same stuff I turn into liquid with bits.  It's not even a cook's touch, I don't think.  It's a weird secret I haven't absorbed due to lack of talent or lack of practice or both.

Filipino food is what I need right now to beat away the blues.  It's a strange mix of southeast asian, malay, native, and spanish influences, and I know many asians (particularly indians) who think it's funky—smell or looks-wise.  Of course they've never tasted it, which is too bad.  I don't mind, but it's really not that different from many asian foods.  You have noodles, egg rolls, rice, kabobs, fish in various incarnations (fried, poached, stuffed, in ginger sauce), things that look like paella, things that look like carnitas, things in peanut sauce and coconut milk, and stews of the most unlikely vegetables you might combine.  Those vegetable stews tend to have pork, shrimp or fish as the flavoring agent, along with a bit of fish sauce.  If you've eaten thai-vietnamese-cambodian or any southeast asian food, you've eaten fish sauce.  Whether you know it or not.  It's an integral seasoning.  To me, it's what makes a fried fish come alive.  I can eat fried fish with rice and tomatoes (and fish sauce) till the cows come home.  Good thing the husband loves to fish.  (He will only eat it in two forms, however—sushi, and fish & chips.)

The two varieties of filipino food are the "party food" (what most people have had if they've ever come across filipino food), and peasant food.  It's true of any culture, of course.  Peasant food is pretty humble, containing very little meat.  Meat is very expensive in the Philippines, especially beef.  Pork is somewhat affordable (although most of the country still lives in hunger and poverty so really, working people eat fish and chicken).  So you eat what grows, and lots of things grow in tropical jungles.  It's just a matter of what you feel like combining that day, and what region you're from.  There are amazing differences in regional cooking.  My parents come from the Mountain Provinces, whose flavors differ greatly from the lowlands, where food seems more thick and pungent than food from the central islands, etc.  The "party foods" are always prepared in a somewhat standardized way with regional differences, but that's where all similarities end.

I'm craving a roasted eggplant fritatta, a common dish around the world, I'm sure.  Sometime this week I'll ask for a crab-potato-tomato fritatta, and a stew of eggplants, bitter melon, long beans, and pork.  When hubby gets home, he'll be looking for his favorite marinated beef dish.  I won't mention the other things—my friend Tara is probably gagging—but it's no different from haggis, chitlins, or deep-fried Twinkies—an acquired taste.  I have a long list of yummy foods, and I'll be writing down the recipes.  It'll be shopping intensive, which means a jaunt into Oakland's Chinatown for esoteric ingredients.  I might even lift the sugar ban and ask mom to make sweet sticky rice and fried bananas…..

She gets in at 3:30.  I better bleach the kitchen.

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Cycle 1AT: Just call me Scabbers

When your mom offers to come up to take care of you, and you accept, you know it's bad.  This is definitely kicking my ass.  Much worse than the side effects I had from initial chemo (which was fatigue, mostly).

Maybe I'm just a wuss.  Today there's hope that things have peaked and are now receding.  The rash is still developing  along my jaw and onto my neck, but it seems to be coming to a head on my head and by Friday I might be able to rest on a pillow.  Hopeful, as long as I don't get an infection, which is possible since it's Day 7 since receiving Alimta, and my blood counts are probably headed downhill.

Think of all the things you take for granted, like eating, blowing your nose, making facial expressions.  Now imagine that every time you even think of doing any of those things, your face erupts into…well, you get the picture.  I have a whole new respect for my face, imperfect as it may be.  That it functions is what's important, and to be cherished.  I look forward to someday being able to blow my nose again.  Heck, I look forward to being able to go to the grocery store and not scaring the checkers.

I wish I could be 5 again, holed up at my grandmother's house in the mountains with books and a gurgling stream outside.  Those were some of the happiest days of my life, lived in almost complete silence.  I can't recall any greater peace, contentment, and security than those brief childhood years with Mama.  Thanks to her, books are welcome and trusted companions.  Keeping me company during this rough patch:

I haven't started Murakami yet but will in the next two days.  I'd wanted to read the stories first but it's not at the Alameda Library.  Everything else is out practically until the end of summer.  TV can't seem to hold my attention, and movies….Maybe when my mom arrives I'll put on The Painted Veil.

It's always nice to have mom's cooking when you're ill—-that's how I feel, anyway.  I just can't replicate her cooking, no matter how simple the dish.  I might just make the effort to buy a new barbecue while she's here, so we can have kabobs.  Wow, I can't wait.  This is a luxury.  She'll get up and walk the beach in the mornings.  When she returns she'll make me eat an egg.  All I have to do is keep her from crying.  Maybe when I feel better, she'll let me drag her to the Vivienne Westwood exhibit.

This definitely changes one's outlook on spending the last days with your parents.

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Here, there, and everywhere

The rash has traversed into my ears and my scalp is on fire.  It hurts to wiggle my nostrils.

Is this overshare?

