Thursday, September 26, 2013

Vegetable Panini (For Amy)

If anyone doubts that online friends are real friends, I can show you a photo of my red-rimmed eyes. My friend Amy Klein passed away on the morning of September 25, and I'm still reeling from the news.

Amy left behind a son, Jake (16), who she often mentioned. She recently settled her elderly mother into a nursing home. She had to move out of her mother's home - where she had been living while she cared for all of her mother's needs - so the house could be sold to pay for her mother's care.

Amy and Jake moved into an apartment with just a few belongings. I sent her two boxes of kitchen goods and a credit to Good Cook so she could do one of the things she loved: cook for her and her son. It seemed like a fresh start for her, relieved of the duty of being the 24/7 caretaker for her mother.

A vanilla milkshake in honor of Amy.
But shortly after she settled in, she went into the hospital. Pneumonia led to the discovery of her tumor and the treatment started. Doctors were optimistic, and as time went on, she posted that doctors were pleased with the condition of her tumor.

Although she had some trouble swallowing, she was doing better as the tumor shrunk, and she was excited about being able to have as many milkshakes as she wanted - no worries about weight, she needed to keep her strength up. She particularly liked vanilla milkshakes.

Through all her troubles with her mom, her money issues, and her medical issues, she remained positive. Even when she was about to go into the hospital for what was the last time, she was more interested in posting questions about what sort of corsage Jake should get for his date for his first homecoming dance - this past weekend.

Just recently, she said she was in ICU and after a day or two her texts became somewhat garbled. I hoped it had to do with medications and hoped that she wasn't saying what it sounded like. One of our group was thinking about flying out to be with her this coming weekend. But in just a few days, she was gone.

This time last year, Amy was busy cheering me up when Bob was in the hospital, and she always managed to make me laugh. The photo of the chicken, above, was one of her creations, and no matter what else was going on, that incongruous chicken with a fez amused me. Recently, she made it her profile picture on Facebook.

Shortly after Amy's diagnosis, she posted something else that made me smile, and it totally shows her sense of humor. It was this photo:

That's the attitude she always had. Sometimes things sucked, but she saw the humor in it.

In another conversation, on a less flippant note, she said: What's the point of being miserable when there's too much good and good people in the world?

That's a good way of looking at things, don't you think?

Are online friends real friends? Can we really know each other, if we've never met in person? Amy and I messaged each other and "met" online nearly every single day. Sometimes it was a simple "like" on a comment, or a smiley or a heart in response to a post. Sometimes it was a longer conversation. But we seldom went a full day without at least a glance and a virtual nod of the head.

When she saw that I posted about having to put down my dog last year, she mailed me - snail mail - a sweet handwritten letter. Who does that any more? While she was dealing with her illness, she still took the time to check in with me to see how I was doing during the recent floods in Colorado.

Amy touched many people's hearts with her humor, warmth, weirdness, and her concern for others, even though she never touched any of us in person.

I will miss her, and I will remember her.

For more conversation about Amy, check out this thread on Serious Eats. And here's the announcement in her local newspaper.

What better way to celebrate Amy than with a recipe?

Recently, the Cancer Treatment Centers of America sent me a panini recipe to post, and now seems to be an appropriate time. If you make this, serve it with a vanilla milkshake. That was something Amy particularly enjoyed.

Here's their preamble to the recipe:

CTCA, located in Arizona, is honored to serve patients throughout the state of Colorado and the Rocky Mountain region. The number of patients from Colorado who traveled to CTCA for their cancer treatment has doubled from 2009 to 2012.

National Panini Month is a time to perfect our sandwich building skills and “press” away to create the best hot sandwich we can. According to the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America “panini” is the Americanized version of the Italian word panino, which means little sandwich and refers to a class of sandwiches that became popular in the United States in the late 1990s.

Flavor is the key to panini, which are based on high-quality Italian artisan breads like focaccia or ciabatta. The sandwiches are layered, but not overstuffed, with flavorful combinations of cheeses, meats or roasted vegetables. Various dressings or condiments are added and the sandwich is pressed and lightly grilled. Panini-style sandwiches are popular in trendy restaurants throughout the United States.

According to American Sandwich: Great Eats from all 50 States, paninis are said to have originated in Lombardy, Italy, in response to the demand among Milanese office workers for a quick lunch without sacrifice in flavor and quality. In both Italy and the United States, paninis are eaten for lunch and as snacks and appetizers. In Italy, sandwich shops traditionally wrap the bottom of the panino in a crisp white paper napkin, providing a practical solution to drips while enhancing aesthetics. notes the earliest print reference found for panini (as a food) in an American newspaper in 1956 in reference to food served at a fair. However, it is hard to tell from the article if the panini served at the fair is the same as the one commonly found on modern day restaurant menus.

Is your mouth watering yet? If you are ready to try your hand at making your own Panini – here is a delicious recipe courtesy of CTCA.

Vegetable Panini
Adapted recipe courtesy of Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Makes one sandwich

Vegetable oil or spray, as needed
1 ounce red bell pepper
1 ounce zucchini
1 ounce Roma tomato
2 ounces portobello mushrooms
Ciabatta bread
1 ounce fresh mozarella
1/4 cup fresh basil

Toss vegetables with a small amount of oil and place on a lined baking sheet and cook in a 350 degree oven until tender. Remove from over and reserve.

Assemble roasted vegetables on sandwich bread and top with fresh mozzarella and basil.

Grease a hot flat top (or a skillet or grill or griddle) with oil - or use a panini press. Cook both sides of sandwich until golden brown and cheese has melted.

Serve hot.

About Cancer Treatment Centers of America:
CTCA is a national network of hospitals focusing on complex and advanced stage cancer. CTCA offers a comprehensive, fully integrated approach to cancer treatment and serves patients from all 50 states at facilities located in Atlanta, Chicago, Philadelphia, Phoenix and Tulsa. CTCA provides patients with information about cancer and their treatment options so they can control their treatment decisions. For more information about CTCA, go to

I posted one of Amy's own recipes right here. Because she would have loved that.