The Joy of Good Flavor and its Side Effects

My dad’s 20-year marathon of outrunning cancer has been tripped up by over-medication and infections. So at the moment, he has very little appetite, and his mouth and throat are sore from thrush. Even favorites like soft cornbread with homemade jam cause too much discomfort. It’s a challenge to provide a flavor and texture that will get him interested in eating and give him some pleasure. But it is worth it to see the good that a delectable treat can do to brighten his day.

Homemade, creamy soups are really easy to come up with. Just choose your savory ingredients – garlic, shallots, onions, herbs and spices – to saute first. Add something to thicken, like potatoes or cashews, and then the garden-fresh veggies of your choice. Cover with water and cook until soft, then run through the blender. You can make a million tasty combinations this way. I just made one with spring onions, potatoes, fake-bacon, and freshly shelled peas, seasoned with a bit of veggie parmesan cheese. I stay away from dairy, as it can feed infections and cause gassy stomach problems in a debilitated tummy.

Another easy way to get flavor and nutrients delivered is in a sort of mousse. I steamed fresh asparagus (a bunch broken into small pieces), then blended 4 egg yolks, 1 cup of cashew milk (unsweetened), salt and pepper and vegetarian parmesan with the cooked asparagus. I whipped the egg whites until frothy and folded whites into the other mix. I buttered a loaf pan and then lined that with bread crumbs. Baked at 375 for 50-60 minutes. Serve cool. You can swap out asparagus for broccoli or other veggies, pureed or otherwise. The asparagus happens to be having a great season, and it is absolutely bursting with flavor – which is what it takes to make a person really enjoy eating under these circumstances. Bold, fresh flavor that shouts springtime (or whatever season you are in) and is full of life. The mousse, while having a soft and fluffy texture, does not have that baby-food sense to it. This is grown-up food. And it’s NOT hospital food.

But, even though i didn’t prepare it myself, and white sugar is not your friend, i’ll admit that the one thing that is making my dad really perk up is raspberry sorbetto (with real fruit) from an upscale ice cream maker. It’s cool on his sore tongue. The texture is nice, and the berry flavor really wakes up the taste buds. He closes his eyes, smiles and says, “mmm-mmm-mmm, that’s good!” Works every time.

So while good quality food and nutrition are always a priority, and these foods keep up nutrition and hydration, the joy of a great flavor, experiencing some delight in spite of the difficult situation, a topic for some conversation on a positive note, something that brings a smile…all that is important for the person who is sick and the caregiver too.

I really don’t mean that you should wait until one is bed-ridden or in dire conditions. At every stage – each step with its own stresses, discomforts, pains, and fears – healthy, vibrant comfort food can help. Remember that taste connects to the brain in a very interesting way (see this Society for Neuroscience article for more info) and can stimulate or soothe, evoke great memories or just delight the senses. Cooking healthfully fantastic food for yourself or for a loved-one can also be empowering, as it’s in your own hands to provide the joy and nutrients that add to overall well-being. If asparagus mousse or a yummy pumpkin curry soup or a favorite sorbet can provide a bright spot in a bleak situation, take the time to savor every bite of the good stuff.

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