Japanese Milk Bread

I love baking.  A year ago I was all about the cake, this year I’m more about bread.  It makes sense, bread is slower, there’s less timing involved, and it’s easier for a person with pain and exhaustion issues to plan out a loaf and deal with it ON MY TERMS.

I can move slowly through a bread recipe, feel I’ve made something special for my family, and NOT knock myself out trying to make something special and memorable.

There are SO many excellent bread resources out there that I’m not going to even TRY to list them.

Right now my favorite source of recipes to try for bread items is the King Arthur website.  In full disclosure, I’m a member of their baking club. I pay a certain $ each year to get free shipping on my orders and other little treats.  

It’s a luxury, but when I break down how cheaply I can whip up a loaf of bread for the family, and how much they enjoy it, it actually makes good sense, financially.

Bread + Pain Strategy
So this morning, waking at 2am with intense pain (2 is when my 8-hour Oxycodone wears off, and at this point I could set my clock by the pain) my strategy has become to

  1. Take my 2am pain pills (short lasting Oxycodone for breakthrough pain)
  2. Get up and take care of nature’s call
  3. Try to stay in bed for at LEAST 1/2 hour
  4. Read a bit from my current bedtime book

If all of this leads to me falling back asleep, then I am what’s known as le Happy Camper.

The kids won’t have hot, fresh bread waiting for them in the morning, but they WILL have a well rested, happy, mom, and that’s worth EVEN MORE!

However if, like this morning, pain won’t abate until I move a bit, I get up and wander the ground floor of the house, putting stuff away, emptying the dish washer, trying to do anything that isn’t too noisy.

If I’m still awake at 6am, I can take my entire pain pill regime (three times a day, 6am, 2pm, 10pm.)  To my list this morning I added, “Make Japanese Milk Rolls!”  Because – why not?

Soft Bread
I like soft bread, and I cannot lie.  Recently I like it even more.  When approaching a chewy crust of bread, I tense up a bit as hard chewing can really bother my teeth these days.  I’m such a sensitive flower…

I love this recipe from King Arthur Flour because it uses a warm milk starter, called a

Sometimes I like to bake my Japanese Milk Bread Rolls with an egg wash & sesame seeds.

“Tangzhong Starter” which really does seem to make the bread soft and easy to eat.  When I was a kid my dad used to buy a loaf of bread called, “MIlk Toast.”

I don’t know if this was an Ohio or WV thing, but we’d get this special bread at A&P, in a blue wrapper, sliced VERY THICK.  I remember it was a soft and comforting bread, and my dad would toast it, then cover it in cinnamon and sugar and warm milk and eat it like a pudding.

These Milk Rolls give me the same feeling when I eat them.  There’s a pleasant density and softness to the bread that makes me feel like I’m 5 again.  This is wonder bread, x100 for taste and texture!

Japanese milk bread roll with jam!

Once I’ve created the starter (I do it 30 seconds at a time in the microwave) and mixed together all of the ingredients, I knead it in my mixer, then give a few extra kneads on my table and put it in a buttered, covered bowl to rise.

60-90 minutes later, the dough’s been raised and it’s time to shape it,

Versatility
At this point there are a number of ways to utilize the dough.  One of my favorites is to create the above rolls, which are very easy to make.  If I feel the need to fill them with spices or nuts or chocolate or cheese, it’s easy to do and makes a beautiful change up from plain bread.

Japanese Milk Rolls baked as a loaf

Other times I roll the dough out into a rectangle, fold it up in thirds (like a business letter) then turn under the edges and slip it into a loaf pan.  Once again, when folding the dough I can add fillings to different section of the bread if I feel so moved, and can make a sweet or a savory treat.

I’ve used this recipe as the base for a nice Babka, too.  It’s such a versatile dough!

I think this morning I’m going to make a kind of cinnamon roll using a nice mix of Cinnamon, Cardamom, Nutmeg and a bit of Vanilla. That sounds like it would be great with a cup of coffee (I seldom drink coffee, but this morning I might!)

When the bread’s had a second rise I’ll roll a Cinnamon-Spice mixture into the dough, then do some creative twisting and try to make something pretty.  Once it’s baked up, I may add a bit of icing and there’s Sunday morning, done and dusted!

