On food, and on nostalgia

2014-11-21 21.06.51

I stopped eating mid-morning on October 28.

It’s not that I dislike food. But due to the growth of an incurable tumor that’s blocking my bowels (sorry for these grisly details), food that enters my body at one end is now unable to exit at the other end. I won’t describe the long week that led up to the decision to stop eating; but I guarantee that if you had experienced that awfulness yourself, you would understand my choice.

Because there is no Death With Dignity law in my state – no option for physician-assisted-death – I am very calmly starving to death. I can drink water, but I can’t drink smoothies, shakes, etc. because my body perceives them as solid foods.

Oddly, I felt no hunger until nearly three weeks into my fast. The sensation of hunger is now quite different than it was in the pre-cancer days, when I’d get cranky if my breakfast was forty minutes late.

I perceive hunger nowadays as visual images of the foods I used to love in the long-ago days of childhood, along with memories of how delicious those foods were. The main image I see is that of my father’s soft-boiled eggs, which he would cook for my brother Jim and me on Sunday mornings. Dad readied the eggs and prepared the toast using his watch’s second hand to ensure that both parts of the meal would be ready simultaneously. I can still clearly see, smell, and even taste those memory-eggs, yolks broken and spreading out slowly over slices of golden-brown buttered toast, with fresh fruit to follow.

Because eating at this point has become purely theoretical, a harmless exercise in nostalgia, I’ve begun compiling a mental list of foods that I find pleasing, comforting, or simply delicious. Let’s begin with apples. Because I was born in upstate New York, the heritage variety Northern Spy was the first apple I ever tasted. To me, it’s how an apple ought to taste: packed with juicy flavor, both sweet and acidic at the same time.

Using Northern Spies, or the tartest substitute apples she could find, my mom baked exquisite apple pie throughout my childhood, featuring plump raisins and molasses. Later on when I worked as the baker at the old Uptown Café (1980-’81), I used her recipe. The wait staff told me that one regular Friday night customer used to drive down each week from Indianapolis just to eat my apple pie.

Another outstanding sweet childhood comfort food included homemade tapioca pudding. – But hold on! At this moment, a large number of readers out there are exclaiming “Tapioca? No way! YUCK!!!” based on their memories of the horrible “fish-egg” commercial pudding of their youth. But tapioca pudding is wonderful when made by hand and eaten warm from the stovetop; and because it’s mainly milk and egg, it’s modestly nutritious as desserts go. I always lessen the amount of sugar and use large farm eggs with orange-colored yolks for best results. Ambrosia of the gods! (Sound of lips kissing fingertips in ecstasy.)

Home fries are fabulous, especially when cooked in bacon grease, and hash browns are basically a different form of the same thing. Last year I achieved a state of perfection in my hash browns: evenly browned and without any tendency to stick to the pan. Here’s how to do it. While the frying pan is heating a 50/50 blend of cooking oil and butter, shred one to three potatoes (it’s great fun to use spuds of different colors: yellow, purple, white). Taking this moist lump between your hands, stand above the sink and squeeze out as much as possible of the starchy juice. Then spread the shredded potatoes evenly across the bottom of the hot skillet. Apply seasonings and then press flat with the spatula, frying gently. When the hash browns turn medium-brown around the edges, it’s time to lift and flip. Hash browns prepared this way will lift up in a uniform mass, much like a pancake.

Great meat foodstuffs range from humble to high. I will never forget the sandwich from an old-style Jewish deli (a real East Coast deli, not a yuppie deli with pretenses) consisting of a mountain of rosy corned beef piled between thick slabs of rye with tangy mustard. But then again, how can one say one has really lived until one has eaten pork chops complete with all the succulent crispy fat around the edges? But, more suitable for summer picnics, and situated at the opposite end of the meat spectrum, I remember mountains of Hebrew National bratwursts drenched in ketchup and mustard. Back in the day, Hebrew National’s dogs popped enticingly when you bit into them and they were far tastier than other brands like Oscar Meyer, Vienna Beef, etc. But like so many other things, they may have degraded in quality over the years, and now we’ve got a wide selection of artisanal sausage products. They’re undoubtedly made with superior meat, but still, I can’t forget those Hebrew National brats and hot dogs of my youth.

As for great vegetable dishes, I love mixed baby veggies sautéed together in butter at the opening of each summer. It’s heavenly to eat fresh cherry tomatoes warm from the sun, plucked off the vine and eaten right there in the garden. And there’s invariably a feral butternut squash vining and twining from the compost bin, the taste of which is incomparable.

For dairy dishes, give me a large, heavy portion of traditional cottage cheese/sour cream noodle kugel. Or homemade kefir, which I kept in a glass on the counter and regarded as a useful pet that lived in the kitchen. This, with a smudge of dark cherry concentrate stirred into it, was divine on a hot summer’s day. And of course I should mention The Milkshake Diet, which I spent some time on in the summer of 1984 when I was young and unemployed and living on less than two dollars a day. For breakfast: a leftover carrot or apple or banana. Nothing for lunch. Around mid-afternoon, when the hunger pains began to mount, I’d take my two bucks and go to the Indiana Sweet Shop for one of their enormous quart-size sludgy chocolate milkshakes, where the coldness of the huge drink would immediately induce a small localized headache in the center of my forehead. The caloric value of the milkshake meant that I would not be hungry again until the following morning’s breakfast. And thus, in a single meal, I had carbs, protein and fat, the three building blocks of nutrition (or so I assured myself).

