To your health

Before the whipped cream.

I keep hearing from people who seem to be picturing me on or near my death bed, people with pity in their voice or dire warnings about how “intensive” my road is going to be. Yeah, got those memos; I have never understood why some people imagine that emphasizing the dangers of a friend’s medical condition is going to help that friend. Does anyone who has received a terrible diagnosis not appreciate the gravity without having to be reminded by others who supposedly care? That question is rhetorical; just keep those thoughts to yourselves and you’ll be doing a lot more good than you will by voicing them.

I am grateful to report that things are going well. I feel great on most days and have been getting plenty of work done. For those who keep asking whether I am “making sawdust,” I’m making far less of it than usual — not because I’m physically or mentally impaired, but simply because my white blood cell counts are so low that I’m at increased risk of infection from the cuts and scrapes I get any time I’m working in the shop (or garden). (OK, that is a kind of physical impairment, but all in all, it’s so minor, and I feel so strong and energetic, that I don’t even want to grant it that standing.) So I am focusing on design work and writing — and I’m very thankful to have kitchen design jobs coming in, thanks to the recent publication of Kitchen Think.

Proof. Lunchtime a few days ago, covered in dust from finishing up some shelves for a set of built-in bookcases.

Early on in my current health adventure I had the good fortune of speaking with Karen Vaughan, an oncology nurse, who has had plenty of experience with pancreatic cancer. Karen recommended a book, The Metabolic Approach to Cancer, among other reading materials relevant to my condition, in response to which I’ve made some sweeping changes to my diet.

I stopped drinking alcohol and eating all wheat products, as well as most grains other than organic oats. A good crusty loaf of sourdough has been one of my great pleasures in life; avoiding bread, brown basmati rice, tortillas, and pasta has taken some adjustment. Lunch used to be a quickly-assembled cheese sandwich. No more! Everything aside from salad requires more thought and preparation. My evening beverage is now a mug of vegetable broth, my favorite being the rich and complexly flavored Bou Vegetable Bouillon Cubes.

I’m burning through recipes for vegetarian Thai-style coconut-vegetable soups and curries and have found some good ones, including this one. A kale salad recipe by Kayte Young, food correspondent for our local NPR affiliate, has become another favorite. I think I use less salt than she does, and I substitute pecans for pine nuts, as well as organic sun-dried tomatoes from a jar for her oven-roasted tomatoes, but that is one good recipe, and kale is so good for you.

Most beans are off the list, but garbanzos and red lentils seem to be OK, as are fermented soy products. The main component of this diet is organic vegetables, most with low carbohydrate content — green beans, green leafy vegetables, mushrooms, some peppers, etc. I am not being super-hardcore; onions, carrots, and tomatoes are too important to me to forgo, and all are higher than ideal in naturally-occurring sugars. Seriously off the list are potatoes and most kinds of squash, along with most types of cheese (other than Parmesan, which I am just not giving up). Plain full-fat yogurt also seems to be OK.

Nuts — almonds, walnuts, pecans, and pumpkin seeds — are all OK, too, so for a special treat I devised a minimalist spin on Bakewell tart that involves an almond crust, a little raspberry fruit spread (organic raspberries being the top ingredient), fresh raspberries and whipped cream. No added sugar. (See “recipe,” if I may glorify it with that name, below.)

So far, my best source of recipes has been Ottolenghi’s Simple. His broiled tomatoes with chile [sic], garlic, and ginger are a real treat.

I’m mentioning diet because I feel so much better now than I felt for probably two years before my diagnosis. Yes, the chemo is proving effective at this point, which has virtually done away with my abdominal discomfort from the tumor. But the diet is clearly playing a big part in how I feel, and that is largely what defines my quality of life on any given day. I’ve had more energy than I can remember having in ages; this is especially notable given that chemo is notorious for depleting energy, in part by causing a drastic reduction in hemoglobin levels. Even my asthma and chronic back pain have improved markedly, though Mark points out this may have something to do with not spending all day every day on a concrete floor in a dusty environment. Hydration is also critical, especially with Folfirinox, the chemo regimen I’m on; I keep track of my water consumption (most of it in the form of tea, whether decaf or not, as water alone has taken on a funky taste due to the chemo drugs) and aim for at least eight cups a day.

