Category Archives: The Challenge

The Challenge: Day Twenty-Three

More server setups today. More ordering of equipment, including the last rack that will fit in the current cage at the NOC (and as soon as that arrives, the NOC guys will start building out the next cage for us). More paperwork. More cooking.

Tonight’s menu: sauteed marinated shrimp with a sweet garlic sauce, steamed brocooli with lemon (my sister’s request), sliced fresh tomatoes, and rice pilaf with shallots and parmesan (again, yes, and in place of my sister’s request for mashed cauliflower, since I didn’t feel like going back out to the store for a head of cauliflower).

Just three of us for dinner tonight, and a very informal, serve yourself kind of affair.

The shrimp, after marinating for ahwile in honey, soy, fresh lime juice, and red pepper flakes and then sauteed in a touch of olive oil.

Serve yourself in whatever fashion suits you.

The sauce was made of rice wine vinegar, sugar, water, a touch of salt, thinly sliced garlic, and about half a teaspoon of a chile-garlic paste. It went very well with the shrimp.

I’ve noticed of late that my mouth is ultrasensitive to foods on the spicier side of the scale. It’s probably due to one of the rinses I have to use, and it’s bumming me out a little, for two reasons: first of all, it’s painful and burns when I eat something even a little spicy or with a good amount of vinegar, like this sauce, and second, I like spicy foods but can’t eat them right now. I suppose I should be thankful I can eat anything at all, considering everything, but I suspect my recovery would be more enjoyable (and go more quickly) if there weren’t so many damned limitations relative to my ability to eat. As it stands, my weigh-in yesterday was at 107, probably because I couldn’t eat anything all day before the PET scan. In two months, it will be a year since I got the feeding tube. While it helped save my life during treatment, I’d really like to say goodbye to eat, but at this rate it will be with me indefinitely.

Where was I? Ah, the shrimp. I ate one, with some sauce, and it burned a bit. It sure did taste good, though, for what I was able to taste. If I ever start packaging foods, I’ll have to remember this sauce for the roster. Some steamed broccoli with real butter, a bit of rice…and a post-dinner cappucino and a Reese’s cup. Not a bad little meal for me, although I suppose I should dump some formula down the tube, as I’m way low on calories the past couple of days.

Our breakdown for tonight’s dinner.

Shrimp (one pound): 6.70
Tomatoes: 1.40
Rice (with shallots and parmesan): 2.00
Sauce: 1.00
Broccoli: 1.50

Total for the meal: 12.60
Total per diner (3): 4.20

Someone asked me if the diners included myself in these calculations, since I don’t really eat that much of the “real” food. Yes, the count does include me unless I note otherwise. Technically, I am participating in the meal, even if I’m not eating as much as a person usually would. Since the leftovers are usually eaten for lunches, and I’m not including those in our tabulations, most dinners are new creations with new costs and the leftover factor is eliminated for those dinners. I think it evens itself out.

The Challenge: Day Twenty-Two

One of my cousins, whom I’ve not seen in 20 years or so, has been in town for about a week. Monday evening, we had her and her son over to join us for dinner. Yours truly had a PET scan scheduled in the afternoon, and it took quite a bit longer than it usually does, as they were backed up. And once things get backed up, the trickle down effect means that if your appointment is late in the day, you get the cumulative effect of the delay. I finally finished with that – and we should have the results by the end of the week – and tried to get to the bank before they closed to get a cashier’s check to send off for the small company we’ve just bought out. Didn’t work, as those bankers don’t keep the same kind of hours I do. So I took off to Publix to pick up a few things for dinner, as Costco is on the other side of town and I didn’t feel like fighting the rush hour traffic to pick up what I needed. As I usually do, I weighed in at Publix, sighed at the result, grabbed what I went in for, and headed home.

On the menu: seared, roasted chicken breasts with a creamy lime sauce, rice pilaf with shallots and parmesan, hearts of romaine with fresh grapefruit segments (courtesy of my sisters, who picked up a bag of grapefruit on their way back from Orlando on Sunday) and walnuts, and sliced fresh tomatoes (because it’s just that season around here).

