Monday, March 8, 2010

Panko Before You Go Go

I have been fantasizing of home. I have been fantasizing of eating at home. I want Panko Shrimp. Craig’s Panko Shrimp are crispy, salty, sweet protein and the whole family adores them. We remain relatively civilized about sharing the platter of perfect, golden shrimp, but it is easy to imagine one or all of us getting covetous and it getting ugly. Soon, as the girls grow and I just get more rotund, Craig will need to increase his volume.

Hospital food smells are metallic, boiled, neither salty nor sweet, not hot or cold. Sometimes when I look at Colby's tray it is a shock. There is no healing in this food, there is not anything alive or delicious in it anywhere.

Bound to this ward for as long as Colby needs to be here, I am sustained by remembering the tastes and smells of home. Panko Shrimp was the last meal Craig made before we left for this epic, long hospital stay. It is so, so delicious. I can't wait til we share it again.


1 lb medium-large shrimp. peeled with tails left on.
canola oil
3 large eggs
all purpose flour
a scattering of parsley leaves
black pepper
sansho pepper

While heating about 2 " on Canola oil over medium -high heat in a 12" cast iron skillet, prepare three bowls with the following:
Bowl 1 about 1/3 cup flour seasoned with salt, black pepper and sansho.
Bowl 2 3 eggs, well beaten
Bowl 3 about 1 1/2 cups panko

Holding a shrimp by the tail, dip in the flour and shake of excess. Next dip in the eggs again, shaking off excess. Last roll in the panko, pressing the crumbs into the shrimp. Repeat with all the shrimp letting them sit on a platter as finished.
When oil is 350 degrees (or plunge a chopstick into the hot oil. If champagne-like bubbles immediately form around the chopstick, the oil is ready.
Not crowding skillet fry the shrimp in batches until golden (about 6 or so shrimp at a time for roughly 1 minute). Remove with a wire spider and drain on paper towels.
Scatter parsley leaves and sea salt on top if you like before serving. Serve with Shirachi mayo (see below) or garlic/ginger soy sauce.


shirachi to taste
1 or 2 salted anchovies, rinsed, filleted and finely chopped (optional)

Mix and use as a dipping sauce for shrimp.


to taste:
soy sauce
1-3 cloves of garlic finely chopped
about an inch or so of fresh ginger. Peeled and grated to a paste.
Mix ingredients well.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Home Table, Hospital Table

March 1
Hospital Food
We have been in the hospital for most of February, and the beginning of March. Time drags and inevitably the days pass. Time here is marked by doctors’ rounds, medication schedule, and trays of highly processed room temperature food. The food is industrial, much of it arrives in plastic containers with foil, peel back lids.

Craig and I were relieved when we decided on the doctors in New York City, in part because of the food here. We can compensate, easily, brilliantly, for all that the hospital food lacks. We can ease the sadness and exhaustion of time here at the hospital with bowls of Pho in Chinatown. When Colby starts seizing, we know where to get the black beans and rice that she will always eat, no matter how bad she is feeling. And if we can saddle the kids onto our friends and family for an evening, we know a long dinner at Il Buco will help us connect with each other again, our romantic place that through the beautiful food and environment expands your hearts and focuses our attention. We know that no matter how unsettled two-year-old Coral feels, she will eat a plate of fried eggs from Shopsin’s.

Even on the nights we do have our family picnic dinners at the hospital, it is not anywhere near the conviviality of the table. In the curtained room we celebrate the moment, try to bring some normalcy and beauty in to a very stressful environment, but mostly we are compensating. Compensating for how divided we are physically, and how far we are from our regular, simple, wonderful routines of home, table, and community.

Here we are enduring. Enduring is hard. Enduring is tiredness and sadness and having to keep working, keep caring, keep loving. The food traditions of New York City help us to endure. But nothing compares to lighting the candles, putting your own cloth napkin on your lap and saying, “Cheers,” in the warm comfort of your home, around your table. Here we give thanks for the white containers of La Esquina rice and beans that make Colby shriek with delight, but we yearn for home.

Doubt, and After

February 23

We came into the recovery room and Colby was on the bed still asleep from anesthesia. She had tubes everywhere: IV’s in both arms, oxygen sensor on her foot, a catheter line, and one coming out of her already stained white bandage, draining blood from her brain and spine. I felt doubt take hold of my mind, felt it sink deep into my chest. Taking on this level of responsibility, making this choice for Colby it is impossible to feel right, to feel free from doubt. I do not know absolutely what is right.

I only know that her seizures are terrible and that when they are happening I feel willing, compelled to extraordinary measures like surgery. Now surgery has happened. She is on her bed recovering and my doubt is deafening.

From within this doubt there is a beacon: I feel thankful for Craig, thankful that we are facing this doubt, fear and worry together. This point of gratitude extends and becomes my more dominant focus as we sit here beside Colby’s bed. We hold hands, we gaze at her. Connecting with our love for eachother helps us feel something besides terror when we see how brutalized Colby looks from our efforts to help her. The soft gaze we have for each other helps us past our fear and look at Colby with the same softness.

