Sit. Stay. Cook.

Cook to live. Live to cook.

We recently had a craving for Mexican food, but not the kind that’s slathered in cheese and served with a side of gloppy beans. We wanted something a bit more authentic, but authentic isn’t easy in the suburbs. However, there are a couple of local gems to be found here and there, and one of them is a little hole-in-the-wall Mexican place in KC called Ixtapa. It’s not the most authentic in the world, but it’s not On The Border, either.

My favorite thing on their menu is a plate of these delicious open-faced tacos with caramelized onions, grilled chicken, guacamole, cilantro and salsa verde. To. Die. For. And simple. So I figured I could recreate these little discs of goodness at home.

And I was right, for the most part.

Don’t those look delicious?!

We started at the bottom with the tortilla, and bought some corn tortillas from the grocery store. Next, we looked on the jarred salsa isle for some salsa verde. I know, I know – the best salsa is that which you make yourself, but I wanted these to be as easy as possible, and finding all the right ingredients for fresh salsa verde in December in a Kansas City suburb isn’t all that easy. I settled for Pace Salsa Verde and believe it or not, this stuff is really, really good.

Next was the chicken, which is where we get nice and creative. I got some espresso rub from Spices Inc. a few months ago, and it’s a little spicy, a little sweet, a little savory, and just seemed perfect for our tacos. So I covered some boneless, skinless chicken breasts in the rub, vacuumed sealed them, and popped the them in the Sous Vide Supreme for an hour at 146 degrees.

While the chicken was doing its thing, I caramelized some onions and Mr. Awesome chopped up some cilantro. When the chicken was done, we took it out of the vacuumed-sealed bags and tossed the breasts into a smokin’ hot cast-iron skillet for a quick sear before slicing into strips/chunks.

Better-Than-Your-Average-Taco Tacos
Servings: 4

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Spices Inc. Espresso Rub (or another flavorful rub with a little heat)
2 large yellow onions, sliced
1/2 c. chopped cilantro
12 smallish corn tortillas
Salsa verde (we used Pace)
Guacamole (we used some store-bought organic guacamole)
Canola oil
Cooking spray
Salt and pepper
1 lime, for juice

Preheat the Sous Vide Supreme to 146 degrees F. Rub the chicken breasts with the espresso rub until sufficiently coated. Put the breasts in a food-safe plastic bag and vacuum seal on Medium. Put the bag into the Sous Vide Supreme and cook for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Remove the chicken from the Sous Vide Supreme, take out of the bag, and let cool slightly.

When the chicken is almost done, heat a wide-bottomed skillet coated with canola oil over medium-low heat. Add the onions and spread them out to cover the bottom of the pan. Let the onions cook, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes. You want them to brown slowly, but not burn. If they stick, add a little bit of water. I keep a cup of water nearby and just splash some in there every once in a while. About halfway through cooking, season the onions with salt and pepper. The onions are done when they are very soft and caramel-colored.

Preheat a cast-iron skillet coated with canola oil over medium-high to high heat. When it’s really hot, add the chicken and sear for 1 minute on each side. Remove from pan and slice into strips/chunks.

Preheat an indoor grill (like a Cuisinart or Foreman) to high heat. Spray a little cooking spray on each tortilla and grill for 1 to 2 minutes per side until warmed and soft. Don’t overcook, or they’ll harden up.

To assemble:
Place three tortillas on each of four plates. Top the tortillas with some caramelized onions, then chicken, the some guacamole, then cilantro. Squeeze a little lime juice on each taco. Put the salsa verde in a bowl on the table, and add a spoonful of salsa verde to each taco before eating it. You don’t want to put the salsa verde on in advance or else the tacos will get soggy.

The biggest difference between my tacos and the ones served at Ixtapa is the tortillas. The Ixtapa tortillas are smaller and softer, and I like them better than the ones we found at the grocery store. I think I’ll hunt around for a store that sells more Mexican products and would hopefully have a better tortilla selection. Better yet, maybe I can find a place that sells homemade tortillas… any thoughts?

As for my tacos, despite the not-perfect tortillas, they are really delicious. They go great with some red sangria and a little Latin-flavored chill-out music playing in the background.

