And now for something completely different

You didn’t believe that, did you? Foolish mortal!

No, it’s more food. Finally got around to the filets this time. To refresh your memory, here was the menu for tonight.

Grilled filet mignon with lump crab and bearnaise sauce
Asparagus tossed with olive oil, salt, and pepper, then grilled, and sprinkled with parmigiano-reggiano
Rice pilaf with fresh basil and toasted pine nuts
Sauteed mushrooms and onion confit
Salad

The filets, courtesy of the Fresh Market, were huge. There were some leftovers, and those went away with a guest, to be used to create envy in coworkers on the morrow.

A picture this time. Not very good plating, but then again, it’s not really about the plating and maybe that will get better by and by. It probably would have helped if I’d actually cared about doing it properly, as well. Hopefully, the photographer’s steady-hands will also get better so as not to post blurry pictures.

Once again, a successful dinner: good people, good conversation, good food. I’m hoping to do much more cooking in the new place, so if you’re in the neighborhood…

Turn your head and cough

When you go through any significant medical treatment that impacts your immune system – like chemo and/or radiation therapy, for instance – the medical staff always tells you to be careful about exposing yourself to germs and such. Try to stay away from people who are sick with colds, wash your hands often when you’re in a communal setting, monitor yourself closely for signs of illness that aren’t the direct side effects of treatment, and so on. All through treatment, even though the people around me were sick a few times and even though we were in settings with other people, some of whom were ill – after all, most of my time was spent in doctors’ offices and hospitals – I didn’t get sick at all with colds or the flu or anything.

This past week, though, I’ve not felt a hundred percent. The day before yesterday, it started going downhill, and yesterday was just awful: the first cold (or whatever) I’ve had in over a year. I spent much of yesterday napping off and on, only checking in on the biz occasionally to handle some issues, then returning myself to my non-upright position. This morning was more of the same, and since I’ve now poured some formula down the tube and feel a little queasy, I can feel another session coming on.

This is all very bad timing. Within the next two weeks, I’ll be moving into the house I’m going to be buying. There are a lot of things that need to be done for that and then the grand Memorial Day party that will follow. So whatever this is needs to speed its way along and leave me alone so I can get back to everyday business.

A sleep, not so sound

Ever since I can remember, I’ve had trouble sleeping. That’s an all around problem: not only have I had trouble getting to sleep, but also trouble staying asleep. This leads to a rather vicious circle, really, since I will eventually get to sleep, then wake up a couple of hours later, feel like going back to sleep, and then have issues falling back into slumber. It can lead to some rather interesting days if the previous sleeping sesssions have been particularly bad, as it’s a bit akin to sleepwalking through a fog on a path that isn’t very well lit. Most of the time, I can get about four hours or so of actual sleep – even though it may take me six to get there – and that will be fine for me.

I’m not entirely sure just when it all started. I know I’ve never been much of a sleeper, unlike my siblings, who would happily sleep their way through a dozen hours. There is no real rhyme or reason to the cause: it isn’t dietary, it isn’t stress, it isn’t any strange phobia. I can say that throughout radiation and chemo, I slept longer and better than I can recall ever sleeping. Not that I would want to have that be my method of getting decent sleep time in, mind you – certainly that would be a bit of an extreme just to gain a few hours of naptime. but it does solidify for me the thought that to get a “normal” sleep, I have to be totally exhausted. Once that exhaustion is assuaged, though, my sleep pattern goes directly back to what it was.

Someone once asked me if I dream at all when I sleep. Sure I do. My sleeping dreams, like my waking imagination, are quite vivid and I do recall most of the details. The same person asked me if I had nightmares on a regular basis. No. It’s quite rare that I’ll experience a nightmare, in fact. So my insomiac-like behavior can’t be blamed on that, either.

Right now, I can feel myself reaching that point of exhaustion that might actually allow me to sleep through the next five or six hours with minimal interruption. My eyes are crossing as I type this, and I have to close one eye in order to finish. Since the work I was doing (moving two gigantic accounts between servers) is completed, this is as good a time as any to test just how tired I am and just how quickly it will take me off into downy sleep.

Chef, make me a menu

I’ve been asked to do up a small menu for a spa to serve to clients of theirs who buy a particular day-long package, which includes a light lunch. So I’ve been turning over ideas in my head, wondering what to feed people who are in the midst of massages and facials and the other assorted activities people get to enjoy when they fork over good money to be pampered.

