Put Through The Mill

I’ve been neglecting you lately and here’s why: it’s because cancer really sucks.  I could say that life’s been complicated, difficult, that we’ve been having to do a lot of thinking and worrying, that after all we’re alive and in the south of France so how bad can it be, that life is full of hard choices and we all have to cope.  Or I could just say that cancer really and truly sucks.  You choose.

We’ve been through the cancer mill an uncountable number of times over the past 15 years, but this time is one of the hardest.  After all, we just got a long term visa, rented our house, sold our cars, and moved to France, ready to settle in for a good long time.  I’d write my book about the life of a small cooperative winery,  Shel would continue to improve his French and play music, Beppo and Zazou would continue to eat duck for breakfast and rabbit for dinner as French cats do.  And yes, we knew that cancer would always be in the equation somewhere, as it always is.

What we didn’t imagine was that cancer would come front and center so soon, catching us suddenly, unaware, in the same way that Zazou surprises the little birds huddling hopefully against the winter cold, tearing at our plans and sitting heavy on our hearts.

There are a lot of wonderful things that one can say about the French health care system, and they’ve mostly all been said already.  Everyone gets cared for, most people pay little or nothing.  That’s the usual nutshell.  But here’s the thing that we’ve learned only recently, although it fits well with other things we understand about France.  The French tend to be risk-averse, especially as compared to Americans, with our legacy of the cowboy mentality and pioneer spirit.  In America there’s cutting edge care, even ragged and bleeding edge care, although it’s not available to everybody, not even to half of everybody.

In France if a couple of people die while taking an experimental drug, that’s likely to be it for that drug for quite some time, maybe forever.  No one else will face the same risk.  Whereas in America if a hundred people die while taking the same drug the attitude is more likely to be “well, they had cancer anyway and it was better to try this, especially if some people were helped by the drug, than to do nothing at all.”  Americans sign a huge sheaf of papers stating that we accept the risk, and then we swallow the bitter pill bravely, hoping for the best.

Shel’s cancer has been getting worse and we’re kind of running out of options.  We’re having a devil of a time getting it treated here, which is where we want to be.  It would be easier to get it treated in the US, although not at all easy, but that’s not where we want to be.  It’s a hearts and minds game: heart says France, head says America. Heart says don’t give up on happiness so easily, visit more offices, make more phone calls, fill out more forms.  Head says just give me a pillow and a sedative and wake me when it’s over.

I wanted to give you a recipe today, because it’s been a long time, but I just don’t have it in me.  Instead, if you have a recipe that makes you happy to be alive, please post it in the Comments section.  We all need it.

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61 Comments on “Put Through The Mill”

  1. Randi Says:

    I’m so sorry to hear this Abra. I wish you and Shel well!! Please remember to take care of yourself thru all of this.

  2. Stacey Says:

    Abra,

    My prayers and thoughts are with you!!!! I know whatever you decide it will be the right one. Hang in there and I’m sending my love all the way from Long Island! Hugs to you and Shel! And, yes, cancer DOES suck – period!

  3. Jodi Says:

    Dear Abra,
    Heartfelt wishes and prayers are en route from Michigan too. You and Shel both have our compassion, and our we truly hope you will soon find the perfect person to administer the very best of care & effective treatment.
    Best Wishes & Big Hugs XO


  4. Hang in there Abra and I think everyone agrees that cancer does suck! From across the pond here is a big Texas sized hug!!

    Your friend in the kitchen,

    ~Sharon

  5. zuleme Says:

    Even though I don’t know you and Shel, I feel as if I do through your blog and love for France. I have been concerned when you haven’t written for a while.
    My FIL has skin cancer and we will be taking him for surgery in March. It is at the beginning of worrying…..it sucks.

    My small recipe for happiness in this world.
    Cats, Books, a Garden and the Beach.

    That will usually do me.

  6. Chris Sherwood Says:

    Keep playing Shel

  7. Corine Says:

    Abra,
    My thoughts are with you all. I have been through several cancer challenges in my life too. It’s one of those things that is almost inevitable these days. It’s so tough, but when my mother was going through it I cherished all the little talks and meals we had together. It was an opportunity to just bond and be honest, and it was those moments that made me appreciate life, even through challenges. On the medical front, I would do whatever feels right in your heart! What type of cancer does Shel have? Anything you need please feel free to email me and ask or just vent. My prayers are with you!

  8. Della Says:

    Oh Abra – I am sooo sorry. Please give yourself and Shel a big hug. I wish I could do something xoxo Della

  9. Abra Bennett Says:

    You all CAN do something – post a favorite recipe!

  10. charity Says:

    I just discovered this one. It is from Karina’ kitchen so I will just link to it.

    http://glutenfreegoddess.blogspot.com/2007/05/savory-grain-free-crackers.html

    I ground my own almonds so it had more texture, used a whole egg, and I don’t eat much cheese so left it out. They are oh so good and good for you.

  11. Kathi Says:

    My heart aches for you and the way life has a way of making choices for us when we don’t want it to. The way our bodies don’t always do as their told and the way we have to deal with all those decisions made for us and try to keep the sense of normality amongst the chaos. Thinking of you and Shel and sending you good thoughts from Texas to France.

  12. Wendy Says:

    I woke up thinking of my mom today and thought I would make her banana bread as it always reminds me of being in the kitchen with her. And then I read your post. Yes, cancer sucks and it has the ability to suck the hope and fight out of everyone it touches. This banana bread has special cancer fighting skills, ok not really but it makes me feel better and maybe it will make you feel better too. xo Wendy

    Elaine’s Banana Bread

    1 c. white sugar
    1/2 c. shortening
    2 eggs
    3 mashed bananas
    pinch of salt
    1 tsp baking soda
    1/2 tsp baking powder
    1 3/4 c. flour

    mix everything together and pour into a buttered loaf pan. bake at 325F for 1 hour.

    slice when warm, slather with butter, eat over the sink
    (the last part is my modification!)

  13. Conni Says:

    I will be thinking of you both, I’m so sorry this is happening.

