Menus, dictated

I tend to work with FoodTV on in the background. For awhile, when it was rerun after rerun, I had switched over to watching all the Law & Orders that were on various channels throughout the day. Now that I’ve caught up on those, it’s back to FTV.

The other day, Everyday Italian is on when one of my sisters breezes through. She stops for a moment, points to the tv, and says, “Can you make that? Let’s have that for dinner.”

“That” happened to be chicken cacciatore.

“Surely, ” says I. “When?”

We all compare schedules and decide that Thursday is best. Since my little brother has forgotten the cardinal rule – sponge off your family as long as you possibly can before moving out – and is leaving for Orlando on Friday, we’ll consider it a going-away dinner for him. Piece of cake, I think, and start putting together my recipe and my grocery list.

So I invite a dear friend over, and that makes five total for whom I’m cooking. That turns into six when one of the girls invites her boyfriend, then seven when the other invites hers, then eight when my mom informs me she’s invited a friend of the family.

No problem.

The boyfriends also brought along their respective dogs – three, total.

Have I mentioned yet what a madhouse it is when the family starts getting together?

So, Thursday’s menu was: chicken cacciatore, risotto with parmigiano-reggiano, steamed broccoli, and salad (which my sister made).

No photos of this one because I was running out of gas by the end and they were all hungry. The reviews were excellent, and one day I’ll be able to actually eat the food I’m cooking. One of my sisters took some of the chicken to work, where her boss termed it (and I quote) “Fucking kick-ass chicken”. I’ll put that one in the plus column. She also received a request from one of her coworkers to bring some in. At least the letovers won’t go to waste.

For tomorrow: barbeque sauces, the rub for the ribs, and some fresh foccacia. Sunday: an hour or so in the brine for the ribs, and then we be smokin’!

The new joint

There used to be a little Chinese restaurant down the road from here. It was in a rather unfortunate location, with bad access unless you were heading the right way on the street. The building sits back a bit from the main road, is not very large, and is there alone, with no supporting characters to help it along. Every time we would drive past the place, it was deserted.

Now, however, the parking lot is busy during the day and packed in the evening. The place is no longer serving up Chinese food, though. It has been converted to a Latin-inspired place called La Puerta Plata (The Silver Door). We decided to stop off there and pick up some food to see how it was – and if it justified the traffic the place seems to get.

The menu is not very large, but has enough of a selection that I wouldn’t walk out immediately were I there to eat. The menu is in Spanish with some English translations, although some of those translations leave a little room for improvement – simply translating something as “meat” for instance, is not helpful to someone who does not speak Spanish, like my mother. I walked my mother through the menu, from the stew (with chicken, beef, plantains, and potatoes) to bistec y cebolla (steak and onion). She wasn’t very interested in the stew made with goat or the seafood items, which consisted mostly of shrimp (or shrimps, as the menu said, translating literally from camarones). We settled on the steak and onions and an order of chuletas (pork chops), with an order of stew. The entrees come with a choice of white or yellow rice, red or black beans, and salad, or plantains and salad. We opted for the salads and one of each of the rice and beans.

The food is not spectacular, but is serviceable. The steak was a bit overdone, and the chops uninspiring, although my mom perked those up a bit with a little of one of the hot sauces that I have (Blind Betty’s Pineapple Pizzazz). Both the rice and beans was standard fare, not bad, but not great. Since I couldn’t actually taste the other food, I did have a small taste of the broth of the stew. It had a curious undertone to it, most likely the result of so many ingredients and seasonings in it. It didn’t help that it was more soup-like thatn stew-like – Rachael Ray would probably term it a “stoup”, halfway between a soup and a stew.

Overall? The place most likely will not be given another chance by the family, but I’ll probably try something when I can eat again, just to make sure they’re given a fair shot.

Shall we play a game?

I think that like most geeks my age, WarGames was the first movie I’d ever seen that had more reality than fiction in it about what you could do with computers. The movie was released the year after I had gone to this summer camp at the University of Western Maryland (real camp name: Gifted and Talented Summer Camp – I think someone’s creativity burner was on low the day they came up with that one). For one glorious week, a group of us had access to the computer lab, where we learned to do some BASIC programming and wrote a small text-based adventure game, complete with dragons, treasure, and goblins. The second week was spent reading Flatland and talking about perceptions of reality. Fun. The title of this post comes from WarGames, and is what Joshua (the computer) would ask the person who had connected.

