Saturday, April 26, 2008

What's for dinner? What's in the 'frig?

I'm currently visiting my younger son for a few days. He lives in the Seattle area and loves to eat and cook. However this year as a very busy first year teacher, he finds that he is spending most of his time doing lesson plans and grading papers. So what's for dinner? What's available in the refrigerator, freezer, and on the pantry shelves to work with? We embarked upon a fun adventure and creative experience in his small kitchen!

We made a delicious supper with what was available without heading to the grocery store. We would call the recipe Spicy Tofu and Artichoke Stir-fry.

Here is the list of the ingredients we found and amounts used:

~12 oz. firm tofu - drain well and cut into ~1" cubes
12 oz. jar of marinated artichoke hearts, drain well (save marinade if desired for future use - could also use canned or frozen artichoke hearts but drain and rinse well to eliminate the salty brine)
4 fresh crimini mushrooms - wash and slice or quarter
4 green onions - chop white and green sections
1 small head of red leaf lettuce (or use any fresh greens such as spinach, kale, bok choy, etc) - wash, drain, then coarsely chop
1 teaspoon powdered garlic (or use fresh if available)
1 teaspoon powdered ginger (ditto as above)
couple of dashes hot sauce (taste at the end to add more if desired)
3 Tbsp. olive oil (divided use)
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 Tbsp. white vinegar
2 cups already-cooked brown rice (or cook some up as you are preparing the stir-fry)

Mix soy sauce, vinegar, 1 Tbsp. olive oil, and hot sauce together for marinade. Add tofu cubes to marinade, toss to cover with marinade for at least 30 minutes. Drain marinade and save to add to this recipe later.

Heat wok or large skillet until hot (hot enough is when a couple drops of water added to the wok evaporate instantly). Then add 1 Tbsp. oil to wok and heat. Add drained tofu cubes a few at a time to wok, stir to lightly cook on all sides, remove from wok with a slotted spoon and and set aside. Repeat until all tofu is cooked.

Add ~1 Tbps. oil in wok. When hot, add spices and mushrooms and white part of green onions to cook for 1-2 minutes. Then add drained artichoke hearts. Stir all until heated through. Then add tofu and lettuce and remaining marinade, stirring all together until all heated through.

Do a quick taste test to see if more hot sauce is desired, or put the hot sauce on the table for each person to add per their own taste.

Serve over reheated (or newly cooked) brown rice. Sprinkle with green onion slices for garnish. (An additional garnish that would be both pretty and tasty would be black sesame seeds.)

Serves 2-3 (we ate it all!). It tasted great!!

We had discussed going out to eat, but it actually took far less time to prepare this meal, it was not much effort at all even though we were both tired, it was fun to work together in the kitchen, and to be on the generous side, I estimate that this meal cost us no more than $8 total to prepare (with the most expensive ingredient being the jar of marinated artichoke hearts, which likely cost $4-$5). Adding a glass of a nice locally grown Washington merlot wine topped off the meal for a fraction of what we would have paid in a restaurant.

We gave a simple blessing by thanking all the farmers who grew the food that became ingredients for our meal.

I am an amazingly fortunate woman to have had the gift of cancer survivorship long enough to both give birth to my two sons and raise them into highly capable, creative, interesting, and tender-hearted young adults. Having the opportunity to share cooking, eating meals, and having discussions with them gives me joy that reaches deep into each cell of my body. The tears in my eyes as I leave each of them are tears of heart-felt gratefulness that I have had the opportunity to fully participate raising and fledging my baby birds from the nest that my husband and I have woven for them during the past 30+ years. :-)

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Please Pass the Pasta!

One weekend recently I resurrected the pasta machine my husband had purchased on Ebay 2-3 years ago, had found a spot for on our shelves, and then promptly forgot about. (To cut him a little slack, some of life's major detours did get in the way during that time.) In any case, the look on his face was priceless when one Sunday night, I simply said "let's make our own pasta tonight!"

We have done so 5 times now, both enjoying the process and learning something each time. We are getting it down to a method, more of an art than a science, and can predict that we'll be eating ~2 hours after we haul out the machine. In fact, we have become confident "enough" that we have made pasta 3 times with good friends, once even hauling the machine down to Tennessee!

