Tag Archives: lupus nephritis

Sting

Best Nettle PEsto

It stings a little, deep down, when I have to admit that it hurts to dry my hair. It’s not a yelping pain or a whimpering pain, just a constant, low-level annoyance. At first, when I’m giving the ‘do the initial all-over heat blast, there’s just general arm fatigue. Then, when I get down to the nitty gritty, with the brush twirling, my hands start to cramp–first my wrists, then my fingers. Despite all the formal medical indications of lupus, having trouble with the hairdryer is, for me, the single most dependable symptom.

But yes, here it is: March. This is the time of year when lupus gets to me. It’s as predictable as the camellia bush by our front door, only nowhere near as pretty. The days lengthen, and the wind whips, and my body sags. Life starts to sting. When people ask how I’m feeling, like they often do, it feels strange to want to say, “I’m good, except for the hair-drying part.” (Thank goodness I have a good haircut.)

It does make me feel a bit better to hit the farmers’ market around the Ides of March, where you can’t walk two stalls without tripping over some poor sprout of a vegetable who’s clearly had a rough week also. Take stinging nettles, which are sold in half-pound plastic bags all spring at Seattle-area markets. They were just napping on a wet hillside somewhere, so innocently, when someone came and snipped them out of the ground, probably cursing at them. Nettles aren’t like tomatoes or apples; no one ever wants to touch them. People just stare and point, and then, in most cases, walk right by.

I like nettles for three reasons:

1.They’re really easy to cook.
With a lot of other dark leafy greens, there’s washing and chopping and futzing involved. Not nettles. Sure, they sting if you touch them. That always works to my advantage. It gives me an excuse to upend that big bag of greens and dump them directly into boiling water, instead of spending any time worrying about sticks or bugs. (P.S. Boiling water kills things.)

2. They taste great.
I like to think of the taste of nettles as somewhere between mint and spinach. They have a fabulous affinity for pestos, so every year, usually when I start getting cranky about the weather, I make a pesto with whatever nut and herb combination happens to inspire me at the moment. This week, I went for tradition, with a hint of lemon.

3.Nettles don’t last.
They’re weeds. They’re wild. They sting. But like anything worth eating, they have a definite season. And since my complaints generally line up pretty well with their growing season, it’s often quite nice to focus equal attention on their appearance and disappearance.

I have an anti-lupus music compilation on my computer called “A Mix for Sunnier Times.” It’s a cacophonous mismatch of tunes, everything from Scooter Lee to Bill Withers to ZZ Top. Every song has to do with the sun. (This is a little ironic, because lupus is exacerbated by sun exposure.) I forget about it every year, only to rediscover it in March. And every time I sit down, feeling blah, and hear the synthesizer notes alternating between earphones as I Wear My Sunglasses at Night starts blasting, I feel a little brighter.

After all, nothing lasts forever.

Nettle Pesto Close

Spaghetti with Fresh Peas and Lemony Nettle Pesto (PDF)
Stinging nettles are delicious edible weeds with a layer of prickly hairs on the sunny side of each leaf. They will sting if you touch them raw—but cooking them denatures the sting, rendering them perfect fodder for a springtime pesto. Add chopped grilled chicken, if you’re looking for a bit more heft.

Active time: 20 minutes
Serves 4

1/2 pound fresh nettles
2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons lemon zest
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
1/2 pound spaghetti
1 cup fresh peas

Bring a large pot of water to boil for the nettles. Dump them into the water (don’t touch them!) and cook for 2 minutes, stirring. Drain in a colander, then squeeze as dry as possible, using a kitchen towel to wring out extra water, if necessary. (You should have about a cup of nettles.)

Whirl the nettles, garlic, pine nuts, salt, lemon zest, and lemon juice in a food processor until smooth. With the machine on, add the oil in a slow, steady stream, whirling until combined. Pulse in the cheese, then season to taste. Set aside.

Cook the pasta until al dente, according to package directions, adding the peas to the cooking water about 3 minutes before the pasta is done. Reserve a cupful of the cooking water.

Strain the peas and pasta, then return them to the pot, along with 1/2 cup of the pesto and about 1/4 cup of the cooking water (you may need more or less, depending on how loose you like your pasta sauce).

Serve immediately, sprinkled with additional cheese.

3 Comments

Filed under lupus, Pasta, recipe

Circle of friends

Fresh Mint Mud 1

I have fabulous news: I do not have celiac disease. I feel I can say this with about 95% certainty. I haven’t had an intestinal biopsy, but I tried eating gluten-free for long enough that I feel I should have seen results if it had been the right thing for my body. I can eat any baguette. I can gorge on Bolognese. I can shove embarrassing handfuls of Cheddar Bunnies into my mouth as I run out the door. I can be my very own Marie Antoinette, anytime I want: Let me eat cake!

This isn’t neenerneener to those who aren’t so fortunate. It’s a reminder. These last couple of weeks, I’ve needed it.

If you’ve been following my medical saga – which I hope to leave behind here, very soon, but for now, it’s a huge part of my life, so you get it – you’ll remember that I’ve had a problem with appetite. It’s been down, and when I don’t eat well, I’m not happy. When eating gluten-free didn’t change things, I went to more doctors.

