Monday, January 28, 2013

Eyeballs and Allergies

The last few posts have been political-ish so this one is just personal. I am great: happy and healthy. I just have two health issues: allergies and eyeballs.

My wonderful son sent me a book called Don't Kill the Birthday Girl by Sandra Beasley. Oddly, since I've been a librarian for many years, I had never read about other people's life-altering food allergies. It was eye-opening. The author, Sandra, is allergic to dairy, egg, soy, beef, shrimp, pine nuts, cucumbers, cantaloupe, honeydew, mango, macadamias, pistachios, cashews, swordfish, and mustard. Not as many things as I am allergic to but hers are much more severe. Even a kiss on the cheek from someone who has recently eaten a piece of birthday cake can make her seriously ill (thus the title).
She has had food allergies all her life, starting with milk and soy-based formula. Mine didn't manifest until I was an adult so I was spared the difficulty of trying to avoid allergens in a public school.

Sandra's book made me appreciate the face that I am not allergic to milk, nuts and eggs. I also learned that a lot of minor ailments I have been experiencing, especially gastrointestinal discomforts,  are actually allergic responses. Sandra also shocked me by admitting that, although she has had several life-threatening anaphylatic reactions, she has never used the epi-pen she has carried for years. That led me to a serious discussion with my allergist. When should I use it? I always thought it was for times when my throat was so closed that I couldn't get a breath. We negotiated that my blood pressure dropping below 100 was also a good time.

Encouraged by how much I enjoyed Sandra's book, I checked out Allergic Girl by Sloane Miller from the library. Sloane's allergies also dated from childhood and she shares many personal stories but, while Don't Kill is primarily a memoir, Allergic Girl aims to help you live well despite allergies. Sloane, a psychotherapeutic social worker, is the author of a blog called Don't Pass the Nuts ( She shares strategies for dealing with restaurants, family and dating and talks about having "safe" people in your life who have your back and are even willing to taste test your food for potential allergens. She learned their importance from dating someone who deliberately tested her allergy claims by eating a reactive food before kissing her, leading to a trip to the hospital and never seeing him again.

This made me really appreciate my husband and son.They never think (as far as I know) that I am faking or being overly dramatic about my allergies. They are always willing to taste my dish or question a server about ingredients. Chris was with me every step of the way to my allergy diagnosis so he knows what a difference a bite of pork makes for me. Michael has grown up knowing that I can't eat certain things so he takes it for granted. He always encourages me to try new things so I won't miss what I can't have.

Not everybody understands. I am still appalled by my dad's reaction many years ago. I told him before my visit that I was allergic to pork but the dinner he so lovingly planned for us featured ham loaf, bacon-laden baked beans, and green beans cooked with ham hocks. He said I could just pick it out if I didn't want to eat the pork. That was a compromise for him since he normally would expect us to eat all of whatever he served.

People often suspect I am just being difficult. Some people -- you know who you are -- claim to be allergic to foods they simply don't like. This whole gluten-free diet fad has advantages. There are so many more wheat-free products. But when restaurant customers demand a gluten-free pasta that they think will fix their "wheat belly" but still eat the bread, they do the truly allergic and celiacs a great disservice.

Last weekend, we were heading to San Jose and Chris wanted to try Amber India, an Indian restaurant in Santana Row. Indian food almost never contains pork or beef and they use a lot of non-wheat grains so I was game. But when it turned out to be a buffet, I was a nervous wreck. Buffets are dangerous because of cross-contamination: a spoon from the veggies gets used in the meat and then returned. Servers are often my first line of defense. I can ask them about the ingredients of a dish before I order. But the servers at buffets are there to take away used plates and don't always know what's in the food. I was careful and asked the kitchen staff who were replenishing the chafing dishes. It was lovely and I tried several new dishes with no ill effects.

After a tour of the Winchester Mystery House and a movie, we headed to Veggie Grill nearby. Their menu brags about the many gluten free-options, including mac & cheese and crispy fried chicken. Further questions revealed that the mac & cheese contained soy and that the gluten-free option for fried chicken meant substituting tempeh for breaded chicken. Nice try, no cigar.

We decided to take advantage of the large Vietnamese population and have pho. About halfway through my chicken pho, Chris wondered aloud whether the broth in this particular hole-in-the-wall joint might be a proprietary blend of whatever was left at the end of the day: a delicious but toxic combination of beef, pork, seafood and chicken. I realized that pho often upset my stomach but it never occurred to me that I was having an allergic reaction. Sure enough, my throat started constricting on the way home and I got the horrible, knifing stomach pain I am learning to associate with allergies. Live and learn and carry Benedryl everywhere. AND learn how to make pho at home!

