Thursday, November 29, 2012

At the Zoo

Sometimes I wonder ...

who's watching who.

Amanda xx

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Four-Point-Five Years

I just rewrote my cancer page, and thought you might like to hear what I've got to say. It's 4 1/2 years now, and I've got fresh views on the matter, and I look at these photos my friend Juanita took and they shake me like a thunderclap. In a good way. 

Remembering is better than forgetting, it keeps my heart moving in the right direction. 
Amanda xx

I wanted to write a page about breast cancer because I never in a million lifetimes thought it would happen to me.

And then, it did. 

I was 31 when I was diagnosed, young and healthy. I'd just picnicked away my first real-mother Mother's Day with Robbie and Nelle, who was 8 months old and cheek-pinchingly delicious. One doctor had already told me not to worry too much about the lump in my breast. I was breastfeeding, after all. I used to run marathons.

But I did worry, and got a second opinion - and so it began. The mammogram | the ultrasound | the biopsy | the diagnosis | the tears | the surgery | the waiting | the bone scan | the CT scan | the prognosis | the chemotherapy | the needles | the poison | the infertility | the baldness | the fatigue | the radiation | the sore skin | the menopause | the tamoxifen | the uncertainty | the check ups | the MRI scans | the oophorectomy ...

The closing of some doors and opening of others.

Ha. Maybe you think I'm joking, but breast cancer has opened doors, and defined me, in unexpected ways. I'm not going to say that it was the greatest thing ever to happen to me {because it wasn't - it was shit}, or that it was worth it for all I learned {because I was blissfully happy being immortal}. But I have learned from cancer, I have gained from it.

I met lovely friends - some of whom are gone now, and deeply missed; I acquired the ability to say no, without feeling guilty; I reconsidered my career path, and found a new direction that's truer to my priorities; I no longer live like I'm immortal; I take care of myself; I don't wait around to do things; I try to gain as many experiences as possible; and I Love. With a capital L.

Four-point-five years out, I still think about cancer in some form or another every day. I think about dying; I drink a glass of wine and then feel guilty about it; a glance at my daughter makes me teary; I scan medical research for treatments or prognoses or ideas and email my oncologist.
I'm like that. It's my traitorous body.

Sometimes, these days, I get meditative ... and mortality seems more natural, more ok. It happens to all of us - we become particles of the world around us again, and that's pretty fucking cool. I'm just not ready to go through cancer again - my daughter's only just starting school, I'm only just starting my post-doc | real-job | freelance writing life.

So to quench my doubts, I have another prophylactic - a workout, a cup of green tea, a tamoxifen, a cuddle, an oophorectomy - and give recurrence the virtual finger.

I guess what I really want to say is that it's important to get your own Self checked out, when you feel like something | anything might be wrong. Close your eyes and listen. Cancer in younger women is often overlooked, mis-diagnosed; and tends to be faster-growing and more aggressive, so it's even more important to detect it early. And though us girls are collectively busy - trying to start careers and have babies and suffer through dates and god-knows-what-we're-up-to - we have to get ourselves checked out.

Pinky promise you will.

Anyway, don't be sad, or scared. I'm not. Everything's going to be ok, I know that. I'll spread my little dandelion seeds into the world and then move on, just like we all do. I'm just going to hang around here till I'm old and gray and getting told off by my grandchildren for doing too much. 

Till then, as far as I'm concerned, cancer can fuck off.
Amanda xx

PS. If you'd like to check out the photoessay my talented friend Juanita created {including these and more photos}, or some of the other articles about cancer in young women, I've created a page here.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Christmas Gift Ideas | New Years Trends

The turkey's been carved and gravied and made into soup; the sales have been shopped; and it's officially Christmas season. Here are a few Christmas gift ideas to get you thinking ... 