    Celery Root Soup with Green Apple
    3 bacon slices- small dice
    1 yellow onion-medium dice
    1 tablespoon olive oil
    2 medium leeks- thinly sliced
    2 ribs celery-medium dice
    1 large celery root- medium dice
    5-6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
    1 Granny Smith apple-small dice
    salt and pepper to taste
    1/2 cup half-and-half

    Cook bacon in a heavy pot until crispy, remove and set aside.
    Add about 1 tablespoon of olive oil to pot and add onions, cook till just tender. Add leeks and celery, cook about 10 minutes or until tender. Add celery root and cook about 2 minutes. Add enough stock to cover vegetables, bring to a simmer and cook until celery root is very tender about 20-25 minutes.
    Purée soup in batches in a blender until smooth, return to pot. If soup is too thick add more stock. Add half and half, salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with bacon and apples.

  14. Abra Bennett Says:

    Thank you Charity, Wendy, and Conni. It’s great to have some healing recipes as well as healing thoughts. The soup and the crackers are for me, and the banana bread (which doesn’t fit with my diabetic diet) will be for Shel. That way we’re both taken care of!

  15. Lori Says:

    I am so sorry to hear about your continuing struggle – sending the most healing thoughts and prayers from New Jersey. My family has been down that road a number of times and I just got back from Florida because my 16 yr old nephew just found out he had Type 1 diabetes and had a pulmonary embolism related to getting dehydrated. Needless to say, I did what I do best in the situation – dealt with the medical professionals because I have lots of experience and filled their freezer (because I have lots of experience – LOL). I love soup – two of my healthier favorites:

    http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Szechwan-Carrot-Soup-14078

    http://www.marthastewart.com/recipe/italian-vegetable-soup

    If you need an extra shoulder, please feel free to email me.

  16. Sandra Gilmore Says:

    I’m sorry to hear the unfortunate news. I know all your readers will be thinking of you both and keeping you close in their hearts. When troubling days occur, warm and cozy food sometimes helps….

    Creamy Polenta For 6
    1.5 c. Heavy cream
    1.5 c. Vegetable broth
    5 T. Polenta
    5 T. Semolina
    1/4 c. Grated Parmesan
    2 T. Unsalted butter
    Salt
    Pepper
    In a small pot combine the cream and broth and heat, bringing to a low boil.
    Reduce the heat and add the polenta and semolina while constantly stirring.
    Cook the polenta until it thickens and has a creamy texture.
    Stir in butter and cheese and season with salt and pepper.
    Serve with grilled chicken or fish, portabella mushrooms or olive relish as an appetizer.

  17. Karen K. Says:

    Hi Abra & Shel – Thoughts are with you in this difficult time, all the way from the Oregon coast. Here’s a recipe that is an oldie-goldie blast from the past, from the good ol’ Tapcis Cooks Forum days, comfort food, heart-warming and soul-nourishing:

    LEA’S POTATO AND BEAN SOUP

    Recipe By Joe Famularo, “More-Than-Minestrone”

    1/4 cup olive oil
    1 large onion, cut into 1/2-inch dice
    2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
    one 14-1/2 oz. can Italian plum tomatoes with juice, seeded and chopped
    3 cups vegetable or chicken broth
    3 cups cooked white beans — such as cannellini or great Northern (*see cooking note)
    1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
    1 Tbs. fresh basil
    Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
    (optional: one or two six-inch dry-smoked sausages, sliced)
    extra-virgin olive oil (best quality)
    chopped Italian parsley
    freshly grated Parmesan cheese

    Heat the olive oil in a large heavy soup pot over med. heat. Add the chopped onion and saute until it begins to turn golden, about 5 minutes. Add the potatoes and cook until they are lightly browned, 10 minutes more, stirring often to prevent the potatoes from sticking to the pot. Stir in the tomatoes with the juice; cook, uncovered, until the tomatoes lose some of their liquid, about 15 minutes. Add the water and bring to a boil. (Add the sausage here, if using.) Reduce the heat to a very slow but steady simmer and cook, covered, until the mixture thickens a bit and the potatoes are cooked (about 20-30 minutes).
    Add the beans and heat through. If the soup is too thick, add a little more water or broth, but this is supposed to be a thick soup. Add the grated Parmesan cheese and the basil to the soup and stir well. Taste and add salt if needed. Be liberal in adding the pepper.
    To serve: Spoon the soup into warmed bowls, and drizzle each serving with about 1/2 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil and a sprinkling of the chopped parsley. Pass the remaining Parmesan cheese for adding at the table.
    Good with fresh green salad with Italian dressing and crusty bread. Serves six.

    *Cooking notes: Sort 1 cup uncooked cannellini (white kidney) or Great Northern beans (yield, 3 cups cooked). Look for and discard small pebbles or malformed beans (put beans on a cookie sheet for easy sorting). Rinse the beans in a colander under running water. Drain and put the beans in a saucepan. Add 3 to 4 cups water, bring to a boil, turn off heat, cover pan and leave sitting on burner for one hour. Drain, cover with fresh water; add 1 tsp. salt, one garlic clove, and one bay leaf, bring to a boil, reduce heat, simmer covered for about 45 minutes to one hour. Stir occasionally with a wooden spoon (metal spoons might break the skins). Drain before using in a recipe (discard garlic clove and bay leaf). If not being used immediately, store cooked beans in their cooking liquid in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, covered.

    NOTE: There are two things that make this recipe outstanding and different from any other recipe of this type that I’ve tried: (1) The precooking of the potatoes and onions causes them to become almost caramelized, adding a nice browned flavor. (My soup pot got *very* brown on the bottom during this step, but not burned, and the flavor was rich and delicious!) (2) Adding the fresh, flavorful olive oil, Parmesan, and parsley to the surface of the soup gives a heady aroma hit of fresh, first-quality ingredients. This turns an economical soup (in calories and in budget) into a first-class eating experience.

    NOTES : Source: Joe Famularo, author of “Good & Garlicky, Thick & Hearty, Soul-Satisfying, More-Than-Minestrone Italian Soup Cookbook” (Workman, 1998, $13.95) was in Portland, Oregon, for a book tour, and this recipe was printed in the Oregonian’s “Taste-Makers” column. He said that the recipe is from a restaurant in Citta di Castello, near Perugia, Italy, the Trattoria Lead, a small restaurant owned and run by Antonio Lead and Cristiano Giambanelli.

