Extracting the Truth: Adventures in Vanilla

Disclaimer:  I’ve said it before, but I will say it again.  No one pays me or gives me anything to say nice stuff about any product.  But, in the interest of full disclosure, I did receive some of the products in this blog post as a prize from a company.  The company is Rodelle and I won the 2013 Rodelle Challenge for my funniest baking story.  I submitted my Passive Aggressive Gingerbread blog entry and was selected as a grand prize winner which included a new Kitchenaid Stand Mixer (which I have promised to my mother) and a years supply of Rodelle products.  So, the Rodelle Vanillas I tested  and discussed below were not purchased but were given to me as part of my contest winnings.  See the end of this post for a link to Rodelle’s web page.  I don’t receive any additional ad revenue or other benefit from including a link to their website.  I just thought you might like to check them out since I did include several of their products in my taste test.

I have a lot of vanilla.  First of all, everyone should have a fairly decent amount of vanilla because…yum.  And you put vanilla in all kinds of things, even if they aren’t specifically “vanilla.”  For example, when was the last time you made a chocolate recipe that didn’t call for a splash of vanilla extract?  And vanilla is so versatile.  It goes with everything.  It’s the baking equivalent of the little black dress.  You can dress it up, dress it down, go from wedding to funeral, it’s perfectly vanilla.  It’s a blank canvas perfect for featuring your favorite fruits and spices.  But it’s also simple and clean and can stand up on its own and hold down the show when you want it to.  It’s vanilla.

The contestants lined up to face off in the battle of the vanilla extracts!

The contestants lined up to face off in the battle of the vanilla extracts!

I came into a LOT of vanilla.  Someone took advantage of a trip to a big box store with a friend who has a membership to such a place to buy the economy size bottle of the grocery store grade vanilla extract some time ago during an overzealous baking streak.  But then I became aware of high quality vanilla extracts and purchased one from one of those hoity toity kitchen stores in the mall that I cannot get enough of.  And then a friend brought me back a GIANT bottle of vanilla from Mexico.  And finally, I won this contest and Rodelle sent me vanilla beans and vanilla paste and vanilla extract and vanilla flavor and so one day recently, I gathered up all my vanilla and looked to see what my inventory included and I realized that I we had a serious vanilla epidemic going on here.

While a vanilla epidemic isn’t a bad thing, I felt odd having so many choices and not knowing which I liked best.  I mean, I’d much rather have a vanilla epidemic than a flu epidemic to contend with.  After all, a vanilla epidemic includes delicious desserts.  Since you are supposed to starve the flu, there aren’t any snacks and so that is why a vanilla epidemic is better.  It’s like winning the epidemic lottery.  But even with such a fun epidemic brewing in my pantry, I knew I had to think fast and start finding delicious ways to use up this vanilla.  But before I started gifting desserts and extracts to my favorite baker friends, I wanted to do a taste test.  I wanted to compare them in a blind taste test to see if I had a favorite or if I could even tell the difference.  I pretend I have a good palate for the benefit of my giant ego but the truth is that I couldn’t be sure that I could reliably tell the difference between toilet water and high quality vanilla.  In the interest of not causing one of those less desirable epidemics, I didn’t include toilet water in the blind taste test though so we’ll just assume that my palate is at least that good.  But I did test all my vanillas and the results might surprise you.  They surprised me.

The contestants are (from left to right in the photo above):

Contestant #1:  La Vencedora Pure Vanilla purchased in Texas by my dear friend Jackie as a gift for pet sitting.  If you saw what her cats did to her carpet on the last trip she went on, you’d agree that I should have bought her a bottle of something instead of the other way around….and it probably should have been tequila.  Also, if you’re going to purchase vanilla from Mexico, you need to look to be sure it is free of coumarin which is known to cause liver or kidney failure sometimes in high concentrations.

Check to ensure Mexican vanillas are coumarin free.

Check to ensure Mexican vanillas are coumarin free.

 

Contestant #2 is McCormick Pure Vanilla Extract purchased at a big box type grocery store.  In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve clearly had that bottle for a while so it may not have been as fresh as the other bottles.

Contestant #3 is Rodelle Organic Vanilla Extract won as part of the 2013 Rodelle Challenge.

Contestant #4 is Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla purchased at William Sonoma.

Contestant #5 is Rodelle Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Extract won as part of the 2013 Rodelle Challenge.

Contestant #6 is Rodelle Vanilla Flavor won as part of the 2013 Rodelle Challenge.

Now, in testing vanilla, I needed a simple recipe that really let the vanilla shine on its own.  I couldn’t risk it being overshadowed by richer flavors.  I decided on an old standby simple recipe for vanilla pudding.  I divided the recipe into six parts and then put a teaspoon of vanilla in each one which is more vanilla extract than the recipe would have called for but since the entire point was to taste the vanilla, I was okay with this excess of deliciousness.  In order to hide the results from myself so I wouldn’t be swayed by knowing which was which, I went to great lengths to ensure my methodology resulted in a study that was blind even to me. I won’t go into too many details but suffice it to say that it may have involved a couple cocktails and apparently it worked.  By the time I finished, I couldn’t remember which vanilla I put where and was relieved I had decided to make myself a cheat sheet before we started.

Now, here’s the thing.  For the purposes of results, I had to choose one I liked best and one I liked least.  And we used up every spoon in the house trying to taste test without double dipping and then turned them over and used spoon handles.  The amount of vanilla pudding consumed in this house in just a few minutes was honestly….epic.  But I have to be honest.  Even the one I deemed “least likable” was delicious.  I mean, the differences were slight and subtle and I didn’t taste any that I didn’t like.  It was like trying to choose between Bradley Cooper and and Ryan Gosling.  I’d be pretty happy to be tasting staring at either one of them.  Of the vanillas I tested,  there was not a Steve Buscemi in the bunch.  And, I was pleased to find out that some of them were remarkably easy to discern from others while some were so similar that it was very hard to pick out which was which.

The truth was that it ended up being a bit of a tie.  The vanilla that had the most distinctive taste and was the most easily detected was the La Vencedora Pure Vanilla from Mexico.  It had a distinctively different flavor that the Madagascar vanillas and I was very surprised to discover that the difference was clear.  However, neither roommate nor I could decide if we liked it better or worse than the others.  It was just different and still delicious.  It was definitely a winner for both being delicious and being different.  I decided to “tie” it with the two vanillas we decided were the best.  And so, tied for first place with La Vencedora are (please insert appropriate drumroll here by beating on your desk or a nearby friend):

A tie between Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla and Rodelle Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Extract.  In fact, the truth is that Joanne and I tasted like a million times and couldn’t tell them apart AT ALL before we ran out of pudding.

The winners were impossible to tell apart.

The winners were impossible to tell apart.

As for how the other vanillas performed, I was slightly surprised to find that to my uneducated palate, the McCormick Vanilla just slightly edged out the Rodelle Vanilla Flavor.  Truthfully, I think this is because the extracts just seem to be a little stronger flavor than the vanilla flavor was.  But as I said before, this was like choosing between Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper.  Both are tasty.  But it is nice to know that if one needs to cut costs on some heavy duty baking, a big box store won’t completely ruin the quality of your final product unless you’re serving someone with a Gordon Ramsay attitude and palate to go with it.  However, given the choice, I’d be more likely to order from Rodelle because not only is their product delicious, but it does also come in larger bottles and I’ve had the most wonderful experiences dealing with them.  Plus, their other baking products mean that if I have to order vanilla, I’ll be able to order several other extracts that they have and some of those are honestly considerably more difficult to find in my local grocery stores.

The vanilla that I liked the least was actually Rodelle’s Organic Vanilla.  I found this surprising.  The next day I smelled the organic next to the Madagascar Vanilla and realized that they do actually smell very different and my guess is that it’s a different alcohol they use to extract the vanilla flavor (but again, this is just conjecture).  The smell of the organic smelled more like alcohol to me than the Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla did.  But once again, let me remind you, that this is a choice between super hot rich guy and super hot rich guy.  You won’t go wrong with either of these and if eating organic is really important to you, then I would say that the organic vanilla is definitely worth it.  And, I haven’t seen any organic vanilla extracts in my local market so Rodelle is definitely filling a void here with their Organic Vanilla Extract.

I used different sizes and shapes of glasses to keep track of which vanilla was which during the blind tasting.

I used different sizes and shapes of glasses to keep track of which vanilla was which during the blind tasting.

So, you might wonder what I have been doing with my plethora of vanilla since I still have so much to use up.  Well, I made a few batches of ice cream.  And, I finally made something I’ve wanted to try for a very long time.  I made homemade marshmallows.  And, let me assure you, they were far more successful than I’d even hoped.  they tasted like sweet vanilla pillows of delicious and when roasted, they melt so perfectly that I will have a hard time ever going back to store bought marshmallows again.  If you want to ruin store bought marshmallows forever, I encourage you to head over to one of my favorite blogs, The Smitten Kitchen ( http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2009/06/springy-fluffy-marshmallows/ ) because I followed her advice to a tee and I couldn’t have been happier with the results.  Now that I know they’re successful, I plan to try to make my own homemade version of a pinwheel soon.  For those of you that don’t know, a pinwheel has a cake-like chocolate cookie with marshmallow on top and the entire thing is encased in chocolate kind of like a candy bar.  I have to figure out how to melt chocolate so that it will harden again but hopefully we’ll sort this out very soon because pinwheels are one of my favorite desserts and these marshmallows deserve to be part of my favorite desserts.

If you’re stopping in and you have a favorite vanilla recipe that I should try, please do share it.  Even with all the ice cream and marshmallows and pudding around here, we still have A LOT of vanilla.

And finally, if you’d like to order yourself some Rodelle Vanilla (or any of their other products which I’m still taste testing as I go), you can find them at http://www.rodellekitchen.com/.

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State of the Kitchen Address

There is a lot to tell you. So much in fact, that any responsible blogger would break it into multiple posts. But we all know my style is far too reckless to bother with that so, hold onto your butts, I’m going in and you’re coming with me.

- I have to start with the thing that has been occupying most of my brain and heart for weeks now. My very dear cousin, Bonnie was recently diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. Bonnie won her battle against breast cancer years ago and so hearing a new diagnosis of cancer really took the entire family down at the knees. It does not seem fair that she should be called upon to fight a battle for her life again ever…let alone so quickly. I admit that I cried some very very angry tears as I learned what this diagnosis meant. This type of leukemia is rare and extremely aggressive. The odds I read online were not comforting and these were confirmed by Bonnie’s doctors. It all sounded very bad. They were the kind of odds you don’t want to hear. But we all vowed to do whatever we could to help and we started praying and asking our friends and their families to pray and we held on to the thin veil of hope and tried to strengthen that hope with our love for Bonnie and our intense prayers for more time with her.

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After Bonnie’s first round of chemo, things were looking even more depressing. Bonnie had experienced debilitating side effects from the chemo and when her bone marrow biopsy showed that the chemo had not eradicated the cancer cells, she decided not to continue chemo. I felt devastated. I spent that night staring at the ceiling praying she would have a change of heart. I just couldn’t come to any peace with her decision. Apparently it worked because the next day Bonnie said she’d had a change of heart and would give one more round of chemo a try. But she warned us that the odds hadn’t improved and there were no guarantees.

I tried to temper my excitement because now the odds were even longer. I was afraid the chemo still would not work. But something kept inflating my spirit anyway and I tried to hold my expectations in check. But despite my efforts, I felt like we were on the precipice of a miracle. I had no reason to feel this way and I even prayed that if God intended to take her home soon that he would prepare my heart. After her second round of chemo, I was able to visit her and despite her fatigue, she was very much her happy self and I left the hospital feeling even more hopeful.

Then today as I was driving home from work, I felt my cell phone buzzing and I just knew it was news about Bonnie’s latest bone marrow biopsy. I’d had it on my mind all day. I was stuck in stand-still traffic on my commute home and so I took a risk and checked my cell phone for news as I wasn’t moving and I was right. The bone marrow biopsy was clear. There were no cancer cells. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I felt this rush of emotion so strong I literally screamed with the relief of it. I felt the tears of relief and joy running down my face as I screamed for a second time and then realized that my windows were open and the guys in the car next to me were looking at me like they fully expected my head to spin 360 degrees right before I took out my road rage in some newsworthy fashion.

I yelled, “it’s okay! They’re happy tears!” They looked incredulous so I explained and I was rewarded with enthusiastic rush hour high fives. Best feeling ever. I don’t think I could have felt any more excited if I’d won the lottery and accepted a proposal from Bradley Cooper at the same time. It was like the warm fuzzy feeling of every adorable cat video happening all at once. It was like new car smell, baby belly laughs, toes in the sand and standing up in the sunroof to feel the wind in your hair (don’t do that, it’s dangerous….but you probably did it at least once and so you know the feeling I’m talking about). It felt like my chest couldn’t contain it and I might have to scream again or risk exploding into a pile of confetti and streamers. It felt great.

