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.
Tables during football parties and fall gatherings tend to be filled with wonderful dishes that are usually heavy, fried, and/or cream based… I encourage you to change it up with this pickled dish. Everyone loves a good pickle – therefore why not spruce things up with some color and a powerful taste? Also, this dish is vegetarian, gluten-free, kosher, and dairy-free for your guests who may follow certain dietary specifications.
One of the ingredients utilized in the dish for the ‘pickling’ was mustard seeds derived from mustard plants which are sparse looking yellow dandelion-like delicate flowers. The flowers can be added to a bouquet for color and variety, or they can be matured to form brown pods which hold the seeds and are removed before they can further ripen/burst. The mustard plant leaves and stems are also edible like any other greens.
When added to the pickled mixture the seeds add a nutty taste to the dish. There are several variations to the seeds – those white and brown in color are commonly used for pickling. These seeds may be little but they pack quite a punch. The seeds are filled with phytonutrients, minerals, vitamins, and antioxidant properties. Notable benefits include their high content of essential oils and plant sterols which may play a role in lowering blood cholesterol levels.
3 cucumbers; thinly sliced
1 small, sweet yellow onion; sliced, diced, and slivered into various sizes
1 cup, white vinegar
2 tsp brown mustard seeds, whole
1/4 cup coconut oil
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup mango, diced or chunks
1 cup yellow/red/green bell peppers; minced (variety is optional)
3 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 avocado, diced
In a medium saucepan over high heat combine the pickling ingredients, brown mustard seeds, sugar, coconut oil, vinegar, salt, and sugar, then bring to a boil. (If you prefer your onions cooked like I do – add the onions to the pickling ingredients otherwise they can be added later.)
Remove the pickled mixture from heat and set aside for 20-30 minutes.
In a large bowl, combine the cucumbers, peppers, mango, and onions (if not cooked in step 1).
Stir the pickled mixture into the large bowl with the cucumbers.
Chill mixture for a minimum of 3 hours to overnight for a delicious yet tangy taste.
Prior to serving add the diced avocado into the mixture and toss.
Dinner is definitely my favorite meal during the week – basically I can be social or anti-social but either way time is more bountiful and some of the daily craze subsides. I have come to love having salads in the evening due to the ease of being prepared and the fact that there are absolutely endless possibilities. I have been playing around with a couple of different fixings and this is a new favorite – loaded with a variety of water-based vegetables and lean protein. The variety of raw vegetables allow for various nutrients to be consumed, antioxidant benefits to be reaped, and assist with rehydrating the body. After all, we are primarily made up of water so replenish well!
Crab is an excellent source of protein, and here’s why, 4 ounces of crab contains 90-100 calories/20-22 grams protein/0 grams of carbohydrate/0 grams of fat. So now is the time to stop being crabby and load up on the good stuff which is also dense in vitamins A & C, folate, magnesium, and zinc.
Fresh lump crab meat (4-ounces)
Bell peppers, diced (1 cup)
Pico de gallo, minced (1/2 cup) – recipe will be posted shortly
Cherry tomatoes, slivers (1 handful)
Cucumbers and celery, sliced and minced (1/2 cup)
Avocado, sliced (1/4 whole)
Arugula (1/2 cup)
Baby greens (1/2 cup)
Cashews, chopped (1-ounce)
Lemon, wedge slices (2-3 each)
OPTIONAL: 2-3 tbsp or drizzle of Balsamic vinaigrette
Create a base for the salad with the greens – arugula and baby greens.
Add the cashews and avocado in the middle or throughout as the next layer.
Top in sections with the peppers, pico de gallo, tomatoes, and cucumbers/celery.
Add the crab meat to another section of the bowl.
Drizzle balsamic vinaigrette over the vegetables.
Garnish with a lemon wedge(s) that can later be used to squeeze over the crab to bring out the flavor.
Time to get munchin’ or chill and enjoy later!
** Side note – this recipe can be made with crackers or tortilla and utilized as an appetizer… Just don’t tell anyone that it’s healthy!