The recipes are endless but are more or less the same. You can look anywhere on the web for recipes and instruction. We have now purchased The Pasta Bible off Ebay for $1.00. The choice of sauces is also endless but again can be very very simple (we love using our homemade pesto and Zesty Italian sauce), just serving with some great bread and salad, plus of course, no Italian meal would be complete without wine. In fact our friends in Tennessee had a cute sign up in their kitchen using a play on words that said "Too much wine spoils the cook!". We have consumed our share of wine, but I don't think it spoiled any of the cooks. :-)

I don't think either of us have a smidgeon of Italian genes, but we may find that pasta making will become a new tradition in our family. So far, we have only made enough in one evening to eat that night (with a little left over if we're lucky to eat during the week), but I expect that soon we'll attempt a "pasta day" in which we try making enough for a month or so. Our younger son's girlfriend says that her Italian grandmother does this, and when we asked if her grandmother uses a drying rack, she just laughed and told us that they don't bother with that and just drape it over all the chairs and beds in the house to dry!

We have experimented with incorporating ground flaxseed and white whole wheat flour but don't feel we have perfected those recipes yet. Next we're going to try adding spinach and other veggies. I also want to take a field trip to Westwind MIlling in Linden, MI, to purchase locally grown organic flours. It is fun to learn something new (isn't that what life and especially the gift of cancer survivorship is all about?), enjoy homemade healthy and yummy food for a fraction of the cost of purchasing the ingredients in the grocery store or restaurant, cook together with my husband (even in our small and awkwardly designed kitchen), have something to plan for, and to have something to share with others.

Let's take a minute to give thanks for our food and the farmers who grew it, and then, yes, please pass the pasta!

As our bodies are sustained with this food,
May our hearts be nourished
With true friendship
And our souls fed with truth.
~~From A Grateful Heart

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Friday, April 11, 2008

Signs of Spring have finally arrived!

Yes, signs of spring have finally come to the upper Midwest, after a long, cold, and snowy winter. We hit 70 degrees today although early warmth often comes with strong weather (we're under a tornado alert). Still, we'll take it!

Daffodil leaves peeking through the last fall's leaves, and rhubarb just barely peeking through the dirt. If you look closely, you'll see leaves starting to unfold.

Our trillium just peeking through, purchased at the silent auction for our boys' school in 2001 when our last son graduated from high school as a way of remembering those nice years. Next to that is our first blossom from the primroses planted in 2004 when our older son graduated from college. Tomorrow I plan to purchase a full flat at our Farmers' Market to plant on both sides of a little path around the side of the house so we actually have a "primrose path".

Pansies planted before anything else was blooming - I needed the color! Our one crocus that has survived years of digging and dislodging bulbs where I also plant impatiens plus consumption by those greedy squirrels.

Our chives starting back in full force plus one eager robin enjoying a vigorous bath in our heated birdbath.

Finally, I will always remember spring 2008 as the time we almost lost our dog Kaya. Her sudden decline was most certainly a reaction to the doggie NSAIDS she had been taking to ease the pain and inflammation in her arthritic hips. After a harrowing week during which we really thought she had died once and appeared very near death on several other occasions, and after much intensive TLC at home and lots of good wishes from across the country, she is back to life. These two photos are from this week, when Kaya finally emerged from her dark space, eager to get back to eating (including her veggies - yea!), chewing sticks, rolling over, being happy, and dashing after her squeaky toy (even with her arthritic hips).

Thanks, thanks, thanks to all who sent their love and best wishes. We are truly grateful. Kaya also says thanks (woof, woof) :-)

As spring is the season of possibilities, here is a very appropriate blessing to sign off:

May we be thankful for health and strength,
for sun and rain and peace.
Let us seize the day and the opportunity and
strive for that greatness of spirit that
measures life not by its disappointments
but by its possibilities, and let us ever
remember that true gratitude and
appreciation shows itself neither in
independence nor satisfaction but passes
the gift joyfully on in larger and better form.

~~W.E.B. DuBois

May you also see life's possibilities this spring!

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Did I use aromatase inhibitors to treat my breast cancer?

Recently I received a very thoughtful question about my use of the type of estrogen-blocking drugs called aromatase inhibitors. Here is the inquiry followed by my brief response:

Dear Diana,

Please include me in your newsletter list. I used to get news from your web-site but haven't for quite a while. I read your wonderful book shortly after my diagnosis of breast cancer back in 2002 and enjoyed it tremendously - and found so much very valuable.

I know that your focus is primarily about the relationship between diet and cancer, but since you are so involved in research of various kinds and such a friendly, kind voice, I thought I would ask if you happen to have any thoughts about aromatase inhibitors (AI's). I've spoken to oncologists who recommend the AIs after tamoxifen, but I know from web-sites and personal acquaintances that the side-effects can be horrific. Right now, I'm weighing cost (side effects) vs. benefits (less recurrence of tumors and metastasis.) Since I've completed 5 years on tamoxifen, I'm debating whether or not to take Femara.

Of course, I realize that you don't give "advice" on treatment, but I just wondered if you have any thoughts, experience or resources dealing with AIs.

