“Which arm?,” she asks.
“You guys have overused my right arm,” I say and, before I can say anything else, Sandy puts my left arm on the long rest that extends from the chair and rolls my sleeve up past my elbow.
She puts the IV needle into a vein in my forearm and shows me out of her space, directing me to the MRI facility.
I’m back at the hospital. I’ve traveled from Siberia With a View to Denver for a checkup, three months after the docs motored down the Nasal Freeway to Brainville and removed a tumor from the cavity normally occupied by my pituitary gland.
I need an MRI so the results of the surgery can be evaluated. Sandy is a swell way to start the process.
I waddle down the hallway to the MRI facility and the staff there is very businesslike. I take off my clothes and place them in a locker, pull on some hospital-issue gear, then shuffle to The Tube, absent anything that could foul up the imaging process.
“No joint replacements?”
“No bullet fragments or shrapnel?”
“Not that I know of. But there was that night in Brooklyn, in 1967 …”
I walk through a door and there it is: The Tube – all high-tech shiny, its entry opening like the perfectly circular maw of a sci-fi beast that lies in wait, ready to devour unsuspecting innocents.
Deb gets me ready. I stretch out on the bed of the device, which has been pulled from the interior. I put my head on a special rest and Deb places a contraption over my face. She shoots who knows what into me through the IV — the better to see what I hope is a vacant space where a tumor used to be.
“Don’t move for the next forty minutes, “she says. “ Oh, and let me put these plugs in your ears; it gets pretty noisy in there.”
Yes, Deb, I know.
“Here we go.”
With that, I am rolled into the machine.
“Rolled” is not the best word to use here. “Stuffed” is more accurate.
I am like a wad of forcemeat, packed tightly into a casing. A Karl sausage, if you will. My elbows are jammed against the sides of the tube; the view through the device covering my face is like something Kubrick invented for “2001””– planes of light intersect at weird angles, destroying any sense of ordinary perspective.
I feel like saying, “Open the pod bay door, Hal.” Instead, another voice is heard. “OK, Karl, here we go.”
The racket is incredible: banging, clanking, a vibratory hum, loud and repetitive machinelike rumblings. It’s like Satan’s favorite techno music. The hospital should provide patients with a dose of Ecstasy and a couple glow sticks to complete the party.
So, what does one think when crammed tightly inside a tube with infernal noise assaulting the ears, claustrophobic panic lurking on the horizon?
Since it is a hospital and the test is being conducted to determine if the removal of a tumor has been successful, does one ponder one’s mortality?
Does one marvel at the power of medical technology and, at the same time, savor the irony that, eventually, inevitably, such power fails?
Does one wonder how much the test will cost and how the insurance company will screw them?
Does one recall a drum riff from the Blue Knights Drum and Bugle Corps show in 1958?
Does one experience a flashback and find oneself, with little brother and sister, behind the seats of a cream-colored Mercedes 190SL as it speeds up Highway 119 to Central City?
Yep. All these things.
And, of course, food.
What more natural topic when one is held fast in the metal and hard plastic belly of a techno beast?
As Thor hits the side of the tube with his hammer, I ask myself,
“What can I cook that will mirror this experience?”
Sausage? I could take out the Porkert Fleischhacker (with its high-grade Czech steel components) grind meats, season them and stuff them into casings. But, that’s a lot of work, and it demands a team.
I could take out the pasta machine, order up a bag of semolina flour and make cannelloni. Whip up some fresh ricotta. This has the right elements’– tube, filling jammed in tube, etc. This, too, however, is a lot of work. More than I am willing to do.
Then, amidst the din, suppressing a sneeze that would ruin the scan and require an additional forty minutes in agony, I hit on it: Crepes (the tube). Rolled around a snazzy filling (me). Sauced with contraries – something earthy and zingy, things creamy, (ah… life itself).
I concoct a recipe for the filling as the test proceeds and, by the end of the forty minutes, I know what I’ll create: Crubes a la Karl.