Even now, I feel like I want to climb on the roof and scream out for joy but we all know how klutzy I am so I’ll settle for this blog and a few very enthusiastic Facebook posts and tweets.

There’s just one thing. One more hurtle to jump. And for this one, we need your help. Bonnie will still need a bone marrow transplant. Siblings have a 25% chance of being a match but both of Bonnie’s siblings have passed away. Extended family doesn’t have a statistically higher chance of being a match than the general population. So, if you are younger than 45 and are medically eligible, please register for the national bone marrow registry using http://www.bethematch.org. They will mail you a kit and it’s just a cheek swab. You mail it back and that’s it. If you are selected as a potential match for someone, you will be asked to undergo additional testing which would require a blood sample. About 1 in 40 donors might be asked to undergo this additional testing. About 1 in 300 will be selected as a match and about 1 in 500 will actually donate. You can find out if you’re medically eligible and what donating involves on the website. Please consider it and please share it with your friends. You could be the one that ends this fight for her. You could be the one that ends this chapter for all of us that love her. Please consider it.

-Speaking of people that have had to fight for their lives, remember Amazing Anne? Well, I hadn’t been pushing her story quite so much lately because she had some good job possibilities pop up but we recently found out that her best prospect didn’t work out. So, if you are a human and you know other humans anywhere in the world that might possibly know a human that is in the Orlando, FL area, please please please share Anne’s story with them. Anne also survived two different kinds of cancer and I know she’s destined to change the world. Someone just has to need her. It doesn’t matter if the field your friends are in match her “ideal” job or not because she is willing to learn and do anything. We can’t let a job hunt in a tough economy be the thing that breaks her spirit after being so strong facing cancer.

-For those of you that miss my food blogging, I haven’t forgotten about you. I’ve been spending a lot more time knitting lately. If my trading in my spatula for some knitting needles temporarily upsets you, you can blame all the fertile uteruses of my friends. I’ve had a lot of baby gifts to make. But fear not, it’s May and I live in Atlanta. Soon the idea of sitting around covered in yarn will be revolting until the weather starts cooling off again around late October. I may not want to run the oven but maybe we can discuss ice cream recipes.

I already have to report to you my recent findings related to vanilla extract. I promise not to take too terribly long to get that post together.

-Finally, I have to tell you that I’ve found some new, albeit time-consuming fun. I have a toddler cousin named Owen that gets ridiculously excited about large vehicles, especially busses. After suffering a terrible bout of insomnia, I took a stab at drawing him a school bus. I drew this in the app notability on my iPad free hand. I am absurdly proud of it.

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I had such a good (and tedious) time drawing Owen a bus, I took a stab at drawing him my favorite vehicle: a fire engine

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I’m sure most of you could have done a better job but for being freehand and drawn on an iPad with a stylus by someone with very little artistic ability, I thought they turned out fairly well. And, Owen loves them. I was trying to come up with a little story for him about the bus and fire engine but I’ve just been so darn busy. Do any of you have any favorite kids books featuring busses? Maybe if I don’t find time to make up a story, I could at least maybe read him one via FaceTime one evening or in person next time I visit.

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Your Bologna May Have a Name but My Cookies Have an Attitude Problem

So…I’m having a day.  Actually, I’m on like day 3 of having a day.  It’s the kind of day where I rocket between happy and comfortable to irritable bordering on raging psychopath with a velocity that is making my head spin.  Out of fear that my head might actually start spinning horror movie style, I decided to do something to help curb the potentially catastrophic outbursts brewing in my hormone-saturated brain.  In other words, I feel unnecessarily emotional and I want cookies.  Draw your own conclusions but if you like your face as it’s currently arranged, you should probably not share any of your conclusions with me.  

I found a recipe from Epicurious for salted chocolate chunk cookies.  If there is one thing I do really well, it’s complain that you can’t buy salted M&Ms.  Yes, I know they have the pretzel ones but I don’t like the chunk of pretzel in the middle of my chocolate.  I want salted M&M’s like you get in the sweet and salty trail mix.  In fact the ONLY reason I eat the sweet and salty trail mix is for the salty chocolate candies.  If the company would just sell salted M&M’s, I could get my fix without having to ingest raisins, nuts, and seeds too.  And you can’t just salt M&M’s, the salt won’t stick.  The oils (I’m guessing from the nuts) in the trail mix is what makes it stick to the candy and so can someone work on that for me?  In the mean time, this recipe *might* be an acceptable alternative way to get my salted chocolate fix but it’s just a crutch.  We need a permanent solution and that solution depends on salty M&M’s (plan, not peanut). 

You can find the recipe here or I’ve copied it below for your convenience.    

My first concern was that I haven’t been to the grocery store in weeks.  I haven’t been much in the mood to cook or bake lately so I really haven’t been doing much of it.  And, I hate going to the grocery store when I feel good.  Going to the grocery store today would mean that the first wound-up kid that runs into me with their cart while their oblivious mother is nose-deep in a nutrition label would be liable to end up hog tied and gagged with Hefty Bags and deposited into his mother’s cart where he couldn’t escape.  So, it was imperative that I find a recipe I had the ingredients for already…for the sake of the general public.  

When I opened the refrigerator, I saw we had eggs which was the one ingredient I wasn’t sure we had.  But they were expired.  However, the date on the eggs in your fridge is really just a suggestion.  If you’ve ever raised chickens or bought fresh eggs from a farm, you probably know that there’s one really easy way to tell if an egg is still good and it doesn’t depend on some arbitrary date stamped on a package.  Good eggs sink.  When an egg starts to go bad, gasses are formed inside the shell and so if you drop a bad egg into a glass of water, it will float.  You can check eggs that are past the expiration date, by just dropping them into a glass of water.  Any eggs that bob up and down, hover somewhere above the bottom of the glass, or float should be relegated to only non-edible ventures.  But if it sinks straight to the bottom, you’re good.  Luckily the expiration date on my eggs was yesterday so I was sure they were good but I did the water test just to be sure and they sank as expected.  I will say that older eggs are harder to separate.  The white is thinner in fresher eggs so if you need to separate your eggs, you may want to use fresher ones.  Older eggs are better for boiling because they will peel easier than fresher eggs.  And thus concludes today’s egg-citing lesson on chicken ova.  

I started gathering the rest of the ingredients when I realized we didn’t have enough brown sugar left.  I thought I had a canister somewhere with some more brown sugar in it.  It only took a few minutes of me considering the potential child abuse charges that could result if I gagged a stranger’s child at the grocery store with a Hefty Bag to encourage me to find it.  Luckily I was right, there was enough brown sugar in it to save the day (or at least my cookie craving), but it was hard as a rock.  This turned out to be a silver lining.  I could have microwaved back into cooperation, but given my mood, repeatedly stabbing it with a butter knife until I had a workable substance was far more appealing.  

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I had to rough up the brown sugar.

Finally, the recipe calls for chocolate with no more than 72% cacao which seems oddly specific.  What happens between 72 and 73 percent that could possibly render the cookie inedible?  Since the recipe specified that you could use either bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, I used semi-sweet bakers chocolate which is all had on hand but was only only 54% cacao.  I prefer to use higher quality chocolate usually, but sometimes you have to weigh the benefits of remaining out of court against how badly you want good quality chocolate in your cookies.  The less interaction I have with the public today, the better.  

And, I have to say, I LOVE chopping up chocolate.  I could probably do it a lot faster in the food processor but I love the feel of my knife going through those big chunks of baker’s chocolate.  I like to pretend I’m cutting through the bones of people that drive slow in the left lane and feel all self-righteous about it and tell themselves that they have every right to drive in the left lane and pat themselves on the back for not allowing other people to speed.  Yes, I realize that sounds morbid and hateful but as I’ve said, I’m having a hateful day.  Just roll with it…unless you drive slow and act self-righteous in the left lane, you people clearly would prefer to monitor everyone else’s rolling with it instead.  Knock yourself out, I’ll just be over here fantasizing about a giant asteroid landing on your car and squashing you into an upholstery stain while you act like the freeway version of a power-hungry elementary school hall-monitor. 

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I was violent with the chocolate as well.

Anyway, there is salt in the cookie batter but that’s not that unusual.  Most sweets include a bit of salt.  A pinch of salt can enhance the sweetness of a dish.  I only put in the prescribed amount of salt because the last step in the instructions is to sprinkle flaky sea salt on top of the cookies before baking and I didn’t want the cookies to turn out too salty.  

I read through the reviews and a few people had indicated that they spread out too thin or that they were more well done than they liked and they recommended removing them from the oven before any part of the cookie looks browned.  Those that felt they were overdone had waited until the edges were starting to get a little color before removing.  Since I much prefer soft and chewy cookies, I took their advice a step further and after I shaped and salted the cookies, I put them into the refirgerator for about 10 minutes on the cookie sheets.  I learned when making sugar cookies that re-cooling the dough after it’s been rolled and cut and right before baking helps them keep their shape.  This allows the butter to re-solidify and the result is that the butter doesn’t melt as much before the cookie bakes and so the cookies don’t spread out as much.  And, since the cookies stay a little thicker, it also helps contribute to a more chewy cookie.  If you like your cookies thinner and crisper, you’ll want to skip this step.  For sugar cookies which I want to keep the shape of the cookie cutter, I actually put them in the freezer before baking.  Since these cookies needed to spread some, I just put them into the fridge for about 10 minutes before putting them into the preheated oven.

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But while we’re talking about people who review recipes, why has it become so popular for people to write reviews on a recipe that they didn’t follow at all?  I see recipe reviews all the time that say something like, “I was out of ingredients A, B, and C so I substituted these things that aren’t similar at all to ingredients A, B and C and it was terrible so I give this recipe 1 star.”  That’s like going to see Frozen and then telling everyone you hated it because you’re team Jacob.  STOP DOING THAT!  It’s fine to write a review and tell people if you made substitutions that worked or didn’t work, but to criticize a recipe you didn’t follow and tell everyone it was gross because you’re too inept in the kitchen to know that you can’t substitute a banana for a banana pepper is completely asinine and really really annoying to those of us that are trying to glean useful information from the reviews.  It’s right up there with The Weather Channel naming winter storms and people acting self-righteous for driving slow in the left lane.  

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Also, these cookies call for  A LOT of chocolate.  Using the full 8 ounces the recipe called for meant that I had to roll the cookies in my hands to get them to “stick” together with so much chocolate.  Maybe it was partly the size of the chunks I had but it seemed like the cookies were little dough and a LOT of chocolate.  Having to roll them out with my hands to get them to stick is another reason I refrigerated them before baking.  

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Possible salmonella poisoning never looked so delicious. To all of you that never eat raw cookie dough, you just don’t know what you’re missing.

Finally, I wasn’t sure how much salt was really appropriate for the top of each cookie.  Since I’m not afraid of salmonella from eating raw eggs enough to stop eating raw cookie dough, what I SHOULD have done was take one of my uncooked cookies, and used it to experiment with how much salty deliciousness I could add before I went too far.  I was really afraid of the cookies being way too salty to enjoy.  Plus, I suspect that my salt was too granular and not as “flaky” as the recipe had suggested and as a result, I had a hard time getting the salt to stick to the top of the cookie.  It kind of wanted to roll off the cookie and settle into the low spots on the top of the cookie surface.  

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My salt is not ‘flaky’ as the recipe called for.

Plus, I found that as the cookie spread out, it kind of flattened out some, but the top of the cookie doesn’t spread out.  As the cookie gets thinner, it’s the area that was making up the “sides” of the cookie that becomes the top outer edge of the finished cookie.   As a result, the salt kind of stays bunched up in the center of the cookie instead of spreading out along the top.  I wonder if it might have been better if I’d sprinkled with salt while they were first hot out of the oven but I’m not sure the salt would have stuck well.  I think that if I make these again, I’d put a pinch of salt on the top of each cookie using a different method to get it to spread out more evenly.  Instead of just trying to sprinkle it on, I’d pour the salt onto a flat surface (a pinch at a time), spread it out a little with my fingers and then press the cookie dough down onto the salt to get it to spread out a little better and get it to cover the top of the cookie more evenly. I might even spread some along the sides of the cookie (if you think of your pre-baked cookies as a cylinder, spreading a bit of salt along the sides of the cylinder) to get more even coverage across the top of the cookie.

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Sweet and salty and fresh from the oven. This is what my dreams are made of. This and salty M&M’s.