  18. Rebecca Says:

    Abra and Shell, I know how you are feeling about the living arrangements. I have bought this house in NJ simply because I need to be near MSK for aggressive treatment, and my heart is not in this place at all- I miss Florida terribly.
    I make this roast cauliflower to go with fish or chicken that I first coat, pretty liberally, with cumin, garlic, rosemary and salt, and then roast. I cook it at the same time in the oven with the protein. The cauliflower is earthy and garlicky(garlic is GOOD for mood enhancement!) and comforting, without adding too much in the way of carbohydrates. The cumin I use on the accompanying protein seems to be a good partner to this particular recipe. And, did you know, cumin has been seen in tests to stop an average of 83% of cancer cell activity? Well, I’m still here, and I eat a lot of spices, who knows?
    garlicky cauliflower:
    large cauliflower (trimmed and cut into bite size pieces)
    18 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly crushed
    2/3 teaspoon minced rosemary
    1 teaspoon salt
    1/4-1/2 teaspoon black or white pepper
    1/4 cup olive oil, plus
    more olive oil, to drizzle

    Directions

    1. Mix oil, rosemary, salt, pepper and garlic together.
    2. Toss in cauliflower and place in a large casserole dish.
    3. Roast in a preheated over of 450 degrees for 20 minutes
    4. give a toss and bake for 10 more minutes.

  19. Rebecca Says:

    ‘Shell’, oops!


  20. I got this recipe (more or less) from Morning Edition on NPR. The reporter was visiting the Afghan embassy in Washington, and the chef prepared the dish before our ears! It is fantastic and delicious, and unlike other Afghan food I have had, quite spicy (you can control that when you make the sauce). We had so much sauce left over that the next day we used it for a sort of Afghan pizza.

    You can make the fried onions for the puréed sauce; being lazy, I got the ones in a can from Trader Joe’s, and they worked fine.

    Afghan Eggplant with Yogurt Sauce

    Yogurt sauce
    2 cups dense (Greek-style) yogurt
    3 cloves of garlic, minced (or to taste)
    1 teaspoon dried mint

    Stir the minced garlic and dried mint into the yogurt. Set aside.

    Prepare the eggplant

    1 or 2 large eggplants (for 8 half-inch rounds)
    2 to 3 tablespoons oil

    Brown and partially cook the eggplant slices, either by frying in an inch of hot oil in a heavy pan, or by brushing with oil and oven-roasting at 450° F for several minutes on each side. The objective is to have golden brown eggplant that is still firm in the center — almost but not quite cooked through. Set aside to drain, preferably on a rack rather than on paper towels.

    Tomato sauce

    1/2 cup canned fried onions
    1/2 cup hot water
    2 to 3 tablespoons of oil
    3 or 4 large cloves of garlic, minced
    2 tablespoons tomato paste
    14- or 15-ounce can of plum tomatoes
    salt and pepper to taste
    1 teaspoon turmeric
    2 teaspoons ground coriander seed
    1 teaspoon cayenne pepper powder (or to taste)
    1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds

    Blend the fried onions in the half cup of hot water. Purée the plum tomatoes in a food mill, food processor, or blender.

    Sauté the minced garlic in 2 to 3 tablespoons of oil and cook gently until soft. Stir in the tomato paste and continue cooking until the garlic begins to get golden. Add the puréed tomatoes, stir, and simmer for 5 minutes more. Stir in the puréed fried onion mixture. Add salt, pepper, turmeric, coriander, cayenne, and cumin seeds, and simmer on low for another 5 minutes to blend the flavors. Spread the sauce in an oven-proof pan large enough to hold all eight slices of eggplant in a single layer (a lasagna pan, for example).

    Preheat oven to 350°F.

    Assemble the dish

    2 large tomatoes, cut in 8 slices 1/4-inch thick
    1 large or 2 smaller onions, in half, thinly sliced
    1 medium green bell pepper, cut in 2-inch squares
    2 or 3 jalapeño peppers, chopped (or to taste)
    1 cup parsley, chopped
    1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

    Salt the eggplant slices lightly and arrange them in a single layer in the tomato sauce. The sauce should come up the sides a little but not cover the slices. Top each piece of eggplant with a slice of tomato and a square of green pepper. Scatter a few thin slices of fresh onion and chopped* jalapeño peppers over each stack. Cover the pan with foil, and place in the oven for 15 minutes, or until everything is hot and the eggplant is softer but still resists a bit when you press it.

    To serve, spread several tablespoons of the yogurt sauce on each plate. Gently place one or two slices of eggplant with its toppings on the yogurt, then drizzle a little more of the sauce over each piece. Garnish with the chopped parsley and cilantro.

    The dish can be served as a side dish with meat, with a pilaf of rice or bulgur, or — as we ate it — all by itself.

    * The chef said to make little hats of the jalapeño pepper tips and balance them on the stacks for baking. I gave that experiment about 5 minutes before I chopped them up and strewed them over the eggplants. The hats would be charming, but I was too lazy (or clutzy) to manage them.

    All the best to you and Shel.

  21. Steve Roth Says:

    OH, lots of love and good thoughts to both of you. All the recipes I want to send you (or be there to make with you) don’t have or need recipes: chicken soup with rustic noodles, freshly baked crusty bread, peach pie, slowly-cooked english eggs with bacon and perfectly crisped hash browns, salad kissed with vinaigrette, tomatoes doused in balsamic and olive oil, basil, salt… Lots more love…

  22. geri Says:

    Dried Fruit Salad

    1 lb. dried apricots
    1/2 lb.pitted prunes
    1/2 c. golden raisins
    1/2 c. slivered almonds
    1/4 c. shelled pistachios
    1/4 c. pine nuts
    1 1/2 qts. water
    1/3 c. sugar or honey
    2 TB. orange blossom water
    2 TB. rose water

    Put all in a bowl & cover with water. Stir well to combine flavors. Cover & refrigerate 24-48 hrs.

