About two times a month I cook lunch for people with cancer at The Breast Cancer Haven. The organization provides nutritional advice, massage, acupuncture, talk therapy and classes in yoga and Qi Gong, workshops and much more for those suffering with this prevalent disease. Lunch is provided for a nominal cost and cooked solely by volunteers
We cooks are charged with creating menus that are high in nutrition, low in sugar and mostly vegan. Many clients, when going through chemo and radiation, also choose to eliminate gluten and other allergens. It can be a fun challenge coming up with new and exciting dishes that are colorful, tasty and healthy while not using any animal proteins or sugars.
During my time at The Haven, I cross paths with clients at different phases of their diagnosis and treatment. There are those that have just found out they have cancer and haven’t started any chemo or radiation yet; they are particularly scared and vulnerable, not sure what to expect. Then there are people who have had their diagnosis for a while and have found a way to live with it. They are seasoned in chemo, prosthetics, how to handle hair loss and all the other strange particulars that go along with having the disease.
The kitchen has a huge table and lots of natural light. Guests take their meals to together, often sharing stories and advice about their experiences. This is the most magical of times to me. Being a fly on the wall listening to those conversations, hearing folks at some of their lowest of life’s moments gaining hope and strength from others who know exactly what they are going through.
Over the weeks and months, we see some of the same people over and over and get to know them – names and life stories, what they do, where they live. Then one day they stop coming. I can only assume that they are through the other side and hope that means they are better and moving on. Sometimes I find out that one of our guests is still sick and won’t recover; it’s hard and I feel helpless.
But that doesn’t stop me from going to The Haven. Feeding people is the most simple and sacred way of giving, nurturing and healing. And being a fly on the wall when the magic happens offers important keys on how to live life.
Below is a recipe for a simple winter salad I served at The Haven recently, using all the wonderful chicories that are at the market now.
Radicchio and Pear Salad with Dates
4 big handfuls of winter greens, such as radicchio, endive, spinach or baby kale, washed, spun dry and torn in bite-sized pieces
1 ripe, juicy pear, quartered then thinly sliced into crosswise pieces
6 pitted Medjool dates, cut into small bits
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon honey
1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Put all the salad ingredients into a large bowl. For the dressing, whisk the honey and lemon juice together until blended then slowly drizzle in the olive oil until a thick emulsion forms, whisking constantly. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Pour just enough dressing over the salad, tossing constantly, so that all the ingredients are just coated. Save any dressing for another occasion.
Yield: about 6 servings