Chemo is a long and arduous journey; not one consisting of gentle rolling hills and manageable pathways but of steep downwards slopes and treacherous jagged edges, a journey of hostile storms. Every so often it seems the sun manages to crack its way through the grey and impending clouds, bringing with it energy and health, but it is soon muffled again and any vitality and hope accompanying the light is dulled by the overbearing darkness.
Yet, like any strenuous journey or task, it is often the small things that keep you going, little actions or words that light your path when the sunlight can’t quite reach you. Without a doubt, throughout the entirety of Marge’s treatment her friends have been her fireflies, her Chinese lanterns floating beauty and joy into the gloom. Each week I am amazed by their kindness, attentiveness and generosity, not just in terms of gifts but in terms of their time and emotional commitment. Not a day goes by when Marge doesn’t receive a letter, a phone call, a bunch of flowers, some homemade treats or even a full blown chemo ‘survival kit’ to boost her spirits (the latter was a gift from my best friend and her mum – I also can’t overstate how phenomenal my friends have been throughout this whole thing).
There is only so much a family can do to support a loved one through hard times; to know that your support network casts itself far wider than those you live with does so much for strength and perseverance. I am incredibly grateful that Marge has such an amazing circle of people around her, both locally and from further afield, who I know will always be there to aid and strengthen her throughout her journey.
In fact, it was down to her close friends that I didn’t spend every hour of my recent holiday worrying about how she was doing. Unfortunately, Marge took a real turn for the worst just before I left and so pulling myself away from her felt like pulling out a stubborn tooth – I just didn’t want to let go. Yet her regular updates, full of assurances of rest and recovery, soon started to be littered with stories of social occasions and lively meet ups – the best evidence to sooth my concerns (as I know what mums are like, they will do anything to shield their children from distress and fear…).
Of course, as soon as I got home I wanted to cook something to celebrate her braveness for pulling through such an exhausting and difficult time (and without my cooking, who would have thought it?!). What better way than a dish with balls? Something rich and comforting yet also healthy and flavoursome. I had recently come across a recipe on Naturally Sassy which, as it was full of garlic, tomatoes and herbs, seemed to hit the back of the net – Spaghetti/Courgetti with Black Bean Balls. I adapted her marinana recipe slightly to use a one passed down from Marge herself, adding a hint of chilli to give it that extra zing, and served it with courgetti as Marge had a smaller appetite than normally after grazing on large quantities of her friend’s brownies! A really delicious and comforting yet fresh weekday meal that Marge really enjoyed… she really is one ballsy woman.
Garlic’s main beneficial elements are allicin and diallyl sulphides-sulphorous compounds that are antibacterial and antifungal. It is.universally recognised for its health-promoting benefits: detoxifying, aiding the circulatory and digestive systems, boosting immunity, lowering blood pressure, and fighting heart disease. A regular consumption of garlic lowers the amino acid homocysteine, a risk factor in heart disease and diabetes and it is well recognised for helping prevent numerous types of cancer, including breast cancer.
Recipe: Spaghetti/Courgetti and Black Bean Balls
- 4 servings of spaghetti (any type of your choosing) and/or courgetti (4 courgettes if only using courgetti)
Black bean balls:
- 2 can black beans, drained and rinsed
- 100 brown rice flour
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 1 tsp coriander
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 1 tin chopped tomatoes
- 1 tbsp tomato puree
- splash of red wine/red wine vinegar/balsamic vinegar, to taste
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp dried basil
- 1 tsp dried chilli flakes
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 1 onion, diced
- Sea salt and black pepper
- A handful of chopped coriander
- Preheat the oven to 180˚C/gas 4/fan 170˚C.
- Start by making the black bean balls. Put the drained black beans in a food processor and blend until smooth before adding the remaining ingredients and blending again. If the mixture looks to dry, add a splash of water.
- With your hands form the mixture into balls. Heat up a frying pan with a drizzle of olive/coconut oil and cook the black bean balls for roughly 4 minutes, turning them so all sides crisp. Put them on a baking tray tray and bake for a further 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile prepare the sauce. In a saucepan fry the onions in a little olive until they are soft and lightly golden, about 5 minnutes. Add the garlic and fry for a couple more minutes before adding the rest of the sauce ingredients, holding back some of the fresh coriander. Simmer until the sauce has reduced and has a thick, rich consistency.
- Prepare your pasta according to packet instructions, holding back a bit of of the cooking water or spiralise your courgettes.
- To compile, gently toss the pasta/courgetti in the marinana (adding the reserved pasta water if using) before stirring in the meatballs. Sprinkle with the remaining coriander.