Friday, April 17, 2009

Sick As a Dog

I think that Dog is allergic to Sunday nights. If memory serves, it was a Sunday night when he decided that he didn't want to breathe anymore and to turn blue instead. The most recent Sunday night, he decided to complain about pains in his side and even had the audacity to run a temperature of 100.9. I suspected that it was related to the intestinal bug that had been making the community rounds and the rounds in our family as well, but sometimes you can't be too careful. As it happened, the "on call" doctor was our pediatrician, whom I like very much and who sent us to the hospital forthwith.

I'm no stranger to the ER. When I worked as a professional interpreter, I saw more than my share of ERs. San Antonio boasts a large collection of hospitals, from teaching to private and I got to sample all of them. I've learned a few axioms, some of those "universally acknowledged truths."

  • ERs are always busy.
  • ERs are always crowded.
  • ERs are always understaffed.
  • ER personnel are always overworked.
  • The labs are always backlogged.
  • Any ER visit will entail a minimum of four hours and usually more.

Based on such axiomatic wisdom, I instructed Dog to bring a backpack of what he would deem sufficient material with which to entertain himself. He brought his entire comic book collection. I brought my knitting and the library's play-away copy of Mere Christianity.

The registration desk confirmed that no universal truths had changed since my early retirement. We did eventually get in and he was seen. The doctor ordered a CAT scan and informed us that it would be a long night. See? He knows the axioms, too. Hurdle #1 was the contrast solution that they wanted him to drink. I requested the pharmaceutical insert in the substance to check for corn. It was a couple of hours, but I did get to read the insert, which yielded nothing suspicious. Is it possible that there is a substance made without corn? Not totally satisfied, I gave the go-ahead to drinking the nasty stuff...a whole quart full...sans, thankyouverymuch. By then, Dog had read through his comic books and I had discovered that the battery to the play-away was good for about one chapter. That was all I would hear from C. S. Lewis for the rest of the adventure. And while I did bring my knitting, I'd left my instructions for turning the heel at home. I determined that I was going to knit even if this sock ended up turning into a thigh-high, dagnabbit. But by then, we had discovered that our room had a television tuned into interesting documentaries on penguins and polar warming. Just Dog's cup of tea.

Meanwhile, I had to svengali the gastrograffin down Dog's throat. A quart of it. All of it. Without the palliative assistance of Koolaid. The wiki stub on the substance says that it tastes "vile" and Dog concurs. Gotta give Dog snaps. He was a trooper. Of course, it did require some negotiations in which figured significant amounts of Endangered Species chocolate and Yummy Earth Lollipops. I had visions of his siblings engineering their very own ER visits on the strength of the perceived payoffs. But he did manage to get the whole quart down. Meanwhile, we dodged another corn bullet when they wanted to give him some tablet tylenol. The nurse registered a certain degree of shock when I said it probably had corn in it. I guess if it doesn't have a shuck on it, then it can't be corn, right? Someday, it will be a universally acknowledged truth that most pharmaceutical binders come from corn.

Hurdle #2 was when the surgeon showed up in the later wee hours to discuss the CAT scan findings. Yes. That would be "surgeon." Seems there was some "thickening" around the appendix and the entire intestinal lining appeared inflamed. The radiologist and the surgeon were a bit conflicted on how to interpret the scan and so wanted to hold him for observation and make a more determined decision around noon on Monday. If the pain subsided and he could keep down a meal, then the surgeon preferred to release him. Sounded like a plan. Meanwhile, he wanted to hook Dog up to an IV. "What's in the solution?" "Oh, just glucose and electrolytes." I shook my head. "No glucose," I insisted. "Corn." He hastened to assure me that there was no corn in it. We locked eyes and I assured him that I'd never yet been able to ferret out a corn-free glucose source. There was a very long pause in which I watched the wheels behind his eyes turning. Not sure exactly what he was weighing...but he counter-offered a solution of just electrolytes. Since I couldn't in all honesty claim to have researched electrolytic formulas, I decided to concede to the compromise.