  23. Eden Says:

    Sending you good healthy thoughs from back in Seattle, and hoping this little suggestion for classic American comfort food will help a little:

    Chicken pot pie ala fridge.

    about a cup of baby carrots, chopped
    1 large red potato quartered
    (some chopped onion if you have any)
    1 cup or so of frozen peas
    2+ cups leftover roast chicken, chopped
    a sheet of puff pastry
    6tbsp butter
    6 Tbsp flour
    1 cup fond de veau (or chicken stock or what have you)
    1 cup heavy cream
    nutmeg, pepper & dried thyme to taste
    salt everywhere

    Preheat oven to @400f.
    Bring the puff pastry out of the freezer & let thaw while cooking.
    boil or microwave your peas in a little salted water just enough to thaw them.
    In seperate pots boil the carrots & the potatoes till just done.
    (if you have an onion sautee it in a little extra butter)

    Meanwhile:
    Heat the stock & the cream.
    Make a roux from the flour & butter, then slowly incorporate first the stock, then the cream (I hold back a few Tbsp of stock to rinse out the cream pot & be the last addition to the roux so I don’t waste any of the cream)
    Flavor this sauce with nutmeg, pepper & thyme to taste. (add other spices if you like)

    When the potatoes are done, peel of the skin (it comes off easily at this point) then chop into smaller pieces.
    Place the chicken in the bottom of a casserole that looks like it will fit all the ingredients with only a little room to spare.
    Pour about half the sauce over the chicken & mix well, then add the veggies & most or remining sauce & stir more gently. top with the last bit of sauce, then cover with the now thawed puff pastry. Seal & trim the edges, cut some vent holes & place on a cookei sheet to be on the safe side.

    Bake for 25 odd minutes till puff pastry is golden brown.

  24. Abra Bennett Says:

    Wow, thanks you guys! Lori and Karen, for knowing that soup heals so many moods. Sandra and Eden for the ultimates in comfort, pot pie and polenta. Geri for the unusual sweet treat.

    The first one I want to try is Rebecca’s garlic cauliflower, because there’s no such thing as too much garlic, closely followed by Kathleen’s eggplant (if only I can find a personal chef to come and make it for me). You all have given hundreds of French Letters readers something to keep them happy in the kitchen while I’m in this period of thumb-sucking. Merci!

    And to those who sent “only” love and good wishes and recipes for happiness, well, sometimes all you need is love to make the world go ’round again when it’s been stuck a-tilt!

  25. Amy Says:

    Hello all -
    Yes, cancer really does suck. Both my dad and husband are battling the Big C.

    I am not much of a meat-eater, but this is a comfort food for me in the winter-time, weather-wise or emotionally. This is a very typical “American” recipe, as adopted by my Japanese-American mother. It is one of the few things my mother can make better than I can.

    Amy’s Mom’s Meatloaf Recipe

    Pre-heat oven to 350 °F. I use large non-stick loaf pans to hold the meat-loaf mixture.

    Meat mixture:
    2 – 3 pounds chuck roast, coarsely ground 2X, after cutting off as much fat as you wish
    1/2 c cooked brown or red rice per pound of beef
    1 egg per pound of beef
    1/2 c unsweetened apple sauce per pound of beef
    1 -2 cloves of garlic, minced, per pound of beef (you can use a LOT more)
    1/2 chopped medium onion per pound of beef
    1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce per pound of beef
    1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper per pound of beef
    Using a rubber spatula, lightly mix the ingredients together. Take 1/2 of the sauce mixture (below) and mix into the meat mixture.

    Sauce mixture:
    1/2 c Heinz catsup for each pound of beef
    1/2 c Heinz chili sauce for each pound of beef

    The less you handle the meat mixture, the less dense the meatloaf will be. Depending on how much your meat mixture has grown, you may have to use two loaf pans. In each loaf pan, gently shape the meat mixture into a loaf, with a 1/2” depression in the top (lengthwise), and about 1/2” gap from the sides of the pan. Place filled pans in pre-heated oven for approximately 30 – 45 minutes. Pour off accumulated liquids. Spread the reserved sauce mixture and continue baking until done. Let meat loaf rest for approximately 10 minutes before cutting.

    Amy

  26. charity Says:

    I love that people included “mom’s” recipes. Sweet! now, you got some cooking to do, Ms Abra.

  27. Sara Says:

    Abra-so sorry–I am keeping you and Shel in my thoughts and prayers.

    Right now, this is a recipe that I am enjoying:

    Chicken Soup (I know, sounds simple, but sometimes that is what’s best)

    http://www.projo.com/food/chefssecret/fd-secret_wildfire_01-27-10_2JH46RS_v14.20a4d0e.html

  28. Stephanie Says:

    Abra,
    You and Shel are in Charles’ and my thoughts and prayers and fist thumpings in anger.
    Comfort food recipe: Braise halved endive in chicken or vegetable stock until fork tender. Reserve stock for another use. Schmear braised endive with soft chevre, pop under the broiler until bubbly or golden, depending on the will of the cheese.
    Cancer sucks, eating doesn’t.
    Stephanie

  29. Steve Roth Says:

    But on reconsidering, here are two very favorites in the simple, gloriously delicious comfort-food camp, both my ad-hoc creations here delivered to all the world:

    1. Combine in a pot:

    Lamb shanks
    30-40 cloves of garlic
    Large quantities of rosemary
    Salt
    Water

    Cook until the lamb’s falling off the bones. (Can add more garlic cloves near the end cause the others have dissolved, cook until the new ones are soft.) Remove shanks and reduce the liquid to the thickness you prefer. This recipe takes less than an hour in a pressure cooker–like, for instance, the Magafesa that Abra helped me acquire and that I use constantly. Serve with crusty bread (requisite), and I like spinach with it, though salad’s also a natural.

    2.

    Simmer piles o’ garlic cloves in olive oil for 45 minutes.

    Cook bacon and chop finely in food processor.

    Combine flour, two eggs, salt and some water in food processor to make pasta dough. Roll it with a rolling pin and cut with a knife or pizza cutter so it comes out rustic and irregular. Boil.

    Toss the braised garlic and ground bacon with cooked pasta. Dribble a bit of the garlicky oil to taste, and salt as needed.

    I recommend this in small quantities as a side or appetizer–it’s *rich*!

  30. Shaya Says:

    Abra and Shel,
    Here is a family recipe that always soothes our soul. In fact we used it to break the fast for yom kippour, right after drinking down the fresh almond milk my grandmother would make by squeezing ground almonds through a cheesecloth.

    Abra I hope this doesn’t interfere with your new diet, but if so, it will surely warm dear Shel’s heart.

