Chemo is a wrecking ball. It swings in all directions, crashing into everyone and everything it comes across. As the session number creeps up, its momentum continues to grow. It moves harder and faster, becoming increasingly brutal and unforgiving.
This swing has truly knocked the wind out of Marge; her strength has been demolished and her energy shattered. On the evening of her chemo session, she could barely lift her head, let alone manage to eat a full meal. A small bowl of soup was attempted and swiftly abandoned; dunked pieces of wholemeal bread were left to swell then disintegrate, an almost mocking physical representation of my emotional reactions – hope that perhaps this time won’t be so bad followed by the crushing realisation that it’s only going to get worse.
When going through such a stressful and draining period, it is so easy to fall into a state of self-pity, to become angry at the way life is playing out and to withdraw from the things that bring you joy. Throughout this journey, I have found myself succumbing to this mind-set many times, allowing my resentment and apathy towards life and happiness to build. Thankfully, despite the anguish she is going through, Marge has remained a stoic role model, her courage and strength never diminishing, her brave face never subsiding. She remains, as she has been for my entire life, the pillar of the family, leading by example and keeping the family going throughout the most difficult times.
Yet this blog has also played a part in perseverance. Planning nutritious meals has given me something to control at a time when I (and the rest of the family) feel lost and I feel a sense of duty that I cannot allow to fall by the wayside. This duty is not just to ensure Marge’s body is best equipped to deal with the blows of chemotherapy but to keep writing, to keep sharing my experiences (even if the only people who read this blog are family and friends). As someone who is often tempted to withdraw from others at times of stress, Mum and Meal is encouraging me to open up and confront my feelings and I do not want to allow this to stop.
Cooking itself is also fantastic therapy and I find nothing more so than risotto – the motion of slowly massaging the stock into rice grains, gently encouraging them to bloat in appreciative delight, is hypnotically calming. Each stir folds in care and it feels like an obvious physical of expression of the love put into the meal. Risotto’s delightfully creamy, oozing texture also makes it a brilliant comfort food and Marge was sure that it was something she would be able to digest. However, I was conscious of not making the risotto too rich, so, when deciding to cook it the day following chemo, I opted for a fish-based version, omitting the cheese and adding little bursts of green freshness in a Salmon and Pea Risotto.
I did feel slightly nervous with my choice as, although risotto can slip down easily, I had bad memories of Marge attempting to eat salmon straight after round 1 of chemo. Yet she insisted she would be able to manage it… and manage it she did. She managed seconds in fact! Seconds on the day following a chemo session was unheard of. To say I was chuffed is a huge understatement. It is these small moments of pleasure that keep you sane when it feels like everything around you is spiraling out of control; they remind you that, with zeal and positivity, not every blow will cause you to fall.
Peas are rich in vitamin K, manganese and vitamin C (a single serving of peas supplies half your daily intake of vitamin C), helping to fight infection and boosting immunity and bone health. Their soluble fibre content makes them good for maintaining a healthy digestive tract and gut and also helps reduce the risk of stroke and heart disease. Moreover, the carotenoid pigment in green peas is lutein, which is known to improve eye health.
Recipe: Salmon and Pea Risotto
- Approx. 1 litre fish stock
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 knobs butter
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 3 sticks celery, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 250g risotto rice
- 1 1/2 wine glasses white wine
- 150g frozen peas
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 4 salmon fillets
- 25g pack fresh chives, chopped (optional)
- Heat the stock in a saucepan. In a separate pan, heat 1 tbsp olive oil and 1 knob of butter.
- Add the onions, celery and garlic and fry slowly for 15 minutes without colouring. When the vegetables have softened, add the rice and turn up the heat.
- Lightly fry the rice, stirring it continuously. After a minute, when the rice looks slightly translucent, add the wine and keep stirring.
- Once the wine has evaporated and cooked into the rice, add a ladle of hot stock and a good pinch of salt. Turn the heat down to a simmer and keep adding ladlefuls of stock, stirring and massaging the starch out of the rice, allowing each ladleful to be absorbed before adding another. It will take about 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile season your salmon fillets and rub with the other tbsp of olive oil. Place on a piece of foil and grill on each side until cooked through but still slightly pink in the middle. Flake into chunks.
- When the rice is almost done (it is done when it is soft but with a slight bite) stir in the peas and leave to cook and warm through for a few minutes longer. Check the seasoning, remove from the heat and stir in another knob of butter. Leave to sit for a few minutes, allowing it to become deliciously oozy and creamy.
- Fold in the salmon flakes and garnish with the chives, if using.