So while I would certainly prefer not to be having this experience, I am deeply grateful to feel as well as I do and be able to get so much work done. As for the recipe below, it’s for those in hardcore need of a dessert-like fix. I can’t actually recommend it, though it is a healthy, treat-like substance.

Deconstructed Bakewell Tart

This recipe is so utterly deconstructed that it has nothing to do with Bakewell Tart, beyond the basic idea of putting raspberry-something into a crust.


1-1/2 cups of organic ground almonds

1/2 tsp. sea salt

3 Tbsp. melted butter (grass-fed, organic)

Mix the ground almonds and butter, then press into a buttered pie dish.

Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 15 minutes to toast the almonds, then allow to cool.


Spread about 1/4 cup of organic raspberry fruit spread over the crust.

Cover with fresh organic raspberries.

When ready to serve, whip heavy cream in a glass or stainless steel bowl set in a large pan of ice cubes. Add sweetener if you must; I am getting used to no added sweetener — and enjoying more subtle natural flavors as a result.

18 responses to “To your health

  1. Hanging in there with you. Loved the pic, and really love the looks of that tart.

  2. Hi Nancy, it’s kind of awful for me to say this, but your cancer diagnosis is what finally prompted me to buy Kitchen Think. Please hate or ignore me based on whatever makes the most sense to you. But your book is awesome. My wife and I are buying our first home at the age of 40 and I feel like I’ve gone half my life without experiencing stuff like even having the option of re-doing a kitchen, and now that I have that option I don’t know what the **** I am doing! It’s great to have your book as a tether to reality, experience, and good sense. Glad to hear your updates.

  3. I agree with you Nancy while I am 65 and have a few issues I have tried to not focus on the negative things. So wishing you nothing but positive thinking and wishing you All the Best. You are in my prayers each night.

  4. I did mega-salads for the first year post. Mostly because I didn’t want to get plugged up again, also because I was trying anything to repopulate gut flora. Kid[2] came thru with a tour group of visigoths and did a chili/single malt festival, and cleaned out a very nice collection . So the highlands sank to new lows, but I also discovered my taste was shot and I couldn’t taste them anymore anyway.

    Wine does not count as alcohol, but my chemo onc said no wine for a year anyway. I was also on blood meds, and I am sure you are now quite careful on creating new chemical mixes. I did my prescribed, only my prescribed, exactly as and when prescribed. Mostly because things need recovery time. After that, he said no problem. My blood chem did bounce back, big time, and took a long time cholesterol problem with it.

    I was sort of too stupid to worry, just assumed I would pull thru. Then I did a crash cart run where my only reaction was ‘wow, I might not make it after all’.

    I’m not particularly heroic, but the death thing didn’t bother me. I was concerned I might not get to do some things I’d like to see/try. I like what I do, and want to do it some more.

    An aside: My millenials were all about doing the medical marijuana thing. Even my infusion lab millenials. CO is a totally legal state, but I still didn’t bite. I dug into things, and what I found is med mj was used mostly to deal with nausea. The anti-nausea drug I got was still patented a year before, $50 per pill. Right before my time it went generic, and for me at the start they gave me a bottle of like 100, and refill option, drug co-pay of $20. The thing on med mj is there is no research. It’s still illegal at the fed level, so labs won’t touch it. So what the mix means is anyones guess.

  5. I love your attitude and outlook. Keep it up.

  6. I have always enjoyed what you share about the things you make, and the interesting people you’ve introduced to us in your blogs. And I also value the lessons and your openness about your personal journey in dealing with cancer. Please keep it all up.

