fighting fatigue: why cyber monday trumps black friday

Many of us who live with NMO (and almost all other autoimmune diseases, for that matter) experience fatigue. Fatigue is one of those funny things to have: externally, nobody can tell you’re suffering from it but internally, you just can’t help feeling like a big sloth. Even my husband who loves me dearly (but who can’t possibly know what it feels like to be me) often says, “You’re always tired!”

Because NMO affects our neurological system, it is often frustrating to feel certain sensations (e.g. pain, tingliness, numbness, temperature changes) and have them not manifest on the outside of our bodies, a “proof” of some sort. Oftentimes, I feel like when I tell people how crappy I’m feeling, they look at me strangely and nod knowingly, pretending to sympathize but really not fully believing the extent of my complaints. After all, open bleeding wounds you can see. But not pins and needles poking you from the inside. For many of us A-type personalities, fatigue is especially a thorn in our side as we prefer to be on the go but this thing prevents us from doing so, and the self-critical devil on our shoulder taunts us, saying others will think we’re just being lazy, that we’re faking it. And thus is the complexity of fatigue.

As you can tell from my previous posts, I had quite a Thanksgiving. It was the first one in almost a decade that I’d cooked, with the help of my sous chef husband without whom I could not have pulled this off, a feast almost entirely from scratch (with the exception of the stuffing and corn). The food was insanely delicious–even with nearly 30 pounds of turkey, we had only three legs left over at the end of the night. Yes, our guests tore it up; many of them even said it was the best turkey they’d ever had. But despite the happy stomachs and good times, all the preparations and festivities left me exhausted. When asked if I planned on doing any Black Friday shopping, I could only look aghast: “Are you kidding me? Who has the energy?”

Apparently, everyone without NMO (and even some with NMO) does. The truth is everyone shops on Black Friday. It’s Christmas on steroids. It’s sad, really; this magical season turned consumerism. On Wednesday afternoon, John and I counted twelve people already waiting outside Best Buy for Black Friday. Folks, I said Wednesday afternoon. That means they were going to wait over 48 hours, through rain and cold, to save a few bucks. Okay, so I know the times are hard, but seriously…48 hours?!

Last night, I asked John if he remembered when this ridiculous tradition of Black Friday began.

“I don’t know. Maybe two or three years ago?”

No way, I said. Black Friday had to have been around since the ’90s. But neither one of us could determine when people started staying up all night to line up outside Wal-Marts, Best Buys, and outlet malls to flood the aisles at door’s open to grab and claw at discounted items. And where did the term “Black Friday” come from anyway?

According to this site on Black Friday history, the term was coined as early as the 1960s when accounting books were kept by hand, and stores were said to move from the red (indicating a loss) into the black (profit). Ever since the first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in 1924, the Friday after Thanksgiving was the official kick-off to a bustling holiday shopping season. Then in the 1960s, the Philadelphia police dubbed the day after Turkey Day “Black Friday” when complaining about the traffic and pedestrian congestion on the streets.

I can’t recall a time when I actually stayed up all night or woke up extra early to make it to a door buster sale on Black Friday. And now that I’m blind, the chance of me doing so is even slimmer. I already loathe crowds to begin with, and when you have poor vision, the noisy herd of people pushing and poking at you is just not worth the stress when you can’t see well enough to be on guard. It is an over-stiumulation that easily exhausts me.

Which brings me to my topic of why Cyber Monday trumps Black Friday. Cyber Monday is indeed only a few years old. Started in 2005, Cyber Monday denotes the Monday after Black Friday when people have returned to their usual routine yet still itch with the shopping bug do most of their shopping online. Following in the suit of Black Friday, online stores (whether they have an actual brick and mortar store or not) deeply slash their prices in order to up their internet sales. And many stores like Best Buy, offer almost all of their Black Friday deals online. You can see if the item’s sold out at the click of a mouse, and you don’t have to wait in line. That’s exactly what we did the last two Black Fridays when we wanted those Samsung TVs.

Shopping online is the biggest convenience, especially for blind people. You don’t have to deal with crowds, you don’t have to figure out how to get to and from the store, you don’t have to wait in long checkout lines. You simply use JAWS or other screen readers to find what you want and click “Confirm Order.” And volia! You’re done. And you did it all in the comforts of your own home or office.