    Shorba:
    Middle Eastern Chicken Soup with Rice

    Saute one medium onion, diced in some vegetable oil
    brown some chicken pieces, or a whole chicken, or just boneless cubes of white meat
    season with salt and pepper
    add 1 cup freshly diced tomatoes, saute briefly
    add 5 cups water, bring to a boil
    add one cup basmati rice, which has been rinsed until water is clear, and soaked
    bring back to boil
    add 3 cardamom pods, salt, pepper
    stir regularly
    reduce heat to light simmer
    when water has been soaked up, add more, stir, simmer
    continue about 45 minutes, until rice has visibly swelled and become really tender, but not broken up or mushy
    add water if dry, fish out the cardamom, and serve hot

  31. amyjean Says:

    I’ve only just started following your lovely blog and every post has been wonderful then I read this one and my heart just went out to you both. Thoughts and prayers for you both.

  32. Wolfgang Says:

    These news are no good ones.

    The dish I like for many reasons, it is easy, tastes good and is something for the wintertime and goes along with a red wine
    is “Hecht badisch” like “Pike three country style”
    because the Swiss, the Alsaceians, and Badenians (southern part of Germany east of the Rhine regions)
    claim the patent on it.
    You take a normal pike for 4 persons just take the internals out , clean it and then stuff it with
    dill, parsley, some lime juice, a small fine chopped onion, diced carrots, 2 depending on the size,
    a bit pepper and salt.some noilly prat fr the fish to swim and the Gin not to be left too dry ;-)

    Put it in the oven with enough butter 3-4 teaspons to get a sauce to glaze the skin so it won´t dry out.
    While the pike gets a little roast comes the sauce and that is where at least two for diplomatic reasons are to be made
    one just with the chopped and panfried bacon & onions & croutons & the fresh herbs at the minute of serving put on top of the pike
    the other is basically a NO flour Creme fraiche based , Noilly Prat scented with the fresh herbs added one.
    With it Spätzle and a Pinot Noir from Gustav Lorentz.

    The other is a simple Lobster thermidor,
    fresh lobster from the vivier, cook it cut it into two halves, carefully take the lobstermeat out of all shells keep the bodies intact
    chop the meatinto little squares half inch size,
    simmer a small onion in butter till slightly brown, ad a half a glass of Champagner and a dash of flour not so much that you get a gravy just a little
    Fill the shells with the meat, the sauce and then grind Grueyere cheese and cover it slightly not to much cheese it is not Lasagne or Pizza
    Into the preheated oven and let the cheese melt and get a brown crust. if to much cheese the lobstermeat will get a rubbery dry consistency
    With it a white dry from the Loire a Salon-Menetou or a Savennières( if one gets one)

    We have a lokal saying here
    “guud gegesse gedenkt em ewich”
    means in correct German
    “An ein gutes Essen erinnert man sich ewig”

    which means
    “you always remember a good dinner”
    It derives from a time period when food was scarce, life hard and short and not much fun at all

    Regards
    and keep the faith
    Wolfgang

  33. Corine Says:

    Hi Abra,

    I just posted my French meal on my blog if you would like to see it and link to the recipes. Hope there is something there that you and Shel would enjoy.
    Prayers are with you.

  34. Debra Lane Says:

    Abra and Shel – Sending chicken soup thoughts your way! hugs to you both.

    Avgolemono: Chicken Soup with Egg-Lemon Sauce
    Recipe courtesy Cat Cora

    I’ve also used brown rice in this recipe instead of arborio.

    .Prep Time:10 minInactive Prep Time:–Cook Time:3 hr 10 minLevel:
    EasyServes:
    4 to 6 servings.Ingredients
    •1 (3 pound) free range chicken
    •2 quarts water
    •2 tablespoons olive oil
    •1 onion, finely diced
    •2 bay leaves
    •1 leek, cleaned and quartered
    •1 carrot, peeled and quartered
    •2/3 cup aborio rice
    •2 large eggs
    •1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
    •1 tablespoon salt
    •1 teaspoon ground pepper
    Directions
    Place the chicken in a large pot with 2 quarts cold water, enough to cover the chicken. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to low, skimming when necessary.

    In a separate pan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and add the onions. Sweat the onions until clear. Set aside.

    When chicken is cooked through, remove from the broth. Let the chicken cool and pull the meat from the bones. Dice into large cubes. Set aside.

    Add the onion, bay leaves, leek, and carrot to the broth and simmer for 1 hour. When finished, remove the carrot and leek from the broth and add the rice. Bring to a boil and then turn heat to medium high to simmer until the rice is cooked to al dente, about 30 minutes. Add the chicken back into the broth. Add more water if needed.

    In a small bowl beat the eggs and lemon juice together. Pour 2 cups of broth slowly into the bowl of egg and lemon, whisking continuously. Once all the broth is incorporated, add the mixture into the pot of chicken soup and stir to blend well throughout. Season with salt and pepper. Serve hot

  35. islandlass Says:

    Abra, Abra, Abra,

    Am so sorry to hear about Shel. N and I want to send you both some good healing thoughts and love. As to a recipe, well, I have just purchased a great book (seem to be turning vegetarian again) called “The Conscious Cook,” by Tal Ronnen and as soon as I’ve tried some of the recipes, will let you know.

    Be well.

    H

  36. Abra Bennett Says:

    Evidently chicken soup is where it’s at – thank you Sara, Shaya, and Debra for your entries in that time-honored category. And thanks to Stephanie for the endive which looks wonderful, to Amy for that Japanese-American favorite meatloaf, to Steve for the lamb and pasta, which sound like they would be decadent together, and to Wolfgang for what I’d call Martini Pike and lobster. Not that I can bring myself to kill a lobster, but I’d definitely eat that if someone else prepared it for me. I thank you all, and now I’d better get cooking!

  37. sue Says:

    Curried Chicken Salad

    1 roasted chicken breast – cut in 3/4″ dice

    soak 1/2 cup dried cranberries and 1/2 cup golden raisins in 1/2 cup Grand Marnier or 1/4 cup white wine mixed 1/4 cup orange juice.

    peel and fine dice 2 ribs celery

    Fine chop 5 scallions – use some green parts too.

