Giving Life Flavour

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Eating is one of life’s most simple and yet most enjoyable and gratifying pleasures. Not only for the sensory experiences it gives you, delighting the eyes, the nose, the mouth and even the ears (I can’t be the only one who squeals with delight at the ‘pop’ of a newly opened a jar of pickled onions or subtle ‘crack’ as you break through the glistening, caramelised crust of a creme brûlée), but also for the pleasure of company. Eating is (or should be) a social tradition. It is a shared joy, bringing people together as they add flavour to their mouths and lives.

So imagine what it must be like to have an element of this joy altered or taken away. To not be able share in the delights experienced by those around you, remaining excluded and unfairly cast out from common pleasure. This is exactly what happens to many going through chemotherapy (about 50% apparently), Marge included. Sense of taste is altered by the chemicals, causing varied meals to be marred by an indistinguishable and unpleasant bitterness, to have an unpalatable hallmark stamped on all ingredients, irrespective of flavour.

This blog has brought so much ‘flavour’ to my life; it has given me a new sense of purpose and an outlet to help cope with this difficult time. So it seems only fair and natural that I try and do the same for my favourite lady. I want to make Marge’s eating experience as pleasurable as possible in the given circumstances. To combat a blanket, rancid taste, I cannot go in all soft and cosy. Quite the opposite – I need to blow her away with an explosion of taste, awaken her mouth with the intrigue of texture. I am talking bold flavours, interesting and new food combinations, and fresh ingredients.

Unintentionally this has taken me back to Ottolenghi― not only is he the master of the vegetable but, in my eyes, he is the king of flavour. Middle-eastern food has always been a favourite of mine, bold and brash both in colour and taste. Middle-eastern cuisine, which makes up the majority of Ottolenghi’s unique and, quite frankly, fantastic recipes, perfectly partners different ingredients that have complimenting and yet contrasting tastes. For example, the earthy nuttiness of tahini interlaced with the subtle, sweetness of squash or, in the case of his Chicken Drumsticks with Pomegranate and Oregano, the deep saltiness of soy sauce gets gently lifted by honey but then simultaneously intensified by the tangy, sticky sweetness of pomegranate seeds and molasses.

When I cooked this recipe as ‘something different to a Sunday roast’ Marge not only cleared her plate but the rich flavours meant she could savour the flavours and be part of the shared enjoyment. Yet the true beauty of this recipe is the pool of intense, syrupy juices lingering seductively at the bottom of the tray – great use was made of this dunking opportunity. This is flavour to knock that acrid taste on its… bottom!

Other things you can do to manage taste changes:

  • Maintain good oral hygiene – brush your teeth before and after each meal.
  • Choose and prepare foods that look and smell good to you.
  • Eat small, frequent meals.
  • Do not eat 1-2 hours before chemotherapy and up to 3 hours after therapy.
  • Use plastic utensils if food tastes like metal.
  • Eat mints (or sugar-free mints), chew gum (or sugar-free gum) or chew ice to mask the bitter or metallic taste.
  • Substitute poultry, eggs, fish, peanut butter, beans and dairy products for red meats.
  • Marinate meats in sweet fruit juices, wines, salad dressing, BBQ sauce, or sweet and sour sauces.
  • Flavour foods with herbs, spices, sugar, lemon, and tasty sauces.
  • Chilled or frozen food may be more acceptable than warm or hot food.
  • Try tart foods such as oranges or lemonade (this may be painful if mouth sores are present).
  • Avoid cigarette smoking.
  • Eliminate bad odours.
  • Eat in pleasant surroundings to better manage taste changes.
  • Increase your fluid intake.
  • Ask another person to cook for you, or rely on prepared foods from a store if you can’t stand the smell of food (Marge has this one covered).
  • Importantly, don’t force yourself to eat foods that taste bad to you. Find substitutes that you can tolerate.

Recipe: Chicken Drumsticks with Pomegranate and Oregano

Serves four.

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 8 chicken drumsticks
  • Flaky sea salt
  • 500g banana shallots (or red onions), peeled and trimmed
  • 1 garlic head, cloves separated and peeled
  • 2 tbsp pomegranate molasses
  • 3 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • 4cm piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
  • 10g oregano sprigs (or 1 tsp dried), plus 1 tsp finely chopped leaves, to serve (or handful of chopped parsley)
  • Seeds from ½ small pomegranate

Method.

  1. Heat the oven to 200C/390F/gas mark 6. Heat the oil in a large frying pan on a medium-high flame, then place the drumsticks in the pan, sprinkle over half a teaspoon of salt and fry, turning regularly, for 10 minutes, until golden-brown all over. Transfer to a large bowl and leave the pan on the heat.
  2. Fry the shallots for four minutes, shaking the pan a few times. Add the garlic, fry for another minute, until golden, add to the chicken bowl, then combine with the molasses, soy sauce, maple syrup, ginger, oregano sprigs and 50ml water.
  3. Pour everythings onto a baking tray and cover tightly with aluminium foil. Roast for 20 minutes, then take off the foil, give it a stir and roast for 10 minutes more, until the chicken is cooked through and the shallots and garlic are soft.
  4. Remove from the oven, stir in the chopped oregano (or parsley) leaves and pomegranate seeds, and serve.

For more info on taste change during chemotherapy see:

University of Michigan Health System Comprehensive Cancer Center

Chemcare.com

Cancer.net

Breastcancer.org

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