In pondering participation in the Advent Conspiracy, I didn’t plan to do a lot of shopping this year anyway. But when I woke up this morning with all these great deals in my email inbox (like the $10 off a $25 purchase and free shipping at Origins), I might have to do a little shopping after all. And the best thing is I would not have stayed up all night standing out in the cold waiting for these deals. And I then had the energy to pump out this post.

slow-cooker mashed potatoes

Happy “Gobble, Gobble” Day! You didn’t think I would forget to post anything on the biggest binge eating day of the year, did you?

As mentioned in a previous post, I always serve up fried turkey, broccoli rice casserole, StoveTop stuffing (I like the chicken flavor best), kernel corn, and Betty Crocker Homestyle mashed potatoes (get the butter & herb flavor). This year, I’m going the extra mile and will make the mashed potatoes from scratch.

I’ve made mashed potatoes from scratch before in college, and it’s often turned out to be a disaster. It’s utterly time consuming; even with a hand mixer, my arms ache from mashing pounds and pounds of potatoes; and the end result is never as good as that darn Betty Crocker woman’s boxed kind. Regardless, I’m going to try this recipe I found online this year. What attracted me to it (besides the positive reviews, of course) was that it utilizes the slow-cooker. I am a fan of the slow-cooker–even though most of the dishes I’ve had that came from a slow-cooker were never anything to rave about, I like that you can just throw in all the ingredients and forget about it for hours. With John and I having such busy lives, anything convenient is welcome in our kitchen. Of course, I don’t like to sacrifice quality and taste for convenience, so if this pot of potatoes turns out under par, you can bet I won’t hesitate to throw the recipe out.

Making these mashed potatoes will give us the chance to try out this Cuisinart hand blender that we received for our wedding shower. A friend had told us it was the “new thing” in contemporary kitchens, but the last few times I’ve tried to use it, I only managed to make a mess in the kitchen. I think of it as a substitute for a hand mixer, but I think it’s more of a blender. All the cookie dough I’ve used it on ended up splattered across our blacksplash. Oops. Hopefully it will redeem itself with these mashed potatoes. If not, it’s time to get one of these for future baking and just use the fooc processor for mashing potatoes.

Recipe: Slow-Cooker Mashed Potatoes

Summary: Original recipe from All Recipes

Ingredients

  • 5 lbs. red potatoes, cut into chunks
  • 1 tsp. minced garlic or to taste
  • 3 cubes chicken bouillon
  • 1 (8 oz.) container sour cream
  • 1 (8 oz.) pkg. cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 c. butter
  • salt & pepper

Instructions

  1. In a lg. pot of lightly salted boiling water, cook the potatoes, garlic, and bouillon until potatoes are tender but firm, about 15 min. Drain, reserving water.
  2. In a lg. bowl, mash potatoes with sour cream and cream cheese, adding reserved water as needed to obtain desired consistency.
  3. li>Transfer mixture to a slow-cooker, cover, and cook on low for 2-3 hrs. Just before serving, stir in butter and season with salt & pepper.

Quick Notes

I like to leave the peels on the potatoes because: (1) it’s less work, (2) it adds taste and texture, and (3) it’s where the nutrition is.

Cooking time (duration): 30

Diet type: Vegetarian

Meal type: dinner

Culinary tradition: USA (Traditional)

Microformatting by hRecipe.

green bean casserole

Every Thanksgiving, I serve fried turkey and broccoli rice casserole (which I make from scratch), and corn, stuffing, and mashed potatoes (which I don’t make from scratch). The sixth side always changes from year to year. First it was asparagus (which I later realized is a mistake because asparagus is apparently out of season in November). Then it was steamed green beans which turned out to be very boring. I knew I wanted this fifth side dish to be something green since so many of the other dishes were not as nutritious, and we all know Thanksgiving is the week of binging on high-calorie, high-sodium foods, so I figure why not throw something a little more healthy in there? Well, the steamed green beans were too healthy, and so this year, I will settle on a compromise between healthy and tasty. I will make a green bean casserole. (Okay, I know with these canned beans and all the cheese, sour cream, and butter, this is far from healthy, but I’m deluded into thinking anything green = good for you.)

Casseroles never sound that tasty to me; I always think of a slop of leftover ingredients piled on top of each other in a baking dish and thrown into the oven until it all melts together into some congealed mass. I think of it as the American version of fried rice: its sole purpose is to use up leftover food, and anything goes. That is, until I made that broccoli rice casserole some nine years ago. Then I thought, Maybe, just maybe, casseroles don’t all have to be nasty.

