Sunday, June 27, 2010

Grams Made Pulled Pork

Grams has gotten several of her best recipes from the ladies of my book club, The Book Snobs.  This one comes from fellow Snob, Sandra Leeton.  It's easy, moist, tender and very tasty.

Since I had gastric bypass surgery 3 1/2 years ago my diet is "protein first."  This means I eat more meat than anything else.  There is only one catch, it is absolutely imperative that meat be moist and tender.  Anything dry or overcooked comes right back up or, worse yet, gets stuck.  Having a dry piece of meat stuck on its way into or out of my pouch (reduced stomach) is extremely unpleasant and sometimes painful.  Therefore, I'm always on the lookout for recipes similar to this one. 

2-3 pound Pork butt roast
1 can Coca-Cola
Salt, pepper, garlic to taste
1 onion, sliced very thin
Barbecue sauce to taste

Combine all ingredients except barbecue sauce in a crock-pot and cook for 8 hours on medium setting.

Shred pork, drain excess liquid, and stir in barbecue sauce.

Serve on foccacia rolls with Cole slaw and sweet pickles.

Note: I use a package of pork called "carnitas" that our local H-E-B sells.  It's scraps of meat left from over when the butcher trims butt roast and costs about half as much as a Pork butt roast.  It does require additional trimming at home, but I find it's worth the effort.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Grams Made Asian Chicken Wraps

One of Grams favorite places to eat when we go to San Antonio is P. F. Chang's China Bistro. And, creature of habit that I am, Grams always orders the same thing, Chicken Lettuce Wraps. These are so good that I practically dream about them. But since it's a two and a half hour drive from my house, I haven't eaten them very often.

The good news is that Corpus Christi now has it's very own P. F. Chang's China Bistro at La Palmera Shopping Center (formerly known as Padre-Staples Mall). It's scheduled to open on June 28. The bad news is that it will probably be months before you can eat there without a very long wait. That's how it always is when a new restaurant opens in Corpus Christi.

In an effort to satisfy my yen for Chicken Lettuce Wraps, I searched online for a copycat recipe. The recipes I found were widely varied and had way too many ingredients for me to mess with. So after reviewing all the recipes, I decided to create my own version. I made sure to keep it simple, I omitted a LOT of ingredients that the other's used, and tried to keep it healthy. I was very pleased with how it came out.

3 H-E-B Sweet Chili Seasoned Chicken Breasts
1 head Lettuce
½ bag of Matchstix Carrots (julienne cut)
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 yellow bell pepper, diced pea-size
1 red bell pepper, diced pea-size
1 small can button mushroom slices, drained
½ cup Newman’s Own Low-fat Ginger Sesame Salad Dressing
1 Tablespoon Hoisin Sauce
1 Tablespoon Soy Sauce

Grill chicken breasts and set aside. (I use my George Foreman Grill.) When they are cool enough to handle, dice them into pea-size pieces.

Separate lettuce into individual leaves. Wash, dry and set aside.

In a large skillet or wok, sauté bell peppers in olive oil until crisp tender. Stir in carrots and chicken and sauté another 3-5 minutes.

In a small bowl, stir together salad dressing, Hoisin sauce & soy sauce. Pour over chicken mixture and cook until heated through.

Serve wrapped in lettuce leaves.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Women On My Walk #4 - My Sisters-In-Law

Grandad is the middle of three brothers. Their wives are an important part of Grams' support system. There are some things that no one else understands like Nancy and Jeanne. Any time the three of us get together, we have so much fun. We can laugh with and at each other like no one else. 

All three of our husbands are wonderful men and great husbands and fathers. But they are men! And when I need to vent and let off steam about my husband, there is no one who understands better than my sisters-in-law. They get it because they live it. We share a common bond that surpasses understanding.  

