Sometimes people have asked me what I’m doing with my time since being diagnosed with cancer. I must admit that some days it takes a lot of energy to simply exist. Luckily those days are few, and when they happen (predictably on days 5-8 after a chemo treatment) I just stare at reruns of “NCIS” without even seeing them. However, I do get out to see friends, to go shopping, to have a meal, on almost every other day of the treatment cycle. Even if I’m feeling blue or tired, I force myself out for a little while every day. I’ve also learned to force myself to go out walking on days when I feel okay and the weather is good. (My definition of “bad” weather has expanded to include high humidity however – sweating never feels good, but feels particularly yucky on a covered, yet bald head.) So I am out a lot.
One thing I have always loved doing is cooking. I find that it’s the one thing that completely empties my brain of all other tasks and trials. It’s not that I find it relaxing, but I can’t multitask when I do it. I have to concentrate on the task at hand or risk making a mistake that ruins the dish. I also find it tremendously satisfying to make things that other people get to eat. When someone I love pronounces a dish I’ve made as yummy, it’s the highest form of flattery and satisfaction to me.
Recently, since feeling even better, I’ve done more cooking. I made a Japanese dish, beef wrapped sauteed vegetables, for Ellie and Steve – one that I learned at a cooking class I took in April. It wasn’t perfect because I couldn’t find thin enough beef, like that used to make shabu-shabu, which I would have bought in Tokyo. I found thin beef, but I should have pounded it thinner. That’s okay – it was still yummy, even if it didn’t look as perfect as I wanted it to.
Then, this week, I took it upon myself to make a full meal including dessert. I had been having conversations with my friends Maxine and Bonnie (separately, I might add) about cooking and how seldom people cook from scratch anymore. True foodies cook from scratch though, and I do like to consider myself a foodie, not just a gourmand! No one has time, and convenience foods are so readily available that many people rely on them exclusively in the U.S. Cooking and eating are such arts and the preparation of a meal takes a lot of time that most working people don’t have anymore. But time is one thing of which I have in abundance right now.
I went to the grocery store last Tuesday and slowly gathered ingredients. I then spent upwards of three or four hours in the kitchen and later tried not to feel disappointed as the meal was consumed in ten minutes. Ellie and Steve are a pleasure to cook for, though. They appreciate each flavor and are generous with compliments. I didn’t care how long the meal took to make – the looks on their faces as they enjoyed it was more than compensatory.
My only food restriction from the cancer treatment is that I can’t eat fresh fruits and vegetables – nothing raw. The doctors are afraid that if there’s one bit of bacteria that’s not washed off properly, then I might get sick in my immune-suppressed state. Getting sick when one is immune-suppressed is dangerous. So I can eat whatever I want – as long as it’s COOKED.
I made a Food Network shrimp dish for a main course. Craving tomatoes and berries, I made a caprese salad with roasted tomatoes a la the Barefoot Contessa. I also made ricotta cheese toast with caramelized tomatoes from Martha Stewart. For dessert, also from Martha Stewart, we had blueberry and strawberry scones with cream cheese whipped cream.
Cooking is a great way to spend my time as I go through the treatments. It occupies my time, empties my brain and delights my tummy. So that’s what I’ve been doing.