As part of the Foodbuzz Tastemaker Program, I received coupons for some Duncan Hines products in the mail last week. Part of my commitment to being a better cook includes not cooking anything that comes from a box, but I bent my rule a bit for this. Rather than making a cake according to package directions, I decided to make some of my all-time favorite (and all-time easiest) cookies: Chocolate Crinkles.

How easy are these things?

Here’s the recipe:

Chocolate Crinkles
Servings: about 30 cookies

1 (18 1/4 ounce) box devil’s food cake mix
1 (8-ounce) tub Cool Whip (thawed)
1 egg
Confectioner’s sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix all ingredients together. Batter will be sticky. Pour some confectioner’s sugar into a shallow bowl, coat your hands with it, and roll the cookies into 1-inch balls. Place cookies 2 inches apart on Silpat-lined sheets and bake for 7 to 9 minutes. Cool a bit on the cookie sheet before removing to wire racks to finish cooling.

See? Easy like you wouldn’t believe, right? Perfect for last-minute gifts, snacks for work, or just because you want something chocolaty. I shared these with my office last week and they were a big hit.

I’ve gone through life up until this point believing that making a pecan pie was difficult. I was so, so wrong. Not only is it not difficult, it’s ridiculously easy. Stupidly easy. You-could-make-this-pie-blindfolded easy.

Normally, pecan pies use corn syrup as a key component, but I don’t like corn syrup. Especially after reading the Princeton study. So I was thrilled when, browsing a magazine while getting my hair done last week, I came across a recipe for a bourbon-molasses pecan pie that replaces the corn syrup with sweet and smoky molasses. I’m a fan of molasses.

The basic formula for pecan pie is to mix up the filling, pour it in an unbaked pie shell, and bake until done. When Pillsbury came out with their ready-made refrigerated pie crusts several years ago, my grandmother said they were every bit as good as hers and vowed never to make another pie crust from scratch again. Summoning the spirit of grandma, I used Pillsbury pie crust for my pecan pie.

Here’s a shot of my pie before I put it in the oven:

Isn’t it pretty?

Bourbon-Molasses Pecan Pie
Servings: 8 to 10 servings.

1 unbaked Pillsbury pie crust
4 large eggs, beaten
1 c. sugar
1 c. molasses
3 Tbsp. bourbon
2 Tbsp. butter, melted
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
Pinch salt
2 c. pecan halves

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Unroll pie crust and press into a 9-inch pie dish. Pinch edges so they’re all pretty-like.

For the filling, in a large bowl, stir together eggs, molasses, sugar, bourbon, butter, vanilla and salt until combined. Reserve about 15 pecan halves, and spread the rest evenly in the bottom of the pie dish. Pour filling over the pecans. Arrange the reserved pecans in a decorative pattern on the top of the pie.

Using aluminum foil strips, cover the edge of the pie shell so the crust that’s exposed won’t burn before the pie is done.

Place pie on center rack of oven, with a foil-lined baking sheet on the rack below to catch any filling that bubbles over. Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, removing foil strips after about 30 minutes, until firm around the edges and slightly loose in the center. Cool, then serve.

When you make this, and discover how simple it is, you’ll be stunned.

And now for the after shot:

A perfectly cooked, perfectly easy pecan pie with no corn syrup and a sweet, smokey flavor from the molasses. If you want to kick up that smokiness even more, substitute scotch for the bourbon. Serve warm with some ice cream for extra-awesomeness.

As I mentioned during my Donation Day post, I watched an episode of America’s Test Kitchen wherein the chefs made “the best blueberry muffins.” Usually skeptical of such claims, I vowed to reserve judgement regarding the “bestness” of these muffins until I could make them myself. However, I know from experience that America’s Test Kitchen recipes usually are as great as they claim.

We got back from Colorado on a Friday, and Sunday I whipped up some blueberry muffins.

I stuck fairly close to the Test Kitchen recipe, although I did make a modification in that I used some pre-made blueberry jam.

