Saturday, December 17, 2011

Lots of Joy Cake

I have a lot to celebrate right now.  I have a lot of love and joy in my life, and I feel like the cake in this post reflects that: Almond Joy Cake.

The semester is officially over.  I survived my Psychopathology final.  I survived my first colonoscopy.  I am feeling better.  I have amazing friends that love me and took excellent care of me.  This is the first finals period of my college career where my eating disorder did not relapse.  All of my grad school applications and letters of recommendation are in and officially out of my hands.  I had a best friend night/day complete with a romantic comedy, cheesecake, a sleepover, shopping, and hot chocolate martinis.  I went to a Zumba Fitness® master class this morning taught by the queen of Zumba herself, Tanya Beardsley.  I am going to Florida a week from today for a vacation with my mom and younger sister.  See?  Lots of joy.

Another reason to celebrate is that one of my closest friends at Wesleyan had a birthday on Thursday.  Emily is a very important person in my life, so she deserved an extra special cake.  Lying in bed the night before, I was thinking about what combination of flavors I could put together that I hadn't already tried, and I started thinking of candy flavors.  That's when it hit me: Almond Joy Cake!  I know, it's been done before, it's not that exciting, but it's new territory for me, so I chose it.

Unfortunately, Thursday was the day I was prepping for my colonoscopy, was on a clear liquids only diet, and after taking the pills, I was really not feeling well and couldn't finish it, so I filled and frosted it when I got back from my procedure on Friday.  Friday was the birthday of two very important men in my life, and unfortunately, neither of them are still with us.  My best friend, Kurtis, was supposed to turn 22, and my grandfather would have turned 78.  Being able to assemble and frost a cake on their birthday was very cathartic for me.  It was almost like I was making the cake for them, too.

Almond Joy Cake
Recipe adapted from here.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Special Cookies for Special People

I have been dreaming about chocolate cookies for about 2 months now.  I have been baking up a storm and just never found the time to make these.  There were always birthday cakes to bake and things to do for other people.  Well, I still haven't found the time to bake for me, but I finally made my chocolate cookies on Wednesday night.

My friend, Emma, and I were TAs for BIO 131: Service Learning at Connecticut Valley Hospital.  This was our first experience as TAs, and we really loved our students.  We wanted to thank them for a wonderful semester, so we threw them a little study break party with cookies, tea, and lots of gummy peach rings that Emma's housemates commandeered while drunk.  I had been waiting for a very special occasion to make these cookies, and decided that dessert after a dinner with three of my dearest friends and then the study break with our students were the perfect events to warrant their chocolatey glory.  My friends and I made the cookies and dinner simultaneously, so they were really just thrown together.  I also had to use my terrible nonstick cookie sheets, which resulted in burned bottoms.  I really have to throw those things out...

Brownie-like Chocolate Chocolate Chunk Cookies
Recipe adapted from The Cookie Bible

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sharing Sugary Love

I am still sick, and therefore still grumpy.  My lower back hurts and my tummy is uncomfortable.  I just sat through a terrible review session for our Psychopathology final, and now I'm even grumpier.

I am in such a bad mood, even baking couldn't fix it.  Earlier today, I was part of a collective effort to make about 200 cookies.  Wesleyan's chapter of Active Minds, an organization to change the conversation about mental health issues on campus, decided to bake cookies for people during finals week.  We made around 200 cookies (chocolate chip, iced sugar, and vegan oatmeal raisin).  We are going to put each one in a baggie with a little positive note and stress-relief tip, and then pass them out to people in the libraries.  As much as I love this idea and as much as I love baking, this project may have been a little too much for my fragile body to handle, and now I just feel worse than ever.

Iced Sugar Cookies
Recipe adapted from Better Homes and Gardens New Baking Book
*Yield: about 6 dozen cookies.  Cut the recipe in half if you are not baking for a large crowd.*

Friday, December 9, 2011

Roscón de Reyes

Well, there are still no updates on my medical issues.  Everything is about the same.  I still have horrible low back pain, abdominal discomfort, and now my dizziness is back.  We still don't have a diagnosis, but will hopefully move closer to that when I finally get an appointment with a G.I. specialist next week.

In the mean time, I'm trying to keep up with everything as best I can.  I still have a ton of school work to do, meetings to attend, Zumba® to teach, and friends to see.  Being a social butterfly is pretty difficult during finals, and almost impossible when you are this sick.  I am attempting to push the impossible by hosting a potluck dinner tonight with my friends from VWM Fall 2010 (my study abroad program in Madrid).

We normally try to make Spanish dishes, or as close as we can come to them, anyway.  Last time, I made Tarta de Santiago.  This time, I thought it would be fun to do some holiday-themed dishes.  I decided to mix holiday and Spain, and make the Spanish Roscón de Reyes, a sweet yeast bread normally eaten on January 6th, Día de los Reyes (Kings' Day).

