January of 2018 is a month I’ll never forget and in particular Saturday, the 28th. My mother called and notified me that she was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL) earlier that month shortly after her 70th birthday. After months of grueling radiation she hit remission however it was short-lived. On my birthday in October I received a call that changed my world. My mother changed, my family changed, and I changed. She was diagnosed with a rare form of lymphoma called Mantle Cell Lymphoma (MCL) stage four and for her it is incurable since it will always come back. Recently she has been deemed in ‘remission’ and is about to start a chemotherapy maintenance drug to keep the cancer at bay and hopefully it shall extend the years she has with us free of pain.
As a Registered Dietitian everything was tested for me. I no longer felt motivated to help people since I felt helpless with my own mother. I became bicoastal to help my parents whether it was to simply be a distraction with laughs or to navigate the muddy medical terminology world. She endured several setbacks and hospitalizations which tested her resolve but she fought and she’s never looked more beautiful to me.
This past April I left my thriving career in San Francisco, California to come to Melbourne, Florida where my parents reside. The world works in mysterious ways.
For several months my mother has followed a ‘neutropenic‘ diet. This is basically a diet of sterilized food otherwise known as a way to limit the amount of bacteria in the diet which is necessary with immunocompromised individuals. Many including my mother think of this way of eating as ‘bland’ and ‘downright awful.’ Foods to be withheld on a neutropenic diet include: certain canned foods, undercooked meats, raw foods (fruits, vegetables, oats, and nuts), protein powders, unpasteurized dairy products, and much more.
Mother’s Day this year was not to be impacted and so I decided to come up with a menu of foods that were tasty but followed the right protocols since she was feverish. Due to her lack of an immune system going out in public was out of the question due to fear of catching the average cold which would be much worse for her. The menu included: grilled lobster and shrimp, corn on the cob, my special favorite of all time aka the Goat Cheese Spiked Brussels minus the butternut squash, and this delicious cooked caprese salad (so yum x 100). This was definitely by far was my favorite Mother’s Day with her for so many reasons.
In a basic caprese recipe the tomatoes and basil are raw but in my version it was cooked. This allowed my mother to eat one of her favorite recipes that she hadn’t had in months. Sometimes all it takes is some creativity and proper cooking techniques to have mouthful of flavor.
3 large heirloom tomatoes (yellow, red, multi); thick slices
Fresh pasteurized mozzarella (8 oz); diced
EVOO for the pan
Fresh basil leaves; shredded
Crushed black pepper
Prior to the recipe preparation ingredients were well washed thoroughly with warm water.
Under medium heat add EVOO to a frying pan and sear each tomato slice then cook each side for about 1-minute.
Layer the tomatoes in a serving dish.
Add the shredded basil to the frying pan and turn off the heat. Gently cook the leaves until slightly browned/shrunken in size.
Evenly toss the mozzarella and basil atop the tomato.
Drizzle balsamic vinegar atop the tomatoes and season with sea salt and black pepper.
Pair with your favorite protein and some other fun sides.
Whatcha know about pesto? Well if you’re anything like me you know pine nuts are a staple in it… Now again, if you’re anything like me, you know you want a lower cost ingredient. This is an awesome twist to one of my favorite meal additions that is packed with powerful flavor.
Now instead, of pine nuts, opt for cashews. Even raw, these nuts are packed with buttery flavor and are super chewy thus giving your mouth a mini workout. Cashews are a great source of unsaturated fat which basically means they help to reduce the bad cholesterol (LDL) and instead help increase the good cholesterol (HDL). Cashews also have other nutrients such as micronutrients and vitamins. If you are taking blood thinners such as Coumadin/warfarin use discretion since these nuts are a great source of vitamin-K.
This recipe is officially a staple in my meals as of recent. Not only does it taste good warmed up with a meal but it also tastes good cold served with crudités and or crackers. Therefore make pesto for your family and friends during Thursday Night Football (TNF) – it is a crowd pleasure that shocks your taste buds! So far, I have made this with shrimp, steak, and chicken as a garnish topping or I have mixed it into my vegetables for extra flavor. My taste testers prefer the pesto warm and so I shall say that is the majority consensus currently.
pesto = green, edible version of heaven
1/2 cup cashew nuts (soaked overnight or for a least 1-2 hours prior to making the recipe)
Handful or 1/2 cup basil (preferably fresh)
Handful or 1/2 cup parsley (preferably fresh)
Juice of 1 lemon
1 clove of garlic
Zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup coconut oil
To taste: black pepper and sea salt
Remove cashew nuts from the refrigerator, drain from water, and add to a blender.
Add the basil, parsley, lemon, lemon zest, cloves, and oil to the blender.
Blend on low and increase the speed until the mixture is uniform but retain some texture.
Taste and then add spices (salt and pepper) as desirable.
Serve cold or serve hot as a garnish as shown above… The recipe for the shrimp and vegetable side are to come – stay tuned.
Are you slacking in your hydration? This is a super cool way to bump up your hydration with a side of antioxidants. Watermelon is a fruit that not only has a high water content but is high in lycopene which is a carotenoid antioxidant (aids in bone density, prevention of certain cancers, protects/aids in prevention of eye disorders, and much more). This antioxidant is in most yellow, orange, and red fruits or vegetables. When compared to a tomato – watermelon wins! In my opinion it wins not only in the antioxidant category but in taste as well! Now nectarines… This is another fruit favorite. They are also known as ‘stone fruits.’ Their peel is edible and their pit is almond-shaped. Food experts often say that they have a slight almond flavor and that is why they often are paired with almonds.
This dessert like refresher combines my two favorite fruits at the height of their ripeness. After buying both fruits I usually let them sit on the counter at room temperature for 2-3 days before utilizing for a dish. The best way to test for ripeness is based on the softness of the skin and aroma emitted from the fruit.
Basil is best to obtain in the summer – better hurry and grab some since the dog days of summer are nearly over. Basil often pairs well with sweet or savory dishes adding nutrients, color, and enhancing flavor. Basil is a herb that is best utilized uncooked allowing flavor to be retained. Now lets get down to the nitty gritty of this recipe that requires cooking.
Tovolo Pop Mold – Awesome B/B/B find!
1 small seedless watermelon (ripe) – sliced sans the rind
1 nectarine (ripe) – sliced
2-3 sprigs of basil (fresh/1-2 days post store or market purchase) – remove the leaves from the sprigs
Utilizing a blender – add all the ingredients.
Puree well until uniformly one solid color.
Transfer the liquid into a popsicle mold and freeze for 3+ hours.
I utilized the ‘Tovolo Pop Mold’ easily found at Bed, Bath, & Beyond, and if you’ve got one of those awesome 10% or 20% coupons, then there’s nothing stopping you from making this super easy treat.
Remove from the freezer and run under hot water prior to service to remove the mold.
Serve as the fireworks are popping or at the start of the kickoff.
If you’re looking to be a little adventurous – add about 2 tbsp Tito’s Handmade Vodka to the puree mixture and freeze overnight – the vodka can impair the freezing but thats where a tsp or two of gelatin helps firm up the product OR just serve as a slushy in a solo cup… 😉