“My goodness, where have YOU been?”

Where, indeed. Well, the short answer is that my health hasn’t been very great. I’d been on Tysabri since last September. Tysabri, if you don’t keep pace with MS treatments, is this monthly infusion that one gets of antibodies that are supposed to help make your immune system not attack your brain as though it were a foreign invader. Well, my body caught wise to this and developed antibodies of its own to the medication. I knew this because when I went for my May treatment, I had a bit of an allergic reaction (it began with sneezing, then spread to red eyes, and then my skin started to bloom with nice, lush hives). It went downhill from there.

That all seemed well and good until I had a flare-up at the end of May (it was a retread of a flare-up that I’ve had twice before: numb torso, numb undercarriage, numb/weak right leg with less numb/weak right leg, followed by my arms and hands). That cleared up fairly quickly with steroids. Problem then was that I had another flare-up a couple of weeks later involving my right eye, i.e. the eye I see out of. That was also a retread (the way I found out that I had MS was by way of optic neuritis, and I also had another go with optic neuritis last September, though it was a lot more intense/bad). This one wasn’t as bad as it was in September, but it lasted about a week longer, even with steroids. Anyhow, my next options were a shitty oral medication with a lot of crappy side effects (heart problems!) or chemotherapy.

Now, when you say “chemotherapy,” your mind turns to stories of cancer patients and all the nightmarish stories you’ve heard about nausea/vomiting, flu-like illnesses, and of course, hair loss. How could that have been the better option? Well, it’s not as bad as it sounds. The medication that I’m on is called Rituxan. It’s not FDA-approved to treat MS, but is clinically proven to help reduce the rate of relapses in chumps like me with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis. This drug kills the fuck out of all the B cells in your body. B cells are thought to play a role in your body deciding to attack itself, so if you get those little bastards out of the way, the idea is that maybe you won’t have so many disease flare-ups.

The nice part is that you only have to go through this once a year in two sessions within a two-week period. The drawbacks are that you have no B cells and thus a weakened immune system, and also that you shouldn’t be thinking about having babies during this time. I really hope this works because all of my other treatment options suck. The hope is that by next year, this new oral medication will be approved, and then I can hopefully switch to that. The worst side effects from the pending-approval medication are gastric problems. I can deal with trips to the bathroom a lot better than I can deal with some of the harsher possible side effects from the chemo, like PML (a potential risk both of Tysabri and Rituxan).While I hope that I die of natural causes, I don’t really like the idea of a deadly brain infection, particularly not now. In my thirties. Before I have children. No, thanks.

My first date with chemo was at the end of June and my last was on the 13th of this month, which also happened to be my fifth wedding anniversary and the 12th since my husband and I had our first date. There was no other date available, so unfortunately it had to be on our anniversary, which meant I spent most of that day feeling sleepy and the next couple of days following that feeling achy. True love is your husband sticking around while you are hooked up to an IV not doing much of anything. Love and support are better gifts than tangible things when you’ve got chronic health issues.

Here’s a picture of me from the first round… the process is that first you take some Tylenol, then IV steroids to make sure you don’t have a bad reaction to the chemo, then some Benadryl to stave off a possible allergic reaction, and then the medicine sloooowly drips into you over the course of a few hours. During this time, your temperature and blood pressure are taken every half hour. You do a lot of sleeping because of the Benadryl.

When you get IV steroids, your mouth is filled with a gross bitter taste that lingers for hours. It can be made a bit better with a lollipop. Don’t have too much sugar, though, because steroids also send your blood sugar through the roof.

I’m getting way ahead of myself here, however. Let’s go back a couple of months, back to about where  last left off, which was right before Anime Boston 2012. There I was, getting ready for my second time in the artists’ alley. I was pretty much getting stuff together up until the last minute and I even left a bunch of stuff at home. Good thing I live a mere 45 minutes away from the Hynes… that would have kinda sucked if I was out of state. All told, I made out okay. I’d say that I sold about half of what I brought with me. I forgot to take any photos until Sunday, unfortunately.

After the convention and getting stuff settled and back in order, it suddenly became time to think about Mother’s Day! I decided that it’d be fun to make my mother some homemade cheese. I’d been wanting to try my hand at queso fresco because it sounded really easy and really tasty. All you need is a gallon of milk, a little salt, some vinegar, and some stuff to mix in if you like. Oh, you also need a big pot, a candy thermometer, a strainer, and cheesecloth. It also helps if all of this stuff is sanitized/sterile, so I doused everything with 100-proof vodka (a tip from my husband about sterilizing stuff: you can use strong booze! It’s better if it’s more like 70 proof, but 50% alcohol is *probably* okay).

First, you bring the milk up to 190 degrees Fahrenheit.

A gallon of whole milk! Gotta get it to the right temperature before I add my vinegar.

When it’s at the right temperature, you add your vinegar. The milk transforms quickly!

Coagulating milk

Here’s a closer look at all of those fluffy little curds.

Look closely at my coagulating milk!

Though the recipe I was using suggested jalapeños or cilantro, I went with roasted chopped poblanos and minced garlic for lots of flavor (my family is one of garlic-loving people).

Chopped roasted poblanos, also destined for the cheese.

One thing that I failed to consider was that the roast poblanos had a lot of moisture. Oops. I tried to drain them as best as possible.

Minced garlic destined for the cheese

The garlic was not emitting anything more than delicious garlicky fragrance. The queso fresco was so mild-tasting that I felt like this was a boffo move.

The curds are being strained. They look like a cauliflower.

Once again, I failed to take any photos beyond this point. Imagine, if you will, that I took these cheese curds and placed them inside of ramekins to give them some shape before giving them to my mother, and then you can imagine what it was that I gave to my mother (and, I admit, kept a little for myself, too).

My other (unfortunately undocumented) cooking adventure of late was making my own tofu. I’ve become freaky-obsessed with finding the perfect tofu after consuming what I feel is the perfect tofu at Myers + Chang. The tofu they use in their spicy silky tofu has the most perfect, delicious texture in the world. Me gusta! I’ve tried/failed to ascertain their tofu source (I took a cooking class there in March with my mom and asked Chef Karen where they get their tofu… she artfully dodged giving me an answer beyond that they use someone in the area who doesn’t do retail sales… alas!), and I’ve found what I feel like is the bestest tofu that money can buy in the meantime (Bridge Tofu, made in Connecticut… it has a really nice texture and an almost-eggy taste, no doubt because they are using some sort of incredibly magic soybeans). I figured it’d be fun to make my own and would probably yield better results. The process is similar to what you’d do to make cheese in that you’ve got milk that you coagulate, you get curds, you strain the curds, and voilà—tofu! I wanted to reeeeally go all the way in making it from scratch such that I invested in a tofu book for the iPad Kindle reader as well as a handy tofu kit that came with a mold and a bag of coagulant. I used the recipes given in the cookbook for making soy milk and then for making tofu. Making the soy milk was a lot of work, but oh man, that yielded a product that is unlike any other soy milk that I’ve had… it was incredible!!! I’m planning on making that again just for me to drink. It was really, really, really good! The tofu was okay… I’m not sure why that incredible soy milk ended up making such a so-so tofu. I don’t want to say it was the beans because the milk was so goooood. Maybe it was? I don’t know. Was it the choice of coagulant? I really don’t know, but I’ll give it another try. It’s a pretty long process, though… you soak your beans, blend the beans, cook the beans, drain the beans, cook the milk, on and on… you end up cooking it through a few times. I have gained a greater respect for the work of artisan tofu makers, I know that much. Next time, I’ll definitely take photos!

Until next time!