It was a summer night somewhere between 1996 and 1998 and I was in the hospital. I don’t remember the exact cancer treatment I was getting because there were so many, but this night my numbers were stable and I was feeling, for lack of a better word, ok. The doctor and nurses said I could go to dinner in the hospital restaurant on the 14th floor. I was on the 10th. I didn’t really want to, but everyone said it would be good for me to go, physically and emotionally. So I agreed, albeit nervous to leave the institutional comforts of my isolation room.
My mom stayed with me during the day and my dad at night, so this night he said we would go up to the hospital restaurant, I wondered if they served the same food, just on real plates?
Food was such a huge part of my childhood and this opportunity seemed like some kind of normalcy. I got my IVs unplugged, got dressed, put on shoes and almost felt like my old self. When we got to the elevator, my dad pushed the down button. I know I had been out of the game, but I still knew up from down. I said, “What are you doing? We are only allowed to go to the 14th floor”. He looked and me with an exciting gaze and whispered, “Shhh…”
We walked out of the hospital and a warm breeze hit my pale face. I couldn’t believe it, I was so scared, but also excited, I feeling I forgot I knew I had. I started to list my anxious thoughts, “What if I get too tired, what if I need help, what if…”
My dad put the windows down and we drove down the West Side Highway. I wondered if my hospital room noticed I was gone?
We pulled up to a favorite restaurant in Little Italy and sat at a table on the sidewalk. I got a few looks with my bald head and hospital bracelet, but we didn’t have a lot of time to worry about that. I remember my dad was excited, proud to bring a warm memory of life before cancer to this evening. He ordered what felt like everything on the menu, much of which I could barely eat, but it wasn’t about the food this time.
Right before we left, we stopped for cookies at a bakery for the nurses and the floor (anyone on the hospital wing). We jumped back on the West Side Highway, this time dread and worry flooded over me, I had to go back. In only a couple hours, on the same road, going in different directions, my feelings of freedom and excitement turned to fear and sadness. I don’t remember a lot, but I remember thinking, ‘It’s ok Beth, go back, get better so you can do this again”.
We got back to the hospital and our cover was blown. The nurses were waiting. I went right into my room, took my shows off, got plugged back in and smiled. My dad was in the hall. I don’t know what words were exchanged, but heard something about, “Next time, don’t bring us cookies, they don’t have cookies like that on the 14th floor, we know where you went.”
He came back into the room, we shared a guilty, but happy smile and laughed.
That was such a special evening and something I will remember forever. Whether it is in Little Italy, Arthur Avenue or cooking at home, Italian food is a huge part of my life and family. I love veganizing any recipes, but especially my Italian favorites.
1 cup (raw) of lentils, rinsed, cooked and drained
1 handful of finely chopped walnuts, cashews or any favorite nut
1 red onion, chopped
1 handful of mushrooms, chopped
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1/8 cup bread crumbs
Good sprinkle of salt and pepper
Olive oil for sautéing
Pre heat the oven to 375 degrees F
Cook lentils according to the package, typically 3 cups of water to 1 cup of lentils
Meanwhile, toast the nuts for 3–5 minutes and set aside
Sauté the onions and mushrooms until the onions are translucent
Add the nuts, lentils, onion mixture into a food processor and pulse until combined
Add the salt, nutritional yeast and bread crumbs and continue to pulse until a crumble texture is formed
Spoon out a scoop of the lentil and nut mixture and roll with your hands to form a ball, continue until all the mixture is used, placing about 2 inches apart on a baking tray
Bake for 25–30 minutes until a slight crust forms
Serve over pasta, top with your favorite sauce! Enjoy:)