The salad. Very good with a raspberry-walnut vinaigrette.

The chicken, which looks really white – this is a byproduct of being seared and then finished in the oven in some of the sauce. A couple of lime slices with it, as we’re citrus kind of people around here.

The table. There is nothing like tomatoes in season. In the small bowl is more of the sauce.

After dinner, cappuccino for three of us. I was tempted to put together a dessert, but everyone was full and I was still recovering from the lawn work on Sunday, so I skipped it.

This was almost a grocery store-only menu, which would be fairly typical for most families if for whatever reason there wasn’t time for doing the bulk shopping. Our breakdown for dinner, which includes leftovers:

Chicken (boneless, skinless breasts, 6): 12.32
Rice (including shallots and parmesan): 2.00
Tomatoes: 1.99
Salad: 1.50

Total for the meal: 17.81
Total per diner (5): 3.56

It was an enjoyable evening, I must say. It’s always nice to catch up with people you haven’t seen in what seems like forever and see what has or hasn’t changed in their lives. My cousin joined in on the advice train: you should open a restaurant, she said. Nice to have that kind of support from the people eating your cooking, I think.

The Challenge: Day Twenty-One

We’ve reached the three week mark here, and I think we’re doing pretty well.

I’m taking a little break next weekend and going to Savannah with my mom and aunt. Obviously, there will be no cooking for me during the weekend, unless one of the restaurants would allow me to invade their kitchen – and that’s unlikely. I’ll have to think of something simple for next Sunday evening, as I probably won’t feel much like cooking anything involved that night when we return.

Since my dear friend is single, and will not cook for one, we stowed the leftovers from last night’s fondue in the fridge. Tonight, I whipped up a little stirfry with some teriyaki sauce: beef, mushrooms, zucchini, onions, broccoli, rice.

I ate a bit, but rice is one of the most difficult foods to eat for me because it’s so damned hard to control. I do love zucchini, and could eat it every day from spring to fall if the people around me could stand it.

Tomorrow, we’re having some people over for dinner, including one of my numerous cousins, whom I haven’t seen in over 20 years. On the menu: chicken in a creamy lime sauce, and rice pilaf with shallots and parmsean. We’ll probably toss a salad together and add naother vegetable in there as well.

Before dinner, though, my afternoon is going to be interrupted by another PET scan, as we’re overdue for one. As usual, these scans and checkups involve a certain amount of apprehension for me, and with the scans there is always a list of rules that have to be followed prior to scan to ensure good readings. For this round, there is no strenuous physical activity, no caffeine, smoking, or gum chewing 12 hours prior. Nothing by mouth except water five hours prior. They also measure blood sugar prior to injecting the radioactive glucose solution, as it must be within a certain range so the scan can give a good reading. Fortunately, I don’t smoke, and I can’t chew gum, but I suppose I better go ahead and have my cappuccino and Reese’s cups now.

The Challenge: Day Twenty

Someone asked me if I was fully recovered now, given that most of my blogging is turned over to food, both cooking and eating, that I mention that I’m getting out and about, etc.

The short answer: No.

The long answer: Looking at all the things I’ve been through and am going through, I’m doubting that I will ever be “fully” recovered. Some things are obvious, of course. There’s little question that the rest of my tongue isn’t going to magically reappear, and the reduced salivary output is probably going to be with me forever, courtesy of the radiation. Other things are iffy, like the range of motion and strength on the left side, the scars down and across my neck, the swelling on the left side of my face, the limited opening range of my mouth, and so on. I still can’t eat very much, and when I do eat, my mouth gets fatigued very rapidly. I’m tired a lot – more than even the people closest to me know, I suspect. I’m constantly in pain, and I have no idea if that will ever go away, either, but I rarely take any drugs for that (only when it’s really out of control). So, no, I’m not fully recovered right now, even though I’m returning to life very, very (very) slowly.

So, on we go with our challenge, which has slipped under the radar this past week.

