I had started writing this reflection a few days ago, but something kept me from posting it to my website. Perhaps, it was because I needed to go to Zoë’s last chemotherapy session first. A conversation with one of the husband’s there touched my heart. His wife was going through her third bout with cancer, this time in her throat. It was hard to get her to eat because nothing tasted good. He was beating himself up because he could not find a way to make food taste good to her. When you are on chemotherapy it affects your taste buds in ways you cannot describe to anyone else. For those preparing the food, it is a constant guessing game because what tasted good on Monday does not taste good on Tuesday. It can take the Zen out of cooking even for those who experience Zen while cooking.
Learning how to make things taste good for Zoe has challenged me to really listen to why something does not taste good, so I can think about what will make it taste good. This is what I had asked this gentleman. What are her complaints? He did not know the answer. One thing he said is that sometimes her throat is so sore she does not want to swallow. One of the tricks a friend of mine shared with me for times like this was to make ice cubes and ice pops out of glucerna or ensure or some other kind of supplement drink. These are easy to suck on and keep the nutrients coming in without irritating the throat or mouth.
For the longest time, Zoë’s complaint was that everything tasted like cardboard. In one of the books I had read about cancer, they had said sea salt could help move the taste of the food from the back to the front of the mouth and thus make it taste less like cardboard and more like food. With a little experimentation, we found that this really worked and food stopped tasting like cardboard. It also meant I had to keep the dishes straight in my head. Her food tasted great for her, but like a salt lick to me.
Friends have shared with me that their loved ones did not so much struggle with things tasting like cardboard, but foods tasting too metallic, too bitter, too sweet, or too salty and asked if I had any suggestions. I am certainly not the expert in nutrition and dieting, but I promised my friends I would share what I learned. What I have learned is that the secret ingredients are lemon, lime, butter, and agave nectar. While I cannot see these ingredients becoming lyrics in a song like parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme, they do need to become staples in a chemo friendly kitchen.
Metallica might be great as a form of music, well at least for some people, but as a food taste, I cannot imagine it tastes great. I have had that taste sometimes in French fries from fast food restaurants and it is not pleasant. While I cannot quite explain why this works adding agave nectar, which by the way is great for those who are diabetic, or butter, which I think can make just about anything taste better, will reduce the metallic taste in food. The amount of agave nectar or butter you will need will depend on how metallic the food is tasting.
The agave nectar is also the answer to your prayers when things taste too bitter. This one made perfect sense to me. It is why we add sugar to lemonade or limeade. It makes it less acidic tasting. By the way, I now use agave nectar instead of sugar or Splenda if I am making lemonade from scratch. Be mindful it is sweet, so add slowly.
For all other things, there is lemon and limes. Whether things taste too sweet or too salty, it is lemon and lime juice to the rescue. It also brings things back into balance if you added too much agave nectar to something in an attempt to make it less metallic or bitter. I have to say I am not talking about that bottled lemon and lime juice, but fresh squeezed, unchemicalized lemon and lime juice.
One of the things this journey has reminded me of is how sacred the act of listening is. Zoe has had to learn to listen to her taste buds and her body. I have had to learn how to listen to what tastes good, what does not, and ask why? Listen to each other, to your instincts and what you know. It is through listening that I have found ways to keep food tasting good and through the simplest of ingredients that I have been able to restore balance in her foods. Faith, love, and a few lemons, limes, sticks of butter, bottles of agave nectar and sea salt, that is all it has taken to keep the Zen in our kitchen and in our home.