In general, when you see things like this, the meat of choice is usually chicken. There is a reason for this: chicken is generally nonoffensive, almost everyone eats it (unlike pork or beef), and it’s versatile enough to be adapted into a number of dishes that do well as make-ahead items.

The staff wants a tasting of the dishes, of course, so they can decide what to serve their guests – who would refuse free food?

Grilled chicken with a pomegranate-black pepper glaze
Chicken roulade with feta and spinach
Curried chicken salad
Cobb salad with blackened chicken (although this one gives me pause because of the bleu cheese in the dish, since they’d need breath mints afterwards)
Roasted chicken with a cherry sauce

To go along with these, it would usually be something light – mixed greens with a variety of homemade vinaigrettes and fresh fruit, or if the main dish has a green component, just the fruit.

I was also watching Paula Deen this afternoon after returning from the doctor, and she was working with a ham that must have weighted north of 20 pounds. That got me thinking about the thick, boneless pork loin chops I picked up the other day (and which I still need to vacuum pack) and what to do with them. The first thing that popped into my head was a stuffed chop dish – cornbread and apples, specifically, then topped with a maple glaze. Sounds delightful to me.

I’ve also been told to come up with dishes that are low-fat and low-cholesterol. My entire family has cholesterol issues, a lot of which is simply due to the hereditary influences, and most of the adults take some sort of cholesterol-reducing drug(s), my mom included. The side effects of some of those drugs though, can be harsh, and it would be nice if at least the immediate family could do something on the dietary side to help out the hereditary side. Since a friend of mine insists that she wants to lose a few pounds, such a menu would be good for her as well. The dishes above would all work well for that, along with fresh veggies and good oils in the cooking.

Culinary adventures. Gotta love it.

Another day, another biopsy

Today I had another followup visit with my ENT, who did the surgery on my tongue and neck. That’s the thing about cancer – it’s almost like a lifetime of followups after treatment, although the span between followups gets longer and longer as you go along.

Within the past couple of weeks I noticed a bump on my tongue, near the back. It isn’t painful in and of itself, but it rubs against the back of my palate, which makes that spot red and sore. Since my followup was coming, I made a mental note to ask him about the bump while he poked and prodded,

He looked at it, gave it a poke (which didn’t hurt), and said it looked like a granuloma – a benign tissue growth that occurs due to trauma/healing. But, naturally given my recent history, we had to have a sample to send off to the pathology lab.

People think of “a sample” and think it’s just a minor thing, a piece of flesh to be passed along, and off you go. Would that it were so easy. Would you like a step by step? Sure you would.

First, in my opinion, pain in the mouth is the absolute worst. I’ve had knee injuries, wounds that required debriding to remove gravel and clay, pulled muscles, and so on – the consequences of an active and athletic life. But I’ve always disliked dental work in general, and then this cancer business demonstrated to me that for me, my opinion is spot on about pain in the mouth area.

So, first we get a spray of a numbing agent on the tongue. This is just to help calm things when the doctor then pulls out the syringe of novocaine. The needle is a small gauge needle, but that’s no consolation when you get injections directly into the tongue in multiple places. Since my tongue (still) has not fully healed from radiation, this results in multiple bleeding areas as it’s still very sensitive.

Then, we wait a few minutes while the novocaine kicks in. During this time, they gather their rather scary-looking instruments, the bottle to hold the samples, and, in my case, lots of gauze to blot the blood. Also, swabs, peroxide, and silver nitrate (used to seal the wounds).

The samples. I believe I mentioned way back when that the first biospy I had to endure led to a second biopsy because that doctor did not take a large enough or deep enough sample for the pathologist. This ENT, however, is much more thorough, and took half a dozen samples, all of which were pretty substantial (remember, here, that “substantial” means a few centimeters – they’re not cutting out huge swaths of tissue). I looked at them after the tech sealed the bottle and the biohazard bag, and felt good about there not being a need for another round of samples this time. He was rather surprised when we told him we had to go through it twice the first time, and said that we’d make sure it was a one shot deal this time.