In our case, it’s a simpler game than global thermonuclear war. A visual one. There are some images below, but for the purposes of the game itself, only the first two are important. It’s a game of spot the difference, and your challenge, should you wish to accept it, is to determine the difference between the first image and the second. The other images are for illustrative purposes. Ready? If so, click away to continue.

Continue reading Shall we play a game?

Working back

Yesterday, I did something that I have not done since the middle of last year.

I cooked.

Believe me, I’ve wanted to get back to cooking before this. Between healing, pain, and energy levels, though, it simply has not been possible. I decided that yesterday would be the day, and if it wiped me out for a few days afterwards, that would be fine. At least I could say I did it, and I could use the rest time to prepare the next menu.

Alas, I am still not eating, but the family said it was all delicious. In addition to working on getting strength back and getting back in the kitchen on a regular basis, I also need something to help the photography side of the food. I think what I need is a portable studio type of thing, to have a suitable backdrop and also be able to control the light better. In any case, the menu was this:

Balsamic glazed boneless pork chops with caramelized shallots, steamed broccoli with toasted garlic crumbs and lemon, and basmati rice.

I wish I had been able to get a better shot of the full plate, but this will have to do, considering there were few places to set it up properly.

This shot came out better. A closeup of the chop with some of the sauce.

I’m sure there will be more to come as I slowly get back into what used to be my life.

Reliving the past

These images (and others) have been sitting on my camera for quite some time. I don’t know why I haven’t pulled them off before – I suppose it’s simply because I really didn’t want to look at them. You may not want to look at them, either. If you’re easily disturbed by medical photos, do not look at the extended entry. Really. You’ve been warned.

Continue reading Reliving the past

Scraps and peelings

He may be an Olympic champion, but that doesn’t mean he’s any less of an ass, at least on television. If anyone saw the immediate post-race interview, where Shani Davis gave one sentence answers to two questions (and one said answer was all of three words: “I feel great.”), they’d probably immediately think, as I did, that it’s just another fine example of a self-absorbed jerk that we’ve seen enough of this Olympics, thank you very much. After reading that his mother cried racism at the US speedskating team/coaches and that he’s not much of a team player, it’s no wonder to me that the other skaters, and to some extent the coaches, don’t have many good things to say about him. Fortunately, he’s offset by Joey Cheek, who not only didn’t gush about himself after winning (hello, Chad Hedrick, yes we know about your grandmother), but has donated his winnings to Right to Play.

I’m lusting after smokers. Not the human kind, obviously. The grilling kind. I think a nice applewood-smoked pork loin would be delicious, among other things.

The other night, the fam had steaks. Cut from a large sirloin tip, dusted with spices, and then seared off on a cast iron grill pan on the stove. Smelled great, looked perfectly medium rare when they dove in. As I as pouring formula down the tube, I thought a perfect accompaniment would have been some onion confit. I don’t know if they could stand the making of it, though, considering it takes many hours and would fill the place with oniony aromas.

You say you want to scan your pet?

Actually, what I said was that I was going for a pet scan.

In one of our previous adventures, BS (Before Surgery), yours truly underwent a PET scan. The only thing interesting about the first time was getting the results back to see just how much cancer had invaded my head and neck.

This time around, however, being in Recovery ModeTM, the start of the process and the scan itself was more interesting. There’s also the added bonus of me paying more attention this time, since no Mask of Doom was required for this scan like there was for the first, so no calming potions courtesy of modern medicine were necessary..

For those who don’t know and don’t care to click through to links, when you undergo a PET scan, it’s a lot like going through a contrast CAT scan, except instead of loading you with the contrast agent immediately before the CAT scan (which really does make you feel like you’re about to wet your pants for a few seconds), for a PET scan, you’re injected with a radioactive glucose and then have to wait about 45 minutes while your body goes through the uptake. High metabolic areas are what they’re looking for on the results, as cancer cells have a higher metabolic action than normal, healthy cells.

