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…has been a breeze, so far.
I almost feel ashamed to call myself a cancer survivor, since that term implies overcoming some sort of struggle. My greatest struggles thus far have been watching my feet and ankles swell to unflattering proportions, exercising patience in waiting rooms, and attempting to decipher the cryptic bills that show up at our house.
Lucky for me, the water retention in my feet and legs was the only real side effect of my treatment drug (Gleevec), and it disappeared after about a month.
Even more importantly, my white blood cell count dropped from a whopping 235,000 when I was diagnosed to around 6,000, taking me back into the normal range after only a month of treatment. Gleevec really does seem to be the miracle drug that it is touted to be!
Decreasing my white count to a normal level was the first of three milestones in my treatment. The next one is becoming FISH negative.
FISH?
Fluorescent In Situ Hybridization, of course.  I love this CML lingo!
I had a FISH test the other day to see whether I still had CML cells in my blood. Apparently I do (and am thus labeled “FISH positive”). The goal is to be FISH negative by 6 to 9 months.
CML (Here is what my Philadelphia chromosomes look like in the FISH test. Pretty, huh?)
My next FISH test is in November. I’ll keep you posted on my FISH status!
Thank you so much again to everyone for their prayers and support through this process. And thanks to the creators of Gleevec for letting me be able to live, for the most part, without realizing that cancer is a part of my life.
~Sonja

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When our decision to eat a mainly vegetarian diet comes up in conversation, people usually respond with the following:
“I would never be able to do that. I love meat too much!”
I thought the same thing before we made the decision. I love meat too! But I’ve realized that you are limited only by what you believe is within your capacity to do.
We’ve found it so much fun to explore eating mainly veg, and it’s been easy and healthy too!  We rarely crave meat (I’ve found the less of it you eat, the less you want.) I’m actually surprised at how easy it’s been to navigate the summer cookout season (bring a few portabellas to your friends’ cookout, and you’re in business!).

Removing the option of meat from your diet does lend its hand to carbo-loading a bit more. I used to semi-participate in the no-carb craze, but now I fully embrace carbs!  I think grains are an important part of our diet, and they actually provide a lot of protein too.
We may have taken our carb-o-philia a bit far, though, because now I can’t eat a meal without bread or pasta (usually freshly made, thanks to hub).
We were inspired the other night to continue our quest of perfecting homemade pasta. Our previous attempts had some issues with consistency, so we decided to try Marcella Hazan’s recipe (as I recently discovered that she is the Julia of Italian cuisine).

Marcella’s recipe called for unbleached flour instead of the semolina flour that we’d previously been using, along with letting the pasta sit for 15 minutes before cutting it. It turned out perfectly – exactly the consistency we’ve been looking for!  (Yet another strike against Jamie Oliver, sadly…)

We served the pasta with this wonderful eggplant parmesan recipe from Mario Batali. We’ve made it twice and I LOVE it. It might be one of my favorite vegetarian recipes thus far. It’s totally satisfying and really easy to make! (And baked instead of fried…not only healthier, but much easier to assemble.)

Accompanying the meal was this delicious peach and blackberry pie made by our friends Gabe and Amanda. Look at that crust!  Beautiful.
For those interested, the pasta recipe is below. You’ll need a pasta machine (we got a cheap one and have found it definitely worth the $30 investment!).

Homemade Pasta a la Marcella Hazan
1. Combine 1 cup of unbleached flour and 2 eggs (per ~2 servings) in a food processor until it reaches dough-like consistency.
2. Cut the dough into six equal parts. Put each piece of dough through the widest setting on the pasta machine. Fold it in thirds and feed it through the widest setting again; repeat 2 to 3 times. Decrease the thickness setting of the pasta machine and repeat. Continue to decrease the thickness until the dough is quite thin.
3. Let the pasta sit for 10 minutes. Then run it through the cutter on your pasta machine, cut it with a knife into your desired shape, or use the sheets to make filled pasta like ravioli.
4. Cook the pasta in boiling salted water for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes until it is al dente.
~Sonja

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We were excited to learn a few months ago that a new homemade pasta shop had moved in within walking distance of our house. The leftover pesto from last week’s cooking extravaganza gave us the perfect excuse to try it out.