What About The Gluten, Annie?
And, for those of you keeping score, YES this is filled with gluten.  But I’m using an organic wheat which should guarantee that a Monsanto product wasn’t used in the harvesting of the grain.

I was experimenting with using organic wheat vs gluten free, and felt that I was having some good success, and then the cancer happened.

I’m so full of various pain killers that I wouldn’t even FEEL the side effects that I’d been chalking up to eating gluten.

So I’m giving myself permission to eat a bagel every now and then, and I’m ESPECIALLY giving myself permission to eat a wheat product I bake at home using organic wheat.  So far I haven’t had any terrible side effects from this, the pain I feel tends to line up with the pain from my lymphoma and metastasized tumors.

So, whether you consider yourself a baker or not, I have found this recipe to be a VERY good soft-bread, and not really difficult to make at ALL!

I hope you’ll give it a try, and let me know how it turns out!  From start to finish this generally takes me about an hour’s work and a few hours of rising/waiting.  Perfect for a 2am wakening on a slow pain-filled morning.

SO who wants to come by and have some bread?

The Pain Drain

One thing about this whole cancer adventure is that I can’t really know what to expect on any given day.

It’s a huge mystery, and it seems that there are as ways a cancer journey can unfold as there are folks who’ve had cancer.

I had THOUGHT that once we got my pain settled with the 3x Oxycontin + as needed OxyCodone, I would be good to go.  And that worked for a few weeks.

But apparently because the tumor in my spine had metastasized again into my hips and tailbone, and it brings a whole NEW tenderness and sensitivity.  I wouldn’t have chalked it down as actual “pain” until today, when the sensation definitely grew into a pain situation.

My morning adventure was getting X-rays at St. Joseph’s hospital, then seeing my neurologist to discuss the X-rays, and then a drive over to St. John’s Cancer Center for a refill of my chemo pump medications and home for resting.

Unfortunately, St. Joseph’s is one of those old-type hospitals in a downtown area that is actually a series of buildings that have been cobbled together into one unit.  This means that there are very few DIRECT ways to get from one department to the next, so my walk from the entrance to Radiology, and then another walk to the Neurology dept were BOTH extremely long (involving several elevator rides and lots of walking)

And this caused me extreme pain.  It wasn’t the walk as much as it was the big brace I had to wear, which pushes down on my hips in a MOST uncomfortable way, and causes me to sweat like a Swede in a sauna.

Seriously, you could have WRUNG OUT the T-shirt I was wearing under the brace,
and heat causes my skin to bleed (I’m a redheaded weirdo)
and THAT causes a great deal of pain.

It was so bad that I got a special dispensation to only wear the brace for comfort reasons. I’ve been pretty good about wearing it whenever I travel in a car, or when I’m walking around outside, but with the advent of the hip pain I must admit I’ve been leaving it off as much as I’ve been wearing it.

I feel very fortunate that my neurologist is taking the fact that the brace is CAUSING me pain seriously.

But it’s been hard to climb out of the hole of pain in my hips that I slunk into this morning.  I know that after I’m able to get a decent night’s sleep the pain will begin to resolve itself, but right now it’s a cold, hollow pain that fills both hips, it’s probably time for a lidocaine patch, to be honest.

Pain is such a game changer.  It feels good to discuss it, but I also know how boring it must be to open my blog and read, “Pain, blah, blah, blah, PAIN!” But that’s my reality today.  Which is so weird after a few weeks of very decent pain control.

It also makes me wonder if the chemo pump drugs I’m on are having
some kind of effect on my pain meds, perhaps undercutting them in some way..?

Tomorrow I meet again with my Radiational Oncologist to discuss returning for MORE radiation treatments to deal with this pain, and to deal with the metastasis of the spine tumor.  This whole thing sounds so danged scary, but each and every nurse and doc and health professional I deal with has been NOTHING but hopeful that all of this is just part of my own, personal cancer journey.

I appreciate their hope, it gives me a lift, and makes my days a bit easier.  My nights, however, continue to be honeycombed with pools of pain and fear.

On a personal/work level, I am feeling terrible that I’ve not been able to swim above this pain to get more done on the website.  It’s like I can’t 100% focus on anything but — well — pain.  That’s what pain is, I guess, a big, fat element of life that steals all the focus from everything else.

