Entirely unrelated to that elegant French phrase in the title, it's MRI week here at Moving Right Along. I was supposed to be having an MRI of my pelvis right now, and another of my liver at 8:00 tomorrow morning, but it turns out that these require an IV, and guess what? Two experienced nurses couldn't get one in me for love or money. And I was relatively calm! And not even screaming yet! My tiny little deep-set veins simply couldn't sit still long enough to have holes poked in them, even though I sat breathing deeply in what I call 3/4 lotus position (unlike the full or half lotus position favored by two-legged yogis; Action Barbie just isn't MRI friendly and had to spend time in a closet). So the upshot is that I get to go back Friday morning at 7:15, get an ultrasound at a department called "Interventional Radiology" to help locate a vein, get an IV placed, and then return to the MRI habitat and get all my MRIs done at once. These lovely scans will help me choose whether to have more hopefully palliative surgery, e.g., to remove my big fat ovary and probably only my big fat ovary, or stop now and just let the disease take its course -- which it might do very, very slowly or very, very fast, no one can say. (And no, in case you were in doubt, I don't want your advice on any of this, but thanks anyway.)
It's also menstrual week here at Moving Right Along, because apparently this is my year to have to undergo everything, even brain surgery, while either premenstrual or actually menstruating. No one thinks I have cancer in my uterus or my cervix as biopsies have come out clean, so, alas, I have no excuse to have a hysterectomy, so I shall probably be menstruating on my deathbed. Fantastic. Should this in fact transpire, I've asked my true love to put "She died while menstruating" on my tombstone in the event he ever buys me one. He has not committed to carrying out this wish.
All this and multiple apparently inoperable metastases, too! Is it any wonder I'm exhausted? I half snorted/half laughed out loud when esteemed correspondent Jeanne Sather at the Assertive Cancer Patient revealed that, as she discovered while participating in ASCO this year, "Researchers DO NOT KNOW what causes cancer fatigue." It's funny because even those of us who have never done chemo or radiation could give them a big fat list. Easiest study ever; just confirm the data by cross-checking the lists. (I'll take my grant now, thanks.) But the truth is, you don't have to have cancer or spectacular perimenopausal hormones to be completely worn out. I hear having children is enough.
So regardless of the reason, what do you do when you have eight million children and/or eight million things to do including putting meals on the table and not enough strength you can count on having from day to day? You cook in advance.
My friend Aura is the queen of this practice. I also know a couple with eight foster children plus kids of their own as well, and they basically have two crock pots going all the time. I think both households also sport really big freezers, too.
Usually this practice involves a lot of stews and casseroles, lots of nutrition packed into one dish. But it's summer. Who wants hot food in summer? And who wants a hot kitchen?
Because I kind of expected this week to kick my ass from the very beginning, yesterday while doing laundry (another good thing to do in advance on those rare occasions when you are actually allowed warning that your life is about to suck a little) I got to work on exactly that problem. Fortunately, because it is summer, we are also coming into our peak produce wealth for the year. Fresh produce can take as much or as little prep as you desire to make it ready to go. Wash your fruit and put it in a bowl in the fridge. Wash your fruit, cut it up, and put it in containers in the fridge. Mix some of it together in another container for ready-to-eat fruit salad that should stay yummy for at least a few days.
We have all kinds of fresh fruit, even starting to include locally grown fresh fruit at this point, and tons of fresh vegetables, practically all of which are available from local farmers. This means if you plan it right you hardly have to cook at all. And yesterday, finding myself with an hour or two of time and a tiny bit of energy, I only did a very little yet created or organized most of our food supply for the week.
The first thing I made was a salad. It took maybe ten minutes, including washing the vegetables that didn't get peeled, and added no heat to the kitchen.
This salad includes:
• an entire bag of washed mixed greens from Applefield Farms, via Debra's
• half a cucumber from the same source, sliced and then cut down the middle to make little half-moon shapes
• a box of grape tomatoes, either Californian or Mexican, via Debra's
• two whole ramps (garlic greens), chopped small, from Hutchins Farm
• an entire kohlrabi, peeled and julienned, also from Hutchins
• about thirty English pea pods, shelled, also from Hutchins
• a liberal grinding of mixed peppercorns (100 turns of the mill)
Though it is true that under normal circumstances I could sit in one place and devour this entire thing alone, even without dressing, this will last us a few days, even with servings at every meal. Energy levels allowing, I will also keep it going by adding more things as I obtain them or the week progresses. I bought some corn at Hutchins today which should prove easy to cut off the cob and throw in. Every time I add something, it becomes a slightly different salad, and that prevents boredom.
The second thing I made was sauté-steamed mixed summer squash with tomatoes and more chopped ramps. It took maybe half an hour, including washing and cutting all the ingredients, but I made a whole heaping lot, which is the point of this post. If you make less, it will take you even less time. It did add some steam and heat to the kitchen, but nothing that wouldn't dissipate quickly in an air conditioned or well-ventilated home -- and by well-ventilated, I mean with cross-breezes and everything.
To duplicate this dish in your own kitchen, or riff of the general theme, start by coating the inside of a large sauté pan with extra virgin olive oil spray. Turn on the fire to medium high (level 4 out of 5+"high" on my stove), then toss in two whole ramps, chopped as in the salad, and two or three large tomatoes. Don't get too precious chopping the tomatoes, trying to get them perfect looking or even tiny; they are going to be cooked to mush.
