My inbox has filled with wonderful, encouraging messages from readers since I wrote last week about my cancer diagnosis and treatment. Thank you for all the love and support. I hope the things I share about food and how it has helped me deal with treatment will help others, whether you are living with cancer or helping someone else who is.
As I mentioned previously, adjusting to my new normal took a while. For the second time in as many years, I was dealing with medications that helped and yet hurt, and I struggled to find my way through a bizarre maze of side effects. I experimented with different things on my own, trying to find foods that worked for me, and found that fruit yogurt smoothies and green smoothies were very helpful on days that I just did not want to eat. But even on days that I felt like I could eat and cook, my palate was limited, so I set out in search of something, anything that would help. And that’s when I found Rebecca Katz and her award-winning book The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen.
Katz is dedicated to helping people find better health through good nutrition, and in her words, “My primary tool has been flavor.” Flavor, among other things, was high on my list of problems to deal with, as I had lost my taste for many healthy things that I used to love. I don’t want to sound maudlin, but as I turned the pages of her book and used up a package of sticky notes, I found hope. Chapter 1 is all about cancer treatment side effects and how to eat for them, with suggestions for enhancing flavor and dealing with taste changes. Her FASS fixes (fat, acid, salt, sweet) help patients deal with a variety issues, such as food having a metallic taste, or too sweet, salty, or bitter, and even tasting like cardboard. And it’s little things, like a bit of maple syrup, lemon, lime, or a touch of sea salt that can make all the difference for someone whose senses of taste and smell have gone around the bend due to cancer.
In addition to all the recipes, she helps readers understand the healing power of different foods in the section Culinary Pharmacy, especially herbs and spices. She has eleven pages devoted to explaining how various things that we can keep in the pantry help with inflammation, digestion, appetite stimulation, and even bacteria and microbes. Some things I already knew, and other things I learned as I read, and I made sure to incorporate these ideas in our meals. Her recipe for Magic Mineral Broth, both meat and vegan versions, is a flavorful foundation for many of the healthful dishes in the book, and even worked for me as a cup of broth by itself on really tough days.
Thankfully I did not loose my taste for Asian food over the last year, and I found that I could eat a number of of my favorite Asian dishes, but in particular I have found Indian spices and curries satisfying. The warm flavors of cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, cumin, and cardamom have a calming, comforting effect that helped me eat on some days when food was at the bottom of my priority list. So it should come as no surprise that my family has been eating more Indian food lately!
Katz’s book has 150 recipes for soups and broths, vegetables, meat and meatless dishes, breakfast, healthy snacks, condiments, and dessert. Some of my favorites include her Velvety Red Lentil Dal, Curry Cauliflower Soup, Shredded Carrot and Beet Salad, Green Tea Ginger Lemonade, Triple Berry Smoothie, and this Stir-Fried Baby Bok Choy with Shiitake Mushrooms. Shiitake mushrooms are good immune enhancers, but they can be elusive and sometimes difficult to find in our area, so I use other mushrooms when necessary. The flavors are rich with tamari soy sauce and sesame oil, though not overpowering, and I’ve often made a meal just out of a bowl of this. And even if you aren’t living with cancer, it’s a delicious dish.
So this is my thank-you to Rebecca, and a message to never underestimate the power of a good cookbook.
Stir-Fried Baby Bok Choy with Shiitake Mushrooms
- large saute pan
- 4 heads baby bok choy
- 2 tablespoons light sesame oil
- 2 scallions (white part only, thinly sliced)
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
- 2 cloves garlic (minced)
- 8 ounces shiitake mushrooms (stemmed and thinly sliced ¼ inch thick)
- sea salt (to taste)
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1 tablespoon gluten-free tamari soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
- 1½ teaspoons toasted sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds (see Recipe Notes)
- Trim the bases off the bok choy and discard. Trim the leaves from the stems and cut both crosswise into bite-size pieces, keeping the stems and leaves separate.
- Heat the light sesame oil in the sauté pan over medium heat, then add the scallions, ginger, garlic, shiitake mushrooms, and a pinch of sea salt and sauté for 30 seconds. Add the water, tamari, and the bok choy stems and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the bok choy leaves, lime juice, toasted sesame oil, and a pinch of sea salt and sauté until the bok choy is just wilted, about 2 minutes. Taste and add another squeeze of lime if you like. Sprinkle with the toasted sesame seeds and serve immediately.