Fast-forward some years later to 2007 or so. Our church catered our holiday dinner from Cleburne Cafeteria. I had the first enjoyable green bean casserole. So now in 2010, I will attempt to make a version of this homestyle favorite.

I do have to admit that the great thing about casseroles is their ability to be prepared ahead of time. For example, today I will prepare both the broccoli rice and this green bean casserole, cover it securely, and refrigerate it until it’s ready to go straight into the oven. So go ahead and prepare these casseroles today, then bake it tomorrow. For big holiday dinners (or just any time you’re entertaining), it’s nice to have a repertoire of dishes that can be prepared ahead of time so that you don’t find yourself scrambling to do everything last minute on the day of.

I’ve found that typical green bean casseroles contain condensed cream of mushroom and are topped with a layer of fried onions. I found this alternative version of the dish which uses sour cream and Ritz crackers instead. Once it’s out of the oven, we’ll take a photo and upload it, and I’ll adjust the recipe according to my personal taste and experience.


Recipe: Green Bean Casserole

Summary: Original recipe from All Recipes

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. white sugar
  • 1/4 c. diced onion
  • 1 c. sour cream
  • 3 (14 oz.) cans French-style green beans, drained
  • 2 c. shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 c. round butter cracker crumbs (Ritz)
  • 1 tbsp. butter, melted

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Melt 2 tbsp. butter in a lg. skillet over med. heat. Stir in flour until smooth, and cook for 1 min. Stir in the salt, sugar, onions, and sour cream. Add green beans and stir to coat.
  3. Transfer mixture to a 2.5 qt. casserole dish. Spread shredded cheese over the top. In a sm. bowl, toss together cracker crumbs and remaining butter, and sprinkle over the cheese.
  4. Bake for 30 min. or until top is golden and cheese is bubbly.

Quick Notes

French-style green beans are the skinnier version of regular green beans. Often they are cut lengthwise into thinner strips.

Cooking time (duration): 45

Diet type: Vegetarian

Meal type: dinner

Culinary tradition: USA (Traditional)

Microformatting by hRecipe.

recap: 2010 nmo patient day

On November 10, John and I found ourselves in the Hilton in Beverly Hills, California, at the second annual NMO Patient Day sponsored by the Guthy-Jackson Foundation. Similar to the symposium I went to in Dallas back in September, the NMO Patient Day was a gathering of patients, their caregivers, clinicians, and physicians; I reconnected with some of the people I had previously met just a few months before in Texas. The Patient Day, while similar to the symposium in that a part of its purpose was to dispense information addressing issues NMO patients are concerned with (e.g. latest effective treatments, future of research, available resources), the main difference was that the NMO Patient Day was just that: a day with only NMO patients whereas Dallas included TM and ADEM. Another difference, related to the fact that the symposium was threedays versus the Patient Day being only one, was that the Patient Day felt much less dense; there were scientific talks but my brain didn’t hurt by day’s end. That’s because the event really was geared toward patients and not a medically-minded audience of doctors and research scientists. After opening remarks by Victoria Jackson who founded the foundation with her husband, Bill Guthy, after their daughter was diagnosed with NMO, the program went straight into explaining what the foundation has been doing in the past year or so. A clinical consortium had been set up between three NMO centers to work toward advancing medical research and thus, patient care: the Scottsdale Mayo Clinic with Dr. Dean Wingerchuck, the UT Southwestern‘s NMO Center in Dallas headed by Dr. Benjamin Greenberg, and the Johns Hopkins Neuroimmunology department in Baltimore with Dr. Michael Levy. The purpose of the consortium is to collaborate in research in order to advance the sciences and studies of NMO. Because of these efforts, largely due to the support from the Foundation, we are now closer to figuring out a cause for NMO than for MS despite the massive funding and years MS has over NMO. (This, at least, was what we were told; as far as how this is so, I have yet to understand the reasoning.)

The IgG biomarker, in fact, which was discovered by the Mayo Clinic a few years ago to test for NMO, was the first antibody ever found in an anti-inflammatory disease. The IgG existence indicates that NMO is indeed its own disease and not a form of MS. (Now if only my friends can remember this and quit thinking I have MS.) But this medical advancement helps NMO shed its orphan status, be recognized as a unique disease, and thus attract more research.

