Friday, September 18, 2009

Pretty Damn Important

I have no health insurance. Dawn Smith might as well not have any health insurance.

Dawn Smith lives in Atlanta. Four years ago, she was diagnosed with a rare, but treatable brain tumor. Her doctors are ready to remove it, but they can't because CIGNA refuses to pay for the surgery.

Dawn has been fighting CIGNA on her own, but now she's asking for help. CIGNA may be able to ignore her, but they won't be able to ignore millions of us standing together.

I just added my name to the group of people standing with Dawn. Will you join me so we can shine a light on Big Insurance's abusive tactics, get Dawn the care she needs and make sure they don't do this to anyone again? You can sign at the link below

I had health insurance.

When I was a minor, I was a dependent on my father's plan. I got to keep that health insurance when I went to college because I was a full-time student. Then I got a job teaching English in Japan (JET program) and was automatically enrolled into the Japanese National Health Coverage program, 国民健康保険 kokumin-kenkou-houken, when I applied for a work visa.

It was actually pretty cool. As a function of paying my local taxes, I could go to any clinic or hospital in any city in the prefecture, for any type of sickness or discomfort. I caught a bad flu over the winter (aching all over, barfing, fever, delusions, the whole nine yards) and went, without an appointment, to the nearest clinic, on a weekend. I showed them my little orange and white Kokumin card, waited 20 minutes in a quiet waiting room with some tea, then was seen directly by a doctor. He checked me out, asked me about my symptoms (in English, even), and asked a few questions: we mutually decided it sounded like I had the coastal flu, and he went over the symptoms and usual progress of the virus to be sure it matched with the symptoms I'd experienced. Then he wrote down a combination of two medicines on my chart, and we went up front to the nurse's desk. I bowed goodbye and thanks to the doctor, the nurse read my chart, and brought me my proscriptions from the medicine room, along with dosing instructions in English. My copay was exactly 1,000 yen. About $10 USD.

Then I came back to the US.

The health care industry in the States does not consider Japan's Kokumin health care to be a legitimate form of "continuing coverage," so I could not re-apply for any plan I had been covered by in the past, even at a higher rate. In addition, treatment for any condition I had developed before, even while covered by US health insurance companies, would no-longer be covered by any plan on the market.

I applied as an individual, age 24, non-smoker, non-drinker, and was subsequently denied coverage by Cigna, Humana, Blue Cross Blue Shield, United Health, and Assurant to any plan at any cost. The reason given for the denials was always that I have PCOS and hypothyroidism.

Neither of these conditions are terminal. Neither are even considered serious by the doctors who diagnosed me. Both are well-controlled by medication.

I am currently paying for those medications out-of-pocket at about $300 a month because I have no health insurance, no prescription coverage. There are no generics available for one of the medications I must take daily, and the manufacturer offers no discount programs or assistance.

I need to find a job that offers health care. I cannot be a freelancer anymore -- I must be corporately employed. Most employers in my field, however, do not offer major medical insurance. I'm still looking for even one that does.

Until then, I am nervous, insecure, and one of America's 40 million or more uninsured.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Kitchen Status: Fully Operational

There's nothing like moving across the country to turn up stuff you didn't even know you had.

Like a bundt pan. o_o' And when life unpacks you a bundt pan, there is but one thing to do.

Almond Bundt Cake
with almond drizzle icing and toasted almonds

Original recipes from Glazed Almond Bundt Cake and Vanilla Glaze;
altered and recombined from suggestions on the site and the availability of stuff in my kitchen.

Cake Ingredients:
2.5 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
0.5 teaspoon salt
0.5 cup raw, ground almonds*
1 cup of butter, softened
2 cups of white sugar
4 eggs
2 teaspoons almond extract
1.5 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup milk
*can sometimes be found ground in the store, but the best way to get ground almonds is to take slivered or sliced almonds and put them in a food processor for about 30 seconds, just until they're in tiny bits. If you're using whole almonds, add a little granulated sugar to the processor to help keep the almond oil from binding your grinds into a paste.

Cake Instructions:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Generously grease and flour a 10 (12) inch Bundt pan. If you skimp on the pan greasing+flouring, you will have a hell of a time getting your finished cake out of the pan. Seriously.
  2. Mix together the flour, baking powder, salt and ground almonds. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and 2 cups sugar until light and fluffy. If using an electric mixer, use medium speed to introduce ingredients to each other, then high to cream them together. Beat in the eggs two at a time at low speed, then stir in the almond extract and vanilla.
  4. Adding your dry ingredients to the wet, alternately beat in (at low speed) the flour mixture and 1 cup milk, mixing just until you have a homogeneous batter. Pour batter into prepared pan.
  5. Bake in the preheated oven for 45 to 50 minutes, or until a stick of dry spaghetti inserted into the center of the width of the cake comes out clean. Cool cake in pan for 10 minutes, then turn it over and ease it out of the pan onto a wire rack. Allow cake to cool completely before icing.
Almond Icing:

1.5 cups confectioners' sugar
2.5 tablespoons milk
1/8 teaspoon salt (aka "two pinches")
0.25 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon melted butter

Put the dry ingredients in a bowl, then add the wet ingredients and stir until you have a creamy consistency. Easy. Drizzle the icing over your cooled cake.