The finished product looked like this:

Lynn’s Best Blueberry Muffins
Servings: 12 muffins
Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen

For the Lemon-Sugar Topping:
1/3 c. sugar (2 1/3 ounces)
1 1/2 tsp. finely grated zest from 1 lemon

For the Muffins:
1 c. fresh blueberries (about 10 ounces), plus 1 Tbsp.
1 c. Trader Joe’s Blueberry Preserves
1 1/8 c. sugar (8 ounces)
2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour (12 1/2 ounces)
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. table salt
2 large eggs
4 Tbsp. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter , melted and cooled slightly
1/4 c. Canola oil
1 c. buttermilk (see note)
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

For the topping:
Stir together sugar and lemon zest in small bowl until combined; set aside.

For the muffins:
Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 425 degrees. Spray standard muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray. Bring 1 cup blueberry preserves and 1 Tbsp. blueberries to simmer in small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, mashing berries with spoon several times and stirring frequently, until berries have broken down and mixture is thickened slightly, about 5 mi. Transfer to small bowl and cool to room temperature, 10 to 15 minutes.

Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in large bowl. Whisk sugar and eggs together in medium bowl until thick and homogeneous, about 45 seconds. Slowly whisk in butter and oil until combined. Whisk in buttermilk and vanilla until combined. Using rubber spatula, fold egg mixture and remaining cup blueberries into flour mixture until just moistened. (Batter will be very lumpy with few spots of dry flour; do not overmix.)

Use a large spoon to divide batter equally among prepared muffin cups (batter should completely fill cups and mound slightly). Spoon teaspoon of cooked berry mixture into center of each mound of batter. Using chopstick or skewer, gently swirl berry filling into batter using figure-eight motion. Sprinkle lemon sugar evenly over muffins.

Bake until muffin tops are golden and just firm, 17 to 19 minutes, rotating muffin tin from front to back halfway through baking time. Cool muffins in muffin tin for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack and cool 5 minutes before serving.

The result? These really are the best blueberry muffins. Hands down. For reals. The topping is crunchy and a little sticky, the texture of the cake is not too dry and not too moist, they’re not too sweet and not too tart. These are the Mary Poppins of blueberry muffins – practically perfect in every way.

I ate one, Frank ate one, and I shared the rest with my co-workers for Treat Monday, who want to know when I’m bringing in muffins again. :)

Monday night I went to bed feeling a little achy. I slept well and woke up to the sound of a hotel alarm clock at 5:45am on Tuesday morning. I couldn’t have anything to eat since I was getting a central line inserted, so I drank a couple of big glasses of water, put on my comfie clothes and Frank and I headed to the hospital for the last time. We made ourselves comfortable in our own private room, complete with a bed for me, a chair for Frank and a television. One of the nurses came in and drew several tubes of blood, then gave me one last filgrastim injection. The last sting! We waited for the radiology group to call me down to get my central line and as soon as they were ready I headed that way. I was led to a large room that looked similar to this:

I had to put on a gown as four or five doctors and nurses moved around very fast doing doctor and nurse things. One of them put on some music and as I laid on the bed, with the commotion and movement and music that sounded like The Fray, I felt like I was in an episode of Grey’s Anatomy and tried to stifle my nerves.

The young Dr. Horner talked to me about going to medical school at KU, then told me that inserting a central line was easy – the easiest, most routine thing they do all day – but that he knew it wasn’t easy for me. He said that the hardest part would be the anticipation, not the procedure, and he was right. One of the nurses hung a sheet near my face so that I couldn’t see what was going on, and Dr. Horner injected some lidocaine in the general area of my neck. That stung a little bit, but not as bad as that first filgrastim shot. I couldn’t see what was going on, but I could feel pressure. Not pain, pressure. I felt like a clown’s pocket – like I was getting stuffed full of handkerchiefs. I had no idea what was going on, but it felt weird. Then it was over.

Dr. Horner said something about the Coldplay song playing – that it was “safe – you can’t offend anyone with Coldplay.” He was right, but I asked him what he likes to listen to, if not the safety of Coldplay. He said – and I’m not kidding – 60′s-era jazz organ records. I would have busted out laughing if I didn’t have a thing sticking out of my neck. I asked the room in general if anyone had ever heard of The Mighty Boosh and one awesome nurse answered affirmatively and started laughing. I said that Dr. Horner was Howard Moon, then we talked about Old Gregg and the Crack Fox until it was time for me to go back to my room. I thanked Dr. Horner for stabbing me in the neck and wished them all well.

