As the holiday season approaches and we rush around in a slight frenzy buying gifts and treats for our friends and family, it struck me how integral food is in both our holiday celebrations and in our times of illness and grief. Sustenance provides comfort when we are joyful and equally so when we are experiencing loss or sickness. I was reminded of the various delicious meals that were provided for me during my chemotherapy, which began on December 11th two years ago.
One night, before my first treatment, the phone rang during dinner. I was recovering from surgery at the time and preparing for the chemotherapy. Normally I wouldn’t have answered the phone during a meal but for some reason I did that night. “Hi Jeanne, this is Wendy H. You don’t know me but I just heard from one of the second grade mom’s that you have been diagnosed with breast cancer. I am so sorry to hear of your diagnosis. I went through my battle with breast cancer a year and a half ago when I was thirty eight. Can I answer any questions for you? Also, I would love to be the first one to bring you dinner when you have your chemotherapy. I know exactly which foods will make you feel better.”
I was quite surprised. I wasn’t sure that I liked the fact that the second grade mom’s were gossiping about my cancer. It really felt a little bit invasive. On the other hand, this woman had been kind enough to pick up the phone and call a perfect stranger to let me know I had her support and she was ready to cook for me. “Sure you can bring dinner that night.” I said, sort of in shock. “My friend Sara is coordinating that.” I hung up the phone and shrugged as I returned to eating dinner.
Sure enough, Wendy H arrived at my house that night of my first treatment with a delicious homemade meal. It was simple yet perfect for my quesy stomach. She had roasted chicken in butter, made a beautiful salad, a rice dish with more butter and fresh herbs, rolls and a little cake for dessert. There was just enough for the four of us to have for dinner with a little bit left over for lunch the next day.
That same week I overindulged on spaghetti pie. A friend of mine dropped it by and it was a big hit with the kids and a bigger hit with me. It was layered in a pie pan with cheese on the bottom and then spaghetti and sauce on top. Then the whole thing was baked to form a “spaghetti pie.” My friend also sent salad, rolls and chocolate chip cookies for the children.
I will say that some of my favorite dishes were quite bland. They seemed to comfort me. One friend of mine brought over a casserole of organic chicken, brown rice and cream of mushroom soup. It was great for the nausea I felt from the chemotherapy. I ate small portions of it throughout the day and that would help me for a couple of hours.
My decorator made the best meal of all (you know those creative types). She stuffed four puff pastries with chicken breasts and wild rice and added legs, arms and eyes to each. The end result was little people who looked like gingerbread men, two girls and two boys. I popped them into the oven and in a half an hour we not only had a delicious dinner, the children had something to entertain them and get their mind off of my illness. She also sent green beans with almonds and butter, rolls and an apple pie for dessert.
So as the holidays approach and I am rushing to get all of my shopping done, I try to reflect on these meals. Because I am reminded that as simple as it seems, a homemade gift from the heart is often the best gift of all.