A month ago I started getting flashes in the peripheral vision of my right eye. I searched online medical sites and kept running into similar descriptions as symptoms of a detached retina. Even though I had a doctor's appointment scheduled for the next day, I made an emergency visit with another doctor in the office. I made Chris go with me since I anticipated surgery to fix my detached retina.
This is what I see through my left eye.

After waiting for several hours, Dr. Vern said it wasn't a detached retina but, since he could see fluid in the retina, it looked like the histoplasmosis had reactivated. I opted to come back the next day for my regular team to shoot me in the eye with Avastin.

Four weeks later, another shot and a chest x-ray to make sure the histoplasmosis hadn't reactivated in the lungs. Googling the symptoms, I learned that the rash on the front of my shins that I blamed on hotel laundry detergent is a symptom of active histoplasmosis. Fortunately the chest X-ray came back clean so I don't have to have intravenous injections of strong antifungal medicines for the next two years.

Fun Facts about histoplasmosis, from Wikipedia:
  • Johnny Cash included a reference to the disease, even correctly noting its source in bird droppings, in the song "Beans for Breakfast".
  • Bob Dylan was hospitalized due to histoplasmosis in 1997, causing the cancellation of concerts in the United Kingdom and Switzerland.
  • In episode 21 of season 3 of the television series House M.D., a patient was diagnosed with histoplasmosis.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Equality Etiquette

Change is hard. Sometimes I wish for the days of Leave It to Beaver when mom stayed home and wore pearls and high heels to do housework. It seems like it was a simpler time when Emily Post knew all the answers.

In the old days, there were husbands and wives. Well, there were those maiden "sisters" who lived together up the street. Oh, and Uncle Frank, the "confirmed bachelor." Hmm, maybe those days weren't simpler. People just hid anything about themselves that didn't fit the norm.

Well, the cat's out of the bag. Now we are surrounded by all kinds of people who flaunt their special qualities. But our language hasn't developed at the same rate.

What do we call our friend's lover? "Boyfriend" or "girlfriend" sound so juvenile. What if the couple is same-sex?  "Partner" sounds so business-like and can be confusing. And when they get married, they're both "wives" or "husbands"?

Frankly, I'm not crazy about being called a "wife".  The word connotes a domesticity I don't have or want. When someone refers to me as Chris's wife, I feel like I should be wearing a lovely house dress while I pull the meatloaf out of the oven. That feeling is exacerbated by the existence of Sister Wives on TV. Now that's domesticity.

Although I enjoy being married, having a "husband" makes me feel confined and defined. I usually call him my "Spousal Unit."

The etiquette books can't keep up either. Although there is a profusion of  newspaper, magazine and on-line articles to guide a gay couple, no new Emily Post has emerged to establish the New Rules. When I hear stories about people trying to fit their lives into the slots made by traditions, I cringe a little.

When Chris and I got married in 1981, we didn't care about breaking rules. We fought to omit "obey" from the vows and demanded "husband and wife" over "man and wife." No one "gave me away" and we walked down the aisle together. We didn't have ushers who asked guests whether they were "bride's side" or"groom's side." We had a carrot sheet cake without a topper.  We couldn't have found one with a Chinese groom and red-headed bride anyway.

Maybe we felt comfortable breaking the little rules because we weren't breaking any big ones. Interracial marriage, while not yet common, had been legal for most of our lives. Falling in love with someone of a different race might not have been the easiest road, but it was much easier than being gay.

While we are alike in struggling for society's approval for who we love, who they love is a more fundamental part of what makes them different. Most LGTB adults have been called deviants and perverts as some point. The Christian right condemns them, not just their circumstances (that they love someone inconvenient) but their whole identity.

Like marriage, sexual activity is controlled at the state level. Prior to 1962, sodomy was a felony in every state. Many of those laws were repealed during the following decades of free love. But even as late as 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Georgia's sodomy law under which an individual could receive a prison sentence of 20 years for one occurrence of consensual, private oral or anal sex.

Bowers v. Hardwick, 478 U.S. 186 (1986), ruled that the right to privacy implicit in the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution did not extend to private, consensual homosexual sex. In his concurring opinion, Chief Justice Warren E. Burger described homosexual sex as a crime against nature, worse than rape and said, "To hold that the act of homosexual sodomy is somehow protected as a fundamental right would be to cast aside millennia of moral teaching."