Gary is the eldest brother. He and Nancy were high school sweethearts. They were the first to marry and had the first grandchild. They had already been married a couple of years when Grandad and I started dating. We started doing things together right away. Nancy will tell you exactly what she thinks, but she always sees the best in people and expects the best from them. Sometimes, when I'm complaining about one person or another, she will point out that maybe they can't really help the way they are or didn't mean it the way I took it. Nancy and Gary are our movie buddies. The first thing we ever did with them was go to see "Young Frankenstein" at the movies. More than 30 years later, weekends often still find the four of us taking in the latest box office release. We go to church together and usually have brunch together on Sundays. I have marveled at her strength in dealing with some very tough challenges presented by raising her children. She faced them with grace and a smile. Just for the record, she likes really hot jalapenos and she can eat them by themselves and she likes tequila shots ... straight up.

Danny is the youngest of the three brothers. He and Jeanne met at Texas A&M University and they married shortly after they graduated. They live in the DFW area so we only get to see them a few times a year. Jeanne is the mother of two twenty-something young men. Nothing phases her. She holds her own in a household full of "man stuff" including, but not limited to, guns, knives, and farting. When they were in college, in keeping with the Aggie tradition, she could drink with the best of them. Honestly, I think that may have been one of the things that first attracted Danny to her. A few years ago, when she realized that she needed a career change, she went back to school and got certified in surgical technology. She's the person who hands the correct tools to a surgeon. She'll still have a beer with the guys and, over the years we've shared a few cocktails. And she makes absolutely the best sugar cookies I've ever eaten.

The three of us have talked each other through many of life's crises. We've cried on each others shoulders while raising our kids and putting up with our husbands. We've comforted each other in dealing with aging and dying parents and yes, I'll admit it, dealing with our husbands' family. We have encouraged each other, comforted each other, drank together, shopped together, gossiped together, eaten together, and traveled together. We've often been left behind when our husbands have gone hunting, fishing and golfing, but we have also tagged along. No matter where they take us, the three of us always have a good time together. 

My absolute favorite get-aways are the times the six of us spend together. My sisters-in-law understand things that no one else does. They get my stories. Heck, sometimes they have the same stories. I love these two women like I love my own sisters. We have a common bond. We commiserate with each other ... we understand each other ... we like each other ... we stand together ... we support our husbands. We are much more than sisters-in-law ... we are sisters and friends.  

Friday, June 18, 2010

A Light at the End of a Long, Dark Tunnel - Hopefully It's Not An Oncoming Train

Woo Hoo! Grams is thrilled to report that Grandad is out of the hospital. He was released late Thursday afternoon. We are resting today at Nick's house in Houston and will return to CC tomorrow.

The procedure that Grandad had is cardiac ablation. He did not have his heart "shocked." That was one of the options that was available, but the doctors felt that it would only be a temporary solution for him.

I'm going to attempt to explain the procedure that he had. This is a summary of what I have learned from the cardiologists, the electrophysiologists , and my own research.

Normally, electricity flows throughout the heart in a regular, measured pattern. This normally operating electrical system is the basis for heart muscle contractions.

Grandad's electrical flow was having a "short circuit" that disturbed his normal heart rhythm. They tried to control this with medication. Medicine did not work. His doctors felt that the most effective treatment would be to destroy the tissue housing the short circuit. This procedure is called cardiac ablation.

He had catheters inserted through both sides of the groin into his blood vessels. The wires were wound up into the heart.

Once the catheters reached the heart, electrodes at the tip of the catheters gathered data and a variety of electrical measurements were made. The data pinpointed the location of the faulty electrical site.

Fortunately, Grandad was having an "episode" of heart flutter and atrial fibrillation during the procedure. This made it possible for the electrophysiologist to see exactly what his heart was doing. Once the damaged site was confirmed, energy was used to destroy a small amount of tissue, ending the disturbance of electrical flow through the heart and restoring a healthy heart rhythm.

