Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Sauced

"I think that if all kids aspire to reach a point where they could feed themselves and a few of their friends, this would be good for the world surely." -Anthony Bourdain

Cooking is an activity that I have come to enjoy in the last few years.  I am not a world renowned cook like Chef Bourdain, but we have a few things in common.  We both find catharsis in writing and cooking a great meal for others to enjoy.  When the mood strikes, nothing is more therapeutic than having a glass of wine, chopping the bajeezus out of an onion, and consulting Spirit about how many cloves of garlic are needed.    

My favorite recipe is my meat sauce or Sunday Sauce, as some Italians I know call it.  Each batch has its own unique character.  It has to be built carefully, layer by layer, much like crafting savory imagery in your writing.  Committing to quality ingredients is imperative.  Additionally, you will need time.  A good sauce is not something you can whip up in 30 minutes or less.  Pick a day that you have a few hours to devote to your craft so that you can really become acquainted with this new character you've created!  Above all, keep in mind that the day your recipe becomes rote, you've lost the point. 

The coolest thing about meat sauce is you can make a huge batch, serve your family that night, then freeze the rest for another day!  Don't put the sauce in the fridge until it has cooled to room temperature.  Otherwise, it develops a weird sour taste that poo-poos on all of your hard work.  Once my sauce has cooled, I pack portions in gallon-sized freezer bags and flatten them out before freezing.  This makes storage a little easier as well as thawing later.  I also recommend using organic tomato products.  In my experience, the organic tomato products are less acidic.  Additionally, I suggest cooking your onions down on a lower heat until they are translucent and floppy.  You want the flavor...not the indigestion!


4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2-28 oz cans of crushed tomatoes  
1-12 oz can of tomato sauce
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 medium vidalia or sweet onion, chopped
3 to 6 cloves minced garlic (remember:  consult Spirit)
3 tbsp Italian seasoning
one-half to 1 lb ground beef
8 oz fresh sliced mushrooms (or more, depending on how you feel about fungi)  
1 to 3 tbsp white sugar (Start with one and TASTE before adding more!)
1 half cup grated Parmesan cheese

1.  Pour about 4 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil into a large pot.  You want to choose one that has a good amount of surface area so that the sauce doesn't get too heavy on the bottom and burn.  I recommend a 10.5 qt stock pot OR a 12 in sautee pan that has a good amount of depth to it.

2.  Add your chopped onion.  Let the onions sautee for about 5 minutes by themselves.

3.  Add ground beef.  Don't let it cook too long...remember, it will be boiling with your sauce soon, so if you see a little pink, its a-okay.  

4.  When your onions are good and floppy, add the Italian seasoning and incorporate it well.

5.  Add minced garlic and mushrooms.  Don't let these sautee for too long, either.  You REALLY don't want either of these to burn!

6.  Slowly pour the canned tomato products into your pot/pan.  Stir well.

7.  Turn the burner down to low and cover.  Watch the sauce to be sure it develops small, simmering bubbles.  

8.  Stir every 10-15 minutes for at least one hour.

9.  Adding white sugar helps to cut the acidity of the sauce.  Start by adding 1 tbsp, give it a taste and see what you think before adding more.

10.  Add 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese to the sauce and stir well.  Freshly grated is better, of course.  

11.  Watch your family make this face as they enjoy your creation:


Sincerely,
Samantha

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Memento Mori

This poem is admittedly dark AF, but it was in my brain this morning.  Unless I intend to become creatively constipated, I've got to breathe life into it.  As a writer, I enjoy digging deep into even the smallest emotion.  In school, they called it "exploding the moment".  Well...BOOM, y'all!



Memento Mori

This town is a shrine to faded memories.

Street signs and parking lots harbor ghosts of the ones I used to know.

Familiar once as my favorite songs,
now foreign and ambiguous.

Driveways call to me,
with panged expressions,
and empty promises of peace,
but I can no longer number their cracks.

Time has extinguished the evidence,
and silenced the sole survivor.

Until the next lucid dream,
or photograph surfaces. 

Sincerely,
Samantha


Friday, March 29, 2019

#sorrynotsorry

"Every cloud has its sliver lining, but it is sometimes a little difficult to get it to the mint." -Don Marquis 

I began this week thinking that today's blog would be about a few different developmental psychologists and how their behavioral theories could be applied to loving someone with a chronic illness.  I may still publish that one some day soon, but today, my mind is in a different place.

Today, I want to talk to you about phrases like "everything happens for a reason".

At many junctures in life, we experience things that just plain suck.  There's no way to sugar-coat or minimize just how suck-tastick some things are.  We often lean on friends and family to hear us out in the hopes that their being outside the situation can bring some calm to the storm of circumstances and emotions that we're up against.

On behalf of myself and anyone else that has faced an insurmountable level of bullshit, do not default to "everything happens for a reason" as your initial response.  Responding with a phrase like this inadvertently minimizes the person's feelings and triggers misplaced pangs of guilt.  In my raw, emotional state, when I hear this, I think to myself "I have no right to question what's happening to me because its a God thing and I'm not allowed to be upset with God, so I guess my feelings are invalid and selfish."