Roscón de Reyes
Recipe adapted from here.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Diagnostic Discontent

The following is a long rant about my recent medical problems.  If you don't care and are just here for the cake, please scroll down.

****Medical Rant****
For those of you that have been paying close attention to my health, you know that things have been going really poorly for my body this year.  There was the anemia episode, the rolled ankle, the countless colds and viruses, the many reproductive system issues, cervical dysplasia, and all the fainting episodes.  Well, now I have more to add to the list.

For four weeks I have been feeling really miserable.  I'd had a sore throat, headache, swollen lymph nodes, fevers, chills, and fatigue on and off for 3 weeks.  Last week I started getting really dizzy and almost passed out on several occasions.  After some coaching from my boss, (who is like my stand-in dad at school), I decided to go to the health center last Thursday.  I went in for flu-like symptoms, and they diagnosed me with a serious kidney infection.  Once they put me on an antibiotic, I started getting really dizzy and developed serious lower back pain.  They gave me a follow-up appointment the next day, and saw that my bacteria levels went down, and assumed that the antibiotics were working.  I was in bed pretty much for four days straight.  I found out 4 days later that they were wrong in the kidney infection diagnosis, and once I stopped the antibiotic, the dizziness went away, but the back pain did not.  They decided to do some blood work to test for a few viruses on Monday.

I patiently awaited the results until yesterday, but the pain was so bad I decided to give the health center a call.  I was told that the results still weren't in, but they could give me an appointment the next morning if I was OK to wait until then, and I agreed.  Half an hour later, I was NOT OK, and was crying on my floor in pain.  I finally had my wonderful friend, Annika, accompany me to the emergency room.  It's not that I was unhappy with the health center, the two doctors I'd been seeing were great, but I wanted to be somewhere that had the machines and equipment necessary to do some real tests. 

We were told it was going to be a 2-3 hour wait, so I let Annika go back to campus.  It's finals time and everyone is extremely busy, so no one really has time to just wait around in medical offices with me.  When I was finally seen, I was told that I had mono again, and that my back pain was probably just a pulled muscle.  I argued with the doctor and nurses and told them I didn't believe either diagnosis, but realized I wasn't going to get anywhere.

I went to my health center appointment this morning, and the doctor told me that all my blood work was normal.  The hospital lab technicians were just incompetent and didn't realize that they were seeing the old mono in my system from two years ago.  Luckily, the health center doctor believed my pain and sent me back to the hospital for CT scans.  I drove myself over there, did the scans, and was back in time to go to class and take an exam.  Awesome.

After my exam I went BACK to the health center for the thousandth time.  The only thing my scans showed was inflammation and swelling in my small intestine.  They have no idea what's causing this, so now I have to see a G.I. specialist for, you guessed it, more tests!  Luckily the doctor was finally able to prescribe me something that would keep me comfortable.  The 550mg Naproxen she gave me earlier today didn't touch the pain, and since I am allergic to the intermediate pain medications, we had to move to straight narcotics.  She wrote me a script for codeine, but unfortunately no pharmacy in Middletown has it in stock.  Go figure.  Then I had to drive back to the health center to get another script, and now I am taking Oxycodone.  Yay!  It did a lot for my pain, but unfortunately didn't do anything for my discomfort/feelings of puffiness in my abdomen.  Oh well, I'm grateful for some improvement!

Anyway, I'm sure you're sick of reading about my issues.  I just really needed to vent somewhere.  I'll get to the cake now.

This year is Wesleyan's third year of Relay for Life.  Two years ago, in our first year, there were really just three of us that put the whole show together.  It was Emma, Ann, and myself: the three musketeers.  Last year when I went abroad and then had all my family and personal issues, Emma and Ann really carried the torch and picked up my slack.  Now, Emma is going abroad to Copenhagen next semester, and Ann and I are both seniors.  We decided we wanted to do a little something for Emma to say thank you for all she's done for Relay, and to say goodbye, since we won't see her again because we're graduating.  Of course, I always say everything with food, so I decided to bake a cake.

Unfortunately my medical instability didn't leave me with a lot of time or energy to bake, so I really had to just throw it together.  I wasn't very creative with the recipe.  I decided chocolate was easiest and since I was in the holiday spirit, I would just jazz up the frosting with a little peppermint.  I made the cake Tuesday night to soothe my frustrations with my body, and decided I'd frost it Wednesday before our meeting.  Unfortunately, I wasn't planning on ending up in the ER on Wednesday.  The whole time I was sitting on the bed waiting I was thinking, "hurry up people!  I have a cake to frost!"

As soon as I got back from the ER I got to work making the frosting and threw the cake together.  It's not the prettiest thing I've ever made, but for a throw-it-together-because-I-don't-feel-well-and-have-no-time cake, I think it turned out alright.

Devil's Food Cake with Peppermint Buttercream
Recipe adapted from Better Homes & Gardens New Baking Book