Dog was a model patient through all of this. The pokes, and prods, and swills, and sticks. While he was gagging down the gastrograffin and being impaled with needles, he would cheekily remind me with a weak grin about the payoff and make attempts to renegotiate for better terms. Irrepressible, that lad. The prospect of surgery did make his composure wobble a bit, but he hung tough.

Hurdle #3 was The Meal. Tool Guy, in one of our update phone calls, reminded me that this was the same hospital whose definition of "gluten-free menu" consisted of...soup broth. Yes, period. And apparently, bringing in outside food, irrespective of its nutritional value, was Not Done. He spoke from personal experience. I had plenty of hours in which to carefully craft a polite, but immovable "suggestion" about what Dog would be eating prior to release. Props to the surgeon, though. He didn't hesitate a second when I mentioned bringing in food that was Breatharian compliant. Maybe the nurse had transmitted my answer to her query about what his corn reaction looked like: "An Alien pops out of his chest and devours everyone in the room." No problem. Bring his own food.

At noon that morning, after being up for thirty-six hours, I happy-danced my way to the grocery store to pick up some Hormel Natural Choice roast beef, which is the only deli meat I've found on the face of the Shire that doesn't have corn. (The rest of their meats have corn-based starter culture.) Dog inhaled the pack without tasting...his appetite being the surgeon's leading indicator that this wasn't appendicitis. Dog was actually rather reluctant to go home, having, at this point, gotten plugged in to the Playstation on the pediatric ward. We were sent home with directions to make a follow up appointment in a week. The lagnappe--the "something extra"--to the whole experience is that Dog came home reaction-free, something I would have deemed impossible.

As I went home, I had visions of bone broth dancing through my head. That is...those brain cells that weren't committed to the concept of unconsciousness for an unspecified amount of time. Fortunately, I keep copious amounts of this broth always on hand and have plenty to enjoy my latest incarnation:

Hot and Sour Soup

I make a big batch, so tweak your proportions accordingly.

2 quarts bone broth
3 T tapioca starch
4 eggs (optional)
1/4 tsp cayenne or hot pepper
1 T wheat-free tamari or fish sauce (I use my big batch broth for this, which I salt after making, so I use tamari here very sparingly. If you don't salt your broth base, then you may want to tweak the tamari/fish sauce contribution upward.)
5 T rice or cane vinegar

Reserve 1/2 cup lukewarm broth before pouring remaining 2 quarts into medium-sized stock pot. Bring soup to a rolling boil and add pepper, tamari or fish sauce, and vinegar. In reserved broth, stir the tapioca starch until completely dissolved, watching for any remaining lumps. Pour into the actively boiling broth and stir until soup becomes transluscent. Scramble eggs and slowly pour into still boiling soup, stirring constantly to produce a stringy consistency to the cooking eggs. (Allowing eggs to settle will create clumping.) Serve hot.

I have to say I was deeply impressed with the integrity of the surgeon. I've heard a lesser-known axiom that doctors do what they do best. Surgeons, being of a surgical specialty, are more prone to operate. Well, this is one who is an exception to that rule, if there is indeed one. It took a lot of...pardon the pun...guts for him to challenge the dissenting opinions of two other doctors and delay operation. Malpractice standards fly in the face of this decision as well, since a doctor is more likely to be adjudicated as liable when not doing something rather than doing the wrong thing. It is argued that a doctor who does the wrong thing at least tried. Doing nothing is more easily determined to be negligence. Let's hear it for those who stand by the courage of their convictions. They are still among us.