And, by comparison, the pain I’m feeling is actually much LESS than the pain I was feeling for most of the Spring/Early Summer.  It’s just that now that it’s attached to the word “Cancer” it’s as if the pain has a deeper color, a scarier hue, and it can be alarming.

Chemo Day 1, Done & Dusted!

I’ve been pretty nervous about this chemo thing, nervous for many reasons.

70’s Movie Fest
First of all, I grew up in the 60’s & 70’s, I watched Brian’s Song and Death Be Not Proud and Love Story.  I watched Terms Of Endearment and Garbo Laughs and a plethora of other movies.  Oh, and the TV ad parodies…

Gee you’re swell!
Guess what? No one fucking lives in those movies.  NO ONE. It sets a kid’s head on a bit crooked to only ever see folks die in ‘cancer flicks,’ but that was the 70’s.

Even after experiencing the magic that is a “partial recovery” in my husband (well, recovery until his cancer reemerges every 3-5 years…) I find myself terrified that chemo = end of life.  But it doesn’t.  And I have to keep telling myself that.  It’s something I KNOW, but I still have to repeat it to myself.

Thank you, every made for TV movie I ever saw in the 70’s, for NOTHING.

Plus, in all those movies folks just get sicker and sicker.  They get sick ALL OVER THE PLACE, then they have a lot of pain, then they get sick again.  Then they die.  That is the script.  “Blech, ouch, bye.”

Not MY script.

Any Exhaust Port…
I was also fearful today about the port they had “installed” into my chest cavity a few weeks ago.

The first time they tried to use it, apparently there was swelling, but today after a bit of working around it was able to go just fun.  Huzzah!  Now I’m attached to a pump so I’ll be receiving the chemo meds all night long (Yo, check this Bitchie, Lionel Ritchie!)

I need to take a moment to talk about my Chemo nurse, Jennifer, who was SO damned amazing and wonderful and made my day good and special and positive.  THANK YOU SO MUCH, JENNIFER!   You did an amazing job today, and you settled the hearts and minds of myself, my husband and “Kid Caregiver” (Andy’s new moniker)

Tomorrow I’ll go back to the pump room to get more drugg-age to be pumped into my body and into my soul.  All night long.

Where Are We, Exactly?
Tomorrow I’m ALSO going for some kind of special big-time Xray at St. Paul Radiology so they can get a very good look of how my Spine tumor has dealt with the death ray we like to call “Radiation Therapy”

We just keep looking for the exhaust port in this Tumor so my tiny little Luke Skywalker can send some radiation torpedoes down it.  Tomorrow we see how successful those X-wings have been.

I’m nervous about what we’ll find in the Xray, but it’s a vital part of the recovery. Assessing how the therapies are working.

Lumbar Madness
On Wed I have yet ANOTHER Lumbar Puncture, with one each and every Wed after that for a month. And I have Jennifer, my amazing chemo nurse, chasing down anesthsia for each and every one of those punctures. THANK YOU, JENNIFER!

Why all the lumbar punctures? Assessment. We need to see what’s going on in what has become a pretty fast moving cancer ride.

The BIG Q is, “Is the cancer actually IN my spinal cord.”
Let’s just keep hoping the answer to that question will remain, “Nope!”
I told you the news last week wasn’t terrific. But I WOOL SURVIVE.

So every Tuesday evening will be a Dance party with Gloria Gaynor & Lionel Ritchie.  Let’s throw some 80’s Joan Armatrading in there for the Carrib beat.

“I’m lucky, I’m lucky, I’m lucky
I can walk under ladders…”

So that’s my upcoming week, and I am READY to go.

Breathe, Damnit!
Today during my chemo I had a bad reaction.  Not terrible, but not great.  When they sped up the infusion, my body responded by trying to shut down my breathing.  Gerry rushed to the chemo ward with my breathing meds, I was given a nebulizer treatment, and they slowed the chemo down to 50 again and all was well.

So I’ll be getting my Rituxan rather slowly, and that’s okay.  And I just realized I forgot to take my long-lasting Oxycontin OR my breakthrough pain Roxicodone.  It never ends, does it…

D Day

I’ll Be Taking The Walking Path For The Time Being!