Overall, it’s not a bad cookie.  I like it.  It definitely satisfies that salty sweet craving I had and I didn’t have to face the public and possible jail time to make them.  Since cooking and baking is relaxing and soothing, I even feel a little less prone to violence. But I still wouldn’t turn down salted M&M’s if we can work that out.  I’m not ready to trade in the dream yet.  One day, I hope to eat salty chocolates with a hard candy shell without having to pick around nuts and raisins and it will be beautiful.  

However, I didn’t love the cookies as much as I wanted to.  Don’t get me wrong, they’re good.  But they just weren’t quite the yummy cookie I was looking for.  I realized as I ate one that it would probably satisfy my salty sweet craving if it was a chocolate chunk cookie with a salted caramel drizzle on it.  Or maybe I’m just in a mood where I can’t be happy with anything today?  Why don’t you try making them and tell me what you think?

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Finally, I know I joke about hurting other people because I’m feeling terrible.  But, truthfully, I am not prone to violence and I have never and never would physically hurt someone except in self-defense.  A few people have received some pretty intense tongue-lashings before, but I assure you that they deserved the full tilt of my ire at the time.  

Salty Chocolate Chunk Cookies (copied from Epicurious)

Bon Appétit  | January 2013

by Alison Roman

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 8 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (do not exceed 72% cacao), coarsely chopped
  • Maldon or other flaky sea salt

Place racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat to 375°F. Whisk flour, baking powder, kosher salt, and baking soda in a medium bowl; set aside.

Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat butter, brown sugar, sugar, and powdered sugar until light and fluffy, 3-4 minutes. Add egg yolks, egg, and vanilla. Beat, occasionally scraping down the sides of the bowl, until mixture is pale and fluffy, 4-5 minutes. Reduce mixer speed to low; slowly add dry ingredients, mixing just to blend. Using a spatula, fold in chocolate.

Spoon rounded tablespoonfuls of cookie dough onto 2 parchment paper-lined baking sheets, spacing 1″ apart. Sprinkle cookies with sea salt.

Bake cookies, rotating sheets halfway through, until just golden brown around the edges, 10-12 minutes (the cookies will firm up as they cool). Let cool slightly on baking sheets, then transfer to wire racks; let cool completely. 

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The Straight Poop – An Awkward Conversation

We have to have an awkward conversation.  It’s about your butt.

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it was no picnic for the pinata either.

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it was no picnic for the pinata either.

I recently told someone that I am scheduled for a colonoscopy.  He looked like I had just told him I was going to have both my arms removed and sewn back on my knee caps.  He then said, “I’d rather die of cancer than go through that.”  Let that sink in a second.  I sat in stunned silence for a while and then I said, “Could you look your daughter in the eyes and tell her that your fear of a colonoscopy is more important to you than walking her down the aisle at her wedding is?”  He looked like I had slapped him and the truth is that I wanted to.  I asked him what caused this fear of a colonoscopy and he tried to explain to me that it was invasive and painful and if you don’t have a history of cancer in your family, it was completely unnecessary.  Here’s the thing…he’s wrong on EVERY. SINGLE. POINT.  And I KNOW he’s wrong because I am having a colonoscopy on Tuesday…and this will be my fourth one.  I’ve done this before, and I know exactly what is involved and exactly how important it is and most importantly, I can assure you that it is not painful for most people.  And, if you wake up in pain for some reason, I assure you that if you communicate the level of your pain, it will be taken seriously.  Most people wake up with pain from the air trapped in their colon and just moving around and walking helps the gas pass relieving the pain but if you are in legitimate serious pain that is unrelieved by passing gas, the anesthesiologist and your physician have the right to administer pain medication if you need it.

So, I decided to write this post to share with you the real FACTS about a colonoscopy.  When you’ve had four of them, you learn some tricks that make it even more painless than those uninitiated that stumble into the prep process blind.  And I’ve heard some horror stories.  People that went through the prep and then because of one factor or another had to have the procedure aborted and rescheduled.  I can help you prevent this from happening.  Because the prep isn’t fun.  I’d pretty much RATHER do anything else but the truth is that it is the most important part and it can mean the difference between a successful colonoscopy screening and a bad experience.

I am providing section headers to allow you to easily skip ahead to the parts you have questions about if you do not wish to read this entire post.  However, if you are reading this in preparation for your very fist colonoscopy, I encourage you to read all of it.  It may help you to not feel anxious about the procedure.

COLORECTAL CANCER MYTHOLOGY – Why you need to get screened.

Myth 1:  No one in my family has had colon cancer so I won’t get it.

Reality 1:  Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer-related cause of death and in the US, 85% of these patients have no family history of the disease.  Did you read that EIGHTY FIVE PERCENT of these patients have NO FAMILY HISTORY OF THE DISEASE.

Myth 2:  A colonoscopy won’t prevent cancer.

Reality 2:  A colonoscopy is not only the best screening tool to catch colo-rectal cancer but what few people realize is that it can most definitely PREVENT colorectal cancer.  Almost all colorectal cancer begins as a polyp.  These polyps are removed during a colonoscopy and it prevents them from growing into cancer.  It’s that simple.  These polyps are then sent for pathological evaluation and if the margins (edges of the area they cut away) are clear, that’s it, you’re done.  You just prevented cancer.

Myth 3:  I don’t need a colonoscopy unless I have symptoms of a problem.

Reality 3:  If your’e 50 years old, it’s time to start getting a colonoscopy every 10 years.  Colorectal cancer is directly correlated with age.  The older you are, the higher your risk.  A pre-cancerous polyp can take 5 to 10 years to become cancerous so having a colonoscopy every 10 years is an extremely effective way to screen for and prevent colorectal cancer.   Turning 50? Time to treat yourself to some extreme close-up photographs of your rear end.  I think 50th birthday cakes should all say “Happy Birthday, Turn Around and Say Cheese!” as a reminder to schedule your first colonoscopy for people that haven’t already have one.

If you’re like me and you have a history of colon cancer in your family, you will need to discuss with your doctor when your screenings should begin.  If you have symptoms such as a change in bowel habits, pain, rectal bleeding, or unexplained digestive problems, your physician may begin your colonoscopy screenings early.  Here’s the thing.  You have to be completely honest with your doctor if you’re having problems.  This means you’re going to have some awkward conversations about poop and your butt.  If you’re embarrassed to talk about it, write it down to give to your doctor.  I promise it’s less awkward than pooping through your abdominal wall into a bag.  My grandfather had colo-rectal cancer and because he didn’t get screening, it wasn’t caught until he had stage 4 cancer.  He had to have a colostomy.  If he’d only agreed to have regular colonoscopies….

And…BY FAR the BIGGEST excuse I hear about having a colonoscopy is that people don’t want to go through the prep.  For those of you uninitiated, the prep is the process of emptying your entire digestive track so that the camera can see the walls of your colon without any obstruction.  So, be sure to review the section on the prep called “I’M READY FOR MY EXTREME CLOSE-UP – The Dreaded Prep” to put your fears to rest.  I’ve turned a colonoscopy prep into an art form.  Granted, it’s still not my favorite procedure, but it surely is a lot less painful now than the first time I had to go through it.

YOU CAN TAKE YOUR CAMERA AND SHOVE IT WHERE THE SUN DOESN’T SHINE – What is a Colonoscopy:

If you’re not sure EXACTLY what a colonoscopy is, I have detailed the experience here for your learning pleasure.

A colonoscopy is a medical screening procedure in which a camera on a long flexible tube is inserted into the anus and then routed through the rectum and large intestine.  The procedure is usually done in an outpatient surgery center or in a hospital.

You will be required to prepare for the procedure by cleaning out your digestive system.  Your physician will prescribe a “prep” which I will explain in detail in the “I’M READY FOR MY EXTREME CLOSE-UP – The Dreaded Prep” section below.  You will need to get the prep materials from your pharmacy.  The day before your colonoscopy, you will only be allowed to consume clear liquids. Then in the afternoon or evening you will begin following the instructions for the prescribed prep.  This prep is basically a super laxative.  DO NOT LEAVE THE HOUSE FOR ANY REASON AFTER YOU HAVE TAKEN THE PREP.  There is no way to know how long it will take to work but once it does, you will be in the bathroom for a while.  The goal of the prep is to completely clean out your digestive system.  At the conclusion of a successful prep, you will be passing only clear liquid from your bottom.

Your doctor will tell you what time you must cease to consume clear liquids based on the scheduled time of your procedure.

The day of your procedure, you will not be permitted to eat or drink anything.  If you take prescription medications, your doctor should have told you which ones you should take with the tiniest sip of water and which you should skip until the procedure is over.

Someone will need to drive you to and from the procedure.  Some places let your driver leave and come back and get you but you should check the rules of the facility you will be using.  The one I go to requires your ride to remain in the building the entire time.  If you rely on public transportation usually, you will want to splurge on a taxi on this day.  Prior to your procedure, you may still feel like you need to rush to the restroom now and then and afterwards you will still be pretty loopy from the sedation.  Even if you wish to use a taxi, you will still need an adult to accompany you.  After receiving sedation, the facility will expect this adult to monitor you and prevent you from signing any legal documents or endangering yourself for 24 hours.  It does not usually take a full 24 hours for the sedation to completely wear off.

Once you arrive, a nurse will take you to a “pre-op” area (even though this isn’t really a surgery) where you will remove your clothes and put on a hospital gown.  They will offer you a chance to use the toilet and if you are a female of child-bearing age, they may ask for a urine sample so they can verify that you are not pregnant prior to giving you any sedating medications.  A nurse will have you sign some paper work and you will be given an IV that will be used to administer fluids and sedating medications during the procedure.

The sedation is called “conscious sedation” or “twilight sedation” meaning that you are able to wake up during the procedure but most people nod off to sleep.  However, the sedating medications they use most commonly are called retro-grade amnesiacs meaning that it is unlikely that you will remember ANYTHING that happened after you receive the sedation until you “wake up” in recovery.  These medications may block pain or they will be mixed with a pain medication and make you really spaced out.  Most people just fall asleep during the procedure.  However, because it is not general anesthesia, you will be able to breathe on your own and even move around because they may need to re-position you during the procedure and you’ll be able to cooperate.  If you do have any memories of the event while you were sedated, they’re usually just like little flashes of memory.  It has been likened to blacking out during a night of heavy drinking, only when you wake up from this, you will not be hungover.

You do not HAVE to have sedation if you do not want to, you just have to tell your physician that you wish to remain un-sedated during the procedure.  However, I highly recommend the sedation.  While the procedure isn’t painful, it can be uncomfortable since they use air to inflate the portion of the intestine they are viewing, you may feel like you have bad gas cramps during the procedure without the sedation.  The few moments after the sedating medications are administered that you’re still aware before you fall asleep will be the happiest few moments of your life.  It makes me feel like someone dumped warm honey all over my brain.  It’s a pleasant sensation for me.  But I understand that some people dislike feeling out of control of their bodies and so these people might prefer to just power through un-sedated and that is an option.  I talk more about sedation in the “COMFORTABLY NUMB – Let’s Talk Anesthesia”  section of this post.

There is usually an anesthesiologist, a physician and somewhere between 1 and 3 nurses or technicians in the room during the procedure. Depending on where you are, they may give you sedation prior to taking you into the procedure room or they may wait until you’re in the room and positioned properly before administering sedation.  You will be wheeled in on a gurney and once inside, they’ll help you get rolled onto your side.  You’ll lay on your side with your knees drawn up and your backside exposed.  I remember the last time, they did use a drape over my rear end until they were ready to start.  The anesthesiologist and nurses will hook your IV up to the fluids and ensure the IV lines are untangled and accessible.  If you’re also having an endoscopy at the same time, they may place a bite guard in your mouth that straps around your head.  They will place oxygen on you usually via a tube that sits below your nose (nasal canula).  They will put a pulse-ox meter on your finger to monitor your pulse and oxygen saturation during the procedure.  They’ll put a blood pressure cuff on your arm that will automatically inflate throughout to monitor your blood pressure.  They may attach electrodes to you so they can monitor your heart rhythm and breathing as well.

Once you’re in position and everyone is ready and you are sedated, your physician will insert a long thin tube into your bottom that has a camera on it.  The camera will be guided through your large intestine so your physician can find and remove any polyps.  In order to get a better view, air may be inserted though the tube to give the camera a better view.  As a result, you may feel gassy when you wake up.

After the screening is complete, the tube will be removed.  You will be re-positioned into your back, all the monitors will be removed, you will be covered up and a nurse will transfer you on your gurney to a recovery area.  When the sedation wears off, they will offer you something to drink and possibly some cookies or crackers.  They will actually show you photographs taken during the procedure and let you know of anything they found and any follow-up appointments or care you will require.  Once the sedation is worn off enough that you can get dressed without taking a header, they’ll let you get dressed.  Whoever drove you to the procedure will drive you home and you’ll be allowed to return to eating and drinking normally.

