Living life between the barrel staves in Bourbon Country

A Meal to Be Proud Of: Cancer Benefit Dinner Auction

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My favorite kitchen apron, ready for action.

“So, what do you think about being auctioned off for charity?”

It was my neighbor Charlotte who was asking the question, and while it was in no way a display of any lack of trust in her, I was for some reason immediately afraid.

“Auctioned off for what exactly?” I asked, visions of being sold to the highest bidder for a blind date with a blue haired widow of the equine set parading through my head – definitely not my cup of tea.

“We’ll offer to cook dinner for 6 at the winning bidder’s home,” she replied. “It’s to benefit a cancer charity at work.”

They say every addict has an enabler – someone who, consciously or not, encourages and even facilitates the person’s behavior in question. For me, in the culinary sense, my enabler is Charlotte.   Charlotte works for one of the top equine hospitals in Lexington, making it one of the top in the world, this being the center of the thoroughbred universe as it were. When not wrangling horses for world reknown vets she spends her time being a parent who happens to have a love of cooking. It other words, her life outside of work closely mirrors my own, and since she moved in next door we have become good friends – as have our kids. Much to what I believe was our mutual satisfaction we discovered rather early on that we were “kitchen compatible”, a trait not necessarily shared with most of my other friends. She was my co-chef for this year’s High Hope Steeplechase Tailgate Party (where we won the “Best Food” award). When it comes to food she is my equal, and in some respects, the better cook. So, being suitably enabled, I agreed to participate in what would for me be a first – preparing a meal in someone else’s home. We drafted a flyer with a short bio of each us, accompanied by a choice of three menu’s consisting of dishes we love to prepare and know well. The opening bid price was set at $100, and not really certain what we were about to get ourselves into, we waited on the results. As it turns out our dinner package ultimately sold for $275. Currently we are waiting for the winning bidder to decide upon the menu choice and date.

I should probably point out – I’m a cancer survivor myself. Truthfully, in my case, survivor is a bit too strong of a word. My little run in with “The Big C” happened when I was 28, almost ten years ago now and otherwise in the peek condition of my life. It was caught early enough that anything other than complete recovery was never really in question. Of course, you don’t know that when the doctor walks in the room and announces that you have cancer. That’s when the shock sets in, the disbelief. Next you go through a week of diagnostic tests which are designed to benchmark you against similar tests taken after surgery to see if the doctors actually got it all out of your system. Then there is the eight weeks of post-operative radiation treatments (thankfully no chemo in my case). And through it all is the psychological toll of having to deal with the fact that you are 28 years old, in the prime of your life and invincible in your own mind, and you just had reality smack you in the face hard – very hard. The questions never stop going through your mind. Will I live? (fortunately for me, yes). Will the treatment keep me from having children? (I’ve got a wonderful six year old son to prove that it didn’t). Will I wake up for the rest of my life every morning afraid of the cancer coming back? This last question is really the test of whether or not you are cured. For a year or more, I woke up every day wondering if today was the day it would come back. For several years I dreaded the anniversary date of my surgery (December 8th). One year, I looked at the calendar and saw it was the 15th of December – the date had passed and I hadn’t even noticed it. That was when, personally, I knew I was cured, even through the doctors had cleared me years before. Charlotte’s invitation to sell ourselves at auction for charity came very close to nine years exactly from the onset of my own personal illness – to me, that makes it all the more poignant.

For me, cancer awareness, prevention and cure is a personal crusade. I’m embarrassed to say that in my own mind I have never and can never do enough. The truth is I was one of the lucky ones. So when Charlotte pitched the charity auction idea to me, no matter how intimidated I might be by walking into someone else’s home and kitchen and cooking a dinner for a room of total strangers (anything less than perfection not being an option), my agreement and participation was never really in question. This is a time to step up.

When talking to groups, whether it’s people at work, students, or non-profit organizations, I like to talk about what it means to focus on the goal to such an extant that you lose yourself (in a good way) in the pursuit of it – what some people call “riding the wave” (see my post Zen and the Art of Cooking). The only way to ride a wave is to get on top of it and not let it overcome you. The same is true whether you are battling a disease or just cooking a highly anticipated meal. For me, this personal challenge of dinner for six strangers represents the biggest kind of wave, when it’s no longer about me but about something much greater. It’s the kind of meal to be proud of.