We have been intermittently awful to eachother in the weeks leading up to this moment, to today. We were sulky, surly, overly sensitive, lashing out our deep fears and all the anger on each other. There is anger in both of us that we have a child who suffers, anger about all the ways that her suffering affect every choice we make.

But we have become really good at this together. There are hard times of anger and lashing out, and we get better at recovering from them. We find our love more easily every time we make it through a low period. The work we have done, therapy, giving each other breaks from the kids for our work, is evident here, now in this unimaginable moment of brain surgery on a child. Here by the bedside of our darling girl, I see how strong we have become.


February 21
In the late night I am looking at photographs of Colby the day before her first brain surgery: she is just out of the car after a five hour drive, she is ecstatic to run. She is running back and forth on the sidewalk, her long curls are bouncing. She is bathed in gold, evening light, she is smiling so broadly that the dimple in her cheek casts a shadow.

Today, this whole week, she is bound, literally, to her hospital bed. Long wires extend from the surface of her brain, through her scalp and into a machine that records her brain waves.

The photographs of Colby running serve as a portal back to that sunny sidewalk. Pictures help me remember those feelings again, the way a stone in your pocket from your favorite beach brings the ocean to you. These photos of an afternoon of simple, physical happiness help me believe, to feel, to know that we will get from here to there. Looking through these photos brings hope, encourages faith that we will again have ideal, golden, running afternoons.

Dinner for Two

February 14
We returned home to Ithaca from New York City on Valentines day. Champagne, chocolate, roses, the indulgences around romance felt a million miles away. In New York we had a long week in the hospital with Colby. She was hooked up to an EEG, withdrawn from her medications and provoked to seizure. It is so hard to remember, to believe, that we are doing what is best for her. Our hearts feel bruised, and I don’t mean that very metaphorically, it is a real feeling.

We pulled in to the snow covered driveway at 7:00 p.m., and got the kids instantly fed with quesadillas, avocado and yogurt. They were asleep by 8:00. We unpacked the car, then thought about our own dinner. With no consideration towards romance or Valentines day, Craig happened to make one of his dinners for two. This is not only a labor saving device, putting dinner for both of us on one plate makes less dish washing later, but also an invitation to sit a little closer, be a little nearer each other at the table.

He placed two seared steaks with a medley of vegetable in between them on the plate. We poured some wine and lit the candles. Weary and tired we sat down and took a deep breath together. Home again, at the table, together. “Good job this week,” I said. “God, I am glad to be home,” he said. And we leaned over the plate, touched foreheads and felt the love and appreciation for each other pass between us. Eating our steak and vegetables and drinking wine, children asleep in bed, we did not talk much. We did not talk about shoveling the driveway or hoping for a night with no seizures or the hospital or the stack of bills. We sat together and gave each other all of our attention for this moment. This moment over our romantic shared plate, our dinner for two. And with each bite, each sip, each moment, I felt all the bruised corners of my heart repair. Happy Valentines Day.

Chicken Curry Udon

On Sunday, February 7th Colby Rose was due to be admitted to the hospital for a week of testing related to her upcoming surgery. Sunday was also the day that Tan was in town from Japan. Tan and Craig have a long tradition of cooking together in kitchens from Tokyo to Paris to Berkeley to New York City. Wherever they meet, they cook. Today they were thinking about Nabe, but it depended on what we could find on a Sunday, in an unfamiliar neighborhood. We were in a familiar city, NYC, but staying at our friends' place in Brooklyn.

The shopping took a few hours and led to a minute by minute adjustment of plans as one ingredient was found and another was given up on. Home with parcels in tow, Tan looked at me and said one of my favorite words, “Curry.”

The chopping and searing started up in the kitchen around 11:00. The first bottle of wine was uncorked at noon. By 12:30 the kitchen windows had beaded up with steam, and the air smelled of the magical alchemy of slow cooked onions, easing in Tan’s expert hands from sharp and crisp to sweet and smooth.

At 2:00 a few friends and their kids had arrived, and the first covered pot was carried slowly from the kitchen to the table. Thick, bright, yellow curry barely covering a density of seared chicken and thick, shiny Udon noodles, sprinkled with fresh chopped scallion.

It is a fun mess, serving Udon at the table. The noodles are large and slippery, a highly interactive and giggle inducing endeavor. We paired the curry with very cold, light beer for the grownups, and a dry, sparkling apple juice for the kids.

Everyone ate as much as physically possible and left smiling, kissing Colby Rose and wishing us all the best in the week to come. Tan was the last one to leave. He put on his boots and his parka. He looked me in the eye and said, “It’s o.k.” by which I knew he meant, it is all going to be o.k. In the embrace of his strong hug, the smell of curry trapped in his hair, it did feel like it was all going to be o.k. Our well fed little girl and her well fed parents and her well fed sister were going to all be o.k. So much curry and so much love practically guaranteed it.

I looked at my watch after he walked out the door. We were due at the hospital in an hour. Today could have been spent in a state of anxiety and worry. But it wasn't. Instead, it was a day of happy friends, and their beaming, gorgeous children, gathered around bowls of steaming, golden curry.