I’M READY FOR MY EXTREME CLOSE-UP – The Dreaded Prep

If you’ve talked to anyone that has undergone colonoscopy, you’ve likely heard the phrase, “the procedure is okay, but the prep is terrible.”  Or something similar.  Here’s the thing, if you prep for the prep properly, you won’t have any issues.

1 Week Prior:  You must stop taking any iron-containing vitamins and any blood thinners like asprin or advil.  This is because there is a small risk of tearing or perforation associated with a colonoscopy.  In addition, if they remove any polyps, you could have some bleeding.  They want this bleeding to be as minimal as possible.  Discuss your vitamins and blood thinners with your doctor before scheduling your colonoscopy so he can tell you which you can safely continue and which you must stop taking.  Double check with your doctor to make sure none of your regular medications will need to also be stopped.  If it is too high risk to stop taking blood thinners given your medical history, your doctor may decide to do your procedure in a hospital so that if there is bleeding you can be quickly transitioned to surgery.

If you are a vegetarian, vegan, or high fiber person…YOU WILL WANT TO SWITCH TO A LOW RESIDUE DIET at least several days before you have to drink the prep.  I have heard of many people who drank the prep, sat on the throne for hours, and never got a um…”clean” colon.  These were usually the people who live on raw veggies, nuts, seeds, and other hard to digest food that we know is healthy but is still hard to digest.  I know of one guy that thought he was all cleaned out only to find that the test had to be aborted because of the amount of lettuce and other plant material still hanging around in there.  I’m not suggesting that you stop being vegan or vegetarian or switch to a high fat western diet, I’m just saying that your best bet for a successful prep is to go low-residue as early as possible.

What is low residue?  It’s basically everything you’re probably used to limiting in your diet if you’re health conscious.  It’s highly processed carbs, and no high fiber foods.  You can have lean proteins like poultry but you should avoid beans because they are not easy to digest.  You can have pastas and crackers (low fiber) and low fiber breads.  You should stick to canned vegetables that have been cooked into basically mush.  You can have bananas and apple sauce and dairy but not a lot of dairy.  Soft cheeses are okay in small amounts and try to limit milk.  Basically, if you have Crohn’s disease or IBS or IBD, these are the foods you can usually eat safely during a flare.  No nuts, seeds, granola, popcorn or hard-to-digest foods.  If you need suggestions, just google “low residue diet” and you’ll get some guidance.

The more high fiber/high roughage foods you usually consume, the earlier you should consider switching to a low residue diet to make the prep easier.  I don’t eat much usually so the low residue diet was pretty easy for me to switch to.  I started it on Saturday for a Tuesday colonoscopy.

Finally, if you have a sensitive gag reflex…or even if you don’t…you may want to consider calling your doctor and asking him to call in an anti-nausea medication in case the prep makes you feel nauseated.  It can have that effect, and it will be amplified if you are dehydrated.  You just don’t want an anti nausea medication that is sedating (like phenergan).  Zofran or Reglan are better options for this scenario.  Just one or two should get you through the prep and you should only take them if you need them.  Just be sure your pill isn’t red.  You can’t have anything red on the day of the prep.

3 Days Before

You’ll need to go pick up your prep from the pharmacy.  Don’t wait until they last minute, they don’t keep all of the different kinds available in stock and you don’t want to be the one that has to call the doctor for a different kind of prep because the pharmacy doesn’t have time to get it in before your appointment.  Read the prep instructions and compare to the instructions from your doctor.  If there are discrepancies between the two and you have questions, call your doctor today for clarification.

You will also want to go ahead and buy your food for your day of liquid diet.  You can have yellow and green colored stuff.  No red, blue or purple as these colors can look like blood in the digestive track.  You can have orange IF it is light orange and not red-orange but it’s best to stick to yellow or clear.

-Gatorade or other electrolyte sports drink (yellow or green or clear)

-Apple juice (lots of it) or white grape juice

-Italian ice (the lemon flavored one because you can’t have anything red, purple or blue)

-Broth (I have found that I hate chicken broth but I like the broth in the ramen noodles package so I eat the noodles while on my “low residue” diet and strain the broth out and save it for my liquid diet day.  I also have a tip for you, if you add plain unflavored gelatin to broth, it increases the amount of protein (and dissolves in warm soup so it doesn’t change the texture) which will help stave off hunger.).

-Hard candy, clear or yellow or green is okay.  I buy butter rum lifesavers.  These will help get the taste of the prep out of your mouth and help with the dry mouth that I tend to get during the prep.

-Straws (you will need these to get the prep down.  It tastes really bad and a straw helps keep it off your tongue as much as possible).

-Lemonade mix (ask your doctor if you can mix the prep with lemonade drink mix to make it more palatable).

-popsicles (they can’t have fruit or dairy in them – and they should be yellow or green)

-Sorbet (again, no fruit pieces or dairy in it and mind the colors you’re allowed to have).

-Tea or coffee.  you can sweeten them but no creamer.  I like to have hot beverages to drink because the prep will usually be ice cold to dull the awful taste and you’ll find you get cold easily the day of the prep.

-Soda.  Sprite, 7-up, or ginger ale are best…BUT…you can have mountain dew if you are someone that has a serious caffeine addiction.  Just keep in mind that your mountain dew isn’t as hydrating as other options and you’re already going to be fighting an uphill battle to stay hydrated on prep day so use caffeinated beverages judiciously.

-yellow or green jello (pineapple flavor is also yellow if you can’t do lemon or lime).

-Plain unflavored gelatin.  This is a trick I learned.  When you’re hungry, if you eat protein, you’ll feel less hungry.  Broth will usually not fill you up because there’s not all that much protein in it.  but, you can add an envelope of unflavored gelatin to broth and it will dissolve and remain liquid since the soup is hot.  But once you eat it, you’ll be getting a good hit of protein and that will help you to feel full.

-Gummy Bears – I read that lots of people eat gummy bears on prep day because at body temperature after you eat them, they will remain liquid.  But, they make you feel like you’re eating real food.  I personally hate gummy bears but if this helps you get through prep then by all means do it.  You just have to sort out the colors you can’t have so you don’t forget and eat a red one.

-Wet wipes.  Trust me, your bottom is going to get way too tender for toilet paper.  If you don’t think to buy these, then at least use a wet wash cloth or just shower after each throne session.  TP will get suuuuper irritating.  A quick rinse in the shower or a cool wet cloth will save you a lot of discomfort.

-Aquaphor diaper rash cream – trust me on this.  When you’re doing a prep like this, the digestive enzymes in your body don’t get neutralized and your back door will get really really irritated.  If you have a family member that can help you, consider keeping your wet wipes in the fridge and asking them to bring them to you as needed.  But even with wet wipes, if you put some of this around your blow hole, before the prep takes effect, you’ll be glad you did.  Just reapply a layer every time you wipe for protection.  If you forget to buy this, you can use some Vaseline if you have it to at least help be a barrier.

-Adult diapers or incontinence pads.  If you have mobility issues or are just worried about ‘anal leakage’ you may want to get some depends or incontinence pads that you can put in your drawers to ensure you can get to the bathroom in time.  you may also find that wearing one to the facility in the morning helps you feel confident that you aren’t going to leak.

1 Day Before

If you’re already eating a low residue diet, great.  If not, today should be your low residue day.  You do not want to eat a bunch of salad and pistachios today.  You also want to eat a big breakfast, a moderate lunch, and a light dinner.  You also want to hydrate today.  Hydrate your heart out.  Try to drink a glass of water every hour you’re awake.  Once you start the prep, you will get dehydrated.  The better hydrated you are to start with, the better you’ll feel through the prep so if you’re not peeing clear all day today, you’re not hydrated enough.  After breakfast, try to just eat enough at meals so that you’re not hungry anymore.  The less you eat today, the easier tomorrow will be.

If you have a slow bowel or you have had an unsuccessful prep before, you will want to switch to a liquid diet today just to be sure the prep works.

Today is also the day to decide what you’ll be doing with all your time in the bathroom tomorrow.  Download movies to your tablet, pick out a good book, update your playlist on your iPod.  Once the prep starts you aren’t going to be leaving the bathroom very much.

And if you bought jello to enjoy, go ahead and make it.

Prep day!

Remember, clear liquids all day.  Go ahead and put a sign on the fridge and pantry to remind you.  Try to continue to drink a glass of water every hour you’re awake until you have to start drinking the prep.  The better hydrated you are, the better you will feel.

Set up the bathroom.  Stash your tablet, phone, laptop, book, whatever you want in there.  Put a sweatshirt in there because you will likely feel cold during the prep.  I prefer one I can unzip to take on and off instead of having to take it on/off over my head.  I also put a space heater in the bathroom and the charger for my tablet.  You’ll need to be sure you have access to a phone in the bathroom because if you get dizzy, you will need to call for help, no matter how embarrassed you feel.  Several people have taken headers off the potty and knocked their teeth out because they didn’t hydrate well enough before starting or because they had a bad reaction to the sudden fluid loss so don’t be a hero.  If you’re dizzy, call for help.  If putting your head between your knees doesn’t stop it, call 911 and have an ambulance take you to the ER for supplemental fluids.  If you are just having intermittent dizziness, you need to have someone at least stay with you so that if you do fall or pass out they can call for help.

But when you’re setting up the bathroom, consider that you’ll be there for several hours.  You’ll get tired of sitting, your legs and bottom will hurt, your back may hurt (consider putting a pillow behind you to lean back on if there’s room), and you will go through hot/cold temperature swings.  You may want to put a chair or stool in there because you may feel that you can leave the throne and want to sit on a more comfortable seat but you might not feel that you can safely leave the room and make it back quickly enough.  I’ve even built a cot on the bathroom floor before so I could lay down to relieve some of the sore back.

Here’s the most important thing:  put a water bottle in the bathroom so you can drink water while you’re in there.  Once the prep starts, any water you drink will essentially go straight through you.  But you still have to try to keep drinking water or sports drink.  A friend of mine said pedialyte seemed to work best since it’s made for babies with diarrhea to help them keep hydrated.  So, whatever you decide to drink, you won’t have time to fix it once you need to go so get it ready before hand.  I had a tiny little lunch box cooler with a couple bottles of water and a bottle of Gatorade in it on ice.  Try to take a few swallows of water or sports drink every 15 minutes or so.  You won’t want to.  But if you can at least keep sipping, you’ll feel a lot better by the end.

Then prep your bed.  By the time you can go to bed, you’ll be exhausted but not TOTALLY sure you’re finished.  Go ahead and put a towel over your sheets in the area where your caboose will rest and put a plastic bag under it just to be safe.  You don’t know how much time your body will give you to go from sleep to the potty.  Also, since most colonoscopies happen early in the morning, make sure your alarm is set and check in with your ride to be sure they know what time you need to leave in the morning.

About 30 minutes before you have to drink the prep, mix it up and put it in the freezer.  The colder it is, the longer it will take for your taste buds to activate and I’m not kidding when I tell you that this stuff is vile.  Now, if your last colonoscopy involved that Fleet’s phospho soda stuff, you’re in for a treat, the new stuff is WAY BETTER.  However, those of you that weren’t exposed to the Fleet’s stuff will not understand how anything could be worse than what you’re being exposed to.  All I can say is that the phospho soda stuff was like drinking sea water that had been spiked with extra salt and loathing.  It was the worst thing I’ve ever tasted and it always made me nauseated.

Most preps will require you to drink a large volume very fast.  This has a high nausea potential.  As soon as you start feeling queasy, take that nausea medication if you have it.  Drink the prep with a straw while it is cold.  If you take a break for a few minutes, put it back in the fridge to keep it cold.  Put the straw as far back on your tongue as you can and try to not let the liquid fill your mouth as you drink if you can help it.  If your prep can be mixed with lemonade mix or honey, these things might help.  Some are pre-flavored though so make sure that adding lemonade mix to it won’t make it worse.  You want to drink it as fast as you can but above all else, you DO NOT want to vomit it up.  So, if you need to slow down, be reasonable about it.  But do your best to drink everything that’s required as fast as you need to.  But if you’re queasy, give yourself a few minutes to let your tummy settle.  If you vomit the prep up, you will likely have to reschedule your procedure.

Here’s a tip for you Crohn’s or IBD people.  If you’ve ever had to tube feed and can get the tube down by yourself, get a tube and bag from your doctor and use that to bypass the awful taste of the prep.  This may be the ONLY  benefit you get from having had to tube feed before.