‘Back in my room, it was donation time. The central line in my neck made it difficult to turn my head – the nurses told me it was fine, but I was scared the line would pop out and blood would gush out all over everywhere and next thing you know it looks like Night of the Living Dead all up in here. So I kept head movements to a minimum. I then got hooked up to this machine:

Sort of looks like some retro Atari rig, right? There were two tubes coming out of my neck, so they hooked an output tube to one and an input to another. Over the next five hours, my blood was sucked out, passed through this machine where the stem cells were separated out and filtered to a collection bag, then the rest of my blood was pumped back into my body. Since I could’t (wouldn’t) turn my head, I didn’t really see much of this happening, but Mr. Awesome said it looked really cool, if not a bit freaky.

During the collection, I did the following:

  • Slept
  • Ate a Denver omelette
  • Read Cooking Light magazine
  • Slept
  • Watched an episode of America’s Test Kitchen where they made the world’s best blueberry muffins
When I wasn’t sleeping, I looked pretty much like this:

That’s multitasking, right there.

Then, around 2:30 pm, a nurse checked the progress of the collection and determined that I was all done. Not only was I done, they were able to collect TWICE as many stem cells as were needed, so the extras could be frozen for use by the patient if she needed more! How awesome is that?!

Here I am, during one of the proudest moments of my whole life:

Shortly after, a courier arrived to pick up my cells and rush them to the airport for a 3:30 flight. It was right about then that I started to get all teary. All the emotion of the day, of the whole experience, was compressed into that bag and the courier and the journey my cells would be taking over the next several hours. It’s unfathomable, really. Ain’t science grand?

It was now time to remove the central line from my neck. Long story short, the nurses pulled it out, and then held pressure to the hole in my neck for about 5 full minutes. Then they put a chunky white patch over the area and told me not to do anything to strain my neck for a couple of days (like lifting luggage, bending over, etc.) No problem, ladies. I didn’t want to see the thing they pulled out of my neck right then, but Mr. Awesome took a picture so I could look at it later. I debated posting the picture here, but decided against it because it’s pretty disturbing. Not that the picture above of me holding a bag of blood isn’t disturbing, but you get the idea.

I got dressed, put on my shoes (without bending over – no easy task), then said farewell to the great nurses who took such good care of me and Mr. Awesome during our stay:

They’re laughing because Mr. Awesome tried to get foam hand sanitizer out of a dispenser, and it sprayed all over him. I sort of laughed, but didn’t because I was afraid of the whole Night of the Living Dead thing. You know how it is.

And that was it. I was officially a bone marrow donor!

The process wasn’t completely painless, but it wasn’t as bad as I expected, either. I didn’t have lots of soreness due to the injections like some people report. I preemptively addressed some of that by having Tylenol at the ready just in case and by drinking lots of water. The donation process itself was very easy. Mine was a bit more complicated because of the central line, but I highly recommend a central line to other donors because it keeps your hands free and because they can collect more cells in a shorter period.

I would donate again tomorrow if I asked. No hesitation.

We went back to the hotel, freshened up a bit, then headed to a celebratory dinner. Yep – I felt good enough to go out to dinner. I wore a turtleneck and you couldn’t even tell I had a huge patch on my neck covering a gaping clown hanky hole.

With dinner, our day went from AMAZING to OMFGAMAZING. How? We had the best sushi we’ve ever eaten. In landlocked Denver. A mile above sea level. On a Tuesday.

Sushi Den is the most incredible sushi restaurant we’ve ever experienced.  Operated by the Kizaki brothers, Toshi, Yasu & Koichi, this is sushi like no other. Toshi and Yasu live in Denver and run the restaurant. Koichi lives in Japan and buys fish in one of Japan’s largest fish markets every morning, then ships it to his brothers the same day. The result is that there is fish on the menu in Denver that was swimming 24 hours before. That’s not something you run into every day in the midwest or mountains. Among the incredible pieces we sampled was some seared fatty tuna. It was a flavor and texture that was entirely new to me and I could have eaten a whole plate of it. We’re looking forward to a trip to Colorado next summer for lots of reasons, including a return visit to Sushi Den.