Of course, that's not what you intended!  Nobody in their right mind intends to make a loved one feel this way!

If someone is comfortable enough with you to be vulnerable in your presence, you kind of have a responsibility to dig deeper within yourself than "everything happens for a reason".  Try to empathize, ask specific questions, help them see the "silver lining" when that person is ready.  Most importantly, listen and be the human they need in that moment.

Sincerely,
Samantha


Sunday, March 24, 2019

Confessional

"A man's pride can be his downfall and he needs to learn to turn to others for support and guidance." -Bear Grylls

I was diagnosed with Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) on March 12, 2015.  Out of habit, I am inclined to delineate my entire CHF timeline.  Nevertheless, I will save that for another day.  In essence, I've been "sick" for a little over four years.  It would be irresponsible to gloss over the seriousness of my health issues.  However, it is my most profoundly heartfelt desire for everyone I share my story with to know that CHF is a part of my story, but it is not my identity.  As someone who has studied human behavior pretty extensively, I am no stranger to exhaustive introspect (thank you, anxiety brain), so I have no hesitation in coming to the conclusion that I am a proud person.  In most circumstances, that facet of my personality has served me well.  It drives me to perform well professionally and to maintain boundaries in my personal life.  Pride has also proven to be my Achilles heel. 

Upon my initial diagnosis, I was hospitalized for 6 days as my doctors pulled around 30 pounds of excess fluid off of my tired body and introduced various medications to help my heart get the rest it so desperately needed.  My instinct was to protect my privacy with ferocity.  My husband and family were aware of what was going on, but the idea of inviting friends and acquaintances into my woe was physically repulsive to me. 

Looking back, I now realize that was pride getting in the way of the love and support my soul would require to get to where I am now.    On day 3 or 4 of my hospitalization, my husband was wheeling me around the floor I was confined to and he said, "You really should let people know what's going on.  You may be surprised by how many people will rise to the occasion."  Those may not have been his exact words, but the sentiment is what matters here. 

My pride and ego were co-conspirators in building a 300 foot Kevlar wall between the outside world and the things that made me feel vulnerable.  I had not yet digested what this illness would mean to me, so there was a hot pit of fear, sadness, and anger gurgling in my gut.  Between the illness itself and my emotions, I was incapable of poising myself for the public.  My husband's careful coaxing encouraged me to create a Facebook post inviting friends and acquaintances to send up their prayers for myself and my family.  That was hard for me, to say the least.  But, he was right and I think, deep down, I knew I needed to reach out for support because this diagnoses was bigger than me at the time. 

As my health journey has endured, I have continued to battle my pride and my ego.  I frequently have to wade into the river of emotional discomfort to ask for and accept help.  What I've come to realize though is that I have served as a good friend to so many.  I've been a smiling face, a shoulder to cry on, an open ear, and someone who can make you laugh in the darkest of times.  Friends and acquaintances are eager to reciprocate (at least the ones worth keeping around).  In shutting them out, I was doing us all a disservice. 

So, I suppose the take-away from this post is:  Don't let the screwed up things in your brain snuff out the needs of your soul.  Unmitigated pride and ego are thieves and as much a hindrance to your livelihood as a chronic disease like CHF.  Go forth and don't be the jerk that doesn't allow good friends to be good friends.

Sincerely,
Samantha                   



Saturday, March 16, 2019

Partly Cloudy with a Chance of Sarcasm

"You can't really be strong until you see a funny side to things." -Ken Kesey

This introduction (of sorts) is meant to serve as a bit of a PSA.  Please understand the following as you read my blog:
  1. My sense of humor is best described as irreverent, sarcastic, morbid, and sometimes vulgar.  
  2. I am an "old soul" and a deep thinker--existential and introspective.
  3. Chronic illness is a part of my life; my blog topics will not always be uplifting in tone.
  4. Mine is a family affected by Autism, so posts about our home life may seem backwards, but its how we make it work.
If you've known me for any length of time, you've realized that I use humor and wit to make any situation more comfortable, regardless of how grim it may be.  Making an entire team of doctors and nurses in an operating room giggle could probably be considered a hobby of mine!  The most recent example I can think of was when I was having a PICC line placed so that I could receive IV antibiotics at home to treat a driveline infection I was experiencing.  The young doctor began rinsing my right arm down with cold, bright orange Betadine.  I looked over and asked, "Have you ever felt compelled to write 'ass' or something on somebody's arm because I feel like I would have to fight that urge on a daily basis."  Needless to say, the room immediately became less tense and we all continued to cut up as the PICC line was placed and I was sent on my way.  I feel like anytime you can humanize yourself in a medical situation, the stronger your relationship with those professionals becomes.  If you can make em fall in love with you, you will be well cared for and probably never forgotten.