With warm regards and all good wishes, xxxxxxxxxxxx

My response:

Thanks for your very kind comments. I no longer send out an Email newsletter but you can keep up with me on my blog. Copies of all my newsletters are archived on my web site.

I did not take AI's, in fact they were not offered to me after my 5 years of Tamoxifen, primarily because I already have osteoporosis. However, it has been now 13 years without a recurrence of my breast cancer diagnosis in 1995, with which I had many positive axillary and inner mammary lymph nodes putting me at very high risk of recurrence.

You are right, I cannot give you direct advice on a medical issue that is outside my professional scope of practice, but hopefully your oncologist can give you some very specific reasons why she/he thinks you would benefit from initiating AI's at this point.

You can do a quick search of abstracts at PubMed, using the search terms "aromatase inhibitors benefits" or something like that. You will see from a cursory read in articles published as recently as late 2007 that there are no established protocols based on long-term randomized clinical trials in early stage breast cancer patients, which take molecular phenotyping of the different types of tumors into account. These studies are urgently needed so researchers can really sort out who will benefit from this drug and who will not (i.e., who was already cured by surgery and/or other adjuvant therapy?) along with long-term safety and quality of life concerns. Some discussion of side effects can be found at

Ultimately the decision will be yours and after enough questioning and thoughtful consideration, you will find your comfort level and peace with your decision.

Continued best wishes for health, healing, and hope!

Diana Dyer, MS, RD


This question and the myriad of questions that fall into this same category of treatment options and/or self-care after cancer can overwhelm and even paralyze a cancer survivor into inaction and depression. However, this person sounds to me like she has a good view and grounding of healthy survivorship, asking lots of questions from lots of people sorting through science and personal experiences to ultimately come to an informed decision rather than a purely emotional decision. This is what I like to call "Active Hope", and I predict that no matter what course of action she chooses, our reader will do very well.

I send you all best wishes for health, healing, and hope!

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Friday, April 4, 2008

Beans, beans, beans again!

I just love learning new things, especially those bits of information that show decreased risk of cancer associated with eating plants. In this case, I learned about the decreased risk of breast cancer associated with eating dried beans and lentils from Karen Ansel's article mentioned in my earlier post today (4/4/08). Somehow I had missed this 2005 Harvard study. It shows a significant decreased breast cancer risk with an increased intake of beans or lentils. In this study, when comparing self-reported food intakes of dried beans or lentils with breast cancer incidence, there was a 24% risk reduction associated with an intake of eating dried beans or lentils 2x/week compared with an intake of once/month or less often.

I do eat dried beans of some kind nearly every day of the week - yes!! 7 days/week, and I have been doing this nearly every single week for the past 13+ years. I have been eating them to obtain an adequate protein intake on a near-vegetarian diet, but it is very very nice to learn that all the phytochemicals in beans may also be playing an important role with decreasing my risk of recurrence.

One way I make sure that it is easy for me to eat some beans on a daily basis is by making my own hummus and consuming some every day for lunch or a snack. I did this even when I was still working outside the home by packing my own lunch and snacks on a daily basis. Numerous recipes for hummus and other bean dishes are on my web site. The photo actually is of a bean dip I made using the dried beans I grew last summer.

Exciting news! My husband and I just found out that we can expand our community garden into the half-plot located next to ours since those folks did not re-sign up for another perennial plot. So my dried bean patch will be able to expand significantly along with my section of greens. This year I want to produce enough of my own locally-grown, organic kale to freeze for winter use in stir-frys, even kale pesto, etc, etc. Oh, I cannot wait for spring to really arrive. :-) I need to be revived!

Speaking of being revived, here is a lovely blessing to end with,

We eat and we are revived, and we give thanks
To the lives that were ended to nourish our own.
May we merit their sacrifice, and honor
Their sparks of holiness
Through our deeds of loving kindness.
~~Rabbi Rami M. Shapiro

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Diet and Breast Cancer Recurrence Article

Back on March 11 I posted my full response to food and nutrition writer Karen Ansel, MS, RD, when she asked my thoughts about the importance of diet and nutrition for breast cancer survivors. Her article has been posted on the MedTrackAlert web site. Check it out!

I've been out of town visiting in-laws and friends, coming home to a sick doggie - yikes, not fun at all. :-( This week has been spent back and forth to the vet and lots and lots of TLC, "mom care", and "dad care", too. Kaya is my first dog, and I admit to being head over heels "smitten" with her. Today she is a teensy bit better, eating by herself for the first time in a week, and finally sleeping soundly enough to be snoring a bit last night.

I'm hoping Kaya gets back to snarfing down her veggies again. Seriously! My niece watched Kaya eat a bowl of vegetables at Thanksgiving and was totally amazed! Please send us all your best woof woofs!

Diana Dyer, MS, RD