Donation done, dinner eaten, back to the hotel for a nice, long sleep.

Next up – the day after, and we learn about Shoulder Season.

(This is a cross-post with my not-so-foodie site, Sit. Stay. Good Blog. It’s important, so I want as many people to learn about bone marrow donation as possible.)

Another good night’s sleep, another morning sleeping in – but we almost slept in too much! We had arranged to be at the hospital at 9:30am on Monday morning instead of noon so we could have more time to spend in and around Denver, but we woke up at 8:30 and had no idea it was so late!

Another Starbucks breakfast, another visit with the nurses and another stinging (but not too bad) injection of filgrastim.

The weather on Monday was much cooler – in the mid-50s – and a little drizzly. Rather than go into the mountains again, we decided to spend the day in Denver, mostly indoors.

We headed to IKEA.

We had never been in an IKEA before. I’d never really even looked around the company’s website. We were in for a very pleasant surprise.

Everything is awesome. Everything is inexpensive. I felt like we rubes in Kansas City are being cheated by the lack of an IKEA in our area. It’s the best store I’ve ever been in. The upper level is room after decorated room of design ideas, including an entire 500-some-odd square foot “house” with multiple rooms filled entirely with IKEA goodness. I could totally live in that space and be blissfully happy. The lower level is room after room of stuff to buy. Kitchen stuff, bedroom stuff, bathroom and office stuff. Wall stuff, candles, picture frames, lamps, rugs – you name it, if it goes in a house, IKEA has the coolest version of it at the best price. As Mr. Awesome said while we were looking around, slack-jawed, “I used to think families on TV were inexplicably wealthy. Now I know they all shop at IKEA.”

There were things in that store that I didn’t even know we needed. And we needed them. To wit, the Ställ:

This shoulder-high shallow dresser looks unassuming enough… until you open one of the cabinets:

It’s a shoe holder! Oh my god! Have you ever seen our garage? It’s full of shoes. Not anymore, though. We bought one of these puppies, loaded it in the Jeep and thanked our lucky stars that such a wonder exists.

Aside from the Ställ (yes, everything has cutesy-sounding faux-Swedish names), we bought a couple of awesome floor lamps, some glass paneled lights to hang on the wall, a blanket, some LED lights to mount behind our TV and a few sink brushes. You can never have enough sink brushes.

Then, we ate lunch at IKEA:

Full-on Swedish lunch – smoked salmon, Swedish meatballs and lingonberry juice. Bork, bork, bork!

After IKEA, we headed across the street to the Park Meadows Mall. What a beautiful shopping center! Lots of wood, vaulted ceilings, wide walkways, huge skylights. We walked around for a bit, and I bought a couple of sweaters.

Then, I started to feel pretty tired, and my back was fairly sore. This was really the first time I had some extended discomfort and I felt like resting for a little bit. So we headed back to the hotel and relaxed until dinner.

Ah, dinner. Another wonderful adventure. This time, we had reservations at one of Denver’s best restaurants, Rioja. We split a black mission fig and goat cheese tart, then I had a delicious roasted squash salad, and Frank had a salad of candied beets and greens. For our entrees, I had veal saltimbocca with polenta and Frank had braised short ribs. We shared a cake pop from Starbucks from dessert before heading back to the hotel once more.

My donation was the next morning, so we went to bed fairly early. I had to be at the hospital at 7am the next day!

Up next – donation day and the best sushi we’ve ever had.

(This is a cross-post with my not-so-foodie site, Sit. Stay. Good Blog. It’s important, so I want as many people to learn about bone marrow donation as possible.)

I slept really good on Saturday night.

Sunday morning we slept in a little, then got up, had breakfast at Starbucks, and went to Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center for my third injection. I met with the nurses who would be with me during the donation, and talked to them about how the donation would work.

They checked my vital signs, conducted a brief health history, and evaluated my veins to see what type of collection method would work best for me. When they asked whether I’d had any trouble with blood draws in the past, I told them that sometimes it takes lots of sticks to hit the right spot. One of the nurses said that it might be a better idea if, instead of collecting the cells from my arms, I would get a central line inserted in my neck. This way, there would be one port with two stems – one to collect the cells and one to put my blood back in. The nurse said it was an additional procedure, but that overall it was a better way to go – the cells collected this way were usually of better quality and quantity, and I would be more comfortable during the donation procedure. I was sold.