I deserve at least one month of extended survival for every incorrigible bump!  Hey scientists, can you work that in somewhere?

There's something strangely cruel about the fact that the rash is self-limiting to one's head/neck area.  But I don't want to complain too much.  After all, the little buggers are helping me breathe, aren't they?

Maybe a head cone and wrist cones are in order…

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Strange thoughts at this juncture

As the fiery rash burns its way across my face, I consider the torment I was spared in my oh-so-fragile youth.  I'm covered in Ivarest, which is actually poison ivy medicine, but it works.  It's benadryl and calamine combined, and dries to a pasty translucent film which is not exactly tone-neutral on my little asian face.  It's soothing if unattractive, and I might actually say to hell with it and go out into the world this way.  But I skipped a social function today—I'm not comfortable just yet.

I found that my regimen is in clinical trials at UC Davis.  They started in Nov 2006 so I'm hoping preliminary data has made its way to the Southwest Oncology Group, to which most oncologists around here have some connection.  This gives me slight comfort.  I got a second opinion at Davis, and those folks are much more optimistic than at Kaiser.  In fact, the expert at UCSF (the 3rd opinion) was also very optimistic about me…but maybe he was giving me my $850 worth.  They seemed to think I'd make it to the next lung cancer breakthrough, but then, the pipeline these days seems to be steadily rolling out new stuff.  So, guarded optimism.   Will I live to a ripe old age?  Probably not.

It's ok.  Strangely enough, we're entertaining new directions, completely opposed to the tact we planned to follow.  We're talking of settling down, staying put…is this going to spoil my idea of traveling, or will this bring "new life", so to speak, to my idea of hanging on?  It's intriguing, if not surprising.  The nomad in me rejects the idea, but the nester longs to be surrounded by books and remnants that weren't unpacked on this move.  I miss the stimulation of my stuff, reminders of a previous life that drove what I thought my future life would be.  But the present is all I have, so I need to enjoy these things now, even if they drive Mike crazy.  And if I can't travel, then I might as well plant the garden I've always dreamed of, read myself into oblivion, maybe throw a few pots, paint some pictures, whatever. 

I look out at the kite surfers each day on my walk and think, if I go into remission, I'm taking that up!  Along with all the other things, like traveling to extreme places to finally do—all those things…go back to school, volunteer somewhere, give back.

Anyway, Mike is not an intrepid traveler.  He loves the comforts of home and activities that end with snuggling on the couch at day's end with a bowl of ice cream and good tv.  I guess I wouldn't be as sad to leave this world if I didn't love joining him in this activity each evening.

It's funny how being able to breathe changes one's outlook on life. 

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All I need is the air that I breathe…

And I can thank Tarceva for that.  Finally.

So I was a bit whiny and dark in that last post.  That may come around again later, but for now things started looking up when I got that little bottle with the green label, the one that Genentech will provide for 2 years, thanks to being reinstated in the clinical trial.

After about 5 days I had zits, but by golly, I could walk, talk, breathe…I had the energy to do those things because I wasn't coughing myself into oblivion.  I could sleep through the night without pain.  It was amazing.  Of course, I need to give up caffeine now—I get so wired—and spicy foods are starting to hurt me again.  But hey, I CAN BREATHE!

Now, I know my oncologist is trying to zap the disease as quickly as possible so I can live a little before the Tarceva stops working, so he's added Alimta anyway.  I got the first cycle yesterday.  Today I feel ok, but my chest feels congested and my back's starting to hurt again.  I hope this isn't undoing all the good things Tarceva was doing for me.

Clinical trials to test the safety and efficacy of this drug combo just started recruiting in March 2007, in Austria, Hungary, and Spain.  I couldn't find any openly available data on the use of Alimta-Tarceva combination—on the medical research sites maybe, but they're inaccessible without an account.  This makes me apprehensive—the trials don't end until 2009.  It's a bit late to be fretting, I guess, but it irritates the control freak in me that I don't have any solid evidence that these meds don't conflict, although they're both targeted agents.

I'm hopeful this means I'll be able to travel after all, this year.  It has to be this year—one never knows about next year.  For now I'm happy to be able to do rudimentary things without having to stop and mouth-breathe.  The rash will eventually turn into a full-blown appearance of bad acne, but I think:  I've had pretty decent skin all my life.  I can handle zits in exchange for breathing, right? 

As long as I don't scare my husband away, things will hopefully be ok.

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Life is short.

I love my friends.

What will I think, if anything, when I'm on my deathbed?  Will I think of early morning drunken jaunts to Naugles with Julie, crazy Portland roadtripping with Tara, endless shows with Lisa, driving down a pitch black stretch of desert highway listening to Japanese country-western with Suzanne, wearing beautiful vintage clothes and Sorrels to walk to work in 25 below blizzards in Utah with Monica, canoeing Emerald Canyon with Robin, singing Moon River on a plateau overlooking the Green River with Liane………….camping with Michael?

Life is too short.

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