Sodomy was still a felony in fourteen states when Lawrence v. Texas was decided in 2003. In 1998, officers responding to a false police report arrested John Lawrence for violating Texas's "Homosexual Conduct" law which outlawed engaging in "deviate sexual intercourse with another individual of the same sex".

The Supreme Court struck down the Texas law and invalidated all  state sodomy laws, finding that private sexual conduct is protected by the liberty rights implicit in the due process clause of the United States Constitution. Sandra Day O'Connor found that it also violated Equal Protection guarantees. Anthony Kennedy wrote, "The petitioners are entitled to respect for their private lives. The State cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime."

This is recent history, folks.

Maybe the traditions that we so cavalierly cast aside are vital to young LGTB couples and symbolic of their growing acceptance and inclusion. Maybe their wedding will feel more "real" if their fathers walk them down the aisle or they throw their bouquets. Gay couples are forging their own paths. I hope they fill their ceremonies and lives with meaning and significance. And that their love lasts forever.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Marriage Equality

I support marriage equality. Not because, like Kinky Friedman, I want my gay friends to be as miserable as my straight, married friends. I am happily married and wish the same joy for everyone.

As Hannah Arendt wrote, "Even political rights, like the right to vote, and nearly all other rights enumerated in the Constitution, are secondary to the inalienable human rights to 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness' proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence; and to this category the right to home and marriage unquestionably belongs."

When she wrote Reflections on Little Rock in 1958, Arendt was protesting the injustice of laws against interracial marriage but the same words could be heard as support for gay marriage today.

It's a State Thing
Every state is allowed to decide what constitutes a valid marriage in that state. Until 1967, states could, and often did, ban interracial marriages. In 1776, seven of the original thirteen colonies outlawed interracial marriage.

Laws have come and gone (and come again) since then. For instance, some southern states legalized interracial marriage during Reconstruction and others did not enforce their bans. But in the 1870s, the laws came back, stronger than ever. Between 1913 and 1948, 30 states enforced anti-miscegenation laws. Only Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, Vermont, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Alaska, Hawaii, and the D.C. never enacted them.

In 1948, the California Supreme Court ruled that the state's anti-miscegenation statute was unconstitutional (Perez v. Sharp, 32 Cal. 2d 711, 198 P. 2d 17 (Cal. 1948)). Following that decision, many states repealed or had their laws overturned in the 1950s. But even then, a 1958 Gallup poll showed that 96 percent of white Americans disapproved of interracial marriage and most southern states prohibited it.

State v. State
Each to its own right? Let the liberal states have crazy orgies and the conservative states keep their backward laws.  However, a state can refuse to recognize a marriage if the marriage violates a strong public policy of the state, even if the marriage was legal in the state where it was performed. States historically use this "public policy exception" to refuse to recognize out-of-state polygamous marriages, underage marriages, and incestuous marriages.

In June 1958, Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving married in Washington, D.C. When they returned home to Central Point, Virginia, police raided their home at night, hoping to catch them having sex. which was a crime. Of course, since they were already married, they weren't having sex. Unfortunately, being married was also a crime: a felony under Virginia's Racial Integrity Act. They were found guilty but their prison sentence was suspended, providing they leave Virginia for 25 years. They appealed and, almost ten years later, reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967), found that Virginia's anti-miscegenation statute violated both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and was, therefore, unconstitutional. Although the decision meant no state's anti-miscegenation laws would be enforced, many stayed on the books. South Carolina's and Alabama's state constitutions still retained miscegenation language until 1998 and 2000, respectively.

In 2007, Mildred Loving said, "I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry... I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard’s and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight, seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about."

Until the Loving decision, my marriage to an Asian American would have been illegal in 17 states. Although many in both our families may have been unhappy about our decision, my mother-in-law had more reason to be understanding.

On Sept. 12. 1912, her mother Mae Watkins, a white Episcopalian from Ann Arbor, Michigan, married Tiam Franking, a student from Amoy, China.

The papers were full of headlines like "Ann Arbor Girl Weds Chinaman" and editorials proclaiming that foreign students should not be allowed on a campus with American girls because of "the fascination which the Orientals, wittingly or otherwise, exercise over the coeds. That same year Representative Seaborn Roddenbery (Democrat of Georgia) proposed an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to ban interracial marriage throughout the country.  Following Roddenbery's impassioned pleas for the preservation of the white race, many states tried to enact new anti-miscegenation laws, although only Wyoming succeeded in passing one.