1. Who says print is dead? There's a magazine revival happening, friends, halleluiah and amen. Yes, yes, you can get your magazine fix electronically, but why? Buy a real-live subscription to thumb through at your favourite coffee shop.
These are my picks - offering beautiful images, clever writing, and peeks through the windows of inherently inspiring people:  

2. Express who you are ... or who you want to be ... with a little independent art. This is the year to make your laptop purty; dress that empty wall in the dining room; send real, handwritten letters to friends.
Here are my fave places to buy art straight from the artist:
society6 | Etsy | 500px

3. And, on that note, handmade stuff rocks too. I love the idea of being crafty, but when it comes to handmade hair clips for my niece? I'd have to set my wine down. And we can't have that.
These are the sites I go to:
Etsy | madeit

4. Ah, but I'm willing to put down my drink to make food. Ironic, don't you think? This is the time of year to fill up jars and tins and cello bags with love; to share a recipe you adore; to say - hey, look, I made this for you because you're awesome! Just don't overcommit yourself - make stuff that's cost-effective, or uses up market-fresh produce, or that you can do in large batches. Or just head down to your favourite roasters and wrap up some quality coffee.
Some of my gifting goodies:
biscotti | loaves | cookies | jam | citrus curds | awesome coffee

5. I love print, I do; but I also love short, sweet ebooks that make you think. Books resistant to distraction; that teach something, even from the viewpoint of a goat; that can be picked up and devoured on an airplane or while your child watches Angelina Ballerina for the hundredth time.  
These are some of the best I read this year:
Midnight's Tale | Wool | The Heart of Haiku | Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives | Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative

6. And finally, for those you love best of all, the gift of silence ... headphones not included. These last few years, I've really embraced the audiobook - especially when traveling. The best audiobooks - in my opinion - are those that can be shared and enjoyed as a whole family, snuggled on the couch in front of a woodfire. Or your next roadtrip.
I recommend these beautifully-narrated classics:
Peter Pan | A Bear Called Paddington | 101 Dalmatians | The Wizard of Oz

So here you are! A few of my favourite things to share for Christmas, fa la la la la,
Amanda xx 

Friday, November 16, 2012

More Pie | Less Sadness

A couple weekends ago, we ate pie. This, in itself, is not momentous, but the fact we sampled something like 10 different pies is. We sat on the grass, surrounded by cool-looking people with big shades and shoulder tattoos and sugar-crazed kids. On our plates, ice cream melted over bananas foster pie, dripping into the creamy spaces between soft, caramelised bananas.

And if you think that sounds suggestive, or provacative, I say: 
hell yeah.

This is an annual event, the Pie Social and Croquet Tournament - and an excellent reason to find yourself in downtown Phoenix on a Saturday afternoon in November. I didn't see much croquet happening, but maybe that happens when all the pie is gone and everyone either gets up and starts moving again or melts into the grass between the plastic forks and dribbled apple filling.

Pie on its own is good.
But it's even better when you share it with friends and strangers, in the sunshine, 
with live music.
Amanda xx

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Artichoke Flowers and Grown-Up Wings

This morning, I woke up early. The house hummed quietly; light peeked in through gray clouds and white blinds. If I was silent enough, I could just reach my book without waking the others, pull the covers up close, and capture that dreamy, waking-up-moment all to myself. 
And then, I read this poem.

by Joseph Hutchison
O heart weighed down by so many wings

Such a simple line; but it woke me up instantly. This was me.

In these years after my PhD, I've done a lot of exploring within my own heart. Who am I? Who do I want to be? Somehow, after more than a decade of focused scientific training, it took a cluster of cancer to open me back up. And, over time, I've gained wings. I have a feeling now that I can do anything - I can write and make pictures and still be a scientist and a great mother and friend. I'm my 8 year old self again. I'm free.

But I'm not 8 anymore, and sometimes grown-up freedom is heavy; options can weigh on a heart. Can I do this, and still be that? Can I make choices, and then change my mind? Where the hell is this path taking me?

I guess the thing to remember about artichokes is this: left to their own devices, the heart develops into something more.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

pie and sadness

This morning as I drove into work, Nelle sat strapped into her flowery, big-girl car seat talking to Grammy and Grandpa. 

In her heart.

They've both died in recent years; Grandpa two years ago now ... a progressive and confused slide into darkness. I fear Nelle hardly remembers him now, the hours spent cuddling his bony figure on that oversized leather armchair. But she still talks to him.

When Grandpa was dying, I did my research. I wanted Nelle to feel the pain of his death, but in a way she could understand, deal with; I wanted her to feel close to him, even when his body lay under shovelfuls of suburban soil. So death, as we explained it, is when someone leaves their body - a body that's old or sick or badly hurt, that doesn't work anymore - and goes into the hearts of everyone who's loved them. We all get a piece of soul, to carry with us. 
A final gift. 