The diagnosis of my cancer was PDQ (pretty damn quick), coming immediately after they’d finished my MRI on July 23rd.  At the time I was a bit nonplussed when the ER doc, after one test, made a pretty conclusive initial diagnosis; “Well, you DON’T have Fibromyalgia, you’ve got CANCER.”

After a bit of discussion I understood what me meant was that there were THREE pretty sizable sites of metastasis (spine, back of the neck and lymph nodes) which was as much of a guarantee that I had cancer as anything else they could have seen.  The mystery at that point was, what exactly was the PRIMARY cause of the cancer.

The days between the initial MRI, the lymph node biopsy and the point when the pathology was ready to be addressed were LONG ones.  Only 5 days, but it felt like 5 months, and it weighed very heavily on my psyche.  Those were 5 days of pure fear.

Dexamethasone: All the sweats, hot flashes, puffiness and irascibility of Menopause, now in a convenient PILL!

When my Medical Oncologist, Dr. N, sat us down and told us that I had Stage 4 Diffuse B-Cell Lymphoma, our reaction was SO positive I think it surprised him.  My big fear was that I’d had a large, solid mass tumor somewhere; colon, liver, some terrible place.  And THAT would have been a very difficult diagnosis to process.

But I was extremely lucky.  Lymphoma is a cancer where the word “cure” is actually used.  Yes, I am VERY lucky!

TODAY is another D-Day, at least for me it is.  Today is the day we look at the results of all those tests I’ve been taking this past week, most especially the bone marrow biopsy and lumbar puncture, to see if the cancer has moved into my spinal cord.  I think it’s about as scary as it sounds.

I asked demanded that I have my two more painful tests under anesthesia, and more than ever I’m convinced it was a very good call.  The residual pain I feel in my back and hips from these tests is pretty extreme this week, I would hazard to say that the pain these last few days has been as bad as it was at the start of this adventure in mid-July, which is pretty bad.  The main difference is that this time I have several pain meds I can use to break through this pain, and that’s a mercy.

Dealer’s Choice
So today I have my “long visit” with Dr. N,  where we’ll go over the test results and discuss what may be the next step in this trip.  With absolutely no medical experience or education of any type, my only point of reference is having been Gerry’s caregiver for so many years.

Topical pain relief from Galina!

But the truth is, Gerry is the ‘researcher’ in the family; he goes into his head, he reads stuff, he deals with numbers and percentages, THAT’s his comfort zone.

I’m not dividing my observations into a male/female way of dealing with pain and new medical information, because I know many women who are very numbers oriented (me, for one!) and I know MANY men who approach things in a more “feeling” way.

But in the case of Gerry and myself, I tend to be the “emotions whisperer” with the kids, Gerry tends to put the numbers into some type of structure that we can use to understand them better.

For this reason, when Gerry gets scared, or shows his emotions, it hits me very hard.  I’ve been scared this week, no specific reason, just overall FEAR.  Gerry admitted to me last night that HE is hella scared, too.  His fear paralyzes me, but I never want him NOT to tell me he’s afraid; he keeps SO much stuff bottled up inside as it is, I’m HAPPY that he shares his fears with me, too!

Emotional pain relief from Galina!

Good teams, like our family, will always find a way to regroup and work together, changing roles as each of us changes our outlook or understanding of the disease.  I am DEFINITELY feeling the need for some therapy, though. HealthEast Cancer Care at St. John’s only seems to have ONE Oncology Psychotherapist, and we have an appt for next week.  Apparently she’s exceptional, well loved, and — it being August — has been on vacation.

Note to self: NEVER get cancer in August again if you want to see your care team together in the same week…

I’ve been mentally preparing for The Worst News Scenario, and alternatively preparing for The Best News Scenario.  It’s really all one can do at this point.  Having spent a life in the theater, mostly working backstage, I love the feeling of an audience receiving all the parts of a theatrical production in the “order” that the director, designers and actors choose to present it.  Seeing exposition (back story) presented cleverly and well is a hallmark of exceptional theater.

Rx Pain Relief from the Docs

In terms of my cancer, ALL of the exposition rests in the hands of Doc N, who will reveal precisely what HE understands is happening inside of me later this morning.  In 4-1/2 hours, to be precise.  Which Gerry will want to be.

News when I have it!  Love always!