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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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Fight Cancer: Mohawk Valley communities chosen to participate in nationwide lifestyle vs. cancer study May 25, 2009

Posted by PAS in cancer, nutrition, research, survivorship.
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Relay for Life, 2008Image by Andy Ciordia via Flickr

A story in today’s Utica Observer-Dispatch announced that “The Mohawk Valley has been chosen to participate in the American Cancer Society’s nationwide Cancer Prevention Study 3, and ACS is seeking local people to enroll in the study. The study will examine lifestyle, environmental and genetic factors to determine which may contribute to or help prevent cancer.”

Study participants must fit this profile, according to Peter Cittadino, ACS community executive director:
“All adults ages 30 to 65 who do not have a personal history of cancer are eligible to enroll. Participants must be willing to commit to a long-term study that, although it requires minimal involvement, will continue for about 20 years.”

Earlier multi-community studies established the links between tobacco use and cancer, and between obesity and cancer.

Interested participants can register (a 20-30 min. process) at a table at the Utica Relay for Life on June 13-14 at Mohawk Valley Community College. People interested in participating in the study do not have to be RforL participants to sign up. The registration process involves a survey and some initial measurements on day of sign-up, including giving a blood sample.

Thanks to @foodmedic on Twitter for the heads-up about this study. Sometimes it takes a tweet from Texas to let Central New Yorkers know that they have an opportunity to help researchers make strides evaluating the connections between cancer, lifestyle and diet!

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too sweet to be true… September 10, 2008

Posted by PAS in food, nutrition.
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The Corn Refiner’s Association is feeling maligned. Sugar, and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) are being named more frequently as culprits contributing to obesity in America. So they’ve decided to improve the image of HFCS…to, in their own words, ‘change the conversation.’ They’d like the world to believe that HFCS is, like sugar, ‘okay in moderation–but that assumes that moderation is possible. HFCS is added to many commercially prepared foods–so many, in fact, that only by a minimal to moderate consumption of any type of commercially prepared food can you even hope to limit or eliminate its consumption. HFCS keeps all sorts of things moist–baked goods, granola bars, caramel. And when it’s not keeping things moist, it’s being used as a sweetener, since it’s readily available and in some cases cheaper than sugar. Pretty much all of us have eaten some level of HFCS at some time unless we are consciously striving to avoid it.

Maybe what would help their cause is to just change the subject. These ads are being compared to tobacco companies telling us that nicotine is not addictive, and mining companies calling coal a ‘clean’ energy source. Now granted, the FDA started this whole misconception with its convoluted definition of a ‘natural’ food–but honestly, by description of the process, HFCS is refined more than five times more than refined table sugar.

Check out the Corn Refiner’s Association here–the sweeteners quiz is particularly oddly constructed. You can view the current ads from the links at the bottom of the website, under the big close up of that ear of corn:


The Corn Refiner’s Association wants to change the conversation about HFCS, in the same way that an illusionist chooses to misdirect your attention from the man behind the curtain (check out the .pdf’s which summarize the current campaign by opening the “Press Kit” link on their website.)

What they appear to have forgotten is that some Americans can actually think, and make reasoned and informed choices about what they put in their bodies.

HFCS? Thanks, I think I’ll pass.