December 6, 2012

My Recent Medical Drama

For the past six weeks I've been dealing with a pretty scary medical situation. I didn't post about it because it was loaded with unknowns. It was one of those situations where one thing led to another and to another, and none of it would have been found at all if it weren't for an accidental discovery.

A couple weeks pre-marathon I was experiencing severe hip and groin pain that forced me to stop running. I had my monster peak week, then basically stopped. I slogged my way through the Army 10-Miler, then stopped again. I thought I had a femoral stress fracture and saw a sports med doctor to confirm or rule it out. He sent me for an immediate MRI and I got the results within days. I was relieved to hear I didn't have a stress fracture, but puzzled to hear something else. I had a growth in my hip socket that the MRI happened to pick up. He said it was likely nothing to worry about, but suggested I see a tumor specialist to be sure. I made an appointment with a leading orthopedic oncologist and waited a stressful week, only to be forced to wait another stressful week due to Hurricane Sandy.

More X-rays were taken and another MRI was ordered to determine what this lesion was. The results came back quickly and it was a benign intraosseous hemangioma, something we'd have to monitor for awhile, but nothing to be concerned about. But more tests were required to be sure everything was ok, this time a CT scan and full-body bone scan with radioactive contrast. The reports confirmed the hemangioma diagnosis, but discovered more abnormalities in my left leg - one in the tibia, and two in the femur. An old stress fracture was likely the cause of the tibial issue, but I had no idea what could be going on in my femur. I was sent for more MRIs, both with contrast and without, a test that would take more than two, miserably uncomfortable hours.

I've waited days for the results and thought of every possible scenario, including a battle with bone cancer. When your health is in question, it makes you look at life so differently. The thought of my leg failing me on such an epic level was ironic since I'm an athlete and I rely on my legs to carry me through the challenges I pursue. Suddenly running a slow marathon sounded like a gift, not something to complain about. Simple things felt more important. I think these were some of the most stressful and reflective days of my life.

But today I finally got the results and everything is just fine. I have what's called an enchondroma, another sort of benign tumor. I was likely born with both of these and had it not been for the running injury, I may not have known about them for years, or possibly never. Since I do know, the doctor can monitor them for any changes and stay one step ahead.

And the running injury? Simple hip flexor tendonitis. I think the moral of this story is listen to your body and if anything seems off, get it checked out. I'm so glad I did even if it led to stress overload. Now if I could just stick to a strength and stretching routine, I'll be back on my running feet in no time, appreciating every slow, magnificent mile.

December 2, 2012

Braised Short Ribs

Everyone should have a signature dish. Something you love to make and make so well that it becomes your standard for both entertaining and quiet nights at home. My signature dish is braised short ribs. I remember a time when I hated handling raw beef. I was intimidated by the preparation and feared I'd screw it up. Then I got a cookbook called "Bones" and decided to tackle short ribs. Braising is so incredibly easy and this recipe is perfect every time. I've made it countless times now, served it at dinner parties, for evenings with friends and on many chilly nights when comfort food is key.

Last night was one of those nights. We had some older Bordeaux to drink and it was a cold, dreary day. The perfect pairing.

You can modify this recipe and it will still be incredible. I've done it without the red wine in a pinch, but I like the acidity it provides. If you don't have wine (we know that wouldn't happen here...) you could use a broth instead. You can sub the fresh herbs for dried, but don't skip them. I almost never bother with the chopped fresh herbs for serving because I can't wait to eat these the moment they come out of the oven! I usually let them braise for longer than the recipe states - the longer the better. Just put the lid back on to keep the moisture in.

They are great with polenta or just by themselves. Last night I also roasted some Brussels sprouts. Give these a try and let me know if you love them as much as I do!


Braised Short Ribs (from Bones)
Serves 4-6

3.5 pounds cross-cut short ribs, cut into pieces (ask the butcher to cut them for you)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large onions, diced
1.5 cups dry red wine
3 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
6 large garlic cloves, peeled
1 serrano chile, stem removed
One 14 ounce can whole tomatoes
3 flat-leaf parsley sprigs, plus 1/3 cup chopped parsley
1 large basil sprig, plus 1/3 cup slivered basil leaves
1 large thyme sprig
1 bay leaf

Preheat the oven to 300 F. Pat the ribs dry and season with salt and pepper. In a Dutch oven or flameproof casserole, heat the oil over medium heat. Brown the ribs on all sides, in batches if necessary. Transfer the browned ribs to a plate.

Add the onion to the pot and cook for 5 minutes, or until slightly softened. Pour in the red wine and bring to a boil, deglazing the pot by scraping up the browned bits from the bottom. Add the carrots, garlic, chile and tomatoes, with their juices. Bring to a boil, then add the ribs, with any juices, the parsley, basil and thyme sprigs, and the bay leaf.

Remove the pot from the heat and cover with a damp piece of parchment paper and then the lid. Transfer to the oven and cook covered for 1.5 hours.

Remove the lid and parchment paper and cook the ribs for another 1.5 hours or until very tender.

If making ahead, let the ribs cool, then refrigerate overnight. The next day, remove the layer of fat and discard the herbs sprigs and chile. Reheat, covered, in a 300 F oven for about an hour, or until heated through. Sprinkle with the chopped herbs, check the seasoning, and serve.

If serving the ribs immediately, tip the pan and skim off as much fat as possible. Remove the herb sprigs and chile pepper, sprinkle with the chopped herbs and check the seasoning.


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