There was also a huge push to join the NMO repository of the Accelerated Cure Project (more about this in a future post), which I’ve already done in my previous Dallas trip. This time in L.A., John even joined as a control subject. This was followed by a Q&A session between the NMO audience and a panel of physicians. Some interesting things I heard:

  • There was a study in France showing that women with NMO actually experienced a decrease in relapse risk during pregnancy. (I have a friend with lupus who said the same happened for her; perhaps this points to a link between hormones, immunology, and disease remission.) Postpartum, however, the risk for relapses is higher than usual. This means there is a very small window in which one can get pregnant and have her baby safely before having to get back on her meds right away. This also means breastfeeding is unlikely.
  • Both Dr. Wingerchuck and Dr. Greenberg follow Dr. Bruce Cree of UCSF‘s protocol of reinfusing a patient with Rituximab every six months regardless of whether or not the B-cell count has risen. My current neurologist does NOT do this, and this is something that’s been on my mind lately because I’m thinking of switching to Dr. Greenberg in Dallas but at the same time do not want to have more frequent rounds of Rituxan.
  • Receiving prompt treatment (e.g. Solumedrol) for acute NMO attacks is extremely important as the immediacy of the treatment is directly correlated to the legnth of the recovery process. In the UK, there is a medical card patients carry with them, and whenever they enter a doctor’s office or the ER, the card can be scanned to pull up the patients’ entire medical records, including a protocol put into place by his/her neurologist on how to treat acute attacks. The U.S., of course, does not have socialistic medicine, so this method would not work. But the importance of having such a treatment regimen in place is recognized. I can attest to the frustrations of going to the ER for an acute attack and having the medical attendant stratch his head, asking me, “How do you spell your condition again?” It’s tiring when you have to conduct your own treatment in the face of pain, paralysis, incontinence, blindness. If NMO has taught me anything, it’s that doctors are just as humanly fallible as the rest of us.

The Q&A was followed by a stem cell therapy presentation by Dr. Richard Burt of Northwestern which I’d already seen in Dallas. Then Dr. Daniel Siegel a psychiatrist from UCLA, switched gears up a bit and talked about mindful awareness/meditation and the importance of it for everyone, especially those with NMO as our disease alone is such a huge source of stress. He took the entire audience into a mindfully aware state, instructing us to concentrate on our breath and our selves. He said that during meditation or mindful awareness, our brain is completely active–this is not relaxation, where the brain is inactive. I have been told for years by numerous people that meditation would be good for me. My friend Karen bought me Wherever You Go, There You Are five years ago. I never finished the book. My aunt tried to teach me tai chi; I grew impatient and gave up. I downloaded meditation podcasts but never listen to them. A therapist I’d seen showed me meditation techniques, but I’d given up on that too. It’s like my brain knows it’s good for me, but something hasn’t clicked into place for me to actually actively pursue it. I did tell John while at the Patient Day, though, that I was thinking of doing at least two minutes of meditation and breathing exercises every day for 30 days to see if it would be beneficial and, of course, blogging about my experience here. Now if only I can get to the point of actually starting the trial experiment.

The 2010 NMO Patient Day was a great event. Not only did the Foundation offer financial support in the form of travel grants, it offered moral support, saying that now, NMO patients have a home. We are no longer an orphan disease, patients lost and confused, knowing nowhere to turn. Now there is a growing community and plethora of information and resources people with NMO and their caregivers can turn to when they need it. With NMO patients being the go-getter types, it was only a matter of time when we’d all band together and form an alliance and support network. It just took the vision and means of Bill Guthy and Victoria Jackson to make it all happen. So thank you to Bill, Victoria, Dan, and the entire staff behind GJCF, for such a successful 2010 NMO Patient Day.

my second organized tandem cycling experience ever

Shipley's

Mmmmmm...donut...

On November 7, we strapped our KHS on the car and drove out to the Sun & Ski in Katy to ride the Tour de Donut. We rode the 28 mile route and joined the timed race even though we told ourselves we’d take it easy especially since it was going to be my longest distance cycling ever. i guess we figured it wouldn’t hurt to try for the ski trip for two should some miracle happen that day and our bike either grew wings or our stomachs expanded to fit one million donuts.