I no longer eat any of these things. But I remember them with enormous fondness, and they are what is now sustaining me in these last weeks on earth. Who knows: if there is a Hereafter, I think perhaps I’ve earned a good seat at the table.

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57 thoughts on “On food, and on nostalgia”

  1. Carrol, your descriptions are so genuine. I had no idea we share some amazing food loves.

    That you are unable to eat and must allow yourself to starve breaks my heart.

    I cherish your writing, your words serve you well.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh, dear Carrol. How wistful and poignant. IV nutrients an option? I;m sure you know all of the options by now. I just finished a book called “The Dying Time” and thought of you often.

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    1. Thank you so much for your words of support, Cathy. Yes, IV feeding is an option, but I have decided that I don’t want to extend a life that’s doomed to fall victim to an incurable cancer like mine. So I have an advance directive that states that I do not wish to be kept alive with either hydration or artificial feeding.

      I have no fear or doubt; instead I am filled with resolution and the knowledge that I made the right choice for me. Other people would of course choose differently.

      Thanks for writing, and commenting! All my best, Carrol

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Carrol, I will miss your voice, your wisdom and your insights. Your posts helped our family during my father in law’s final days. He too stopped eating, the only thing he could control with an out of control, ferocious cancer.

    I’m so sorry you have to go through this. I do believe that your writings will help bring change in this state. You have certainly reached and touched many people, more than you can imagine.

    May you have a peaceful passing, with all those you love near you. Thank you so much.

    With love and good wishes to you.

    Like

  4. Dear Carrol,

    You continue to touch our lives, make us smile, and remind us to remember to appreciate what’s available to us. Thank you.
    Tracy

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  5. Dear Carrol, Thank you for this wonderful post and for your wonderful life. Thank you for giving us eggs and chocolate when we cared for the chickens. Thanks for hugging me when I felt so bad that I forgot to let the chickens out for a whole day that one time! Thanks for greeting us with smiles and teaching my kids about your chickens during our impromptu visits to your yard. Thanks for coming over at my request to help me identify mystery plants and trees in our yard. Thanks for your words, wisdom and inspiration in many forms. We love you!!

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  6. Tapioca! I love it. I remember when you were on a halvah kick, you almost convinced me to like it (but not quite, and then you ODed on it). Love and peace to you, girl, and thanks for the Indiana Sweet Shop memory.Thanks for all of it.
    Love,
    Liz

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  7. Pingback: Carrol Krause, living with terminal cancer: “I stopped eating mid-morning on October 28” | Exopermaculture
    1. Thanks to YOU, Mary Beth, for being kind and compassionate neighbors! I could not ask for better people living across the street. Please thank little Marina for her card to me, which I have been unable to answer in person due to my illness.

      Hugs to all of you!!!

      Carrol

      Like

  8. Dear Carrol…Don’t know you and I am so sorry to hear about this but I do want to say Cannabis oil ( medical Marijuana) has cured quite a good number of end stage cancers….Don’t suffer, heal! Blessings. VK

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    1. Actually. I tried this, and it was enormously helpful in terms of making things more digestible. But I can’t bear the sensation of bring stoned. I developed an aversion to it and had to stop. But I would confirm that cannabis oil definitely has efficacy with cancer’s digestive issues.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Dear Carrol, Hi! As usual you have brought much food for thought in this writing and I wish you peace and blessings on this cold and slightly snowy afternoon. This got me to think of a brief period of time when our beloved old beagle went through a phase of not eating, as I kept putting pieces of food in his mouth I kept thinking whether it was fair to him to make him have something he was quite clearly not interested in, thankfully he did start eating again and happened to have a rather heartier appetite then he had before, I think we all need to make the decisions that feel right to us at the time no matter what the circumstances, many hugs!

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    1. Fortunately, your beagle was able to eat, but I am not. In the week leading up to my decision, it became more and more apparent that I was deceiving myself into hoping that I could still dine with family and friends. Alas! 😦

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  10. Carrol-

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful writing. As someone who writes when conditions are ideal, I admire the tenacity of your craft. I hope you continue to be well in your spirit despite your body’s unwillingness to cooperate.

    -Kyla

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    1. Thank you so much for your kind words, Kyla! It’s definitely much easier writing when I feel healthy, but I have discovered that my friends are all very glad to let me dictate out loud while they write it down at the keyboard for me. Good family and friends are a blessing!

      Again, thanks for writing, and my best wishes to you.
      🙂
      Carrol

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  11. Dear Carrol,

    I know we don’t know each other very well, but I want you to know that your stories have touched my heart and made a difference in my life. I wish you the most peaceful and gentle passing. I’ll carry your words with me.

    Amanda Biggs

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Carrol, as always, you share beautiful, exquisitely expressed observations. In the sharing of your experience and thoughts, you provide much guidance for others. I thank you and honor you. You are a ‘walker in beauty’ and I will always listen for your wisdom.