Nicole-Taylor’s Pasta & Market offers fresh pasta in tons of different flavors and shapes, as well as fresh bread baked by students from the Chef’s Academy, cheeses and cured meats, pre-made salads, desserts and lasagna, and lots of other locally-made food items.
The shop is owned by Rosa Hanslits and her husband Tony (current dean of the Chef’s Academy downtown). Rosa couldn’t be nicer! I love buying local foods from people who love what they do.
We chose fresh spinach, tomato, and red pepper linguine to combine with our pesto. It was excellent!

I’m looking forward to trying more from Nicole-Taylor’s. With that and Locally Grown Gardens on the same corner, I’m in heaven!
Sonja

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On Friday we had a much anticipated cooking party with our friend and chef, Josh. We’ve been wanting to work on our knife skills, and Josh was just the man to teach us. We did not, however, just waste the fruits of our cutting, chopping, mincing, and dicing – instead, we also created an ambitious and delicious meal.

Josh prepared the following menu:
  • Bread with Roasted Garlic, Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar
  • Caesar Salad with Homemade Dressing
  • Gnocchi with a Basil Pesto
  • Gnocchi with a Mushroom Gorgonzola Sauce
  • Polenta with a Marinara Sauce
We loved that he had minimalist-esque recipes on post-its around his kitchen.

The food turned out wonderful (if late, sorry Brandie!) and we had a great time sharpening our knife skills. Sonja won most improved knifer (look at the finger curl!), I won most likely to try to get a picture of someone cutting celery in mid-air (good work, Brandie), and Josh won most likely to get distracted by naming every single type of butter sauce he could think of (we loved it).
And finally, a short list of things we learned:
  • How to pronounce gnocchi.
  • The difference between a mince, dice, julienne, batonnet, rondelle, chiffonade, and more!
  • Don’t try to catch a falling knife.
  • Homemade Caesar dressing is amazing (and anchovies taste good).
  • Josh and Brandie are great!
~ Alex

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Here’s something I never thought I’d say: I love mushrooms.
OK, so there are probably more significant things that I never thought I’d say, like “I have cancer”. But come on!  I’ve hated mushrooms for about a quarter of a century. The fact that I’m now considering them as one of life’s best foods ever is pretty notable.
So, imagine my delight when I returned home from meeting with a friend and my husband had decided to “whip up” some grilled marinated portabella burgers, topped with gorgonzola, balsamic onions, and roasted red peppers on homemade sesame buns.

He also completed the whole feat, from shopping to the table, in a little over 1 hour.
I have the best husband ever.
This burger was amazing. Honestly. Alex based his creation on this recipe for the burgers and this recipe for the buns.

Another way we’ve been enjoying mushrooms lately is based on an appetizer we had at Bonge’s. The basic steps are as follows:
1. Cut up a mixture of mushrooms (we’ve used shitakes and portabellas; if you use shitakes, make sure to remove the stems).
2. Saute the mushrooms with some butter, salt and pepper, and herbs (basil, thyme, oregano, etc.).
3. Add some lemon juice and continue cooking until tender.
4. Garnish with a lemon wedge (for squeezing) and serve.

Delicious!  I’m fully converted.
Sonja

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A lot of people told us we wouldn’t be able to grow corn in our garden.
 
Ha!

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And no, I’m not talking about my husband. Though somehow he convinced me to rebel from my conviction that our year-old Sony H-50 camera was only in the initial stages of our ownership.
Apparently we already needed something a little bigger and a whole lot better: a Canon Rebel T1I. We couldn’t possibly need to upgrade after only one year, I thought – I mean, how much better could it be?
One picture. My first photo with the camera was all it took to convince me that this purchase was totally worth it.
I am LOVING our new camera, and am blown away by the quality of photos it produces!  My apologies in advance for those of you who have to live with my face obscured by a lens.

(Poor Luna is generally forced to be our model)
Alex and I are so inspired by our new purchase, which can make even the most ordinary object seem profound.

(Though it is actually quite significant that we were able to grow these tomatoes.)
I’ve learned so much from this camera already, and I can’t wait to keep learning more! Plus it gives us an excuse to not only excessively document our everyday lives, but venture out in search of new subjects (for example, I might be forced to take a European vacation or two for “research” purposes… :) )
Sonja

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Indianapolis’ Devour Downtown just finished for the summer, and we managed to sneak in a date night to BARcelona tapas restaurant. We were intrigued by several of the menus that the restaurants offered this summer, but since Regina’s menu at R Bistro wasn’t vegetarian, we managed to go somewhere else! BARcelona offered an irresistible two-for-$30 six course menu, and the choices fit in perfectly with our vegetarian diet and obsession with Spanish cuisine (thanks to Jose Andres!).