As mentioned, a friend rescured me from cooking duties by suggesting fondue. My involvement was limited to cubing the beef, opening a two pound bag of shrimp, and whipping up some caramelized onions, as my friend brought along all the fixings. There’s something nice about sitting around with some people, stabbing chunks of food with little forks and setting them into a hot pot.

We had: beef, shrimp, broccoli, mushrooms, zucchini, caramelized onions, and some cubes of french bread. And water. Lots and lots of water for me. I did eat some of these things, even picked the softer inside of a couple of bread cubes out and dipped them in cheese (that, as you might imagine, required a significant amount of liquid to get down). There were only three of us, but that turned out to be a good number, as otherwise there would have been dueling forks, I think.

I told them that we should do a Chinese hot pot, with broth, next time. And we should definitely do a dessert fondue.

The Challenge: Days 16-19

So, where were we?

Holidays really mess with schedules. Work does, too. And work has been massive.


The 4th of July, everyone vanished or holed themselves up in their humble abodes, which meant no cooking for me. Day sixteen was rather a bust in the old challenge department, but some days are indeed like that.

The next day, however…

Dinner: chicken breasts stuffed with feta and spinach.

With more fresh tomatoes.

And some broccoli, steamed with lemon and garlic.

Wonderful stuff. Nutritious. Tasty. Lowfat. Affordable.

Chicken (boneless, skinless): 4 x 1.36 = 5.44
Spinach and feta mixture: 3.59
Broccoli: 3.19 (yeah, yeah)
Tomatoes: 1.00

Total meal, with leftovers: 13.22
Total per diner (4): 3.31

Day eighteen? Another no cooking night for me, as everyone was, once again, gone, working or otherwise occupied. Soup, ice cream, and cappuccino(!) on my menu. The cap is the output of my dandy new espresso machine, which I probably like more than is healthy.

I’m drinking quite a bit of cappuccino now that it’s so very convenient to do. Not a bad way to take in some extra no-value calories.

Day nineteen? Yet another no cooking night. My sisters are off to Orlando to visit our brothers. My mother is off with my aunts and a cousin I’ve not seen in over 20 years, playing some kind of game and eating. Yours truly had half a hamburger, half a tomato, some ice cream, and (soon) some cappuccino.

I can say that day twenty will be yet another day of no cooking for me, as a friend of mine is going to whip up a fondue to spare me from my non-cooking week.

Next week, however, will bring back more cooking. I posted some menu ideas from which the fam could choose. The top two were chicken breasts in a creamy lime sauce and rice pilaf with shallots and parmesan, and grilled shrimp with a sweet-garlic dipping sauce and a caprese salad (that’s fresh tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil). There are other things on the list as well: pork tenderloin stuffed with apricots and shallots, vegetable lasagna, orange pork with rice noodles, citrus tilapia with a mango-coconut-ginger salsa and roasted asparagus, and so on. My sister caught part of a show I was watching and decided she wanted plums in raspberry sauce. I suggested plums poached in raspberry sauce with a lemon reduction and a small scoop of ice cream, which I think would be quite nice.

So, more cooking to come. In other news, I’ve decided to apply myself to learning Italian, for that day in the distant future when I go to Italy to be a tourist. Besides, as long as I’m butchering English on my way to recovery, I might as well butcher another language at the same time.

A presto.

The Challenge: Day Fifteen

This afternoon, my sister popped in for lunch.

“I’m thinking fish for dinner, ” I say. “Tilapia, baked, with a pineapple-chile glaze. Basmati pilaf with parmesan. Salad. Nutritious, lowfat, tasty. What do you think?”

“I’m not in the mood for fish,” she says, as she eats the last of the salad from last night.

“Well, what would you like?” I ask, ready to change the menu.

“Fish is fine.”

Fickle, I swear.

So I made the fish.

And the rice.

And got rave reviews from that very same sister, who was a bit grouchy in the evening. A swim and then dinner cleared that up for us all.

The (large) church down the road had a “family freedom fest” tonight – the wording of which I almost strained my eyeballs at rolling them every time I read the sign this past week – and started a fireworks show around 9:30. We stepped right out in the backyard, looked over the treeline, and saw their show. Not bad. I sipped some hot tea while my mom and sister drank coffee and we stood out in the cooler evening under a sky so clear even the faintest stars could be seen opposite the half moon hanging at our backs.