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    1. Thank you, Heather, for your steady and unwavering support. You’ve been a wonderful neighbor and a real cheerleader for my cancer writings, which I was very unsure about at first, having read no previous examples of this genre. Thanks. THANKS.
      with gratitude,
      Carrol

      Like

  13. Thank you for all of the wonderful writing and wisdom you have shared with us and for the strong and graceful way you have handled your situation. I have always admired your creativeness from afar and all you have contributed to our community. I hope to get to know you at that table someday. We are all walking the same path. Much love.

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  14. Carroll,

    I am so glad I got to know you through SWIFT and our love of fiber. I am in awe of your wisdom & strength. Praying that you have a peaceful passing into the hereafter. May it be full of joy…& wool!

    Blessings,
    Gina

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  15. Dear, dear Carrol, your appetite for living fully in every way you possibly can and sharing your zest, knowledge, and appreciation of your rich experience fill my heart. Your gifts will always enhance every moment I can savor. Grazie and love.

    Wendy

    Like

    1. Dear Sue, I am not sorry so you should not be sorry either. I have learned more over the past 22 months than I ever dreamed of. And learned strengths I did not know I possessed. The passed 22 months have been a wonderful learning opportunity.
      Thank you so much for writing, I really really appreciate it.
      🙂
      Carrol

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  16. Thank you for your lovely memories of favorite foods…never mastered hash browns but will try some as you have posted. Thanks, also, for bringing to the forefront the need for Death with Dignity laws in the remaining states that do not have them. Having witnessed Alzheimer’s Disease and cancers of loved ones it is certain that one should have the choice. Wishing you peace and that you are surrounded by those you love. mI have always enjoyed reading articles with Carrol Krause as the byline.

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  17. I don’t know you, but I must thank you for your loving descriptions of your food memories. My two best friends have died of cancer, and both stopped eating near the end. One was a foodie and great cook, so I am sure she also had such thoughts and memories. Thank you for reminding me of my friends.

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    1. Dear Sharon, I am so sorry to hear of the loss of your two dearest friends. We can’t change what happens to us, but we can change how we react to those circumstances. Thanks for writing.
      🙂
      Carrol

      Like

  18. Dear Carrol,

    Thank you, again, for sharing so deeply and beautifully through your writing. What an incredible being you are. You have touched my heart and I know you must be making a difference in so many lives. I imagine your writing will impact laws here as well. Thank you.

    Love,
    Carey

    Like

  19. Dear Carol,
    I only barely know you (you were about to volunteer with us at MHC before your diagnosis), but am so happy to have seen this piece. It is a lovely reflection on food and memory. I appreciate you writing through your illness because it provides, for all of us, a much needed model for dying. I hope that I am able to make brave choices, and share some of the process with others (as you are doing) when my time comes. Thank you.

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    1. One of my great regrets is that I never really got to launch myself as a volunteer at MHC. My consolation is that somewhere in the multiverse, somewhere in the infinite clustering of all the alternative universes that might have been, I DID become a volunteer at MHC, and an awesome one as well!

      all my best,
      Carrol

      Like

  20. what a post! Death and delicious recipes combined. a true talent for writing. If you’ve never read her, get some of Laurie Colwins books and start reading. Some are in short story format if your attention span is not cooperating. She was a columnist for Gourmet way back in the day and also had an untimely disease/death. But I read and reread her regularly and she is with me in spirit – as you will be for all of those with whom you have connected.
    Bravo and best for an easy passing.
    all my love and admiration,
    Judith

    Like

    1. Thanks for writing, Judith! Good to hear from you, and thanks for the book tip (although I don;t think I’ll have sufficient time remaining to actually read anything). All my best to you and John.
      —Carrol

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  21. I don’t know you but was really touched by your incredible story. Thank you also for the tip on hash browns – I will definitely try this the next time I go to make a lazy morning breakfast. 🙂 I am sharing the link to this on my FB wall in the hopes of further contributing to the attention your vivid and candid piece of writing deserves.Everyone deserves the dignity of being able to make their own end of life choices. Thank you very much for choosing to share your perspective in a public venue so that strangers like me can be moved by your story. Peace and best wishes to you.

    Like

  22. Dear Carrol,

    Your sweet, authentic insights and sharing have really touched me. Thank you for being a voice of dignity, peace, and life in the midst of cancer. What an amazing being your are. I am sure your writing will have a great rippling effect and will strongly influence our lawmakers.

    Wishing you comfort and love,
    Carey

    Like

    1. To be in a situation like mine is not simply a challenge; it’s an opportunity as well. My hope was to rattle some pebbles in hopes of inducing an avalanche. I don’t think I will succeed in the latter, but at least I tried. (And I definitely annoyed our Republican lawmakers in the process!)
      Thanks for writing, Casey. Best wishes to you!
      Carrol

      Like

  23. Thank you for the beautifully captured memories of food. I wish you well. Love potatoes done the way you’ve described, though in the way recipes go in my kitchen I’d forgotten this. Will cook up a pan or two this weekend and lift a cup of joe to you.

    Like

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