Category Archives: Baking
My mother, in her infinite wisdom, has always said that people will come and go in your life in times when you need them most.
If you really think about who your friends were during certain stages of your life, it’s true. For whatever reason, the universe sends them your way for a period of time, and even if you’re not the best of friends forever and ever, you still appreciate them being there for at least a little while.
Then there’s friends who were always there, but life suddenly makes them even more important. Things like having babies or going through break-ups really allow these people to step up to the plate for you. You appreciate the universe more than ever for sending them your way.
Ever since my cancer diagnosis, I’ve had a lot of friends like that. Real life friends who are by my side when I need some girly hang outs. The kind of friends who are more like family and know me well beyond my diagnosis. Then there’s online friends. Yes, online friends! The ones who I can e-mail or text about anything at any time of day and I know they’ve got my back somewhere on this big continent of ours.
There’s also new “cancer friends” I am making through the magic of the internet. Those who have been or are going through the trenches with me. Who send an e-mail saying “yeah, the side effects from that drug are awful,” and they just get it.
And then there is a friend like Kayla, who I’ve been connected to for years now, and suddenly find myself connecting with now on a weekly, sometimes daily basis. We no longer live in the same city, but she was the first one I told about my cancer diagnosis.
You see, I knew she’d understand.
When Kayla went through cancer and chemotherapy three years ago, I was horrified. For so many reasons. She had been trying for a baby, but instead ended up on chemo. I wrote about her experience, which you can read here.
It’s clear to me now why Kayla is still in my life. The universe knew I’d need to keep her around.
So what does this have to do with cake?
Well, when she came to visit me over the weekend, I had to make her something! Kayla is a Newfoundlander with an, ahem, “picky” sense of taste. But she is a girl who knows what she likes, and lemon cake with white frosting is what she has every year for her birthday. Lucky for me, her birthday is next week, so I got to bake her a cake!
The base of the cake is this Martha Stewart recipe. When it comes to things like cakes, I know I can never go wrong with Martha.
I made a few slight changes. I didn’t include a layer of frosting in the middle because I was too lazy to cut my cake in half. Next time though, I would include it!! My palate is a little off from chemo and I’m quite sensitive to sour and citrus flavours. I found the syrup that I soaked the cake in was a little strong, but everyone else who tried it said it’s what brought out a natural lemon flavour to the cake. The cake itself is dense like a pound cake, but soft and sticky because of the syrup soaked throughout.
Really though, the icing is the most important part here.
I made boiled icing!
I mentioned boiled icing in a previous post and was surprised by how many people commented they’d never heard of it. I’m sure there are variations of it you’ve probably tried, but perhaps my idea of traditional boiled icing is a regional thing?
I used this recipe from Zesty Cook because he’s a Maritimer, and if it is indeed a Maritime tradition then he’d know how to do it best.
Boiled icing is just made by reducing water, sugar, and corn syrup on the stove and mixing it with beaten egg whites. It results in a sweet, sticky, and incredibly fluffy icing that tastes just like marshmallow fluff. The Martha Stewart recipe recommended adding lemon juice to the icing, but I thought it made the whole thing too tart. Instead I stuck to the classic sweet version, and it offset the sourness in the cake wonderfully.
As for Kayla and I, we had a great visit on Saturday, including an outing for lunch. There is no doubt she is a cancer superhero after her ordeal, but even more amazing is that she produced one healthy, super-smart baby boy shortly after treatment. And get this – is now pregnant with twins!
The universe certainly works in mysterious ways, and I’m happy Kayla now has an excuse to eat cake for three.
This week has not been the best of weeks. And by that I mean I’ve kind of been an emotional wreck.
I don’t know what it is. Maybe because I’m now seven weeks from first hearing the C-Word and the news is really starting to sink in. Maybe it’s because my hair started falling out. Or maybe exhaustion is just getting the best of me.
I’ve kind of been a loose canon, anything can set me off crying. I’ve had to stop reading the obituaries in the paper every day. I walked passed a funeral home the other day and teared up at the sight of a full parking lot. I also broke down after trying, and miserably failing, at contacting Microsoft about a program I own. That one involved big messy sobs with lots of snot and tears. Stupid Microsoft.
There’s also chemo brain. Such a thing really does exist. Chemotherapy affects your cognitive function and ohboy am I ever losing it. Small chunks of my day sometimes go missing and I have absolutely no recollection of them, even after people fill me in. I mix up my words when speaking. I can’t follow long explanations. I have a really hard time deciding on things to do.
So when an opportunity to take a day trip to Saint John arose, I jumped on it. It sounded like just the small adventure I needed to boost my spirits and have some fun without the sickness getting in the way of it all.
(Driving photo recreated from last week) My sister and I were able to see our grandparents who I haven’t seen in over a year! And I got to see some old friends!
Tina and I met up at Relish, a specialty burger joint found throughout the Maritimes. She’s recovering from reconstructive surgery on her ankle so we had fun exchanging hospital war stories about everything from changing IV sites to coming out of anaesthesia. She always makes me laugh!
I finally got that Relish Burger I’ve been craving like a madwoman since being in the hospital. But it was hard to pick from their menu!