    Sauce

    1/2 cup mayonnaise
    1 1/2 tablespoons rice vinegar or lemon juice
    some liquid from soaked fruit – taste and adjust amount for consistency
    2 scant teaspoons mild madras-type curry
    1 teaspoon sugar <you can omit or use honey >
    cracked pepper

    mix chicken, marinated fruit, celery and scallions together and mix in sauce.

    Since I didn’t measure anything when I made it – quantities should be adjusted to taste.

    Adjust the sauce to desired sweetness/tartness before you dress the salad. It tastes better after it’s been sitting for a time in the refrigerator – I made it in the morning and had it for dinner. This was a single serving recipe that I have doubled for you as most of my cooking is for one.

    Dreadful news. My best to Shel – and you! My oldest daughter is currently on chemo for her second bout with a brain tumor – I can relate.

    PS is the Karen from Oregon the one I recall from years ago?

  38. Margaret Pilgrim Says:

    With all of our love and hope, here is some comfort food:

    Rice Pudding with Caramel

    1 cup round rice (for instance, California pearl or Japanese)
    1 quart milk
    ¾ cup sugar
    1 vanilla bean or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

    Heat the milk with the sugar and vanille. Add the rice. Cook gently for 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool.

    ¾ cup whipping cream

    Whip the cream until it holds soft peaks. Add to the cool rice.

    2/3cup sugar
    4 tablespoons butter
    2 tablespoons whipping cream

    Put the sugar in a heavy bottom pan and let caramelize until a rich color. Remove from heat and add butter, wisking until smooth, then add cream and wisk until smooth.

    Spoon some caramel in the bottom of individual bowls. Spoon rice on top.

    Sigh, close eyes, feel better.

  39. Shel Says:

    I’m truly touched by all the good wishes, and I expect I’ll soon get to taste some of those excellent-looking recipes, too.

    Thank you all very much.

    -Shel

  40. Jan Lang Says:

    Mine’s a bit late to the party, but here’s a very simple dish for those nights when you need something easy, but substantial, and also want to be able to assemble it and then leave it to cook for a couple of hours. It’s a riff on a pork and potato dish we get from a local Greek restaurant.

    Brown two pork shoulder steaks, sprinkled liberally with salt and pepper, in some lard and remove to an oven proof dish. Saute half a sliced yellow onion and a couple of cloves of chopped garlic in the same frying pan, then deglaze with a large splash of vermouth and the juice of 1/2 a lemon. Allow the liquid to reduce until it’s mostly gone. Cut up a couple of russets into large chunks, put in a bowl and toss with olive oil, garlic, oregano, sumac and S&P–toss well to coat potatoes. Sprinkle some sumac and oregano on the pork chops, cover them with the sauteed onions and arrange the potatoes around the edges. Cover with lid or foil and place in 275 degree oven for 2 hours. Remove foil and broil for 10 minutes or so to crisp up the potatoes. Serve with a nice bitter green salad (or a Greek salad if it’s tomato season) and a good glass of wine.

    Thinking of you both with love and good thoughts!

  41. Lucy Says:

    Here’s a lemon tarte for you and Shel.

    1 batch Basic Pâte Brisée
    1 untreated lemon
    300 grams or 1 1/2 cups sugar
    60 grams or 2 1/2 tablespoons butter
    one egg
    1.5 cups of water

    - Prepare your Basic Pâte Brisée and set it in a cool place to rest.

    - Thoroughly wash the lemon under cool running water. Cut it into slices and then those slices into quarters, and remove the seeds. Put the entire lemon complete with its peel, 50 grams (1/4 cup) of the sugar, and 1.5 cups of water into a bowl or pint sized cup with high sides that the blender will fit into. Pulverize the lemon sugar water mixture to a puree. (you can also do this with any counter-top blender.)

    - Strain the pureed lemon, sugar, and water through a wire strainer and into a cup, pushing it down to remove as much liquid from the pulp as you can. Set aside the liquid that comes from it for use in lemonade.

    - Place the lemon pulp, the rest of the sugar, and the butter into the upper part of the bain marie, and let it cook over soft heat, stirring it gently with a wooden spoon for 5 minutes.

    - Remove the bain marie from the heat and add the egg. Incorporate it quickly with the blender.

    -Roll out one large or two small tarte shells rather thickly, pierce them to avoid bubbling, and pour the resulting custard into the shells. Cook for 25-30 minutes, in a moderate (350F/170C degrees) oven, until the custard sets. Let it cool to room temp before serving.

    Hopes for peace with your decisions and help soon.

    Love,
    L

  42. Abra Bennett Says:

    Thanks to Sue for a spicy chicken salad, to Margaret for rice pudding (one of my pre-diabetes favorites!), to Jan for Greek pork, and to Lucy for lemon tart. We had bad news at the hospital today, Shel will soon start taking a drug that is probably going to make him lose his appetite completely. I’m very much hoping that some of these recipes will tempt him to eat!

  43. Hansje Says:

    Abra, so sorry to hear about Shel. My thoughts are with you.

  44. susan simovich Says:

    prayers and best wishes from nw nj. after going through this for the last year and a half as the spouse please take care of yourself. he needs you at your best and that means you healthy and ready to keep your wits around you.

    john’s appetite would change from hour to hour and minute to minute sometimes. does france provide the equivalent of medical marijuana in pill or other form? is there anything you need shipped from the states that could help?

  45. Heinz Says:

    We are so sorry to hear this Abra. Our thoughts are with you. Hugs to you and Shel.
    Heinz und Christine


  46. Hi Abra and Shel,

    Refuach shlema to Shel. I wish I could come and make you a slow cooked Hamin with goose legs and short ribs. Here is the recipe:

    http://www.baronesstapuzina.com/2010/01/12/hamin-slow-cooking-for-the-soul/

    I really wish there was something more I could do to help.

    Take care,

    Michelle


  47. Dear Abra
    Thank you for your wonderful blog. I have enjoyed it immensely.

    And now I am so sad for you at what you are having to go through.

    Please don’t give up. Spring is just around the corner. Keep going. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

    Yesterday was ‘crepe day’. So easy so delicious, so child friendly. Sticky fingers, a few dropped on the floor for the delighted dog to clear up and high in ‘feel good factor’.


