It has been sixty-five days since we brought you home from the hospital to heal from an illness that has taken control of your mind and body over the last six years. I know this because of a meticulous food journal I have kept to track each day you have been home. Today commemorates 195 meals and 130 snacks lovingly measured, calculated, and prepared. The meals, while I wanted them to be appealing, had to properly balance healthy fats, protein, and carbohydrates in order to mend your fragmented mind. People doubted that you could reach your doctors' projected weight for you through plant-based eating. Everyone hesitated at the thought of nourishing you with 4,600 calories--three-quarters of the towering six-foot four swimmer Michael Phelps' daily intake. How could all of this be done as a vegetarian? I took it upon myself to keep with your strong-willed morals that inspired your vegetarian lifestyle. Though this would add more strain, both of us know that we do not shrink in the shadow of a challenge.
I have worn many different hats in my life: registered nurse, health coach, wife, sister, friend, neighbor, and mother. Being your life giver, by far, is the most important hat I wear. It has truly been my privilege to care for you, to wake up before anyone else does to carefully plan your meals. It has been worth every moment of my day to seek out activities that would benefit you once you were allowed movement and exercise, and it was my fulfilling duty to distract you as you endured relentless pain and discomfort. While it is my greatest hope to dissolve this ruthless disease, and forever erase its presence from the lives of those struggling, I would never rid my memory of the times we spent lying in your hospital bed watching movie after movie. I would never overlook the countless face masks I gave you on particularly challenging days in the hospital, startling each nurse as they passed a little girl with a bright green face mask painted onto her cheeks. I would never dismiss afternoons spent laying in our hammock at home laughing until we ached, and your first long walk after being confined to bed rest for weeks. Moments of re-birth and discovery and bliss and hope cannot be overlooked. This disease has stolen so much from our family, but the growth that has manifested because of it and the unbreakable bond that has developed, cannot be overshadowed. It has elucidated the countless supporters near and far, who have given themselves to ceaselessly loving you. It has opened my eyes to a life that is worth pursuing, both in good and damaging moments. We could not have done this without your brother's enduring tolerance and comic relief, as well as your dad's unwavering courage and selflessness.
This period of re-feeding is not for the weak. I can equate it to healing from cancer: your once vibrant hair began to thin and fill the drain of the shower and your eyes became darker as you became more consumed by your disorder. Once you returned home, your doctors instilled in me that I must treat your recovery as if you were enduring chemotherapy. This must be a time of rest when your body needed rest. Yes, like those suffering from cancer, you were also restoring your physical health, but in addition to this, you were tasked with restoring your mind. Each day, foods you had not imagined putting on your plate for years returned to your trays. Your doctor equated recovery to waking each morning only to run another marathon. This was not a stay characterized by leisure and amenity. It was wake-up calls at four in the morning for weight checks and blood tests. It was losing a small piece of your controlled mindset each day, leaving you to abandon who you thought you were and what deemed you unique. Each day you were forced to manifest a new identity. Each day you had to ask yourself, "But who am I now?" Each day your stomach swelled with pain, as it yearned for a way to avoid this suffering. And each day every alarm in your head sounded, commanding you to revert to your instinctive coping mechanisms recognized as restriction and exercise. Rather than accepting defeat, every moment of every day you searched deep in the depths of yourself for a reason to keep persisting.
Pride is not a strong enough word to capture my emotions. Resilient is a word that barely breaches the surface of your strength. I am honored to be the mother of someone who can see humor through dark clouds of suffering, and your decision to combat this disease is something deserving of utmost respect. Your raw honesty has led you to speaking to young girls about how this devastating disease has affected you and how it has allowed you to thrive-- this must be recognized. The task of sitting with your suffering and listening to your body's cues when your mind only wants to mute them is something that seems insurmountable to me.
For you, this mushroom French toast is simply nourishment, medicine. The hope for me is that one day you will crave this recipe. I hope that one day a moan stemming from unrelenting fullness as I tell you what is on the menu for dinner will metamorphose into "Mom, I'm hungry. What's for dinner tonight?" I hope your guilt surrounding indulgence and allowing yourself to take risks will allow you to recognize joy rather than fear. Although some of your memories are filled with pain, never allow yourself to forget this journey. It is one that has shaped you into the dogged, passionate, sincere, and authentic person you are today on day sixty-five.
With tremendous heart and an abundance of inspiration,
Recipe yields 4 servings
-4 slices of brioche French bread*
-1/2 cup whole milk
-3 tsp chopped fresh thyme, divided
-2 tbsp olive oil
-1 8oz package of cremini mushrooms, sliced thin
-3 tbsp unsalted butter, divided
-1/2 cup sliced sweet vidalia onion
-2 1/2 tsp tomato paste
-2 1/2 tsp all-purpose flour
-1/4 cup marsala cooking wine
-3/4 cup vegetable broth
-1/2 tsp salt
-1/4 tsp ground black pepper
*For this recipe, we used Trader Joe's brand French brioche bread. If you cannot find this specific bread type, challah bread or a thick-cut Italian bread will work just as well.
1. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
2. Add mushrooms and sauté for 6 to 7 minutes, or until browned. Transfer the mushrooms to a bowl and set aside.
3. Melt 2 tbsp butter in the same saucepan used to brown the mushrooms over medium heat. Add onion and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in tomato paste and flour. Continue to cook for 1 minute.
4. Stir in the broth and mushrooms. Cook for two minutes. whisk in 1 tsp of thyme and keep warm.
5. Meanwhile, whisk together the eggs, milk, and 2 tsp of thyme in a shallow dish. Season the dish with salt and pepper, if desired. Add the brioche French toast (or bread of your choice) and soak for 10 minutes, turning occasionally.
6. Heat the remaining 1 tbsp of butter in a cast-iron skillet. Add the bread slices and cook for 5 minutes, or until golden brown. Turn each slice once before serving with 1/4 cup mushroom sauce.
This recipe can be made vegan by eliminating the milk and the eggs and instead whisking together 1/2 cup of dairy-free milk with a 1/4 melted earth balance vegan butter. Replace the brioche French bread, which contains eggs, with Italian bread. Follow step five in the directions above to prepare a vegan version of this recipe.
Recipe adapted from the Vegetarian Times Magazine September/October issue of 2016