You will immediately feel cold from drinking so much ice cold liquid so fast.  Make yourself some coffee or tea and go wrap up in warm clothes.  Finally, go put a little of that Aquaphor or Vaseline around your anus to protect you from the inevitable discomfort that is coming.  It will create a barrier that will help prevent the digestive enzymes that are exiting your body from irritating the skin.  If you can nap a little, you might get a jump on the lost sleep that will happen later tonight.  If you have mobility problems, you’ll want to put on an adult diaper because you may not get a whole lot of warning that you need to get your butt to the throne.  It can take hours in some people for the first prep to start working.  So, don’t trust it…just presume that any second you’ll have to run to the potty.  I’d recommend not even risking passing gas without having your tail planted on the throne for safety’s sake.  Try to keep drinking water.  You’ll feel overly full from the prep but if you can sip every 20 minutes or so, it’ll be worth it not to feel dizzy later.

If you feel like you’re going to be finished for a while, gently wipe using wet wipes or a wash cloth.  Don’t try to use TP.  If you use TP, you’ll end up making yourself sore and start bleeding pretty fast.  Just bite the bullet here and use the most gentle method even if it feels wasteful or like you’re creating too much laundry.  I usually wet wiped followed by a rinse in the shower since I have a hand-held shower head.

At some point you’ll have to repeat drinking the prep again.  Some physicians tell you that if everything is clear you don’t have to do the second step.  Others will say that you have to do the second step even if everything is clear.  Follow the doctor’s instructions.  Again follow with tea and snuggling up in sweats if you’re cold.

During the prep portion, you will first pass stool and then it will become all liquid.  By the time you’re finished, you should be passing mostly clear fluid.  If you aren’t passing clear fluid or the prep doesn’t work at all, you should call the emergency phone number on the paperwork from  your doctor.  If you’re passing fluid but it isn’t clear, you need to drink more water to help finish flushing out your system.  Just be sure to stop ingesting anything at the time prescribed by your doctor.

Sometime way later than you like, you’ll feel mostly finished.  Try to get as much sleep as you can.  You’re now deprived of food and possibly getting a low blood sugar headache, getting dehydrated, and you’re tired.  Needless to say, by the time you get to the facility in the morning you’re going to be in a less than stellar mood.  This is why I always lose my  mind sometime after I get there.  Warn your driver.  And if you feel like you just can’t talk right then and not lose your mind, tell them.  It’s okay to let them know you’re having a hard time.  Usually that morning I am bordering on psychopath and I just need to get to the surgery center and get sedated.

Don’t get dressed up to go have a colonoscopy.  You have permission to wear sweat pants or even flannel pajama pants if they’re comfortable.  If you worry about leaking, use a feminine pad strategically positioned to protect the area of concern or an adult diaper or incontinence pad.  Don’t wear makeup.  Make sure if you have on nail polish that it’s just clear so that the pulse-ox meter can read through it.  Wear slip on shoes so you don’t have to fiddle with laces coming out of sedation.  In fact all your clothes should be easy to put back on after being sedated.  Don’t wear heels…I shouldn’t have to tell you this but I’ve seen someone show up in heels before.  You won’t be able to walk in them afterwards.  Flip flops if it’s warm or slippers are perfectly acceptable footwear for this particular excursion.

COMFORTABLY NUMB – Let’s Talk Anesthesia

As you already know, I HIGHLY recommend a colonoscopy WITH the conscious sedation option.  It’s far far less risky than general anesthesia and I experienced zero discomfort and had virtually no memory of the event afterwards.  Whether you would like or would not like sedation, this is a topic you must talk to your doctor about BEFORE the day of your procedure.  You do not want to get to the facility only to be told that you have the one physician in your area that does the procedure without sedation.  You want to know what your sedation options are as well as what your doctor recommends.  Some doctors will not do this procedure without sedation.  Others encourage you to not use sedation.  Some will let you have pain medication even if you skip sedation to make you more comfortable.

Next, you’ll need to make a quick call to your insurance company.  Your insurance will likely cover sedation.  But they might not cover all types of sedation.  For example, general anesthesia is not typically used for this type of procedure but there are facilities that still use general anesthesia.  But using general anesthesia requires more monitoring and also means you are not awake enough to breathe on your own during the procedure so risks are higher AND your insurance might only cover it if it’s considered medically necessary for some reason.

So, you NEED to understand what sedating options are offered and what your insurance covers prior to your procedure.  You’ll also want to know what kind of copay you might be expected to pay the day of the procedure so you can be sure you have the money available.  You don’t want to go through the prep only to have the facility refuse to do the procedure if you can’t afford the copay.

Typically, the anesthesia is a “conscious sedation” or “twilight sedation” which means that you shouldn’t feel any pain during the procedure, you will probably fall asleep but can easily be woken up, and you will have control over your body so you will be able to cooperate if someone asks you to roll or move around a certain way to assist in maneuvering the camera.  Once the anesthesia wears off, you won’t really remember anything.  The only “flashes” of remembrance that I have had from previous procedures were the moments someone was trying to wake me up so I could move a little to help maneuver the camera and I just remember them saying my name.  I don’t remember any pain although I did remember feeling like my body was restrained because the nurse was holding onto my hands to help me to roll the way they wanted me to and I felt a pressure in my rectal area.  That’s it.  That’s the one flash of memory I have from this procedure.  I have more memories from an endoscopy that used the same type of sedation.

I will warn you that depending on how fast the anesthesia doc pushes your meds, you may have a few minutes of conscious thought after the sedation medication “hits your brain” and before you’re too zoned out to speak.  This is a dangerous few moments.  I took this opportunity to tell my very first GI doctor that he wasn’t fooling anyone with his toupee.  In other words, you may talk non-sense…or you may be brutally honest.  But no matter what you feel the need to say, you’re probably not going to be tactful.  Nurses and doctors are used to it.  But you stand a good chance of feeling mortified about anything you can remember saying if you are all chatty so try to reign it in and just admire how pretty the lights look while you’re that high, okay?  Answer questions as quickly as possible and shut up again.  After my toupee insult, the nurse assured me that I wasn’t the first one to say such a thing to him…in fact, I wasn’t even the first one THAT DAY to say something like that to him.  Awesome.  Keep this in mind while you are selecting your GI doctor too.  The last thing you want to do is admit you’ve been checking out the doc’s backside so much that this colonoscopy is just a chance for him or her to return the favor while you await chemically induced oblivion.  You may experience a similar moment of uncontrollable honesty waking up.  It will be short lived so consider asking the nurse to not bring your loved one back to recovery to see you until you’re fully awake lest you “honesty” yourself into sleeping on the couch for a week.  Remember, if you feel funny, stay quiet because your filters are down.

If you aren’t sure how you feel about sedation, you can ask your anesthesiologist to explain all the options to you. I know one person that has opted to not have any sedation for any of her colonoscopies.  She had a bad experience when she was younger in which she was given a date-rape drug and the “zoned out” feeling of sedating medications brings back some PTSD type of feelings and so she prefers to just deal with the discomfort associated with the procedure and tries to enjoy the novelty of watching her intestines on TV for a little bit.  She assures me it is uncomfortable but completely bearable and since she is not sedated, her physician is quick about his work.  She said that they always start an IV so that they can push sedation and/or pain control medication if necessary during the procedure if it becomes too uncomfortable.  However, thus far she hasn’t had to ask for it.  Instead she said any pain usually only lasts several seconds and she just squeezes her eyes shut and tries to count backwards from 10.  I will warn you that if you wish not to have sedation, you need to tell your doctor prior to scheduling your appointment.  I have heard that many doctors do not offer a no-sedation option as the level of pain one experiences is dependent on the skill of the doctor.  However, there are many who refuse the sedation and live to tell about it.

I have another friend that prefers not to receive the full punch of the sedation.  Instead they give him just pain medication and none of the sedating medication.  He said he feels a little buzzed and relaxed but not so much that he falls asleep.  He also has a lot of fear associated with the feeling of losing control of his body and this makes the procedure bearable for him without feeling like he’s giving up full control of his body.

My point is that the anesthesia doctor should talk to you and explain what he or she will be giving you and how you can expect to feel.  It’s okay to tell this doctor your fears.  My fear is feeling pain during the procedure.  I usually ask the doctor to give me the maximum amount of medication he can give me safely.  You have the right to ask if there are other options that will allow you to remain alert if that is your preference.  You even have the right to request that they start without anesthesia and administer it only if you ask for it.  Since you have an IV in your arm, once they push the medication, it will take effect almost instantly.  I have very small and delicate veins and they blow easily so I always ask the anesthesia doctor to push any medications very slowly…but to please give me the full dose so I remember as little as possible.  Even with this “slow push” the medication is at full potency and fully effective within 3 minutes.  I’ve never had an issue.

Where I have had an issue is pre-medicating.  I prefer to get a little hit of that sedation before they roll me into the procedure room to take the edge off my raging anxiety.  I’ve had a LOT of really big surgery and the sounds and smells of a surgery center send me into an internal panic and I know it’s irrational but that doesn’t stop it.  The surgery center my doctor uses now has a policy of not pre-medicating before taking patients into the procedure room.  What this means for me is that I’m usually having a full on panic attack by the time I roll in there and by the time someone asks me to roll over, I’m usually getting teary-eyed and upset.  My doctor has found that as a result, it takes more anesthesia than usual to get me sedated because I’ve fully entered that fight or flight reflex in my brain and I’m ready to bolt out the doors, exposed butt and all.  I haven’t bolted yet but since this center doesn’t pre-medicate, I make sure anesthesia is aware of the depth of my anxiety and is ready to push meds the second the brake on the gurney is engaged because if he gives me much longer than that, I’m liable to be as docile as a velociraptor on amphetamines while they’re trying to hook me up to the monitors.

Sometimes even if the facility doesn’t pre-medicate, if you burst into tears fast enough when anesthesia comes to talk to you before your procedure, they will pre-medicate you anyway to make everyone’s life easier.  The anesthesiologist has the right to say pre-medication is medically necessary.  The more anxious, scared, and neurotic I become in pre-op, the more frequently this becomes “medically necessary.”  I never set out to lose my mind over the anxiety but somehow I always seem to do so.  I’m only telling you this because if you melt down and cry in pre-op, you know that you are not alone – I do it every. single. time.  Despite having had this and other similar procedures so many times before, I always feel like I’m going to lose it after about 10 minutes of waiting by myself in pre-op.  I won’t apologize for getting upset.  Anyone who has had the kinds of medical procedures I’ve had would have some PTSD issues in a surgery center.  So, during this whole fiasco, if you are going to be sweet to anyone, make it the anesthesiologist.  If you are anxious and you want to be pre-medicated, you have the right to ask.  They may refuse you, but there’s no harm in asking.  I’ve found that hospitals are more likely to allow pre-medicating than surgery centers are but that is just my experience.

IS IT OVER YET – Returning to your normal diet

Remember that the effects of the prep won’t wear off instantly.  However, the pain medication mixed into the sedating cocktail slows down your digestive system which should help you return to eating quicker.  So, most people can return to eating and drinking regular food pretty quickly without incident.  But, you may have diarrhea after you eat so you shouldn’t risk eating at your favorite restaurant as soon as you leave the facility.  Instead, I recommend drinking a little soda or tea and testing your system with something kind of bland like maybe some buttered pasta or toast.  If you do okay with that, you can work up from there.  You cannot have any alcohol for at least 24 hours and you should follow your doctor’s instructions for when you can take your regular medications again including vitamins and blood thinners.   If they took a biopsy or removed a polyp it may be a while before he wants you to have blood thinners again.

I’ve tried to include every recommendation I’ve heard and used to make the process as easy as possible.  If you’ve had a colonoscopy and have any additional tips or tricks to getting through it, please leave a comment.  More importantly, leave a comment to tell everyone if the procedure saved your life.  There are still people that believe that this is a painful and minimally useless procedure.  If this post convinces even one person to schedule their colonoscopy , then it’s worth the awkward conversation.  So, that’s the straight poop on colonoscopies.  It’s a necessary screening and if it’s time for yours, don’t wait until it’s too late.  Colo-rectal cancer is CURABLE…not just treatable.  But you have to have a colonoscopy to catch it early enough to cure it.

Finally, if you haven’t read Anne’s story yet, please do.  Cancer screening saved her life so it’s sort of in the same vein.  Plus, she’s still looking for a job and you might have just the contact she needs.

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Amazing Anne

This is Anne.

One of my favorite photos from one of the happiest days.

One of my favorite photos from one of the happiest days.

Anne recently moved to Orlando, Florida and she can be reached via LinkedIn:  www.linkedin.com/pub/anne-weber/9/b51/b14, email her at annedietz at yahoo.com or you can leave a comment below.

If you know her, the title of this blog is not a surprise to you.  If you do not know her, by the time you’re finished reading this, you’ll wish you did.

Anne is perhaps the strongest woman I’ve ever met but she wasn’t like that the day I met her.  I’m sure her strength was there the entire time lying in wait under the surface but it had not yet been called forth to serve front and center.  So, when things went awry, and they really went awry, Anne blossomed into something totally unexpected.  Anne became the living, breathing, and walking embodiment of grace under fire.