So, as I said, another PET scan. I hadn’t noticed the first time, but the radioactive glucose they injected is a bright neon green, just like something right out of a comic book. Unfortunately, even after two of these, I’ve yet to develop any super powers like those characters in the comic books, which I think is a crying shame. Between these injections, the chemo drugs, and the radiation, I’d really have expected to get something out of it all. Oh, yeah, besides that whole “surviving cancer” thing.

I kid.

After about 45 minutes, the tech comes around and tells you it’s time for the scan. Before getting on the table, though, a side trip to the bathroom. Since the scan takes anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes, they don’t want someone’s weak bladder creating issues. Once you’ve taken care of your business, it’s off to the machine. No mask this time, thankfully, just a cradle for me to put my head in. The tech goes out and tarts things up. One thing I’ve noticed about the scanner is that it really is fairly quiet. The MRI I had many years ago was in an enclosed tube that sounded like someone was on the outside banging on it as hard as they were able with a sledgehammer. Not so with this: at worst, there’s a loud whirring sound in the open-ended tube. The most difficult part is lying as still as possible, even as the table moves back and forth within the tube when the scan proceeds from area to area. For mine, the scan was done from the top of my head to my abdominal area, with one long scan as I entered the tube, and then further partial scans as the tech brought be back through in increments. All told, the scan took about 25 minutes.

The results? Since my mouth is still healing and there’s still quite a lot of inflammation, not an all-clear, but the results were quite good: the left mouth area went from a metabolic activity rate of over 20% to just around 7%, which is almost certainly due to the aforementioned inflammation and continued healing. The neck showed nothing. Nada. Zilch. So the surgery, the drugs, the radiation, the pain, the vomiting, the scars, the eating via tube: all worth it.

Now, if the healing would speed itself up just a bit so I could eat again…but, as everyone keeps telling me, time will take care of that. And thanks to the most excellent care I’ve had, time is something I do have.

Moving targets

Ever have a goal that kept shifting on you, dancing around like some crazed sprite, daring you to capture it?

That’s how I’m viewing my goals right now.

When we finished up radiation, as horrible as I felt, I figured a couple of months of healing would at least enable me to start enjoying some soft foods once more, even if full-fledged dining eluded me for awhile longer. Wrong. I have managed to sip some tea every now and again, and take in a few spoonfuls of soup, and that’s it. The past few days, my tongue actually started bleeding – from nothing, really, and I’m guessing it’s just one of those ‘healing” things – and I wound up spitting out bloody mucus all day long, for three days. Icky. That, thankfully, stopped last night, but tonight I found out an interesting fact: sneezing is not good for the healing tongue. One little sneezing fit tonight broke something open again, but luckily it was minor and stopped bleeding fairly rapidly (as far as these things go).

In any case, my original goal had been to be able to eat something by Thanksgiving. That quickly gave way to Christmas, considering how radiation keeps doing its thing for some time after treatment ends. I revised my goal, because I’m flexible that way, to the end of January. here we are, and I can tell you, it isn’t happening. So I’ve revised that goal again, to Memorial Day, which – for those of you who don’t keep track of US holidays – is at the end of May.

Why the long forward-looking period, as they say in business? Conventional wisdom says a month of healing for every week of radiation. Yes, it really is that bad. So, for me and my six and a half weeks of treatment, that amounts to six and a half months. Far longer than I expected or wanted, bu there we are. on track from the end of my treatment, that puts us in the first half of May. I figure by that time, I certainly should have been taking in soft foods at least (at least, I hope so) and it should put me in good shape for regular food. Besides, I really love spring and summer down here, becaue we get the greatest produce. There’s nothing like a big beefsteak tomato with a little salt and some fresh zucchini and squash, sauteed with a little olive oil, salt, pepper, and maybe some fresh grated parmigiano-reggiano on top. Delicious.

I’d like to start cooking again, too, but it takes a lot out of me right now, strength and energy-wise. So far, I’ve made two batches of guacamole for the fam, who enjoy it very much. I foresee another batch for next Sunday’s Superbowl. Too bad I can’t taste it for myself – I have to rely on what they say. Anyone who loves to cook will tell you hard difficult that is.