In 1945, Mae and Tiam's daughter Cecile also married a Chinese immigrant, William Q. Wu. Although she was biracial, she was raised by white grandparents in a white community so her marriage to an Asian was still risque. Although their marriage was not illegal, they faced considerable prejudice throughout their lives.

My point, besides sharing these family pictures, is that marriage is an important institution, held close to the heart. It was the last bastion for racists and will probably be the last bastion for homophobes. Things are changing so fast that, between the time I write this and you read it, major decisions for or against marriage equality will be made. I don't know when we'll exit from this tunnel but we have come so far, we must continue to move forward.

This, too, shall pass. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

Silence is Golden (Globe?)

There were a couple of amazing moments last night at the Golden Globes. Amy Poehler and George Clooney whispered sweet somethings to each other. Bill Clinton was well-spoken - and brief - but topped by Amy and Tina calling him "Hillary Clinton's husband." Kristen Wiig and Will Farrell were very funny.

But the most talked about was certainly Jodie Foster's rambling speech accepting the Cecille B DeMille award. She acted as if she was going to make a big announcement and then asked for privacy. She said we wouldn't be seeing as much of her, implying that she's retiring from acting, but then said it would take a team of horses to stop her from acting.

She seemed to be torn between her deep desire for privacy and the need to declare herself and be proud of who she is.  She certainly could have restricted her comments to the business at hand: the change in the kinds of roles women are offered, the difficulties and joys of growing up in front of the camera. You know, acting and directing -- the reason she received the award. But she didn't.

Did she come out? Didn't most people already know? Why do we care?

On one hand, she hasn't pretended to be straight by dating people of the opposite sex as was required of people like Rock Hudson. She has had two sons without a male partner while she was living with a woman. She obviously felt like the people who should know did know because she claimed to have come out "about a thousand years ago." 

What do people want from Jodie? She is an actress and director - not a politician. As far as I know, she has never advocated publicly for anything: not abused animals, AIDS research or orphaned children. That doesn't seem to be who she is. She could be a role model and inspiration for young people exploring their sexuality but must she?

We're as conflicted as Jodie. We want everyone to be treated equally. But we don't expect Clare Danes to announce that her child is the result from having sex with a man. We don't want gay people to be forced to reveal more of their lives than others but we also want them to stand up and tell the world that they are loud and proud.

Every time a group starts to achieve mainstream acceptance, their "differentness" becomes even more important. Ask African American actors what it was like to be in the spotlight thirty years ago. Or the first African American President. Or the first Hispanic American judge. It's nice when we stop noticing.

But "gaydar" aside, sexuality isn't usually as obvious as skin color or an accent so maybe we need them to tell us who they are so we can be proud of ourselves for accepting them.

The world is changing and we are all trying to find our way.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

My second recipe from Chef Alli was, by Michael's request, Roasted Vegetable Ratatouille. The big challenge for me was eggplant. I wasn't a big fan before and had never cooked with it.
It was a super easy recipe.
Just cut up eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes and red pepper.  Tossed with olive oil and garlic cloves. Roasted everything for a while. Took out just the garlic and squished it with a little more olive oil. Tossed all the veggies with the oil and - Presto!

I have been working out at the gym and working out in the yard - just an hour every day. I cleaned up the herb garden and discovered mint, lemon mint and sage still living under the dead leaves. I planted rosemary and oregano and mulched with cocoa hulls because they smells so delicious.

I planted catnip, although I am not optimistic about it lasting through the week. Check out my gardening assistants, Elliot and Alcibiades.

In these pictures they are "helping" me prune the roses and weed around them. They are very helpful in spreading the cocoa mulch. I'm not sure why they like it so much.

I also started clearing out the strip beside the garage which is planted with lavender and sage. They had grown wild and were filled with dead leaves.

This yard will never be "done." I haven't even thought about a vegetable garden yet.

Inside, I have been transforming architectural samples into coasters.

I started with some leftover maps that matched a tray I made for Michael.  I modpodged the maps on, covered the images with epoxy, backed each with cork and used a gold leaf pen to color the sides so they looked pretty and matchy.

Then when I put up the new calendar, I decided to give our 2012 calendar new life.