The doctor reported that they had to make an unusually large amount of "cuts" in his heart to correct the short circuit. The procedure took slightly more than five hours. Because of the large amount of cuts, he has a small collection of fluid in his chest which is causing him some pain. They've given him some medication to help his body get rid of that fluid.

The extremely good news is that he has not had any atrial fibrillation or heart flutter since the procedure. They were not even able to induce an episode with medication.

He will take medication to regulate his heartbeat and keep his blood thin for the next six months. They expect to be able to start weening him off of the drugs at the end of the first three months.

I would like to thank all the folks at St. Lukes Hospital and The Texas Heart Institute in Houston. It is an amazing place where miracles happen. Every single employee I encountered there was happy and helpful. During the long wait which totaled about eight hours from start to finish, someone from the procedure room called me every two hours and gave me an update on exactly what was going on and how much longer they expected it to take. I can't begin to explain how much easier that made the wait. They even called me at 11:30 and said it was going to be at least two more hours that we should go get some lunch and they would update us when we returned. That went so far to help my peace of mind.

We are very hopeful that this procedure has put Grandad back on the road to health. Thank you all so much for holding us close in your prayers. It has been a long, hard journey. Finally, we can see a light at the end of this long, dark tunnel. Hopefully, it's not an oncoming train!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Women On My Walk #3 - My Sisters

Grams is the fifth of six children; I have two brothers and three sisters.  Basically my parents had two families.  The first four of my siblings were one family, then several years later they had me and my younger sister.  I love all of them, but among the relationships that have nurtured me best for my entire life are the relationships I have with my sisters.

My baby sister is the one I was closest to while we were growing up.  We are the closest in age and the two of us comprised the "second family."  The difference in our ages is just over two years.  My theory has always been that I was an accident and my parents had Jan as a playmate for me.  As a teenager I often tried to convince my parents that having her was a mistake.  I would have been much happier if they had just left me as the baby of the family.  I was only joking ... well, mostly.  In all seriousness we grew up very close.  We played together as children and we tormented each other as only siblings can do.  We were close as teenagers and had most of our friends in common.  We did things together and we ran in the same pack.  We used to tell people that we were twins.  When our dad found out, he made us go back and tell the truth.  After our marriages, our lives took different paths.  We're not so close now, but we do stay in touch.  I miss the closeness we once shared.

My middle sister is multi-handicapped with mental retardation, a severe speech impediment, and is legally blind.  The experience of growing up in a household with a sister like Kay is difficult to express and over the years I've given it a lot of thought.  I would not wish the experience on anyone, but I believe I am a better person for it. Although she is five years older than me, Kay did not speak or communicate at all until well after I started school.  Around the time I entered third grade and for about 15 years after that, Kay lived in one of the Texas State Schools where she received extensive speech and behavioral therapy.  She would come home for weekends, holidays, and summers.  When she was home she helped with chores like washing dishes and sweeping floors.  While we did chores, we would drill her on her speech, helping her to learn proper pronunciation.

About the time Grandad and I married,  Mother inexplicably took Kay out of the State School and brought her home to live.  Since that time, Kay has regressed some.  She can no longer read or write and she is not able to handle her own money.  For the past several years, Kay has lived in a group home, first in Corpus Christi and most recently in Seguin.  Since Mother's death, Bylinda and I have shared responsibility for her care.  While dealing with Kay is sometimes a challenge, she brings a simple joy that is hard for others to understand.  Her sense of humor is wicked and pointed and she has the best memory of anyone I know.  She's almost like "Rain Man" about certain things.  She remembers names and birthdays and is never wrong.  She remembers the words to virtually every song she's ever heard.  She's a social butterfly at heart and loves to go anywhere, anytime, but she especially loves to be around family.  I learned patience and independence at an early age, thanks to Kay.  Her love for her family keeps us all connected in a way that we probably wouldn't be without her.