I got my third injection and again, it stung, but not nearly as much as that first time. Hurray for meaty arms! Again, the injection site itched a little, but I rubbed on it a bit and it stopped being noticeable after about 10 minutes. This part of the day completed, we headed for the hills!

I’d heard that elks like to roam around Estes Park, Colorado, this time of year, so we drove up that way to see what we could see. We stopped at Whole Foods for a quick bite (there’s one on every corner, it seems) before heading north through Boulder then on to Estes Park. The drive was punctuated by sweeping ranch land and splashes of yellow aspen trees among wide swaths of green pines. Colorado may be most popular in winter and summer, but autumn is really a spectacular sight.

Upon arriving in Estes Park, we were greeted by a large bull elk in the center of an intersection. It was just like the opening scene of Northern Exposure, when the moose is walking through the center of town, only this was real. Also, elk are really, really large and we were glad we were in a vehicle. The elk looked around a bit before a policeman chased him off into a lawn. We then noticed a large group of people gathered around a fence by a golf course, and pulled into the Estes Park Visitor’s Center next door to find out what they were looking at. Elk. Lots and lots of elk had taken over the golf course. There must have been 20 females, 5 or 6 young and one huge male. Occasionally other males would try to approach and the huge male would chase the interloper off into the hills.

Did I mention elk are huge? They are also loud – the males anyway. At one point as we were watching the action, the big bull male turned toward us spectators and let out this loud, long call. It started off low, then pitched higher and higher until it sounded like one of those obnoxious plastic horns found at sporting events. Local volunteers did a good job of keeping the crowd back and answering questions about the animals.

I had hoped we’d see one elk off in the distance. I had no idea we’d get up close and personal with dozens. So, so cool.

I had made dinner reservations at Jax Fish House in Boulder (where Top Chef Season 5 winner Hosea Rosenberg worked for a while) for that night, so we headed out of Estes Park and took the long way back to Boulder, through Boulder Canyon and stopped to see Boulder Falls. By this time, my lower back was hurting just a bit, and every once in a while I’d get these twinges in my back and thighs that lasted for just a couple of seconds but were sort of surprising each time they occurred.

Dinner at was just wonderful. The atmosphere in the restaurant was vibrant, but not too hipster, and even though it was Sunday night, the place was packed.We shared a Charcuterie Trio of smoked colorado trout pate, tuna confit and sockeye salmon pastrami. I had Char Grilled Alaskan Salmon with wild rice griddle cake, curried cauliflower, heirloom squash and pickled cherries. This dish tasted exactly like this rice dish my mom makes for holidays, so I planned on recreating the spirit of it when I returned home. Frank had Skinned Colorado Striped Bass with duck fat roasted yukon golds, eggplant agrodolce and cumin yogurt. For dessert, we split a slice of Key Lime Pie.

After dinner, we walked around Pearl Street Mall for a bit before heading back to the hotel for another good night’s sleep.

Next up – Injection day 4 and the most wonderful store in the world.

(This is a cross-post with my not-so-foodie site, Sit. Stay. Good Blog. It’s important, so I want as many people to learn about bone marrow donation as possible.)

We didn’t take any pictures of our drive to Denver on Saturday, so here’s a photo of dinner from Friday night (October 14th):

This is Baked Italian Salmon with Lemon Spaghetti and a side of roasted Brussels sprouts. Y.U.M.!

Friday evening we took Finnie to the kennel, packed our suitcases and went to bed nice and early.

I sort of tossed and turned during the night and didn’t get a whole lot of sleep, but I can’t attribute that to the filgrastim. It was more before-roadtrip nerves.

On Saturday, October 15th, we got up bright and early, packed up the car and drove to the downtown Denny’s.

Although it was 6:30 in the morning, the parking lot was packed with all types of people, some scary and some not-so-scary. A Denny’s in the dark is much more frightening than a Denny’s by the light of day, and that’s saying something. After a few minutes, the home health nurse arrived to give me my second filgrastim injection. The injections stung again, but not nearly as bad as they did before. I realized it was because the nurses on Friday gave me the injections towards the front of my arm, and the nurse at Denny’s gave them to me in the meatier back part of my arm.