The 10" x 12" black and white Ansel Adams photos are striking. I split it into 12 squares and repeated the procedure above. Each coaster is beautiful on its own and when you put them all together, you get a photo of Half Dome in Yosemite. I painted the edges black for a more subtle look.

What should I try next?

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Cooking a la Alli: Day One

Mike says he is going to cook Chef Alli's recipes in DC at the same time I cook them here, in order to advise me on technique.
Hasn't happened so far.
Since I was on my own, the first recipe I tried was for Mushroom Risotto. I had made risotto before without tragic consequences, so I felt pretty confident. I even already had arborio rice.

The recipe called for "flavorful mushrooms like chanterelle, shitake
or oyster mushrooms."  Safeway carries button mushrooms.

I know button mushrooms. I feel at home with button mushrooms. Button mushrooms are my friends. However, apparently, they are not flavorful.

So I tried the new Sprouts grocery. They had oyster and Portobello mushrooms so that's what I got.

Oyster mushrooms (a.k.a. abalone or tree mushrooms) are weird looking clumps of fungus that grow on trees. I tried to chop them evenly but their stems and caps go in every which direction.

I have eaten Portabello mushrooms many times and enjoy their meaty flavor but I hadn't cooked them before.

At least the mushrooms were clearly marked. I looked all over for shallots. I thought they must be like green onions so I picked up what turned out to be leeks. Don't laugh. It's not nice. When I asked the cashier if I had guessed right, everyone behind me in line snickered.

Shallots look like what you'd get if an onion and a garlic have been naughty in the pantry: stunted brown onions made up of multiple cloves like garlic.

You are supposed to cut them in half lengthwise, lay the cut side down and make horizontal slices -not going all the way through the root. Then make vertical lengthwise slices still not cutting through the root and finally cutting across vertically from the tip through the root.

While I understand that this means the individual lengths stay together, I could not make horizontal slices of the small bulbs without risking slicing my finger.

I sauteed the 'shrooms and shallots in melted butter and then added the rice. The recipe called for white wine and so I had to face The Cork Puller. I ended up pushing the cork into the bottle but Chris drank the rest of the bottle with dinner (tough day) so it was OK.

After the wine had cooked down, I added hot chicken broth a cup at a time, stirring all the while until it was nice and creamy with a little bite. The last step was adding just a little cheese. Delicious and much healthier than my last risotto (which had more than twice as much cheese). So far so good!


Friday, January 11, 2013

My Life with Food in 2013

My wonderful son Michael gave me the best Christmas gift: the services of  professional chef, Allison Sosna, to create 30 recipes that avoid all my allergies.

Chris and I first saw Chef Alli on Chopped back in November of 2011 where she opened a basket of Thanksgiving weirdness. I often wonder why we watch Chopped since real life doesn't usually hand you pomegranates, polenta log, maple syrup and seafood sausage and ask you to make an appetizer for Marc Murphy, Alex Guarnaschelli and Aarón Sánchez. But it's become something we do together as a bonding activity.

Then on Christmas morning, Mike gave me a spatula with Chef Alli's picture on it. An ordinary spatula (especially one I recognized by the melted handle as coming from my own kitchen) really can't compete with the meat thermometer Chris's mom gave me as a Christmas gift thirty years ago.  But this wasn't an ordinary spatula. The picture, Mike explained, was the real gift: the inpiration of a professional chef.

Mike met Chef Alli through her fiancee, Kristen, who works in community organizing. Apparently, they talked about food (imagine that!) and somehow they must have gotten around to talking about how Mike has been trying to teach me to cook and what pain I am. I guess Alli was up to the challenge.

We had a conference call in which I told Chef Alli what I couldn't or wouldn't eat and a week later thirty recipes showed up in my email. I need two things: inspiration and skill. Mike thinks he can handle teaching me the skills but I think he finds my dietary restrictions boring and limiting.

Chef Alli's POV is fresh, healthy foods.  While at DC Central Kitchen, she introduced fresh foods to thousands of school kids. Now she's running MicroGreens, a non-profit whose goal is to "arm children and their families with the skills they need to shop for, prepare, and enjoy healthy foods within the confines of a government supplemented budget."

Chef Alli supports her non-profit by cooking as a private chef, catering, teaching cooking classes, designing menus and creating healthy recipes. So like her on facebook, follow her on twitter, support her non-profit and, if you need a little pizzazz in your dinner routine, give her a call.

I am planning to cook Chef Alli's recipes on Tuesday ansd Thursday evenings. I figure cooking twice a week is a good start, another small bite.