Bylinda was like our second Mom.  When we were kids, she kept us all in line.  As the oldest girl, Mom had high expectations for her.  She was expected to pick up the slack in tending to the younger kids and taking care of the house. I learned a lot of what I am from her. I learned about how women need to help each other and take care of each other from Bylinda.  When I was confined to bed during my first pregnancy, she cleaned my house from top to bottom.  She always remembers to send cards for special occasions and she is an old-fashioned cook.  No one ever leaves her home hungry.  She's a font of knowledge about cooking.  You can call her for help and advice on any recipe.  My kids rarely leave her house without large quantities of food to take home and reheat.  She's everyone's "Aunt B" or "Ma Bo."  Seriously, some of my friends tell me they wish they had an Aunt B.  She goes out of her way to stay in touch with her friends and has several "little old ladies" that she checks on regularly.  Her house is the center of activity for friends and family.  She throws huge family gatherings with ease and style and always includes friends and neighbors.  She's one of the best friends I have.

Over the years we've been competitors, friends, counselors, fashion advisors, and sisters.  We are wives, mothers, aunts and friends, but before we were any of those, we were sisters.  Having three sisters to walk beside me has definitely made my life better.  I had a ready-made, built-in support system before I even knew what a support system was.  We tattled on each other, cried on each other's shoulders, borrowed each others clothes, shared recipes, shopped together, and lived together.  I regret that my daughter will not have that kind of relationship, but I wouldn't have gone through child birth again, not even to give her a sister.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Learning to Count

Grams is aware that she writes fairly frequently about Grandad's health problems and how frustrating they have been. I will admit that sometimes it just gets me down.

The day we spent this week at the Texas Heart Institute has reminded me that it's time to learn to count again. Sometimes this quest for diagnosis and cure has seemed never ending and I've forgotten to count my blessings.

One of my favorite hymns out of the old Baptist Hymnal that I grew up using at least three times a week is "Count Your Blessings." The words were written by Johnson Oatman, Jr. in 1897. I've always remembered this hymn and have turned to these words often on nights when I'm letting bad things roll around in my head and sleep is elusive. These words have helped me find comfort in many of the difficult times in my life. Somehow, counting my blessings always helps put things in perspective. Whether I was struggling with being the mother of teenagers, taking care of my aging parents, or problems on the job, I've found comfort in counting my blessings. It's kind of the same thing that Oprah advocated in encouraging her viewers to keep a gratitude journal. It helps put life back in the proper perspective.

I thought of this old hymn on Wednesday when we spent the day at the Texas Heart Institute only to end up being sent home to wait another week. Some of the people I met and saw while waiting that day reminded me how truly blessed we are. When we walked into the very first waiting room (there are many) Grams became immediately aware of the weariness and weight that many of the people in that room were carrying. It was clear that many of them had been there many times before and quite a few of them had already been there for a long time at 6 a.m.

A Mom and her daughter were sitting across from me. The daughter was the patient and she couldn't have been more than 15 years old. It was clear that this was a place they had been many times before and would probably be many more times, if they're lucky.

I met a woman who was there with her husband who was there for his ninth surgery on his heart. She definitely knew the routine and seemed resolved to waiting again and again if necessary.

The roommate Grandad had while being prepped that morning had already survived quintuple bypass surgery and was there to have a stint put in because his arteries had begun closing again.

Then came the last roommate of the day. When they first came in I thought it was a daughter and her much older father. It turned out that she was his wife and he wasn't old, he just looked that way. You see, six weeks ago he was healthy and robust. Then his heart was attacked by an unidentified virus and within a week it was only functioning at ten percent. Three weeks ago he received a heart transplant. Every week for the next six months, they will go in through his neck and cut out a small piece of his heart to biopsy it. He told us it was no big deal. I was in awe as the nurse reviewed his medicines and his instructions and emphasized how important it is for him to carry the medicine everywhere he goes for the rest of his life. Something as simple as a flat tire or a missed bus could result in heart failure and/or death if he misses even one dose of his medicine.