Cover the pan and cook for ten minutes. Raise the lid, then mash the tomatoes with a flipping spatula.
Then pour in a pound or two or three of assorted summer squash -- pattypan, crookneck, zucchini, whatever you like -- sliced about ¼" thick, and then cut in half again if the pieces are very wide.
If you are smarter than I am, you will either use a larger pan than I did or a smaller amount of squash. You will need to be able to stir the squash pieces into the sauce created by the tomatoes, oil and ramps, and you will need to be able to close the lid of the pan in order to achieve steaming.
Cover the pan, then walk away for five minutes. When you return, stir up the squash again, from the bottom. The goal here is to just barely steam the squash, not cook it to mush. The tomatoes got cooked to mush because they are sauce; summer squash cooked to mush is disgusting unless you're making soup. Each piece should be a little tender and a little translucent, but not limp and/or transparent. If your squash pieces are still practically raw at this point, put the lid back on for a few minutes, five if the pan is really full. Next time you check, if only some of your pieces are cooked to perfection and others still undercooked, take out the good ones and keep cooking the rest until they are perfect, too.
When you are done, transfer the entire thing to a big bowl. This dish is good warm or cold; I like it best cold. And once again, this is several days worth of side dish for us, even with a serving at every meal. With the level of nausea I have been experiencing lately, a bowl of this can even be a meal for me, very fresh and wholesome tasting, and it can also be added to the weekly salad bowl.
Now, the third thing I made yesterday was a delicious nectarine, peach and raspberry pie.
This is completely Melissa's fault because she told me she had just made a peach pie, and that made me remember that I had some peaches and peach-like substances lying around, and that made me really want one, too. So this particular instance of baking with the air conditioning on thereby intolerably raising my personal carbon footprint is totally not my fault; blame Melissa. Whom I love. Whom I even love for inadvertently planting baking suggestions in my literally feverish head. (And my true love isn't exactly mad at her either.)
Yes, while the labor part of this was maybe fifteen minutes, this did make the kitchen very hot for over an hour, but look. Medical things and menstrual things require sweets; science says so; no you can't see a study from the NEJM.
It was either going to be a freshly baked homemade pie with store-bought crust and organic fruit, tapioca, sugar, and spices (four cups of mixed washed and chopped fruit, peeled as appropriate, 3T tapioca, 1 C sugar, half brown, ½ t cinnamon, ¼ t nutmeg, ¼ t ginger; mix it all up and pour it in a bottom crust you've poked holes in, then cover with a top crust; make liberal vent slits and sprinkle with turbinado sugar; bake 425°F 10 minutes, then 375°F for 30 more; cool and eat), or it was going to be a hell of a lot of Snickers' Bars -- which, I might add, would have gotten to my local purveyor's establishment via truck, so not very ecologically aware either, and that's without even bringing up the ingredients. Or I could just down the half-bottle of Bailey's rotting genteelly among the marmalades in the refrigerator door (and might still, though it's far better over ice cream). But instead (for now), after being unable to eat more than a single English muffin for breakfast and nothing else all day, and after being repeatedly stabbed and then given up upon by cancer nurses and having to reschedule the same activity to another day, I got to come home to a dish of cold and sloppy juicy fruit pie.
(Fine, there was no dish. I ate right out of the pan, of course. I did, at least, employ a fork.) And this pie will last at LEAST through today, and after that we will still have two kinds of extremely virtuous sorbet in the freezer. But meanwhile, because I planned ahead for unknown contingencies, even though the kitchen got a little hot and there was minor trauma today, in the end there was also pie.
Okay, Sara, you are thinking, that's all fabulous, but my family can't live on pie and salad and summer squash alone. We need protein! Who's going to cook that when I'm prostrate on my fainting couch and Cook has the day off? Well, other people are going to have to step up, and you are going to have to let them, but meanwhile here's one of my all-time favorite convenience foods for an out-and-out omnivorous household that makes no bones about it (har har): a whole rotisserie chickens from the local fou-fou convenience store a block or so from my house, Concord Provisions.
About $11 or $12 apiece, these are naturally raised, sex-positive, hormone-free, feminist, free-range and well-read chickens with liberal politics who got to listen to Mozart while they were being slaughtered. (It's extremely possible that I am lying about some of this.) In this house, each one is worth two meals, cold or hot, plus cat treats, plus a big bowl of chicken salad, enough for at least two sandwiches or worthy of being thrown on two big servings of the vegetable salad above. They are cooked in some kind of delicious sauce, encrusted with herbal goodness, and even have a lemon slice stuck in under the breast skin. An inferior but slightly less expensive and still natural and still quite serviceable version is available at our local conventional grocery, Crosby's, and probably at whatever is your equivalent of that, and if I were still shopping at the local French bistro (which I stopped doing after hearing from an alleged eyewitness that the boss had publicly punched one of his female employees in the face), I could even get them organically grown. They are everywhere, they keep for a week in the fridge, the meat can be reheated in pieces in the microwave or shredded or chopped for use in an assortment of different dishes, and thus they give you great versatility for the price without you having to lift a finger or heat up your house. Best of all, someone else can even run to the store and buy one.
Tomorrow, if I find myself with the energy (even if it's only nervous energy), instead of sitting in my studio anxiously watching my newest needle hickies bloom in my arm and hand, I may haul out my tricycle and attempt the ride over to Hutchins, trying to get there at the opening in order to plunder the day's first picking of blueberries. Wish me luck.