After the samples, quite a bit of blotting, since by this time, my mouth is full of blood. A few swabs of peroxide, and some dabbing of silver nitrate, and that’s it. I was left with a foul-taste in my mouth – since my taste buds have been back in fairly good operation since about a month after treatment ended – and quite a bit of spit and more blood. Just as with the dentist, time to spit.

And with that, we were done. I have to go back next week for the results from the pathologisst and what our next step will be, whether it’s benign or more serious. The ENT says they can use the laser to shave down the bump and excise it, and I’m all in favor of that, as it’s the same procedure I went through originally. The lack of stitching on the wound once the surgery is completed with the laser is, in my opinion, an excellent thing. Not just because it means one less visit into the mouth, to remove stitches, but because the post-surgical swelling and healing makes a big difference in how much tissue is present as healing progresses – after all, my tongue looks like it’s missing only a little less than a quarter of its original size despite the fact that almost half was removed. Bonus.

So we’ll see wha we have here and move on. Just like always.

To write, perchance to not edit

A bit of a metaphysical chat with a friend tonight, touching on the topic of writing.

I always wanted to write. Since I was young, my head has been filled with the byproducts of an overactive imagination. For the past dozen or so years, I’ve been carrying around ideas that would, were they to be formed, make themselves into novels.

So why, one might ask, do I not write? Good question, and one I ask myself over and over as I berate myself for not doing just that.

My internal editor will not shut its yap. I hear that little voice saying the same things over and over: that writing stinks. That piece is too private, too personal. That section over there is an idea that’s been rehashed forever, can’t you be original?

And there is the other side of writing, too, the side that wouldn’t be for publication necessarily, but is more an exercise to stretch one’s wings, to let the words flow about whatever topic is uppermost in the mind. A friend of mine tells me that I’ve not posted anything personal in some time, and this is true. Even my insertion of some personal details in the midst of a larger post are incidental. That same little voice yammers about how personal stuff should remain just that way, how deeper thoughts on subjects make me sound like a pretentious git, and how someone else has already said it – better – before I ever got to it.

So what’s the solution? Hell if I know. I’m just typing a stream of consciousness thing here, trying not to edit as I go along. It’s incredibly difficult, and for someone like me who is generally in control all the time, frustrating not to be able to control this as well. At times it almost feels like a failure of character not to be able to spit out the things that are stuck in the brain cells under my skull. I feel like I am awash in words that will never be written, in things that will never be said. I can’t decide if that’s a trgedy or a blessing.

EVOO, anyone?

I’ve a friend who kids me that I’m a huge fan of Rachael Ray. This is our little inside joke because I believe Rachael Ray’s evolution as a tv host has turned her into a loud, spastically gesticulating freak of nature.

In the past, she was not like this (Rachael Ray, not my friend). In her previous incarnation, she was calm, didn’t pepper her speech with idiotic and repetitive phrases (as much), and actually made food that had some thought behind it. I’m not against the 30 Minute Meals (30MM) philosophy entirely. There is, after all, a time and a place for everything. I’ve always thought her 30MM were generally lacking a well-rounded nutrition level, but this is often what you get when putting something together very quickly – and it beats ordering a pizza or grabbing a greasy burger, although those also have their time and place. Overall, in the past, it was not unpleasant to watch RR demonstrate whatever it was she was making during that particular show.

Now, however, it’s an entirely different story. I’m not sure if her fame has gone to her head or if someone at Food Network told her to take it up a level, but she is a screeching harpy now, giggling inappropriately, gesturing with every single word she says, and generally being quite ordinary and uncreative with the meals she demonstrates. That she has four shows in rotation on FTV at this time does not help matters: her exposure level is akin to that of a camera with its shutter left open for an overextended period of time, resulting in a whitewash of what the picture was supposed to be.