The crepes are simple. Flour and a bit of salt are mixed in a blender. Half and half, melted butter and eggs are added and the mix is blended smooth. The batter is refrigerated for an hour or so, while the filling is prepared.
Since the filling must mimic Karl in The Tube, it must contain quite a bit of fat. And nothing says fat like hot Italian sausage, store-bought in this instance (see above, re. too much work). The filling must also contain fungus (I picked up a whopper of an infection at the rec center this winter) and wine (no further explanation necessary).
I break the sausage into fairly small bits and brown it over medium high heat. When the sausage is cooked, out it comes and most of the fat in the pan is discarded. Into the remaining fat (and a bit of olive oil, if necessary), goes a mix of sliced mushrooms and thinly sliced red Bell pepper. The mix cooks until the shrooms lose their water and a couple finely diced shallots are added. When the shallot is tender, in goes some mushed garlic. Back in goes the sausage, the heat is turned up and the pan is deglazed with about a cup of red wine. Into the liquid goes some veal demi-glace or, if need be, a bit of beef base. Following the addition of chopped Italian parsley, the mix is reduced to a point where the liquid becomes syrupy. The seasoning is checked and adjusted, a bit more chopped parsley goes in and the pan comes off the heat. Once it cools a bit, the filling is ready to go.
The creamy component will be a béchamel, to blanket the filled crepes.
I don’t bother with a double boiler. It is trickier this way but, with caution, the results are fine. If the béchamel must be kept warm for any length of time, however, the double boiler is a must, to keep the sauce from breaking or getting nasty. Equal amounts of melted fat (butter) and flour are mixed over medium heat and whisked until the flour cooks, but does not begin to change color. Into the paste, a bit at a time, goes warm half and half. The mix is whisked constantly until the desired thickness is achieved. Into the sauce goes a handful of shaved Parmesan. Does the sauce need salt? Perhaps, but only a bit – the cheese is salty. A bit of nutmeg and some pepper and it is ready. For this application, the béchamel should be very thick, like the plaster for a Giotto fresco.
The earthy, zippy component? A tomato sauce.
A bit of olive oil in the saucepan, over medium heat. A couple cloves of garlic, mushed, go into the oil and cook for a few minutes. Do not let the garlic brown. A large can of San Marzano tomatoes is added, the tomatoes crushed in the hand before they go into the pan. A bit of chopped basil, some dried oregano, a smidge of red wine, a bit of sugar and the mess cooks for an hour or so. Taste, adjust seasonings, add salt, if necessary. Just before use, swirl in a bit of extra-virgin olive oil. The sauce should be light, fresh. Zippy.
Assembly: mix is rolled inside a crepe. Crepe is put into a heavy, oiled baking dish. Pan is filled with crepes. Crepes are slathered with béchamel, sprinkled with some shredded Parmesan and baked at 350 for 40 minutes or so.
Service: Carefully remove a crepe, put it on the plate, a wide ribbon of sauce goes down one side of the crepe, a swath of warm caponata-like relish (eggplant, peppers, olives, tomato, basil, capers, cooked till mushy good) goes down the other. All that’s left is a simple salad of greens with a citrus vinaigrette.
As I sit in the lab following the MRI I wonder what else would go with this dish, if the caponata were omitted and another veggie required.
Darla the student aid in the lab is a bit peeved since I arrive for the blood draw during her lunch.
Ah, hell, it doesn’t matter any more. Do your worst, I no longer care.
She complies and I realize asparagus might work with the crepes. Something long, with a sharp point at the end. Served by a vampire.
Turns out the scan reveals great results. The doc tells me I am doing fine. Kathy reminds him they removed the tumor, but forgot to remove the jerk. I’m told to come back in a year.
When I return to Siberia With a View I take the first possible opportunity to make Crubes
a la Karl and test them on others.
BFD and GB are over to the house for a board meeting and I prepare the dish.
It’s a smashing success.
I decide I will mark each significant (read traumatic) moment in what life I have left with a signature dish of my own invention.
I have a checkup scheduled with my urologist in May. And there is a colonoscopy on the calendar this summer.