The Greek Tycoon – crumbled feta cheese, marinated bell peppers and onions, kalamata olives, tzatziki sauce. So far this is my favourite Relish burger. The creamy tzatziki-feta mixture paired with the beef patty and signature soft poppyseed bun was perfection!
Saint John, New Brunswick is this stinky port city most well known for its oil refinery. The weather is always colder and without fail the fog rolls in at 6pm making it impossible to see. With all that said, it was quite pleasant wandering around the downtown and spotting some of the city’s finer points.
We later hit up Britt’s Pub & Eatery for some of the best pub food I’ve had in a while. You can tell the people at Britt’s take pride in what they serve.
I was still full from the burger, so just had half a club on a homemade grilled flatbread with thick chicken breast, thick sliced cheese, crispy bacon, and sweet mayo.
Also at the table was a tasty spinach salad with blueberries, apples, pecans, and fried goat cheese.
And a spicy pulled pork quesadilla!
All finished off with a few bites of homemade apple pie.
Made in house by one of the owner’s mothers. Flaky crust, tart apples, yeah, it was good.
Now I am completely exhausted from my day trip, but the small escape was totally worth it. Sometimes as a cancer patient, I can feel like I’m living in a bubble. The kind of sterile bubble where things revolve around fast growing cells and their treatment. The kind of bubble where I can’t hug people, where my outings are to the hospital, and my dayplanner is filled with drug schedules. Even though I had to brush my teeth in restaurant washrooms, and give myself shots in the back of a (clean) parked car, it was still nice to take a step outside the bubble and be with those who see me as more than just a “sick person.”
And this time, with no tears.
Yesterday I stepped on the scale for the first time since being discharged from the hospital. Over the four weeks I was in hospital, I lost around 7 lbs. Not an unhealthy amount for the time I was in there, but a lot for a person who spent the majority of their days lying in bed. The nurses and doctors weren’t concerned. When you have cancer, weight loss happens. Yesterday I noticed I’d lost even more weight, bringing my total up to 10 lbs. And I’ve been eating a lot since being discharged!
I’d been trying to shed a few spare pounds for months. One would think this would come as a pleasant side effect of being in the hospital and on chemo. But it’s not. I don’t want to lose weight. I am terrified of looking sickly.
Over the years, I have worked really hard at improving my self-image. Throughout my original weight loss and efforts to eat well and exercise more, I really learned to love and appreciate my body. Even when I gained some of that weight back, I could still look in the mirror and like who was looking back at me. Not a lot of women can do that, and that ability was one of the qualities I was most proud of. It took many years to get to that point.
But cancer has thrown my self-image for a bit of a loop. I’ve learned it is one thing to look out of shape, and something entirely different to look in the mirror and see a legitimately sick person looking back at you. Thinning hair, tired eyes, dull skin, shallow cheeks. That is an image I am not ready to deal with.
Mind you, after only two weeks into treatment, I definitely don’t look sick. Hell, I probably won’t ever look that sick. Because, you know, the cancer is shrinking, and I am technically getting better.
This will certainly be a new challenge for me. To learn to love my body even when it’s full of bruises from the needles and blood thinners. Even when my nails are flaking, my skin is dry, and the inside of my mouth has sores. To still want to treat it well when the room is spinning and it feels like someone is taking a jackhammer to my skeleton. To still appreciate everything my body does for me, even when the cells inside insist on growing at a rapid and deadly rate.
Never did I think I’d be upset to watch the scale go down when I once tried so hard to fit into my skinny jeans. It’s hard to resist from thinking that my body has failed me, even after all the work I put into it. But really, it’s all just a learning process of how to work with it, and still love my body despite all it’s been through. I can’t say I’ve tackled this hurdle entirely yet, but do know that I don’t plan on giving up on it.
This is why one of my big goals for the month of August is to increase my level of physical activity. Walking, light indoor cycling, stretching, light strength training. Nothing strenuous, but all things that will help my body prepare and stay strong for treatments. The other goal is to get dressed, do my hair, and put on make-up as often as possible. Even though I technically can, I prefer not to lay around in my peejays all day.
And just to prove to you that I am still eating well, behold, my Monday dinner:
That would be Spanish rice with chicken and veggies, and homemade cornbread with cheddar cheese. Who knows what sort of cravings I’ll have after my second chemo treatment today, so I wanted to make sure I got a good meal in beforehand.
For the Spanish rice, I used this recipe as the base. I also added smoked paprika, garlic scapes, broccoli, beans, leftover roast chicken, and subbed some of the rice out for quinoa.
Now, let’s talk about the cornbread.
I’ve been looking for a good cornbread recipe for a while. Most of them are too sweet for my taste. Many recommend adding creamed or frozen corn, but honestly, I don’t like the whole corn kernels in the bread. Others just have too much flour.
Instead I followed this recipe from Chef Michael Smith. I not only love him because he’s a Food Network host based out of the Maritimes, but also because none of his recipes have ever steered me wrong. Instead, this recipe has you cook the cornmeal in a milk mixture first. No flour, just a bit of brown sugar, and no clumps of vegetables. It was perfection!!! Oh, and clearly I made it in a loaf pan as opposed to a cast iron skillet.