The weather was extremely chilly for me that morning–maybe upper 40s? Luckily, I had just made a trip to Performance Bike to buy biking pants (which still left my calves naked) and a skull cap to wear underneath the helmet. I wore a windbreaker jacket and winter gloves underneath my biking gloves, too, and I was still cold. Once we started biking and the wind hit my face, I grew to understand why John was considering buying the full face mask. You may look like a scary robber but it’s totally worth it; that wind is vicious, and I was even cold from the stoker position. Poor John; he had to bear the brunt of the wind being on the front of the bike.

By the time we made it to the first rest stop, however, it was getting warmer. The donuts were cold but putting something in my stomach still helped to warm my body up. There were two rest stops for the 28-mile ride, and between the two of us, we ate seven donuts. We biked it in 2:33 including the two stops we made to eat and pee and the one stop we made so John could help a guy change his flat. According to our trustworthy Cyclemeter, we were in motion for two hours, which means we averaged 14-15 mph. Not bad. The app also told us we did hit over 20 mph a few times, but that wind was killer.

It was nice once the sun came out but I wish John would’ve put the speakers on the bike. It’s nice to view the suburban landscape while biking, but if you’re the Blind Cook, what can you do besides listen to cars passing you up?

In the end, after taking into account our time and donuts eaten (which shaved off five minutes each), we finished just about in the middle. I guess that makes us average bikers on the tandem. But it was a fun time I got to spend with my hubby getting some exercise and doing it all for a good cause. Thanks to Shipley’s and Sun & Ski for sponsoring the Tour. Till next year…

broccoli rice casserole

Recounting the first Thanksgiving I ever hosted back in 2001 (the year I graduated college and finally had a kitchen and place I could call my very own), in addition to the deep-fried turkey, I made this broccoli rice casserole. I probably found the recipe online but I honestly don’t remember where–it could’ve possibly been before I discovered All Recipes.

Regardless, it was very simple to make, and my dad raved about it, asking to take home a chunky portion as part of his Thanksgiving leftovers. My friend, Mark, also asked for the recipe, followed by Danny years later. Nearly going on its tenth year in the making, this dish is a must-have at all my holiday comfort food gatherings. I’ve also brought it to several potlucks; up or down the ingredients according to number of people. Remember, if the Blind can Cook it, so can you.

Note: I’ll upload a photo of the dish come Thanksgiving when we actually make it. For now. here’s a photo of the Pancake Bunny.



Pancake bunny

Do you like my new hat?



Recipe: Broccoli Rice Casserole

Ingredients

  • 20 oz. frozen chopped broccoli, cooked and drained
  • 2 (10.75 oz.) cans condensed cream of mushroom soup
  • 16 oz. processed cheese, melted
  • 3/4 c. minced onion
  • 2 c. uncooked minute rice
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • salt & pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Cook minute rice as directed.
  2. In a med. pan, saute onion in butter over med.-high heat until yellowed.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  4. In a lg. bowl, mix broccoli, onion, cheese, cream of mushroom, rice, and salt & pepper to taste until well-blended. Pour mixture into a 10″x13″ casserole dish. Bake for 60 min. or until edges are browned.

Quick Notes

I personally like the edges and even the top pretty brown. It adds flavor and texture.

For the cheese, I like to use Cheez-Whiz.

Cooking time (duration): 75

Diet type: Vegetarian

Meal type: dinner

Culinary tradition: USA (Traditional)

Microformatting by hRecipe.

deep-fried turkey

Fried turkey

Frying the turkey



For nine years and counting, it’s been my little tradition to fry a turkey for Thanksgiving. In 2001 when I started my first job out of college, my Louisianan coworker, Brandi, informed me her family deep-fries a turkey every year for Thanksgiving. I pictured a spicy flour battered turkey–just like Popeye’s chicken but in whole bird form and five times larger. I was surprised to learn that fried turkey wasn’t battered at all–simply rubbed down with Cajun spice and then thrown (very carefully) into a vat of hot peanut oil. I was a little disappointed since fried chicken skin is always the best part but since everyone and their mama claimed fried turkey is so good, I decided to give the turkey frying a try anyway.

To try this at home, I recommend acquiring the following items:

  • 1 40-qt. stockpot with basket (these are usually sold together for turkey and crawfish cooking purposes–both Southern/Louisianan dishes)
  • 1 propane burner for outdoor cooking
  • 1 propane tank
  • 1 lg. pc. cardboard to lay under burner so oil splatters won’t stain your concrete

You can find the turkey fryer at Academy; I personally found mine at Tuesday Morning for about $50 if I remember correctly. The propane burner and tank is from Wal-Mart. I imagine you could probably make one stop at a Home Depot or Lowe’s and find all these things.