I swear there were times I fully expected her neck to explode into a fluffy lion’s mane as a roar tumbled from her mouth.  She turned the kind of woman that changes the world.  Anne turned into the woman she is today and that woman is my hero.  I think she deserves a cape and official billing right up there next to Wonder Woman and Superman.  But, what she really wants is not a cape or the ability to fly (but she probably wouldn’t turn those down either).  What she really wants, is a job.

You see, Anne’s story is nothing if not compelling.  She’s faced some of the most daunting obstacles imaginable.  She’s fought for her own life and then took up a battle to fight for the lives of other women like herself.  When she had to leave a job she loved to move to another state, she thought that finding a new job would be easy given her experience and education.  But it turns out that to even be considered for the kinds of jobs she wants, she has to get past the dreaded “computer programs” that evaluate resumes for the best fit.  Turns out, these computer programs are her kryptonite and so since she doesn’t have the contacts she needs to get the jobs that are a perfect fit for her, I’ve decided to take a rather unconventional approach.

I’m so convinced that everyone that reads Anne’s story will realize what an amazing person she is, that I’m writing this blog with the hope that someone in the right place will see it and realize that their company needs an Amazing Anne.  Your job is simple though.  You just need to read Anne’s story and if you agree with me that it’s compelling, just share it.  Share it via email, facebook, twitter, homing pigeon, smoke signal.  Heck, you could even fax it back to the 1990’s or print it out and drop it in the snail mail.  I don’t care how you help me get her story out, but you have to help me get her in front of the right people.  She’s living in a new town and she doesn’t have the network built up yet that she needs to do this on her own.  She’s getting discouraged.  Since she’s at the mercy of a computer program that can’t see her strength, dedication, determination, and appreciate what she is, I need you to help me bypass that to get to a human.  You do know some humans, don’t you?  She needs a job.  She wants a job.  More than that, she’s looking for a place to need and want her.  She’s looking for purpose.

I met Anne in graduate school at Georgia State University in a negotiations class.  She immediately accused me of being terrible at math and kicked me out of a group for the day.  I’d been so used to being leader, having someone challenge me was baffling.  But, she was right…this time.  We didn’t immediately become bosom buddies or even rivals, we just continued to co-exist for a time.

And then there was a life-altering moment.  Plenty of us have these moments, and some of us have our lives altered again and again.  These moments are the threshold moments.  They take something away – an innocence or a comfort and they give you something in return.  At first it feels like an unfair trade.  Like you traded comfort and security for fear and uncertainty.  But what it’s really giving you, you come later to realize is opportunity.  Opportunity to grow, to love yourself, to see beauty in a different way, and to embrace life.  And, more than one opportunity to have complete mental breakdowns in the middle of a Starbucks over the fact that your non fat soy skinny no whip latte burned your lip because you’re already so damn stressed out over this fear growing inside you that you cannot handle one. more. thing. and dammit if a barrista isn’t the person to send you flying right over the edge.   And in fairness, I never saw these barrista-infused breakdowns in Anne.  I saw them in me though.  All I saw in Anne was a peace and stability that made me honestly wonder if they’d cut into her and find her organs shrouded in titanium.  You see, my life-altering moment and Anne’s life-altering moment happened at the same time.  We were both diagnosed with cancer,  I with thyroid cancer and Anne with ovarian cancer…within weeks of each other.

We both left school at the same time, we both underwent surgery at the same time, we both spent time healing and concentrating on just getting out of bed in the morning at the same time, we both let our families help us at the same time and we both returned to school and work at the same time.  Only…we didn’t know it.  yet.  But, when I showed up at school the next semester and she was sitting behind me, I immediately felt a bond to her that I’d never noticed before, something stronger than the shared insanity of surviving a full time job with graduate school at night.  There was something else.  I made a mental note to catch her after class and talk to her.  Something was different.

The professor asked us each to stand up and share one fact or story or tidbit as we introduced ourselves in that class that makes us memorable or defines us or that we think is important.  Anne stood up and said, “This is my first semester back after undergoing treatment for ovarian cancer.”  And my jaw hit the floor.  When I stood up, I turned and looked straight at Anne and said, “This is my first semester back after undergoing treatment for thyroid cancer,” and with that sentence, my forever friendship with Anne was cemented for life.  Someone that worked full time in a high stress job and went to school at night and spent weekends doing homework and pushing herself as hard as she could mentally and physically for this master’s degree and someone that understood what I had just been through and was still going through and could relate to my fears and my fragility and my healing.  Not just a friend but the kind of friend that gets it…all of it.  That day, Anne and I had our first real conversation about our lives.  That day was the opportunity presented by my life-altering moment realized.  The thing is that Anne had another life-altering moment coming.

Anne’s friendship through the rest of graduate school was an inspiration and a comfort.  Sure I graduated and got the piece of paper that I still haven’t framed but had I not found Anne, graduate school would have just been some extra knowledge.  Because of her, it ended up being one of the most positive experiences in my life.

But…things were about to go terribly wrong…again.

Anne decided to see a new doctor.  This new doctor explained the close link between ovarian cancer and the BRCA 1 and 2 genetic mutations that can predispose someone to ovarian cancer and other cancers like breast cancer.  Anne was tested for the mutation and she tested positive.  As a precaution, they sent her for a mammogram even though she was still “too young” for annual mammograms.  Anne had stage 1 breast cancer and because of a genetic test, she caught it 10 years before she would have ever had a mammogram.  Just a couple years after undergoing surgery for ovarian cancer and feeling as though she had “dodged a bullet” by catching it early enough to avoid chemotherapy, she was on the phone explaining to me that she had breast cancer.

When Anne has a big challenge ahead of her, whether it be medical or otherwise, she has an approach that I admire.  She plans.  She explained the steps that were about to happen and the expected results and consequences and potential eventualities in such an organized and clear way that she comforted me instead of the other way around.  She was so matter-of-fact that I remember thinking that she was far too organized for cancer.  How dare these cells multiply unchecked inside her body, can’t they see that it’s not in the plan.  I wasn’t worried about her survival, because after all of the group projects in graduate school, I knew that Anne has a way of getting everyone to buy into the plan.  If cancer wasn’t in the plan, she’d eliminate it and move on.  That’s how she rolls.

While Anne went through surgery and chemo, we learned a lot like:  She’ll nibble animal crackers even if she’s nauseated.  Pork is not good food for chemo patients.  Pancakes can be eaten any time of day.  Clean hair is a luxury, not a necessity.  Just because one of you sleeps through the movie doesn’t mean it can’t count as hanging out.  Sitting in silence is okay.  April’s knowledge of pain medications is rivaled only by the pharmacist.  Side effects are not for those with weak plumbing.  Discussing poop does get less awkward.  But most importantly, we learned how to get through it.  Sometimes in silence and sometimes laughing and usually not eating because of the puke but no matter what, everyone in her life at that time helped hold her up when she felt weak and we all got her through it.

Anne made this video to share her story:

After chemo and surgery and months of healing and going a little stir crazy because Anne is not a sit around and do nothing kind of person, she was invited to go speak about genetic testing for cancer and how it had most probably saved her life.  And with her hair growing in and her smile still impish she said to me quietly at a restaurant bar, “I interviewed for a job with the company that does this genetic testing. I think I’m going to make a career change.”  And so after years of working in the financial sector, she relayed to me with excitement how excited she was to take a job that has such an important purpose.  In her new position, she met with physicians offices to answer questions and help them implement a genetic screening protocol for patients at high risk of a BRCA 1 or 2 related cancer.  And this was a huge leap from the financial sector she’d been working in and so she struggled at first but she had a plan and this was in it so it was going to happen.  I remember phone call after phone call where she expressed frustration at physicians who didn’t want to offer the testing because other physicians in the area weren’t offering it so it wasn’t necessary in order to attract or retain patients.  Doctors weren’t sure they could “make money” off of these tests.  They weren’t sure the struggle to get insurance approvals for patients was worth the headache.  She was furious that where you live could determine the level of screening available to you.  She fought and pushed and persuaded and she made headway.  And she may have even saved some lives along the way.  Anne had a job she loved and believed in and she was happy and healthy.  And even though she now lived on the other side of the state, we stayed close, talking frequently.

She was instrumental in my own testing for the BRCA 1 and 2 mutations and Lynch Syndrome.  My family history meant that I was a prime candidate for the testing.  My mother and father couldn’t get tested for the genes because their insurance does not cover any sort of genetic testing, but mine did.  And Anne made sure I had all the information I needed.  Anne even personally met with MY doctor.  And I found out while I was in Europe attending the 2012 summer Olympics that I was negative for the BRCA mutations and lynch syndrome.  *cue sigh of relief*

And then….Anne had to leave her job.  It was for a really good reason though.

Believe me, it wasn’t an easy decision and there were tears.  But Anne’s boyfriend, who she’d only been dating a few months prior to her diagnosis of breast cancer (and who dated her through surgeries and chemo and puke and no hair) proposed to her.  She accepted and agreed to move away from this job that gave her so much direction and purpose to invest in her personal life and be with the man she loves.  It was a no-brainer of a decision but that doesn’t mean it was easy to leave.  She loved that job but she loved the man more.  She hadn’t been with the company long enough to be considered for a move so she had to leave the company and hope that a job in her new location might be available.  But there wasn’t a job for her.  So, Anne…freshly married and with her titanium core, struck out to find a job.

I don’t have to tell you how difficult of a job market there is out there.  I don’t have to tell you that a career change just a few years ago leaves some questions for anyone reading her resume.  Financial sector to a title that appears to be in health care sales but was really a position of educating and coordinating and supporting physicians.  Those computer programs we discussed…they’re baffled by Anne.  But if she could just land the interview, she’d land the job.  Perhaps the most resounding recommendation I can offer is this:  Everyone in grad school always wanted Anne on their team projects.  You all know that group projects are the bane of just about any academic program.  But Anne’s determination and organization coupled with her ability to follow through and produce results no matter how difficult or tedious the job was made her stand out to everyone that has ever had the pleasure of working with her.

So, every time we talk and she recounts her latest job hunt stories, I see the disappointment growing. I just know that the only reason she doesn’t yet have a job is because being completely new to the area, she doesn’t have the network she needs to get into the door.  She’s not what the computer programs are looking for but she’s everything the employers are looking for.  They just have to speak with her.

Anne’s dream job would be some sort of patient advocate or education position.   She’s got a gift of dealing with people that would make her ideal for corporate training or coaching positions.  She still attends conferences to discuss her story and encourage genetic testing for cancer because she’s both relate-able and eloquent.  She’d be willing to go back into the financial sector but she’d be more excited about a job that combined her experience in the financial sector with somehow helping cancer patients.  Some of the career options we’ve kicked around include non-profits, possibly tied to research grants and proposals.  She’d love to work for an organization like the American Cancer Society.  Anne just moved to the Orlando, Florida area and if you can share this with anyone that could help her get a foot in the door somewhere, she’ll take it from there.  It’s hard to see someone that fought so hard against cancer feel so beat up by a job hunt.

Help me find Anne a job.  Share this post, tweet it, email it to your friends or colleagues that do hiring.  Anne is amazing, and somebody out there needs her.  Help them find her.

You can contact Anne via LinkedIn:  www.linkedin.com/pub/anne-weber/9/b51/b14, email her at annedietz at yahoo.com or you can leave a comment below.

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The (Pumpkin) Seedy Secrets Your Paper Towels Won’t Tell You

I’m still alive.

Lots has happened since I last invaded your screen to share with you pieces of my deranged psyche.  Like…my roommate moved back in.  Yes, remember Joanne?  She moved out into her own apartment and I was so proud of her and so happy for her and then I realized that I actually don’t like living alone.  Thank God she came to a similar conclusion so after her lease ran out, we moved her back into my house.  The problem is that she was lonely in her apartment and so she started adopting cats.  I already have two cats so instead of just two single gals and a couple cats, now we’re two single gals and a completely unreasonable number of cats.  Which…wouldn’t be so bad except they all hate each other.  My two cats got along with each other before, but now that there are new cats in the house, they have decided that EVERY cat is the enemy and we hear a lot of hissing and growling and those famous blood-curling cat screams.  But so far there’s no blood, just the constant threat of blood shed and a few tufts of cat fur.

