Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Recipes and Rules

While I enjoy cooking and writing, I especially love the clients who come to my little Upper West Side office. In some way, every client comes to talk about food but you can’t talk about lunch without talking about life.  One client, L, came to my office for the first time over 5 years ago. Her daughter had referred her. L was a quick study. She followed the plans we outlined but would dig her heels in where necessary. I remember some good debates “Lauren, I can lose weight without switching dried cranberries to fresh berries in my yogurt” and she did. We spent a lot of our time exchanging recipe ideas or I should say with me pulling out a notebook so that I could write down L’s recipes or tips.

We talked about cooking and children and travel and holidays. I was the  “expert” but L would give me advice on my son’s music lessons (her daughter is a musician), what to order at a particular restaurant or just about anything. L was divorced but she met someone during the time she was working with me. She was generally cool and calm but when she eventually told me about her upcoming wedding she shifted a little in her seat and couldn’t contain her joy.

I lost touch with L a bit after she was married. After all, she was lean and in love but she did bring her new beau in for a consultation one time. I was just happy to meet “Mr. L” but have a hunch her physician husband didn’t modify his eating one iota after our session. I continued to keep tabs on L through her daughter. For a while everything was smooth sailing and then L’s daughter R mentioned she was having some tests done.  It turned out L had cancer and was going to have surgery but nobody seemed overly alarmed. That was a couple of years ago. L persevered and continued to travel and live her life as though cancer or chemo was an annoying to-do list item, nothing more.

This past November, L came in to see me. The chemo she was on was taking its toll. Her energy and her appetite was low. I prepared myself knowing L might look ill or seem different but though she moved a little more slowly she was L. Like old times, we came up with a food plan this time to get her energy up as she was headed to Paris. The next day I received an email:
 Thank you so much for taking the time to help me with chemo eating (if there is such a category). I’ve already put some of your suggestions into practice. Also, thanks for Jen Goodman’s blog info. Looks like she’s endured far more than I have. I do hope that her treatments will work for her.
Hugs to you,

I can see so much of L in that email: action oriented, selfless and warm. That November visit was the last time I saw L. It’s still so hard for me to believe I attended her funeral last month. At the service, R summoned up the type of stoic strength I associated with her mother and spoke to the congregation about “the rules according to Mom”. The rules covered things big and small after all both are important. One of the more lighthearted rules which reminded me of my time with L was:
Purchase as many specialized kitchen appliances, tools and instruments as you are able.
Your kitchen is not complete without an apple corer and a potato ricer.
One of my sons has an apple many nights as a snack, I have a hard time every time I pull out that corer. L would say my kitchen is  "not complete"; I'd love to hear her case for the ricer.

And the rule that reminded me of the rational,  realistic and sage and brave L:
When freaking out ask yourself- whats the worst that can happen?
Theres nothing so scary that you cant talk about it.
Through R, L’s advice, good sense and humor live on. I miss you L and R misses you too.
In honor of L: What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given? What are your favorite kitchen appliances? Do you own an apple corer? And do you have any words for R? She’s having a very tough time.


  1. Lauren, this was a beautiful post. I'm so sorry to hear of your (R's and yours) loss. I wish I had something more substantial to say, but it sounds like L was very, very loved and her spirit touched everyone she met. Sending thoughts to you and R.

  2. really heart-warming's nice when the experts learn from the clients too.

  3. What a beautiful tribute. So sorry for your friend's lose. Only thing I can prescribe for grief is a tincure of time, however knowing that her mother made such an impact on you (and I assume many others) must be of comfort.

    Sounds like the earth lost a great lady...also, I love my apple corer.

    Glad she went to Paris.

  4. This was a lovely and poignant post...thank you!

    Advice for R...losing a parent can knock you off your center for a long long time. My dad passed almost 2 years ago, and I'm still surprised by how innocuous moments can make me teary, like the Masters golf tournament or the NFL draft or the movie Airplane. For the first year after his death, I stayed in contact w/ the San Diego Hospice counselor who worked with my family. I cannot rave enough about hospice workers and their family care. It was nice to have someone I could call for a quick chat or long talk who had experience in grief counseling. Even 2 years later, I still use tactics that hospice taught me -- balance each sad memory with a happy one; be ok with sadness but recognize when it lingers too long; identify triggers for grief and use your support system when those moments come. Finally, there is no timeline for grieving. The pain waxes and wanes, but never really disappears because the memory of your mother doesn't disappear.

    And a potato ricer makes the best mashed potatoes ever.

  5. Beautiful. Sounds like that's appropriate. . . L was obviously beautiful, in so many ways.
    I do love and overuse our apple corer. I also have an apple peeler/corer/slicer a friend gave me which is wonderful for our annual apple butter making. Curious about the potato ricer.
    Hugs to R. The better the person, the more there is to miss. Sounds like she has a lot to miss. Thankfully, she also still has a lot to give as she is her mother's daughter and always will be.
    Think I'll put potato ricer on my list to buy. From your words alone, L has credibility.

  6. Everyone such nice reactions. I love advice big and small and love feedback too. We never know who we affect and help and it doesn't have to be on a grand scale. Amy, glad you're trying the potato ricer. I'm thinking L wouldn't steer us all wrong.

  7. wow, this was an amazing post/dedication to your friend. It seems that L had a similar attitude as my mom currently has...chemo is just something she has to do (and has been doing for 9 years) and the rest doesn't matter. She never worries, just continues to live her life to the fullest. I'm glad for people like L and my mom who get it right...know what's important. Great people to look up to and admire!

  8. Thank you for sharing such a truly touching story. I love that you developed such wonderful relationships with clients.
    This reminds me of my mother. She has every kitchen gadget and finds them all necessary. Love that advice.

  9. Erin, I had no idea about your mom. I'm sorry. Like R, you too (from your blog) seem to know what's important. We all have to continue to live our lives. I'm working on the worrying/guilt part. Speaking of living, I hope you had a great trip.

  10. lovely post and wow what an amazing woman hugs

  11. Cancer is simply heartbreaking. We lost a close family member recently. Similar story in that she was diagnosed and seemed to be recovering. A miracle case... until she wasn't.
    Wish I had advice or the answers to making it hurt less. I don't.
    Beautiful post!

  12. Chelsea, I'm so sorry. Cancer is heartbreaking (and everywhere). While fighting, the only rule seems to be to keep living. When grieving we have to try to follow that rule too. It isn't easy.

  13. I've never worked with anyone who was going through chemo, but I can only imagine the challenge....good for you for taking it on and having success with it, and I'm sorry about your loss of a good friend. Clearly you had a positive impact on her life, and that's so important.

    Favorite kitchen appliance? My coffee maker, and my steam basket. I use them both at least once a day :) I can't eat apples, so sad.