I wasn't able to get the story of the most intriguing person I saw that day because the hospital is adamant about protecting patient privacy. It was a middle-aged woman who was wheeled past the doorway during our wait. She was coming out of the cath lab after having a procedure on her own heart and she was lying on the gurney wearing a hospital gown and a pair of black patent-leather high-heel shoes. I asked several nurses to see if anyone knew the story and couldn't find out anything.  But I know there's a story there. I think it was her own way of saying "I will survive!" And I must say, I like her style!

All of these stories, and the hundreds of others whom I didn't meet or see have helped to remind me that as bad as Grandad's health problems have been, it could always be worse. We are truly blessed and I'm reminding myself again today to count my blessings.
When upon life's billows
You are tempest tossed
When you are discouraged
Thinking all is lost
Count your many blessings
Name them one by one
And it will surprise you
What the Lord has done

Are you ever burdened
With a load of care
Does the cross seem heavy
You are called to bear
Count your many blessings
Every doubt will fly
And you will be singing
As the days go by

Count your blessings
Name them one by one
Count your blessings
See what God has done
Count your blessings
Name them one by one
Count your many blessings
See what God has done
Grams is counting her blessings today and hoping you will too.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Patience is a Virtue

Grams and Grandad spent the last two days at St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital in Houston.  Tuesday was spent with Grandad having a TEE Scan and a CT Scan in preparation for a Cardiac Ablation on Wednesday.  

Yesterday we had to be at the hospital at 6 a.m.  That meant a 4:30 wake up and a drive across Houston.  We were cautioned that if we were late they would give Grandad's spot to someone else and we would have to wait until later in the day.  We arrived at St. Luke's right on time and were directed to the Denton Cooley Building of the Texas Heart Institute.  A quick ride up the "green elevators" and we emerged into the intake waiting room on the cardiac catheter floor.  The first thing I noticed were several people who looked like they'd already been there a while.  Remember, at this time is was 6 a.m.  Grandad signed in and they immediately took him back into an intake area to check his vitals.  I took a seat to begin my wait.  After just a few minutes Grandad emerged and we were assigned a room and escorted to it.

Another short wait and a nurse arrived to review medical history.  Before she even finished, someone else arrived and began "prepping" him for the procedure.  These prep rooms are tiny and hold two beds.  They were obviously originally designed as single-bed hospital rooms.  We were in this room for about 30 minutes and then Grandad was wheeled into the Cath Lab and I was escorted to another waiting room.

I was particularly struck by how thoroughly everyone in the hospital made sure Grandad knew what procedure he was going to have and that he responded with the same procedure they had on their paperwork.  At every step along the way, every person he interacted with asked the question and compared his answer with their paperwork.  They were very thorough.

After they took him in to the Cath Lab, a nurse came out told me they were beginning and gave me a password that could be used by family members to access information about Grandad.  No one would get info without that password.

At this point I left the waiting room, went down to the cafeteria and ate breakfast, then went in search of coffee.  I walked through the Texas Children's Hospital and emerged in the center of the medical center on Fannin Street.  I crossed the street and the railroad tracks and got my usual order from Starbucks.  I was probably gone 30-45 minutes all told.

When I walked back in, another waiting wife told me that a nurse had been looking for me.  I immediately thought to myself "probably not good news," but I took a seat and began to wait again.  It was just a few minutes before they rolled him out and called me over.  The nurse explained that his blood was too thin, they were going to start an IV drip of Vitamin K and attempt the procedure again at 2 p.m.  They took him back to another small room and told me to wait there with him, the doctor had been paged and would be in to talk to me.  Then we really began waiting.   At this point, I called my kids, explained to them that the procedure had been postponed until 2 o'clock and told them to get some sleep.  Katy and Travis had driven in from San Antonio after she got off work at 9 o'clock and Nick had waited up for them.  I knew they needed some sleep.

