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Summer of Chemo

By Lora Arduser · July 18th, 2007 · The Nosh Pit
When my friend had her first baby, another friend and I took over in the kitchen. We spent a happy, frenzied day filling her freezer with turkey chili, roasted red pepper lasagna and beef stew, scrawling names and dates on plastic containers with Sharpies. It was our baby shower gift. The best of all the gifts she received, she said -- the gift of good food and peace of mind.

What we did wasn't anything out of the ordinary. People bring food in times of need partly to help out, but we also do it because, frankly, we don't know what else to do.

When my sister died, my teenage eyes were filmed over with mother's little helper and the yellow shade of the afghan I obsessively crocheted, but not so foggy that I didn't notice the dozens of Pyrex dishes my cousin moved from the open front door to the tiny kitchen.

When sick or injured, our loved ones gallantly parade up the walk with tasty offerings -- hoping that food prepared lovingly from scratch can fortify and help nurse us back to health. This food=health connection is as strong as the food=love one. We sing the praises of Omega-3 fatty acids and suck on zinc tablets when we feel a cold coming on. Shiitake mushrooms are touted as having properties to prohibit AIDS and cancer; the antioxidant properties of tomatoes might fight cancer as well as heart disease; and soy, the Super Food, is supposed to fight everything from menopausal symptoms to cancers and cardiovascular diseases.

We Who Cook have much to offer at these times as we excel at expressing our love through food. We spent entire childhood summers trying to perfect Grandma's icebox cake recipe and hoped Dad would be impressed with our Sunday pancake breakfasts. So when the Summer of Chemo arrived, I was a shoo-in. Sharpie and a bundle of my favorite recipes in hand, I took off to fill another freezer, act as personal chef and magically provide health and love through my victuals. I daydreamed about how I could use shiitakes -- shiitake omelets? Shiitake bread pudding, maybe?

But my food faith was quickly shaken to its foundations. All of my training, everything I thought I knew quickly melted down as I realized food had become the enemy.

What do We Who Cook do when a "diet for health" becomes poached chicken, Jell-O and plain white toast? We quietly set down the spatula and pick up someone's hand.

CONTACT LORA ARDUSER: larduser(at)citybeat.com


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