  48. ….oops, pressed ‘send’ too soon!

    Reading everyone’s suggestions has awoken all sorts of cravings – food is amazing isn’t it.

    All the very best, I hope we will hear from you again soon…

    love

    Lydia

  49. Stephanie Says:

    When my mom lost her appetite for almost everything she started to crave vanilla wafers. Is there such a cookie in France?

  50. marissa Says:

    Abra, I found French Letters about a week ago and have been pacing myself (or trying to, at least), bit by bit, beginning to end…. but I’m keeping up with the present as well.. You and Shel are in my thoughts and my heart.

    One of your posts from a while or so ago inspired me to make this Saupiquet de Lapin – a Richard Olney recipe that I can barely read through the grease spots on the page (that’s a good sign)…. Comfort food (and sustainable, too, hooray for bunny!) to the max.

    Rabbit in Spicy Sauce

    1 rabbit (~3.5 lb), with liver
    pinch of herbes de Provence
    2 bay leaves
    3 cloves garlic, unpeeled, plus one clove, peeled
    freshly ground pepper
    1/2 cup olive oil
    salt
    1/2 cup dry white wine
    pinch of coarse salt
    4 anchovies
    2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and squeezed dry
    1 tablespoon chopped parsley
    2/3 cup black olives, pitted and chopped

    Cut the rabbit into eight pieces, toss with herbs, bay leaves, unpeeled garlic, pepper, and 3 tablespoons olive oil. Cover and marinate in fridge several hours or overnight.

    Preheat oven to 350. Put rabbit and marinade in a shallow oven dish, sprinkle with salt, roast about 45 minutes, turning at regular intervals and basting every so often with the white wine.

    Meanwhile, saute the liver in a few drops of olive oil in a small pan over high heat, until firm but still rare. Remove from heat and set aside.

    In a mortar, pound the coarse salt, pepper to taste, and the peeled garlic to form a paste. Add the anchovies and capers and continue to pound to a paste. Add the liver – pound to a paste (did you know I was going to say that?) – and stir in the remaining olive oil, about 5 tablespoons. Stir in the olives. Transfer the mixture to a small, flameproof earthenware casserole and warm over very low heat – just warm, don’t cook.

    Transfer the rabbit to a warmed platter. Discard bay leaves and garlic and stir the roasting juices (oh yum) into the sauce. Spoon the sauce over the rabbit and sprinkle with parsley and serve.

    It’s a bunny day!

  51. Abra Bennett Says:

    Marissa – welcome to French Letters and thanks for that lovely recipe! It looks like just my tasse de thé.

  52. John DePaula Says:

    Abra, my thoughts are with you and Shel.

    (As an aside, you may want to check out the astonishingly simple and delicious Overnight Apple Cake: http://desertcandy.blogspot.com/2007/10/overnight-apple-cake.html)

    Here’s another wonderful recipe that I found on Mercedes’ blog:

    http://desertcandy.blogspot.com/2008/11/kale-and-gruyere-panade.html

    I’ve modified and simplified it slightly; and to be honest, I just eyeball the amounts.

    Kale and Gruyere Panade

    olive oil
    3 medium-sized onions, sliced
    1 lb kale or swiss chard, tough ribs removed and torn into pieces
    10 oz stale artisan-type bread, torn into pieces (about 3 cups, loosely packed)
    ~ 2 cups grated cave-aged Gruyere cheese, or a mixture of Gruyere, Parmggiano Reggiano, or hard sheeps milk cheese
    ~ 2 cups good-quality light stock or broth*

    1. Heat a couple of turns of olive oil in a large, wide, deep saucepan or dutch oven. Add the onions, stirring to coat, and a pinch of salt. Cook the onions over medium heat, stirring fairly frequently, about 20 minutes.

    2. Wash the kale or chard and leave the water clinging to it. Add the greens and continue cooking over medium-high heat until they are wilted and soft, about 4 minutes for chard and slightly longer for kale. Set aside.

    3. In a bowl, toss the bread with about 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil and a few pinches of salt.

    4. Preheat oven to 325 F. Bring the stock to a simmer. Layer the panade: place a layer of greens/onions in the bottom of a casserole dish, which has been lightly coated with cooking spray. Scatter with bread pieces, and sprinkle with cheese. Repeat. You want at least 2-3 layers of each component, and make sure a little bit of everything (greens, onions, bread, cheese) is peaking out the top. Do not fill your casserole more than 3/4 full or it may overflow. Pour the stock into the casserole dish.

    5. Cover the top loosely with foil, which has also been lightly sprayed. Place in the oven on a baking sheet to catch drips. Bake 1 1/4 hours, or until thick and bubbly. Uncover and bake another 10-15 minutes, until the top is browned. Let cool slightly before serving. Makes good leftovers.

    *The original recipe calls for 2c stock + 2c water but I found that was far too much, resulting in a soupy mess. Now, I just measure by eye to end up with a bread pudding, or dryer, consistency.


  53. [...] a self portrait, i crouch naked, my wound raw, under the onslaught of medical advice.  this one has more anger in it.  it’s easy to get angry at the platitudes that drop out of the mouths of the medical profession.  well meaning, perhaps, but they are all attacks on individual autonomy.  if you listen to the doctors and do what they tell you, then you go thru a circus, all gaudy distractions and false hope, with treatments that leave you mostly dead.  the first step is to learn to see the advice as coercion, and yourself as the target of a megaindustry.  it takes real courage to listen to the little inner voice and step outside the cancer mill. [...]

  54. Sue Geisler Says:

    In asking us to send you recipes – you did all of us a favor because the selection is really eclectic and I’ve copied out several knowing they were gems from each senders’ collection.

    Best to both you and Shel – I understand your angst.
    And I love the photos of the critters in your next post

    sue

  55. Fabre Says:

    Abra, haven’t checked in for a while now, but so sorry to hear about Shel’s cancer, however, I know the two of you will fight fight fight! Will come back and post a favorite recipe soon…big hugs!