The advantages of frying a turkey are:

  1. It’s delicious. Once I went fried, I never went back. Even the breast meat is juicy.
  2. It’s quick. Roasting a turkey takes anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes per pound depending on if it’s stuffed or not, and you have to tend to it frequently for basting. Frying, on the other hand, takes 3.5 minutes per pound, just a fraction of the time it takes to roast the bird. And once you get it in the fryer, you don’t have to touch it till it’s finished.

The disadvantage? Obviously, it’s not as healthy. But when you’re stuffing yourself with mashed potatoes and casseroles and pies for the holidays anyway, who cares? That’s the Southern motto.

This turkey has received rave reviews from every mouth it’s touched for the last nine years. So why not do it yourself this year? John and I like to sit in our garage and driveway, pop open a beer, and relax while taking in the wonderful smells of deep-fried turkey.

Note: This photo of the turkey was actually taken in 2006 because the one we took of the turkey this year was half carved and not a good picture.



Fried turkey 2

The tasty end result



Recipe: Deep-Fried Turkey

Summary: Call it Cajun, call it Southern. I just call it damn delish.

Ingredients

  • 3 ga. peanut oil for frying
  • 1 whole turkey, no more than 14 lbs.
  • 1/4 c. cajun or creole seasoning
  • 1 jar cajun or creole marinade with syringe for injecting

Instructions

  1. The day before cooking, remove giblets and rinse turkey. Pat dry with paper towels.
  2. Inject turkey with marinade: 1 syringe-ful in ea. leg, 1 in ea. thigh, 1 in ea. wing, and 2 in ea. breast. During injection, pull syringe out slowly while pushing down plunger to spread marinade evenly throughout meat.
  3. Rub inside and outside liberally with seasoning. Marinate in refrigerator overnight.
  4. When ready to cook, fill 40-qt. pot with 3 gal. peanut oil. (This should fill about half the pot.) Heat oil on high heat to 400 degrees or until oil has lines in it, indicating high heat.
  5. Make sure skin at turkey neck has at least a 2″ opening so oil doesn’t get trapped inside the bird later. Place turkey in basket neck side down.
  6. Slowly lower basket into pot. Cook 3.5 min./lb. or until internal temperature of thigh is 180 degrees.
  7. Remove turkey and let it sit for 20 min. before carving.

Quick Notes

Note that it takes 24 hours to thaw five lbs. of turkey. I.e. a 14-lb. turkey will take 72 hours. And remember that it needs to be fully thawed before the marinade can be injected, which means if I had a 14-lb. turkey I wanted to fry on Thanksgiving Thursday, I need to move it from the freezer into the fridge Sunday morning (thawed by Wednesday so it can marinate a full 24 hours before going into the fyer.

For the marinade, we always use Tony Chachere‘s Creole butter flavor. As for the rub, we used both Rudy’s turkey rub and Tony Chachere’s Creole seasoning.

Peanut oil is ideal for deep-frying because it has a high smoking point.

Birds 14 lbs. or less are ideal for this method of cooking–any larger, and the bird’s skin could be overexposed to the hot oil, resulting in a charred skin. And we can’t have that considering skin is the best part!

Be extremely careful when frying the turkey. They say you should cook this completely outdoors in case a grease fire shoots up to the sky, but we always cook ours in the garage and have yet to have a black hole on our ceiling. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Meal type: dinner

Culinary tradition: USA (Southern)

Microformatting by hRecipe.

who gets nmo?

This question has posed a puzzle for doctors and scientists for years. Who is likely to be diagnosed with NMO? What triggers NMO? What are the underlying causes of NMO? How can NMO be prevented, treated, cured? Like other autoimmune diseases, nobody has the answers. From what I’ve learned through the course of my condition by personal research and the 2010 Rare Neuroimmunologic Disorders symposium, a person with NMO has to: (1) possess the genetic susceptibility for the disease, and (2) be exposed to the environmental factor that triggers the disease. Both must happen in order for NMO to develop; they are not mutually exclusive.

