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Amuse my tastebuds, please! November 12, 2009

Posted by PAS in cancer, food, nutrition, survivorship.
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Salem Diner menu

Image by Teckie Kev via Flickr

amuse-bouche [a.myz.buʃ] a single, bite-sized hors d’œuvre. … These, often accompanied by a complementing wine, are served as an excitement of taste buds to both prepare the guest for the meal and to offer a glimpse into the chef’s approach to cooking.

I’m a self-professed foodie – a person who reads my 300+ cookbooks like novels, creates new recipes based on favorite tastes, prepares a dish over and over until I get the taste(s) right, treasures memories like the special lunch I enjoyed at Bolo in NYC, one of Bobby Flay’s first restaurants (now closed.) My tiny kitchen’s cabinets are covered with 25 years of state fair culinary competition ribbons. For me, the amuse-bouche – that single mouthful that sings with taste – is my cooking goal every time I sharpen my chef’s knife.

The first thing the nurses warned me about in chemo teaching is that my tastes would change while on chemo, food and smells might make me nauseaus, and patients were often unable to eat their favorite things because the medicine(s) changed their taste preferences so dramatically. Every chemo is a bit different, but palate-numbing is a common denominator.

While I was on chemo, my tastebuds went on strike. On the day of an infusion, I craved – watermelon. Lemon. Taco Bell. Seriously, Taco Bell. Good Mexican food was wasted on me, but the heavily salted stuff from borderline drive-thru tasted wonderful, complete with fast-food guacamole and pico de gallo. Not fresh, not organic, not seasonal. But I could *taste* it. I’m not proud to admit that a cheap beef taco was often the last real food I could manage before the chemo nausea kicked in. Days 2-14 after infusion, I had the appetite of a finicky toddler. Smells of fresh, raw or cooking food might make me hungry, or make me sick. It could literally go either way. During those days, I did find some solace in my 70s comfort food: Cauliflower Soup from Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook, Garlic Broth from Anna Thomas’s Vegetarian Epicure, and homemade pierogies from my friend Kim, or from the ladies auxiliary at the Ukranian Church got me through those days.

When chemo ended, my tastebuds limped across the chemo picket line – and some of them had clearly developed attitude problems. Spicy foods threw them into revolt. Salt levels were hit or miss. Sour tastes, fresh fruit, and creamy vegetable tasted usually tasted good – but not always. Lemon, which I don’t love, always worked during chemo and continued to work when it was over. Salmon, a pre-chemo mainstay, tasted too strong now, but smoked salmon was terrific Pepper became critical in every dish. After the end of each chemo regimen, it took me months to get back the palate sensitivity on which I’d always depended.

I examined some cancer cookbooks during treatment, but all were uniformly disappointing. I know how to make ingredients sing, make them amuse my tastebuds and incite my appetite – but the smells of cooking and the handling of raw foods often made me ill. I used a lot of premade and frozen foods while on chemo, but wondered how other patients handled the utter lack of taste in most of those cancer ‘cookbooks.’

What I would have given for a copy of One Bite at a Time, Rebecca Katz’s amazing cookbook subtitled ‘Nourishing Recipes for Cancer Survivors and Their Friends.’

If you only make one of the 20 soups Katz includes in this cookbook, it will have paid for itself. A beautiful, simple and basic vegetable stock called Magic Mineral Broth (TM) will add magic to any soup, vegetable, rice, pasta or grain where it’s used. Other recipes include Carmelized Red Onion soup; Taxicab Yellow Tomato Soup with Pesto – I could go on, but these are recipes you should discover for yourself. If you’d like a taste, check here for Katz’s online recipe selection. It includes another of my favorites from One Bite at a Time – Flourless Almond Tortes.

Food on chemo can be a challenge for both the patients and caregivers – but the recipes in Katz’s book are real food designed to deliver high taste and high nutrient value. You don’t need to have cancer to need that. Enjoy!

What was your favorite food during chemo? C’mon, admit it. After all – I admitted to Taco Bell cravings…how much worse could your craving be?

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1. azahar - November 12, 2009

Pizza. And luckily there are two very good Italian restaurants nearby that do takeaway (my roommate or a friend would very kindly go and pick up the order).

Toasted ham sandwiches. Maybe a grilled cheese.

Fruit and veg – forget it. Though I think the cauliflower purée I came up with recently would probably have gone down nicely.

So pizza and toasted sandwiches were the only two foods that appealed just after infusion. The first time I was on chemo I got really bad “metal mouth” and everything tasted awful during the first week, especially as I couldn’t eat or drink anything cold. For some reason the metal mouth thing wasn’t so bad the second time on chemo. I was also on serious anti-nausea meds (Emend) the second time, so my appetite was relatively okay.

I haven’t really noticed any other taste bud damage, though my dentist thinks my saliva glands have been affected by the chemo, which sometimes leaves me with an acidy taste in my mouth, and which so far has resulted in one crumbly tooth. I’ve always been one for very strong foods with lots of garlic and spices and black pepper, and that hasn’t changed, though I always pay for any indulgence in chili flakes (but it’s always worth it).

I also remember impatiently waiting for the last week of the three-week cycle so I could eat some icecream – and I don’t even like icecream! It was just such a pleasure to put something really really cold in my mouth and enjoy it.

I’ve never been to a Taco Bell. Sounds scary.

2. Tweets that mention Amuse my tastebuds, please! « Life Out Loud -- Topsy.com - November 12, 2009

[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by PAS and PAS, DREAMDachshundRescue. DREAMDachshundRescue said: interesting blog weaving cooking & side effects of chemo! RT Amuse my tastebuds, please! http://wp.me/pxOen-4L (via @Gaelen2) […]

3. Rotorhead - November 13, 2009

I had radical tastebud change. Chocolate and other sweets tasted like spoiled milk (major bummer). Most foods had no taste or tasted metallic or like cardboard. My solace was HOT foods. I began to drench everything with hot sauce – the hotter the better. Taco Bell grilled stuffed chicken burrito with 4 or 5 packets of “Fire” sauce would get me through the entire day.
Of note my garden has been producing peppers of EXTREME hotness. Looking for a salsa recipe…got any good ones? Don’t know what else to do with them – they really are chemical weapon quality peppers.
-Charlie (Rotorhead)

gaelenscafe - November 14, 2009

Have I got a salsa recipe? You mean – just one? I’ve got a whole cookbook of ’em.
This year’s garden was a bust for a number of reasons, but I usually harvest a few dozen weapon-level small chiles, dry and then grind them up. I make my own chile powder blends from the ground chiles, use them all year long in rubs, and as seasonings and to use as a base for chili (the stew) and other Mexican recipes. Sometimes I give small amounts of my special blends away as gifts.
Drying them will preserve the heat but get it into a form that you can manage more predictably than the whole chiles. And grinding uses up a LOT of chiles for the amount of dried spice powder it produces (gotta love a process that takes 3-4 dozen chiles and nets you around 3/4 cup of ground dried chile powder.
Also – don’t forget chile vinegar, chile oil – just drop a whole chile into a bottle. Yum. Or you could roast them, and then puree up the roasted chiles with a hit of vinegar to make your own siracha pepper sauce. Hope that helps; let me know how many ways you use them!

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