A predicament: Two extremes, and few desirable choices between them.
At least not for a doggedly indulgent soul.
I’ve been chatting with a surgeon — something you need to do before you undergo surgery.
He is getting ready to slice and dice me.
For him, no big deal: a nuts and bolts affair. He delivers a litany of cautions, directions, disclaimers, and a disclosure of a series of choices I, the patient, must make in order to clearly establish I am responsible for the situation, whatever it might be.
In a world where personal injury lawyers set up kiosks in hospital lobbies, this is a reasonable process.
The surgeon, Frank, is going to hack out my cancerous prostate in a week’s time. It’s come to this, after a cowardly attempt on my part to circumvent this option failed.
I’m goin’ under, he’s carvin’ out the gland — this one of a precious few body parts peculiar to and prized by the male of the species.
We get through the technical crap and on to something I am truly interested in: What can I eat and drink prior to the event, when can I eat it?
In short: At what time must I become a monklike character and deny myself pleasure?
“Well,” says Frank, “what I recommend, since you are having the surgery Monday, is that, Friday night, you eat a meal you really enjoy.”
Wow, sounds interesting. Too good to be true, in fact.
Yep. Too good to be true.
“Do it up big. But, remember, don’t eat anything that might give you gout that night, or any night between now and then. You can’t take your medication if you have an attack of gout; the medicine acts to prevent healing and, as I am sure you agree, we don’t want that.”
Righto. So, my list of potential meals might be somewhat short.
On the drive home, I contemplate my future. Not so much the surgery — there’s nothing I can do about that, no other choice at this juncture. You have cancer, you need to do something about it if you are lucky enough to be in a position to do so. You go through your alternatives, you end up with the one that is feasible, that bears the best odds and you commit. You have to.
No, I am contemplating that darned meal the Friday before the surgery. After all, the next day, Saturday, I go on a liquid diet. Sunday, the whole thing comes to a drippy and dismal halt in the early evening. From that point on … nada. Not even water. Just unattractive, internal cleansing processes.
I need to lose weight, so some of this could actually accomplish what I lack the will to see through. But, what to pack in on Friday?
I do not ask Kathy to make menu suggestions.
She does so, anyway.
“Well, if you’re smart — and you are rarely smart about these things — you would pick something healthy: a multi-grain approach, with clean protein. And no wine. Do you hear me? No wine. As a matter of fact, you need to detoxify your system between today and the surgery.”
The queen of fruits, nuts and berries, the ruler of the realm of whole wheat and oatmeal has spoken. I know she wants me to wheel into the natural foods store parking lot so she can hustle into the store and arm herself, but I pull into the far lane on the highway and speed up, making a turn impossible.
So, what will it be?
I decide on a strategy: I will devise a list that makes no exceptions, then I will eliminate the no-nos. Most of my options, surprisingly, do not include high-end fixins; they are hearty and comforting foods (it’s winter, you know), nearly all heavy with flesh, plenty of cheese included at every opportunity.
I would love to have stuffed rigatoni, a favorite dish from my childhood — with large rigatoni, the tubes crammed with a highly-seasoned minced pork and veal stuffing, packed tightly into a casserole, covered with a basic marinara and loads of cheese, then baked for a hour or so.
Or, along that same line, a monster-grade ragu: chicken, pork, sausages, meatballs, whatever else has died and made its way to the meat counter at the store, all simmered for hours lending one of the great aromas known to our species to the kitchen throughout the day, then served (meat and sauce separate), with pappardelle. And plenty of cheese.
Of course. Something basic: an Italian everyday drinker — perhaps a bardolino or a barbera.
Or, how about a world-class meat loaf? Can you top a jazzed-up meat loaf for comfort? With cheese in it and on it. Accompanied by a Rhone beauty, something with some punch.
Or a pork butt cradled in a slow cooker for hours with chicken stock, onion, garlic, spices, red chile, then shredded and served in freshly-made tortillas. With salsa fresca, guacamole and lots of cheese. Gewurztraminer, anyone?
I spend a large part of the ride home dreaming of foods like these. Then deleting each from my list. They are precisely the foods I cannot have, for fear of creating arthritic havoc in key joints of the body.
So, what’s it gonna be?
I could whip up an old fave like coq au vin, but I have had it too often of late.
There’s always cassoulet. I have a couple containers of duck fat in the freezer and I could do a chicken confit. But, I wonder if this delightful concoction would allow for timely post-meal processing, if you get my drift. I like a bit, or more, of grated hard cheese with my cassoulet, don’t you?
Chicken paprikash? A bit mild, but with egg noodles or spaetzle, not bad. And, there is room for some cheese, somewhere. And, in my neck of the woods, I’ll opt to accompany it with a lighter, southern Rhone.
Wine goes well with all these choices.
Green curry chicken, all velvety good with coconut milk, on sautéed soba noodles?
Could be, but Cheese Avenue is closed on this one. As is Wine Street, truth be told, since this is beer food. Beer, of course, gives me gout. Same with a zippy vindaloo, made with chicken or lamb. It screams for beer.
As I ponder ingredients and their possible effects, my list dwindles. By the time we arrive home, I am despondent.
But I am not giving up.
How about a rare tournedo, its surface crusted with smashed black peppercorns, slathered with béarnaise or chasseur?
Sure, but this is my last real meal for quite a while. Waste it on the kind of fish we can procure here in Siberia With a View? No way. After all, I’m anticipating a diet of painkillers and juice taken from a sippy-cup for the first week or so following surgery. And I am fairly sure I am not going to want to pack down anything with bulk for a couple weeks after that. The disposal system is not going to be in top form for some time.
My caution is further reinforced by a memory of an incident several years back. An acquaintance of mine, Randy, had a friend who underwent major surgery, involving a significant abdominal intrusion and removal of a couple feet of colon. Three days later, the patient is lying on his hospital bed when Randy comes for a visit.
The friend is feeling pretty good; hydrocodone can do that to a guy. He sets off on a reverie about his favorite sandwich at Arby’s. Seems the guy adores the Big Montana. Can’t say I ever partook of one but, from the name, it is fair to assume the item is large — as Randy explained it, a buttered and toasted bun serves as a platform for eight ounces of gray roast beef and a choice of sauces. For those of you unable to escape the grip of the metric system, that’s a half pound of meat.
The guy nearly weeps when he relays his overpowering urge for a Big Montana to Randy. Randy, in fact, said the fellow grabs his hand and squeezes it for emphasis when he says, “Big Montana.”
Being a tenderhearted soul, but possessed of less-than-keen judgment, Randy hustles out, buys a Big Montana and an extra large order of fries, and sneaks the food to his friend’s room.
I see no need to go into detail concerning what happens shortly after the Big Montana and fries disappear, are digested and begin to make their way to daylight. It is enough to note that two major surgeries in a week’s time are hard to deal with.
A worthy lesson. But, I am thinking about my pregame meal and I am determined to make the most of my, limited, chance.
As of press time, I haven’t made my decision. I could fold and go with a classic mac and cheese. Or, in the grip of pre-op panic, I could succumb to Kathy and a whole-grain simulation of real food.
Right before they put me under next week, I need to ask Frank how soon I can drink a glass of wine after the surgery. And, how soon I can wolf down colchicine to combat a flare-up of gout.
I can’t down the tournedos with béarnaise prior to surgery, but, at the first possible moment …