What follows is “the pitch”, as originally published for the auction.

Auction Item: Dinner Party for 4 to 6

Prepared in your kitchen and served to you and your guests (at a mutually agreed upon date)

Enjoy company and conversation while we handle the meal prep and service. All food and cocktail items provided, along with plates and service-ware (winning bidder provides any wine they desire with dinner).
Best of all, we clean up afterwards!

Choose from three menu options, each including appetizer, entrée, sides, salad,
dessert and a signature cocktail!

Starting Bid of $100.00

Menu Option #1

Signature Cocktail
Black Marlin Hurricane

Appetizer
Shrimp Seviche

Entrée
Jamaican Rum Jerked Chicken (spicy) OR Shrimp with Tomato and Feta Cheese a la Grecque (choice must be determined in advance)

Sides
South Carolina Creamy Grits
Sautéed Asparagus

Salad
Mixed greens, spinach, orange slices, red onion and shaved Parmesan with French vinaigrette

Dessert
Choice of:

• Grilled Pineapple with Rosemary Shortbread and Amaretto Cream
• Pears stuffed with butter, brown sugar, cinnamon with a red wine glaze and Gruyere Cheese
• Chocolate Kahlua Tarts

Menu Option #2

Signature Cocktail
Key Lime Rum Martini

Appetizer
Proscuitto Wrapped Lemon Basil Chicken Skewers

Entrée
Marina Del Rey “Killer” Shrimp with Ciabatta

Sides
Sautéed Bell Peppers and Zucchini

Salad
Mixed greens, spinach, orange slices, red onion and shaved Parmesan with a French vinaigrette

Desserts
Choice of:

• Grilled Pineapple with Rosemary Shortbread and Amaretto Cream
• Pears stuffed with butter, brown sugar, cinnamon with a red wine glaze and Gruyere Cheese
• Chocolate Kahlua Tarts

Menu Option #3

Signature Cocktail
Kentucky Firefly

Appetizer
Bacon Wrapped “Voodoo” Shrimp Skewers

Entrée
Bourbon Barrel Ribeye with Kentucky Grilling Sauce

Sides
Scalloped Potatoes
Portabella Mushrooms in Parchment

Salad
Boston Bibb Lettuce, Blue Cheese, Pears and Toasted Walnuts with Vinaigrette

Dessert
Choice of:

• Grilled Pineapple with Rosemary Shortbread and Amaretto Cream
• Pears stuffed with butter, brown sugar, cinnamon with a red wine glaze and Gruyere Cheese
• Chocolate Kahlua Tarts

About the Chefs

Charlotte is a native of Houston, Texas with a love of cooking and world cuisine. Her exposure to the cuisines and flavors of Latin and South America feature heavily in her dishes. An avid supporter of the Farmer’s Market, Charlotte believes that fresh is always better. This year, she teamed up with her neighbor Neil for the High Hope Steeplechase Tailgate and their Baja California / Cabo San Lucas, Mexico inspired menu won the “Best Food” award. The duo are already planning the 2009 tailgate party which will feature a New Orleans inspired menu and Mardi Gras theme.

Neil is a Lexington, Kentucky native and was raised in a family of great Southern cooks. In his twenties he discovered his own passion for food, particularly the spicy flavors of the Carribbean and American Southwest. A competitive tailgater, he has won numerous awards for his menus at the High Hope Steeplechase including “Best Food 2003” for Wasting Away In Margaritaville, “Best Food 2006” for The Kentucky Bourbon Trail, and “Best Theme 2007” for The Tiki Bar Is Open. This year he collaborated with Charlotte and together they won “Best Food” for their Let Me Take You Down To Cabo menu. In 2009 the annual tailgate extravaganza will be a Party at Congo Square featuring the music and cuisine of historic New Orleans.

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One response

  1. Natalie

    I enjoyed this entry… Let us know how the dinner goes. It’s good to know that people eat more than just McD’s and Peanut Butter and Jelly.
    Happy Holidays,
    Natalie

    December 18, 2008 at 2:50 am

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