Joanne bought this stuff at a fancy pants pet store that is supposed to chill them out.  It’s some sort of cat xanax potion in a dropper bottle you’re supposed to feed to them.  Clearly it was made by someone that doesn’t own cats.  It’s a scientific fact that cats will never take anything directly from a dropper bottle unless it’s highly toxic to them and will result in veterinarian bills that will drain all of your retirement accounts.  If you want cats to swallow something, it has to either make them terribly ill or it has to be disguised in something you DON’T want them to drink like your coffee. And cats are more clever than dogs.  You can’t just wrap something in a flavor they like.  For example, my cat loves cheese but only if it’s on MY plate.  The second I toss a piece of cheese on the floor for her, she is suddenly vegan until the next time I’m trying to eat cheese without sharing.  This potion Joanne bought smells like rotted sardines mixed with loathing.  I tried to give it to one of the cats and she gave me the same face she gives me when she whiffs nail polish remover and then she turned and did the “cat slink” out of the room.  I didn’t see her again for 2 days.  So, apparently, it works by showing your cats that you don’t love them anymore and making them move out.  It probably would have worked as designed except our cats are indoor only and the one I tried it on is the one that’s too stupid to find the portal to the outdoors and so she tried to live under the bed but finally gave in to being loved again when she saw me eating cheese that I wasn’t interested in sharing.

So…  There are 2 single 30-something women and 4 female cats under one roof.  For those of you keeping score, that’s two women, 12 ears, 6 mouths, 80 claws, and 179 billion pieces of stray cat hair.  I found a cat hair in the freezer the other day.  We’ve changed the cleaning lady’s schedule so she’s here more often and we’re working on a deal to just abduct her and push her into a life of slavery where she just vacuums cat hair all day and we just keep pouring wine into her to prevent her escape.  She’s not as opposed to this plan as you might think she should be.  She is highly motivated by wine.

Sure there are benefits to living alone but I can assure you none of them outweigh the comfort of pulling up into my driveway and seeing the house alive with lights and probably too much estrogen.

Also, with Joanne home, I have a reason to cook again.  You see, I’ve been in a digestive disaster-zone for so long that my digestive system just revolts when I eat like a regular person.  What I’ve learned is that I actually feel better when I eat as little as possible.  This is NOT me advocating anorexia or any other severe diet or eating disorder.  It’s just that with my health issues, eating is not always an option for me and when it is, it’s still not anywhere close to what a normal person would or should eat.  If I eat tiny little samples instead of meals, I feel pretty good usually.  So, when your idea of a meal consists of about 3 ounces, you waste a lot of food.  I felt guilty cooking meals that I knew would never get eaten.  And it’s really hard to cook for one, let alone one with a renegade digestive system.   I’d give away what I could but there aren’t as many takers as you might think for leftovers.  People love getting baked goods but 3/4 of a leftover pork loin is surprisingly hard to unload.  However, Joanne and I have a perfect symbiotic relationship.  I HATE grocery shopping and she HATES cooking.  I send her the grocery lists and she does the shopping and in return, I keep the fridge stocked with breakfasts, lunches, and dinners and probably more baked goodies than I should.  I feel like in this scenario I have the better end of the deal but if you ask her, she’ll tell you that she’s the one that’s winning.  I feel like as long as we both feel that way, we’re doing okay.  Truth is that having someone to cook for makes me feel valuable.  And having someone to come home to at the end of the day makes me feel happy.  And having four cats between us makes me feel like I will never eat a piece of cheese in peace again but that’s okay.

And now that Joanne is settled back in, it’s time to feverishly join into the culinary event we wait for all year: pumpkin flavored everything.  So, grab your pumpkin spiced latte and sit back and relax because this past weekend, I bought four sugar pumpkins and so there is going to be a LOT of pumpkin happening.

What will I start with?  Pumpkin pie? Pumpkin ice cream?  Pumpkin rolls?  No…I’m going to start with a classic and supposedly simple recipe that is a right of passage whether you’re buying sugar pumpkins to puree for your favorite recipes or you’re just carving faces into their big brothers to terrify neighborhood kids on Halloween:  roasted pumpkin seeds.

You might be scratching your head wondering why I’d pick something so easy.  Well here’s why: IT’S NOT EASY!  I’ve spent years and years and hours and hours preparing roasted pumpkin seeds only to have to throw most of them away.  People that write the recipes are stupid stupid idiots that clearly haven’t ever tried to follow their own directions.  If they had followed them they’d know that their recipes don’t yield perfectly toasted and delicious snacks.  They yield piles of wasted effort, a terrible burning smell, and a very loud and obnoxious way to test your smoke detector.  And, admittedly, they offer a way to meet some of your local single firefighters but not a chance to impress them since they’ll be there to extinguish your oven and will automatically assume you are a terrible cook.  You see, there’s a fine line between a perfectly roasted pumpkin seed and a kitchen fire.  Sure, I’ve made the plain salted roasted pumpkin seeds before with little effort and very little fire department involvement but I am not a simple salted seed kind of girl.  I want flavor.  I crave sweet with my salty.  Or spicy.  Or whatever but every time I went down the path of moderate creativity at the suggestion of a recipe-writing a-hole with internet access, I ended up with tears leaving trails down my ash-stained cheeks.  Well…NO MORE!  I have finally perfected the perfectly sweet and salty roasted pumpkin seeds.  I have made the effort pay off.  I have snacks! And the cats don’t even want me to share!

First of all, no matter what you want to flavor your pumpkin seeds with, you have to get to the darn things first.  And believe me when I say that this is not a job for lightweights.  I am sore today from cutting pumpkins.  Those babies are tough and the fight to get to those seeds is not one for wimps.  And if the local fire department isn’t there to extinguish your kitchen fire, you may not have easy access to an ax.  But here’s a trick.  Instead of using that butcher knife that offers you very little control compared to the thick and hard flesh of the gourd-king, try using one of those little pumpkin carving kits.  They come with these teeny thin saws that work a lot better in pumpkin flesh than a butcher knife.  And you’re a lot less likely to lose a finger in the fight.   If you’re not planning to carve a jack-o-lantern and you don’t want to buy a special kit just for pumpkin, consider going to Home Depot and getting a drywall saw.  Seriously, a little pre-planning here can save you a lot of sweat and potentially a lot of blood and maybe a digit or two.  It is possible with a knife but you have to have a LOT of strength and one slip could mean evisceration or amputation.

Once you have the pumpkin open, you’ll be staring into a pile of stringy pumpkin goo and you’ll have to get through all this to get to those seeds.  I cannot tell you how many hours I’ve spent hunched over my counter carefully picking pumpkin seeds free of the tangled entrails of a pumpkin, but I can assure you it was too many.  I’ve discovered an easier way.  Fill a large container like a bucket or your kitchen sink with water.  Drop all that pumpkin goo into the water and shake it to release the seeds from the fibers that hold them.  The pumpkin seeds will float and the goo will sink.  You’ll still have a little work to do but you should be able to use a slotted spoon or a wire strainer to skim them off the top of the water.

Liberated pumpkin seeds

Liberated pumpkin seeds

To roast pumpkin seeds, they have to be dry.  Since they were all covered in slime and then covered in water, you now have a bunch of wet pumpkin seeds.  Everyone that writes pumpkin seed recipes says that you should spread them out on paper towels to dry.  These people are a-holes because the pumpkin seeds go through some sort of chemical bonding process with paper towel.  I’ve even tried using tea towels to the same effect.  As a result, after you’ve already spent hours picking seeds out of pumpkin goo (unless you used my trick), now you have to spend hours picking all the seeds off paper towels or tea towels.  NOT COOL!  Seriously, if you try to remove the seeds from the paper towel or tea towel while it’s all still wet, you still have to encourage the seeds to let go.  If you make the fatal error of leaving them to dry on the paper towel or tea towel, it’ll take about the same level of effort to free them as it would take to get Guy Fieri into a pair of skinny jeans.  So, I’m here to tell you how to do it.  Remove the seeds from the water and spread them onto a smooth cotton tea towel or cotton napkin.  The smooth cotton ones don’t seem to stick as bad as the looped terrycloth ones.  Pat them a bit to dry them and then immediately dump them into a dish or a zip top baggie.  They’ll still be damp and you’ll still have to shake them a bit to get them off the towel, but they will let go.  If you can wait a day or two for them to dry out, just leave them in a dish sitting out of the way and stir the container whenever you walk by to allow them to dry out.  If you’re like me and must eat snacks now, then you’ll have to employ some alternative tactics.  I recommend a hair dryer.

Now the seeds are small and lightweight so if you just blast them with the hair dryer, it’s going to look like a pumpkin exploded all over your kitchen.  Instead, put them into a gallon size zip top baggie or a paper bag and turn the hair dryer to low and dry carefully allowing the air to escape the bag without taking the seeds with it. Shake the bag gently and dry away most of the excess water.  The drier the seeds are, the easier it will be to get them to toast.

Now that I’ve saved you hours of picking seeds free of goo and more hours of picking seeds free of paper towels, let’s get to the part that seems so easy and painless: roasting.  It’s important to note that there’s only a few seconds between a perfectly done pumpkin seed and a visit from the fire department.  So, I finally figured out that half my problem was roasting them in the oven.  I would run off and do things and not keep an eye on them.  If you don’t have ADD like I do, you might be able to make the oven work for you.  But it just wasn’t working for me so I took a tip from my idol, Alton Brown and started roasting them in a pan on top of the stove.  I can control the heat and I can watch them toast and get them exactly where I want and even taste as I go.

But the biggest secret to perfect pumpkin seeds is:  don’t get creative until you’re done toasting them.  You see, I realized that I often wasn’t burning the pumpkin seeds but I was burning what was on them.  I was having an especially hard time with the cinnamon and sugar pumpkin seeds I like best.  Of course! Sugar burns!!!  So, here’s how you make my salty sweet pumpkin seeds without burning them.

You take a large flat bottomed skillet, you put 2 tablespoons or so of oil in it over medium-high heat.  Once the oil is hot, toss in a few handfuls of pumpkin seeds (separated from the goo, rinsed and dried already) and a healthy pinch or two of kosher salt to taste.  Keep the seeds moving as you allow them to toast.  Then, once they’ve taken on the color you like, dump them into a bowl lined with paper towel to soak up the excess oil and NOW add your seasoning – while they’re still hot and a little oily.  I like to add cinnamon, sugar, and more salt.  A lot of salt.  Like an unethical amount of salt.  Shake them all together and then remove the paper towel and store in an airtight container once they cool…if they last that long.  Another combo I like is garlic salt and pepper but you can add whatever seasonings you like at the end.  If you want to add a seasoning that needs a few minutes of toasting to develop the flavor, toast the seasoning separately in a dry pan and toss into the seeds once they’re done so you can fully toast the seeds without worrying about burning whatever seasoning you’re using.

Now that I know the secret to perfectly roasted pumpkin seeds with minimal fuss, I get mad every time I see or hear someone recommend something stupid like covering them with sugar before cooking or laying them out to dry on paper towels.  I feel like I endured years of abuse at the hands of chefs and recipe authors.  I want all the hours back that I spent peeling pumpkin seeds off of paper towels.  I hope this post saves you some headache and time.

So, for those of you just swinging by for the recipe:

1.  Dump the pumpkin innards and seeds into a bucket of water or a sink filled with water.  Shake the innards to release the seeds and then skim the seeds off the surface of the water using a strainer or slotted spoon.

2.  Transfer the seeds to a flat cotton cloth and pat lightly to get the excess moisture off.

3.  Dump the seeds into a zip top bag and dry them carefully using a hair dryer set to low.  Be careful to allow the air to leave the bag without spraying the seeds everywhere.  If you don’t have a hair dryer, spread them out as much as you can on a glass or metal dish and allow to air dry.

4.  Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium high heat.  Once it’s hot, add the seeds and season with salt (and only salt!).

5.  Toast the seeds in the pan moving them constantly or stirring constantly.

6.  Remove the seeds to a paper towel lined bowl. Add additional seasonings such as cinnamon and sugar or garlic powder and pepper and toss to coat while the seeds are still hot.

7.  Remove the paper towel and discard and allow the seeds to cool.

8.  Store in an airtight container.

Perfectly roasted salty sweet pumpkin seeds

Perfectly roasted salty sweet pumpkin seeds

And most importantly, if you see your friends spreading wet pumpkin seeds onto paper towels, stop them before it’s too late.  And if you know of a way to get the cats to stop loathing each other, we’re all ears…and claws.

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Getting to Scotland

I  must start this posting with a profuse apology for leaving you all hanging for SO LONG!  In my defense, sh*t happened.  You see, the last day of our illustrious European adventure, I started feeling…odd.  And as many of you may remember from earlier thrilling blogs, I have been the frequent victim of some terrible practical jokes paid me by my common bile duct.  And, even from the onset of the wonky symptoms, I knew exactly what was coming and I knew it would involve a lot of pain before it was over with.

