A chipmunk in a coffee can

Stir crazy.

I’m old, and this is a new feeling.

Until I had my prostate yanked out through an ugly, major-league incision, I had never been seriously restrained or restricted — in diet or movement.

Now, I am three weeks into a recovery that, says my surgeon, Frank, should take six weeks or so. And I am going stir crazy

Actually, stir-craziness is one of the worst parts of the recovery experience. You guys who have undergone a prostatectomy know the path to a full recovery is riddled with all manner of obstacles. First, there’s the surgery itself and the immediate blowback from getting sliced and diced. Then, in many cases, there are difficulties involving incontinence that each individual takes his own time to work through. I haven’t suffered much from this problem, if at all. In fact, I am thinking of calling Frank and asking him if he really took anything out of me.

My problem is that I am stir crazy. Like a chipmunk in a coffee can.

It comes down to restricted movement.

The first few days following the surgery, the movement in question involves activity on a minor scale — as in, can I move my legs, can I get out of bed without help, do I dare cough or sneeze?

As things begin to heal, pain meds get put aside and the fog begins to clear, the questions are things like, Can I walk two laps around the first floor of the house? Can I sit in a chair for a few minutes.

Then, a greater distance from the surgical suite, say two weeks from Ground Zero, one considers a flight of stairs.

And, finally, a ride in the car (no driving, chauffeur required).

But, for the most part, for weeks, it is a matter of moving around inside the house.

As in, not leaving the house.

Dear lord.

Stir crazy.

What to do? There’s nowhere to go. I can’t lift anything heavier than ten pounds; can’t toss my newborn grandson, Banzai, around; can’t bend over or strain in any way. So, I read. I reread Kundera’s “Unbearable Lightness of Being.” I read some Evelyn Waugh (stuff I faked reading when I was in high school). I pile through several other books, then I burn out on reading.

I write and I go online, and soon these things grow old.

To make matters worse, I’ve been told I need to keep to the straight and narrow, dietwise’— no big-time foods or caffeine and, alas, no wine.

Stir crazy.

Finally, at the three-week mark, I am able to venture out. I go to the office for a couple hours. It wears me down, but it is a treat—— something beside the four walls of the house and endless discourse with imaginary friends.

Following the few hours respite, however, I remain contained, wandering the rooms of the house, prowling the turf like a senile predator in search of small, furry things that he can’t possibly catch.

But, at last, I can cook. I can’t fetch the pots and pans. I can’t lift pots and pans when they are full, but I can cut and chop things. I can slide pans around on the stovetop. I can ask Kathy for help when I need it.

I break into the work slowly: I prepare a couple easy, simple favorites. One night, I whip up salmon cakes with a caper aioli. The next night I take a pack of 85/15 ground turkey, break it into bits, season it with salt and pepper and sauté it in olive oil over high heat in a heavy pan, sprinkling the meat with ground cumin and dried oregano, cooking until the surfaces of the hunks of meat are caramelized. I toss in half a white onion, sliced, turn the heat to medium high and cook until the onion is soft. In go four tablespoons or so of diced fire-roasted tomatoes, a couple tablespoons of Espanola red, three cloves of finely minced garlic, some chopped cilantro and a cup or so of chicken stock. When the stock is reduced to a gummy glaze, I reseason. Turkey taco meat. Served inside pan-grilled corn tortillas, paired with chopped tomato, chopped cilantro, asadero cheese and guacamole. Some black beans on the side, and some greens.

Nice move. Baby steps, but gratifying.

Yet, I am still going stir crazy so, on one of my many daily walks across the living room into the master bedroom, through the master bathroom, back out, across the living room and into the kitchen, around the island and into the front bedroom, through the front bathroom, down the stairs and around a circuit in the basement, I come up with a swell idea.

Not a new one, mind you. In fact, it is a tactic I have indulged, and written about, before: the cookbook toss.

I gather several favorite cookbooks — ones I can fetch without bending and that weigh less than ten pounds — and I give each a toss on to the couch. The cookbooks flop open, I appraise the items listed on the pages … and that’s where I will go.

The first recipe I spy, I make. Not exactly as it is proposed, however. I make changes.

It is a recipe for a meat and cheese stuffed pepper. The recipe in the book includes yellow Bell peppers, ground beef, onion, egg, ricotta, Parmesan and Asiago cheeses.

Fearing an attack of gout, (I have walking to do, you know) I change the flesh to ground chicken. I like the taste of red Bell peppers, so I switch out the choice of pepper. Asiago cheese? We’re in the midst of an economic crisis: who can afford Asiago? I have Parmesan in the fridge, I have an onion. I decide to add garlic and oregano to the blend, and off I go.

For a moment, I ponder making fresh ricotta. It’s not difficult: whole milk, buttermilk or lemon juice, careful heating, skimming curd, cheesecloth to strain the curd. But, I realize I have only so much energy to devote to the meal. Store-bought ricotta it will be — high grade, whole milk.

I preheat the oven to 350.

I cook chopped onion in olive oil over medium heat until the vegetables soften.

I mix a pound of ground chicken with a handful of shaved Parmesan, about three ounces of ricotta, salt, pepper, a clove of garlic finely minced then mushed in salt with the flat side of a chef’s knife, a sprinkle of oregano, a beaten egg. In goes the onion.

I halve two peppers and remove the seeds and ribs. I slice a teeny sliver off the bottom of each pepper half, so it will sit well in the baking dish.

I oil a heavy glass baking dish and place the peppers in the dish. I fill each pepper with the chicken mix, mounding the filling above the edge.

Into the oven the dish goes, uncovered, for about 45 minutes. I then sprinkle the top of each meat mound with Parmesan and return the dish to the oven for a while, jacking the temp up to 375 — until the cheese is melted and slightly browned.

Pretty darned good, served with mixed greens, halved grape tomatoes and a dressing made with extra-virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, minced onion and garlic, a dollop of Dijon mustard, salt, pepper and a hit of dried tarragon.

But, I’m still going stir crazy.

I suppose the next stage in my recovery will be reached when I can hurl “The Professional Chef,” from the Culinary Institute of America. It’s gotta weigh at least 15 pounds.

Meanwhile, I have to take a walk.