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.
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.