My common bile duct had once again seized closed.  I underwent another ERCP with sphincterotomy and my GI doctor was waiting by my bed when the anesthesia wore off.  He informed me that it might be time to consider something drastic.  He told me that each time he went in to re-cut the stupid spasmy muscle that the fibrosis was so bad that it was getting harder and harder to dilate the duct.  But, I thought that I had at least 6 more months or so before it shut down again.  Only, I was wrong, I had only a few weeks.  In a fit of desperation, I called the doctor that had removed half my liver about 8 years ago and he fit me in for an emergency consultation.  As soon as he had all my labs, ERCP reports and imaging studies, he scheduled me for surgery.  On October 10, I had a transduodenal sphincteroplasty.  It sounds terrible.  It was.  They cut open my abdomen (14 inch incision), cut into the duodenum (the thingie that connects the stomach to the small intestine) pulled the common bile duct into the duodenum and sliced it open and sewed it into place so it CANNOT scar closed again…at least not easily.  Knowing my body, this probably just sounds like a challenge.  But, there was an added benefit of the surgery.  The doctor spotted a secondary pancreatic duct…a secondary duct that was massively undersized and appeared blocked.  He went ahead and did that one too and was able to get bile flowing through it.  It is now presumed that I had a permanent state of chronic pancreatitis for years because part of my pancreas was depending on this teeny tiny blocked duct that didn’t show up on the imaging studies.  It’s probably why my pancreatic enzymes were always slightly elevated but not high enough to meet the clinical criteria for pancreatitis.

Any surgery that involves an incision that large also involves a lot of time laying around staring at the ceiling wondering how many days you can go without washing your hair.  Nine.  Nine is the answer.  But people stop coming within 3 feet of you at about day five.  I would have washed it but I wasn’t allowed to get my incision wet yet and bending over a sink was OUT of the question.  Plus, I had a central line in my neck which is also not permitted to get wet because of the risk of infection.  So, I guess when you consider the giant IV in my jugular, the massive quantities of dilauded I was on, and the 14 inch abdominal incision, truth is that dirty hair wasn’t my biggest worry.  After a full 7 days as an inpatient where I instilled the fear of God in the nursing staff so quickly that only charge nurses were allowed to care for me after day 1 (I’m not proud…but I am very loud), the entire transplant unit breathed a sigh of relief as my wheelchair rolled toward the exit door to send me home.

And, I’d be lying if I said I just bounced back all perfect.  I did not.  I don’t think you can.  I feel better from a digestive point of view.  I can eat again without becoming ill.  All my IBS and pancreatitis symptoms have resolved.  But after weeks of recovery at home and still not being up to an energy level that would allow me to win a race against a moderately sedated slug, I had a hard time getting my head back in the game.  I returned to work and came home to fall straight into bed at 7pm.  I spent my weekends horizontal on the couch watching my DVR.  I declined most social engagements.  And because anyone that knows what it’s like to have an autoimmune disorder can probably predict, my body went into full-on revolt mode as a result of the trauma it had been enduring as I healed from surgery.  Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I wasn’t sure I was going to survive the fibromyalgia flare up I was experiencing.  It was like having burning needles sticking into every muscle in my body 24 hours a day. I did what I was supposed to.  I started the necessary medications to interrupt the flare up.  I gritted my teeth.  I tried to lay low as much as possible and after weeks of agony, my body started regaining its footing.  Not to say I’m perfect.  The frequent weather changes have me in a migraine cycle that has been brutal, the muscle pain from my fibromyalgia is still there, but it is significantly better.  And the sleep disturbances are subsiding now that I’ve found a medication that does an okay job of helping me sleep without turning me into a zombie for days on end.  So, I’m on the upswing and I will be fine.

My point in telling you all this is so you know that I wasn’t being lazy.  I was just trying to survive the next 5 minutes for a while there.  And when I mastered the 5 minute time increment, I moved on to surviving the day.  And so on.  And so this past weekend, I finally returned to my kitchen in earnest.  I hadn’t had the energy or stamina to spend time cooking so I didn’t have any culinary fun to share.  I had this blog half-written for months, but I had to find the desire to finish it.  So, my scar is just starting to fade.  My body is getting better at handling the fibromyalgia.  And I want to cook again and share with you my triumphs and disasters.  But first I have to finish this Scotland blog.

So, return with me to August…we last left off with our heroine enjoying the beauty of Ireland….

In hindsight, we should have flown from Dublin to Edinburgh – as EVERY person we asked for help in getting there informed us.  Our couchsurfing host Francis:  “Why aren’t you flying, it would be faster.”  The bartender the night before we left:  “You should fly, it’s faster.”  The desk clerk at the hostel we stayed in our last night in Dublin: “Why aren’t you flying?”  The information desk attendant at the train station: “You’re not just flying?”  OKAY, WE GET IT, WE SHOULD HAVE FLOWN!  We did quickly check airfare and realized that a last minute ticket would not be a financially viable option.  We were going to do this the hard way.

So, with a bottle of Jameson in tow, we got up at the crack of dawn, caught a train from Dublin to Belfast.  In Belfast we took a taxi to the port where we caught a HUGE ferry to Cairnryan.  In Cairnryan, we caught a bus to Ayr where we caught a train to Glasgow.  Once we arrived, we walked from one train station to another to catch our train to Edinburgh.  It was NOT a relaxing day.

Hello, Scotland!

Once we arrived in Cairnryan, we tried to board the bus to Ayr.  Only, the bus driver informs us that he doesn’t have enough seats for everyone that wants to get on the bus.  He tells us that some of us will have to take a taxi to Ayr.  Keep in mind that the trip to Ayr is about an hour so that would have been one ridiculously expensive taxi.  Michael and I stood among the last people waiting for the bus trying not to panic.  When the bus driver said he could fit 2 more people on the bus, we enthusiastically volunteered.  Really enthusiastically.  He directed Michael to the back of the bus and he pointed me to the “staff only” seat adjacent to the front door of the bus.  I wasn’t about to complain.  In fact, this view gave me great opportunities to take pictures along the route to Ayr.  You’ll have to excuse the smushed windshield-bugs that are featured in some of the photographs.  But the countryside was too beautiful not to document it since I had such an awesome view.  Some of these pictures make up for the trouble we spent by trying to get to Edinburgh without wings.  I’d have been sad to miss out on this drive from my bus seat.  I was spellbound the entire trip.

Hanging out up front with the driver.

Ailsa Craig off in the distance

If you’re a fan of curling, you may have heard of Ailsa Craig – it’s the island where they get the “micro-granite” for curling stones.

I couldn’t believe how beautiful Scotland is.

Like Ireland, there are flowers everywhere.

The bus driver told me to get my camera ready and made sure to point out this building. It was the birthplace of the poet Robert Burns. It still has a thatched roof.

The train station in Glasgow.

Glasgow gets a thumbs up for their firefighter statue adjacent to the train station. :-)

By the time we made it to Edinburgh, I was exhausted.  Luckily, the walk from the train station to the bus stop was all uphill and we had all our luggage to drag along.  Then once we caught the correct bus and made it to the flat of Michael’s friends Agata and Giedrius, we had to lug our bags up 4 flights of stairs.  And a quick freshen up and some food and we were off again…UNTIL DAWN.  At this point, I had incubated my Blarney Castle cold fully and was snarfly and wheezy and Michael was so excited to hang out with G that his energy and excitement was never-ending.  It was at that point in our trip that I may have considered injuring him in his sleep to slow him down a little.  But I refrained and every moment in Edinburgh was fun.  I LOVED Agata and G and I even fell in love with their “old fashioned” apartment (as described by Agata) and I will never ever forget them.  I only wish I had some of Michael’s energy and less of my arthritic hip and wheezy chest cold.   I can tell you that the sunrise over Edinburgh is beautiful…since I saw it…a lot.  I can also tell you that G introduced me to my new favorite drink:  whiskey with apple juice.

Our first night in Edinburgh, I finally crawled into bed about 5:30 am but Michael and G stayed up another 3 or 4 hours.  I was starting to wonder if they were on a suicide mission.  But despite the overall lack of sleep, G was a great tour guide and he took us to Prince’s Garden and to Edinburgh Castle.  Since it was Fringe Festival, the Royal Mile was shocking.  We saw a phone booth full of drag queens…like a lot of drag queens considering the size of the phone booth.  We saw performers with no pants on passing out fliers.  We heard people singing, watched people juggling, and of course, there were bagpipes.  It was the most interesting mix of people I’ve ever seen.  I only wish my camera hadn’t died before we got to the Royal Mile.  Michael said he’d send me a CD of his photos from that afternoon but he’s pretty busy with graduate school right now so you’ll just have to use your imagination to picture the performers without pants and the phone booth full of drag queens.

Swans in the channel in Edinburgh! This channel was really close to the flat where we were staying.

The Opera House in Edinburgh

St. Cuthbert’s Church in Edinburgh

Edinburgh Castle.

Looking up at Edinburgh Castle from Princes Gardens

This adorbs little cottage is called “The Gingerbread House” and is located in Princes Gardens.

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Edinburgh Castle is actually not a single building but several buildings. This one houses the crown jewels. Unfortunately, photography is prohibited inside but they were obviously ah-mah-zing!

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This is actually a pet cemetary at Edinburgh Castle.

This is actually a pet cemetery at Edinburgh Castle.

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Meanwhile, in Edinburgh….

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So, as a sort of wanna-be foodie, it was just a matter of time before the subject of haggis came up while we were in Scotland.  And my first surprise was Agata explaining how it is one of her favorite foods.  So, when G steered us to a restaurant to try the infamous dish, I only put up a weak protest.  You see, haggis isn’t viewed by most Americans as desirable cuisine.  First of all, if you look up haggis, you find it’s described as a “pudding” which immediately turns off most Americans.  To Americans, “pudding” is a sweet and creamy dessert and is free from animal organs.  The idea of a “pudding” of meat conjures up culinary conflicts in our heads as we try to conceive of a sweet dairy dessert made with savory meats (bleh).  It’s like a culinary oxymoron.  Haggis is a “pudding” of the organ meat of a sheep that has been ground up and mixed with onions and spices and then it’s put into a sheep stomach and simmered for hours.  So, I’m not going to lie, I was skeptical.  Really skeptical.  And when G ordered plates of haggis for everyone at the table, I protested that we should just get one plate for everyone to taste.  But G insisted that we’d want our own plates.  Michael and I exchanged dubious glances and placed orders at the bar before we were finally persuaded by G to commit to a haggis lunch instead of just a haggis taste.  And the haggis came to the table and honestly shocked me.  There was no stomach. There was nothing that looked like a “pudding.”  Instead, what showed up on the plates looked like ground beef that had been browned with some vegetables served atop a bed of mashed potatoes and turnips with a boat of gravy on the side.  The gravy was actually a really delicious whiskey cream sauce.  And so with slightly less skepticism, I sat back and watched Michael take his first bite.  He nodded at me to try mine as he chewed and seeing that he wasn’t horrified, I brought my fork to my mouth and tried to keep an open mind as I took my first bite.  I have to say, it was delicious.  Not just okay or edible but really and truly delicious.  Both Michael and I cleaned our plates (and those boats of whiskey cream sauce).  Now, I will freely admit, had the haggis arrived at our table still inside a sheep’s stomach (note: most commercially prepared haggis is now made inside a sausage casing in lieu of a sheep stomach), it might have dampened my excitement…a lot.  Let’s face it, there’s not a lot of good ways to present an animal organ stuffed with food on a plate.  Even a birthday cake would look somewhat unappetizing if you had to dissect a sheep’s stomach to get to it.  So, I applaud the modern restaurants that serve their haggis sans casing.  And, now that you know that you won’t have to relive your dissection days in biology to try it, I hope you try haggis if you’re ever in Scotland.  I assure you that you don’t even realize it’s organ meat and it really is flavorful and delicious.  I even googled recipes when I got home.  Surely I can recreate that taste without a sheep stomach…where does one even buy a sheep stomach?

I haven’t made any efforts beyond looking for a recipe but it’s not off the table.  If I ever do attempt it, I promise to blog my results.

When we left Scotland and said goodbye to Agata and G, we headed to England to finish up our trip.  We spent a couple of days in Bath and then went on to London.  We didn’t do much sight seeing in London because we were there for the same reason hundreds of thousands of other people were there:  to witness the Summer Olympics.  We did manage to get tickets to several events and were able to spend a good amount of time inside Olympic Park.  I would love to share England with you but let’s face it, it took me almost 6 months to get this blog completed so maybe I just need to concentrate on some culinary adventures and work on sharing photos and experiences with you from Bath and London later on.

The important thing is that I am finally getting back to “normal” after my surgery.  Sure I physically  healed a while back, but I just didn’t have any desire to get back into blogging or cooking or much of anything really.  I’m finally starting to enjoy my kitchen again and so I do hope to have some new adventures to share soon.  Who knows, maybe one day in a fit of nostalgia for beautiful Scotland, I’ll be inspired to try my hand at haggis.  Crazier things have happened.

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