It was at this point that I began to examine the choices in my life that lead to me sitting in a stranger’s van in a seedy Denny’s parking lot with a needle in my arm. After a few seconds of thoughtful self-reflection, I thanked the nurse for meeting us and we headed out of town. The injection sites itched a tiny bit for about 30 minutes afterwards, but I just rubbed them a bit and it stopped pretty quickly.

The drive to Denver was a bit different than our trip over the summer. Because it’s closer to winter, we drove our Jeep instead of our Camry. The Jeep is awesome, and better yet, it’s paid for. But the Jeep doesn’t have built-in navigation, so we bought a mount for Mr. Awesome’s phone and used that for navigation. It took some getting used to, but it worked out really well. The other thing the Jeep doesn’t have is a stereo system that will play MP3 discs. So instead of one CD with 20 This American Life episodes, I burned 20 CDs with one This American Life episode on each disc. That also ended up working out better than expected, since we didn’t have to remember which track we were on.

During the drive, I was tired, but again, I can’t attribute that to the filgrastim, since I didn’t really sleep well the night before. Nothing a Starbucks couldn’t fix.

We arrived in town around 4:30 (I love the whole “losing an hour” thing that happens when we go west – it’s like a whole extra hour of vacation) and checked into our hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn in Cherry Creek. Really nice place – valet parking! Comfortable beds! Great location! Highly recommended, this one.

We were both worn out from the long drive, so we decided to go to dinner someplace close. The Cherry Creek Shopping Center was right up the road so we headed there to look around and had dinner at Kona Grill. It was just okay. I realized while eating that I can make the same type of food much, much better. The portions were way too big, and the presentations were a little over the top. They try to please everyone and end up not pleasing us at all. After dinner we shared a bag of Doc Popcorn (the cinnamon and sweet butter mixed together is so good!) and tried not to spill it all over the mall as we walked around. Then it was back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep.

Next up – injection day 3 and and elk yells at us.

(This is a cross-post with my not-so-foodie site, Sit. Stay. Good Blog. It’s important, so I want as many people to learn about bone marrow donation as possible.)

And… they’re off!

This morning I had to go LabCorp to get more blood drawn – this time, it’s to set a “baseline” of my chemical blood counts before the injections of filgrastim begin. My veins, while visible and pretty easy to find, are apparently “rolly” and don’t particularly like getting stuck with needles. The lab tech had to stab me twice before she hit gold, so to speak. But – no bruise. YAY!

After the blood draw, I dropped Mr. Awesome off at work and headed to the Community Blood Center on Main street. I’ve driven past the blood center probably hundreds of times, but I’d never been inside until today. It’s a big, two-story building with lots of rooms inside. It’s obvious the place has been remodeled again and again – it had the same “I was once interesting and now I’m blah” feel that remodeled business spaces tend to have. But the furniture in the waiting area was modern and comfortable, and all of the people I met who worked at the center were nice.

A nurse took me into a small room and asked me general questions, like if I had any skin rashes, or had thrown up or fainted in the last 24 hours (So if I threw up for 6 hours two days ago, but not in the last 24 hours, all is well? Okie dokie!). They took my blood pressure and temperature (both normal) and then we headed to the second floor of the building.

I was weighed to see how much of the drug I needed to receive, then we headed into an “apheresis room” for the injection. The room had a couple of those big reclining leather dental-type chairs that are associated with blood donation, a couple of small televisions, and a conference table with some syringes and cotton balls and stuff on it. Those, it turned out, were for me.

I had a seat, and the nurse asked where I wanted to receive the shots – I would be getting two shots, because all of the dose wouldn’t fit in one. I asked her where she recommended since she is the expert, and she said the upper arm. Alrighty.  I pulled up my sleeve, and she injected the filgrastim.

Honesty time again.

Filgrastim is, apparently, the consistency of corn syrup. It’s thick. You know what that means? It means it hurts like a mutherclucker when it’s injected into an arm. It puts up a fight. It felt like I was getting stung by a bee for about 7 seconds, and just when I thought I could take no more, it was over. The stinging stopped, and the pain was gone. Then I got to do it again in the other arm.