  56. Nina Says:

    Abra and Shel, I was so sorry to read your post today. My husband and I are walking beside you. We are struggling wih lung cancer, and are so grateful for a period of good health currently. I am thinking of you very often
    My goto comfort food is Cottage Pie, the good old English stand by for when it’s hard to eat

    English Cottage Pie

    1lb good quality groung beef
    2 TBs oil
    2 finely chopped onions
    3 Tbs flour
    2 cups strong beef stock ( I sonetimes cheat and use OXO, when I can find it in the US. Often in the Irish section of the supermarket)
    1 TBs dried herb de Provence
    2 shakes of Worcestershire sauce
    2 cups frozen corn
    11/2 lbs potatoes
    Milk and butter to mash potatoes
    Salt and pepper

    Heat oven to 350
    Peel and chop potatoes, cook about 15 minutes, drain and mash to a fairly firm consistency

    Saute ground beef and onions in oil, until browned, and drain excess fat
    Add flour and cook in about two minutes
    Add stock,herbs and Worcestershire sauce and simmer until the mixture is thickened, and flavourful
    Add salt and pepper to taste.
    Pour meat mixture into a heavy, deep,oven proof dish, (about 9 inches diameter)
    Cover thye meat with the corn
    Cover with mashed potatoes
    Take fork and rough up the potatoes and add a little melted butter
    Bake until cooked through and browned on top, about
    45 minutes.
    Eat with a green vegetable or with a side salad,in good health

  57. Judy Amster Says:

    Abra and Shel, just catching up and very sad that you are both suffering from this cancer. I don’t pray, but I do send heartfelt best wishes. Richard and I just had the perfect comfort meal which I assume you can make blindfolded. I cooked up some onion and small yellow potatoes, added some leftover (very rare) steak and when it was starting to stick poured in a little beef stock mixed with 1/2 and 1/2. I steamed some French green beans and added just enough butter. For dessert, my favorite comfort food, cup custard baked in a water bath. I think you can have some, Abra if you make it with just a tiny bit of sugar. It slides down so easily. Keep writing this beautiful blog.

  58. Tay Says:

    Perhaps you can go where the best treatment will be, even if only until things are better. France will always be there. You can always go back, but if there’s a chance to beat the cancer by changing your location for different treatment options, then perhaps the change is more important than the desire to stay in France. Remember, you can always go back there.

    Best wishes to you both.

  59. Gayle Says:

    Abra, I’m thinking of you and Shel today and thought I’d send along this recipe. It’s a warming and nourishing broth for those that are dealing with cancer treatments and associated loss of appetite. I’ve made it several times. I can not always find all of the ingredients, but this is the recipe as written from my cookbook by Rebecca Katz, “One Bite at a Time”

    Magic Mineral Broth
    6 unpeeled carrots with half of the green tops, cut into thirds
    2 unpeeled med. yellow onion, cut into chunks
    1 leek, white and green parts cut into chunks
    1 bunch celery, cut into thirds
    4 unpeeled garlic cloves, halved
    1/2 bunch parsley
    4 med red potatoes with skins, quartered
    2 Japenese or Hannah’s yams, or sweet potatoes with skins, quartered
    1 Garnet Yam, with skin, quartered
    1 tablespoon sea salt
    a strip kombu
    2 bay leaves
    12 black peppercorns
    4 whole allspice or juniper berries

    Combine all the ingredients in a 12 quart stockpot. Fill the pot to 2 inches below the rim with water. Cover and bring to a boil.
    Remove the lid, turn the heat to low and simmer a minimum of 2 hours – until the veggies are peaking above the broth and the full richness of the veggies can be tasted.

    Strain. Drink warm like a tea or use as a base for soup.

  60. Shirley D. Says:

    So sad to hear about Shel and you having to leave your beloved France. I’ve been lurking on your blog for quite some time, as it’s a dream of ours to spend extended time in Provence someday, probably as early as next year.
    We both have a comfort food that most people turn up their nose at, good old tuna noodle casserole, one of the few things my Mother could cook well. I won’t post the recipe, it’s the old standard canned cream of mushroom soup recipe. I made it last night as my husband is on an antibiotic that makes everything taste funny, he requested it.
    My thoughts and prayers are with you both. I still hang out on the cooks forum, I see a lot of the old regulars are following your blog, which is great!

  61. JudiJ Says:

    Abra – I’m so sorry that Shel’s cancer has returned. God willing there’s another remission in His bag of miracles.
    Here is one of our favorite dishes that adapts itself to scallops, shrimp and/or crawfish.

    Quantities actually are a matter of taste, so they are extremely variable in this and any left overs, doused with some fresh lemon juice and a bit of EVOO make a great salad for lunch the next day.

    Shellfish & Tomatoes
    1.5 lbs of prepared shellfish (cleaned shrimp (no shells on tails, scallops with muscle removed or crawfish tails)
    2 stalks celery, chopped
    1 med bell pepper (color of choice) chopped
    3-4 large green onions – seperate green and white part, chop white and slice green for use later in recipe
    about a hand full of fresh Italian parsley, chopped
    3-4 large basil leaves, chopped
    10 oz. grape tomatoes, halved
    zest & juice of 1 lemon
    1/2 cup dry white wine, or light vermouth
    Creole seasoning to taste
    EVOO as needed for browning

    In about 2 Tbl. of EVOO, sautee the veggies (not parsley, basi or onion tops) together about 5 minutes – season with Creole seasoning, or until they have begun to caramelize and remove them to a plate and keep warm.

    Add in the shellfish and extra oil if necessary, cook, on medium low, until just under done – season with Creole seasoning (I turn the shrimp but turning the other two is not necessary)

    While shell fish are cooking chop the parsley, basil and a goodly bit of the green onion tops. Add those to the pot, reserving a little bit of the parsley and basil for sprinkling on top.

    Add in the wine, lemmon juice and zest bring to a simmer, add in the chopped veggies and heat through. Now add the tomatoes and just get them hot. They are still good if they go from the fresh – raw – stage to slightly cooked but really have more punch if just gotten warm through and still have that fresh tomato taste.

    Serve on starch of your choice – and naturally, I’d suggest rice but… It’s also good on pasta, lemon couscous and other such things. Definitely not potatoes.

    I’ve been told that real (not the quick cooking) brown rice works for diabetics, so this is something you two could share. Feel free to throw in all the garlic (that you used to so love) and any other seasonings, or whatever you like with this dish. It’s good just about any way I’ve prepared it.

    Take care of yourself, so you can take care of him.


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