Tomorrow is going to be another weird kind of eating day, as one of my aunts, as I mentioned, is having a gathering and grilling. I haven’t decided if I’m going to head over there yet. Some holidays I prefer to avoid the multitude of weirdos and drunks and just hang out around my homestead.

Anyway, back to tonight’s meal. Here’s the breakdown.

Tilapia (two huge filets, which the three of us did not finish completely, including the glaze): 11.63
Rice: 1.00
Salad: 1.00

Total meal: 13.63
Total per diner (3): 4.54

I even have nutrition information for the fish and pilaf!

Fish (based on a full filet)
Calories: 206
Protein: 30.7 g
Carbs: 10.1 g
Cholesterol: 9.9 mg

Calories: 260
Protein: 8.1 g
Carbs: 42.2 g
Cholesterol: 10 mg

Not a bad evening, I must say. Now, time for some ice cream…

The Challenge: Day Fourteen

Has it been two weeks already?

My original plan for the day went something like this the night before: get some sleep to recover from the party at my aunt’s, go to the farmer’s market early, cut the lawn (desperately in need of it due to all the rain last week), then cook something healthy and lowfat for dinner. I was kicking around ideas for dinner and asked my brother, who was up from Orlando with a friend, what he’d like. His answer? Steak. Broccoli with cheese sauce. Potatoes with garlic and parsley. Salad.

Not exactly lowfat, and not exactly wholesomely nutritious. Still, it’s a holiday weekend and he’s not up that often, so special requests can be granted.

I agreed, and shortly thereafter, went to bed, hoping to get some sleep in order to get an early start. Alas, my sleep was interrupted just after 4 AM for a trip to the NOC. When I returned just before 6, I was tempted to stay up but decided that was a Bad Idea indeed, and went back to bed for a couple of hours. Once up, it was time to get things started before the day turned into our usual inferno, but the schedule had to be rearranged slightly, so the first job was to cut the grass. I managed to do this relatively quickly, all things considered, and then took some heat from a friend for doing it myself instead of making someone else do it. From there, a quick shower, to the farmer’s market, and then to Costco for steaks.

Where, I will say, I found quite a pretty whole boneless loin for ribeyes, which I then proceeded to slice into 16 very nice individual steaks.

The marbling is fantastic.

We planned on nine for dinner, so I pulled nine steaks and rubbed them with olive oil, salt, and pepper. The rest went into the freezer to await another day.

Of course, people can’t live by steak alone.

Yukon potatoes with garlic and parsley.

Broccoli and cheese sauce.

The steaks? On the grill until medium rare. Except for two: one more well done, one rare as hell. Heathens. We wound up two people short, so had several steaks left over. These will go home with my brother, since he’s perpetually broke.

As an added bonus, I cooked up a couple pounds of shrimp.

Happy people.

They all took a swim and horsed around in the pool after dinner. I made cookies. Yummy.

So, what’s the breakdown for this grand fiesta?

Ribeyes, boneless – 9 x 3.64* = 32.76
Shrimp – 12.60
Potatoes – 4.99
Broccoli and cheese – 4.00
Salad – 2.50
Cookies – 3.20

* This is calculated based on the number of steaks I cut from the whole portion. If the steaks had been thinner, the cost per steak would be less; if thicker, the cost per steak would be more.

Total for the food: 60.05, with leftovers
Total per diner (7): 8.58

One of our more expensive meals, to be sure. If I’d had my way, I’d have replaced the broccoli with something that was in season, like zucchini or okra, and this would have lowered the cost a bit. However, it is a holiday weekend combined with special requests. It’s also incredibly reasonable for the type of food we had, which I suppose could be classified as luxury items, since we had both steak and shrimp. Finally, it’s also very affordable in the amount per person, since a good, already cut steak would run more than eight bucks a person on its own – not to mention the sides you’d have with it. Overall, I would count this as a success relative to The Challenge, but I’d also caution that it would be imperative to find a good place to buy bulk in meat (like Costco) and do the cutting yourself. Picking up nine ribeyes at Publix would have easily increased the food bill substantially.