The worst thing about all of this is the loss of independent functioning. Not to say that I’m not doing anything myself – after all, I can walk, talk (after a fashion), and can feed myself through my handy tube. But, I still can’t drive, since I don’t have complete range in my neck and because driving, like anything else, takes energy. Can’t do my own laundry. Need to have someone keep track of feeding me and how much I’ve had during a day, since my schedule tends to be odd due to frequent naps. Can’t shower when no one is here, in the event I fall or run out of gas at the very end when getting dressed (which happens, from time to time) and need some help getting settled back in. Have to have someone travel to the NOC with me when we get new servers in, since I can no longer lift the piddly 35 pounds that each server weighs. It’s a bit frustrating. This, as they say – and we all know how “they” are – will get better with time. Just like everything else related to this little interruption in my life.

So what have I been doing? Working. Sleeping. Eating, my way. Lots of doctor visits, of course. The end of a year and the beginning of the next are busier than normal, since that’s the time when you have to run employee W2s, file end of the quarter and end of the year paperwork, and put things together for taxes for the business to turn over to the accountant. Some people just don’t understand that when you’re self-employed, it doesn’t mean you’re perpetually on vacation or that you can just drop everything and go off on vacation for a week and be out of touch – at least, not in this business, you can’t. On the other hand, as long as the coverage is there, it is possible to get away from it for awhile and go to a show, or eat out, or just relax and read a book. The business has been at that point for awhile, and it’s a good place to be, even if some people still don’t quite fully grasp the concept – and even if for the past seven months, I haven’t been able to avail myself of it except for things medical-related rather than fun-related. Still, life is good – or, if you like, la vita รจ bella: I’m alive and healing (albeit more slowly than I’d like), I have a great family who are all self-sufficient and healthy, and I don’t have to constantly think about entertaining someone other than myself, being single and all.

So there we stand. I keep telling myself to update the page, but how many times can you tell people you’re still eating through a tube? Commenting about politics is definitely out the window, because it’s depressing to me what the country has come to and because there’s always the chance someone will get their knickers in a twist and be offended – and frankly, I’m really not interested in debating that sort of thing with anyone who can’t see any viewpoint but their own or who takes it as a personal affront that you disagree with them. Been there, won’t do it again (and that goes for dating anyone like that, too!). But there are other topics, and with any luck, I’ll finish up my end of year/beginning of year todo items and be able to get some regular updates in place (and maybe even make a link list, finally).

Have a geat day, everyone.


So, I made a few resolutions to ring in the new year.

Not really.

I never do, at least not for the past (mumble) years. There seems to be very litle sense in making resolutions about things you’re already working on or have no intention of doing.

For instance, I might make a resolution to get less exasperated with certain types of clients. But that goes by the wayside as soon as some jackass threatens to sue you for terminating his service because he didn’t pay for it. Or someone asks you to do something with a domain you never registered. Little things like that really puncture that sort of resolution.

I might make a resolution about eating better. But that presumes that I’m actually eating rather than pouring nutrition down a tube. And since my goal is to gain a little weight when I can eat, I picture double cheeseburgers, pizza, and fried chicken in my immediate future. After all, I lost almost 20% of my bodyweight during treatment, and some of that needs to come back. So that knocks out that resolution.

On the other hand, there’s nothing like a goal. Like being able to shower without almost falling over afterwards because I’ve used up all my energy. That’s getting much better. My mom kindly got a chair for me to sit on, so I sit part of the time and stand part of the time. Soon, standing will be all the time. Little steps, as my mom says.

And, a great piece of news, for those following the saga: the other day, I managed about eight small spoonfuls of soup (organic potato-leek). Not only did I manage to hold the soup down, but I could also taste it – fantastic news for anyone who has gone through treatment for head and neck cancer, since taste buds get zapped during radiation. I also managed to drink about a third of a cup of hot tea, cooled to lukewarm. I still had an issue with my mouth burning after every couple of spoons of soup, but drinking the tea, with lots of sugar, after those couple of bites, helped sooth things. Tonight, I managed to drink an entire cup of hot tea, cooled to lukewarm. It took almost all night, but I finished it.

So the new year is bringing progress with it. I have another followup with the ENT this month, and then a followup with the radiation oncologist in February. I also have a followup PET scan in February, to see what lights up now that we’re a few months out from treatment and recovery. We’ll see what we see at that time.

On our next episode…

When we left our intrepid heroine last season, she was counting down to the end of chemo and radiation treatments. We now return to our regularly scheduled program, already in progress.

