Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Advantages of MS #579: It could save a life in a wilderness survival situation

Picture this: you have hiked deep into the backcountry of the Canadian Rockies. To pass time in the evenings, you brought along a copy of Reader’s Digest, Large Print Edition (since your eyesight isn’t so good). After carefully setting up your tent, eagerly anticipating another edition of "Drama in Real Life," a bear saunters through your campsite and eats your bacon-flavored mittens. Your hickory-smoked down coat. Your smores-tinged fuzzy hat. Your Axe body spray-lined sleeping bag. Hell, even your camp stove. Yeah, that was one hungry bear with taste bud issues. 

Then that night an unexpected snowstorm drops a foot of snow and temperatures plummet. When you wander outside to pee (urgently, I may add), you slip in the new snow and slide into a creek, drenching all of your clothes. Now you have serious issues and death could be looming without warmth. So you try to make a fire, but all that you can find is very wet wood that just won't light. Your only hope to start one is with kindling from your magazine. Fortunately you have just enough material to burn, since the Large Print version is oversized. The standard version would not have provided enough fuel and you would have been worm food. Hypothermia is avoided, your life is saved, all because of your MS.

Originally published April 12, 2007. Expanded for grins.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The art of cooking with multiple sclerosis

I’ve long preached the importance of pursuing your active passions with multiple sclerosis, but “active” can mean different things to different people. To some it might mean swimming up the Nile dodging crocodiles and hippos; to others it means just doing what you love to do, at least when it takes more effort than lifting your right arm to down a beer. (Or for you southpaws, your left arm.)

One of my personal passions is cooking—I am an unabashed foodie—yet for the past two years I’ve deftly avoided hosting dinner parties. Too much work and stress, I reasoned. But lately I’d been more Balsa Wood Chef than Iron Chef, even though I regularly cook up a storm for Laura. (Literally. The kitchen post-Dave always looks like a typhoon of feral cats roared through.) But after being the dinner guest one too many times at the homes of friends, I realized it was time to throw down and chef it up. So this past weekend I decided to cook an over-the-top, use-every-dish-and-glass-in-the-house six-course extravaganza for eight. When I do something, I do it right. What the hell was I thinking?

The menu was as ambitious as an eight-year-old on Halloween lugging both a wagon and a pillowcase to haul the goods. An Italian cheese and olive plate to start, followed by an arugula salad with shaved Parmigiano Reggiano, a white bean Tuscan soup with pancetta and rosemary, a palate-cleansing lemon sorbet, then a shitake/cremini mushroom pasta alongside sliced filet mignon (cooked rare) drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. For desert: a decadent chocolate pot de crème with fresh raspberries and vanilla-infused whipped cream. Beverage courses: sparkling Prosecco, a bright Vermentino, a rich Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, and a potent grappa.

It went flawlessly—and I spent most of my time chatting instead of sweating in the kitchen. How? Spreading out the work, sitting down at every opportunity, and enlisting help (aka, better half). Shopping was done on Wednesday. The soup and dessert were made on Thursday. The house was picked up and the table set on Friday. The only dishes that needed preparing on Saturday were the steak and mushrooms, both of which were based on relatively easy recipes. Before guests arrived, cheese was plated, the lemon/olive oil vinaigrette was whisked, and the soup was warming.

To my fellow MS cooks out there, as the threat of holiday entertaining rolls around, know that if a gimp like me can get his chef on, there's a good chance you can, too. And eating extravagantly at home won’t destroy your budget like a meal out. Without the alcohol, it was all affordable, less than $100. Just remember, keep capturing that kitchen passion with patience, prep, and props (e.g., a well-placed chair). But for goodness sakes, recruit someone to do dishes. I only recently got rid of my ungodly feral cat infestation!