She was just 3, almost 3, when he left us. In death, he lay on a hospital bed - freshly made, for his passing. She wanted to see him, see his body. She brought a picture she drew and we tucked it under his cool, spindly fingers and he carried it with him. I'll never forget those moments of courage and compassion and sadness. 

We had another year and a half with Grammy. We took no moments for granted; we knew when it was happening, when those terrible irreverent cells overcame her. We weren't to make the same mistake again - she knew she was leaving; we knew she was leaving; we said our goodbyes. But, her leaving was a gouge that hasn't healed yet - I don't know if I even want it to. 

The drive this morning reminded me of remembering. How do we hold on and let go? Do I just keep picking open the hole in my chest, to avoid forgetting? To help my daughter remember? Or is it inevitable ... that one day, Grammy'll just be photographs and misremembered moments? I don't want that. For her, for him, for me.

Maybe that's what this is all about. Me. Knowing that one day, I'll die, too ... and fly quietly into the hearts of the people who've loved me ... to be remembered through photos and blog posts and newspaper clippings ...

Nelle sat behind me as the freeway slid by, talking quietly to Grammy and Grandpa in her heart, wishing every moment they were there in the flesh to read her stories and cuddle with her and play made-up games and feeling sadness that's both good and bad, and inexplicable. And I thought about my life and hers and hoped I was doing this right. All of it.

I want to hold my baby girl in my arms forever.
Amanda xx

Friday, November 9, 2012

Sea Salt and Other DIY Health-Store Goodies

Sometimes things are just better when you make them fresh. Yes, sea salt is sodium chloride - just like table salt; and maybe the trace minerals in salts don't amount to much in the quantities we consume. Maybe sea salt tastes better; maybe it's less-processed; maybe it has better 'mouth-feel'. People argue both ways. 

You know what? I don't really care. I like the idea that I can find myself a clean, unpolluted patch of ocean somewhere, collect some salty-slush or seawater, and make my own salt. With whatever pure, mineral goodness happens to exist in that stretch of blue.

But salt's just the beginning. There are a lot of 'health-store' goodies to be made - salts and sprinkles, chips and nutmilks. Stuff to enhance flavours and make a girl feel pretty damn industrious. Even if she's pulling stuff out of the archives.

Moral of the weekend?
Seek salt.
Amanda xx

1. Sea salt
Find a pristine stretch of ocean; collect sea water or slushy salt that's started to dry out in sunny rocky crevices; follow Ashley's recipe: lots of boiling, lots of straining, but lots of fun. Use for everything. I *have* actually done this. I just don't have pictures for you. Sorry.

Dry-toast sesame seeds {+ optional 2-3 Tbs pumpkin seeds} in a skillet over med heat until nicely browned. Grind with a few pinches of sea salt in a spice grinder, until finely powdered. Use on stir fries, plain rice, pasta - or anywhere you want a non-oily sesame flavour without losing all your seeds to the bottom of the pan. My original post is here.

I don't particularly like kale chips, but I do like kale ... and I know it's a kick-ass superfood, so my compromise is to buy lots of fresh organic kale at the market to make this sprinkle. I sprinkle it on salads, buttered pasta or rice, in soups, or whereever I feel the need for a dash of green. It's easy - just wash, dry, oil, bake, and crumble. My original post is here.

'Activating' nuts just means you soak them to remove some of the enzyme inhibitors; then you can eat them plump and soft, or you can {gently} re-dry them. I prefer the latter. Soak the nuts overnight {more or less, depending on the type}, then dry them with a clean tea towel and spread them across a baking tray. Bake in a low-temp oven for 6-24 hrs till dry and crisp-like. My original post is here.

5. Nut milk
While we're on the topic of nuts ... all you have to do to make amazing nut milk is add water and blend. Seriously. My favourite is cashew milk - made with equal portions toasted {but not salted} cashews and water, blended in a good-quality blender. I've used it for smoothies, soups, pancakes and ice cream - and if you want a real treat, cut down on the amount of water and you'll have cashew cream, a perfect companion for pumpkin pie. My original post is here.