On that note, I recently attended the NMO Patient Day in L.A. sponsored by the Guthy-Jackson Foundation (to be outlined in a future post) where I befriended E and J, two young women who, like me, are ambitious and proactive types. All three of us are “newly” married without children–E for three years, J for three months, and me for six months. All three of us are thinking about possibly having children, forging forward in our vocations while being good wives to our husbands. Over dinner while the men talked man talk, E, J, and I discussed how it seems most of the people with NMO share similar qualities: determined, intelligent, strong-minded and strong-willed personalities. Nobody we met was just sitting around on their couch watching “Jersey Shore” marathons. Everyone was doing something in addition to dealing with their NMO. And almost all of them were women.

What did this all mean? E, J, and I had no idea, but I pointed out that it seems autoimmune diseases often inflict people with high stress levels. This is no surprise since most of our attacks and symptoms arise almost immediately after or even during stressful life situations. (This was, in fact, noted by the doctors.)

I thought back to all the people with NMO I’ve gotten to know over the years either online, on the phone, or in person. All of them, with the exception of two (one whom I never had contact with but I’ve kept in touch with his mother), all have been female. Additionally, all are driven, and compassionate individuals. Everyone has been open in sharing their stories and struggles; perhaps this is due to the fact that NMO is very rare and so we have to be candid with our lives in order to make connections which are rare in itself since our network is so small. E pointed out that most people she’s met with MS are much more private about their condition, and I reasoned that because MS is more widespread and the research more advanced, MS patients can keep quiet and still receive adequate treatment. NMO, on the other hand, is an orphan disease, and so with the little research and resources available to NMO patients, we feel we need to speak up, speak out, and speak loudly about our disease in order to move and shake the medical world. “Hello! We need help too!” But when I think about S and B whom I’ve been in contact with for several years now ever since my diagnosis in 2003, I find that they, too, are like E, J, and me. Of course, the future of NMO medicine cannot simply be hinged upon similar traits without hard evidence, but I can’t help but wonder why the majority of us with NMO are this particular type of woman. Any thoughts?

“quick” & easy vietnamese chicken noodle soup

Pho ga

A comfort food staple in our home

Ahh…the most famous Vietnamese dish in conjunction with the baguette sandwich, banh mi thit. How can we talk about comfort foods and not talk about pho? Pho ga–or noodle soup with chicken–is perhaps my favorite of the pho family. I grew up eating pho on occasional Sunday mornings, and while I know it’s a cliche to say so, my mama seriously made the best pho. Seriously. The best. My parents’ friends had even urged her to open up a little pho restaurant. She was bestowed the recipe by a Vietnamese chef she once knew. Unfortunately, my mama died before I ever got the chance to learn her secrets, and my dad never found the written gem anywhere. Quite literally, she took the secret to the grave.

Years later, I discovered Quoc Viet, a handy little brand of soup base. They make a variety of soup bases, including pho bo (Hanoi beef noodle soup), bo kho (beef stew), and bun bo Hue (spicy lemongrass beef noodle soup from central Vietnam), to name a few. I have yet to be disappointed by any of the outcomes using Quoc Viet products.

Pho is definitely a comfort food: eaten on cold days or after a late night of partying, it hits just the right spot. Vietnamese people often eat it for lunch, brunch, or even breakfast. (I’ve seen Pho Danh, which I believe has the best pho in Houston and which I will review next time I go, crowded with diners at 9 AM.)

So what makes a good pho? It’s mainly in the broth. It can’t be too oily, it has to be flavorful with the right flavors. You’d be surprised at some of the weird tasting pho broths out there. For example, Les Givrals Kahve–not to be confused with the original Givral on Bellaire, this one is an entirely different chain: one on Washington, the other on Congress–has one-dimensional broth that reeks of pepper and nothing else. Blegh.

Quoc Viet makes a delicious broth. I actually prefer my homemade quick & easy chicken pho to any other restaurant’s. One day I will attempt to make it from scratch, but till then, this is a simple yet savory substitute. And remember, if the Blind can Cook it, so can you.


Recipe: “Quick” & Easy Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup

Summary: Pho ga–instructions can be found on the label of the Quoc Viet soup base, but here is my version.