We waited and no one came in and hung the bag of Vitamin K.  After an hour I went to the nurses station and asked about it.  I explained that I didn't want to be a nag, but we were on a tight time schedule with the doctor hoping to perform the procedure at 2 o'clock.  They sent in the charge nurse who told me that they were still waiting for it to come up from the pharmacy. Then, literally about two minutes later a nurse came in and hung the bag.  The doctor still did not come, so we waited.

At 1:30 the surgical nurse came in and drew blood to test it again.  Around 2:15 the doctor finally came to talk to us.  He explained that he could do the procedure but he would not be comfortable because Grandad's blood was still too thin.  He explained that, while the risk is small, it's higher than he likes.  If Grandad started to bleed out during the procedure after having both blood thinners and vitamin K, the only thing he would be able to give him is frozen blood plasma which would increase the risk of clotting.  Blood clots are the number one risk of this procedure.  A blood clot would almost certainly lead to a stroke.  The doctor indicated that he would prefer to adjust Grandad's medicines and wait until next week for the procedure.  But he left the ultimate decision up to us.  If we said go, he would perform the procedure.

Grandad and Grams had a quick huddle.  This was a difficult decision.  We live three and a half hours away and Grandad had already taken off work.  But most of all he had already waited a month to get on the doctor's schedule.  During that month, he felt horrible most of the time.  He would have preferred to go ahead with the procedure in spite of the higher risk just to get it done and start feeling better.  I preferred to err on the side of caution.  I really wished my kids had been there to join the discussion, but I knew in my heart that they would feel the same way I did.  So the decision was made; we will wait.

We are comfortably ensconced in a bedroom at Nick and Marie's beautiful home in Northeast Houston and here we'll stay until next Wednesday, when we'll repeat our early morning drive to the hospital.  He's on the schedule again for 6 a.m.  Hopefully, we'll get a different outcome next time.

As my good friend Diane reminded me, "Patience is a virtue" and "If at first you don't succeed ..."

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Grams Made Chicken Spaghetti

When Grams was growing up, my mom used to make a dish she called Chicken Spaghetti.  It's an understatement to say I was not fond of it.  I hated it so much that I pretty much refused to eat it.  Since then, just the mention of Chicken Spaghetti makes my appetite disappear.  I'm 55 years old and I haven't eaten Chicken Spaghetti in at least 40 years.  That's how much I didn't like it. 

Last week at my book club, the hostess announced that she made Chicken Spaghetti.  I was kind of stricken with fear at the thought of eating it.  I really didn't expect to like it, but it was delicious.  I liked it so much that I came home, looked up the recipe, and made it myself just two days later. 

This is a Paula Deen recipe.  Her recipe called for 3 1/2 cups of cooked chicken and a teaspoon of salt.  I used a rotisserie chicken and I omitted the salt.  Be aware that this makes 10-12 generous servings.  This is going to be my new "go to" dish for pot luck dinners. 

2 Tablespoons butter
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
1 (14-ounce) can chicken broth
1 (10.75-ounce) can cream of mushroom soup (reduced sodium)
1 (10.75-ounce) can cream of chicken soup (reduced sodium)
1 (10-ounce) can diced tomatoes with green chilies, drained
1 (4.25-ounce) can chopped black olives, drained
1 (4-ounce) jar sliced mushrooms, drained
½ cup sour cream
1 rotisserie chicken, de-boned and torn into small pieces
2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
1 (16-ounce) package angel hair pasta, cooked according to package directions
¾ cup Panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
1 tablespoon butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350. Spray a 13x9-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. In a large skillet, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add onion and celery; cook for 4 to 5 minutes, or until vegetables are tender.

If your skillet is big enough add broth, soups, tomatoes, olives, mushrooms and sour cream. Stir in chicken and cheese. Add pasta, tossing gently to coat. Spoon mixture into prepared baking dish.  (If your skillet is not big enough, use a big mixing bowl.)

In a small bowl, combine bread crumbs and melted butter. Sprinkle evenly over casserole. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until hot and bubbly. Serve immediately.