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Taste: A little home comfort

By CLAUDIA BROMAN

Just a few weeks ago my dad’s aggressive cancer reappeared. As anyone familiar with how cancer can progress knows, it is a nasty deal.

Though admittedly it is a very tough time, among the more humorous things I’ve learned in this go ’round is that with this cancer my dad can have cravings for the strangest types of food. One morning he called to tell me how he made himself a generous batch of sloppy joes and then topped off his mid-morning treats with a slathering of whole hot peppers. Not something he’d usually eat, and not necessarily something I’d recommend eating, either.

A bit of time has gone by since my dad’s sloppy joe recipe incident, and he’s now in a limbo of chemotherapy. His dietary preferences have changed to crave more comfort foods, rather than bold and spicy flavors.

I’m not sure what it is about illness or personal crises, but often people will hop-to-it in their kitchens, myself included, when the hard times set in.

I’ve been cooking seemingly non-stop once I found out about my dad’s situation and grim prognosis. My aunt said that’s the way to do it — take the nervous energy and apply it to something else.

So I’ve cooked and baked and baked and cooked, putting most of the final products into single-meal-size plastic baggies with labels, and then into the freezer.

On my dad’s way home from Mayo Clinic last week I met him along his way and gave him a box of frozen meals in case he didn’t have the energy to cook. Well, he’s hardly had the energy to get out of bed, so these meals have come in handy for him.

In this column I offer two recipes from the freezer meal concoctions I’ve made to help keep my dad nourished in these tough times.

If you have a friend, family member, or neighbor going through a personal crisis, perhaps he or she would appreciate a hot comfort meal, or a ready-to-heat-up frozen one. Never hurts to call and ask, especially if your potential recipient is a little shy about asking for help.

One thing to keep in mind with regard to these recipes is that I’m not a dietician, and the needs of each particular cancer patient can widely vary. However, something I’ve heard consistently in my dad’s dealings with the medical establishment is the importance of high-quality protein, vegetables and fruit before, during and after cancer treatments, as one’s body desperately needs as much high-end nutrition as possible.

A fantastic resource for nutrition during cancer is available from the American Cancer Society, called “Nutrition for the Person with Cancer.” You can find it online at http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/002903-pdf.pdf

Claudia Broman lives and writes in Litchfield.

Chicken & Dumplings

Adapted from Martha Stewart www.marthastewart.com/341261/chicken-and-dumplings

4 tablespoons butter

1 onion, diced

6 carrots, sliced lengthwise into 4-inch-long spears

6 stalks celery, sliced lengthwise into spears

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1/4 cup flour

6 cups chicken broth (your homemade will work great)

2 pounds of chicken breasts, chopped and cooked (use what you made for your broth)

salt & pepper

2 cup frozen peas

Dumplings

3/4 cup flour

1 teaspoon dried dill

1¾ teaspoon baking powder

1/2 cup milk, or more to taste

Melt butter in soup pot or Dutch oven, add the vegetables and thyme. Once the onion is softened after about 5-10 minutes of cooking, add the flour and stir it all together.

Slowly pour in the chicken broth and then place the chopped chicken in the liquid.

Add salt and pepper, and the peas.

Cook until boiling, then turn down to simmer. While the liquid heats to boiling, mix the dumplings together. It should be thicker than pancakes but thinner than bread dough.

Drop the dumpling dough into the simmering liquid. They will float on top.

Cover and let the dumplings cook for 20 minutes. Serve.

Note: I find that when reheating the liquid for leftovers I can make a second batch of dumplings after the meat and veggie base heats to the boiling point again.

Chicken Broth

2 pounds chicken breasts, rinsed

1 large onion, roughly chopped

3 stalks celery, roughly chopped

4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

Boil all of the above together in a large stock pot with about 2½ quarts of water until the chicken breasts are cooked through, about 30 minutes. Strain, removing all the onion, celery, and garlic. Set aside the chicken breasts for another recipe. I froze broth in 2-cup portions and my dad has enjoyed eating this broth alone or with some brown rice.

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