In preparation of our Food issue (submissions open August 1st, after which they’ll simmer ’til winter), I’ve asked members of the LPR community to share stories of what they eat. Food occupies such a central place in our lives, that we can’t help but grow with it. Whether we were cooking too much pasta while learning to be independent or, as is the case with this entry from Kim Roberts, finding food as an anchor after the turbulence of cancer, we can call on the sounds, smells, and tastes of our most formative and transformative foods to walk back into our own narrative histories. And on Laura’s suggestion, each piece in this series will feature a recipe, so you can cook yourself through an experience yourself. If you have a transformative experience with food, leave a comment and I’ll be in touch.
And now that I’ve laid the table, Kim Roberts:
I am cured of cancer. For that, I am extremely grateful to my surgeon and my radiologist. But our treatments for cancer, though improving, remain fairly crude. We cut out what we can see, then use electromagnetic radiation to kill any cells in the area—healthy or not, indiscriminately—as they are reproducing.
The part of my body that got radiation therapy was my jaw and neck. I had to wear a medieval torture device to keep my head immobile during the treatments. For a few months, I got X-rayed five days a week, a strange sort of part-time job. I had been warned that I would lose my ability to taste food, but promised that taste would come back.
But in a small percentage of patients, taste does not ever return to normal—alas, I am one of those patients. There are still some foods I can’t taste at all—they are just texture in my mouth, and I have learned to avoid them and the disappointment they bring. But most foods do have taste, just a different one. Not bad—just clearly not as I remembered they should taste, and therefore, to my mind, wrong.
The only food that remains exactly the same after treatment as it did before is coffee. As a result, I have become a connoisseur of coffee. Here is my recipe for iced coffee, which I adore:
- Pretend you’re a hipster and go to one of the most overpriced and stylish coffee houses you can find.
- Buy some single-source, organic, house-roasted beans. If there are “tasting notes” (and you know there will be “tasting notes”), look for coffees that are described as “caramel” or “chocolate” or “honey” toned, combined with something fruity or astringent, such as “lemon” or “white grape.” This will give you a nuanced taste—a warm, sweet flavor combined with something that has a little bite.
- Get the surly young sales clerk to grind your beans. Pay the ridiculously high price.
- Sniff the fresh aroma all the way home.
- Make the coffee strong—an important detail since you’ll be watering it down as you drink it over ice. Let the coffee cool for an hour.
- Fill your tallest glass with ice cubes and pour the coffee over. Do not ruin the flavor by adding milk or sugar. The point is to savor the coffee. Pride yourself on becoming a coffee purist.
- Sit in your favorite overstuffed chair with a really good book and drink.
Kim Roberts is the author of five books, most recently Animal Magnetism, winner of the Pearl Poetry Prize (Pearl Editions, 2011), and the anthology Full Moon on K Street: Poems about Washington, DC (Plan B Press, 2010). She is editor of Beltway Poetry Quarterly and coeditor, with Dan Vera, of DC Writers’ Homes. www .kimroberts.org.
3 thoughts on “What You Eat: Taste Test”
Enjoyed your post very much, Kim, even though I make MY iced coffee New Orleans-style (using homemade coffee concentrate). What was greatest about the piece is the courage to forge ahead with food and drink despite taste-loss. I can barely imagine that.
Kim, I was just speaking with a friend about cancer treatments and taste. Unlike loss of hair with chemo, taste is a reaction to treatments that can’t be seen by others. Thank you for sharing your experience and your recipe.
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