The times they are a changin’

I have a new friend.

Guess what? It’s not human.

No, I didn’t acquire a new dog or cat. No rabbits, parrots or amphibians here either — though, in a pinch, they make great pets since you can eat them when circumstances get dire.

Nope, I have decided my new, best friend is the freezer compartment in my refrigerator — a Maytag Electronic Dual Cool (with ice maker and filtered water dispenser).

The more I work on my project of compiling a list of preferred foods, and the analysis of my food habits, the more I realize I have a bit of a problem. This is a problem that, once I make certain dietary adjustments, and confirm others I have already made, can be solved with the assistance of my friend, the freezer.

By that I mean, as I remain housebound recovering from surgery and raiding the mental basement for all my food faves — adding the mined memory bits to my list, each in an appropriate category, the items in each category weighted in accord with their pull on my culinary imagination — I become more convinced that a certain change has begun, and is due.

That change is one I undertook recently (and not just since I allowed Frank, the surgeon, to ramble around in my interior in search of a rancid gland); the awareness that propels it has taken shape for, oh, maybe a year or more now. It began out of necessity, in response to the threat of gout, and involves consumption of smaller amounts of red meat, on fewer occasions.

Karl 2009, in other words, eats almost no beef where, in 2000, he pounded down cow like a ravenous Gaucho. Karl 2009 consumes considerably less pork than Karl 2000, and now, includes it almost always as a flavorful addition to a dish rather than as the centerpiece of the meal.

As I continue the analysis of my food faves and habits, I see a trend.

The other day, tired of reading Martha Stewart Living, I forced myself to recall the general, daily food pattern I had exhibited the six months or so prior to my trip to Surgical Fun Land. I considered the pattern in terms of what I consumed at breakfast, lunch and dinner on an “average” day.

Breakfasts, for the most part, included more and more whole grains and cereals, fewer of the old standards — the eggs, bacon, sausage, etc. A weekly splurge remained an irresistible temptation.

Lunches had become standard: fruit (usually an apple, some nuts, occasionally a “nutrition bar”). Nary a sandwich to be found. Burgers? Never.

Dinner? Well, if the train left the track, this is the spot.

And it is here the freezer and I will bond as I continue to modify my ways.

It is simple: when I purchase a pack of, say, boneless chicken breasts, half the contents will go into the meal, half will be frozen. When there are even small amounts of sauces or broths left over, I will freeze them in an ice cube tray, then put the frozen blocks in labeled freezer bags (make note to buy ice cube trays). If I prepare a braise, or some sort of casserole, I will halve the mess right out of pot or pan and freeze that portion. No need to freeze leftovers; if I am smart about this, the leftovers will be put in the fridge and devoured at a meal two to three days later.

Step one will be to clear the freezer compartment of the Dual Cool in preparation for the new regimen. An inventory of the contents of the compartment reveal some interesting items — all neatly arranged in a readily comprehensible, sedimentary order (i.e. the deeper in the pile, the older the item).

On the top layer: lots of Espanola Red, zipped tight in heavy freezer bags (a guy can never have enough of this precious powder); a couple smaller, zipped bags full of Malaysian curry powders; a package of frozen “wild caught” King Salmon (which brings to mind the question: Does the “wild” refer to the fish or the fisherman?); two plastic tubs of duck fat; two packs of Kathy’s favorite health-nut toaster-ready waffles; a bunch of packages of nuts; and several of Kathy’s beloved health-freak frozen dinners (which she eats at lunch). Hey, there’s a pack of Dreamsicles!

As I go to the next layer, I find several hastily wrapped packs of unidentifiable flesh — unidentifiable due to profound freezer burn. I also pry loose a half-full package of microwave breakfast sausage (purchased a year ago in anticipation of the arrival of in-laws, now frost bitten beyond salvage) and crudely-closed packs of frozen vegetables — corn, green beans and the like, all rendered gray and white by the cold.

At the bottom: several large freezer bags full of the cooking liquid from the carnitas I prepared for Ivy’s wedding feast nearly two years ago. I suppose I had a great idea at the time and intended to use this flavorful broth to produce a snappy dish. I no longer have the idea; all I have is about ten pounds of useless, frozen gunk. I also spy a large bag of shredded, highly-processed cheese, purchased for the same event. Frosty shredded, highly-processed cheese.

Out the nasty stuff must go.

So, once I am able, I will move on the project. At the store: more attention to fresh veggies, fruits, nuts, smaller amounts of non-red meat flesh. Menu planning and at the stove: more attention to meat as condiment. In the freezer: usable items only. And a mental note: use them!

I complete my inventory work for the day and I realize I am hungry. Moreover, I want to cook. For the first time in nearly two weeks.

I can’t bend over; I can’t lift anything weighing more than five pounds. So, I need Kathy’s help. She gets the prep area ready and fetches the necessary ingredients and implements.

I know what I want to prepare: something “wild caught.”

As in salmon tacos.

I can’t eat all that much, but I can make what I eat worthwhile. No gruel tonight.

I prepare the side items first. For the sauce: mayonnaise, a touch of stone-ground mustard, chopped cilantro, minced white onion, a smidge of Espanola red, salt, pepper and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.

For the “greens,” a handful of packaged coleslaw mix, lemon juice, a splash of olive oil, chopped cilantro, salt, pepper. A tangy and crunchy counterpoint in the taco.

The “wild caught” element: I remove the flesh from two small salmon fillets, cut the fish into cubes, dry them, then apply salt and pepper.

I coat the fish with seasoned flour — flour, salt, pepper, Espanola red — and shake off the excess.

I have two frying pans on the stove, each heavy, each set over medium high heat. I film one pan with olive oil and when the oil begins to smoke, into the pan go two corn tortillas. When the tortillas buckle, I turn them. When they are done, each side slightly toasty, they go on to a heated plate.

I put olive oil into the second heavy pan. When the oil shimmers, in go the cubes of salmon. I make sure the cubes are evenly distributed, and I leave them alone.

Into the second pan go two more corn tortillas. One side cooks and I turn them.

I use a spatula and turn the salmon cubes.

When the tortillas are done, they join their kin on the heated plate.

After two minutes or so, I turn the salmon again, giving the cubes a minute or two more in the pan. I don’t want to overcook the fish; when the exteriors of the cubes have browned a bit and tightened up, the interiors are soft, juicy, perfectly cooked. Any more and things go dry.

Out comes the fish and on to a paper towel.

Time to load up and fire away.

This is a darned good way to break from the post-surgical dietary doldrums. And there are enough of the cubes left to mash, mix with the leftover sauce and reserve for salmon toasts at the next day’s lunch.

Now, as for those Dreamsicles.