Eating Well: Fighting cancer through cooking
“Bout” and “struggle” are words we use to describe what cancer patients go through when they are fighting for their lives against this deadly enemy. To an outsider, they are just words. To Meg Wolff, a Cape Elizabeth 52-year-old who has now written three books about cancer and cooking, these words are reality.
Cancer stole one of Wolff’s legs when she was 33 and took a breast when she was 41. After she went through the mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation to kill the invasive cells, her doctors told her it was not likely that she would live much longer.
But Wolff considered her options: giving up her life or starting a new fight for life. Wolff chose to fight by following a healing macrobiotic diet. She studied with Lisa Silverman of Portland, who often teaches cooking classes in Portland and at the Cancer Community Center in South Portland, and with Aisha Memon at the Kushi Institute in Becket, Mass.
She followed a healing macrobiotic diet (based on grains, beans and vegetables) for nine years, and a macrobiotic-vegan way of eating for the past three years.
Wolff won the fight against cancer and remains in vibrant good health. “What I ate saved my life,” she told me, “and scientific evidence supports that belief.”
In 2009, she was certified by the Cancer Project to teach healthy vegan cooking classes. (The Cancer Project is a branch of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which was started by Dr. Neal Barnard.)
“A Life in Balance: Delicious Plant-Based Recipes for Optimal Health,” published this month by Down East Books of Camden ($19.95), is a 160-page collection of macrobiotic and vegan recipes Wolff used in her fight to regain her health. It can be used by everyone.
“If you eat meat,” Wolff says, “use these dishes as sides.” She eats brown rice and kale nearly every day and loves sea vegetables because they taste like the ocean. (Wolff grew up in Westbrook in the 1960s and ’70s, a member of the DeCoste family there.) Her favorite things to cook are roasted vegetables and hot and spicy soup.
Here are two intriguing and distinctive dishes from “A Life in Balance”:
Hot & Spicy Soup
Wolff serves this soup with a side dish of brown rice and steamed broccoli. Try this soup, she says, if you’re looking for something healthful that both adults and kids will really like.
1 teaspoon hot pepper sesame oil
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 large yellow onion, cut in half and thinly sliced into half-moon pieces
4 or 5 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked to reconstitute, thinly sliced
1 (8-ounce) package button or baby portabella mushrooms, thinly sliced
8 ounces seitan (wheat gluten), sliced thinly, then sliced into matchstick pieces
6 to 8 cups water
2 to 3 broccoli stalks, peeled, sliced into thin coins, then sliced into matchstick pieces
8 ounces tofu, cut into small cubes
1 teaspoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons mirin
1/8 cup kuzu or arrowroot powder, dissolved in 1 cup cold water
1-to-2-inch piece of fresh ginger, finely grated (make into a ball in your palm, and squeeze a small amount of juice into each bowl of soup, stir, and serve)
2 to 3 scallions, thinly sliced on a diagonal, for garnish
Optional: crushed black pepper
Warm the sesame and hot sesame oil in a soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and saute for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the mushrooms and saute for another 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in seitan and add water. Cover, increase heat to high, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer. Stir in the broccoli and tofu, then cover and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes.
Season with soy sauce and mirin and simmer for 10 minutes. Add dissolved kuzu or arrowroot and stir until the soup thickens slightly, about 5 more minutes.
Ladle soup into bowls, squeeze ginger juice into each bowl, and stir. Serve piping hot garnished with scallions. Add a sprinkle of crushed black pepper if desired.
Serves 6 to 8.
Wolff describes these truffles as “an almost-sinfully delicious raw-foods dessert.” The recipe is from Arla Casselman, a healthy vegan friend of Wolff’s daughter Cammie.
Truffle coating (make first):
1/2 cup Brazil nuts
1/2 cup shredded coconut
Chop the Brazil nuts and coconut in a food processor. Pour in a bowl and set aside for coating.
1 cup Brazil nuts
3/4 cup walnuts
1/8 cup dates (about 3)
1/2 cup dried apricots
1 or 2 tablespoons brown rice syrup
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup shredded coconut
2 tablespoons organic raw cocoa powder (omit if you’d prefer plain)
Run the Brazil nuts, walnuts, dates, and apricots through the food processor until evenly chopped. Add remaining ingredients and process until combined. Roll into balls, then roll each ball in the coating mixture to finish. Enjoy!
Serves 12 to 18.
Note: These keep best if stored in the refrigerator.