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Cooking on through it all November 15, 2009

Posted by PAS in food, survivorship.
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In 2003, after two years of low-carb eating, I compiled the recipes and drafted a cookbook called ‘Notes from Gaelen’s Kitchen’ – my mostly meatless collection of whole foods low carb recipes, many inspired by my collection of ethnic vegetarian cookbooks.

I wrote chapter introductions and recipe notes, and started the most laborious part of cookbook writing: testing recipes over and over to be sure that anyone who could follow directions could reproduce the recipes in my cookbook, first time every time.

And then came April, 2004. Stage IV rectal cancer, metastasized to my liver. Chemo, that made everything taste like metal. It was hard to even watch cooking shows – when the sight of food brought on nausea, actually cooking it and tasting it over and over was out of the question. Eating assumed, of course, that I could taste food. But for most of chemo #! (Folfox: 5FU, Leucovorin, Oxaliplatin + Avastin), chemo #2 (Folfiri: 5FU, leucovorin, irinotecan + FUDR infused directly into my liver) and chemo #3 (a modified dose of Folfiri), I couldn’t taste much of anything unless it was sour (think lemonade without much sugar) or very spicy (hello, siracha!)

Although I won several cooking contests at the New York State Fair during 2004, 2005 and 2006, I was cooking from memory and from gut feelings about how the ingredients would taste when I made those recipes. I was not improvising with food – I was putting together trusty favorites and sending them to the judges. My palate was in no shape to create new recipes, or test recipes to make sure that everyone could follow my preparation directions. A few days ago in my review of Rebecca Katz’s cookbook, I joked that my tastebuds went on strike during chemo. Most days, that was true. Looking back, I ate a depressing amount of fast food (yes, Taco Bell!), frozen ready-to-heat meals, and food from the Wegmans prepared foods case – anything to avoid having to handle raw foods and cook things for myself from scratch.

During 2004, the Food Network ran its first ‘Next Food Network Star’ competition. Top Chef debuted its first season that year. Part of me wished that I could have auditioned to be the next Food Network star – but facing terminal cancer, I knew I couldn’t handle the pressure involved in a reality cooking show. After all, during state fair week, I only managed to prepare half of my entries, and some days didn’t take in food at all. So since I couldn’t cook, I watched (but only on my off-chemo weeks!)

I put my own cookbook writing aside and focused on living through my chemo treatments and recovering from two abdominal surgeries. After cancer, I had to re-learn how to eat, finding new lower-fiber foods to satisfy my preferred low carb diet. But I drew a line and said ‘this I cannot do’ about cooking and developing recipes. I cooked only what I needed. I stopped inventing new things, trying to puzzle out tastes from others’ recipes.

Tonight, I watched Chef Seamus Mullen, chef-owner of the two Boqueria restaurants in NYC, competing in a semi-final episode of Food Network’s ‘Next Iron Chef‘ reality cooking competition. Mullen has been a strong competitor throughout, and had made it to the final three contestants. In this episode, obviously in pain, Chef Mullen limped through the hour-long shopping expedition, and the two-hour prep time, and his presentation to the judges. Despite obvious pain, he stayed focused on his dream of being the next iron chef. He refused to let anything get in his way, even a serious flare of his rheumatoid arthritis that several times caused pain difficult enough to stop him in his tracks.

I was humbled, watching Chef Mullen continue to work no matter what. I was humbled even though in this round, he was eliminated from the competition.

And out of respect for Chef Mullen’s efforts, I’m dusting off my recipes and my cookbook notes.

I will not permit cancer, chemo, surgery or pain to continue to interfere with the essential things which define me – and cooking is one of those essential things.
I don’t know when I’ll finish ‘Notes from Gaelen’s Kitchen,’ but I have put some new ingredients on my shopping list and pulled some recipes to test, and writing is no longer on my creative back burner.

Be in harmony with your expectations. – Chinese Moon Festival wish

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1. sara - November 16, 2009

go you! I’m so excited for you, and can’t wait to hear how it goes.

2. Twitted by Gaelen2 - November 16, 2009

[…] This post was Twitted by Gaelen2 […]

3. Whidbeywoman - November 16, 2009

Good post. Good for you. It is important to keep up with the things you love to do and to set goals for yourself.

4. Tweets that mention Cooking on through it all « Life Out Loud -- Topsy.com - November 17, 2009

[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by PAS: A lot of traffice on this post overnight: Cooking on through it all: http://wp.me/pxOen-4P #nextironchef […]

5. uberVU - social comments - November 18, 2009

Social comments and analytics for this post…

This post was mentioned on Twitter by Gaelen2: Cooking on through it all: http://wp.me/pxOen-4P

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