Let’s say that you are very ill, so much so that your nourishment gets into your body via a painful puncture or means — a needle and solution, for example, or a feeding tube. You bear the pain because you tell yourself that you must, in order to eat, surely, but also just to move on.
Let’s say, however, that the way food routinely gets into you is itself riven with pain. It is your mouth, its palate, the chewing and swallowing devices of your mandible and tongue, the whole hole.
You’ve had some wisdom teeth removed, say. Or a couple of serious canker sores have encamped. Your advanced Parkinson’s complications make it near-impossible to swallow. Your mouth suffers an abscess, or lesions from shingles, or oral thrush.
Or, let’s say that a surgeon had to remove some of the mouth because cancer was there (as in a portion of your tongue).
“Three months into the pandemic,” says a friend, Marty Jones, “I had lost a lot of weight — 25 pounds — and I didn’t know why.”
With typical good humor, Jones, a singer and musician with whom I had worked alongside as a writer in the late 1990s, says, “Was I just worried about the fate of mankind?”
No, it was cancer of the tongue, the rear part of which had to be taken out. “The removal and then stitches in several places,” Jones, says, “made swallowing tortuous.”
Well, here is a fellow who I know to be of exceptional good cheer, but merely swallowing his own saliva (which flowed in buckets because his mouth perceived its sutures as invaders) “hurt like hell.”
Much less eating food in whatever form or consistency he chose. “My task was to regain that weight and consume as many calories as I could,” said Jones. “Yeah, but the problem just was swallowing.”
He understandably grew tired of meal-replacement “nutrition drinks.” Thanksgiving dinner 2021 of puréed turkey and stuffing didn’t cut it. Plus, “the list from the docs of flavorful foods that were easy to eat,” he says, “were also heavy on milk or cream or fat.” Not to mention that many processed, easy-to-swallow foods (puddings, for example, or soups) commonly come loaded with what Jones accuses of “insane levels of sugar and salt.”
When Jones called me, late into his recovery from the surgery, he had said that he had gotten back to “almost all of my pre-cancer weight.” But he also was somewhat contrite during our phone call. “I should have talked with you earlier,” he says, “for some suggestions on healthy, nutritious but easy-to-swallow” cooking.
I developed and tested the three recipes here with just that in mind, for any reader who might need what Jones needed: good food that goes down easy.
Many other possible foods and their recipes exist: smoothies and shakes of various sorts; granitas (“Italian ices” that the home cook can make, mainly of melon); more soups, of course, puréed or long-cooked into softness; and nourishing, wholesome broths and elixirs.
Eggplant mushes into itself with long cooking; the Indian baingan bharta is one such recipe and sports waves of flavor. Also, consult older cookbooks for sections or appendixes titled something like “Foods for Sensitive Stomachs,” many of which are fashioned of ingredients that are ground down or seriously softened.
Pellegrino Artusi’s 1881 “Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well” has many recipes along those lines, one of which (No. 39, “zuppa regina,” “the queen of soups”) resembles blancmange, a famous medieval dish of white meat chicken and crushed almonds.
It was always served by monks in the Middle Ages to people, young and old, who were in pain.
Adapted from “Mrs. Beeton’s Cookery Book” (Ward, Lock & Co., 1913).
- 1 cup whole rolled oats (not quick-cook or instant)
- 1/3 cup chopped dried fruit
- 1/2 lemon
- 2 cups filtered water
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon powdered ginger or powdered cardamom
- 1 tablespoon Colorado raw honey
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
The night before, put oats and fruit in large bowl and cover by 2 inches with filtered water. Squeeze juice from lemon half into water and stir to blend.
When ready to cook, drain oats and fruit in a fine-meshed sieve and rinse under cold water. Add to saucepan with 2 cups water, salt and powdered spice. Bring to a slow boil, lower heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes, or until oats and fruit are very soft. Mix in honey and butter and serve. (Over the cooked oatmeal, if desired, you may sprinkle some powdered cinnamon or the Middle Eastern and Persian spice mixes called, respectively, baharat or advieh.)
Cooling Cucumber Avocado Soup
Adapted from “The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen” by Rebecca Katz (Ten Speed Press, 2009). Makes 3-4 cups.
- 1 cup apple juice or cider
- 2 pounds English or Persian cucumbers, partially peeled, seeded and cut into chunks
- 2 ripe avocados, peeled and pitted
- Flesh from 1 peeled and seeded lime, in small chunks
- 1/2 teaspoon Colorado honey
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher or fine sea salt
- 1 cup filtered water
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint leaves
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro, thin stems and leaves
Pour the apple juice or cider into the well of a blender. Add the vegetables and lime bits, honey and salt.
Blend until very smooth, adding water as necessary or until the soup reaches the consistency you desire. (You may use more than 1 cup water.)
Chill at least for 3 hours or overnight. Stir in the chopped mint and cilantro and serve in chilled bowls. (You may top with a swirl of fruity extra virgin olive oil, if desired.)
- Olive oil
- 5 ounces low-fat ricotta cheese (vegan tofu ricotta OK)
- 1 tablespoon grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- 2 medium-sized leaves fresh basil, finely chopped
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Coat a porcelain ramekin with the olive oil. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
Mix ricotta, grated cheese, basil and black pepper in a small bowl, then plop into oiled ramekin. Bake for 20 minutes, or until slightly crusted. Serve warm. (May top with smidge of more olive oil, or a small spoonful of heated marinara sauce, or other flavorful soft, smooth, puréed topping.)
Note: Marty Jones suggests everyone check out checkyourmouth.org for helpful suggestions for self-evaluations of your personal, built-in feeding tube.
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