Learn your food traditions now; they’re powerful ‘medicine’

Heather Jose photo.

Heather Jose

LAUGHTER may be the best medicine—even my colleague Dr. Bernie Siegel, who graciously endorses my book, says laughter has healing power. But, the power of a favorite recipe? Well, that certainly ranks with laughter for raising our spirits—and our overall well-being.


I just saw this happen in my home. My father-in-law arrived at my door last Saturday to catch some sporting events that my kids were participating in that day. I was happy to see him, but I didn’t know he was coming.

“You came a day early,” I told him, “I am making pasties tomorrow.”

The sound that he uttered in response was someplace between a moan and a groan, followed by a coherent explanation: “It’s been a long time since I have had a pastie. I’ve been out for a while now.”

I proceeded to tell him that I had gotten a bunch of turnips in my CSA box that week so I decided to take that as a sign and make some.

Century-old postcard from Cornwall celebrates the local delicacy: pasties.

Century-old postcard from Cornwall celebrates the local delicacy: pasties.

“Oh they sound sooo good,” he replied. “Let’s not talk about it anymore. All this talk makes me want them even more.”

My husband’s family has Cornish roots. They came from Cornwall, England, to work the mines in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Eventually they were wooed downstate to work in the automotive industry. This is textbook Michigan history, complete with the tradition of pasties. My father-in-law grew up eating pasties on a regular basis. After he married, his wife learned how to make them and the tradition continued.

I only learned how to make pasties five or six years ago. My mother-in-law cooked all the time, but I never saw a recipe. Although I asked a few times how to make them, I knew the only way for me to really learn was to actually do it. We picked a Friday after Thanksgiving and I told her I would bring anything that we needed. My sister-in-law decided to check it out as well. It took the entire day, but by the end I felt confident that I could replicate her pasty.

I have made pasties a couple of times a year since I learned how to do it. It always surprises me how time consuming it is. And how much my husband loves them! I don’t care for them myself, especially eaten with ketchup as the family eats them—but I will never stop making them.

Being able to make a pasty matters even more since my mother-in-law passed away in 2012. I am so glad I can continue the tradition and pass it on to my children as well. I must say I find it interesting that my biological child doesn’t care for pasties, yet my adopted one (whose roots are definitely not Cornish) devours them right along with his father. I think that more than anything for me it is what they represent.

Pasties are years and years of love on a plate.

Oh, and yes, there is a bunch of them waiting just for my father-in-law in the freezer.


COME BACK to ReadTheSpirit next week! My reference to Bernie Siegel, above, was not gratuitous. A new interview with Bernie will be the cover story in ReadTheSpirit on November 4.

CHECK OUT our FeedTheSpirit department in ReadTheSpirit. Every week, food columnist Bobbie Lewis brings readers a fresh story about the relationship between delicious recipes—and family, faith and culture. (And, for those of you wanting to know more about the traditional Cornish pasty right now, Wikipedia also has an extensive page on the tradition.)

GOT A FAVORITE FOOD STORY TO SHARE? Email us at WeA[email protected] or leave a Comment below. (And, please, share this column with friends by using the blue-“f” Facebook icons or the tiny envelope-shaped email icons.)

You know you’re recovering when—you’ve a taste for black humor

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series Hard-Earned Lessons of a Cancer Thriver
A Note from Heather Jose:
As your host at We Are Caregivers, I’m pleased to welcome back guest columnist Kathy Macdonald. She’s also my aunt and a helper in my own journey through cancer, the story I share in Every Day We are Killing Cancer. Now, Kathy and I share even more: She has joined me in the ranks of cancer thrivers. She is sharing her inspiring story as a cancer thriver in four parts. Click on the headlines in the index box, at right, to enjoy each part.

A Taste for Black Humor

By Kathy Macdonald

Coca Cola in a tall glass

DARK HUMOR? Is this a glass of Coca-Cola or the start of a medical procedure!?! Kidding aside—Coca-Cola has been medically tested to open clogged feeding tubes in a number of scientific trials. Its acidity (just above pH 2.5) is somewhere between lemon and orange juice.

For a month after radiation and chemo, I continued to fail.

Apparently this is pretty normal for throat cancer patients like myself. You continue to “cook” for several weeks hitting your lowest point long after you thought it would be all be behind you. You reach a point when you are desperate for some sign of improvement … and then you begin to slowly improve.

This point coincided with the advent of spring. It was painstakingly slow, but glorious. As part of this process, cancer patients are often given CT or PET scans to confirm the healing process and to confirm that the treatment was successful. Each of these scans if usually followed by a series of visits to your radiologist, oncologists and/or your surgeon. These appointments are anticipated with both hope and dread. You desperately want reassurance that all is well.

