Slabby

There’s nothing like a nice slab of pork.

Three slabs of ribs.

Membrane? Gone.

Into the brine for about an hour. Once done with this step, I’ll pull them out, give them a rinse, then sprinkle them with rub and let them sit for about another hour. And then? Smokin’ time.

Saucy

Today is smoking day. While the ribs will have a rub, there’s always the issue of sauces. For this, sauces go on the side, and whoever wants some can pour their own. For some people, that means out of a bottle from the store. For us, that means some homemade sauce. I had intended to make several different kinds, but the cupboard conspired against me. The sweet/smoky sauce is the winner in this race.

Some ingredients, but not all.

The beginning, before the ketchup goes in.

After the ketchup, and a few minutes simmering:

The sauce is sweet to start, and then finishes with a bite. I actually tasted it – the first tomato-based anything I’ve tasted in more than six months. No tongue burn (hooray) and I got exactly the sensation my mother did when she tasted it (hooray again). Progress.

The universe laughs at us, not with us

I am convinced of this: that the universe, while generally a well-functioning, smoothly oiled engine, has, at its controls, a group of monkeys who delight in picking out someone at random and resetting the clocks that run certain areas of their lives. The effect of this is to dash to bits any semblance of timing in certain circumstances for that person – not every arena, of course, as this would cause the person to go crazy as they moved through time, forever just out of sync with the rest of the world. No, I believe it’s done just to slightly throw off that person so that What Might Have Been is tossed into their faces as much as possible. Think of anything in life. The relationship that does not bloom because the other party became involved with someone “Just recently, and s/he’s a good match, but if I’d met you first, we surely would have gotten together,” they say, and clearly they mean it. The job that isn’t won because the candidate interviewed several days prior fit the bill and was offered the job. “But,” they say, and clearly they mean it, “if we had been able to interview you first, we’d have offered it to you instead.” The comeback that dies on the lips because the clever retort does not come to mind until hours or days later. “But,” they say, when others are told about the incident, and clearly they mean it, “that would have been a good one and would have put someone in their place.”

Examples of this bad timing abound, and devious monkeys are as good an explanation as the serendipitous nature of life. It’s difficult not to be just a little bitter and angry about these things from an emotional standpoint, while at the same time understanding intellectually that we don’t all move along the same strand. It’s where the real battle lies.

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.

Reflections on gardening, cooking, and life