Elephants And Tea - September 2021 - 10

Adapting After Treatment
FINDING FREEDOM IN FOOD
Finding Freedom in Food
BY HANNA MADSEN
And I was wrong again in Georgia. I devoured
ajapsandali - a summer stew of eggplant,
tomato, onions, peppers and garlic in
olive oil. And I inhaled khachapuri amreli
- a literal bowl of bread with cheese, egg and
butter inside. I learned how to take quick sips
of wine followed by food or water to mitigate
the alcohol burn.
There are tips and tricks to eating after
I
10
throw back the last bit of hot khachapuri with a bit of water in the Tbilisi airport. My stomach
growls, but I don't have time for another before boarding. I immediately think about what I can
eat in the Dubai airport before my flight to Amman. Every bite of food requires a bit of strategy
and planning. Following a rare cancer diagnosis and failed chemotherapy, my entire tongue
and some other bits were removed in late September 2020. I re-taught myself to eat twice - once
after surgery, and again after radiation. I was told to be careful, to stop - but a feeding tube was not
an option for me. I couldn't run. I couldn't sleep. I couldn't travel. I couldn't eat with family or friends.
My body shrank, but I only fed myself to survive. So, I had to eat - however I could and whatever I
could - anyway.
I started with squash soup and soft bread in melted butter at my parents' kitchen table in
Cape Cod. I moved on to roasted sweet potatoes rolled in olive oil and steak spices with sautéed
tomatoes and spinach when I moved back to Washington DC. I found that savory flavors - oil,
butter, salt - complimented soft solids and were easy to make. Berries in a glass of warm milk.
Apple crisp. Cauliflower mac 'n cheese. Enchiladas (no spice!) - chili, curry, black pepper and
other spicy spices do not mix well with post-radiation. Omelets. Boiled, sautéed or mashed
vegetables. Then came the job offer in Afghanistan. Meat and rice country. I could eat neither.
I was very wrong. There was sabzi - soft spinach carefully stir fried with olive oil, cumin and
garlic. There was eggplant, okra and green beans - all stir fried in olive oil, cumin, garlic and
tomato. There was bolani - a thick crepe stuffed with leek or potato. And aushak - an Afghan
dumpling stuffed with leeks and topped with garlic yogurt and lentils in tomato sauce. With
practice and concentration, I even taught myself how to eat a pomegranate. Very, very slowly.
With lots of water.
I was wrong again in Zanzibar. I learned to make a sweet coconut milk vegetable curry
capturing the spices and Indo-Arab-African influences of the Zanzibar islands. Ginger root.
Coriander. Cumin. Curry. Fried in olive oil and onion and then drenched in coconut milk. I
nibbled on beignets dipped in cardamom coffee. I ate bits of garlic naan between swallows of
water infused with fresh fruit.
ELEPHANTSANDTEA.COM
SEPTEMBER 2021
cancer treatment and surgeries like mine, of
course. Avoid anything too hot or too cold. I
always ask for no ice and hold my finger to the
food to test its' temperature. I avoid anything
too hard that won't melt quickly (biscottis,
dry cookies, granola bars, apples) or sticky
(looking at you, peanut butter!). I largely avoid
spice because it tastes like literal fire. (Thank
you for that lesson, random Pakistani restaurant
in Dubai!). I drench salads in heaps of
dressing. I cook often to try and find sweet,
savory flavors that I can taste. Honey mustard.
Cumin. Coconut milk. Butter. Olive oil. Salt.
Chocolate. Coffee. Cheese.
I'm still shy when eating with or in front of
others, but there is no choice. When people
gather around a table, they want to chat. I
ask what questions I can as I use water, cheek
muscles and fingers to swallow quickly without
choking. I eat often with others because
I have to, but I also try to give myself time to
eat some meals alone.
I'm not saying things are easy. My face is
permanently swollen from the surgery and
radiation. My teeth are crooked. My speech is
slurred. I think about every bite of food and
every word I speak. I wear a compression mask
in bed at night. I can't imagine sharing those
intimate struggles with a life partner. There
are certain foods that seem impossible to eat
ever again. But I keep proving myself wrong.
With each season, I've gotten better. Faster.
Eaten more. Hopefully looking less gross. And
better able to hold conversations. The fattoush
salad from Amman (lettuce/spinach, deep
fried pita, olives, tomatoes, peppers and onions
drenched in balsamic pomegranate dressing)
in my stomach can testify to that. We adapt to
survive, yes - but we also adapt to be free. l
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Elephants And Tea - September 2021

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Elephants And Tea - September 2021

Contents
Elephants And Tea - September 2021 - Cover1
Elephants And Tea - September 2021 - Cover2
Elephants And Tea - September 2021 - 1
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