The only thing left to do is sprinkle some toasted almond slices on there. To toast them fresh (always better than buying toasted almond bits from the store), just spread about a half cup of raw sliced almonds on a baking pan and pop them into the oven at 350 for about 5 to 7 minutes. You can do this while preheating the oven for the cake. :D

This cake kept pretty well in just a tupperware box, actually, and was eaten (with family, although I COULD have finished it off all by myself) over the course of 5 days. Almondy goodness for breakfast. >w<


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Son of Ramen Cake: Sushi Cake

Please note this post has been delayed by several months because of the move this summer. Sorry. -_-;

My sister's birthday is the season of weird cakes. Last year, it was a bowl of ramen. This year, we tried a piece of sushi.



The result was... eh, lacking something in the department of realism. However, I remain convinced that the concept and design are solid enough that this cake could be, in the hands of an experienced sugarcrafter, a really slick show.

Coincidentally, I imagine many of you fall into the "experienced sugarcrafter" category. *hint hint*

Here's the original process developed in this first, experimental instance of... Sushi Cake.

Make some round cakes and stack 'em up. Three 8-inch rounds were used here, the domed tops of each cut off (to level the cake, but you probably already knew that), and a layer of frosting spread between the layers (to make the layers stick together, but I'm pretty sure you knew about that too). Flavor is entirely arbitrary; per my sister's desires, I used strawberry and chocolate cake mix, marbled together.


Spread white or off-white frosting all over the top the cake. Again, flavor is arbitrary, constrained only by the fact that it needs to be of a whitish color. We used cream cheese frosting (again, sister's choice) from a can. And not the "whipped" kind, because I hate it.

Now you need sprinkles. Lots of Sprinkles. Sprinkles that look like rice, or as close to rice as you can possibly find them. I believe they call this shape of sprinkle "jimmies", or at least that's what they were labeled when I finally found them in Missouri. Incredibly, I could not actually find plain white jimmies, but the local Hobby Lobby was able to come up with these cool pearlized off-white ones for me, which actually look even more like cooked rice than I was originally hoping for.

寿司ご飯のように :D

Sprinkle the sprinkles (hurray for immediate noun-verb congruity in a sentence!), all around the top of the cake, leaving a round area in the middle of the cake with only frosting. This will be the "core" of the sushi, where the key ingredients would be rolled up if the sushi were real. You might want to make an indentation in the frosting to mark out this part. The wide ring of sprinkles, meanwhile, is the thick layer of rice. It looks more rice-like as you get a heavier coating of sprinkles on there... try to completely hide the underlying frosting.

Now we need a substitute for the seaweed wrap (焼き海苔:やきのり: yakinori, literally "cooked seaweed") that goes around a roll of sushi. You could, of course, actually use yakinori... or you could find/make the darkest, blue-green-brown frosting that you possibly can. If you know how to make frosting and have access to powerful sugary secrets, you can probably do this very well. In my case, I had a can of lemon frosting (yes, sister wanted lemon), and several vials of food coloring. This is the lemon frosting after about two little bottles of blue, two of green, a few drops of yellow and a hit of red:


...not very nori-colored, but the base frosting was starting to get watered down with all the food coloring, so... meh. Spread your seaweed-colored frosting all around the sides of the cake, keeping the surface smooth and even so it looks at least a little like a wrap around sushi, and not like bizarre green frosting on a cake.

Your cake should now look something like this. Actually, your cake should look
better than this.

Now you add the core of the roll; that is, you put things that look like a sushi core in that bare spot in the middle of the cake. Sushi allows for almost anything to be rolled up at its core, usually in sets of three to five ingredients. Because not all of these ingredients are easily imitable in a sweet format, I tried to mimic three of the more common ones:

オレンジ色チョコ飴、orange Sixlets = いくら、ikura, salmon roe (fish eggs)

赤ゼラチン、 cherry Jello (super thick "Jigglers" recipe) = まぐろ、maguro, raw tuna

ピスタチオプディング、 pistachio pudding = アボカド、 avocado

出来上がり...さあ。ケーキの味はいちごとチョコ、アイシングの味はクリームチーズとレモン。そして、実は、おいしかったよ。o_o' 本当に。

OKAY, so here's our chocolate+strawberry cake with cream cheese+lemon frostings,* topped with pudding, jello, and little chocolate candies, that is intended to look like a roll of sushi. In retrospect, I think my ratio of width-of-rice-band to sushi core was pretty off. A real roll of sushi has a thinner rice band and a wider core. Also, the pistachio pudding was way off the color of real avocado, and the wrong consistency. I think if I'd used a chunk of mint fudge or something, it'd have lent the right kind of shape and color to the whole thing.

Then again, there would likely have been a fight over who got the lump of fudge. -_-;

*And, would you believe, it actually tasted awesome. o_o'

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Land of AZ

I'm not even going to make excuses for the long drought of activity, I'm just going to start posting again. Everybody cool with that? Okay, thanks.

So here we are: Ku House is thus established in southern Arizona. I like the vibe around here; it's a blend of cosmopolitan speed and wilderness heritage. Also, a massive artist/gallery community. :D

The weather's nice, too. There's no contest between Arizona heat and midwestern humidity; I'll gratefully take a week of 110° in Arizona over one day of 90° in Missouri.

Roughly 75% of all my crap "art stuff" is still in cardboard boxes, buried under and behind furniture, in a storage facility, an hour drive from the house. This includes all of my embroidery thread, yarn, crochet hooks, beads, paint, and fabric. (I'm going to be fussy and cross until I've managed to dig it all out. >_<)

In the meantime, however, I have tons of old half-finished tutorials to actually finish and post. Also, tons of pictures.

Thanks to all y'all who've kept dropping by despite a lack of activity. :D