In one recent post-scan visit, I was ushered into an exam room by a perky medical technician. She took my vitals and in the process shared how much it meant to her to see post-treatment patients. Her father had also had throat cancer. I asked how long ago this was and she said 3 years, 9 months and 2 days. I commented on her ability to keep such great track of time and she responded that it was easy since that’s how long he lived post-treatment. His cancer had spread to his lungs and then his brain. I was not sure this was what I needed to hear. With growing enthusiasm, she then showed me the necklace she had with his fingerprint and the pink bead on her bracelet that contained his ashes. Needless to say, she had no idea that part of my visit was to discuss a mysterious new spot on my lung.

In the moments alone after her departure and the arrival of the doctor, I decided to relish the humor in the situation. She had no idea of my situation or that I intended to live a whole lot longer than 3 more years. With even more joy, I realized that recognizing the humor was a sign of recovery … and something I could not have done even a month earlier.

Healthcare workers and many caregivers will tell you that it is the black humor that often saves them from the desperate situations they face each day. Without it, the burden would be too great.

Perhaps this is true also of those going through recovery. You know you are getting better when you can recognize the humor of your own situation: losing your hair, using Coke to open a clogged feeding tube, an ER nurse asking you how to access your chest port for an IV, or discovering a waiting groom gracefully decked out with—dead flowers.

I can find humor in all of these and it is wonderful. My body and my spirit are both in recovery. Thanks be to God.

Share this story with friends! Please, start a conversation with your friends by clicking on the blue-”f” Facebook icons connected to this interview. Or email this interview to a friend using the small envelope-shaped icons.

(Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering spirituality, religion, interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

Here’s our new Caregivers Calendar: Plan ahead with us and … Life can be a REAL box of chocolates!

GET READY for some fun! I’m your host at WeAreCaregivers.com and this week we welcome Dr. Benjamin Pratt for more ideas about creatively reinventing our Caregivers Calendar. (In his first column, Ben explained the importance of this idea.) And, here’s a link to my own previous column. I’ll be back next week!
Heather Jose

By Benjamin Pratt

Fine Chocolates in a boxSince January, I’ve been inviting readers to tackle the calendar and rewrite the holidays. Please, pitch in and help! Email us with your holiday ideas at [email protected]. We’re certainly not alone. Today, ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm recommends a brand-new children’s book based on the same idea, called World Rat Day.

Here’s my own new crop for the second quarter of the year …

I know that life can, indeed, become a box of chocolates—if we plan ahead. In the small, lively City of Fairfax, VA, where I live, we hold an annual Chocolate Lover’s Festival. Hundreds of people venture in for a two-day extravaganza of tastes, smells, sculptures of chocolate. Why shouldn’t we borrow this idea and enjoy a little taste of chocolate every day? You  might pair your rich dark chocolate with a rich red wine and get more enjoyment plus health benefits. It will be fun adding all those flavonols, antioxidants and resveratrol for your heart and skin. You will savor each small sip and bite. Of course, not a lot—but a daily delight like this, with your feet up, will keep you well directed in your vital task of caregiving.

Maybe you will call it “Doodling” day because you can’t imagine yourself as an artist. I invite you to just let your mind wander and wonder—to let your hand follow along as a way of distracting and calming yourself. Surprise yourself. Put your coffee or teacup in your opposite hand and draw an image that reflects your mood. Clarify your feelings with honesty. Remember, it is what we don’t face honestly that will bite our backside. After drawing to clarify, you will probably want to share your insight with a close friend.

We caregivers are givers to our core. We know ourselves and appreciate ourselves best when we are giving. Ironically, we often feel like we can’t give another thing. When you are having one of your Blues Days, I suggest you shift your focus from your primary care receiver to someone else. Just for a short time. To whom could you give a gift that will raise her spirit and your own? Make a cake or cupcakes in your kitchen and surprise others. Your own heart will be lifted!

Oh, so simple. Take a nap every day!

Start with the mirror and, looking yourself in the eye, say, “I love you. I am grateful for you.” See how many people you can genuinely give the gift of those words in the course of a day. It will come back to bless you as you have blessed others.

Take at least an hour each day and at least one longer segment of time each week—time for yourself in a way that calms, quiets, relaxes you. We have a dear friend whose husband is dying. He naps every day. She takes that time just for herself. Some days she calls my wife and the two will chat for three hours. They both are nourished, comforted, renewed. Be a little selfish—care for yourself by taking time for you.

Once again—it’s your turn! Email us with your new holiday ideas at [email protected]. Or, leave a Comment, below.