So, the truth is, this first injection of filgrastim hurt. But it only hurt for 7 seconds, then it was over. I’m not looking forward to hurting for 7 seconds on each of the next four mornings, but 35 seconds is practically nothing.

After the injections, I had to wait around for 20 minutes to make sure I didn’t have a horrible allergic reaction that required the use of the EpiPen that the nurse carried with her from the first room upstairs into the apheresis room. Nothing terrible happened, so I was free to go.

It’s been about three hours since I had my injection, and I feel a tiny, tiny bit fuzzyheaded. Sort of like how it feels when you wake up from a nap in the middle of the afternoon. I don’t think I can attribute this to the filgrastim – I think it’s because I didn’t get to have my coffee as early as I normally do. The injection sites on my arm itch just a itty-bitty bit. Other than that, no issues. No bone pain, or nausea, or anything of concern. I hope I can still say that later on today.

(This is a cross-post with my not-so-foodie site, Sit. Stay. Good Blog. It’s important, so I want as many people to learn about bone marrow donation as possible.)

And… they’re off!

This morning I had to go LabCorp to get more blood drawn – this time, it’s to set a “baseline” of my chemical blood counts before the injections of filgrastim begin. My veins, while visible and pretty easy to find, are apparently “rolly” and don’t particularly like getting stuck with needles. The lab tech had to stab me twice before she hit gold, so to speak. But – no bruise. YAY!

After the blood draw, I dropped Mr. Awesome off at work and headed to theCommunity Blood Center on Main street. I’ve driven past the blood center probably hundreds of times, but I’d never been inside until today. It’s a big, two-story building with lots of rooms inside. It’s obvious the place has been remodeled again and again – it had the same “I was once interesting and now I’m blah” feel that remodeled business spaces tend to have. But the furniture in the waiting area was modern and comfortable, and all of the people I met who worked at the center were nice.

A nurse took me into a small room and asked me general questions, like if I had any skin rashes, or had thrown up or fainted in the last 24 hours (So if I threw up for 6 hours two days ago, but not in the last 24 hours, all is well? Okie dokie!). They took my blood pressure and temperature (both normal) and then we headed to the second floor of the building.

I was weighed to see how much of the drug I needed to receive, then we headed into an “apheresis room” for the injection. The room had a couple of those big reclining leather dental-type chairs that are associated with blood donation, a couple of small televisions, and a conference table with some syringes and cotton balls and stuff on it. Those, it turned out, were for me.

I had a seat, and the nurse asked where I wanted to receive the shots – I would be getting two shots, because all of the dose wouldn’t fit in one. I asked her where she recommended since she is the expert, and she said the upper arm. Alrighty.  I pulled up my sleeve, and she injected the filgrastim.

Honesty time again.

Filgrastim is, apparently, the consistency of corn syrup. It’s thick. You know what that means? It means it hurts like a mutherclucker when it’s injected into an arm. It puts up a fight. It felt like I was getting stung by a bee for about 7 seconds, and just when I thought I could take no more, it was over. The stinging stopped, and the pain was gone. Then I got to do it again in the other arm.

So, the truth is, this first injection of filgrastim hurt. But it only hurt for 7 seconds, then it was over. I’m not looking forward to hurting for 7 seconds on each of the next four mornings, but 35 seconds is practically nothing.

After the injections, I had to wait around for 20 minutes to make sure I didn’t have a horrible allergic reaction that required the use of the EpiPen that the nurse carried with her from the first room upstairs into the apheresis room. Nothing terrible happened, so I was free to go.

It’s been about three hours since I had my injection, and I feel a tiny, tiny bit fuzzyheaded. Sort of like how it feels when you wake up from a nap in the middle of the afternoon. I don’t think I can attribute this to the filgrastim – I think it’s because I didn’t get to have my coffee as early as I normally do. The injection sites on my arm itch just a itty-bitty bit. Other than that, no issues. No bone pain, or nausea, or anything of concern. I hope I can still say that later on today.

(This is a cross-post with my cooking site, Sit. Stay. Cook. It’s important, so I want as many people to learn about bone marrow donation as possible.)