They say that imitation is the greatest form of flattery, and I have a desire to imitate all of my favorite blogs. So in that vein, here’s a full review of all six courses as a shout-out to the good people at We Got Served.

Course 1 : Queso de Cabra Al Horno
Baked goat cheese in tomato sauce served with garlic bread
We started the meal with this absolutely delicious ensemble of two of our favorite things, bread and goat cheese! We would definitely order this again if we went back. I also must admit that I coveted the cool little paella pan a bit.

Course 2 : Gambas Al Alioli
Sauteed Garlic Shrimp
The menu offered two choices for each course, but our vegetarian diet chose for us. We really enjoyed this simple but scrumptious combination of shrimp and garlic. Anytime you have 1” circles of garlic in a dish, you know I’ll be happy!

Course 3 : Alcachofas Fritas
Crispy artichokes with Romesco sauce and shaved Manchego cheese
The artichokes in this dish were fried perfectly, and a squeeze of lemon topped it off just right. The Romesco sauce was particularly delish, and we plan on trying to replicate it at home sometime soon.

Course 4 : Trigueros con Romesco
Grilled Asparagus with Romesco sauce and shaved Manchego cheese
Does this dish sound familiar? Yes, just substitute the asparagus for artichokes and you have the same as course 3. The course was good, but nothing to write home a blog about.

Course 5 : Paella Valencia
Valencia rice with saffron, chicken, chorizo, mussels, shrimp, and salmon
We were looking forward to the most classic of Spanish dishes, but we were a bit disappointed. The salmon over-powered the rest of the flavors and yellow hue just seemed a bit fake. It’s always hard when you know you could make it better yourself… We did manage to keep our meal veg though :)

Course 6 : Cajeta Churros
Cinnamon coated fried pastry with chocolate sauce
The churros were a perfect end to a wonderful meal. They were fried to perfection and had a great filling. The dipping sauce seemed a bit like watered down Hershey’s syrup, but it didn’t ruin the overall taste. We would definitely return for these churros…

All in all, we had a great time at BARcelona, and thank Devour Downtown for organizing a affordable way to try out different restaurants. After dinner we enjoyed some coffee and a walk around downtown, a perfect way to extend your weekend to an extra day.

~ Alex

update:
For other Indianapolis Devour Downtown blog reviews see:
A Taste of Tango here.
Euphoria here.

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I’ve been intrigued by the Exotic Feline Rescue Center ever since I heard about its existence several years ago. The center is a safe haven for abused and unwanted big cats, including lions, tigers, leopards, cougars, bobcats, and ocelots.
We jumped at the chance to see these beautiful animals, and were not disappointed by our visit. It was amazing to be so close to them, separated only by a chain-link fence.

All of the cats at the center were bred in captivity and raised by humans as pets or for entertainment purposes, but were later mistreated or abandoned. (I had no idea that it was even legal to have a tiger as a pet!) It was wonderful to see how well the cats were taken care of.
I was surprised at the relationship many of the cats had with their keepers, sometimes seeming as docile as domestic cats.

(Note: The image above is of a trained professional, so don’t try this at home!  We were strictly advised to stay several feet from the cages at all times.)
We had a wonderful tour guide, who was as knowledgeable about the cats as he was passionate.
Our visit was totally worth the hour-plus drive into the Indiana countryside (the meandering backroad trek was reminiscent our trip to Bonge’s ). For more information the Exotic Feline Rescue Center, click here.
Sonja

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When my friend Laura offhandedly mentioned that she was baking a cake for the bachelorette party we were hosting a few weeks ago, I wasn’t surprised. Laura has been known to show up with some pretty amazing desserts, especially cakes and cupcakes. However, I was not prepared for this – a miniature replica of the bride Emily’s dress, constructed completely with Rice Krispies and fondant icing.

According to Laura, it was “not that hard, really”. What??! I was totally blown away by this architectural masterpiece.

I guess someone called the “Cake Boss” did something similar on his cooking show, which is where she got the idea. (I wouldn’t know, since it is broadcast on the elusive cable channels…)
Apparently the replica was so exact that the groom’s parents wouldn’t let him see the cake before the wedding day.
                                      Actual dress                                                                   Edible version  
 
Pretty good, huh?
We were honored to be involved with Ryan and Emily’s wedding festivities, including the bachelorette party (pics here) and the wedding (pics here).
Congratulations, Ryan and Emily!
Sonja