With our final hurrah for higher fat food out of the way, beginning Monday we will refocus on lowfat meals, as my mom, both my sisters, and a dear friend are always complaining about their weight, need to eat healthier, and so on. Yours truly does not complain about that particular issue right now, as you might imagine (and today’s weigh in at Publix: 108 pounds). So tomorrow – or, rather, today, as I type this, since it’s now 3 AM because I kept watching a movie with the boys instead of finishing this – I’ll be working on menus that will fit in with the goals the women in my life happen to have. But it will still be tasty. Because what’s the point of eating healthier meals if you can’t stand them?

The Challenge: Day Thirteen – The Holiday Edition

OK, so day thirteen didn’t really count. It’s a holiday here, and this time, not my turn to cook everything – but I still had to make a couple of things to bring to the festivities at my aunt’s.

The ever-popular ribs.

A sneak peek at the interior before hauling them over to the party.

I also decided to make some bread for the masses.

The ribs vanished quickly as everyone gnawed away. There was a ton of other food there, of course, and we snacked throughout the evening on various cookout-related foods: ribs, pork, chicken, potato salad, beans, a delightful corn souffle made by a neighbor of my aunt’s, cupcakes (minis – I ate three!), mac and cheese, chips and dips, and so on. When the sun finally went down fully around 9 PM, we retired to chairs out front and watched partygoers set off fireworks in the street, some of which veered wildly off course and into the crowd, which always lends itself to hilarity.

At the end of the day, we all returned to our homes, full and happy. For myself, that included doing some work and planning out the next day. Those plans, however, are a topic for the next entry.

The Challenge: Day Twelve

Heading to the wire on month end. Which is fabulous, except that month end comes around every month. I suppose I should be thankful that not all month ends are also end of quarter.

Work, work, work. What do you do when you’re working all day long, don’t feel quite….right, and need a quick meal? Pull out something from the freezer and combine it with leftovers, of course.

Frozen shrimp, courtesy of my sister, who finally brought me another 20 pound box. Leftover garlic potatoes from Wednesday night, combined with some of the diced onion left over from the salad making on Wednesday. Put them together – well, not together in the same pot – and you have the makings of a fine meal.

Simplicity is key. The shrimp went in some boiling water and beer, with Old Bay.

For the potatoes, I melted a bit of butter in a saute pan, tossed in the potatoes and some of the diced onion, and sprinkled with pepper. The key to these is to heat them at a relatively high heat, as they were previously boiled and tossed with butter and garlic for the last meal. This will allow some crust on the potatoes without turning them completely into mush.

Toss the potatoes a couple of times, then turn them out onto a plate. My mom had a bit of steak and some salad left from yesterday’s lunch, so she had that as well. Some cocktail sauce (leftover from Sunday’s gathering) and a bowl of melted butter with lemon juice in it for the shrimp are necessities.

And then there is the shrimp.

An easy meal for all concerned.

Total cost: 13.40 for two pounds of shrimp. Everything else was leftovers. Plenty of shrimp left over, too.
Total per diner (3): 4.47

Did I eat? Indeed I did: five shrimp and some of the potatoes. Not like it used to be, I can tell you that: in the old days, I could easily put back a pound of shrimp on my own. Sometimes a bit more. These days, though, I take what I can. Today, I also ordered an ice cream maker. Time to start doing that myself as well.

Tomorrow, my aunt is having her 4th of July party, and I’ve been asked to smoke some ribs. I pulled out the two packages (that’s four slabs) I had in the freezer and they’re defrosting nicely for their date tomorrow morning with the smoker.

The Challenge: Day Eleven

Month end and the end of the quarter. No Challenge update, except to say that after a visit with the ENT (and waiting half an hour past my appointment time to see him), taking my mom and sister out to lunch, setting up new servers, and working on month end and end of quarter paperwork, there’s no time (or energy) for cooking.

See you tomorrow.