I was watching the Next Food Network Star, and in one episode, they took a contestant to task for repeating several stock phrases. Somehow, I don’t think they’ll be saying the same thing to Emeril and his “Bam!” or to RR and her “Yummo”, “How cool is that?”, or the worst, “EVOO – that’s extra virgin olive oil.” Memo to RR: if you have to tell people what it stands for every time you say it, then don’t bother saying it in its abbreviated form. Just say extra virgin olive oil and move on. And why must everything be fried in extra virgin olive oil? An even more important question is why RR insists on frying naturally greasy items like bacon and sausage in extra virgin olive oil. My mind tries but fails to understand why this is necessary. Her culinary disintegration is apparent in the things she prepares these days, as if the well is running dry. Beyond her increasing reliance on burgers of all types, and her “stoups” – a not quite a soup, not quite a stew, but entirely stupid idea – and her total lack of any vegetable product in quite a number of her later recipes, there are some eye-poppingly horrid creations. This is one. This one, however, is worse (and, I will note, something that contains exactly zero veggies on the menu, opting instead for mac and cheese, hot dogs, and caramel popcorn-covered ice cream balls for dessert). We won’t even go into her too-cute-for-words naming conventions for her recipes. Calling something “Micro-way-cool Bacon and Green Beans” is not cool. Unless you’re a 30-something woman with a cooking show trying to act like you’re still in your late teens or early 20s and showing off just how clever you can be. Her alcohol consumption on her other shows, particularly on Inside Dish, can be appalling, especially when it seems she is soused to the gills, as she appeared to be on the ID episode with Morgan Freeman.

It’s a shame, really, as I used to appreciate what RR did to get people who might not have been cooking into the kitchen to at least try something, even though I have to gnaw my lip when she says just eyeball everything or repeats for the millionth time that she doesn’t bake (would this be because you hate to measure things, and baking takes measurement in order to be successful?). Now, though, she’s ranking right up there with Sandra Lee and her Semi-Ho dreck. I’d say I have hopes RR will turn herself around, but with the direction FTV is taking toward entertainment over actual cooking, I’m not holding my breath on that.

Let them eat steak

Easter dinner. For years, it has always been ham. Now, I’m as big a fan of pork as the next person, but sometimes you have to break out of the mold. I had intended to grill some filets for the fam, but came across some lovely ribeyes and decided to go with that instead.

Resting after a touch of seasoning.

Closeup, just to get the drool going.

The steaks sizzled as they went on the hot grill. After the first flip, nice grill marks going.

Not too many minutes later, ready to be served to the hungry guests.

I even managed to get a shot of the first cut of one of the steaks, before it vanished.

I wasn’t quite as lucky to get a shot of the zucchini gratin before they started digging in. Yes, gratin again. They love it. I even managed to eat a few slices of zucchini, yay!

A fresh salad, baked potatoes, sauteed mushrooms, and onion confit rounded out the meal. A fine time was had by all. Now to plan the next menu – filets, for real this time – before someone heads out of town for a week to heed the siren call of work.

Houston, we have confit

After a long day yesterday delivering ribs, sauce, and pickles to those in need, I decided to start some onion confit in the slow cooker.

What’s a confit, you may ask? Excellent question. A confit is simply a preserve, and can be done with just about anything from duck to melons to onions. For savory items, the confit is done using fats. In our case, the fats were butter and olive oil.

Why a confit, you may ask? Another excellent question. Well, why not? Another tasty goodie to tempt the people around me can’t be bad. Besides, there’s no doubt in my mind that onion confit would be great with some grilled filets, or atop some toasted bread with gorgonzola. Or brie and some thinly sliced tart apples.

But I digress. On to the photo show.

This is how it all started.

A four quart slow cooker on high, four giant mutant white onions, quartered and sliced, 3/4 of a stick of butter, and whatever olive oil was left in the bottle (probably a little less than 1/4 of a cup, and definitely something that went back on the shopping list). I stirred all this together and slapped the lid on. About half an hour in, I stirred in about a tablespoon of dark brown sugar and let it go with the lid off for a couple of hours.

Two hours later, not feeling well and ready to grab some sleep, I turned the slow cooker to the warm setting and put the lid back on.

After some sleep, but with a strange case of indigestion – strange because it’s not like I eat anything other than formula for the most part – I got up, turned the heat back on high and left the lid partially off to help along the evaporation. Fourteen and a half hours in, we had this.

I’d been stirring it every so often, and at this point removed the lid entirely to continue the evaporation. A little more than 18 hours later, the finished product.

All those onions reduced down to two pints.

Taste testers judged it delicious, still with an onion-y flavor, but not overly sweet.

I’ve decided that for the next batch, I’ll fill the cooker, let it reduce for about 30 minutes, then add more onions. With about two to three hours of refills, the finished product will be the same, but will fill more than two pint jars that are going to disappear very quickly.

Reflections on gardening, cooking, and life