Ingredients

  • 1 jar Quoc Viet brand “chicken pho” soup base
  • 15-20 chicken legs
  • 1 pc. fresh ginger, unpeeled but washed
  • 1 whole onion, unpeeled but washed
  • 1 (13.5 oz.) can chicken broth
  • 2-3 gal. water
  • 3 pkg. rice sticks (banh pho), cooked al dente
  • 1 bunch scallion/green onion, washed & finely chopped
  • 1 bunch cilantro, washed & finely chopped
  • 3 limes, cut into sm. wedges
  • Sriracha, hoisin sauce & fish sauce to taste

Instructions

  1. In a lg. stockpot, combine chicken, ginger, and whole onion. Add enough water to cover ingredients. Bring to a boil over high heat.
  2. Add contents of the Quoc Viet soup base, making sure not to tear open the enclosed spice bags. Boil at med. heat for 20 min.
  3. Remove chicken, ginger, onion, and spice bag. Add chicken broth to soup and adjust water to 2-3 gal. of water, depending on taste. Bring back to a boil. Then reduce heat to low and let simmer until ready to serve.
  4. Meanwhile, remove skin from chicken and shred meat.
  5. To serve, in a lg. bowl, place noodles, chicken, scallion, and cilantro. Pour steaming broth into bowl. Garnish with freshly squeezed lime juice, Sriracha, and/or hoisin sauce.

Quick Notes

I put quotation marks around the word “quick” because while it is quicker than making pho from scratch, it still takes some time to prepare.

You can often find the Quoc Viet soup bases, along with the other ingredients, at your local Asian grocery store. You can also find them online but you’ll probably have to purchase in bulk.

The specific brands of ingredients I like to use are:

  • Swanson chicken broth
  • Sriracha brand hot sauce which is a Thai sauce made of sun-ripened chili peppers and garlic
  • Koon Chun hoisin sauce

As for rice sticks, I like to get the medium-sized noodles (rather than the small that are served in most restaurants), simply because this is what my mama used to serve, and it’s nostalgic for me. As for brand, I used to get the one with a red rose on the package, but that brand has become increasingly harder to find, so I’ve resorted to using one with an elephant. Some cooks I know say it’s an abomination to use dried rice sticks, preferring to only use the fresh ones in the refrigerated section of the store. Anyone have a suggestion as to which rice stick brand I should use?

Variations

Different people like different garnishes and condiments with their pho. I personally only add lime, choosing to forego all the various sauces and veggies. Call me a purist, but I tend to like tasting the essence of a dish. For others, though, you can serve raw veggies: bean sprouts, mint, basil. My mama used to like stalks of green onion blanced in broth. Sometimes, I like slices of red onion doused in vinegar. Place these garnishes in the center of the table and let diners help themselves. Just be sure to let the newbies know it’s for the pho and not a side salad; my dad’s seen a man eat this at a restaurant before his pho came out.

This recipe should make about 20 servings.

Cooking time (duration): 60

Meal type: brunch

Culinary tradition: Vietnamese

Microformatting by hRecipe.

houston gets greener with bike share

B-cycle

Bike sharing demo in Discovery Green on Nov. 1



When we were on the Barcelona leg of our honeymoon earlier this year, John noticed there were kiosks around the city where people were seen swiping a card into a machine and then pulling a bicycle from the pile and taking off down the road with it. After a few times, John realized it was a sort of a bike share program where you could, upon running a credit card, rent a city-owned bike to get around town and then simply return it later at whichever kiosk you end up at. Even better, it’s free if you get it back to a kiosk in less than 30 minutes.

We thought this was such a neat idea: by providing an inexpensive, efficient mode of transportation for its citizens, it promotes less emissions and cleaner air. When, if ever, will Houston get on the earth-friendly bandwagon?

Well, it looks like we who are notorious for our gassy SUVs and monster trucks will not have to wait much longer. According to Laura Spanjian, Houston’s Sustainability Director, the city will launch the beginnings of a bike share program in early 2011. Houston was one of 25 communities to receive a $423,000 grant from the EPA to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, beating out 400 other competitors. (Way to go, Houston, considering you choke in almost every other competition–read: sports.) Houston also plans to use part of the grant on improving its electric car infrastructure, aiming to increase the number of charging stations from 15 to 65. With such plans in place, Spanjian hopes to meet the new EPA ozone guidelines.

I know this post doesn’t necessarily pertain to my themes of eating, cooking, and seeing vs. not seeing, but since I’ve been blogging a lot about cycling lately, I thought it was worth sharing. It’d be awesome if they added some tandems on the kiosks but somehow, I don’t picture that happening.

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