6. Powdered zest
Last but not least, the sprinkles you've been waiting for. And if you haven't? It's because you didn't know they existed. This is how you honour thy citrus - by using every part of it, including the peel. Just under the surface is where all those fragrant oils reside, anyway. You don't want to waste them! Simply wash and dry your citrus; peel off the skins, trying to avoid any of the bitter white pith; dry out the peels in a warm oven {~60C | 120F} until they're crisp; grind them into a fine powder in a spice grinder. Store the powder in your cupboard for those 'doh' moments when you have a house full of hungry guacamole-seekers and not a lime in sight. Or to finish off a pasta dish. Or for vanilla ice cream. The world is truly your zest. My original post is here.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Baileys Affogato | Why You Should Always Travel With a Stovetop Espresso Maker

I must confess.

I travel with a stash of coffee, and a stovetop espresso maker. Even to remote Australian islands where I'm only allowed to check 12kg of luggage total. Even to the US, where I know I'm going home with a {leaden} suitcase of secondhand books. But hey - I've made beautiful espresso in fire-warmed sand on the beach; on gas cookers in mountain cabins; on fancy stoves and BBQs. I could even sustain myself for that pin-drop-quiet week between Christmas and New Years in my hometown in Iowa.

And here's why I do it. Life is too short for bad coffee. 
For bad anything, really. Remember that.

And this here recipe is pretty much all the excuse you need to buy yourself an espresso maker of some fashion - and then travel with it everywhere.

Happy Elections,
Amanda xx

Baileys Affogato

Affogato in Italian means drowned; though in this case it's a particularly wonderful kind of drowning. The kind that involves rich vanilla ice cream immersed in hot, dark coffee. And Baileys.

I'd be ok with drowning in Baileys.

The time
less than 10 minutes

The ingredients
1 shot (or 1/4 c) of espresso + 1 shot (or 1/4 c) of Baileys + 2 scoops organic vanilla ice cream per adult

NOTE: you can use regular or decaf espresso, and feel free to omit the Baileys if you wish. Chocolate or coffee ice cream would work here, too.

The process
1. Brew yourself some espresso. Set aside, but don't let it cool. It's nice to pour over hot.

2. Scoop yourself some ice cream, into a glass or mug.

3. Pour over the Baileys, then the coffee.

4. Serve straight away {with a spoon}, before the ice cream does any severe melting. Let your face acquire a pensive, dreamy look. Drown in contentment.

The cost
Does it matter? Not tonight.

The cost really depends on the quality of the coffee and the ice cream. I recommend locally-roasted organic coffee and ice cream that's made from ingredients like cream, eggs, sugar, and vanilla rather than xanthan gum and other filler | thickener ingredients.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Train to Writesville | Pre- New Year's Resolutions |

There have been a lot of things inspiring me lately ... but sadly, cooking hasn't been one of them. I don't know what it is ... or maybe ... I do.

I'm on a train to writesville. 

PS. I know this is not a train.

For years now, I've been looking up the empty track; watching tumbleweeds; playing with my new old camera and buying fresh fine-point pens and untainted notebooks. Afraid the train won't come. Afraid it will. Afraid of where I'll end up. Afraid of going nowhere. But I've done it. I've committed to this dark and dusty route. Hello, future. Here I come. I'm a writer, damn it.

Progressively, I've felt my brain open back up after all those years of blinding focus | on tadpoles and temperature and my own ego |. I've started to see things again in the world around me, and I feel intensely that I want to share these things with you. With everyone out there. 

So I'm writing. Writing queries to magazines I love. Writing articles for magazines I love. Writing on this blog. Taking notes for that novel that's been hanging out in the back of my head for no fewer than 4 years. Reading a shitload of magazines and filling my notebooks with words.

This is a time for me to pare away some of the other stuff - the blogs I'm not committed to, the skin care products that - really - I want you all to want to make for yourself. Because you can. And it's best that way.

Don't worry, Easy Peasy Organic will still be here. This is my happy place, after all. You all make it that way! But I might not always give you recipes. Sometimes I might just share my inspirations; or photos. No pressure. I know you'll enjoy the ride with me!

Have a lovely rest of your week, friends,
and we'll talk soon.
Amanda xx