Here’s the short version: My lupus has moved to my kidneys. I have Class IV and Class V lupus nephritis, which, if you aren’t interested in a deeper medical explanation, basically means my kidneys have a Prius problem: they’re goinggoinggoing, working themselves into a frenzy for no real reason, overworking to the point of danger. I spent part of last week in the hospital for a kidney biopsy, which revealed I needed immediate treatment. I spent four days shuffling back and forth from the hospital, getting intravenous medications. And on Sunday, I started (among many others) a drug called CellCept, a type of what they call “induction therapy.” You could call it chemo lite, I guess, but thus far it has not been all that. Thank goodness.

I spent a few days last week hosting a very private pity party. Then we needed help. Our nanny was out of town, and friends unfurled big, strong hands from every direction. Our son went to a friend’s house during the biopsy, and for a few doctor’s appointments. My sister essentially lived at my house for the week. My mother came into town. Friends brought my favorite neighborhood soup, and a few meals for our kid. And at the same time that the reality of a stressful health situation set in, we were blanketed with the calm that comes with knowing we’d be able to get through it.

Earlier this week, I met with another food writer and blogger named Jessica, who also has lupus nephritis. (I know. There are two of us. It’s weird.) You might already know her as SodiumGirl. On her blog, she chronicles her life cooking sodium-free, and teaches people how to function in normal society without salt in their diet – and treats her kidneys more gently along the way. She also happens to be unfailingly positive, charming, hilarious, silly, and completely energizing to be around. We’d never met, but when I thought I spotted her across a hotel lobby, I galloped over the way I greet my college friends, all squealing and loopy. Only now does it occur to me that the Four Seasons probably doesn’t get a lot of gallopers in its lobby.

We sat down for coffee, and I wondered if the waitstaff wanted to eavesdrop. Our conversation ricocheted from her wedding registry to chemotherapy to astrobiology, and back to plasmapheresis. We giggled about IV line bruises and vowed not to let steroids deprive us of our favorite jeans. She taught me how she teaches restaurant chefs how to prepare her meals without salt, since sodium is strictly off-limits for her diet (and may someday be for mine). We bitched a little, the way people bitch about their shoes getting scuffed or their purse getting caught on their jacket, but agreed that any real negativity is boring and useless and a total waste of time. She made me feel like a completely normal person.

At the end of the meal, I asked her about a necklace she was wearing. It showed three small rings, slightly different sizes, welded together at the center, and somehow, I knew it symbolized something.

“It stands for my circle of friends,” she explained simply. She didn’t have to say more. She survives, like I do, because there are always good people around to help. Sitting there with Jessica, with the sun glinting off Puget Sound, I wondered how many people – as in what actual percentage of the human population – are able to say that they know they’ll have back-up when life’s road hits a hairpin. Maybe ten percent? Fifteen?

But I know just what she means, because I have a circle, too. And as I bounce from appointment to appointment, from needle to needle, I’m thankful for it.

Circle of Friends necklace

The medications will have side effects as I begin taking them in stronger doses. Already, I’m really sore in weird places. There’s been some nausea. For the next few months, I’ll have to be really careful not to get sick, because my immune system will be completely obliterated.

And, probably because of the steroids, I’ve been eating again. Eating and eating and eating. And I love it. Wardrobe willing, I have a feeling this will be a very delicious period in my life. Clearly, I’ll have to watch it at some point, but for now, I’m bathing, again, finally, in the enjoyment of food.

Mint mud in espresso cup

Mostly, I’ve had an insatiable sweet tooth. I’ve been making nutella tartines, big slabs of toasted baguette slathered with creaminess and spotted with banana slices. I’ve been chowing fruit. I’ve been eating ice cream before bed again, which I haven’t done in months. I’m tasting faint flavors in food in a way I couldn’t for a while, teasing out spices and herbs with whatever sense this lack of appetite thing stripped off my tongue. And every single day, I want to cook or bake.

This recipe started with eight orphaned egg yolks. I wanted a dessert so sinful it hurts—one that makes you think twice about eating it the moment your lips hit the spoon, and not a second after.

It worked. It was supposed to be a mint-infused mousse, only somewhere along the line, I decided to skip the mousse part, because mousse sounded too light. The result? A spoonable dark mint chocolate bar, cute as can be in tiny little cups.

It’s also salt-free and gluten-free. In case you’re sensitive about those sorts of things.

Spoonful of mint mud

Fresh Mint Mud (PDF)
Like a deep chocolate mousse with a weight problem, these little pots o’ bliss are not for the weak. Infused with real mint leaves, they’re little mint-chocolate bombs, best eaten with the tiniest spoon.

TIME: 20 minutes active time
MAKES: 8 serving

8 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/3 cups heavy cream, lukewarm
1/3 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
6 ounces high quality dark chocolate (70% cacao), finely chopped

Whisk the yolks and sugar vigorously together in a large, stainless steel saucepan until the yolks become thick and pale. Add the cream and mint, whisk to combine, and cook the mixture over very low heat, stirring constantly with a heatproof spatula, until the mixture measures 170 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, but not over. (It should be steaming, but you don’t want the eggs to curdle.) Pour the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a mixing bowl, and stir until the mixture cools to 150 degrees. Add the chocolate and stir until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is completely smooth.

Pour the chocolate mixture into very small cups (such as espresso cups), and refrigerate overnight, until firm. For the best mint flavor, let sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes before serving.

Fresh Mint Mud 2

18 Comments

Filed under dessert, gluten-free, lupus, recipe