  7. Hi Nancy, Great to hear you are feeling better. You are inspiring me to make even better choices with my diet. “Making sawdust” is what I would always hear from my Father, a woodworker/instrument maker-A fond memory, thanks for that note. I look at photos of your amazing work-and wish I could reach out and open that cabinet door, smell the finishing oils, trace the grain and ID the different wood ( a game I play with myself since childhood in my Dad’s shop) but we live remotely for now. I always watch for your posts- Especially liked the photo of you with that lovely bouquet and smile! Love to you, ~Debora 🌺

    Sent from my iPhone


  8. I knew a man who had cancer and went into complete remission ( he strongly believed) because he went on a very strict vegetarian diet. I’ve known others who were cured of a lifelong affliction by eating meat.
    So who is to say, we are all different, if it works for you then that’s great.
    The marijuana craze is all hype, it’s all about making money for big business and governments trying to raise tax revenues.
    Keep up with the great attitude, sounds like you are finding out what’s important in your life. We all have bad days even when we are not sick with anything. You seem very focused on what is truly important, thanks for sharing.

  9. Michael Mascelli

    I am truly inspired…. you are just one cool gal.

  10. I’m happy you’re doing better! The meds and the diet seem to be doing their job.
    I’m hopeful you’ll be back to Kansas City to teach again, but, I’ll need some of your recipes for the daily lunches!
    I’m reading/rereading your books and find something new with each read.
    I like your hayrake table behind you in the photo. My wife wants one and that’s after I build a new entertainment credenza. As usual, like the cobbler’s children have no shoes, the furniture maker’s house has no furniture!
    I’m so glad you’re doing better and look forward to seeing you soon.

  11. Yay, recipes! Just finished reading Kitchen Think cover-to-cover. Invaluable tome I wish I could shrink down and carry in my pocket. I treasure it as Gollem does his Precious.

  12. Clean eating and an excuse to eat high fat content yogurt. Living food is so amazing. You look great….including the sawdust.

  13. You look great. I hope I look that good when it’s my turn in the PC barrel.

    Also, love your kitchen.

  14. The tart and kale salads look and sound wonderful, and I’m tempted to invite myself over except for the lack of sourdough. You are more disciplined than I in that department.

    It’s good to see people voice their needs and take an active role in their support, thank you for being another good example. A lot of us just put up with the well-meaning-but-terrible support we get from others.

    Your earlier post describing the kindness you show yourself is a wonderful framing of the “Best Friend” model of self care — to think and speak about ourselves and act as if we are caring for our best friend, or perhaps a favourite aunt. You so clearly love your doggo, and now I think we could also ask ourselves “Would I care for my dog like this?” and “What would my dog want for me?”

  15. Dear Nancy, I hope my recent message did not seem to be too light hearted. I was being mindful of your words about “ not wanting to hear how hard thing can be”. Still I have to say I just hate that you are going through this-Several of my family have and I think of you often. Kind Regards, – Debora

    Sent from my iPhone


    • Not at all! I was away from the computer yesterday and couldn’t log in to WordPress to approve comments or post replies. I appreciate your good wishes and send them right back to you!

  16. Well that was interesting..

    I was reading this and thinking ‘that sounds a lot like my diet’. Then I realised; Pancreas. I’m diabetic, so taking the burden off the pancreas is the only way to control T2 Diabetes without drugs. This is the Atkins Diet, which I’ve followed since 2012. The result is a halting in its tracks of my diabetes, and it hasn’t progressed in any way. As an airline pilot, I was required to get an exercise ECG every year, and within 2 years this showed my arteries were clean and heart health excellent, and still is. I love this diet. Tons of high fat fry ups, adding oil to everything. High fat and healthy heart?

    The feeling of healthiness you’re experiencing is something I can testify to as well after changing diets. I think you’ve cracked it. The combination of chemo and Low Carb diet, to my mind, means you’ll be around for quite some time Nancy. Well done.

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