I finished chemo on October 19 and completed radiation on October 24 – one week before Halloween. The techs gave me the Mask of Doom as my special parting gift. I plan to hang it up on the wall somewhere as a reminder of this period in my life.

As anyone who has ever played sports or engaged in serious physical exertion – like climbing mountains – can tell you, there comes a time when you hit the wall. If you’re not familiar with that phrase, in sports it’s the point where your glycogen stores bottom out and your performance starts to drop off. In certain types of life situations, especially when someone is going through a period of extreme stress, it’s generally the point where you’ve reached the moment where you don’t think you can continue.

Around the end of the fifth week (of seven) of treatment, I hit the wall. It seemed like I was nauseated every waking moment, vomiting on the hour, and tired to my bones. At some point during that weekend, while clutching the bucket that was my constant companion for months, waiting for the then-current round of heaves to subside, I told my mother I didn’t think I could make it through the next two weeks of treatment, and what would happen if we just stopped? I was miserable, the radiation burns on the horizontal incision on my throat were by turns oozing and then creating scabs that pulled taut the skin surrounding them, there were bloody striations on the roof of my mouth, caused by the radiation and its buddy, mucositis, I hadn’t taken in anything by mouth (and still haven’t) since late September, my body was weak, my mind was having difficulty concentrating, and I was wondering if what I was going through was worth it.

I got over that wall, by sheer force of will – both my will and that of the people around me, including both my family and the great, caring medical people we encountered during our travels. I started crossing off the days left on a calendar, to remind myself every day when I dragged back to my mother’s house that this was a necessary but temporary process.

And then, before any of us realized it, the last day of treatment arrived and it was over.

Since, as they say, radiation is the gift that keeps on giving, the side effects lingered after treatment completed. One particularly nasty side effect of radiation to the mouth and throat is mucositis. This is what turns your mouth and throat to hamburger, and in the last two weeks of my treatment, created ever-increasng amount of mucous that I was forced to spit out, either by rinsing or by spitting into tissues. In the week following the end of tretment, the problem became even worse, and at one point I was going through an entire box of tissues per day, because I was spitting out gobs of this stuff every five to ten minutes. The good news is that the lining of the mouth is fairly resilient, and this side effect passes on its own. It is down to manageable levels for me now, not nearly as horrible as it has been the past couple of weeks. As it slowly fades, I now have to learn to swallow all over again, which brings us to another issue.

As I mentioned, I’ve not taken anything by mouth since late September, My swallowing is quite the visible effort to others, and I feel as if there’s something caught in the back of my throat each time I do swallow. It’s a little scary to think about trying to drink a ilttle sip of water or maybe swallow some broth, because in the back of your mind, you’re wondering if you’ll be able to get it down without choking and then aspirating it into your windpipe – a common problem for people who have undergone this sort of treatment. Many people go for swallowing tests, where you swallow various things while a flouroscope is in front of you so the doctor can see how your body handles it. I’ve not done this, and hopefully will not have the need. I was rather hoping to be able to eat something at the Thanksgiving dinner that my mom is having for the family, but alas, it looks as if my Thanksgiving dinner will be supplements poured down the tube. Not exactly turkey with all the fixings, but one step at a time.

The burns have almost all healed. I have one spot under my chin that is still scabbed over, but the only reminder of the horrors that were visited on my neck by the radiation is peeling skin of the sort you get after a bad sunburn. My neck is pretty stiff on the left side, from both the surgery and the treatment, and I’m working on slowly stretching my neck. I have almost all the feeling back on the left side of my face, neck, and shoulder as well, although there are still areas that are only dully awake.

And here we are. I still have various doctor visits to make for followups. A CAT scan will probaby be in the works for January, to check for things that should not be there. Right now, though, I’m concentrating on getting my strength back, trying to take in enough calories per day to not lose any more weight (23 pounds lost in total for me since surgery), and returning to the more social life I’ve led in the past year instead of working every minute of every day, although working more hours is certainly another thing I’ve been doing as my energy returns. I hope to be eating again soon, to return this blog to its intended purpose, rather than serving as a blow by blow of what its like to go through treatment for oral cancer. Then again, it’s served as some good in that capacity, from some of the emails I’ve received, showing that even though we may have to (temporarily) change our plans from time to time, there can be usefulness in that side path.


Reflections on gardening, cooking, and life