Bone broth is a wonderful intestinal restorative. Hot and Sour Soup has been my constant breakfast-lunch-dinner-snack companion for quite a few months now and I've seen huge improvements in my ability to digest starches. I'd love to claim that it wards off appendicitis, but that might strain credulity. The follow-up visit declared Dog to be fully recovered. No appendicitis. Couldn't wheedle the doctor into crediting the broth, though. Darn.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Not For Commercial Use

Another pusher sleeve on my food processor snapped. Let's see. That makes how many? Four in seven years? The bowl got replaced once and I think I've replaced the lid, as well. The most annoying breakages are the plastic widgey bits that trigger the safety releases. (And with my track record, I need all of the safety measures they can dream up!) I can't blame all of the wear on the plastic, though. I ended up replacing the all-purpose blade along with the pusher sleeve. That's Number 3 for that type of blade. This one had stress fractures at the rivets. How did that happen? I'm on my third slicing blade, too. Hey, ten potatoes sliced two ways once a week puts some wear on a surface. The teeth on these instruments of mass destruction have been visibly worn down. I suppose that it's only fair to put the old ones out to pasture. And this is just my Cuisinart.

My Kitchen Aid mixer is starting to show the mileage, too. The lovely plastic coating on the beater paddle is worn off around the tip and the metal underneath is showing wear, too. Don't ask me about my balloon whip. Just don't. I'm telling Tool Guy that it ran away from home. Oh, hush. I think he believes me...

Then there are the Oster hand blenders. Yes. Plural. I know that a $30 hand blender probably isn't going to be an heirloom piece of equipment that will grace Princess or Bug's kitchen. I know that. But I do, Breatharian, expect it to last longer than six weeks. The first one that I blew through could have been a fluke. I could have snagged something that stripped out the plastic gears in the shaft. But there's no reason that the simple drag and torque from mere coconut milk should similarly strip out the plastic gears and crack the shaft housing. In two other blenders. No way. I think I'm going to donate my kitchen to Consumer Reports.

I've worn out a K-tec grain mill and its daughter has come to live with us. I realized the magnitude of what I'm doing when I bought a Retsel Mill-rite, thinking that this would be the best and last grain mill I would ever buy. Until I read the paperwork that said they estimated that the average home use would be an hour a week. (Insert derisive snort.) Anything beyond that would be considered commercial use. I've determined that anything that bears the label "not for commercial use" doesn't belong in my kitchen. So I guess it is official. I run a commercial kitchen. Lucky that Tool Guy inspects kitchens for a living. Got that base covered. At least.

I'm glad my food processor is back up to speed now. Although walnuts are tettering on the brink of successful reintroduction, we're not quite there yet. And even if we were, the current climate for nut butters isn't encouraging. Food integrity continues to be compromised. A recent discussion about Nutella raised a craving in me and started the creative juices looking for a replacement. It is for this kind of job that I forgive my Retsel for the fastidious limitations and "not for commercial use" injunctions.


2 cups sunflower seeds or similarly mild-tasting seed
1 cup (or sufficient to make smooth) of rice bran or other oil
1/2 tsp. salt or to taste
1-2 T maple syrup or favorite sweetener to taste
2 tsp. cocoa powder or to taste

Run seeds through food processor or mill to render into a smooth paste. The Retsel Millrite does a very credible job of making this...much better than the food processor, which tends to yield a less smooth product. Put this paste into the food processor or blender and add remaining ingredients until well incorporated.

Dog viewed it suspiciously, but after I'd told him to take a bite, "because it's horrible," he quirked an eyebrow at me and bit. And hasn't stopped biting. Sin on a Spoon is still at the top of the favorites list, but this Seedella has SOS's crown wobbling. Absolutely decadent.

My stove gallantly chugs along. But it has needed a few tweaks along the way. The heat from the amount of cooking that I do has degraded the wire coating and resulted in a few of my electronic ignition wires shorting out. I disconnected the shorted ones and am waiting until all four are gone before I call a repair specialist to replace the whole harness. You already know about the gumbo fountain and I refuse to discuss the oven fire. Categorically. Let's suffice it to say that I am now intimately acquainted with all of my stove's ways.When I say "cookin' dangerously," it isn't always an expression of hyperbole. I may not be the Iron Chef...but I'm definitely nominating myself as the Asbestos Chef.